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In an aquatic environment, like a simulated ecosystem in an aquarium, many parasites flourish. Some of the most destructive creatures that can be found in a fish tank are vermetid snails. Thus, controlling their growth or eradicating them is an essential move for the health of your collection.
This species of sea snails can be such a nuisance because vermetid snails are harmful to both corals and fish tank owners’ budget as our experts have often pointed out. The snails latch onto corals’ spongy and irregular surface, and they can stunt their skeletal development. What’s more, they can suck the life out of corals and kill them. Luckily, there are ways to fight them off!
What Are Vermetid Snails?
Classifying and describing vermetid snails can be difficult, as they belong to a superfamily of gastropods called Cerithioidea, which is divided into three main families. The type of vermetid snails, aka worm shells, that plague fish tanks belong to the Vermetidae taxonomic family, which includes several species. Still, the three families share similar traits.
What sets the Vermitidae apart from their cousins is that they prefer to latch onto irregular masses, such as sponges, and they dwell below the coastal zone while in the wild. What is more, even though they are technically gastropods, they do not have coiled shells like other marine species from the same class do.
When a vermetid snail is born, it immediately seeks to build a home. It then attaches to a hard surface and builds a calcified tube, aka its shell. These formations are very similar to those built by annelid tube worms, which makes vermetids’ identification difficult to the naked eye. Still, a seasoned aquarium owner will be able to tell the difference between the two species.
In addition, these little guys spend most of their life in the same place. This might make one wonder how they manage to feed? The answer is simple. They spew mucus nets out of the ends of their shells, which they use to catch nearby detritus and plankton.
Vermetid snails in an aquarium can harm corals. They usually impede coral growth and damage corals’ skeletal structure of LPS and SPS corals. Therefore, if you notice any of these snails in your reef tank, it’s time to take immediate action.
How to Remove Vermetid Snails from Aquariums
Unfortunately, removing vermetid snails from your aquarium can be quite challenging. Still, it is worth the effort if you want to protect your corals (and hard-earned cash you’ve spent on them).
The Superglue Method
First, be careful if you are completely infected with snails. Killing a bunch of vermetid snails inside the reef tank with superglue is a fun way to have a nutrient spike. The superglue method involves sealing their exit from the tubes.This prevents the snail from exiting and starves it out. Once the worms die and start decaying, they create a nutrient imbalance in the water, which ups the water’s toxicity and creates a perfect environment for other fish tank nuisances like algae blooms.
The best way to remove the snails are to pull out the rock or infested corals so you can remove them manually and not have them decay in the tank.
The Nuke – Hydrocloric Acid Method
Many hobbyists have tried a direct approach to the issue. Identify the rocks or sponges that have vermetid snails nesting on them and remove them from the aquarium. Then, wash them thoroughly with a 10% to 20% solution of hydrochloric acid. While this works, it can be drastic and can kill of ton of beneficial bacteria. I would call this the nuclear option.
The acid will eat away snails and remove them completely from the rocks and sponges. If it takes too long for the snail to wash off, you can let the rocks soak in the hydrochloric acid solution for a couple of days. The rocks should be white and clean at the end.
Be very careful with this method as the substance is harmful to your skin. Wear gloves, a respirator, and eye protection when handling HCL. Using HCL is a post within itself, so I’m going to link a Reef2Reef article that goes into further detail.
Manual Removal – The Bone Cutter Method
If the vermetid snails are attached to your corals or frag plugs, one easy option is to pull the coral out of your display tank and pull the snail off of it using bone cutters. Make sure when you use the bone cutters that you cut off the base. The base is where the snail lives so cutting off the base ensures a complete removal.
Getting Violent – The Lancing Method
A more savage method is to use an ice pick to stab the base structure of the snail. This method is great to use if the snail is lodged in an area that is hard to get. Make sure that you remove the infected coral or rock before attempting this as it is a messy process that will result in a cut up snail. Stab the middle of the base with your ice pick and wipe it away from the rock to kill the snail.
You may unearth the snail from the structure using this method. If that happens, pull it off the rock and finish it off to ensure it doesn’t accidentally re-enter your aquarium.
The Bottom Line Regarding Vermetid Snails
Vermetid snails are common fish tank parasites that build their own calcified tubes. They reside inside the tubes their whole lives, and they cause great damage to corals.
I have outlined several methods that can be used to remove vermetid snails from safe to nuclear. Worse case to wipe them out, you will need to remove the rocks that they have attached themselves to from the tank, and thoroughly clean them with HCL. It is a most drastic method, but the other methods outlined in this post should be attempted first.
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.