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When deciding to keep cichlids in your home aquarium, one of the many informed decisions that need to be made is “What to keep with them?”
Cichlids are renowned for their aggressive behavior and tendency to eat most things in their tanks, but what about mollusks? Do cichlids eat snails?
Although generally believed not to eat snails, there are species of cichlid that do. Factors such as snail species, size, and the amount in the tank play a determining role. Examples of snail-eating cichlids are Oscars, Jack Dempseys, Green Terrors, and Convicts. Most cichlids will eat baby snails.
Whether cichlids do or do not eat snails seems to be a “per fish” phenomenon. Some aquarists have experienced no issues, while others have had all their snails eaten, which leads us to the question; Which cichlids are the most likely to eat snails? And which snails do these cichlids eat?
Cichlids and Snails, the Relationship Explained
From around one inch at the smallest to around 36 inches at the largest, cichlids come in various species and sizes.
Most cichlids are omnivores by nature and are not particularly fussy when it comes to food, and they are known to have an aggressive and territorial nature.
These factors combine to make for some interesting tank compatibility situations in terms of other fish, plants, and mollusks.
Often many people will state the anecdote that cichlids are not “known” for eating snails, and those who do will only eat them infrequently, which is probably accurate in a natural environment.
However, in the experience of many aquarists, their cichlids are rather voracious when it comes to eating snails in their tanks.
To better understand the answer to whether or not cichlids eat snails, we need to take into factor various variables.
- The species of cichlid in question
- The species of snail in question
- The numbers and sizes of both
- Tank design and set up
- Individual fish’s “personality” and history
When we look at these factors, we can better judge whether or not a particular cichlid will or will not eat snails.
Cichlid Species Which Are Known to Eat Snails
The majority of aquarists agree that the main culprits when it comes to eating snails are African cichlids. The main reason is that these fish are incredibly unselective in food and eat anything that fits into their mouth.
Cichlids, which are benthic feeders, are also more likely to eat snails, as they have a high chance of happening upon one hiding in the substrate while foraging.
Some species known to aquarists as snail eaters are:
- Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus)
- Jack Dempseys (Rocio octofasciata)
- Yellow Labs/Electric Yellow Cichlids (Labidochromis caeruleus)
- Jewel Cichlids (Hemichromis bimaculatus)
- Convict Cichlids (Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum)
- Malawi Cichlids (Pseudotropheus & Melanochromis)
- African Butterfly or Thomas’ Cichlid (Anomalochromis thomasi)
- Buffalo Cichlid (Steatocranus casuarius)
- Chocolate Cichlid (Cichlasoma coryphaenoides / C. hellabruni)
- Haitian Cichlids (Nandopsis haitiensis)
- Keyhole Cichlid (Aequidens maronii)
- Minkley’s Cichlid (Herichthys minckleyi)
- Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)
- Slender Bumphead Cichlid (Steatocranus gibbiceps)
Although not limited to these species, these fish have been identified as snail eaters. So if you plan on keeping snails, they should be avoided/watched with great prejudice.
Types of Snails, and Are They Eaten or Not By Cichlids?
As much as certain cichlid species are more inclined to snack on your snails, so are some snails more inclined to become snacks for hungry cichlids.
Ramshorn Snails (Planorbella duryi and Planorbarius corneus), Mystery Snails (Pomacea bridgesii), and Pond Snails (Lymnaeidae) seem to be a popular choice for those cichlids that eat snails.
The table below looks at a few snail species and where they feature (or not) on the cichlid menu.
|Snail Species||Food status||Reasons|
|Mystery Snails/Spike-topped Apple Snail (Pomacea bridgesii)||Often eaten||Large, peaceful snails|
|Assassin Snail (Anentome Helena)||Often eaten||Small-sized|
|Malaysian Trumpet Snail/Red-rimmed Melania (Melanoides tuberculata)||Less frequently eaten||Hard shells cannot be crushed. Some cichlids have learned to pull the snails out of their shells|
|Horned Nerites (Clithon corona)||Less frequently eaten||Hard, spiky shells|
Certain snails will burrow into the substrate and hide while cichlids are active, reducing the frequency of chance meetings.
Some snails are active hunters who may try and catch cichlids in the first place.
How Do Cichlids Eat Snails?
Cichlids are resourceful fish of different sizes and strengths.
Different species have different ways of eating/harassing snails. These include:
- Crushing the shell in their jaws. Especially larger, stronger species of cichlids.
- Sucking the snail out. When the snail’s shell is too hard, or the cichlid is small.
- Harassing until the snail dies. Sometimes cichlids are not interested in eating the snail but instead push them around the tank; crush the snail against a hard object, or bite off pieces of the snail.
Other Variables Which Play a Role in Whether a Cichlid Will Eat a Snail or Not
Cichlid and snail species are not the only factors at work when it comes to menu decisions.
The numbers of snails and cichlids, their relative sizes, tank setup, and the individual cichlid’s personality all play a role.
Numbers of Cichlids and Snails in the Aquarium
More cichlids equate to more competition for food and other resources. This situation could lead to cichlids that are more aggressive and likely to attack and eat snails.
A greater number of snails in the tank results in cichlids coming more frequently into contact with them, inducing a predatory response.
The Size of Cichlids and Snails Found in Your Tank
Larger cichlids have stronger bite forces and will swallow up a snail in one go, while smaller cichlids may be unable to eat some snails.
Smaller cichlids do sometimes pull snails out of their shells/bite off pieces of the snail.
Smaller snails can fall prey to larger cichlids, which easily swallow them, while larger snails are generally better off.
Most cichlids will readily eat baby snails.
Tank Design and Set Up
A tank setup can either create more hiding places for snails or less. Many cichlids are territorial, so placing more plants, wood, and rocks creates more spaces for territories.
These items reduce aggression in cichlids but also create more hiding places for snails to escape to. Certain substrates will also assist snails in hiding, while others may hinder them.
The Individual Personalities of Cichlids
A little bit of anthropomorphism here, but different cichlids have different personalities.
Some may be aloof towards snails, while others may hound them. Knowing your fish and their behavior before you add snails to the tank will help you predict what may happen.
Can Cichlids Live With Snails?
In certain situations, cichlids can live with snails, while in others, they can’t.
The solution to this question is to add a few (in-expensive) snails into your tank and observe your cichlid’s behavior.
If they ignore the snails, then they should co-exist. However, if they harass, attack, or attempt to eat the snails, you will need to remove the snails.
This comes down to the individual fish.
Some aquarists have found that their cichlids completely ignore the snails. Others have had their cichlids biting off chunks of snails, while others eat the snails outright.
This situation is not fixed. Cichlids’ behavior can change.
Just because they do, or don’t eat snails now, does not mean that it won’t change in the future.
The only way to know for sure is to monitor your home aquarium and keep tabs on its denizens.
Although commonly believed that cichlids are not big snail eaters, many aquarists have a different opinion. Depending on the species of cichlid and snail, the numbers and sizes of both and the personality traits of the cichlid in question will determine whether they will snack on snails as a part-time hobby or as a preferred food choice.