Getting rid of Vermetid Snails in a Reef Tank (Complete Guide)
Why are Vermetid Snails bad?
Before we talk about how to prevent or get rid of Vermetid snails, let’s discuss why they are bad. Vermetid snails start off small like any other organisms. They wander around your tank until they find a happy spot. When they do, they settle down and “glue” themselves to the rock. They grow into a large tubular winding shell that spits out a web to capture floating food. It all sounds like it’s nothing to complain about, but I’ve seen it firsthand, destroy SPS colony.
The web would cast over the corals and irritate them. Over the course of a few weeks to months, the coral starts to look pale, and the polyp extension is longer there. Give it a few months and the coral’s health will deteriorate and may slowly die out. I’ve seen them next to zoas and softies but have yet to see them do much harm. I’m sure in due time, the same will happen.
Having a boatload of vermetid snails takes away the prized coral scape. No one wants to look at these tube thingies sticking out. We want to see colonies of corals! These snails are an eyesore. One thing that is not really talked about is the consumption of calcium. If you’re not dosing 2-part or running a calcium reactor, your calcium levels will go down once the Vermetid snails start colonizing and growing. If they attach themselves to an area with less flow, they will start branching out so they can pick up food from their webs. All this growth will use up calcium and the levels in your tank will decrease.
How to prevent getting Vermetid Snails in the first place
Introducing new corals to your tank requires following a stringent process.
One, inspect your corals for any pests or bugs. Vermetid snails are usually easily identifiable once they attach to a hard surface. You can’t really miss them unless it’s their eggs.
Second, there are so many unwanted pests out there that dipping the corals is a must. I use CoralRX and or Bayer (50% Bayer and 50% saltwater mix) for all my dipping. Dipping last for 5-10 minutes followed by two saltwater dips. I use the saltwater from my display tank to ensure the parameters and temperature are the same during dipping.
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Third, remember to cut off any frag plugs. Vermetid snails like to attach to coral plugs. I rarely see any being attached to a coral unless it’s a dead skeleton. Glue to a new plug if you need it on a plug.
Lastly, always set up a quarantine system with the same water parameter as the display tank where the corals will be mounted to. Let it sit in the QT tank for a few months to ensure the coral looks healthy and is pest free before introducing it to the main tank.
Not to sway away from the topic but a simple quarantine tank could be something as simple as this (I have a similar setup):
How to successfully get rid of Vermetid Snails
I don’t know of one true method to fully eradicate these pests while still being safe for corals, invertebrates, and fishes but let us go through some methods that have worked for other reefers in controlling the infestation.
An acid bath would work extremely well however you’ll end up killing off every living beneficial bacteria on the rock. This would be the method to take if you are going to reset your tank and start over. Personally, this is a last resort effort.
The two things that can be done right away are to feed less and break off the tubing/shell of the vermetid snail and kill off the snail inside. A word of caution, calcium uptake will increase if the snail did not completely die while it’s rebuilding its shell and ammonia may spike if you’ve killed off a boatload of them. I feed my fish Nori sheets on an algae clip to avoid having it float around. This will help with reducing the chance that free-floating food will fall on the web. For cutting the corals, I use a few different bone cutters. You’ll also need this needle-long pick and hook too to go in and break the shell (see below).
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Lets now talk about predators that can help with keeping the vermetid in control. The suggestions over many boards have come to the conclusion that the following fishes and wrasses will help.
The Malanarus and Yellow Coris wrasse helps with controlling other pests but when it comes to eating the hard shells of the Vermetid snail, it is probably not going to happen. If anything, their constant nibbling at the opening of the Vermetid shell will keep the snail retracted in its shell. With this happening over time, the snail would starve and die.
Emerald Crabs have been seen cracking the shells of the vermetid snail and going to town by eating them however I would assume these are the smaller Vermetid snails. It may be harder to crack the shell of an adult Vermetid snail but at a few dollars for an emerald crab, it may be worth a try.
A Copperband Butterfly has been seen poking into the opening of the vermetid snail. This is a possible solution if it is consistent and if it actually is able to eat the snail. I have not seen it in action but from what I’ve read, there are mixed reviews on the use of Copperband. The hardest part about this fish is keeping it alive. They are picky eaters so before you pick one up, make sure the LFS can show you that it’s eating before you take it home.
Tuxedo urchins are a new way of cleaning up the web. They don’t eat the snails but they hang out around the snail to clean up the area around it. If they hang out long enough, there’s the chance that they will keep consuming the web to starve the Vermetid snail. The drawback is that they guys move very slowly and would take a very long time to make their rounds in the tank. And one urchin is recommended per tank.
Acropora crabs are a good option if you have SPS. They live in the coral and clean the area around the coral that they host. They don’t go after the Vermetid snail, but they keep the SPS clean. This help with web irritation from the vermetid snail and would be a good addition to any SPS colony.
Bubble bee snails do eat vermetid snails however you will need to have a lot of them. Get them from ReefCleaners.com as they have the best deal around. They offer a bulk package that can save you money. The only drawback from this is that you’ll need to break off the shell of the larger Vermetid snails as these bubble bee snails don’t have the ability to eat the shell. I’ve witnessed them gathering around a vermetid snail after the shell was broken so they do consume them. It’s worth a try if you have an uncontrollable population. The bumble bee will also work on clearing out any unwanted algae that you have.
Another method that has worked is using Aiptasia X and injecting the chemical into the tubes of the Vermetid snail. I turn off the pump for 30 minutes while I inject the chemicals into the tubes of the snail. I normally would check back in a few days to see the outcome. My test has resulted in a 50% success rate. Maybe I was doing something wrong, but it seems to work for a few and not for all. Give it a try and let me know if it works in the comment section below.
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One sure way to get rid of these snails is to glue the opening. Make sure to use this glue as it’s safe for the reef tank. The only problem is locating the snails and gluing them one by one. It’s best if the rock can be taken out for gluing but if not, it does get a little messy doing this in the water. It’s also very hard to get to the ones that are on the bottom of the rock or in the crevices.
High-power laser? While this method works for aiptasia, I could not get it to work for the vermetid snails. I used a high-power 5-watt unit that was very hard to get. This is the one I’m using but any high-powered laser will work.
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Putting on safety goggles and long sleeve shirt is a must. Snap, crackle, and pop were heard but the only thing the snail did was retract into his hiding hole. After a few minutes, the vermetid came back out. I have tried it from different angles and on different parts of the shell with no success. If I’m doing it wrong, please let me know.
One of the best approach that needs more testing include the introduction of toby puffers, specifically the Valentini (Saddleback) and Blue Spotted puffers. There have been a few reefers who’s seen the puffers in action tearing through the shell and eradicating the Vermetid snails. Puffers have teeth that they need to file down so it does make sense that they would be able to eat through the snail shell. The only drawback is that they will go after your inverts, zoas, and SPS as well. Of course, this is a hit or miss since others have reported their puffer to be tamed. If you plan to test out any of these methods or if you know of a method that works, please drop it down in the comment section to share with others. Also, check back soon for an update on the Saddleback puffer as I’ve been meaning to get one in.
Another fish option is the harlequin tusk. This fish has been seen eating vermetid snails and reports on Reef2Reef suggest this fish would be a good addition to control the pest however it’ll also eat other living creatures such as shrimp, snails, urchins, etc. This fish is considered reef-safe but not clean-up crew-safe.
All in all, this pest seems to be one of the worst in this hobby but I’m sure as the community comes together to do more testing, we’ll find a way to get rid of them completely.
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