Algae-eating snails are a functional choice for peaceful planted aquariums, but rarely excel in mixed communities. If you want an invertebrate that is social, curious, and colorful, check out our guide to the impressive Sulawesi giant or rabbit snail and see if they are right for your tank.
INTRODUCTION TO THE RARE RABBIT SNAIL
If you’ve never seen a tank of rabbit snails (genus Tylomelania), you might be wondering what all the excitement is about. While most snails are added to aquariums for their algae-eating abilities rather than their appearance or personality, rabbit snails are different. Let’s take a look at what makes the Rabbit such an impressive invertebrate:
- Unlike small, shy and unassuming species of aquatic snails such as the nerite and ramshorn, rabbits are large, curious and social, and really stand out from the other animals in their community.
- These snails are very active during the day and look for interesting places in their tank to graze and explore.
- The appearance of rabbit snails varies widely by species, but their shells are often brightly colored or distinctively marked, and their soft bodies range from vivid yellow to charcoal black.they may have additional color spots or streaks.
|Common names||Rabbit snail, Elephant snail, Pit snail, Giant Sulawesi snail|
|Scientific name||Various species of the genus Tylomelania|
|level of care||Easy|
|Size||3 to 5 inches long|
|Diet||Omnivore; feeds mainly on algae and decaying plant material|
|Temper||Curious, social and gentle|
|Minimum tank size||30 gallons|
|Temperature range||68 to 84°F (76 to 82°F ideal)|
NATURAL HISTORY AND HABITAT
Rabbit snails first went on sale in the US in 2008 and are still rare and hard to find in most aquatic stores. These vivid invertebrates are found in warm freshwater lakes and streams throughout Sulawesi, Indonesia, and are native to the Poso Lake and Malili Lake systems:
- There are currently more than 50 species in the genus Tylomelania, and scientists are working to distinguish and describe all of the individual species that can be sold generically as «rabbit snails» in stores.
- Rabbit or Poso snails are omnivores that feed primarily on algae and decaying plant material, but like most scavengers, they will also gladly eat other food scraps.
- Unlike most snail species, rabbits are viviparous, meaning that they carry their developing embryos within their bodies and give birth to live young rather than laying eggs (see Reproduction below).
SNAIL SIZE AND APPEARANCE
Rabbit snails are usually sold as 1 to 2 inch juveniles, and can quickly reach 3 to 5 inches in length in a warm aquarium, hence their nickname as Giant Sulawesi. Similar in shape to the Malaysian trumpet snail (MTS), rabbits have a spiral conical shell that looks like an inverted unicorn horn.
Its most distinctive feature is the appearance of its muscular ventral foot, which is the soft part of the body that extends outside its shell. Between their long, wrinkled proboscis and drooping tentacles, their faces display a variety of comical expressions that make them resemble a stuffed rabbit or toy elephant.
These snails are sexually monomorphic, so you won’t be able to tell a gender from their appearance. An interesting feature is the noticeable groove that runs down the right side of its soft body, from the shell to the edge of its foot. This is the transfer groove that the encapsulated embryo travels through during the birthing process !
Types of rabbit snails: colors and markings
Rabbit snails are available in an impressive range of colors for both shell and soft body, and may have additional spots or bars of color on their ventral foot that further emphasize their comical, elephant-like, or bunny-like appearance. Species vary widely in their shell textures, colors, and markings, but in general:
- The soft parts of their body range from vivid yellow, orange, red, or cream to deep charcoal gray or black, and can be monochromatic or multi-colored.
- Many snails have additional black, white, or yellow markings on their faces and soft bodies that may appear as streaks or spots of color, or may resemble the wrinkles on an elephant’s trunk.
- Their shells vary from smooth to rough, and are often a multi- colored mix of white, black, brown, gray, and/or orange. It is quite common in adult snails to see a small amount of solution in the oldest part of the shell, near the tip.
When shopping for these rainbow-colored invertebrates, keep in mind that they can be sold under a variety of names, as the specific species is rarely known. The most common types I have seen for sale in the US include:
- Giant Sulawesi Rabbit Snails
- Black, gold, red, yellow, orange or dark chocolate bunny snails
- Yellow or yellow and white Poso snails
Rabbit snails typically live 1-3 years in an aquarium, but you may be able to keep them longer in spacious facilities by paying diligent attention to diet and water quality.
BEHAVIOR AND TEMPERAMENT
Rabbit snails are active grazers during the day using all parts of their tank and even burrowing into the substrate. They are not shy and with their bright colours, large size and outgoing personality you will easily see them in your tank most of the time:
- These peaceful invertebrates are curious, social, and enjoy exploring their surroundings as they search for edible scraps and patches of algae.
- Rabbit snails may clump together while feeding or when retreating into their shell to sleep.
- These snails move jerkily, almost as if they are struggling to drag the huge coiled shell behind them, adding to the comedy of their appearance.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR RABBIT SNAIL TANK
Rabbit snails are generally easy to care for and are an ideal choice for new fish keepers, but these giant-sized invertebrates do have a few requirements that you’ll need to meet if you want to maintain a healthy population.
TANK CONFIGURATION AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
Unlike their MTS cousins and many other popular aquatic snails, rabbits are not well suited to small or nano aquariums or simple fish tank habitats. What kind of setup do you need for a group of giant snails that can grow to almost half a foot long?
Rabbit snails do best in spacious aquariums. While you could probably get away with keeping a single snail in a 20-gallon tank, I recommend at least a 30-gallon capacity for two snails, and larger is the way to go if you can. You can choose any shape you prefer, so feel free to get a long or portrait style breeding tank if you like.
Since rabbit snails sometimes burrow into their substrate, it is best to use aqua soil or fine sand rather than coarse aquarium gravel in your snail tank. This will make it easier for them to dig and prevent injury to their soft bodies or muscular feet. However, these snails are not a good choice for bare aquariums.
Water and temperature parameters
While rabbits can survive in water from 68 to 84°F, they definitely prefer warmer water between 76 and 82°C. Their metabolism slows down and they may not be as active or grow as large if you are not using a heater. They require hard, alkaline water with a dKH of 2 to 15 and a pH of 7.3 to 8.2.
Maturity, filtration and aeration of the tank
Giant snails produce a lot of waste and are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrate poisoning, so they do best in mature tanks with full cycles. I would avoid adding them to new setups, but if you do, be sure to test your water regularly until your bacterial populations are well established (3-6 months):
- Adding an air stone or bubbler can help maintain high oxygen levels and prevent dead zones in your tank and substrate.
- Snails are not picky about flow rate, but young snails can squeeze through the inlet and into your filtration system, so be sure to use a fine mesh or sponge tip to avoid injury.
Lights, Plants and Decorations
Rabbit snails may avoid brightly lit areas of their tank, but this is usually a behavior seen in wild-caught adults rather than captive-bred juveniles. Young snails get used to bright aquarium lights, although they may still prefer to graze in the shaded parts of your tank.
These snails are ideal for planted aquariums and enjoy feeding on decaying plant material, but are so large that they can have trouble moving through dense vegetation. It is better to space the plants to give them more room. You can use natural decoration such as rocks, bog wood, and sticks, or any other decorations you prefer.
Snails are very sensitive to dirty aquariums, so you’ll want to make sure you change your aquarium water, clean your filters, and replace filter media on a routine schedule. You will also need to vacuum the substrate regularly to prevent debris from building up at the bottom of the tank.
As algae-eating omnivores, rabbit snails need both plant and animal foods, but not in equal amounts. If you keep them in a mixed community with omnivorous fish or freshwater shrimp, they are likely to forage a lot for protein on their own. Balance your tank algae diet with a daily meal and a few weekly treats:
- Offer community snails a primary diet of sinking algae wafers, spirulina pellets, and spirulina powder.
- Weekly treats of freshly blanched vegetables like zucchini and cucumber also help balance your nutrition.Calcium supports healthy shell growth, so offer blanched spinach, kale, and other leafy greens for a boost!
- For breeding populations of snails or those in single-species or snail-only tanks, offer a few weekly sinking omnivore protein treats or catfish pellets to supplement their diet and encourage egg production.
The best tankmates for giant snails are other peaceful, non-aggressive community fish and invertebrates. Look for animals that won’t bother your snails or their young. You can even have adult rabbit snails with assassin snails, although they will eat any babies.Ideal tank mates for rabbit snails include:
- Small fish like tetras, rasboras, gourami, danios, or life carriers like guppies and mollies
- Freshwater invertebrates such as Cherry, Amano or Ghost Shrimp
- Other aquatic snails such as Ramshorn, Nerite, MTS or Mystery snails
BREEDING OF RABBIT SNAILS
Viviparous rabbit snails are slightly more difficult to breed than other freshwater snails, but only moderately so. They breed much more slowly than egg-laying species, so they won’t fill your tank with young. Rabbit snails are dioecious, having two distinct genera, although the males and females appear identical:
- You will have more breeding success if you keep a group of 3-6 snails to increase the chances of a good male-female pair.
- The males produce a spermatophore and pass it to the female, who takes it to her brood pouch to fertilize the eggs internally. Females can also store sperm, so they can produce some babies of their own.
Gestation varies by species, but rabbit snails tend to calve every 4 to 6 weeks on average. Changes in the environment can trigger the birthing process, so it’s not uncommon for snails to leave the babies during shipping or just after moving to a new tank. Warmer water conditions (80°F+) also increase breeding activity.
- After fertilization, the embryo develops within the female’s brood pouch enclosed in a nutrient – rich egg sac. During delivery, the sac travels through the transfer slot until it is released into the tank.
- Soon after, the gelatinous sac breaks open, releasing the fully formed miniature rabbit chick. Baby snails are typically 3.2 to 6.5 mm long (0.125 to 0.25 in) at birth and immediately begin feeding on the biofilm.
- Females usually have one embryo at a time, but it is not uncommon for them to shed twins or triplets from time to time.
The biggest problem I have seen with rabbit snails is their propensity to be infested with leeches. You will need to watch your snails closely and quickly remove any leeches you see hiding in their soft bodies. Some can hide under the shell, so it can take a few weeks to completely get rid of an outbreak.
Rabbit snails are also prone to problems with their shells and are sensitive to many medications. Like all aquatic snails, they need mineral-rich water to support healthy shell development:
- Mild or acidic conditions can cause shell disintegration and can eventually be lethal to your snails.
- Rabbit snails are very sensitive to copper and even small amounts can be toxic. Avoid using copper-based aquarium drugs or copper -contaminated tap water in a snail aquarium.
IDEAL CONFIGURATION OF THE RABBIT SNAIL: LIST OF EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES
To support a breeding population of rabbit snails along with a good variety of small fish and invertebrates, here is a list of things you will need to set up a great snail tank. Once the cycle is over (3-6 months), you can start adding your Rabbit snails:
To set up your aquarium, you will need:
- 40+ Gallon Tank with Cap/Lid, Bracket, and Lamp
- Sponge or mesh tipped HOB container or filter over inlet
- aquarium heater
- Temperature indicator
- Airstone or bubbler with air pump and plastic tube
- Sand, earth or fine gravel substrate
- Variety of live plants and decorations.
To feed your snails, you will need to grab:
- Sunken algae wafers, granules and spirulina powder
- freshly blanched vegetables
- Catfish pellets or omnivores for bottom feeders
To maintain your snail tank you will need:
- Gravel vac, hoses, and a bucket for water changes and maintenance
- filter medium
- Water analysis kit (pH, hardness, ammonia, nitrates)
- water conditioner
- aquarium salt and tweezers (leech control)
|Common name (species)||Rabbit snail, elephant snail, bed snail, giant Sulawesi snail (multiple Tylomelania sp)|
|Source||Lake Poso and Lake Malili systems in Sulawesi, Indonesia|
|Diet||Omnivore; mainly algae and plant material|
|Feeding||Sunken algae wafers, spirulina and freshly blanched vegetables along with occasional protein-rich bottom feed pellets as treats|
|level of care||Easy|
|Exercise||Active but slow diurnal grazing|
|Temper||Curious, social and gentle|
|tank level||All areas|
|Minimum tank size||30 gallons|
|Temperature range||68 to 84°F (76 to 82°F ideal)|
|Hardness of water||Hard water 2 to 15 dKH|
|pH range||Alkaline water 7.3 to 8.2|
|Maturity / Tank Filtration||Requires a mature, fully cycled habitat with well-filtered, very clean water and high oxygen levels, but not sensitive to flow rates.|
|Breeding||Viviparous; breeds slowly in aquariums|
|Compatibility||Ideal tankmates are other peaceful, non-aggressive fish and invertebrates such as tetras, rasboras, gourami, small freshwater shrimp, and other snails. Avoid sticking with cichlids, crayfish, loaches, or goldfish.|
|Is it ok for planted tanks?||Ideal for planted tanks and enjoys eating decaying vegetation.|
Have you ever had a rabbit snail or have we convinced you to try it in your mature tank? We’d love to hear your thoughts on these big, beautiful and fun-looking snails, so please leave a comment below or join our largest community online.