The axolotl is becoming quite a popular aquarium pet, thanks in large part to keeper videos and articles about this unique-looking and quite rare species.
Axolotls in the wild are almost functionally extinct, as Scientific American points out.
But in captivity, the axolotl is thriving. Axolotls are actually related to tiger salamanders, but unlike most salamander species they never fully grow up.
Instead, axolotls retain certain immature features, including their signature external gill “feathers” and long tadpole-like tail, all through life. They also stay in the water all of their life.
This raises the natural question of what other species can be safely housed with axolotls, which will hunt anything that moves. Snails are a popular choice for their well-known algae eating abilities.
But should you keep snails with your axolotl? For that matter, do axolotls eat snails? Is it safe to keep axolotls and snails together? We will look at the answers to all these important questions in this article.
Watch An Adult Axolotl Try to Eat a Whole Snail
In this keeper-made YouTube video, you can watch an adult axolotl struggling to eat a whole snail.
The axolotl has grasped the soft body of the snail with its stub teeth and is holding on while trying to figure out how to swallow the shell part.
As Axolotl Nerd points out, this is a dangerous situation for the axolotl that could end in tragedy – internal injury, perforation, choking and suffocation could easily occur.
Do Axolotls Eat Snails? They Do But They Probably Shouldn’t
Now that you have watched the YouTube clip from the previous section here, you have a better idea of some of the dangers of housing axolotls and snails together.
You can also get a better visual picture of what might happen to your axolotl if they tangle with a snail.
Trying to swallow a snail puts your axolotl at risk of more than just injury or suffocation, however.
Snails can also carry bacteria, fungus, and parasites which can infect your axolotl and cause a lot of damage. The same holds true of aquarium fish and some live plants.
Axolotls have soft bodies and no external defenses, so they can be very vulnerable to parasites and diseases introduced by tank mates.
How Do Axolotls Eat Snails?
Axolotls don’t have very good eyesight. They mainly rely on the movement of live prey to attract their attention.
When an axolotl spies movement, this causes them to snap their mouth open and shut in the direction of the movement. With any luck, they will trap whatever moved in their mouths and can try to swallow it.
As you may have seen with your own axolotl, this is not the most efficient hunting method.
It is also not the safest because your axolotl may not be sure what it just captured, how big or strong it is, whether it is safe to eat or even possible to swallow.
In the wild, an axolotl that attempts to grasp and swallow a snail and gets into trouble will have no recourse. In a captive setting, however, your axolotl relies on you to make sure the aquarium is a safe place to hunt and live.
Since snails are slow, it might not seem like they pose a big risk of attracting an axolotl’s attention. But snails primarily feed on algae and often sit on plant fronds or crawl up and down the tank walls or across the substrate on the bottom of the tank.
This movement can definitely attract an axolotl’s attention and trigger the mouth-snapping motion.
But as the Caudata axolotl forum points out, this may then cause your axolotl to also swallow substrate, plants, or algae, none of which are good for axolotls.
Axolotls are carnivorous all their lives. They don’t need to eat any plant matter and they don’t have a way to digest it. So eating plant leaves or algae isn’t good for their digestion.
If the plant is plastic or silk, this can cause impaction or obstruction that could become deadly. The same holds true if you have sand or gravel for the substrate.
Gravel and small rocks, like snail shells, can get caught in your axolotl’s gills and cause suffocation or severe physical damage. You may need to extract the matter from your axolotl’s gills or mouth, which also comes with numerous risks.
But Snails Are Pure Protein – Isn’t That Good for Axolotls?
There is truth to this statement, but luckily there are plenty of other animal protein food options for your axolotl that are much safer than snails.
As Frog Forum keepers explain, even small snail shells can cause risk of impaction or injury to axolotls.
The larger the snail shell, the greater the risk becomes. Many snail species have ridged or harder, thicker shells that may be literally impossible for axolotls to pass.
As Science Daily highlights, even the thinnest, smallest snail shells are made of several layers that include calcium carbonate and other materials.
Axolotls don’t have a way to digest this hard organic matter, so they must pass the shell through their whole gastrointestinal tract and eliminate it with their waste. If the snail shell gets stuck, it could kill them.
Are There Any Snail Species That Are Safe to Keep With Axolotls?
As the popular site Axolotl.org explains, in addition to the other dangers already mentioned earlier here, snails have another dangerous trait when housed with axolotls.
Snails often like to attach to the axolotl’s body and eat the slime that their skin produces. This slime has protective properties for the axolotl and having the snail nibbling at them can cause irritation and infection.
Snails can also transmit parasites this way, actually abrading the axolotl’s skin and giving the parasite ease of entry.
It isn’t a good idea to keep any species of the snail with axolotls for this reason.
How to Get Rid of Snails In the Axolotl Tank?
Earlier in this article, you learned that snails, despite their slow movements, can breed quite quickly.
Tropical Fish Forums keepers cite “snail takeovers” as a potential danger to their axolotls for multiple reasons.
But it isn’t always easy to get rid of snails once their numbers have increased. There are really only two ways to achieve this goal and only one is humane.
The first way is to simply get a second aquarium and house the axolotl apart from the snails. Snails can do very well with fish and many aquatic species, just not with axolotls.
The second way is to treat the tank to kill the snail population.
If you don’t want to keep two aquariums and can find another aquarist who wants your snails, that is yet another option to consider to avoid killing the snails.
Snails do contain animal protein, but they aren’t good food for axolotls because of their hard outer shells. There are much better food options for axolotls of every age, including bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, blackworms, earthworms, and nightcrawlers.
These prey offer balanced nutrition to your axolotl and are soft-bodied so they pose no risk of internal injury, impaction, choking, or suffocation.
Axolotls that are kept in proper conditions can easily live a decade or longer, making axolotls a great investment as well as a wonderful aquatic pet to enjoy. By learning how to safely house and feed your axolotl, you are doing your part to keep these endangered species alive.