By Mark Denaro
I’d rather spend time enjoying my tanks than cleaning them, so it is important to have an efficient crew of workers in each tank. For planted tanks, I need a crew that will take care of any algae growth and something to ensure that the snail population doesn’t explode.
A lot of folks like to use snails for algae control but I’m just not in that habit. Ramshorn and pond snails can breed at tremendous rates and mystery snails can eat leaves, so I gravitated to using various loricariid catfish for algae control. Since pond and ramshorn snails tend to travel on Florida-grown plants, their introduction to a planted tank is almost inevitable. In response, I also developed the habit of adding some type of botia loach that would eat the snails to every tank to keep them in check.
It should be noted that I’m using the term “botia” to represent the group. Many of the fish that were classified in the genus Botia 20 years ago have since been moved into new genera, as the various subgenera have been raised to genus level.
I always try to size the botia to the tank. While clown loaches are still the most popular of the botias, they’re not always the best choice for planted tanks. They get rather large (up to 24 inches) and they can easily uproot plants as they grow. As a consequence, I’ve tended to use some of the smaller species over the years and the yoyo loach B. lohachata has become my favorite of that group. It is attractive and particularly good at snail control, but it grows to 5 inches so it’s still a little large for a lot of tanks.
As times and the availability of species changed over the years, I started adding Amano shrimp Caridinia japonica into my worker mix. Unfortunately, many of the loaches would consider shrimp to be part of their diet, so adding the Amanos complicates the selection of a botia
Fortunately, dwarf botias Yasuhikotakia (Botia) sidthimunki, have become available in the aquarium trade again after a long absence. This beautiful species is one of the best botias for planted aquariums. It is a peaceful, active, diurnal species, so it has a big advantage over many of the other botias which are primarily nocturnal. Y. sidthimunki grows to approximately 2 inches in length and consequently won’t uproot plants or pose any threat to adult shrimp.
Because the Amano shrimp larvae require a marine phase, their successful reproduction is not going to take place in a planted aquarium and we don’t have to worry about the dwarf loaches eating young shrimp. If you are using red crystal shrimp or any of the other species that reproduce in freshwater and want them to reproduce in your tank, you may not want to add any type of botia.
Recent years have also seen the introduction of a number of interesting snails to the hobby. Of particular interest to planted tank enthusiasts are the various members of the genus Neritina that can live in freshwater. Similar to the Amano shrimp, these species require brackish or marine water for proper larval development and consequently cannot reproduce in the freshwater aquarium. That fact, combined with their appetite for algae, makes them wonderful species to use as workers in planted tanks. The botias will attack them in the same way that they will attack less desirable species, though, and this can present a challenge for the hobbyist.
If you want to use nerites but don’t want to risk population explosions of other snail species, it is important to treat every plant that goes into the tank with aluminum sulphate, potassium permanganate, or some other chemical that will kill not only snails but snail eggs that may be attached to the plants. The aquarist must also remain ever vigilant in case any snails survive this process. Any other snail species must be removed from the tank as soon as the hobbyist realizes that they are present.