Why can’t I keep my Turbo snails alive?

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A reader is puzzled as to why his turbo snails have such a short lifespan. PFK expert Jeremy Gay advises.

I have a 125 l marine set-up housing a pair of clownfish, a Coral beauty, a small bristletooth tang, a Peppermint shrimp, various hermits and some Turbo snails. There are also some soft corals. My Turbos do a great job of cleaning the glass but I’m finding that they don’t live more than a few weeks at most. Everything else is doing great so I’m not sure whether such a short lifespan is normal or not. Please can you advise?

HENRY CLAPTON, VIA EMAIL

Jeremy says: Turbo snails not only need enough food, but also good calcium and carbonate hardness in the water to stay healthy. First, test the KH, calcium and magnesium levels to check that they are as they should be for coral growth. If the KH is low that could be one reason why the snails are dying. Next, test the nitrate and phosphate levels. These should be low, and anything above 40ppm of nitrate may be affecting them too. 

However, starvation is a common cause of death with Turbo snails, so that should definitely be considered. How new is the tank? Do you have live rock or dry ceramic rock? And is there enough food, like lush green algae, on the rocks and glass for the snails to feed on? Turbos won’t eat cyanobacteria or diatoms, so you may need to supplement their diet with some sea veggies of the type that you’d feed to your tang and angelfish. 

But there is also a very real likelihood that the snails are being killed by the hermit crabs, which are known to hunt them for their meat and then use their empty shells as homes. If the crabs are the culprits they could be preying on the snails through starvation too, so again you’d need to supplement their diet, but in the case of the crabs it should be with meaty foods like cockle or krill (frozen is fine). 

Most snails sold as ‘Turbo’ are actually a from a genus called Tectus. They aren’t as easy as Astrea or Trochus, or the true Turbo snails which have a curled shell. I’ve kept the three latter species for over three years, and the Trochus breed too. Give them a try, but make sure your water conditions are tip-top, and watch those hermits! 

One point of note is that your tank is much too small an environment for any of the bristletooth tangs, which actually require upwards of 300 l for their grazing activity and
to exercise. It’s also a little bit too small for the Coral beauty too, so consider upgrading to a tank with at least twice the volume if you’re intending to keep angels or tangs.