Vermetids and the Reef Tank

Vermetid snails are a type of snail that begins its life as a small mobile creature that can move where it wants. It then plants itself to a rock and builds a calcified tube where it spends the rest of its time. The featured image for this article is a great example of how they grow. There are hundreds of different variants of this snail in the wild, but most found in our aquarium are close to the same size, anywhere from a small 1mm tube diameter to about 5mm on the large side. In my tank there are a few different types but they all generally act the same. They build up their tube so they can spit their mucus into the flow of water, yet without letting the mucus go. This mucus then picks up small pieces of food, which they then eat with the mucus. If you start seeing them in your tank don’t let them go untouched. They will build a large population and annoy your expensive corals you’ve worked so hard to keep happy. They can come from live rock, frags, and I’m sure sand depending on where it came from.  I don’t know if the following is true, but it seems as they have an effect on other snails as well. I haven’t been able to keep snails for a while now and I think it’s due to the vermetids in my tank. If I bought a batch of snails they would get into the tank and act fine for the first few hours, it was then after that they would get lethargic and die. It also didn’t matter on the species of snail either. It wasn’t until recently I decided to try snails again. This time they’re doing fine. I believe it is because I got rid of most of the vermetids in my tank and keep a look out for them as well.

Dealing with Vermetids My Way

I have been dealing with them for years, but just recently it got to the point where I decided enough was enough. They were everywhere and starting to kill my coral. My overall reef health was lacking greatly and the only thing I could do was blame it on them. I decided to remove all my rock from my main display as long as it did not have coral growing on it and acid wash it. I kept my bio-pellets and sulfur denitrator running for the bio load. I also didn’t touch the rock in the sump.

Vermetid Pests

My decision on washing the rock with hydrochloric acid was drastic, but I did not want to buy new rock. I was hoping this acid wash would kill all the vermetids, as well as eat away their tube releasing them from it. This is so no toxic build up would occur. What do I mean my toxic build up?  For all the time I have dealt with vermetids I’ve done what I’ve read on forums and heard in the reef community. Most people will tell you to superglue their tube shut, or use a kalk slurry to eject into their tube. It wasn’t until i took most of my rock out that I found out this was a very bad idea!! Yes, this will slow them down but what will happen is they will die in the tube and become a huge source of nutrients. I also believe they are toxic in some way, and this leaching into the tank is not good. When I started removing the live rock with previously killed vermetids on it, it REAKED. The rock literally made me nauseous just being around it, and I’m not one to complain about cleaning up gross stuff. If this rock was making me nauseous just imagine what it was doing to my tanks inhabitants. It was at that point I had realized killing them with glue or kalk for that many years led to a big problem. I ended up throwing away a few rocks due to the extent of the tubes kalked shut.  I did end up breaking a few open to see what was inside. The previously kalked snails had turned into a black sludge just festering in the enclosed tube. It was hands down the worse smell I have dealt with so far in my life. These vermetids really made this whole acid washing experience quite unpleasant.

Acid Washing Live Rock

To wash the rock, I just got a few buckets lined up. One with the 10-20 percent HCL and the rest devoted to rinse buckets I had filled with RO water. I also had a 30-gallon tote at the end with fresh water so the rock could hang out in there for a few days. I wanted to make this a quick project so I didn’t let the rock sit in the acid too long, maybe ten minutes. I placed the acid bucket in the wash sink because the reaction makes a lot of bubbles. If you decide on doing this be warned, your bucket will overflow. Don’t be afraid of trying different percentages of HCL, just do so with the right safety gear! The rock came out nice and white. Any vermatid tubes I couldn’t manually remove before the acid wash were etched through. This was great because now the rock could be thoroughly rinsed. Below is a picture of the etched shell rinsed clean.

Aging Live Rock

After letting the rock sit in the tub of fresh RO water for 2 days I changed out the water again with fresh RO. I almost forgot, remember to do this in your garage or outside because it will stink! Another day or 2 went buy and I then changed the water with salt water from a water change hoping some bacteria would tag along. I placed it in the tub with an air stone and a small pump to circulate the water. I did not add a heater because I didn’t have an extra laying around, which is living life on the edge being a reefer. It took a week or 2 but the tub began to smell less and less. Once it just smelled like normal salt water I brought it inside and put it next to my salt tank so it could warm up. I placed a media bag of GFO and carbon into the tub. The tubs starting phosphate concentration was 0.50 ppm as well as off the chart nitrates. Another week or 2 went by and I changed out the water with salt water from my tank again. This time I let it sit until the phosphate was under 0.05ppm and the nitrate around 4ppm. Once I was satisfied with the rock having a bacteria population I placed it in my tank. It has been 2 weeks and things seem to be going well. No problems with PH and nutrients at the moment. I haven’t had any die off, although i do seem to have patches of cyano, but that’s an ongoing thing….

My Vermetid Experience

Looking back at my vermetid experience a few things come to mind. I believe my main problem from the beginning was over feeding, specifically cyclopes. These little creatures are perfect for vermetids to thrive. I also wonder if buying live rock from someone I don’t know was a bad idea, maybe he had problems with it and that’s why he ended up selling it. I was a newbie and didn’t have an eye for the hobby yet anyways. Overall, just remember what I have learned, try and remove vermetids from your tank rather than kill them in it, as well as watch your feeding and nutrients levels. Taking the time to remove your rock and pry the vermetids off when you first notice them will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.