There are a number of snails that are employed to help turn the upper layers of the sand bed and to scavenge on food items that come to rest on the aquarium bottom. Most of these are small, relatively bland-looking snails. For example, the members of the genus Nassarius are probably the most often utilized in this role. There common name, mud snails, attests not only to their habitat preferences but also their not so sexy appearance! But there is a genus of gastropods that is not only effective at clean-up duties, but also are very attractive. These are the snails in the genus Babylonia (family Babyloniidae), two or more of which show-up in the aquarium trade on occasion (including Babylonia zeylanica and B. formosae). These snails sport butterscotch colored blotches on a white to yellowish-cream background. They reach an appreciable size for a snail (around 2.5 inches) and are harvested for human consumption in some parts of Asia.
The Babylonia spp. are excellent scavengers. They spend most of the day living under the sand. Usually, all you see of them at this time is their elongated “trunk” (proboscis) sticking from the substrate, that is until an olfactory stimulant is added to the tank (e.g., fish food). Then they erupt from the sand and begin to search for the source of the smell. They can move at a pretty good clip and will consume any meaty food that makes it to the sand bed.
While they are attractive, effective scavengers, the Babylonia spp. are rumored to have a “dark side.” They have been reported to feed on smaller snails and have even been implicated on attacks on tridacnid clams. I have kept individuals with numerous Nassarius snails and while they may have picked off an occasional gastropod neighbor, they certainly didn’t decimate my population of smaller snails over the years that I had them. I have never kept this animal with bivalves, but would avoid doing so or do so with caution. While they may occasionally knock off other mollusks, they are not close to being as lethal as the whelks (family Buccinidae) that are sometimes available.
© Scott W. Michael - Reef Tectonics
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