Bumblebees of the Sea

by Susan Spann

I’m not only a mystery writer and ninja enthusiast–I’m also an avid aquarium keeper. As such, I often have the chance to share some things most people never see. In the coming weeks, my Saturday posts will sometimes share a glimpse into my watery world.

Today, we’re taking a look at a creature most people have never heard of: the bumblebee snail (Pusiostoma mendicaria).

14H15 Bumblebee Snails

In most places, snails are considered pests. Gardeners salt them, freshwater fish-keepers pluck them from plants, and people often step on them in the street. But in the marine aquarium, snails take on an entirely different perspective: they’re an important part of the “clean-up crew.” On the reef (both captive and in the wild) snails eat algae, detritus, leftover food and … poop. Yep, I said it: snails will even eat poop.

Bumblebee snails are native to the shallow, reef-filled waters of Fiji and other tropical islands. They’re small (about the size of a jelly belly jellybean) and considered “reef safe” for home aquariums because they don’t eat living corals or fish. Instead, these opportunistic omnivores feed mostly on detritus and “leftovers” ( uneaten fish food … and the aforementioned poop).

If you have a reef aquarium, and want to purchase bumblebee snails, you can find them at almost any reputable fish store. Like most invertebrates, they will need a 45-minute acclimatization drip before you put them in the tank. Acclimatization is an important part of the acquisition process, because it ensures that the snails’ bodies have time to adjust to any differences in temperature and salinity. If you dump them straight into the tank, they will often die from shock. (This is true of almost all fish and invertebrates, incidentally — running a long enough acclimatization drip will dramatically increase the survival rate of new specimens in your aquarium.)

14H15 Bumblebees acclimatizing

You can see an acclimatization drip in action in the photo. The flexible tubing connects to my tank, and the little blue head on the end allows me to set and adjust the rate of flow.

(The larger shell at the center is a halloween hermit I brought home the same day as these bumblebee snails.)

After the drip comes the drop – right into the reef, where bumblebee snails will quickly make themselves at home. When roaming around the rocks, you’ll often see them “sniffing” the water with little snorkel-like proboscises that they use to detect their food.

14H15 Bumblebee on RockBumblebee snails are more difficult to see in the wild, because they hide in caves and under overhangs during the daylight hours. Their yellow and black striped shells are too easy for predators to see in daylight.  On wild reefs, and in home aquariums, bumblebee snails  venture out mostly at feeding time and at night.

As snails go, bumblebees are one of the few that meet with nearly universal approval, even from people who usually don’t like snails. Most people don’t consider snails “cute” under normal circumstances – but in the case of bumblebees, I think we can make an exception.


Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

* All images copyright Susan Spann (2013).

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