After writing about identifying algae and some remedies for it, I think this is a good time to list some top algae eating critters to add to your clean up crew. I’m not going to rank them, as each one will suit a different setup better than another, so my number 1 may not be your number one, making a rank irrelevant.
The list below is simply a list of fish and invertebrates that will do a great job of keeping your aquarium clean and algae free, or at least reduce the levels of algae and save you some scrubbing.
Shopping for algae eating fish can sometimes be a little difficult. Many fish shops will list fish as algae eaters that technically aren’t. A couple of common examples are common and sailfin pleco, and Chinese algae eaters. All these guys will happily much on algae as juveniles, but as they grow they tend to need something with a bit more sustenance to it.
The large plecos will still eat algae, but they will create more mess than they clean up due to their enormous adult size (2 feet long). Chinese algae eaters are poorly named in my opinion, as these definitely only really eat it as juveniles, their preferred diet as adult fish is crustaceans. They will also eat the scales from other fish, so they can be a danger to other inhabitants of your aquarium.
Top Algae Eaters
Bristlenose Plec – Ancistrus
These guys are a favourite amongst aquarists. Bristlenose is pretty good at cleaning algae up and stay pretty small in comparison to many pleco species. That means they are suited to most aquariums and will help you to keep it algae free. In most cases, Bristlenose’ grow to between 3 and 5 inches long.
Males are easily identified by the bristles on the face. Females will have little to no visible bristles at all. If you do keep a mix of sexes then they will readily breed in the aquarium. Simply provide them with a cave to breed in and nature will usually do the rest.
As I said, these guys will do a good job of cleaning up algae, however, they do create a good amount of mess themselves. I’ve kept these on numerous occasions and I think it’s pretty rare that I’ve ever seen one not doing a poop. Another downside is that they can be territorial and possessive over food, just like many of their bigger cousins. Luckily though their smaller size means they can do far less damage when they do get a bit angry.
These guys come in a variety of colourations so it should be fairly easy to find one that appeals to you.
Siamese Algae Eaters
SAE’s are amazing at eating algae, this is the only fish I have ever owned that will even eat BBA. These guys like to live in groups of 6+and can grow to 6 inches. They are also fast swimming so they need a good size aquarium to school around in. Finding these can often be an issue, many shops confuse these with the siamese flying fox, which will not do half as good a job.
The way to tell the difference is:
The flying fox has yellow/orange in the caudal fin, it also has black highlights in the dorsal pelvic and anal fins.
The flying fox also has a more defined stripe down its body, the SAE’s black stripe will almost appear to fade to silver at the edges, rather than stop in a definite line.
Otocinclus are very small suckermouth catfish that do not normally get more than 2 inches in length. This means they are suited to smaller aquariums, but they are schooling fish, so you need space for a group of 6 or more. These guys will certainly do a good job of clearing algae up and being so small, won’t make too much mess.
Whiptails are fairly good at cleaning algae up. There are various species and most will do a good job of clearing your tank of algae but will also eat uneaten fish food (handy). It’s important to check which species you are buying with these as some get fairly large (around 8 inches). Like Bristlenose most species of whiptail will breed readily in the aquarium without much encouragement, so if you have more than one, you may end up with many more.
And that’s it for fish, I have yet to find any more that don’t make more mess than they clean up, once I do, I will update this post.
Algae eating Invertebrates
Most aquarium invertebrates will feed on algae, there are loads to choose from, but I will list here, those that I have found to do the best job.
Ramshorn snails will do a good job of cleaning up algae in your aquarium, they are small so they don’t need much space, most grow to a maximum of 4cm, but will take a while to do so. Care of these is pretty easy, they will look after themselves as long as the aquarium is kept clean and you don’t have fish that will eat them.
These guys though can quickly take over an aquarium. Like many other species of snail, they reproduce quickly and can even reproduce asexually, meaning you only need to have one and you will soon have many more.
Nerite snails are quite colourful and can grow up to one inch in length and there are several types, all with a different pattern. They will do a great job of cleaning up algae and will not overpopulate in your aquarium. This is because they cannot reproduce in freshwater, they may lay eggs, but they will not hatch. Nerite snails do not reproduce asexually and require saltwater for their offspring to hatch, so unless you provide these conditions, however many you add to your aquarium is how many you will have.
Cherry shrimp are the most commonly available species of Neocardina, there are many more which are also algae eaters. There is a choice of colours to suit everyone with cherry shrimp, but the red colouration is most common. These guys stay pretty small and won’t grow to more than a couple of centimetres long.
Cherry shrimp will spend all day strolling around your aquarium cleaning up algae for you. They do however need a supplement every now and again so that they can get some protein in their diet, in most cases this will be leftover fish food. Cherry shrimp care is easy, but if you have fish that can swallow them then they may become an expensive snack.
Cherry shrimp will readily breed in an aquarium, females tend to be larger than males and will carry their eggs under there body on a series of small fins. Once ready to breed, a female will appear to have a small ‘saddle’ on her back.
Amano shrimp grow larger than cherry shrimp and can reach a length of 2 inches if cared for properly. They are white/clear in colour and often transparent. This is another amazing algae eater but, again, will need the occasional supplement.
Amano may try to breed in your aquarium and you may see eggs on the underside of the female’s body but Amano shrimp, like nerite snails, need to move to saltwater in order for their eggs to hatch. In order to breed them successfully, they need to be slowly acclimated to saltwater conditions whilst carrying eggs.
Let us know your favourite clean up crew members in the comments!!
For more ideas on how to keep your tank clean, check out our top 5 secrets to achieving crystal clear water.