Top 5 Algae Eaters for a Planted Aquarium
Written by: Tammy (@aquarist_tl)
One thing many aquarium owners can relate to is our efforts in keeping algae out of the planted tank. During aquarium maintenance, there usually exists a step or two in the process where algae removal is involved. This can include scraping it off the walls of the tank, using pinsettes to pluck out hair algae attached to aquatic plants in the aquarium, or brushing it off rocks or other hardscape decorations. It can be a hassle trying to perfect the look of your planted aquarium when the algae continuously grows back after a few days.
To help ease the maintenance effort on algae control in your planted tank, there are actually some fish and invertebrates that you can add to the aquarium! These species are known for their ability to feed on common types of algae typically found in freshwater aquariums. Listed below are my top 5 algae eaters, basic descriptions of them, as well as some general information on how to care for them.
1. Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata)
Got hair algae? Then consider getting some Amano shrimp! These guys are some of the best algae eaters around. They are known to eat most types of string and hair algae, such as the commonly found green hair algae. Some hobbyists claim they can even tackle the dreaded black beard algae, making them perfect additions to planted tanks. Amano shrimp are named after famous nature aquarium enthusiast and aquascaper, Takashi Amano. He was the one that made these freshwater shrimp popular by praising their algae-eating effects on keeping algae out of tanks. Now they are the second most popular freshwater aquarium shrimp, with the first being Cherry Shrimp.
Compared to other dwarf shrimp species, Amano shrimp are a bit larger and a lot hardier. They are a peaceful species that can reach a max size of about 2 inches. They make great additions to nano tanks or aquariums with small inhabitants. Placing them in a tank with larger fish like cichlids will put them at risk of being eaten.
Amano shrimp are less sensitive than other freshwater shrimps and are therefore one of the go-to shrimps to start with when considering shrimp-keeping. Make sure the tank has hiding places for them to molt safely, as they are vulnerable during and right after molting. If you’re worried about being overrun with Amano shrimp, don’t worry because they can only breed in brackish water!
They are always on the lookout for food to eat, so make sure to give them a proper diet with some omnivore pellets or wafers. They are such big food-lovers, that I’ve even seen them carrying pellets and wafers away from their other tankmates!
2. Siamese Algae Eater (Crossocheilus oblongus)
Siamese algae eaters (SAE) are very active fish that can always be seen grazing on algae by nibbling on the surface of aquatic plants and hardscape. They are wonderful at clearing aquariums that are overgrown with hair or string algae.
Before buying them, keep in mind that they are usually sold when they are still quite young and will grow to around 6 inches! Plan ahead and don’t purchase too many. SAE are recommended for bigger sized tanks of at least 30 gallons. It is possible to keep them in a smaller sized tank to help out with the algae, as long as there is a plan in the future for when it gets too big.
SAE are generally peaceful fish, but larger ones have a tendency to chase other fish around. It would be best to avoid housing them with fish that stress easily. Although they are decently sized fish, SAE like to hide when they’re not scavenging for food, so it is recommended to provide visual boundaries in the aquarium where they can stay out of sight from other fish in the tank and relax. They are omnivores and are not picky eaters. If you decide to get one, please remember to feed them a proper diet, and don’t let them rely solely on algae.
- Note: Siamese algae eaters are commonly mistaken with flying foxes/Chinese algae eaters (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus) because they share very similar body features. Do your best to avoid mistakenly buying a flying fox because they can be aggressive to tankmates and do not help with algae control. The best method to tell these two species apart is by looking at the black line that runs along both their bodies. In Siamese algae eaters, the black stripe will start at the head and go all the way to the end of the tail fin. In flying foxes, the black stripe will start at the head and end before the tail fin begins. The second way to tell these two species apart is to look at the mouth. SAE will have one pair of barbells (whiskers), while flying foxes will have two pairs.
3. Oto (Otocinclus)
If you’re looking for a nano fish to help control algae, then otocinclus, also known as otos or oto cats, are a species you might be interested in. These guys are small, maxing out at about 2 inches. Not only are they cute, but they get the job done when it comes to brown diatom and other types of soft algae. Otos are almost always seen sucking on the glass of the tank or on algae-covered leaves, rocks, or decoration in the aquarium. They are social creatures that are more comfortable in a school of at least 6, so it is encouraged to get many if you plan on getting some.
Oto cats are peaceful fish that should be kept with other peaceful tankmates since their small size makes them vulnerable to big, aggressive fish. They can be easily outcompeted for food, so make sure to provide sinking pellets or wafers for them to ensure they’re getting a proper diet. You can also try adding blanched vegetables like zucchini, romaine lettuce, or spinach.
Something to keep in mind is that otos are fragile, sensitive fish that should be added to a seasoned tank where fluctuations in water parameters are less likely to occur. Help them help you by keeping up on water changes so that their water is always clean!
4. Nerite Snail (Neritina natalensis)
One of the best algae eaters in the game, the nerite snail is an algae-eating machine! If you have algae issues in your aquarium, consider adding one or a few of these guys. They are known for eating soft types algae like diatom, and some nerite owners claim they can even help get rid of green spot algae. Nerite snails are hardy and easy to care for, making them a strong recommendation for beginner aquarists as a starter species in the hobby. They are also harmless to other aquarium inhabitants and would do great in community tanks.
Nerite snails come in many different colors and patterns, with the most common being the tiger and zebra color forms. Their max size depends on the type of nerite, but the larger species can get up to around 1 inch. Like all aquatic snails, these guys prefer hard water with calcium to help keep their shells strong and healthy. Aquariums full of aquatic plants are great for them because it adds more material for them to graze on. They will feed on algae that has grown on leaves as well as dead plant material.
One cool fact about these snails is that they can actually also live in saltwater! If you are concerned about having to deal with nerite snails breeding in your freshwater tank, do not worry because their eggs can only hatch in brackish water. However, something to take note of is that they will still lay eggs along tank walls, hardscape material, and plants. Although they will not hatch in freshwater, they can be unsightly to some people and need to be scraped off to get rid of them. Other than that, nerite snails could make a great addition to any aquarium with peaceful fish!
5. Bristlenose Plecostomus (Ancistrus)
The bristlenose pleco, also known as the bushynose pleco, is a great fish to have if you are interested in owning a pleco but don’t own a large tank. They only reach a max size of 5-6 inches while common plecos can grow over one foot! There’s also a huge variety of species to select from, with over 70 found so far. The more popular types found in the hobby are the common bistlenose, the albino bristlenose, the lemon blue-eyed bristlenose, and their long fin variations.
These bottom dwellers are known for being able to quickly clear away diatom and other soft forms of algae. However, they usually will not go after the tough types of algae, like green hair or green spot algae. You will often see them sucking on the walls of the tank or on driftwood. Typically, after adding a new piece of driftwood into the aquarium, it will start to grow a gray fuzzy-looking bacterial fungus on it. Bristlenose plecos will chow down on it and clean that right up for you!
When fully mature, these plecos should be kept in a tank size of at least 20 gallons. They are peaceful fish except when it comes to their own species. Bristlenose plecos are very territorial, and it is highly discouraged to keep multiple mature adults in a single smaller-sized tank unless for breeding purposes. They enjoy being out of sight when not eating, so make sure to have plenty of hiding spots in the aquarium if you plan on getting one.
Plecos are usually found in rivers so they enjoy aquariums with strong flow. If your aquarium is being filtered by a canister filter like the UNS Delta 60 or 120, they’ll be even more comfortable. These bottom dwellers love squeezing into caves and would be more content in an environment with cave-like structures.
The algae in the tank should not be their sole source of food. It’s common for bristlenose pleco owners to feed blanched vegetables to their beloved plecos. They can be fed vegetables like zucchini, green beans, and spinach. Bristlenose plecos are omnivores, so they should also be getting some protein in their diets and not just plant-based foods. Driftwood is said to be very important for these plecos. Not only does it provide them more places to seclude themselves in, but they can eat the wood itself, which is said to help improve their digestive system.
In the event that you do not want to use algae eaters to help out with algae issues, you can also look into products like the Twinstar Nano Algae Inhibitor. Also, are you keeping up with your regular water changes? Click here to read about the importance of regular water changes in preventing many common planted tank problems. Hopefully this list will help guide you on your journey in the aquarium hobby!