Best Algae Eaters For A Balanced Freshwater Aquarium

Best Algae Eaters For A Balanced Freshwater Aquarium

algae eaters for freshwater aquariumAlgae eaters have long been an integral part of the aquarium-keeping hobby for balancing the natural ecosystem we are all trying to replicate.

Due to their expertise in algae removal coupled with their quirky looks and habits, they are glorious additions to your aquatic family. From fish, to shrimp, to snails; we will cover our favorites for eating algae in your tank.

Read this article to learn how to choose a new clean-up crew for your tank. Because of how important these fish are to your aquarium, it is essential that you learn how they can naturally clean up your system so you can stay away from harsh chemicals. Let us know what we missed in the comments below.

 

How To Choose the Best Algae Eaters for Your Aquarium

First, we should probably discuss a basic but important question: what is an algae eater?

Most people have only a very general idea of what algae-eaters are, typically only associating the term with just one or two very popular species. Instead, “algae-eaters” should be understood to describe a rather large group of fish and invertebrates, each with their own specific needs and requirements for your tank type.

 

Take inventory of existing factors in your tank to select the right algae eater:

Besides looking at the water parameters that a given fish can survive and, hopefully, thrive in, it’s necessary to consider other important facets of a tank’s ecosystem and its inhabitants.

  • Activity and Aggression Levels of Tank Mates: This is a very important question to ask. Do your current fish or critters mesh well with your chosen algae eater?
  • Oxygenation Levels: What are the oxygenation levels in your tank? Pick an algae eater that matches the same requirements as your existing ecosystem.
  • Speed of Current: Some algae eaters like lots of current but, for others, it’s kind of stressful. Does your speed of current rule out any algae eating critters?
  • Density of Foliage/Hardscape: What density of foliage and hardscape do you currently have in your tank? How will that affect a potential algae eater?

 

Be very careful in your research of algae-eaters to make sure that you are creating a match made in aquarium heaven.In deciding which type of algae-eater to add to your tank, it’s important to consider the personalities and husbandry needs of your current tank inhabitants as well as the algae-eater you’re looking to add to your aquarium.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to algae-eating solutions for an aquarium.

Luckily, most commercially available algae-eaters can thrive within a wide range of water parameters. Assuming you keep your water quality clean and stable, you’ll mainly just have to focus on making sure that the different personalities for your aquatic citizens mesh well together. Whether you want to learn more about starting a new aquarium or just more advanced nuances to clean your system for better tank photography, this article will explain our favorite options.

What Are The Best Algae-Eating Fish?

algae eating fish

Bristlenose Plecostomus (Bristlenose plecos)

algae eater bristlenose plecostomusBristlenose plecos are a great addition to most aquariums. These weird little guys only grow to be around 4in long, allowing them to fit into most medium-sized community aquariums. This makes them a valuable alternative to the very common “Sucker Fish” (Hypostomus Plecostomus) that grows to almost two feet long. On top of their impressive algae-eating abilities, they’re capable of being quite the conversation starter. Males develop large whiskery growths on their faces, something that seems appropriate for an aquatic janitor.

They’re also commonly available in different color varieties, namely gold or albino. This means that they can be quite the dramatic addition to an aquarium. This particular pleco alge-eater will do well in aquariums that have driftwood and plenty of hiding spots.

 

Siamese Algae Eater

siamese-algae-eater-3Siamese algae eaters are the algae-eating powerhouses of the fishkeeping world. Their generally peaceful nature and ability to eat and control a wide range of algae (including the dreaded Black Beard algae) makes them an asset to almost any aquarium. These guys are particularly ravenous.

Not only will they eat some of the least appetizing forms of algae, they’ll also help control flatworm populations and eat leftover detritus in the aquarium. They also do extremely well in planted aquariums because they’re not known to typically damage the plants when grazing for algae.

 

Chinese Algae Eater

gyrinocheilus_chinese_algae_eater_in_aquariumChinese algae eaters have been around the aquarium trade for a while. Though they aren’t necessarily the best algae-eaters available, they do offer something that our previously mentioned species don’t.

Although Chinese algae eaters can be docile enough to be kept in a community tank when they’re adolescents, they become much more aggressive as they age. This obviously means that they shouldn’t be kept in community tanks, but this might actually be an advantage for some fish-keepers. These particular suckerfish get on the larger side (in terms of the fish presented here today), reaching about 10in or so. Their large size and agility make them one of the few algae-eaters that can survive with larger semi-aggressive fish or in certain African cichlid tank setups.

 

Otocinclus Catfish

otocinclus_catfish-4These algae-eating catfish are one of the best species in the trade, hands-down. These are the smallest species in this article, only getting up to 1.5in or so. This and their very calm demeanor make them perfect for most community tanks. These guys do best in groups are do remarkably well in planted aquariums.

They will not harm the plants and are particularly good at removing brown algae and general new algae growth before it gets a chance to take hold in the tank.

 

Twig Catfish

twig-catfishTwig catfish are one of the best catfish algae-eaters in the hobby and are slowly becoming more and more available. They readily accept a variety of foods and quickly clear a tank of any green algae. However, out of all the algae-eating fish discussed in this article, this particular species requires the most care.

They need to be in an aquarium that has high oxygen levels and a bit of a current, not to mention pristine water-quality. And, because of their shy nature, they must be kept with accommodating species that won’t out-compete them for food. Assuming your aquarium meets these requirements, a twig catfish would make an interesting and useful addition to your tank.

livebearers

Live-bearers

Mollies, platys, and guppies are readily available within the aquarium trade.

A lot of community tanks feature these fellows already because of their ability to rapidly reproduce. Fortunately, these fish are also helpful in taking care of hair algae.

 


What Are The Best Algae-Eating Snails?

algae eating snails

Mystery Snailmystery snail for aquarium algae removal

Mystery snails, a smaller species of Apple snail, are a very popular snail that can be found at almost any local fish store. These snails are true detrivores and will helpfully eat different types of algae, decaying plant matter, and leftover fish food. Mystery snails are one of the larger snail species in this article, but they still only top out at around 2in, making them a sure bet for smaller community tanks as well as larger ones.

 

Nerite Snail

nerite-snailNerite snails are in high-demand within the pet trade.

They come in a variety of colors and patterns and, unlike most other snails, will not breed in the aquarium. Nerites are intense algae grazers, willing to eat almost any type of algae while not harming any live plants within the aquarium.

 

Malaysian Trumpet Snail

This particular species of snail is practically required for any planted aquarium.

malaysian trumpet snail for eating algae and removing from aquariumThese snails are prized for their tendency to scavenge for food underneath aquarium substrate. They are detrivores and will eat plant and protein matter found underneath the substrate while also coming out to eat soft algae.

Their drive to look for food underneath the substrate effectively makes them plow the soil, so to speak, aerating it for live plants. The only drawback is that this species of snail will very quickly and rapidly breed within the aquarium if food is abundant.

 


What Are The Best Algae-Eating Shrimp?

algae eating shrimp

Cherry Shrimp

cherry-shrimp-1These little aquatic rubies are one of the most popular ornamental shrimp species widely available.

They’re pretty hardy if their water conditions are kept stable and will easily breed within the aquarium. Cherry shrimp are great at eating different types of hair algae and will also eat leftover fish food. They come in a variety of colors (though a bright red is the most common) and make beautiful tank mates if kept with smaller fish that won’t hunt them.

Amano Shrimp

amano shrimp for eating algaeAmano shrimp are the best algae-eating shrimp species.

Their larger size (2in) makes them better able to defend themselves in community tanks, setting them apart from the Cherry shrimp. This species is great at eating various types of soft algae as well as decaying plant matter and some leftover fish food.

Choose A Balanced Ecosystem With Nualgi

Fight nuisance algae and promote a healthier aquarium with Nualgi AquariumEvery aquarium has its own unique ecosystem and, accordingly, special care should be taken to meet the needs of an individual tank.

Nualgi Aquarium helps to fill in the gaps of your aquarium’s ecosystem by nurturing helpful Diatoms with nano silica, the building block of your tank’s food chain.

Working best in a fairly established freshwater aquarium, Nualgi sets the groundwork to promote a beautiful and healthy aquatic environment that any well-chosen algae-eater would love to complement.

Use Nualgi For A Cleaner Tank


With Nualgi working to perfect your tank, the only thing you have left to do is pick the right algae-eater. The algae-eaters listed here are popular and good at their jobs, but this is anything but a definitive list.

Which algae-eaters have given you the best success stories?

Which species are your go-to favorites?

And which did we not mention in our article?

 

46 Comments

  1. I have a problem with Plecostomus. The two I’ve had (one at a time) were about 9”-12” long when I brought them home, but both died after 3 – 5 years. I can’t understand why this keeps happening. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on, but I’ve never asked anyone for fear of being thought of as a Plecostomus killer. The first one looked ill before he passed; struggling to maintain his ability to stay on the bottom. The second one died a horrible death. He was ferociously clinging on for days before he lost his struggle (they both haunt me to this day, but the latter nearly killed me). They both lived with the same tribe but years apart, and the aquarium had been changed to a larger one. The first was a 50gal., the second a 70gal. They both had three goldfish as aquarium mates – the same ones – still alive, 13 years old, got at local fairs by my child. One Comet 8”, one fancy tail 5”, and one butterfly 6” (from nose to beginning of tail).
    Why is it that both Plecostomus, healthy and happy, died after a few years? What could I be doing wrong?
    As the aquarium mates and them grew larger, I’ve gotten larger tanks, bigger filters and heaters, etc., is there something I’m missing?

    Reply
    • Only thing I can think of it may be due to the amount of ammonia being produced by their tank mates the goldfish… Compared to other freshwater species goldfish produce a lot more ammonia and hence thrive in much larger environments, this is something which your Plecostomos may have been more sensitive to which thus gave them shorter lifespans.

      Reply
    • #1 reason Pleco’s die is starvation, once they start getting your tank clean then they slowly start to starve to death. Put in an algae wafer once in a while and also Pleco’s are nocturnal (they do the majority of their feeding and movement in the dark) so turn the tank lights off for some hours at night. Pleco’s also love Greens (green vegetables) like a small piece of raw Zucchini or tiny piece of lettuce or green bean once in a while (don’t be surprised if its gone/consumed by the next day). A healthy Pleco will have a bit of a belly on it (not shrunken in) which is a sign of starving. Good Luck!

      Reply
    • I have had issues with rubber lip pleccos. My first one was placed in an established community tank – he died last year and I can’t figure out why – my panda corys, Buenos Aires Tetras (BAT), danios and Oto are all still alive to this day – my two of my danios are almost 3 years old. I tested my water, brought it in for samples to make sure my kit was good – nothing! So I got another rubber lip – he only last a couple of months. I gave up on them but thought about a bristlenose as my oto is being lazy – if wasn’t still small after a year I would guess he was a CAE and not an OTO. But I’m with you – what am I missing! I had to replace my plants with plastic ones in this tank because of the BATs and started a 20g fully planted tank. It is a single species with Red Rasbora, an Oto and racer snail. Want to get cherry or amano shrimp once I can find them, but the Java moss that has carpeted the ground, pots and stick just started growing Hair Algea – and it’s darn near impossible to remove because of the moss…so maybe the shrimp or plecco if I dont kill the poor guy.

      Reply
    • Hello, I’m an ametuer aquarist, but historically speaking and in my experience goldfish are not great tank mates for most tropical fish species. They’re waste is particularly destructive (by throwing off water chemistry) and will eventually wear down even a sturdy pleco. Do you keep track of amonia, nitrate/nitrite levels? If not, I bet that is your problem.

      Reply
    • hi i had goldfish and a plecostomus and the goldfish were very aggressive with the plecostomus in the night. i found out when i went to get a drink in the night. the goldfish were swimming after the plecostomus and one bit his eye off. my plecostomus died a few days later.

      Reply
    • What are your water parameters? What is the temp?

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    • I wish someone with more tank knowledge than me had answered you. My sister had a 10 gal. tank for 11 years. Only this year did she up to 20 gal. Her Plecostomus has been with her all these years, so tank size is not the issue. My Plecostomus is about 4 years. I have a 20 gal. Do you have live plants? Do you do regular water checks for PH balance? My sister and I keep a 7.0 ph, keep live plants, and feed algae wafers. Also, we don’t have a variety of tropical fish and no goldfish. I suppose any variable could explain your situation but I’m no expert. I’d like to know if you find your answer.

      Reply
    • Not enough info here to really help you out. We would need to know water parameters (pH, ammonia, etc). Water change frequency? When did the aquarium change from 50 to 70 gal happen?

      Reply
    • check your ph, ammonia and nitrites

      Reply
    • Plecos aren’t good tank mates for goldfish. Goldfish like colder water (between 65 – 72°F) and plecostomus generally likes water a bit warmer (70 -75°F). Also, when plecos live with goldfish and algea levels become too low to sustain them, they can eat the slime coat off of the goldfish. If this happens they can get infections, get sick, and possibly die.

      Reply
    • Maybe there was something toxic for them in the water. Do u have water testing kits ? Try some api master test kit.

      Reply
    • Check the temperature. If the water gets too cold, the plecos will die. Unlike goldfish, made to adapt.

      Reply
    • Hi,
      Sorry to read about this. A few questions if you haven’t already figured it out.
      1. Is this a planted tank? If so, how densely planted is it? If not, how do you deal with ammonia?
      2. Do you do water changes? If so, how often and how much volume do you replace?
      3. Are you feeding your Plecos directly with food designed for them like sinking wafers? Or are you simply allowing them to find their own food?
      4. Do you know your water parameters before and after water changes?
      5. Where did you purchase both plecos from?

      Another thing to think about is that you got these plecos when they were already 9-12 inches. There are several variables that may have affected their health long before you got them.
      – breeding techniques
      – diet
      – genetic health
      – prolonged stressful environment
      – water parameters may have caused damage
      – real age of the plecos at purchase

      For all you know, these plecos could have already been 8-10 years old. This very well may have been a result of nothing you did.

      Regards,
      Kevin

      Reply
    • I know you made this comment quite some time ago, but in case you have not found an answer yet, here’s my 2 cense;
      there are a number of factors that could be at play. You stated you have a large tank and good filtration. But do you have high oxygen content? Not all filters oxygenate well, in fact, many don’t, and most Plecostomus species need very high oxygen levels to thrive long term. I would always recommend having a bubbler that puts out a good amount of bubbles along with your filter.
      Most plecos also like a medium to high water current in the tank (because most are native to rivers), which can require an extra step to achieve. Depending on how your filter works, you may need to add a circulation pump.
      Another thing to take into consideration would be lighting and hiding spots, which kind of go hand in hand. Plecos are all nocturnal, as far as I know, and are disturbed by being constantly exposed to bright light. If you don’t have aquarium lights that dims or can be set to a nighttime setting, lots of large hiding spots are necessary.
      The last factor would be diet. Most plecos are highly omnivorous, which means a diet of just algae is incredibly insufficient. Most need a few fresh veggies as well as frozen thawed blood worms in addition to algae at the very least to keep them healthy. Drift wood is also necessary. They will eat this as well as it helps them to digest their other food properly.
      Overall, they are much more complex than a lot of people realize. If there are any of the things I mentioned that you are not doing, that could be your problem.
      If you ever see this, I hope it helps!

      Reply
    • Im no expert but my guess is your plecos ran out of food once they got so big. Only a guess.

      Reply
    • What are you feeding the Plecostomus and what species have you been having?

      Reply
    • Perhaps they weren’t getting enough to eat as they got larger?

      Reply
    • What was the temperature of the aquarium and was it filtered?

      Reply
    • Plecos are aggressive to eachother. They also don’t live too long. It could have been lack of food, aggression, or it grew to big for the tank.

      Reply
    • Your tank actually isn’t big enough. You should have a minimum of a 75 for just the pleco. And gold fish are notoriously dirty fish. If you have a well planted 75 gallon with your 3 gold fish and a pleco at exactly 74 degrees (high end for gold fish, low end for plecos), it would still be wise to have your pet store check your water levels periodically. Typically if you take a sample in they will do this for you for free.

      Reply
    • I had the same issue with a beautiful Pleco i had too. I gave it algae pellets and it at whatever was also in the tank but i learned that you cannot just depend on the pellets and what is in the tank. I learned you need to add things like zuchinni or cucumbers and let them eat on it during the night. that might not be all of it but the cool thing is, you tube is filled with tons of advice.

      Reply
    • Not clear if your plecs were bristlenose? I have one who lives in a 50 gallon live planted community tank. I feed a mixture of flakes and wafers once a day early evening. Occasionally blanched courgette. I have many places for fish to hide and mr pleccy has a favourite place in a potter tube. He enjoys grazing on driftwood and comes out when it is feeding time.
      I have a mixed tank of shrimp, nerite snails, pygmy loach cardinal and neon tetra, harlequins, siamese algae eaters and five banded barbs.
      I carry out a weekly 30% water change and clean the filter sponges and check the impeller.
      I do love goldfish but read that a goldfish requires a 50 gallon tank! Could this be the problem. Not sure about your water changes etc but do know they create waste plus plus.

      Reply
    • Maybe not getting enough food
      Goldfish tend to out out with food
      And so nothing left for bottom feeders
      Also some wood needs to be available to feed

      Reply
    • I don’t know much about fish but it sounds like the first one died of swim bladder disorder. It’s fairly common and treatable but it can easily kill a fish. Swim bladder disorder is usually caused by a mechanical issue like constipation, so I doubt you did anything to cause it.

      Reply
  2. Why is the water cloudier with alge eater

    Reply
    • Some Algae eaters will dig into the substrate and eat and dig out old material (old fish food, leavings, fish droppings, etc.). So this could be a sign its doing its job. Also I would suggest you clean or replace your tanks water filter more frequently until the cloudy situation is resolved.

      Reply
    • ???

      Algae eaters don’t magically make your water quality better. They eat algae. If you’re getting blooms, you need to test your water to find out why that’s happening and rebalance your tank.

      Reply
    • It shouldn’t be cloudier. How old is your set-up? Is it fully cycled? How many new fish have you added at once? There are a lot of variables.

      Reply
    • Water changes. You have to watch your PH, Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates. Goldfish can take a lot more of these variables. Also the larger the pleco, the more food it needs. Did you feed your pleco’s algae wafers at night when the lights were off? That’s the best way to feed them.

      Reply
    • Hi
      Plecs are tropical. Goldfish are cold water fish.. They hibernate and in my pond under an inch of ice for 2 months. Then they wake up and breed.
      Plecs at 22 C or below will slow down and die.

      Reply
    • Not enough info here to really help you out. Is the tank being newly cycled? Water change frequency? Other water parameters (pH, ammonia, etc)? Substrate change or aggitation recently? Type of substrate? White cloudy water or brown or green?

      Reply
    • There are a couple of possibilities. Plecos are known to produce lots of waste and thus could be clouding up your water. It could be the substrate, especially if you went with sand or fine gravel, if that’s the case usually waiting a few days could solve the problem. Also if you have drift wood in your tank, wood leaks diatoms into your tank water, it’s not harmful to your fish, in fact it’s quite beneficial but it doesn’t look pretty. Another is the water quality, if you’re using tap water and live in a mineral rich area it could be the minerals floating around. Either way my suggestion for all of these is getting a UV sterilizer, and do frequent water changes. The UV sterilizer will help clear up the cloudiness while also helping to get rid of any harmful bacteria in your tank. Granted it’s expensive but it’s well worth it. I know it helped me quite a bit when my fish came down with ich. Hope this helps and sorry it was so long.

      Reply
    • Hi Jay,

      This is an interesting question. Here are some things to consider:

      The type of algae eater you have:
      – Some tank mates coined “algae eater” don’t really eat a lot of algae at all.

      The bioload of your algae eater:
      – I’m thinking about plecos now but there are many others. They lay out really big poops. Lots of waste in some cases.

      The activity level of your bottom dwellers:
      – Some bottom dwellers kick up a lot of substrate into the water column when foraging or hiding. Plecos and kuhli loaches come to mind.

      Water changes:
      – How often are you doing water changes, if at all? How are you doing them?

      Filter Maintenance:
      – How often do you maintenance the media in your filter? What kind of media do you have? In what order from the intake is the different media housed in the filter?
      – Do you have a sponge filter? How full is it? How do you clean it? They can be nasty to the water column if not maintained properly

      Are your fish aggressive?:
      – This could kick up a lot of substrate.

      Overall bioload:
      – How many tank mates do you have, what size tank, what size filter, what kind of filter? What are the bioload parameters for each animal in your tank. Example: You may say, “I only have 3 fish in my tank”. They could be three 9 inch oscars in a 20 high. That’s going to be a massive bioload in that tank.

      I hope I gave you some valuable things to think about.

      Regards,
      Kevin

      Reply
    • Water cloudier? In 16 years I’ve never had this problem although I vacuum at least once a week with electric vacuum and once a month with siphon type that does water changes!

      Reply
    • Hi I can only think it is scuffing up dirtfrom the substrate, try cleaning your gravel.

      Reply
    • Might be because of their bioload they produce and maybe your filter can’t keep up with it?

      Reply
  3. Can Plecostomus live in outside ponds in various weather conditions

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  4. Are their any algae eaters that can be used in an outdoor pond in warm/ weather

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  5. I have a very large Oranda goldfish. He ate my snails. I bought two Chinese algae eaters which he also ate. Suggestions?

    Reply
  6. There may have been a issue inngenes some fish just pass early could have inbred or just natural cause.

    Reply
  7. Be careful with the shrimp, some fish will eat them…found out the hard way when I found my Red-Eye Tetra enjoying its meal

    Reply
  8. nah! guppies and mollies aren’t that algae eaters, especially hair algae… my aquarium/pond with lots of mollies and guppies are infested with hair algae… and they cannot control it… maybe best way to control it is by using algaecide

    Reply
  9. I know this was posted awhile ago but a couple of things that may explain/help.
    Plecostomus varieties usually need certain things in their diet like wood to help with digestion. This wont cause a sudden death but rather cause a break down in them over a long period of time of slow deterioration. I dont think this is likely in your case.
    Goldfish are dirty fish. Plecos are dirty fish. Goldfish generally live in cooler temperatures also ( most types of plecos thrive in 24+ degrees celsius). Most likely the temperature and the waste is your issue over time. A high nitrate level causes slow health issues over time. A ammonia spike cause sudden health issues such as swim disorders and appetite loss. Plus depending on the amount of food your plecos were getting they may have also been starving and thus have a weakened immune system and hardiness to deal with these spikes (a 8+ inch pleco will eat probably a quarter of a foot long zuchini over 2 days itself).

    Id suggest adding common bristlenose/mollies/swordtails/siamese algae eaters over a large pleco if expecting algae control, or look for other medium scavengers if just for missed food cleanup. Provided cover (driftwood for any pleco species or plants for the rest) and if you go with common bristlenose if you get a male and female and place a cave in they will readily breed for you.

    Reply
  10. I had the exact same problem! I had a wonderful Place for around 3 years, bought him the size of my finger and he grew to around 25 centimetres and lived in a 50 gal with 3 goldfish as well before he died. My theory was that he was just getting older and his lifespan was coming to an end, or that the goldfish would suck up some of his pellets and maybe that while it was ok when he was smaller, it became a problem as he got older and needed more? It really is strange though and I was also scared by the death as his condition and his colour just deteriorated over the timespan of less than a week! He also had a massive filter.

    Reply
  11. Nerite snails CAN BREED in freshwater. I have thousands of them in my filter to prove it. This has happened in more than one aquarium.

    Reply

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