Although algae can look good when kept in small quantities, it’s easy to spread out of control if you don’t keep it in check. Introducing algae eaters into your freshwater aquarium, as well as making sure your aquarium filtration is up to scratch, can help to prevent your tanks algae production from becoming an eye sore.
There are a few different algae eaters to choose from, including snails, shrimps and certain algae-consuming fish. They are cheap, they can help to increase the diversification of wildlife in your tank, and they keep your tank clean, what more could you ask for?
The biggest issue with algae eaters is their uncertain compatibility with other fish within your aquarium. Their job is to eat algae, not to be eaten themselves. Having the knowledge and an understanding of which algae eaters live harmoniously with the species of fish in your tank is crucial if you want them to survive.
If you don’t have the time, or the attention span to sit and learn which fish live well with which algae eaters, then a simple solution is to keep your algae eaters in a separate tank, and move them into your main tank temporarily, whenever their algae eating services are required.
If you are currently suffering from an outbreak of algae, or if you want to prevent an outbreak from occurring at all, then algae eaters are the perfect solution. Here are 13 of the best, and most common algae eaters that you can introduce to your tank straight away.
Siamese Algae Eater
Although this list of algae eaters is not listed in any particular order, if we were to rate the following 13 species in terms of their effectiveness, the Siamese Algae Eater would certainly top the list.
Not only are they hardy and beautiful to look at, they are also relentless in their cleaning abilities. As well as the most common types of algae you will find in a home aquarium, the Siamese Algae Eater will also consume leftover pellets, vegetables, flake foods, and live foods.
Growing to around 2 inches in length, these relentless feasters are perfect for tanks of all sizes, and they tend to live harmoniously with other species. However, Siamese Algae Eaters can become extremely territorial if they are surrounded by too many of their own species, so we recommend that you keep the numbers to a minimum (Less than 5 per 100 liters).
In terms of living conditions, the Siamese Algae Eater is generally easy to care for. They do require plenty of oxygen to thrive, and they prefer to live in temperatures around the 25 degrees mark (Celsius).
Being territorial fish, they do prefer larger swimming areas, and plenty of leaves, and living plants that they can claim as their own. Larger tanks are desirable, but because of their size, you could safely keep them in tanks as small as 10 gallons.
Siamese Algae Eaters are very good jumpers, so we recommend keeping the lid on your aquarium at all times. Also, they do require a varied diet to thrive, but they are voracious eaters, and they will eat any leftovers. Just keep an eye on them, to make sure they are getting their share.
If you provide Siamese Algae Eaters with enough room to swim, and plenty of algae to eat, they will definitely be a welcomed addition to your tank.
Another algae eating fish with a big appetite is the Twig Catfish. Commonly known as the Whiptail Catfish, these algae eating machines can grow up to 20 centimeters in length, and their slender, brown colored bodies can sometimes be hard to spot in busier aquariums.
Suitable tanks mates for the Twig Catfish are any which are considered docile, such as Tetras, Rasboras, Hatchets and Pencil Fish. Twig Catfish like a lot of places to hide, so a tank with plenty of plants and bog wood is preferred.
Catfish are generally OK with smaller tanks, and the Twig Catfish is no exception. Anything over 70 liters will suffice. They like consistency, so heavy water changes can really affect them. If you keep Cichlids and Barbs, we wouldn’t recommend adding Twig Catfish to your tank, as they are vulnerable to being attacked by them.
In terms of their diets, Twig Catfish will typically consume all types of algae, but if you want them to thrive, and survive as long as possible, then we recommend supplementing them with spirulina algae tablets every now and then (2 to 3 times per week).
Another Catfish on the list, is the Otocinclus Catfish (also known as dwarf suckers and otos). The biggest benefit of adding otos to your aquarium is their small size, which allows them to squeeze into the smallest spaces, to perform their algae destroying tasks.
Otos will rarely grow longer than 2 inches. Don’t let their small size fool you, however. They can consume more algae than you think!
“Dwarf Suckers” will thrive on all types of algae and vegetation, but they prefer brown algae, and soft green algae. It is worth noting however, that otos do have a large appetite, so if your aquarium is lacking the algae to keep them happy, we recommend adding some aquarium friendly vegetation such as zucchini, from time to time.
Unlike the Twig Catfish and the Siamese Algae Eaters mentioned before, otos are a schooling fish, and should be kept in groups of at least 5. However, due to their small size, you do not require a huge tank for them to live happily, with 30 gallons being more than enough.
Otos generally cope with most species of fish, but because of their small size, Cichlids and angelfish have been known to attack. Keep that in mind if you currently keep any of them.
A good algae eating fish for larger aquariums is the Bristlenose Pleco. Growing up to 15 centimeters in length, these sucker-mouth fish can cover a lot of ground, and can consume a lot of algae. Due to their size, it is often recommended to also include sinking algae pellets into your tank, to make sure they are being fed enough.
The biggest benefit of choosing the Bristlenose Pleco is their ability to consume Green Spot Algae, which the majority of other algae eaters will not touch. Combine this with a huge appetite, and you will see exactly why they made our list of the best algae eating fish.
In terms of tank mates, the Bristlenose Pleco will usually bode will with any other type of fish. They generally show their faces at night, but even then, their size and passive behavior is enough to keep them out of trouble. If you have a large tank, and you currently keep larger, aggressive fish, then the Bristlenose Pleco could be your best option.
While Mollies are not generally considered an “algae eating fish”, their ability, and willingness to eat pretty much any type of aquarium algae is enough to grab their place on our list of the best algae eaters.
While they may not be as committed, or as effective as the other fish on this list, it’s worth knowing that Mollies, especially Black Mollies will eat their fair share of algae. They tend to eat the most algae from rocks and live plants.
Don’t rely on Mollies to get rid of all your algae, but if you are looking for a beautiful looking fish with the added benefit of them scraping away some of that unwanted algae, then Mollies whould be a perfect choice.
Controlling Algae Quickly With a UV Sterilizer
A bonus tip for those struggling with algae bloom or cloudy water is to grab yourself an aquarium UV sterilizing system. They submerge themselves inside the aquarium just like a regular filter, but the built-in UV bulb works to remove and control cloudy water and blooms of algae. UV sterilization kills algae, bacteria and waterborne pathogens.
A good sterilizer can turn green and cloudy water into crystal clear water within a few days. They work far better than any chemicals or manual methods of controlling cloudy water and they are completely harmless to your fish and plants.
There are several choices on the market but it’s commonly accepted amongst the community that Coralife make the best UV Sterilizers, with their most popular being their Turbo Twist Sterilizer, which is available in multiple sizes depending on the size of your tank.
Best Algae Eating Snails
While snails are not the greatest algae eaters available in the fish keeping hobby, they are still a great choice. Back in the day, snails were the only wildlife a hobbyist could use to control their algae, so they became popular out of necessity.
In recent years, however, the demand for freshwater snails has increased, and people are becoming more and more open to the idea of keeping snails as pets.
One of the most popular algae eating snails are the Nerite Snails. With their beautiful zebra like shell, and their huge appetite for algae, it’s no surprise why these little gems are as common as they are.
Nerite Snails are known to eat every type of algae found in a freshwater aquarium, including the harder to eradicate ones such as Green Spot Algae and Green Beard Algae. They are bottom dwellers as well, so they can also help clean your substrate.
Measuring around 3 centimeters when they are fully grown, Nerite Snails are easy targets for larger predatory fish such as Cichlids and Loaches, so we don’t recommend keeping them together.
In order for Nerite Snails to thrive, and to keep their shells hard, they do require a pH level of 7 or above, and hard water is preferred, as the calcium in hard water helps to keep their shells healthy.
The only problem with these snails, is that they tend to climb out of the tank, if you don’t keep it covered. They also leave hundreds of small white eggs around your tank, sometimes completely covering your plants and rocks. If you are trying to breed them, it’s great, but they can be quite the eye sore if not. Besides from these two small problems, Nerite Snails are a great little algae eater, and we would definitely recommend them.
If your aquarium is busy with plants, Ramshorn Snails would be the better choice for you. The majority of other algae eating snails will attack your plants, but Ramshorn tend to leave them alone. If there is enough algae, and dead plant matter to keep them busy, they will keep to themselves. They have also been known to eat fish eggs, and leftover food.
Ramshorn Snails get their name from the shells resemblance to the horn of a ram, and the snails themselves are usually red or brown. They grow to around 2 centimeters in length, and they need to be kept in high alkaline waters.
Acidic water will dissolve the shells of all snails, so if you are thinking about keeping them, you should make sure your water is at least a 7 on the pH scale.
Ramshorn Snails are perfect for cleaning your plants, the walls of your aquarium, the rocks and the decorations. Combined with Nerite snails, they are a good choice for keeping your entire aquarium clean. However, as with Nerite Snails, Cichlids, Loaches and other large fish will usually eat all snails, so you can either keep them separate, or avoid snails all together if you currently keep anything that can easily swallow them.
Mystery Apple Snail
On the opposite side of the size spectrum when it comes to snails, is the Mystery Apple Snail. Although they are usually sold as babies, these algae munchers can grow up to be the size of a baseball, so make sure you have enough tank space to accommodate them.
Mystery Snails are easy to spot, partly due to their size, but also thanks to their gigantic antennas that are usually seen sweeping across the aquarium floor. Their shells are most commonly bright yellow, but they can be found in brown, and some shades of purple and red.
Mystery Apple Snails will consume most types of algae, but you most commonly find them eating plant algae, substrate algae and aquarium glass algae. You will typically find them on the bottom of the time, grazing the substrate for algae, and picking up any pieces of leftover food.
Although their appetite is big, and they are willing to eat most types of algae, it’s still recommended that you feed Mystery Snails a wide range of aquarium safe vegetation.
Larger Mystery Snails are usually safe, and will keep to themselves, but the smaller ones may become a target for larger, predatory fish. They also have a tendency to eat live plants if they have an insufficient amount of algae and vegetation to munch on, so make sure they are well fed.
Overall, the Mystery Apple Snail is a great addition to any tank, if you can get your hands on them. They are becoming increasingly harder to find.
Malaysian Trumpet Snail
Back on the other side of the sizing spectrum, you will find the Malaysian Trumpet Snail. These busy algae eating snails will only grow to around 2 centimeters when fully grown, and they are brilliant at keeping your aquarium clean.
They will eat all types of algae, as well as any leftover food and vegetation. Unlike the Mystery Apple Snails, the Malaysian Trumpets will not eat your plants, so if your aquarium is busy with live plants, these are the perfect fit.
As with all snails, a higher alkaline water balance is preferred, to keep their shells nice and hard. Malaysian Trumpet Snails are usually resting underneath the gravel during the day, and at night, when they are most busy, you will find them digging their way through the substrate, sweeping up any matter and algae that has fell through the cracks.
Because of their size, Malaysian Trumpets are very susceptible to being eaten, so practice caution when keeping them with other predatory fish.
Best Algae Eating Shrimp
As well as being cool to watch, freshwater shrimp can also help with algae control in your home aquarium. While they are little to no use in combating the filmy types of algae, they are effective at getting rid of thread and bush varieties.
The only downside is the fact that they are small, and are a preferred food for a lot of freshwater fish, so keeping them in a tank with other fish can be tricky. If shrimp have enough hiding places, they can do fine, but in an open environment, they probably won’t last very long.
Here are some of the best algae eating shrimp that are most commonly found in the fishkeeping hobby.
Possibly the most popular algae eating shrimp is the Amano Shrimp. Named after the Japanese hobbyist Takashi Amano, these green colored gems are a great addition to any tank.
They are constantly hungry, and they will consume just about any type of algae, as well as leftover food and detritus. The only algae they will resist eating are green spot algae, and blue-green algae.
Full grown, an Amano Shrimp will only be around 4 centimeters, so they are perfect for smaller tanks. They prefer to be kept in higher numbers, so we recommend at least 3 per tank. Due to their small size, Amano Shrimp will work better with docile fish. More aggressive fish will definitely see them as food.
If you are interested in keeping Amano Shrimp, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Excessive amounts of copper, which is typically found in plant fertilizers can cause harm to these shrimp, so if your tank is filled with a lot of plants, more aggressive water changes of 30 to 50 percent are required to balance out the toxicity.
Large amounts of commercial fish food will reduce their appetite, so they will not work as well in community tanks that are packed full of fish.
Another common shrimp found in most pet stores, are Cherry Shrimp. These bright red crustaceans are very small, and are great at cleaning algae from the hard to reach places that algae eating fish can’t reach. Their small size also allows them to hide away from predatory fish, if you have any in your tank. They are also very easy to breed (How-To Guide).
Cherry Shrimp will eat most types of algae, as well as leftover food and dead plant matter. Their bright colors can be a great addition to any tank, and the brighter, more deeply colored ones can be worth a lot of money if they happen to breed.
The cheapest, and most widely available shrimp is the Ghost Shrimp. While they are not as effective as their Cherry or Amano brothers, they do a good job at getting rid of hair algae, so they are a god choice for your tank if you are suffering from a lot of that variety.
They are very small, usually growing to only a couple of centimeters in length, and they get eaten by bigger fish pretty quickly. Ghost Shrimp are often sold as fish food, so you can see why the live versions are so tempting.
If you are going to keep ghost shrimp, you should build a place for them to hide, and you will need to keep a lot of them if you want to do some serious damage in terms of algae control.
It’s easy to see where Ghost Shrimp get their name from, too, with their almost see through bodies. They are nice to look at, so even though they aren’t the most effective algae eaters in the tank, they can still be a great addition.
Do You Know Any More Algae Eaters?
These are just a few of the thousands of different species of algae eating fish. What species is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below!