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Are algae eaters right for my aquarium?

At times, it can feel like algae are consuming your underwater world. Looking at it can even become frustrating. Algae can emit strong smells and create murky green or brown water. Too much algae will even lead to health problems for the aquarium residents. Expect a little algae, but any more than a little can turn into a big problem. Sometimes, the solution to keeping algae at bay is the little critters who enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Algae is a plant that grows with significant amounts of uneaten food and waste. Different types of algae can bloom. Some appear free-floating, others can seem scummy. They can also create filmy layers of the sides of your tank and on features in the environment. They can also appear grass or seaweed-like or be a dirt-brown colour.

Consider alternative ways to control algae growth if your tank already has many occupants, as it is one more fish or critter to add to the mix; or if you house larger and aggressive residents which are likely to come after and harass those you buy to take care of the algae.

Algae eaters are specific organisms who thrive on algae. But different critters will eat different types of algae. To know what kind of eaters to add, you must know what type of algae plagues are in your aquaria. Knowing this will also lead to the most desirable results. Do not add algae eaters to a newly established tank as there will be no algae for them to consume, thus leading to an unhealthy diet and possibly health problems. The eaters will also have to be compatible with your tank conditions. The common algae eaters include snails, mollie and even some specific types of catfish and plecos.

Whiptail catfish/twig catfish are some of the best algae-eaters. Once a very uncommon sight in aquariums, they do need more specialised care, but they’re always keen to gobble up any variety of food and are fast to clear away any green type of algae from your tank. Make sure they don’t need to compete for food against their tankmates. They need to be a part of a tank with higher oxygen levels and a gentle current with pristine water quality.

Mystery snails are a smaller species of apple snail and are very popular. They are happy to eat a variety of algae, decaying plant matter and leftover fish food. Best of all, they don’t eat plants.

Ramshorn snails thrive in heavily planted aquariums. Unlike other algae eaters, they will leave vegetation alone if there is enough algae and dead plant matter. They will breed in the tank.

Dwarf suckers (ottos) will eat algae off plants and the glass of your aquarium. As they are kept in shoals, algae may run dry much quicker than anticipated so extra food will need to be provided. They are a small and peaceful breed and will suit tankmates of the same stature in small to mid-sized tanks.

The Siamese algae eater is one of the most effective eaters out there. With a peaceful nature, it is not picky about the algae it cleans up, including the algae other eaters tend to leave alone, for example black beard algae. Try them in planted aquariums as they are unlikely to damage your vegetation if there is enough algae for them to eat.

Bristlenose plecostomus has impressive algae-eating ability. They are easy to care for and stay relatively small so are suited to medium-sized community tanks.

There is no one size fits all for algae eaters and it really depends on your aquarium setup whether they could be an asset to you. You have options upon options, even if algae eaters aren’t quite the right fit for you.

Cam Scott

Fish keeper


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