Algae, algae, algae. That nasty green slimy, scummy stuff that floats, hoovers, and clogs up everything when it gets out of hand.
And if you’re keeping aquariums and haven’t been a long-time aquarist, you may well be wondering what the best ways to get rid of this nasty stuff is.
There are treatment programs, of course – after all, we’re human. We make EVERYTHING. – but the best way to get rid of and maintain a low algae factor in any aquarium is to stock some natural eaters of algae.
Benefits of Keeping Algae Eaters
Just so you have a better of idea what it actually means to keep these fish and critters, we thought a section on the benefits would be useful.
The primary benefit of keeping algae eaters is in their name. They eat algae. Plain and simple, these little cleanup crews munch on the mucky green stuff and give us cleaner, healthier aquariums overall.
Some of them do a better job than others, of course, and some prefer specific species of algae over others, but all-in-all, these guys help clean your aquarium by vacuuming up the muck.
Some of them do like to eat your live plants, though, so study them carefully before choosing the ones for your aquarium to make sure you don’t get ones that will go after your specific plant varieties.
How To Choose the Right Algae Eater For Your Aquarium
Of course, before you go and choose an algae eater, you need to know a bit about them in general and also about specific species to ensure you choose the right ones for your home or office aquarium. Here are a few tips on how to determine which kind(s) you should bring home.
Look at Your Plant and Animal Species
The first step in choosing an algae eater is looking at the fish, plants, and other animals you already have. Some of them do well with certain species of algae eaters, while others do not.
Some do better with snails or shrimp than fish, and others prefer making these cleaners their afternoon snacks.
Some of your plants will also be of particular interest to specific species of algae eaters, too, so if you’d like to keep that lovely planted tank, well, lovely, check out that information, as well.
Be sure to choose species that won’t be targeted by your existing stock or that won’t be predators for your new algae eaters.
Check Your Water Parameters
Another very important thing to consider before purchasing some algae eaters is looking at your water parameters. What are you already maintaining for the health of your current stock? What’s the pH, the hardness, the salinity?
Make sure these parameters meet the needs of the algae eaters you’re considering, as well, or you may have some dead cleaners on your hands.
Oxygenation Levels in the Water
Similar but separate from your water parameters is the oxygen levels of the tank. Be sure that you choose algae eaters that do well with the oxygen levels your other fish and critters need.
Also similar to oxygen, the current speed in the water can affect the overall health and happiness of your new little buddies. If they’re a fish or snail that needs low flow current, putting them into a river type environment isn’t a good fit.
What Kind of Algae Do You Have?
Finally, you need to consider what type(s) of algae is plaguing your fish tank. Different types of algae eaters prefer to eat different types of algae and aren’t always too keen on the precise issues you’ve got. So, study the algae a bit and determine where to go from there.
Types of Algae You May Need to Fight
Some of the most common algae types are fairly easily identified. Before you go out and buy some snails or shrimp to gobble it down, be sure to figure out what you’ve got so you know the new additions to the tank will get rid of the stuff you don’t want there.
- Hair algae – This is known as filamentous or thread algae. It’s light green and grows in long, wispy strands. It’s a quick grower that attaches to just about anything.
- Brown slime algae – This stuff is known as dinoflagellates. It’s a symbiote, meaning it’s, well basically, a parasite. It gives some nutrients to your invertebrates, but it also takes over the tank.
- Brown algae – This alga is known as diatoms. It’s a single-celled alga that’s brown and sort of starts out looking like a dust layer inside the aquarium. It quickly turns into a thick mat, however.
- Green algae – This is known as algae bloom and it can happen when you don’t cycle your aquarium properly, or if you have really bright lighting in the fish tank.
- Blue green algae – Also known as cyanobacteria, this alga is actually pinkish-red, despite the name. It’s also a single-celled alga, which starts as a couple of spots in the water or on surfaces and quickly explodes.
- Black beard algae – This stuff is usually dark purple to black in color and grows on your aquarium plants.
- Green spot algae – This alga grows in tanks that have too bright lighting. It can be extremely difficult to remove and grows on the slow-growing plants and tank walls
The Best Algae Eaters to Consider for Your Needs
Let’s take a look at the different species of algae eaters, ready to come nosh on your green, brown, and pink slime.
Best Algae Eaters For Saltwater
These algae-eating tropical fish will help get those marine tanks and reef tanks algae-free in no time.
Tailspot Blenny (Ecsenius stigmatura)
Many folks think first of the Lawnmower Blenny when it comes to the best saltwater algae eaters in the blenny family. But the Tailspot Blenny actually outdoes those guys, despite being smaller than the Lawnmower variety.
Tailspot Blennies are also more colorful and more peaceful than other blennies, so they truly make a fantastic addition to any tank that’s suitable to their needs.
They should be housed in fish tanks that have at least 10 gallons of water – more is ideal – they grow to be about 2.5 to 5-inches long, and they are easy to care for.
They specifically target film and hair algae types.
Best Algae Eaters for Freshwater
These best freshwater algae eaters are some of the absolute best fish that clean their own tank in the freshwater fish realm.
Chinese Algae Eater (Gyrinocheilos aymonieri)
Another great choice for those looking for an easy to care for algae eater should consider the Chinese Algae Eater, a fantastic freshwater tank cleaning fish.
This is a kind of fish that does best in a tank that holds 30 gallons or more. But, keep in mind that these fish love to eat so they can grow large for this kind of fish, upwards of ten inches. Also, the bigger they get the more of a bully they will become.
This is a more aggressive algae eater than many other species, so take care that you keep them with the right tank mates. They generally don’t take kindly to most other fishes and can kill more delicate fish. On the plus side, these can be kept with larger and semi-aggressive fish like cichlids.
This type of fish is happiest when they have a pH between 6.8 and 7.4 and with keeping the KH between 8 and 10. They need warmer temperatures and require diet supplements due to being feisty herbivores. Another thing to remember is that they enjoy having hiding places, so make sure your tank has plenty of rock caves and hollow logs.
Twig Catfish (Rineloricaria lanceolate)
Twig catfishes can be recognized by their distinct long and thing bodies that normally grow to four inches. They’re a perfect fish to compliment more peaceful types of fish like livebearers and tetras. However, you need to watch out because more aggressive fish like cichlids and larger fish may bully them.
These fish work best when you keep them in pairs and with a tank that’s at least 12 gallons. Make sure you keep their water moderately soft and with a pH in the range of 6.0 and 8.0. This is a type of fish that doesn’t cope well with changes in water chemistry so make sure to keep it stable.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Twig Catfish will need supplements to help flesh out their diet. This is also a shy fish that needs a place to hide, so make sure to add lots of rocks and logs.
Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)
Another uber-popular freshwater tropical fish is the guppy. These vibrant little guys are big-time algae eaters that just love to chow down on a variety of different algae types in their small fish tanks.
In fact, they’re one of the best algae eaters for small tanks because they’re colorful, fun, and they clean up after themselves better than most.
They’re a low-key fish that doesn’t require a lot of care. They only grow to be about 2.5-inches long, and they do best in a pH range of 6.8 to 7.8. They like 74 to 82-degrees Fahrenheit, too, so they’re great for many tropical freshwater environments as well.
These guys are prolific breeders, though, so beware. All that algae they eat just helps.
Fish That Eat Black Algae
If you’re in need of getting rid of some black algae, these guys are the best bet.
Siamese Algae Eater (Crossocheilus oblongus)
A great choice for new fishkeeping hobbyists is the Siamese Algae Eater. This algae eating fish is so effective because it likes to feed on a wide variety of algae types.
This love of many varieties of algae means they will also be happy to go after specific kinds that other species will ignore, such as Black Beard Algae.
Other perks of this algae eater species are that they are more peaceful and easier to take care of than many other varieties of algae eaters.
The ideal way to set up their tanks is by having one that is not smaller than 30 gallons with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0 and a temperature between 75°F and 79°F.
Other things to keep in mind with these guys is that they work great in a community tank. And if there’s enough algae, you don’t have to feed them much.
However, it’s not a bad idea to look around to find some algae pellets or wafers to help supplement their diet. They do need protein and other nutrients not found in algae. This is especially true if they’re efficient at their job.
Fish That Eat Green Spot Algae
Some other species listed love to nosh on green spot algae, but this one particularly loves to devour the stuff.
Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus temminckii)
One of the algae eater representative species is the Bristlenose Pleco. This black suckerfish (though it can come in many colors) is one of the absolute best fish to clean tanks. They’re a freshwater cleaning machine named for their whisker-like projections on their snouts.
This aquarium sucker fish is very easy to care for. They can get up to 5-inches in length, are compatible with most peaceful fish species, and do well in a wide range of water chemistry considerations.
They do prefer pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with slightly hard water, but they can tolerate and even do well in other parameters.
They should be kept in tanks that are at least 20-gallons in size, they should be given supplemental foods, too, since algae probably isn’t going to be quite enough for them. Algae wafers are a special treat for them.
Fish That Eat Brown Algae
The Otocinclus Catfish is an algae-eating catfish that is peaceful and small, reaching a maximum of two inches long. This fish is as social as it is peaceful, so it works great in a community tank and will make friends with any other bottom-feeders that don’t want to snack on them. They should be kept in schools.
They’re similar to the Chinese Algae Eaters, except much more peaceful. They are moderately easy to care for, need a larger tank of at 30-gallons, and need loads of algae to feed on. So, if they really do their job well, they’ll need to be fed algae wafers as a big part of their diet.
They need water with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, though they can handle a small variant in the water chemistry.
They love eating brown algae in particular, and remove it quickly, so it won’t be an issue in the aquarium for long.
Molly Fish (Poecilia sphenops)
These are a popular pet fish anyway, but they make a great addition to any freshwater aquarium that’s overrun with algae. They pair well in homes especially with other big-time fish that eat algae, assuming those fish have the right temperament.
These algae eating fish need to be kept in warm water tanks between 75 and 80-degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH range of 7 to 8. They come in a wide range of colors and patterns, from golden mollies to black mollies, and even the spotted dalmatian mollies.
These guys can be a little aggressive, but typically, they’re friendly fish that grow up to two inches in length.
Best Algae Eating Snail Species
Fish are far from the only algae-eating species out there. In fact, several snails are some of the best algae eaters in your aquariums. These species are particularly good at clearing away the slimy stuff in a pretty quick timeline.
Trochus Snail (Trochus maculatus)
If you’re looking for brown algae eaters, please meet the Trochus Snail. These are peaceful little snails that grow to about 1-inch in length, are super easy to care for, and only need to be in tanks of 10-gallons or larger.
They target your Cyanobacteria, Diatoms, Film Algae, and Macro Algae in particular, and devour the stuff like there’s no tomorrow. It’s pretty much your ultimate reef snail. They can do all that algae-eating, plus they can flip themselves over, if that need should arise – which certainly can in a reef tank! They make a perfect component for your cleanup crew.
Nerite Snail (Neritina sp.)
These pretty little snails are known for the zebra-stripe patterned shells. Nerite snails are a super popular species of algae-eaters, too, by the way, because they’re incredibly good at their jobs and pretty to boot.
These snails eat every type of algae, even tough forms like green spot algae, and they’re really quick at doing the cleanup.
These snails aren’t able to turn themselves over, though, so you do need to be careful handling them and keeping an eye out for them in the tank.
They need a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5 (which is pretty wide) and temperatures between 65 and 85-degrees Fahrenheit. As to KH, they do well anywhere between 12 and 18. All this means they adapt to pretty much any environment.
Ramshorn Snail (Planorbidae)
Another amazing snail for cleaning up algae is the Ramshorn snail. These snails have curled up shells that are reminiscent of, well, a ram’s horn. They eat a wide range of different types of algae and go after decaying plant matter and leftover food. This makes them a great addition to the home aquarium of anyone who tends to travel a bit.
They don’t eat live plants, thankfully, and they do best with more peaceful fish that won’t try to eat them. Do not house them with loaches, cichlids, or other predatory fish. They won’t survive.
These snails come in either red or black, with variations of those shades, and grow up to about 1-inch in length.
Malaysian Trumpet Snail (Melanoides tuberculate)
The trumpet snail is another of the most popular algae-eating species because they do a fantastic job of devouring all kinds of algae, along with detritus, leftover food, dead plants, and dead animals.
They’re also super easy to care for since they live exclusively on the algae and decaying matter that they gobble up as your cleaning team.
Trumpet snails are nocturnal, so you won’t see them being active during the day. They’re also very small – only getting to be a maximum of 1-inch in length.
They have long, beautiful shells that come to a clear, sharp point, and they only require 10-gallon tanks. They do need a stricter pH level, however, between 7 and 7.5.
These guys are also substrate burrowers, so they’re not the best for heavily rooted aquariums.
Mystery Apple Snail (Pomacea bridgesii)
The final snails that eat algae that we’ll mention is the Mystery Apple Snail. They’re typically sold as babies, which is why they’re so small, but they can actually get to be quite large – the size of a baseball. They come in a wide range of colors, though bright yellow is the most common.
Mystery Apple Snails eat most types of algae, though they especially love plant, grass, and substrate algae types.
When these guys are small, they can be a snack for predatory fish, though they can fend for themselves just fine once they’ve grown a bit.
They prefer warmer waters and they like to snack on live plants, so be sure to give them some supplemental feeding if you keep them in a planted aquarium.
Best Algae Eating Shrimp Species
And finally, no list of algae eaters would be complete without some shrimp. These guys are some of the best cleaners in the aquarium.
Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata)
Probably one of the most favored species of cleaning shrimp is the Amano. These cute little guys are super easy to care for, they’re tiny, and they can live in small to large aquariums – whatever you need.
They do need to have specific water parameters met, of course, though. 6.5 to 7.5 pH is their range and they need temperatures between 72 and 78° Fahrenheit, though they can be a little adaptable.
These guys should be kept in groups of three or more, they should be housed with small to medium-sized non-aggressive fish, and they’ll be happy to eat most species of algae along with detritus and leftover fish food. Just don’t house them with aggressive fish like cichlids.
These guys are hair algae eaters, too, by the way, along with various other kinds of algae.
Cherry Shrimp (Neocardidina denticulata sinensis)
Another great cleaner shrimp is the Cherry Shrimp, which is named for its bright red color. They make a beautiful and intriguing addition to your aquarium while helping you keep things clean.
These shrimp do best in groups of two to four, should be housed in aquariums that are at least 10-gallons in size, and should be kept in water that’s between 6 and 8 pH, KH 3 to 10, and temperatures between 60 and 80° Fahrenheit. That means, they’re actually pretty flexible.
These shrimp are very easy to care for, as long as they have algae to eat. They also eat detritus, as well, and do best in planted tanks with peaceful tank mates. Avoid housing them with loaches and puffers in particular, as they love to snack on Cherry Shrimp.
Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes sp.)
Next up, we’ve got the Ghost Shrimp, an aptly nicknamed little shrimp that’s virtually see-through. They’re not quite as effective at algae-eating as cherry and Amano shrimp, but they definitely help in the cleaning department.
Their bodies are see-through, but they do have an orange to yellow spot in the middle of their tails, which helps make them identifiable.
They can grow up to 2-inches in length, they work well in tanks of 10-gallons or more, and they have wide water parameter ranges as well. They need 68° to 85° Fahrenheit water, a KH between 3 and 10, and a pH between 6.5 and 8.
These little guys are peaceful, amazing, community tank scavengers that do well with smaller fish or non-aggressive species.
Bamboo Shrimp (Atyopsis moluccensis)
All right, so Bamboo Shrimp are some of the best aquarium algae eaters around. They grow between 2 and 3 inches in length, too, so they’re a larger species of shrimp, and that means they can pack away even more algae.
They do also require larger tanks, though, needing to be in tanks that are 20 gallons or more.
Bamboo shrimp have a reddish-brown color with a white stripe running down their bodies. They require their tanks to have pH between 7 and 7.5, with a little bit harder water and very high water quality.
They are, however, pretty easy to take care of, besides those strict parameters.
They eat plenty of algae types and detritus, but they should be given some supplemental foods, including algae wafers, just in case they do a good enough job that they would go hungry otherwise.
They’re a peaceful species and should not be kept with larger sized fishes or species who are aggressive, though they otherwise do great in community tanks with smaller fish.