Algae eaters are a great addition in a freshwater tank to help control and reduce unsightly and potentially damaging algae prorogation. They come in a variety of species, including shrimps, snails and algae-consuming fish. Certain algae-eaters prefer certain types of algae, so with a mix of species you can ensure that all or most of the algae presence can be controlled.
Capability with the other fishes and creatures is an issue, though. You need to know how the introduction of a algae eating species will impact the other animals in your tank. This means keeping the aggression and competition down by keeping incompatible species out of the tank environment.
Algae-eaters can be kept in their own separate tanks for long-term survival and then temporarily moved to another tank where they are needed. It is also important to realize that just like any other pet, you should make sure your algae help-mates have enough commercial food to sustain them for a healthy existence.
1. Amano Shrimp
The Amano shrimp is a very popular and active algae-eating species. They are ravenous eaters, consuming not only most algae, but eat dead plant castoff material (detritus) and clean the tank of leftover food.
They are quite small, averaging between 3.5 to 5 centimeters, making them ideal for a smaller tank. They only resist eating blue-green and green spot algae. Excessive amounts of commercial food will slow their appetites and it is best to introduce three or more individuals per tank.
Caution must be exercised when adding fertilizer to planted tanks since the copper in the fertilizer can be harmful to these shrimps. This requires scheduled water changes of 30 to 50 percent to dilute the fertilizer toxicity. Adding a dechlorinator will keep the chloramine and chlorine down to safe levels.
Amano shrimp are most compatible with smaller, docile fish that will not prey on them.
Picture source: Swordw (Flickr)
2. Ramshorn Snails
Ramshorn snails reach sizes up to 2 centimeters and have a brown or red coloring. Ordinarily, they do not consume freshwater aquarium plants unless they are taxed for algae, which could put Hygrophila and similar plants on their menu.
They concentrate on algae-covered plants, tank rocks, aquarium glass and other decorations. They will not pass up detritus, fish eggs and leftover food.
The Colombian Ramshorn, a larger species, does well in non-planted tank environments which are completely overrun with algae. You should monitor your pH levels and keep the water on a favorable hard alkaline level (above pH7) to ensure that the snails have enough calcium for shell maintenance and growth.
Be mindful that most Cichlids and Loaches will eat Ramshorn snails, but these types of freshwater fish can be temporarily removed from the tank.
Picture Source: Wikipedia
3. Nerite Snails
The Nerite snail is known for its attractive, colorful shell patterns. They measure 3 centimeters when fully grown.
Consummate algae eaters, the Zebra Nertinas will also seek out the green spot algae as well as the moss-like green beard variety. Keep your pH level above 7 for healthy shell growth.
Keep Cichlids and Loaches separated from them due to predatory behavior. You should keep the tank lid firmly sealed over the top since these snails can climb out.
Picture source: Ghostsword (Flickr)
4. Twig Catfish
The Twig Catfish is a delicate, suckermouth algae-eating catfish, also known as the Whiptail Catfish. They average 10 to 20 centimeters in length with a brownish, slender body.
It consumes most species of algae but its diet should be supplemented with spirulina algae tablets a couple times a week.
Twig Catfish thrive in aged water of at least 70 liters that has lots of plants and bogwood. They are compatible with docile fish like Rashoras, Pencil fish, Hatchets and Tetras.
However, they are vulnerable to attacks from Cichlids and Barbs which can injure or kill them. They do not respond well to heavy water changes, so lesser change-outs per week are recommended.
Picture source: Adrian Afonso (Flickr)
5. Bristlenose Plecos
You will find the Bristlenose Plecos one of the most popular and readily available algae eaters on the market. They often look comical, with a distorted growth about the head and nose. They have blunt, stout bodies that grow from 10 to 15 centimeters in length.
They require a lot of green foods, including bottom-lying algae tablets and blanched vegetables. If deprived of green foods they will resort to the softer leaved plants like Amazon swords.
You will need to provide these fish with dark substrate material and rock shelters on the bottom of the tank since they feed at night and retreat to safety. Keep the water agitated with a slight current and plenty of oxygen.
Picture source: Goldy (Flickr)
6. Siamese Algae Eater
Many aquarium owners view the Siamese Algae Eater (SAE) to be a must have fish in their tank. It is a hardy, strong swimmer and jumper, attaining lengths of up to 14 centimeters. It is a voracious eater and will consume not only algae from plants, glass and decorations, but leftover pellets, parboiled vegetables, flake food and live food.
They have an appetite for flatworms, which are considered a nuisance. They don’t mind feasting on brush and thread algae, types commonly ignored by other algae eaters. Individual SAE can exhibit territorial behavior with their own species, which should limit the number from 1 to 5 individual in a tank that holds at least 100 liters or more.
They need plenty of oxygen in water temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius. They are sensitive to pH levels that fall outside of 7. They require a large amount of living plants and plenty of room to explore and feed which makes a longer tank more desirable. Owners should keep the tank lid on since they can easily jump out.
Picture source: Vee-Vee (Flickr)
7. Malaysian Trumpet Snail
These small snails never get any larger than 2 centimeters and will eat just about anything in the organic debris department as well as most algae. They do not harm plants during feeding when they are on the surface at night, but prefer a subterranean life under the gravel or substrate during the day.
They spend a lot of time digging under the gravel and you will have to look very close to see their movement. You should keep the water slightly alkaline for shell growth, like other crustaceans. These snails are sensitive to dirty and contaminated water and will often retreat up the sides of the aquarium glass as a survival maneuver.
Be wary of the predatory fish that feed on this and all snails.
Picture source: Goldy (Flickr)
What’s Your Algae Eater Of Choice?
So, there you have it folks. The 7 above are what we think are the best freshwater aquarium algae eaters that you can choose from.
Did we miss any of your favorites in the list above? Share what we miss in the comments section below and share with us and other aquaria enthusiasts.