7 Best Freshwater Aquarium Algae Eaters 26

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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

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 Snail

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

Nerite Snail

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.

Also Read: Freshwater Aquarium Snails: Pests or Pets?

Picture source: Ghostsword (Flickr)

4. Twig Catfish

Twig Cat Fish

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

Bristlenose Pleco

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

Siamese Algae Eaters

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

Malaysian Trump 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.

About Dennis Hanson

Dennis is an experienced aquarist with many years of knowledge and experience in keeping successful tanks. He also has no relations to the pop group Hanson.

26 thoughts on “7 Best Freshwater Aquarium Algae Eaters

  1. Reply fishmostly Jul 28,2013 10:08 pm

    Otocinclus! And you should see some of the MTS I have, they’re HUGE! Probably close to 4 cm.

  2. Reply Ahema Veridali Dec 24,2013 3:27 am

    I have a pleco, and let me warn you… i got him when he was about the size of my thumb LESS THAN A YEAR AGO! he is now the size of my HAND! Huge. Oh and i do like Dragon Fish *aka Violet Gobi’s* they are eel like in appearance and actually SHIFT the sand or gravel. He too is getting big, and will get to be larger than… the circle your fingers and thumbs can make put together.

    ~ forever fish friend

  3. Reply Travis Jan 25,2014 12:13 am

    I like your suggestions. Because of this article I got a couple nerite snails and was very happy. Between them and my red cherry shrimp they seem to keep the tank clean. Thanks

  4. Reply Shiloh Feb 10,2014 11:27 am

    Have two adult red-eared slider turtles in a 60 gallon fresh water tank. Had a 6″ pleco in the tank with them to eat some of the algea for a week, and then noticed one of the sliders picking on the pleco a bit. The next day the pleco was dead, with his fins and tail eaten off. It had swam into an area the turtles couldn’t get to and passed away. What algae-eater can I put in that the turtles will leave alone?

    • Reply Anne Feb 10,2014 10:30 pm

      Unfortunately, any creature you put in a turtle tank will be considered food and will be inevitably eaten. Turtles are ravenous predators and grazers. For my turtle tank, I wipe down surfaces each time I do a major water change and chalk it up to another day as a pet owner.

  5. Reply Jason Feb 18,2014 2:47 am

    Anyone have ideas what to do in an African Clawed Frog tank? I’m afraid thise glutons will eat anything I put into the tank, but boy do they need a maid!

  6. Reply gywerd Apr 2,2014 1:11 pm

    Personally I prefer gyrinochrilus, which comes in golden, stribed and spotted varieties. They aren’t suited for small fish like guppy, platy, molly and tetra, which they might eat or wound. They can be aggressive, but they keep my tank clean. To make them breed, they need the aquarist nightmare: unclear water and little light. It doesn’t look nice and is seldom suited for other fish.

  7. Reply Valkyrie Apr 20,2014 7:07 am

    American Flagfish. They even eat hair algae. And they are pretty :-)

  8. Reply Emanuel May 29,2014 8:25 am

    this is just like the major kinds of species of algae eater… i have 2 golden chinese algae eater they really look alike the siamese except for the color … but well i was going to buy shrimps but they were too small when i saw them i was like … my comet would eat that in a split second and he didnt even knew what it was… or is it ok to put tiny shrimps whit big fishes?

    • Reply Giv Dec 30,2014 8:31 pm

      It’s important to note here that the Siamese Algae Eater does not look like the Chinese Algae Eater. Take a good look at the head shape on each animal. The CAE (aka Sucking Loach) has a pronounced sloping forehead and flattened underside to the skull, and its jaws form a large Pleco-like sucking disc – this is easily visible when it sucks against the front glass of the aquarium. The SAE (aka Siamese Flying Fox) has smoother, more pointed & ‘shark-like’ head shape and its mouth visibly consists of two separate thick browsing lips. This highlights the very different feeding methods of the two species; the CAE latches onto a surface and rasps at soft growths or biofilms, whilst the SAE hovers over a surface and nibbles at filamentous algae in a manner which the CAE will not and cannot, for one major reason. What is this reason? The CAE has an ineffective swim bladder and sinks when not actively (and powerfully) swimming, unlike the graceful SAE which can float gracefully even when not actively swimming forwards. There are numerous other differences, all borne of the unique & very dissimilar environmental circumstances under which these two species evolved. There need never be any confusion between the elegant & shark-like SAE and the hunchbacked, ungainly CAE!

  9. Reply Ryan Jun 4,2014 2:57 am

    I have two Chinese algae eaters. Approx once per week, I lose a fish for unknown reasons. I’ve recently learned that Chinese algae eaters also eat the protective slime coat of other fish. Looks like it’s the porcelain express as this who dun it mystery is solved!

    • Reply Dennis H. Jun 4,2014 11:17 pm

      Great share Ryan, Thanks!

      • Reply Jim Nov 2,2014 12:30 pm

        No, it’s not a great share at all. It’s not the fish at fault here, this is why it’s important to do your research before adding fish to your tank. Flushing fish down the toilet is just not acceptable.

  10. Reply curious Jul 15,2014 12:45 pm

    How feasible is it to introduce certain snails and algae eaters to a small lake in order to control the algae?

  11. Reply not a happy camper Jul 17,2014 11:30 pm

    I purchased a chinese algae eater to help with an overgrowth of algae I was having a problem getting rid of. Unfortunately, the pet store employee did not warn me of their aggressive nature and I never googled the fish. I had guppies, I know easy fish, but they would have baby guppies. My kids loved watching the babies and the colors they would turn as they grew. Well, I have no guppies now. NONE, ZILCH. Pretty sure that chinese algae eater tormented all my fish except my clown pleco and my loach. Surprisingly I was just about to flush this fish after weeks of wondering what was happening to my fish when the CAE disappeared, which I am totally fine with. I just wanted to post this so people are aware of CAE and also do research on any fish you are going to buy, unlike I did at the cost of our fun hobby. :(

  12. Reply John Paul Busuttil Aug 11,2014 12:32 pm

    I have a small pond of abut 50 galls and i am at present using the easyclear 3000 as pump and uv filter. The water is very clear but i notice that algae is gathering at the bottom of the pond and also on the sides. I have no fish or water plants and the pond is exposed to at least 4 hours Mediterranean direct sunshine. What can i do or add to make sure that no algae keeps accumulation and also get rid of the present algae.Thank you

  13. Reply Matt Sep 24,2014 7:36 am

    To the two people who commented on here about wanting to (or have already) flush a CAE down the toilet, that’s despicable. You are in no way a caring hobbyist. Educate yourself before you buy a fish.

  14. Reply Jim Nov 2,2014 12:33 pm

    Agreed Matt, thanks.

  15. Reply chad Dec 8,2014 3:44 am

    I buy fish just to watch them swirl down the toilet

  16. Reply ian Dec 28,2014 8:03 pm

    The Chinese Algae eater should be removed from this list.I had 6 tiger barbs. bought a CAE because that is what the store recommended. He did a great job of eating algae for a while, then my tiger barbs started dying. I lost four Barbs before I finally saw the CAE kill one. It swam right up to my tiger barb, sucked on the side of it, and that was the end him. DO NOT GET A CHINESE ALGAE EATER!! THEY ARE EXTREMELY PREDATORY!!

  17. Reply Giv Dec 30,2014 8:43 pm

    In my opinion, one of the greatest new algae-eater additions to the hobby in recent years has been the amazing Panda Garra (Garra flavatra). This striking fish has a stockier body than the Siamese Algae Eater, with a much broader and bluffer head shape, but shares the thick, underslung browsing lips and penchant for stubborn fluffy algae. It will also eat soft green filamentous algae and even graze away the green haze which clouds the front glass. The only algae which it will not attempt to tackle is the blue-green velvety slime of cyanobacteria growths. It’s a friendly, active and gregarious fish which will live alongside other loaches and catfish without making trouble, and can be kept singly or preferably in groups. The body colour is chocolate brown and buttery yellow bands and the fins are a reddish colour, making it very attractive. It will adapt to many different fresh water parameters (soft or hard) and grows to a little more than three or four inches. If it has any drawbacks, it is a requirement for high dissolved oxygen levels, so an aerator is recommended. Otherwise, a fish with absolutely no drawbacks at all!

  18. Reply Meagan Rogers Jan 3,2015 8:15 pm

    I see a lot of people are confusing the Chinese Alge eater with the Simese Alge eater. I can see the problem because their markings are the same, but their body and temperament are totally different, please understand that they are not the same. The Chinese Alge Eater is more aggressive and territorial as an adult,it has a more bulky body, and chaotic movements . The Smiese Alge Eater is not aggressive, and great for community tanks 30+ gallons they are calm and only try to suck the slim off other fish if you are a bad owner and do not feed them Alge wafers twice a week.

  19. Reply Elisa Jan 21,2015 4:41 am

    So I’m looking to get an algae eater for my daughters tank only a 10 gallon with 8 guppies no heater. I need a low maintice algea eater that won’t kill the guppies

    • Reply Gabe Feb 10,2015 1:24 am

      You should definitely consider getting a heater, but if low maintenance is what you want, you could go for a few Nerite snails

  20. Reply Tracy Mar 23,2015 12:09 am

    Can I put an algae eater in the same tank with my tetras?

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