best algae eaters

Algae Eaters: 15 Fish & Invertebrates to Help Keep Your Aquarium Clean

Most aquarists face algae problems at least once during their aquarium keeping days. One way to prevent algae problems is to stock your aquarium with some fish that clean their own tank. However, there are some pros and cons to this approach that you should consider. In this article we will cover everything you need to know about choosing the best algae eater for your aquarium.

best algae eating fish

Common Types of Algae Growth

Are you noticing colored slimy or furry things in your aquarium? Has your water turned an ugly shade of green? If so, you probably are in the midst of an unpleasant algae problem.

Algae comes in many different forms and colors. If you have blue-green algae in your tank, this is most likely caused by poor water conditions. Red algae is caused by a lack of carbon dioxide in the water. Brown algae means that your tank has inadequate lighting. Green algae is caused by either too much light or too much dissolved waste in your aquarium.

To understand better the types of algae, see the classification below:

  • Green Surface Algae

    Green algae growth on glass and ornaments

  • Brown Diatom Algae

    Brown algae often occurs in newer aquariums and generally resolves itself over time

  • Green Filamentous Algae

    Also known as green hair, beard, thread, brush, and/or tuft algae gets its name from its hair-like appearance

  • Red/Black Algae

    Black algae can quickly overtake plants that are slow-growing and is a reddish-purple color

  • Blue-Green Algae

    Blue-green algae is actually not an algae but cyanobacteria that is not eaten by fish

In any case, you need to face and resolve your algae problem as soon as it appears. We covered algae removal in this article. You can also take preventative measures to stop algae from becoming a problem in the first place. One of the easiest and fun ways to prevent algae growth is to add algae eating fish to your tank. There are other ways to help with this issue – such as regularly cleaning your fish tank or installing a UV sterilizer – but in this article we will focus on adding freshwater fish that clean their own tanks.

Last update on 2019-10-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

what are the best algae eaters?

Some fish species, as well as invertebrates such as shrimp and snails, thrive on eating the algae that grows in aquariums. These species are commonly referred to as algae eaters because their main meal consists of chowing down on all that colored slimy and furry stuff in your tank.

Adding an algae eating fish to your tank is a very safe and natural way to keep algae under control in your tank. Not only do they help keep your tank clean, but they also give you an extra living creatures to look at. However, not all algae eaters eat all types of algae, so it is important to pinpoint the type of algae you have in order to get the right fish or invertebrate to help with your particular situation.

Are Algae Eaters Necessary?

Well, yes and no. Stocking your tank with the best algae eaters – fish or invertebrates – is always a good idea and they make a nice addition to any aquarium. When planning your fish population, it makes sense to add a few of these guys. They are actually quite interesting to look at and to take care of. There is no need to purchase them for the sole purpose of keeping algae out of your aquarium. You can add them for visual reasons and watch them grow and interact with your other fish.

As with all fish that you will add to your aquarium, make sure to research the species to be certain that they will cohabitate well with your other fish species or that they won’t grow too big for your aquarium. Some of these species are known to grow fairly large so your tank size should be a major factor when choosing an algae eater.

Bottom line, adding a algae eating fish isn’t necessary, but they do make a nice addition to your tank. Adding an algae eater along with regular tank cleanings and water changes can result in a pristine aquatic environment.

Are Algae Eaters for any type of Aquarium?

Surely not. Most algae eaters like to live in fast-flowing waters, which means they will do better in high flow aquariums. Like with any fish, research needs to be done before purchasing an algae eater for your tank. There has to be a compatibility between all your species as well as your aquarium environment otherwise you will have stressed out and unhealthy fish. For example, some bigger fish may want to make a meal out of certain algae eaters.

Whether you have a saltwater or freshwater tank, there are a number of algae eating fish and invertebrates that can help with algae cleanup. Both large and small aquariums can benefit from having algae eaters, but make sure they won’t outgrow your tank as they mature. For example, some of the most popular algae eating fish species like the plecos can get pretty large.

Compatibility with other
fish in your Aquarium

This is essential in order to maintain a healthy tank. The best algae eaters for you are those that will get along with your existing live stocking. Not only do you have to keep your water clean and algae free, the inhabitants need to get along with each other well. Make sure that you know that the eaters you are putting in will not be bullied by other species in your tank. Species like snails and shrimp may get eaten by larger fish and some plecos are territorial and are not recommended to live in communities.

Can They Survive on Algae Alone?

Unless you have a very algae prone tank that can keep the chompers satiated, you may need to supplement the diet of your algae eating fish and invertebrates with additional fish food. Depending on the number of algae eaters you put in your tank, they may need to be fed extra food like wafers. Keep an eye on them and look for signs that they are not as active as they should be.

The 15 Best Algae Eaters: Fish, Shrimp, and Snails

We have prepared a list of the 15 best algae eaters. We have included not only fish but also invertebrates like shrimp and snails as they are a valid option and can add some more variety to your stocking.

Algae Eating Fish

Plecos

algae eating fish - plecos

Pleco is the word we use to name a fish that is in the suckermouth catfish family. It is, by far, the most common algae eater amongst aquarists. The Common Pleco which is one of the most sold plecos on the market can grow to be pretty large, so this needs to be taken into consideration. Fish stores sell them small and very inexpensive, but they grow fast and sometimes very big. They eat mostly green surface algae growth and are excellent window cleaners. If you have a smallish tank, you may want to consider the clown pleco or the bushynose pleco, as these types don’t grow as big as the common pleco. The clown pleco has a distinctive striped pattern and the bushynose grows tentacles on its face. They are not all that pretty, but they keep the aquarium windows very clean and are quite entertaining.

  • Scientific name: Plecostomus
  • Max size: 2 inches and up to 2 feet depending on type
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: green surface algae, brown/diatom
  • Aquarium size: small to large depending on the type of pleco
  • Compatibility: Loners, one pleco per tank

Otocinclus
Pygmy Suckermouth

Otos are also part of the suckermouth family. They are also called pygmy suckermouths and as their name states, they are a lot smaller then their pleco counterpart. They grow to be about two inches and, unlike the plecos, prefer to live in schools with others. You will want to purchase two or three to keep them happy. They will eat the algae growth on the windows, but also on the leaves and other decorations that are in your aquarium. They are small and can get into smaller spaces that plecos can’t normally get to.

  • Scientific name: Otocinclus
  • Max size: 1.5 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: green surface algae, brown/diatoms, plant cleaning
  • Aquarium size: small to medium
  • Compatibility: In schools

Siamese Algae-eater

This is another great algae eater that you may want to consider to keep your tank clean. They are voracious eaters and very good swimmers. They eat all types of algae, even thread and brush algae. This fish is sometimes mistaken for the Flying Fox fish in fish stores. The thing that distinguishes this fish form the others is its horizontal stripe running down its body. Here is an interesting article that goes deeper into the proper identification of this fish.

  • Scientific name: Crossocheilus siamensis
  • Max size: 5 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: Red/Black Algae, Tufted, Hair/Brush Algae
  • Aquarium size: Medium to large
  • Compatibility: From 1 to 5

Twig Catfish

The Twig Catfish is a slender, brown fish that averages four to eight inches in length. They eat all algae and it is recommended that you supplement their diet with algae tablets a few times a week. They do well in larger tanks with aged water that have a lot of plants and wood, as they enjoy hanging out in these places. They do well with most fish except the Cichlids and Barbs that may harm them.

Whiptail Catfish

These are quite interesting to look at and they like to live in groups. They aren’t a suckerfish but rather a forager. They are omnivorous so they sometimes enjoy the occasional live treat like bloodworms or brine shrimp.

  • Scientific name: Rineloricaria lanceolata
  • Max size: 6 inches
  • Care: Low to medium
  • Feeding: Omnivorous
  • Aquarium size: Medium to Large
  • Compatibility: In schools of three or more

Stone-lapping Fish

This is another fish that sometimes gets confused with the Flying Fox and the Siamese Algae Eater. The stripes do not run across to the tail and that is one thing that makes it different from the others.

  • Scientific name: Garra cambodgiensis
  • Max size: 2.5 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: Brush or beard algae, omnivore
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large
  • Compatibility: In schools of three or more

Florida Flagfish
(American Flagfish)

This is a very colorful algea eater fish. It adds a very nice visual touch to your habitat all the while providing algae maintenance. It needs a space that contains a lot of hiding spaces like plants, driftwood, or rocks.

  • Scientific name: Jordanella floridae
  • Max size: 2.5 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: Brush or beard algae
  • Aquarium size: Medium
  • Compatibility: May be aggressive towards other fish

Black Mollies

Black mollies are very popular in the aquarist world. They are omnivores, and eat green algae that may form in your tank. They are excellent scavengers and will also eat beard algae. They are peaceful fish that like to live in large communities and preferably in a medium sized aquarium.

  • Scientific name: Poecilia sphenops
  • Max size: 4 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: Green algae, beard or hair algae, omnivores
  • Aquarium size: Small to Medium
  • Compatibility: Community fish, at least 2 females to each male

Algae-Eating Invertebrates

Snails and shrimp are also other good options for your algae control. They do a very good job at eating algae and also leftover foods and other debris in your tank. Shrimp can sometimes become dinner for other larger fish, so be careful when choosing tank mates.

Ramshorn snails

These snails are very small and have shells that resemble a ram’s horn. They are either brown or red. They eat all algae on plants, decorations, and rocks. They will also eat leftover food and other debris in the tank. Some fish like Cichlids and Loaches may eat the small snail.

  • Scientific name: Planorbis corneus
  • Max size: 1 inch
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: All algae, leftover food, and other debris
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large

Last update on 2019-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Malaysian Trumpet Snail

These snails are excellent at cleaning detritus from the aquarium substrate. They are detrivores and eat plant and protein matter. They plow through the substrate thus airing it for the plants. You only need one to breed more, so population may become invasive.

  • Scientific name: Melanoides tuberculata
  • Max size: 2 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: All algae, leftover food, and other debris
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large

Last update on 2019-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Mystery Snails

Mystery snails grow to be quite large and devour anything algae, leftover food, or detritus in your tank. They are true detrivores. They are very interesting to watch with their antennas, leaving tracks as they go.

  • Scientific name: Pomacea bridgesii
  • Max size: 2 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: All algae, leftover food, and other detritus
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large

Last update on 2019-10-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Amano Shrimp

Amano shrimps are the most popular shrimp in the aquarist’s world. They eat everything from algae to left over food stuff. They do well in tanks with smaller, non-aggressive fish, as shrimp can become a meal to the larger fish. They don’t grow very big, about two inches maximum, and they like to be on groups. You will want to put about three or more individuals into your aquarium. If you have live plants in your tank and use fertilizer, you will want to take extra care because of the copper contained in these fertilizers.

  • Scientific name: Caridina multidentata
  • Max size: 2 inches
  • Care: Medium
  • Feeding: All algae except the blue green and green spot algae, also extra fish food
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large
  • Compatibility: In schools of three or more

Last update on 2019-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Ghost Shrimp

These shrimp are inexpensive and easy to care for. They are excellent scavengers and will feed on any leftover food in your aquarium. They are also called glass shrimp because they are transparent. An ideal setting for them is one with lots of hiding places, like plants.

  • Scientific name: Palaemonetes paludosus
  • Max size: 2 inches
  • Care: Low
  • Feeding: Omnivore
  • Aquarium size: Small to Large
  • Compatibility: Advised to be kept with peaceful fish

Last update on 2019-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Wood Shrimp

This shrimp is also sometimes called the rock, parasol, fan, or bamboo shrimp. It is the only algae eater on this list that will eat blue-green algae. The front claws that are usual for shrimp resemble more like fans. They filter feed through he microorganisms in the water.

  • Scientific name: Atyopsis moluccensis
  • Max size: 3 inches
  • Care: Medium
  • Feeding: Blue-green algae
  • Aquarium size: Large
  • Compatibility: Do well with others of the same kind

Conclusions

Adding algae eating fish and invertebrates to your aquarium comes down to your personal choice. Adding an algae eater to your tank is a fun way to address an existing problem or to try to avoid one. Remember that you may have to supplement their diet if there is not enough algae present enough in your tank. While some people debate whether they are necessary or not, we feel like they are a great addition to any tank! When well researched and carefully chosen, they will definitely enhance your aquarium environment.

Happy fishkeeping!

What are the best algae eaters for your aquarium? Fish, shrimps and snails that eat algae and help you keep your fish tank clean.