Best Algae Eaters for Freshwater Aquariums - Planted Tank Mates
sulawesi shrimp and sulawesi snail tank mates

Best Algae Eaters for Freshwater Aquariums

Overview

Algae eaters play a great role in a planted tank.  They can help keep the glass looking clean and minimize unwanted growth on plants and decorations. When you select the right ones, they become part of the community and contribute to the balanced ecosystem.  Not all algae eaters are equal though.  Always consider the size of your tank, water parameters and tank mates.  Also, it helps to identify the algae growing as some would be better than others at eating it.

Best algae eaters for small tanks

For smaller tanks, dwarf shrimp, snails, otocinclus are your best bet.  Although Neocaridina shrimp prefer more alkaline PH, they are very hardy and can handle a large range of parameters.  The popular Cherry Red Shrimp, blue dream and variations of Rili Shrimp make great algae eating tank mates.  Caridina Shrimp like Crystal Reds are beautiful as well, but they require acidic waters and are very sensitive to changes.  Of course, one of the most popular and versatile shrimp is the Amano Shrimp.  They are voracious eaters and unlike others can tackle black beard algae.

Neocaridina Shrimp
Neocaridina Shrimp – Skittles Batch – available on Amazon

 

Caridina Shrimp – Crystal Red – available on Amazon

 

Amano Shrimp – available on Amazon

There are unfortunately bad connotations with snails, but they can be a fantastic part of your ecosystem.  They’re great algae eaters and their health are good indications of your water quality.  Bright and healthy shells indicate good minerals in your water.  If you have small bladder snails and they’re beginning to overpopulate, that could be a sign of overfeeding.  The saying goes, “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” is very true when it comes to snails.  Once eliminated from an established ecosystem, you may begin to see algae burst back into your tank.

Bladder Snail -available on Amazon

 

Gold Mystery Snail
Gold Mystery Snail – available on Amazon

Smaller algae eaters like Otocinclus are another great option.  They’re social creatures and prefer to be in groups of 6 or more, but it’s not uncommon to house 1 or so in a smaller tank.  They max out around 2” and not only scavenge the bottom, but also wiggle across your glass.

zebra tiger otocinclus side profile
Zebra (Tiger) Otocinclus

Best algae eaters for medium to large tanks

You can absolutely put small algae eaters in a large tank, but you can’t put some big algae eaters in a small tank.  For instance, the Siamese Algae Eater can grow up to 6” in size.  They definitely do not belong in a nano tank and need at least 20 gallons wide minimum.  They’re extremely peaceful and do not eat dwarf shrimp.  Be careful not to confuse them with Chinese algae eaters who only consume algae in their youth.  If you have large pieces of wood in your tank, Bristlenose Plecos are a good option.  They’re more nocturnal, but love to graze on wood and can help keep hardscape clean.  Note that not all plecos are algae eaters.  The eye-catching Zebra Plecos are actually carnivores and will not clean your tank.

Siamese Algae Eater – available on Amazon

Bristlenose Pleco – Male top / Female bottom

All Things Considered

There are many great algae eaters to introduce into your tank, but don’t expect them to come and clean up your entire mess.  Think of them as a critical part in maintaining your ecosystem.  Remember that your aquarium is constantly changing and you may need to adjust your settings over time.  If you have an algae problem, try to remedy it through various means of balance and fine tuning.  This includes:

  • Reducing your photo-period.  Most common cause of algae is too much light.  If you have the lights on for 8 hours, reduce it to 5 or 6.
  • Elevating your light higher above the tank.  This helps decrease the intensity
  • If you have a customizable light, reduce the white and blue hues
  • Check your nitrates.  Excess nitrate levels can be dangerous to livestock and also promote algae growth.  Perhaps you are overfeeding?
  • Possibly add more plants to help consume the nitrates
  • Increase your CO2, but monitor your livestock.  If fish are gasping or moving their mouth a lot, it could be a sign of too much CO2.
  • Manually pull out algae.  Trim the infected plants and pull out whatever hardscape you can to lightly scrub it.
  • Last but not least, do small and gradual water changes.  Take out the current water and replenish.  Avoid dramatic changes that can shock livestock.

Once you’ve adjusted your tank and got the algae under some control, introduce the great algae eaters.  They’re there to maintain, not solve.  Also, remember to feed your algae eaters a regular diet of high quality food; they cannot solely eat the algae in your tank.

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