10 Best Algae Eaters for Freshwater Aquariums
To get rid of unsightly algae from your aquarium, you will need to have some help. We’ve compiled a top 10 list with amazing algae eaters. These animals are safe for aquatic plants and can often be used together for greater effectiveness.
At Aquarium Co-Op, we’ve sold thousands of live plants, and one of our main concerns is keeping the plants as free of algae as possible. That’s why we utilize the most effective algae eaters in the aquarium hobby for our holding tanks. One of the most important lessons we have learned is that each algae eater has its own mouth and body that is best for eating certain types of algae. To eat different kinds of alga, we use different species of algae eaters. If you have a large tank, only use a few of the algae eaters from this list. Adjust your tank lighting and plant nutrients and then wait for a month to see if they have an impact on the algae. You may need more help.
1. Reticulated Hillstream Loach
This oddball fish is one of the coolest-looking algae eaters you will ever see. The fish can grow to 3 inches (7.6cm), and it looks almost like a miniature stingray. It is covered in intricate black stripes and golden brown dots. They can clean flat surfaces such as rocks and vertical aquarium walls. They can be thought of as your personal window washers for algae and diatoms.
They can sometimes be a little territorial toward their own kind, so it’s best to get either just one loach or at least three loaches in a group to even out the aggression. You might be able to see baby loaches in your aquarium if you keep them in cool water with a stable pH.
There are many species that live in hillstreams and brooks, including Beaufortia kweichowensis and Sewellia ligneolata.
2. Amano Shrimp
Hillstream loaches are excellent at eating flat types of alga, but you might need an algae eater with a smaller reach that can cut through fuzzy algae or reach narrow spaces. Caridina Multidentata, a clear brown dwarf shrimp can grow up to 2 inches (5cm) in length. These rare creatures will eat hair and black beard algae. Because of their small size, you will need at least four (or more) of them to make a difference in the growth of algae. For more details on their care requirements, read the full species profile here.
Amano shrimp are easy to breed in your aquarium. But, you won’t get any baby shrimp unless you raise them in saltwater.
3. Nerite Snails
We have many ornamental snails from the Neritidae Family. They are both adept at scavenging and eating alga. They are particularly adept at removing the toughest green spot algae, as well other algae that can be found on plants, driftwood and decorations. Unlike most other types of aquarium snails, their white, sesame seed-like eggs will not hatch in fresh water, so you don’t have to worry about an out-of-control population boom. There are many varieties of snails to choose from, including red racer, zebra, horned and tiger. However, we prefer olive nerite because they are the most durable. For healthy shell development, don’t forget calcium!
Green Spot Alga is difficult to get out of rocks and plants. However, nerite snails can remove it and eat it.
4. Cherry Shrimp
If you did a direct, head-to-head comparison, a single cherry shrimp (or Neocaridina davidi) isn’t as efficient at algae eating as an amano shrimp. However, these brightly colored dwarf shrimp breed easily in home aquariums, and with a decent-sized colony, they provide excellent preventative maintenance against the buildup of excess food and algae. Their tiny limbs are perfect for picking through the substrate, plant roots, and other tiny crevices, and they’re happy to consume anything that’s digestible. At 1.5 inches (4 cm) long, cherry shrimp come in almost every color of the rainbow and can be easily sold for profit to your local fish store or other hobbyists. Read more about them in our cherry shrimp article.
A colorful display of bright red cherry shrimp cruising through a forest of green aquarium plants is an amazing sight.
5. Otocinclus Catfish
The catfish of the Otocinclus genus are commonly known as otos or dwarf suckermouths because they typically stay around 2 inches (5 cm) in length. Their smaller, slender bodies allow them to fit into tighter spaces than other algae-eating fish. They are similar to the hillstream locach and can be found hanging out on the aquarium glass, or even the leaves. Otos are prone to being underfed, so make sure you give them plenty of Repashy Soilent Green and vegetables like canned green beans and blanched zucchini slices. For more information on how to care for these adorable catfish, read our full article here.
Otocinclus catfish are a schooling fish, so try to get at least three to six of the same species to help these shy creatures feel safe and comfortable.
6. Siamese Algae Eating
Crossocheilus oblongus (also known as SAE for short) is a 6-inch (15 cm) cleaner fish that is commonly used in larger aquariums. Their downturned mouths are well-suited for eating hair algae, black beard algae, and leftover scraps in the fish tank. Because SAEs have the ability to consume more algae than juveniles, it is not surprising that they eat more of the fish. In order to encourage older SAEs to eat more algae, you might have to reduce their food portions. SAEs, like hillstream loaches can be territorial with similar-looking species. To get more algae-eating power, you should either get one SAE or three.
Siamese Algae Eaters are not as aggressive as Chinese, and can grow twice as large.
7. Florida Flagfish
Jordanella floridae is also known as the American flagfish because of the male’s beautiful red stripes and rectangular shoulder patch that resembles the flag of the United States. This voracious algae eater, measuring 2.5 inches (6 cm), has the right mouth to eat hair algae, black beard algae, and other fuzzy alga types. It can however sometimes cause damage to delicate plant leaves. If you have an unheated tank with other fast-swimming tank mates, this killifish may be the right algae eater for you.
As a native of North America, flagfish can thrive in cooler water environments without any aquarium heaters.
8. Bristlenose Plecostomus
Although they are one of the most popular algae eaters, Plecostomus can grow to be quite large and not suitable for home aquariums. Thankfully, bristlenose plecos from the Ancistrus genus are peaceful catfish that stay between 4 to 5 inches (less than 13 cm), making them perfect for a 25-gallon tank or larger. Their suckermouths can be used to eat algae and vacuum up food crumbs. Make sure to give them a balanced diet that includes Repashy gel foods, frozen bloodworms, and sinking wafers to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients.
Males are well-known for their bristles on the snout. Females, however, have a clean-shaven appearance.
9. Molly Fish
Mollies, a Poecilia genus livebearer, are a popular species that can live in both fully fresh and fully saltwater waters in the Americas. Because of their flat, grasping jaws and bottomless stomachs, they are constantly picking at algae found on plants, hardscape, and even flat surfaces. The aquarium hobby has selectively bred them into a wide range of colors, patterns, fin types, and body shapes, and they readily reproduce if given plenty of food and hiding spots for the fry. As a heads up, fancy mollies are often raised in brackish water fish farms, so if you sense health problems with your new fish, consider adding aquarium salt and extra minerals to help them thrive.
10. Rosy Barb
Certain barbs like the rosy bar (Pethiaconchonius) are fond of fuzzy algae such as hair, staghorn and thread algae. This peaceful species can grow to three inches (7.6cm) in length and is available in neon, normal and long-finned versions. Similar to the flagfish, rosy barbs can be kept in unheated aquariums with other speedy tank mates. Keep them in groups of 6-10 (preferably with more males than females) in a larger tank, at least 29 gallons.
Unlike most barbs, Pethia conchonius are relatively peaceful and won’t bother your other fish as long as you get a decent-sized school to keep them entertained.
You want more advice on controlling algae? Read our complete article on the most common types of algae found in freshwater aquariums and how to get rid of them.