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Algae Eaters, Freshwater-Aquarium Superheroes

By Tammy Dore

When I found out this edition of Pet Connection is super-hero themed, I was excited. I’m sure someone out there thinks, “How in the world are superheroes and fish connected?” Well, I’ll happily tell you all about the type of fish I consider to be the superheroes of the home aquarium: algae eaters! Superheroes o often prevent problems from occurring before the civilians notice there’s anything amiss. Algae eaters (some kinds of fish, snails, and shrimp) are able to prevent tank issues by maintaining a healthy environment for all tank inhabitants.

Green Phantom Pleco

Plecocostomus, also known as pleco or sucker fish, is the most common algae eater. There are many types of plecos with a wide range of sizes, colors, and markings. The most common is the Common Plecostomus. They are generally between 1-4” in size when sold, but will quickly outgrow the tank if it is under 50 gallons. They can easily and quickly grow up to two feet long. Pleco waste will cause the water parameters to swiftly decline, so it’s best to research the best pleco for the tank you have. Older Common Pleco will also become aggressive and will not be able to share a tank with smaller fish.

There are alternatives to the Common Pleco, however, that can be kept in smaller tanks and live peacefully with community fish. The Bristlenose Pleco or the Clown pleco are both great options for community tanks. The Bristlenose grows to about 4” and the Clown pleco tops out around 3.5”. Both species require driftwood to be healthy, along with some hiding spots. They are nocturnal and greatly benefit from shady hiding areas. The Bristlenose is commonly available in brown and but can be found in gold and albino. Both plecos are great conversation starters. With their thick plates, they look like superheroes in custom armor.

Albino Bristlenose pleco

The Siamese Algae Eater is another great algae eater. These fish are peaceful and gentle on live plants. They are between 4-6” fully grown. One of their best features is their constant appetite and willingness to eat more than just one type of algae. They are even willing to eat the awful Black Bearded Algae. Just the fact they are willing to go against this villain of the aquarium world solidifies their superhero status.

The Chinese Algae Eater looks similar to the Siamese Algae Eater, but they have some big differences. They are not as effective as some of the other algae eaters, but they are a great option for large tanks because they can live happily alongside larger semi-aggressive species, such as African Cichlids. The Chinese Algae Eater is not suitable for small tanks, as they can grow up to 11” and get semi-aggressive once they reach adolescence.

The Otocinclus, also known as Oto, is my absolute favorite algae eater. I recommend it more than any other. I know I have written about this fish several times, but it is for good reason. The Otocinclus only grows to 2” and is very peaceful. This fish is also a workaholic! Some of the larger algae eaters will become lazy and slack on the job, but the Oto is always busy. They will not damage plants or disturb their tankmates, including baby fish. If the tank is small, only one or two are needed. But, if they are going into a large tank, it is best to get a group of them to share the workload. You will quickly see a reduction in algae. These fish are on the job, day and night.

Snails are also good algae eaters. Mystery and Nerite snails excel at it. They both eat a variety of algae types, decaying plant matter, and uneaten food. Since they clean up after other fish they are constantly helping keep the water conditions healthy. Malaysian Trumpet snails are also great with algae. Hobbyists either love or despise them. These snails will burrow into the substrate, naturally aerating the substrate, helping plant health. They also consume decaying food and plant matter, along with algae. The biggest con for these snails is the rapid rate they reproduce. The rate of reproduction is directly linked to the amount of food available for them in the tank. The main reason for over population is overfeeding. If the available food is constant, however, Malaysian Trumpet populations can be controlled.

Algae eaters are superheroes, too!

Finally, Amano Shrimp and Cherry Shrimp are also good choices. The Amano is more effective because it consumes a wider variety of algae, tank mate leftovers, and decaying plant matter throughout the tank. The Amano is 2” in size at maturity, so it’s able to live alongside several types of community fish without getting bullied. The Cherry shrimp is about 1” fully grown, so it may become a target. It may be eaten or stressed. The Cherry Shrimp are best for planted tanks with only smaller fish. It will sit in the leaves, eating algae film and microorganisms, without harming the plants.

There are many more species of Freshwater-Aquarium-Superheroes I didn’t have space for, but we would love to show you our algae eaters and discuss the best option for your tank. We hope to see you at our downtown Olympia location at 407 4th Ave E.