Freshwater Algae Eater Fish That Can Clean Your Tank
Perhaps the most popular freshwater algae eater fish are the sucker mouth catfish, including Plecostomus (Plecos) and Otocinclus (Otos). While they do a good job on most forms of green and brown algae, especially algae on the tank walls, their mouths are not equipped with rasps that are strong enough to remove stuck on algae from tank walls. They do a fine job of clearing plant leaves, ornaments, and aquarium glass of new growth, but if it has calcified, there is no chance they will be eating it.
Often times, a beginning aquarist will purchase a common Pleco, not knowing that they can grow to an enormous size in a relatively short time. Otocinclus are much better suited to the smaller tank sizes in homes (but there are some Plecos that top out at the nine to 12-inch range).
Common Sucker Mouth Catfish
- Common Plecostomus (not recommended)
- Zebra Plecostomus
- Sailfin Plecostomus
- Gold Nugget Plecostomus
- Bulldog Catfish
- Chinese Algae Eater (not recommended)
- Leopard Plecostomus
- Scarlet Acanthicus (150-gallon tank or larger)
- Orange Tipped Plecostomus
- Bristle-nosed Plecostomus
- Tiger Clown Plecostomus
- Bristlenose Plecostomus
- Royal Panaque
- Peppermint Plecostomus
- Common Otocinclus (groups of three or more)
- Zebra Otocinclus (groups of three or more)
Sucker Mouth Algae EaterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Don't Buy This Guy!
A Word About the Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese algae eaters are very popular in pet stores that don't specialize in fish like PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, Walmart, and other multifaceted retailers. They are readily available and cheap, but they aren't god for your community tank. Juveniles (between one and two inches) will clean algae at a ferocious pace, but as they grow older, their tastes change from algae to flesh. Older and larger Chinese algae eaters will affix themselves to the sides of your other fish and eat through their scales, often leaving an open sore that is readily infected. Angelfish, Silver Dollars, and other flat sided fish are the most vulnerable. These fish get very aggressive and territorial as they age and should not be left in a community tank.
Tropical Freshwater Algae Eaters
- Black Molly
- Pearl Molly
- Sailfin Molly
- Calico Molly
- Siamese Algae Eater
- Flying Fox
- Rosy Barb
- American Flag Fish
- Fancy Guppy
- Endler’s Livebearer
Freshwater Fish That Eat Algae
Many freshwater tropical fish are great algae eaters in their own rite. Livebearers including Black Mollies, Fancy Guppies, Platys, and swordtails eat string algae and sometimes white beard algae. Guppies and Endler’s Livebearers also do a number on the green algae in a tank. With their prolific breeding habits, these little guys will have their fry invading every possible algae hideout. Another great tropical algae eater is the Siamese Algae Eater—how could it not be with a name like that. This cigar shaped fish sports a black horizontal stripe down the length of its body and readily consumes green, brown, red, white, and even the dreaded black fuzz algae. This all-purpose cleaner is a must have for 55-gallon and larger tanks. The Siamese algae eaters grow to about six inches and like to shoal in group of three or more, so smaller tanks aren’t a good fit (although having just one in a 29-gallon tank has worked for me in the past).
Rosy Barbs and American Flag Fish are a couple of the showy tropical algae eaters. The male Rosy barb has a brilliant metallic sheen that shimmers from red to gold to green as it darts through the water. The female is more subdued but still has wonderful green gold hues. The American Flag Fish has a stunning red and blue striped pattern for which it is named. Each of these varieties will eat most green and brown algae—though the barbs will start grazing on your plants if enough algae is not present.
Algae Eating Freshwater FishClick thumbnail to view full-size
Freshwater Snails That Eat Algae
The Malaysian trumpet snail is one of the only freshwater algae eaters that is a snail. It isn’t usually for sale but may come bundled in the roots of a plant that you have bought. These tiny snails have trumpet shaped shells and grow to a mere two centimeters. They burrow in sand and gravel during the daytime, scavenging deep in the substrate for plant debris. They come out at night and readily consume any algae or dead vegetation they can find. They proliferate extremely fast and a few can become hundreds in just a few days. You may never see these snails but they are one of the greatest assets a planted tank can have. They remove dead plant matter, aerate plant roots, and remain unseen in the daytime.
A second snail that might be of interest is the Apple snail. It is much larger and will not reproduce in your tank. There are mixed reviews on whether or not this snail will eat plants. Several other mystery snails are known to be voracious plant eaters. The apple snail is reported to be fond of green algae and does an adequate job of cleaning glass surfaces.
Algae Eating Freshwater Shrimp and SnailsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Algae Eating Shrimp
- Red Miniline Algae
- Orange Shrimp
- Sakura Shrimp
- Indian Blue Shrimp
- Whiteback Shrimp
- Bee Shrimp
- Tiger Shrimp
- Bumblebee Shrimp
- Blue Shrimp
- Indian Zebra Shrimp
- Green Midget Shrimp
- Redfronted Shrimp
- Black Midget Shrimp
- Cherry Red Shrimp
- Amano Shrimp
Freshwater Shrimp That Eat Algae
Of the 20 or so varieties of shrimp available for freshwater aquariums, the Amano is the most widely associated with algae eating. They are very small and you’ll need several of them to make even the smallest dent in an algae infested aquarium. They prefer green algae and have been seen eating beard algae as well as string algae. They don’t swim, so they will only remove algae that is on the tank floor, plants, or aquarium decorations. Because of their small size, overpopulation isn’t an issue, although being eaten by fish in the tank is! They will spend most of their time hiding in vegetation if it is possible. The Amano isn’t the only algae eating shrimp, but it's the most used. Larger shrimp such as the vampire shrimp do not eat algae.
Using a combination of algae eaters in your tank will provide for the best algae control. Controlling algae should be a major concern as algae blooms can lead to ammonia spikes, nitrite spikes, lack of light for plants, low oxygen levels for fish (during the night), and the obvious mess. With the many different types of freshwater algae eaters to choose from, you should be able to control your algae while adding interesting characters to your tank.