10 Best Algae Eaters for Freshwater Aquariums
To get rid of unsightly algae from your aquarium, you will need to have some help. This top 10 list includes animals that can not only be safe for your aquatic plants, but also work well together to increase their effectiveness.
Aquarium Co-Op is a wholesaler of thousands of live plants. We are committed to keeping them as healthy as possible. That’s why we utilize the most effective algae eaters in the aquarium hobby for our holding tanks. We have learned that every algae eater is unique and has the right mouth and body shapes to eat specific types of algae. To eat different kinds of alga, we use different species of algae eaters. If your tank is large, you can start by using a small number of algae eaters. Once you adjust the lighting and nutrients in your tank, wait one month to see how they affect the algae. If you need additional help, consider getting more clean-up critters from this list.
1. Loach in Reticulated Hillstream
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. Their strong gripping ability allows them to clean large flat surfaces like rocks, vertical aquarium walls, and plant leaves. 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 of hillstream and brook loaches, such as Sewellia lineolata, Beaufortia kweichowensis, and Gastromyzon ctenocephalus.
2. Amano Shrimp
While hillstream loaches are great at consuming flat types of algae, you may also need a more nimble-fingered algae eater that can reach into narrow gaps or tear off chunks of fuzzy algae. 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. The full species profile can be found 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
Coming from the Neritidae family, we have a very diverse group of small, ornamental snails that are adept at both scavenging and eating algae. They’re especially handy at scraping off the very tough green spot algae and other algae found on plants, driftwood, and decor. They are white and resemble a sesame seed-like egg, which means that they won’t hatch in freshwater unlike most aquarium snails. This will ensure that you don’t get an out-of control population. 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. Just don’t forget to provide extra calcium in the water (using crushed coral or Wonder Shell) and in their diet (using nano food blocks) to help with healthy shell development.
Green spots algae can be very hard to get off rocks and plants. But nerite slugs are one of few animals that can do it.
4. Cherry Shrimp
A direct comparison of the two species would show that a single cherry shrimp (or Neocaridina Davidi) is not as efficient at eating algae as an amano. 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.
An army of bright red cherry shrimp exploring a lush forest of green aquarium plants is a delightful sight to behold.
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. Their mouths, similar to the hillstream loach’s, are perfect for eating diatom alga from flat surfaces. You can usually find them hanging out on aquarium glass or leafs. 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 Eater
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. To get older SAEs to eat algae again, you might need to reduce the amount of food they eat. As with hillstream loaches, SAEs can be a little territorial with their own or similar-looking species, so choose to either get one individual or at least three in a group for more algae-eating power.
Siamese algeaters are different from Chinese ones, which can be twice as aggressive and can eat twice as many plants.
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
Plecostomus is one of the most famous algae eaters. However, they can get quite large and are not suitable for a home aquarium. 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 are made for devouring algae, vacuuming up food crumbs, and keeping driftwood clean. However, remember to feed them a well-rounded diet of sinking wafers, frozen bloodworms, and Repashy gel food to make sure they get all the necessary nutrients.
Males have bristles around their noses. While females are more clean-shaven, Males are also known for having a cleaner face.
9. Molly Fish
Mollies are popular livebearers from the Poecilia genus that live in fully fresh to fully salt water in the Americas. They are able to grasp and grab any kind of algae on any surface, including plants and hardscape. 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.