Algae is like the house guest that just won’t leave. You invited them in (by overfeeding the fish or exposing the tank to direct sunlight), and they’ve overstayed their welcome. Now your tank is a mess, and you can’t get rid of them.
If you’re like most fishkeepers, you probably had to get your hands nice and slimy at one point or another to remove those pesky algae manually. This is a challenging task and can be pretty time-consuming.
So what can you do about it?
Here’s a better solution: add one or two of these 25 best algae eaters for your tank! These cleaning crews are the perfect addition to any freshwater aquarium struggling with an algae problem.
And you know what else? The best algae eaters will do more than just keep the algae at bay. They also love cleaning up any leftover food before it dissolves and pollutes your aquarium with nitrite and ammonia. Keep reading to find out more.
Why Get the Best Algae Eater for Your Aquarium
Despite being a very efficient type of control, no species of fish will kill an algae infestation. The uncontrolled algae infestation will only happen in your aquarium when there is some imbalance, such as excess light and too many nutrients dispersed in the water.
Either way, algae-eaters do justice to why they’re called cleaning crews. These fish and invertebrates fulfil their role well in helping to control algae.
In stabilized aquariums, depending on the population of algae eaters, they can even wipe out the population of these plants.
What is the Best Algae Eater
Some fish are already well known among hobbyists and have long been considered excellent for killing algae. Siamese and Chinese Algae Eaters and Otocinclus Catfish are the first that comes to mind.
In addition to these already-known species, a range of other species is just as effective in controlling algae. They are common fish in the aquarium hobby, but few people know about their role in the cleaning crew.
In practical terms, among the dozens of species that eat algae, the most efficient, or “best”, is the one that adapts well to your aquarium and your type of algae.
This article contain not only fish species but also snails and shrimp. Invertebrates are excellent at controlling algae and helping create a more diverse community tank.
When selecting your algae eater, consider the available volume, water flow speed, pH, temperature, and hardness.
15 Best Algae Eater Fish
Algae might be a pain in the aquarium, but animals called cleaning crews, or algae eaters can help you out!
The terms mentioned above exist in the aquarium trade to refer to the different species of fish and vertebrates that feed on algae.
Some of these species are exclusive algae eaters, feeding on certain types of algae. Others are herbivores or even omnivores, having a less specific diet. When algae or specialized food is lacking in the aquarium, some of these animals can eat your plants.
1. Flying Fox Algae Eater
The Flying Fox fish (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus) is a very active and peacefully behaving algae eater that can be kept with properly sized fish. However, it should preferably be kept as the only algae eater in the aquarium, as the species tend to be territorial towards similar-looking fish.
Being a gregarious species, keeping a male Flying Fox with many females is ideal. It is generally considered a regular algae eater, showing no preference for any specific type. It can reach over 6 inches in length, so it needs a tank with considerable volume.
These animals are hardy and easy to maintain. In addition, they can live well in a wide range of water parameters. As a result, they are excellent options for composing a cleaning team.
The Siamese Algae Eater (Crossocheilus siamensis), affectionately nicknamed SAE, is probably the most famous in the aquarium hobby.
This species is considered by many to be the most efficient algae eater. One of their strengths over other algae eaters is that among the different types of algae, they are one of the few that feed on filamentous algae, brown and green.
This fish is often confused with other species of algae eaters. However, the main characteristic of the fish is its light, almost white color, and a black line that goes from its mouth to the end of the tail, where the black line goes beyond the caudal fin.
In aquariums, it is a peaceful fish that likes to live in groups. It is very easy to care for, making it an excellent choice for beginner aquarists. Although they are great fish for community aquariums, you must supplement their diet.
The Siamese algae eater needs an aquarium of at least 100 liters and prefers a pH ranging between 6.0 and 7.8 with a temperature of 75 to 82 F.
Among the true algae eaters, the SAE is the least aggressive. There may be some disputes with the same species, but nothing too serious.
How big does a Siamese Algae Eater get? They are one of the smallest algae eaters, hardly exceeding 5 inches in length.
These fish are small and fast and hide easily, making them difficult to prey on. However, in a slightly more open tank and kept with large predatory fish (e.g. some cichlids like Oscar, Peacock Bass) or large catfish (e.g. Channel Catfish or Shovelnose), they will be devoured.
The Chinese Algae Eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri), also called CAE, is a great general algae eater, especially when juvenile. However, adults can become aggressive toward other species when they reach a large size (up to 10 inches).
You should only keep one adult CAE per aquarium, as they are territorial with the same species. Never keep them with fish that secrete a lot of mucus-like Goldfish, carp, and some plecos. The epithelial mucus attracts the CAE that, if hungry, can feed on this mucus and end up hurting the fish.
It is an easy fish to care for and usually does not present many problems when kept in large-volume community aquariums. Because of their behavior and robustness, they are considered one of the few algae eaters that can live in aquariums with large and aggressive fish.
They prefer hard water and an alkaline pH, so these fish can be kept with some African cichlids.
You must feed these fish. Attacks on other fish usually occur when they are hungry.
4. Reticulated Hillstream Loach
Reticulated Hillstream Loach (Sewellia lineolata) is a very different species of fish with a shape that resembles a mini stingray. It is known to spend the day grazing on different types of algae, which makes them voracious eaters of these vegetables.
These fish are very demanding when it comes to water quality; they need water at a mild temperature, with lots of dissolved oxygen, and free from pollutants. As they spend their day eating algae incessantly, they are great additions to the 20-gallon aquarium cleaning crew.
They are small-sized fish, reaching around 2 inches in size. In addition to being able to exhibit territorial behaviors, the feeding rate of these animals is so high that it is recommended to keep only one individual in small aquariums.
5. Black Molly
Not all people know, but Molly Fish (Poecilia latipinna) are great algae eaters. Although these fish do not eat all types of algae, they are always actively looking for and feeding on algae on glass, substrates, and even among plants.
They are peaceful fish and easy to keep in aquariums with water tending alkaline. When in algae outbreaks, some aquarists decrease the food supply, which causes these fish to increase their algae intake.
They reproduce quickly and very easily. These fish can reach up to 6 inches in length and are friendly, perfect for community aquariums.
6. Otocinclus Catfish (Dwarf Suckers)
The Otocinclus Catfish (Otocinclus Affinis) is a small pleco. With around 2 inches, it is considered one of the best catfish to consider as a cleaning crew. They are famous and recognized fish for having their mouths constantly glued to the glass, eagerly looking for algae to eat.
They are friendly and peaceful fish, ideal to be kept in community aquariums. With a gregarious habit, they always like to be in shoals. When the tank runs out of algae, it has no problem feeding on regular fish food.
Classified as a regular algae eater, it prefers brown and green algae. They are demanding in terms of water quality, not supporting parameter variation or poor water quality.
7. Sailfin Pleco
Some plecos are known as Sailfin, most of which are included in the genera Pterygoplichthys, Hypostomus, and Ancistrus. These fish are great eaters of brown and green algae. Most of these species are large-sized fish, easily exceeding 1 inch.
These fish are peaceful and get along well even with other bottom fish. They have their mouth and teeth to scrape different surfaces looking for algae. In addition, they are very resistant fish.
As good as they are at controlling algae, they are considered messy fish, generating an alarming amount of debris and organic matter. Keeping these fish ensures a large tank and an excellent filtration system.
8. Rubber Lip Pleco
Like the Sailfin, Rubber Lip Pleco (Chaetostoma milesi) has a mouthpart as big as its appetite for algae.
They are medium-sized Plecos, standing around 7 inches in size, a size that is compatible with many home tanks. Despite feeding on algae, this fish is not a very effective algae eater on plants and higher parts of the glass.
9. Twig Catfish
Different fish of the genus Farlowella and Sturisoma are called Twig Catfish. Considered to be medium-level algae eaters, they prefer green, soft algae.
They demand fish in terms of water quality, and some species exceed 10 inches in size. Due to their habits, they are both close to the substrate and hidden in the middle of the vegetation, where they clean the plants of algae.
10. Whiptail Catfish
The Whiptail Catfish are different species of the genus Rineloricaria. These fish are picky about water quality. They can be shy fish, so give them hiding places.
They are not very efficient algae eaters. They exhibit omnivorous food habits; algae will only be a part of their diet. It is a peaceful species that can be kept with other fish without problems.
11. Florida Flagfish
The Florida Flagfish (Jordanella floridae) is a large algae eater, even if it is rarely cited as such. Sometimes they can hurt the plant’s leaves while looking for algae to nibble on. These fish do best when kept in alkaline water.
It is a species known for nipping fins from other species, so it is best to keep it alone. Despite this, you can inhabit community tanks without problems if you keep your tank mates healthy.
12. Rosy Barb
Rosy Barbs are calm and very hardy fish. Despite having a reputation as fin nippers, they can be kept in a community tank with companions of similar size and behavior.
They are not considered true algae eater fish, but they have a specific preference for feeding on hair algae, being very efficient in controlling this type.
These fish must be kept in schools; otherwise, they will become aggressive.
13. Redtail Shark
14. Rainbow Shark
The Redtail Shark (Epalzeorhynchus bicolor) and Rainbow Shark (Epalzeorhynchus frenatum) are fish with strong personalities. They show territoriality and aggressiveness against fish of other species, especially when kept in small aquariums.
In aquariums, you should only keep one individual per tank, as they don’t live with their conspecifics. It is a good algae eater, with a preference for those between plants, logs, and other decorations.
Additionally, they are robust and large fish and should only be kept in aquariums above 68 gallons.
15. Imperial Algae Eater
The Imperial Algae Eater (Crossocheilus latius) was considered rare in aquariums for a long time; nowadays, it has become more popular. It is a highly requested species to be used as an algae eater.
The species, although little known, is considered by many to be one of the best algae eaters. In addition, as it lives in alkaline water, it is ideal for alkaline ponds such as African cichlids.
It is not a fish suitable for inexperienced aquarists. In addition to being sensitive, it demands water parameters.
5 Best Algae Eater Snails
Some snails are well known for being great algae controllers; here, we highlight the top 5 species.
1. Ramshorn Snail
Ramshorn Snails are one of the most popular snails in aquariums. They are known mainly by shrimp breeders and those with nano aquariums.
These snails are great eaters of different types of algae. They also have a solid ornamental factor, displaying an intense red color. They are peaceful and prolific animals.
2. Nerite Snail
This snail is available in many colors and patterns, making it very ornamental. A problem with their maintenance is that they lay numerous eggs in the aquarium.
The eggs do not hatch; for this to occur, they need brackish water. Some aquarists don’t like to see their beautiful aquariums full of white dots. The eggs are easily removed manually or with the help of a siphon.
3. Mystery Snail
There are numerous genera with this name, the most common being Pomacea. Some species (Pomacea bridgesi) eat only algae, others such as paludosa and canaliculate are plant eaters.
The mystery snail is one of the most well-known snail species in the aquarium hobby. They eat different types of algae voraciously.
These mollusks are very beautiful and reproduce quickly. In addition, it is easy to find a variety of colors on sale.
4. Trumpet Snail
These snails are a great addition to the cleaning crew and will eat virtually all types of algae. However, they are not exclusive algae eaters, so they are more efficient when controlling the population rather than an outbreak.
5. Rabbit Snail
Rabbit Snails are definitely one of the best snails to control algae outbreaks in freshwater aquariums.
These voracious snails have roamed the entire aquarium tirelessly, looking for algae to feed on.
5 Best Algae Eater Shrimps
Among invertebrates, shrimps are a great addition to the algae control team.
1. Bamboo Shrimp
These invertebrates work tirelessly between the aquarium decorations and the plants. In addition, they feed on some types of algae.
It is essential to avoid placing the Bamboo Shrimp with larger fish, as they will quickly become food.
2. Amano Shrimp
This shrimp is named after the famous aquascaper Takashi Amano. This well-known aquarist often used this shrimp species to control algae in his aquarium.
These shrimp are great algae eaters. Because they are delicate and of good size, they are indispensable in many planted aquariums.
3. Neocaridina Shrimp
The famous Neocaridina shrimp have many colors and are very easy to care for. They are small, cute, and excellent algae removers.
A healthy colony of these shrimps is enough to keep the algae under control.
4. Ghost Shrimp
As a good cleaning crew member, this shrimp will actively search for algae in the substrate and among the plants in the aquarium. Some of these shrimp are very sensitive to pollutants in the water and should be kept in good-quality water. Others may attack and eat small fish.
5. Caridina Shrimp
One of the most challenging shrimp to keep in an aquarium They need a stable and controlled aquarium. Despite being small, they are incredibly efficient algae eaters.
Algae Eaters and Other Fish
The different species considered to be algae eaters and mentioned here are, in general, very peaceful. All can thrive in community tanks.
So-called “true algae eaters” (SAE, CAE, and Flying Fox) are territories with fish of the same species. They can become aggressive and attack other fish when hungry, kept in rough environments or under stress.
Sharks can also become aggressive towards other fish.
The Chinese Algae Eater is known to attack fish with a lot of mucus. The same behavior can be observed in some algae-eating plecos. As long as you keep your fish well-fed, stress-free, and in a suitably sized aquarium with good water quality, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The shrimp and snail species mentioned here are all very peaceful and will not do any harm to your fish.
What Algae Eater Can Live with Goldfish
If you need to control the algae population in a goldfish aquarium, preferably for Siamese Algae Eaters.
SAE is a good size not to be eaten by Goldfish. They will not threaten Goldfish as these fish are not known to be fin nippers. Furthermore, these fish live in comparative water conditions.
Goldfish will certainly eat snails and shrimp.
What Algae Eater Can Live with Betta
Many animals mentioned here are great algae eaters to live with Bettas.
You can even mix them up in a large Betta aquarium. For example, Oto Cat, Shrimp and Ramshorns are everyday tank mates in Betta tanks.
Betta will eat some shrimp, but no problem. Larger females will be safe.
What Algae Eater Can Live with Bottom Fish
The vast majority of algae eaters can live with bottom fish. However, in the case of sharks, you should avoid placing other bottom fish, as these are territorial fish.
Algae Eater FAQS
How do you know if your algae eater is dying?
When the fish is dying, you will notice symptoms such as loss of coloration (fish becomes opaque), loss of balance (wandering swimming), fish lying on the bottom, and panting.
Why is my algae eater turning white?
Chinese algae eaters, as they grow, acquire a solid white color. Other species of algae eaters that exhibit this symptom are likely suffering from the pH.
What is the smallest algae eater?
The smallest algae eater species are Caridina and Neocaridina shrimp. Among the fish are the Oto Cat and the Hillstream Loaches.
Why did my algae eater die?
Many species of algae eaters are sensitive to water quality. Keep your tank always with tests and maintenance up to date.
How big do algae eater fish get?
The biggest of these are plecos (many can reach over 1 inch) and Chinese algae eaters (around 10 inches).