Chinese Algae Eater 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

The Chinese Algae Eater is a freshwater bottom-dweller fish. They are often used for algae management and assistance with tank cleaning.

However, some owners of Chinese Algae Eaters are surprised to find that as the species get older they can become less interested in algae and lean more towards live food- sometimes even taking a nibble out of their tank mates! 

Beginners should be able to successfully look after one of these fish with little difficulty, as long as they do their research, but keeping multiple fish of this species is more challenging. 

To find out if the Chinese Algae Eater is the right fish for you, keep reading to find out all about their behaviour, eating habits, tank requirements and much more! 

Species Summary

The Chinese Algae Eater, also known as the chinese sucker, honey sucker or sucking loach, is often a solitary fish. Despite their name,  they are found mostly in Las, Vietnam & Thailand rather than China.

They live in lakes or fast flowing rivers with warm water, spending nearly all of their time searching for food. In a domestic environment they will stick to the lower level of the tank, eating algae off the various surfaces. This helps to keep the tank clean. These freshwater fish have a semi-aggressive temperament. They will usually live for around 10 years, but sometimes longer if they are well cared for.  

Care Guide 

Tank Size

Chinese Algae Eaters need quite a lot of space and will get stressed if they are crammed into a small space with too many fish as they prefer to be alone. They require a minimum 50 gallons per fish. It’s best to give them extra space if possible as they can sometimes grow larger than expected. They are larger than many other species of bottom-dwellers. 

Tank Mates

Chinese Algae Eaters will show aggression to tank mates of a similar size and are known to fight members of their own species. Avoid placing them with fish of a similar size, appearance or lifestyle and aim for a community of smaller fish.

Large, slow-moving tank mates are not suitable either, as the algae eaters may latch onto them in an attempt to eat their slime coat. Whilst this is not intended to cause harm, it can lead to injuries and even parasitic infections. 

Avoid placing Chinese Algae Eaters with invertebrates like shrimp and snails as the fish will probably attack them. Try small speedy tank mates like clown loaches, swordtails or zebra danios, and fish that stay in the upper section of the tank. Be careful not to over-crowd the tank as this species of fish needs a lot of space. 

Same Species Tanks

It’s not usually recommended to keep Chinese Algae Eaters with members of their own species as they will most likely be aggressive towards each other. If you do want to attempt it, the fish will need plenty of space. You will need to invest in a large tank, with a minimum of 50 gallons of water per fish. 

Water Parameters

Chinese Algae Eaters are tropical freshwater fish. Their natural habitat is warm, fast-flowing water. To recreate this in your tank, the water temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees fahrenheit. The PH level of the water should be between 5.8-80, and the water hardness between 8 and 10 KH. 

Use a water filter or air pump to create a sufficient flow of water around the aquarium. These fish like a well-lit environment, so standard aquarium lighting should be sufficient. Keep nitrate levels as low to 0ppm as possible, monitoring it with regular water checks. 

What To Put In Their Tank

In their natural habitat, Chinese Algae Eaters spend most of their time near the rocky surface of rivers or lakes, surrounded by stones, gravel and sand. Re-creating their natural habitat in your tank will help to prevent stress. 

The bottom layer of the tank should be sand or gravel. Sand is recommended as the fish are less likely to scratch themselves as they swim over it.

Place rocks and decorative caves on top of the sand to provide plenty of crevisses for the fish to retreat to and hide in. Smooth flat rocks are a good option as they will collect algae and give the fish another surface to attach to and eat from. 

Live plants can also be used to provide shelter, and have the added benefit of helping to keep the tank clean. You will need a tight fitting lid as these fish have been known to escape. 

Common Diseases

Chinese Algae Eaters are susceptible to many of the diseases that affect freshwater fish such as Ich. This parasite causes white spots to form on the body of the fish.

Maintaining a clean tank will help to avoid disease, but make sure you don’t clean away all of the algae as this is their main source of food. Aim for a clean tank with a controlled level of algae. 

You should also perform regular water checks to ensure that the tank is at the correct temperature, PH level and nitrate level to help avoid disease. A Good diet can also help to prevent disease. If the fish has a poor diet they will not have all the nutrients needed to fight off disease. 

As soon as you notice one of your fish is sick, move them to a quarantine tank to help stop the disease spreading to their tank mates. Only put them back in the main tank when you’re sure they are fully recovered. 

Food & Diet

Chinese Algae Eaters have an omnivorous diet. In their natural habitat, they mainly eat wild algae. They also feed on maggots, which provides them with protein. In a domestic tank, they will eat mostly algae. If you are worried there isn’t enough algae in your tank, you can also feed them algae wafers. 

To introduce protein into the diet of your fish, feed them live or frozen bloodworms and shrimp. You can also give them little bits of leftover green vegetables from your kitchen such as lettuce, spinach and zucchini. Don’t over-feed your fish as this can cause them to bloat. If left untreated, bloating can cause serious health problems for the fish. 


Chinese Algae Eaters will usually live up to 10 years in a home aquarium, though this can increase quite a lot if you keep them in a clean tank and feed them a good diet. This is a long lifespan for a domestic fish, so getting a Chinese Algae Eater is a big commitment. Their lifespan will also depend on the state of the fish when you buy it. 


Chinese Algae Eaters are pale brown, with a light belly. Some of them have a long horizontal dark stripe, particularly in the wild. They have an elongated body with small fins, including a dorsal fin.

They have a distinctive sucker mouth with pronounced lips which they use to attach themselves to surfaces. They create a vacuum and eat the algae from the surface, and use specialised organs to help them breath whilst they eat. 


This species of bottom-dweller is larger than most. They can reach lengths of 11 inches in the wild but are unlikely to exceed 5-6 inches when kept in a domestic tank.

Behaviour and Temperament

Chinese Algae Eaters have a semi-aggressive temperament. They are solitary fish who enjoy spending time alone at the bottom of the tank.

As they get older they become more interested in live food and eat less algae, so bear this in mind if you are choosing this species for algae management. They also become more territorial and aggressive as they get older, which can cause problems with their tank mates. 


It is unlikely that you will be able to successfully breed Chinese Algae Fish in a domestic aquarium. Firstly, you  will need to make sure your group of chinese algae eaters includes a female, which can be challenging as it is hard to differentiate males and females.

Once you have found a mating pair, there is a good chance that they will behave aggressively towards each other which may cause problems.

You will also require lots of space for the mating pair with plenty of vegetation to resemble their natural habitat. This will help to keep them stress-free. Slowly increasing the water temperature can help to encourage spawning by replicating the environment of late spring, which is the spawning season in the wild. 

Even by taking these steps, maintaining an ideal water environment and feeding your fish a good diet, you may still not be able to breed your fish successfully. Most pet stores will get their fish from large hatcheries which use hormonal agents during breeding. 

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

It can be very difficult to tell the difference between male and females of this species. The females are fatter and rounder in shape, and the males develop a horn shape on their head during mating. 

Fun Facts

  • The latin name for this fish, Gyrinocheilus, comes from the greek for ‘tadpole’ and ‘lip’. 
  • In the wild, these fish will seasonally migrate to muddier waters or even flooded coastal areas. 
  • Whilst pale brown is the most common coloring, you can also get golden and albino chinese algae eaters.