12 Best Tropical Algae Eaters That Will Truly Clean Your Tank

Working within the retail trade I tend to hear some very specific questions over and over again, and while I see that there are common questions that I'll hear on a day to day basis, none are more common than the following “what's the best algae eater?”.

freshwater algae eaters

(source)

You would think that with such a common question I would have an answer, right?

Well no, there actually isn't a correct answer to this question that I could say right now, I can't offer the ‘best’ algae eater.

The reason for this is because it's completely circumstantial, I wouldn't offer a common pleco to a customer that has a relatively small aquarium, in the same way, I wouldn't offer snails or shrimps to those that have a large aggressive community.

That question I get asked so frequently is answered by a series of questions from myself, rounding it down to just a select few for the customer to choose from.

The other hurdle to this is the appeal of a species, some people really don't like certain things, and again beauty is something that's subjective to the observer.

This article tries to highlight what I believe are the best, however, there isn't such a thing, so I have decided to gather good suggestions that I believe have a practicality (they really do a good job of algae eating), and also an aesthetic appeal or are just really quite interesting.

I will try to keep it as concise as possible, including quick stats and scientific name (common names often vary from shop to shop yet a scientific name is the only name that doesn't change through species). I hope you enjoy my selections, and I'll also include a special 3 species at the bottom.

Catfish

1. Common Pleco

Hypostomus Plecostomus

Hypostomus Plecostomus (Source)

Scientific name - Hypostomus plecostomus

Minimum tank size - 55 gallons

Care level - Easy

Water condition - pH 6.5-7.5 Soft to Slightly soft

Maximum Size - 24 inches / 60 cm

The first on the list is the Common Pleco, I think it would be ridiculous to mention any topic on algae eating fish without mentioning this fish. Although it's cheap, you can find it anywhere and as the name suggests, common, it's this way for a reason.

The Common Pleco is almost a titan of the aquarium hobby, a proven monster at eating algae.

I personally only recommend a tank that will hold roughly a minimum of 150 litres, they get big, really big. I also offer it to anyone with a large aggressive tank, not as a young specimen but I can order them in larger fish. As a defence, they have spines that they stick out to deter possible attackers so they do have the ability to hold their own. Classic, great fish to have.

2. Whiptail Catfish

Rineloricaria longicauda

Rineloricaria longicauda (Source)

Scientific name - Rineloricaria lanceolata

Minimum tank size - 55 litres for a pair

Care level - Easy to Intermediate

Water condition - pH 6.0-8.0 Moderately Soft water

Maximum size - 4 inch / 10 cm

Possibly one of the more interesting looking fish that you will find on any algae eating fish ‘top chart’. This fish is best kept in groups so I would always recommend getting at least 3 on a first purchase but 2 may be adequate depending on aquarium size. They aren't a sucker mouth catfish as you would expect but more of a forager.

They are considered omnivorous and therefore benefit from the occasional small live foods (bloodworm, brine shrimp, etc) however, I've kept them more than happily on a mostly vegetable diet. They will hinder any build up of algae by eating uneaten food and filtering through the sand floor tank. I have also noticed them grazing on algae when food is scarce.

They will eat algae and also prevent a build up, I would tell those reading and considering this to do added research however as this is just a quick report.

3. Siamese Algae Eater

Crossocheilus Siamensis

Crossocheilus Siamensis (Source)

Scientific name - Crossocheilus siamensis

Minimum tank size - No specific capacity but an aquarium of around 42 inches is best

Care level - Easy

Water conditions - pH 5.5-7.5 Soft to Slightly Hard water

Maximum size - 6.3 inches / 16 cm

This fantastic algae eater is considered by many to be the best all round algae eating fish.

It's best to keep these fish either in groups of 5 or more or on its own. Many people often buy this fish and house them in small aquaria due to its size when being purchased, however it will grow to a decent size and if housed in groups they take more space than is often considered.

These fish often get blamed for the destruction of live plants, they will be seen grazing along leaves but they only do this for the purpose of finding algae, the culprit is more often than not another fish housed in the tank. In short, it's an awesome addition to anybody that can house it correctly.

4. Bristlenose Pleco

Ancistrus Sp

Ancistrus Sp. head (Source)

Scientific name - Ancistrus sp.

Minimum tank size - 110 litres

Care level - Easy

Water conditions - pH 6.5-7.5 Slightly Soft to Slightly Hard water

Maximum Size - 5 inches / 12 cm (sometimes yet rarely slightly larger)

I have decided not to include a certain species variation and just included the general species name with this one as they come in a wide variety of colours and finnage.

This is another fish that you will see in any article of this type and again in every good local fish store. Just like the Common Pleco, it's a sucker mouth catfish and therefore is a great alga eating species, the golden Bristlenose Pleco being one of my personal favourites.

No matter the variation you choose bare in mind that they do darken with age and so adult specimens may not be as attractive as when they're purchased.

Due to its larger than average appetite a filter that is slightly stronger than the aquariums needs are recommended or a more strict maintenance regime will be needed.

This is again another legend of the aquarist hobby and has been a proven, effective algae eater for many years.

5. Otocinclus

Otocinclus

Otocinclus (Source)

Scientific name - Otocinclus sp.

Minimum tank size - 90 litres

Care level - Easy

Water conditions - pH 6.5-7.5 Slightly Soft to Hard water

Maximum Size - 2inches / 5 cm

The Otocinclus catfish is possibly one of the smallest algae eating fish species readily available in any local fish store. With its small size, it appears perfect for any of the smaller home aquaria.

They are best kept in small groups. In the stores work in we always have these in stock, and to be honest, they are a funny little creature to watch, they act in the same way the larger catfish species do all packed into a neat, little, algae eating package.

They will definitely assist in any tank with slightly algae issues and should always be considered from the hobbyist.

6. Golden Nugget Pleco

Baryancistrus xanthellus

Baryancistrus Xanthellus (Source)

Scientific nameBaryancistrus Xanthellus

Minimum tank size - 250 litres

Care level - Intermediate

Water conditions - pH 6.5-7.0 Soft Water

Maximum size - Up to 12 inches

The Golden Nugget Pleco is a gorgeous fish. When I first saw this fish in an aquarium I just stopped and watched it for a while. It's an expensive fish but well worth the price.

They are sensitive to stress and bullying so because of this choosing tank mates should be done carefully. Have these fish in soft water communities with plenty of hiding spaces and bogwood.

Small specimens will hide beneath small crevices in the wood whereas older and larger fish will hide beneath and between larger rocks and boulders.

This is an omnivorous catfish - like most other suckermouth catfish - their diet should however mostly consist of vegetables with the odd bit of meaty foods like bloodworm.


Invertebrates

7. Rabbit Snail

Scientific name - Tylomelania app.

Minimum tank size - look up individual variation

Care level - Intermediate

Water conditions - pH 7.4-8.5 Soft Water

Maximum size - The largest species can grow to 4.7 inches / 12 cm

This is one of my favourite inverts across all water types - marine and coldwater too.

I had to include these guys as I do genuinely have a soft spot for them. Unlike most snails they breed very slowly and so will not cause a tank to be overrun.

They are slow, clunky movers and a real treat to observe. I loved keeping these creatures, what's even better is that come in a wide range of colour morphs and size, there's definitely something for everyone.

8. Nerite Snail

Vittina Coromandeliana

Vittina Coromandeliana (Source)

Scientific name - Neritina sp.

Minimum tank size - N/A

Care level - Easy

Water conditions - pH 7.5-8.5 Soft to Slightly Hard Water

Maximum size - 1 inch / 2.5 cm

Not much is needed to be said about this species, they are proven algae eaters, don't grow very big and breed slowly so that your tank won't be overrun.

They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes so again there is definitely something for everyone. I'm always telling this to my customers but for any good aquarium, snails and possibly shrimp are a must have.

9. Amano Shrimp

Caridina multidentata

Caridina Multidentata (Source)

Scientific name - Caridina multidentata

Minimum tank size - 20 litres

Care level - Easy

Water conditions - pH 6.5-7.5 Soft to Slightly Hard water

Maximum size - 2 inches / 5 cm

Another staple of fish stores, this shrimp is an effective cleaner in general.

While there may be much better looking shrimp on the market they are often smaller with a smaller appetite, and while there are some that are larger they are usually harder to come by and much more expensive. Taking all of that into account I had to include this over other shrimps to take the shrimp top spot.

Special Mentions

Though I haven't been able to go into vast detail on each species I have included what I believe to be a good roster of algae eating species. However, there is something else I think would only be fair to talk about and that is general algae prevention.

In this section I'm only going to include 3 very different species to stir the imagination, I'm also not going to go into much detail as I could talk for hours about the following. The following is a collection of scavengers and filter feeders that will assist in cutting down uneaten food and taking out floating spores from the aquarium water.

It's also a good idea to mention that prevention is probably more important than the cure itself, the following should be thought about properly in an aquarium and should be added generally near start of an aquariums life - after cycling of course - or when algae outbreaks are not much of an issue.

10. Red Tropical Crab

Once this creature has been seen in your local store they really do sell quickly, we go through an order nearly every week.

They are easy to keep, not requiring any land as they are a water crab, they will eat pretty much anything and do the only addition to a feeding schedule is to slightly increase feeding to the point a little will drop down.

They can be handled underwater, don't be scared, their claws are used for grabbing and not for catching prey and so they are weak and barely felt. Fascinating little critter.

11. Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater Mussel

Freshwater Mussel (Source)

This is something quite different, they don't really require anything special in the aquarium, just a sand bottom or a fine gravel so they can bury themselves into the substrate.

They are a filter feeder and will be seen opening the shell to get its meal, they mostly feed on suspended spores and so will assist in the cutting down of algae before it's a problem. Again it's something different, not often seen but also not expensive.

12. Bamboo Shrimp

Bamboo Shrimp

Bamboo Shrimp (Source)

Now this is another critter that I love, I've kept them in the past and although they hide most of the time when they come out of their hole they are a treat to watch. They have 4 fan-like appendages they use to filter the water and to also pick up small pieces of leftover food.

They have a habit of slightly changing colour ranging from a pale yellow to a deep red. Quite a quirky critter.


Now although some people may disagree with a few of my choices I think that the majority of readers will agree with me in most of the selections. I hope I've given a wide number of options to consider with a decent range of aquarium types they will fit into. There is hopefully something for everybody, or at least I've taught something new to many readers.

If anyone has something I've not mentioned, some of the rarer species that aren't always in pet stores, please leave a comment below or send me an email I'll be glad to hear all suggestions. Thank you.

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