How to Care for an Algae Eater

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Although algae eaters do indeed eat algae, there's more to keeping your sucker fish happy than just throwing him in the tank and letting him go to work cleaning up. Algae eater care includes proper nutrition and water conditions and plenty of room to grow. Proper care is essential to keeping him and every other fish in the tank happy and healthy.

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Algae eaters do eat algae, but they need more.
Image Credit: davit85/iStock/GettyImages

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Types of algae eaters

It's essential to choose the best algae eater for your freshwater aquarium. Although many people think of plecostomus as the typical algae eater, there are many types of algae eaters. Algae eaters can include invertebrates, such as snails, as well as many types of fish.

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First, consider the size of your tank. The common pleco can grow up to 2 feet long, making it necessary to have a 50- to 100-gallon tank when he reaches full size. Smaller varieties of algae eaters include the bristlenose pleco at 4 inches and the otoclinus catfish at just 1.5 inches.

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Water hardness, temperature, and oxygenation are other factors to consider when choosing from the types of algae eaters to stock your tank. Research the type of algae eater you're considering to make sure her individual environment needs match those of the rest of your fish. Other factors include the speed of the current — too much water movement can stress some algae eaters — as well as the type of substrate and tank decor. Finally, keep in mind the temperament of the fish you have so no fish will be bullied or injured by another.

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Animals that eat hair algae

Hair algae can be the bane of aquarists. The stringy algae tangles into plants and mats across the surface and bottom of your aquarium. Animals that will nibble away at the algae can help keep it in check, but you'll still have to carefully monitor water conditions to keep hair algae at bay.

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Mollies, guppies, and platys are live-bearing fish that also work as algae grazers. These fish are compatible in a beginner-level tank and are fairly easy to care for. They can be kept in aquariums as small as 10 gallons with water temperatures in the range of 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Other aquarium dwellers that will eat hair algae include Siamese algae eaters, rosy barbs, amano shrimp, and nerite snails. Although they're voracious when it comes to eating hair algae, make sure their needs mesh with your tank conditions. Nerite snails won't eat your aquarium plants, but they'll leave eggs all over them that you'll have to scrub off from time to time. Ever-hungry Siamese algae eaters might devour mossy plants along with the algae.

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Feed algae eaters correctly

The title of "algae eater" can tend to make the novice aquarist think that algae is the only food that these types of fish need. Thinking of them as "algae grazers" would be a more accurate reflection. They are generally omnivores who will benefit from supplemental feeding of shrimp pellets, sinking algae wafers, and sinking fish food.

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Your algae eater will not eat fish poop. They will comb through the substrate looking for bits of food that sank to the bottom and might mistake a piece of feces for food. You'll need to vacuum the tank regularly to remove poop that can increase toxic ammonia in the water. However, your algae-eating friend will contribute to the overall cleanliness of your tank and will be able to clean those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies that can be difficult for an aquarist to access.

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