Types of Sucker Fish

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Sucker fish are algae eaters often kept in home aquariums to keep the tank walls clean and free of algae slime. A variety of sucker fish types are offered in the pet trade, although some grow too large to be practical in home aquariums. Smaller species of sucker fish, such as types of pleco, are usually the best bet for controlling algae.

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Plecos can help control algae.
Image Credit: Mirko_Rosenau/iStock/GettyImages

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Loricariidae family: armored catfish

The Loricariidae family of catfish includes more than 650 species. Many of the most popular sucker fish for aquariums come from this family. These armored catfish are covered with bony plates to protect them and have sucker mouths. They naturally live in fast-flowing lowland streams in South America, Costa Rica, and Panama. They require rock shelters or driftwood on the tank bottom, many plants, and water that's highly aerated and that maintains a slight current.

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Suckermouth catfish or plecostomus

Within family Loricariidae, the Hypostomus genus is the largest, with approximately 130 members. The common pleco, also called the suckermouth catfish, is part of this genus. Besides algae, this South American native also eats small crustaceans. They have a tall dorsal fin and a large, broad, flat head.

Bushy nose pleco

The bushy nose or bristle nose pleco is one of the most common algae eaters you can buy. Their stout brown body grows to 4 1/2 inches; their faces are covered with whisker-like feelers. These fish need a lot of green foods — not just algae but also blanched veggies and flake food. A 30-gallon community aquarium makes a good home.

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Whiptail catfish

The whiptail or twig catfish has a long nose and a skinny brown body covered with plates. They grow to 6 inches long and resembles a stick. They eat most species of algae and can live in community tanks of 50 gallons or larger — flake food and blood worms are necessary to supplement their diet. This catfish gets along well with tetras, hatchets, and pencil fish, but cichlids and barbs might try to kill the whiptail.

Otocinclus catfish

The otocinclus catfish grows to only 2 inches and thrives in a highly filtered 30-gallon tank. They are social and gentle, and do best in schools of their own kind. Otocinclus catfish need to eat vegetable flake food or wafers when algae is scarce.

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Gyrinocheilidae family: algae eaters

The Gyrinocheilidae family of fish is another family of algae eaters. Found mainly in mountain streams in Southeast Asia, these fish have no teeth and suctorial mouths for attaching to objects. They grow to 12 inches long and eat only algae, so they make good aquarium fish for tanks of moderate size.

Chinese algae eater

The Chinese algae eater has a slender golden-brown body with a dark horizontal stripe. Also known as the sucking loach or honey sucker, they grow up to 10 inches long and needs a tank of at least 30 gallons, furnished with rocks, driftwood, and plants to hide in. Less peaceful than other sucker fish, the Chinese algae eater can get aggressive and defensive as they grow. They eat mainly algae, so if the tank is clean, they need algae wafers to survive.

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Cyprinidae family: minnows and carps

The Cyprinidae family consists of more than 3,000 species of minnows and carps who are native to the fresh waters of North America, Eurasia, and Africa. They have one to three rows of teeth but usually not more than eight teeth all together. Their lips are usually thin but can be sucker-like in certain species.

Siamese algae eater

The Siamese algae eater is a hardy, thin black-and-white striped fish that many aquarium enthusiasts insist on having in community tanks. They grow to 6 inches and does well in a small aquarium of at least 30 gallons with plenty of broad-leafed plants and rocks. Water should be highly aerated and kept between 75 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. They get along nicely with other fish and needs flake food, blood worms, pellets, and vegetables to supplement their algae eating.

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Catostomidae family: suckers

Catostomidae suckerfish are a family of about 80 species. They hail from North America, China, and Siberia. Like carp and some other fish, they have a row of pharyngeal teeth — at least 16 of them. They also have thick lips on the bottom of their heads that they attach to rocks at the bottom of the river.

Besides algae, they also eats small fish, crustaceans, worms, and insects. These fish, including white suckers, hog suckers, carpsuckers, Chinese suckers, and smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo, are often seen in streams but rarely found in home aquariums.

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Echeneidae family: remoras

Remoras are a family of sucker fish scientifically known as Echeneidae, which has fewer than 10 member species. Commonly known as shark suckers, their spiny dorsal fins have evolved into flat, oval-shaped, serrated sucking plates on top of their heads. Remoras have slender bodies, soft dorsal fins and small, pointed teeth with underbite.

These seawater fish use their sucking plates, or sucking disks, to attach to the undersides or gills of larger fish, sharks, rays, and sea turtles. They're found in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans. You can encounter these fish while diving, and they're often used as fishing bait, but they're not common aquarium fish.

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