Efficient Algae Eaters

Efficient Algae Eaters

Chris Deer

It does not matter whether you have a fish aquarium, a reef aquarium, a planted aquarium or a garden pond, at some point you will have to deal with algae growth. From the time you add your first live animal and it produces waste into the water, a food source for algae growth is now present. Couple these organics with aquarium lighting or the bright sun of the afternoon and the perfect scenario comes together for algae to begin growing. Performing partial water changes, replacing spent activated carbon, using organic removal systems (like a protein skimmer) and controlling how much and what kinds of food you use can keep algae growth to a minimum but a little help from an algae eating creature can nearly wipe out algae growth all together.

In the Freshwater Fish Aquarium:

By adding a standard plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus) to a freshwater aquarium, you will find that nearly any algae in the aquarium will be gone within days of the plecostomus ’ addition. During the daylight hours, these fish tend to remain “stuck” under a decoration or in a dark corner of the aquarium appearing quite lazy. But once the aquarium lights are out, these fish wake up from their daylight nap and scavenge on glass, gravel and decorations scraping off algae growth.

The commom Hypostomus plecostomus grows large over time (12” +). If you ever have a plecostomus that over-grows your aquarium, you are welcome to bring it back into the store and purchase a small one once again. There are other fancier plecostomus available that will eat algae but nothing beats the common Hypostomus plecostomus for its huge appetite and durability. Just remember that common plecostomus will eat live plants if algae growth becomes limited in the aquarium!

In the Planted Freshwater Aquarium:

The combination of intense lighting, fish foods and fish waste can lead to all sorts of algae forms growing in the planted aquarium. There are a number of organisms we suggest for controlling algae in a planted aquarium that will not harm the plant life. If algae is allowed to over-grow, it will smother out your beautiful ornamental live plants. By simply keeping organic levels low (partial water changes, activated carbon, etc) combined with an efficient algae crew, the live plants will thrive thus starving the algae of its food source. Here are some excellent “plant safe ” algae control organisms:

Caridina japonica shrimp eat all types of hair algae from plants and decorations. Chaetstoma Rubber Plecostomus clean algae from glass, plants and decorations.

Eat black hair algae from all parts of the planted aquarium.

In the Reef Aquarium:

As with a planted aquarium, reef aquariums require intense lighting for the live corals to photosynthesize. Organic levels MUST be kept low with weekly to monthly maintenance procedures in conjunction with light feeding of the fish and corals (about 3-4 times per week maximum) and appropriate chemical filtration (activated carbon, phosphate removers, protein skimming). Even with all of this, algae will still grow in any reef aquarium. The addition of specific algae control organisms will keep algae from becoming a nuisance. Instead of purchase one species of snail in large numbers, we suggest mixing up your algae crew with small number of several species. One snail species may prefer diatom algae while another may only eat hair algae. There are practically NO animals that will eat slime algae (cyanobacterial algae). This algae will only be present from elevated organic levels. By correcting this problem with large partial water changes using reverse osmosis saltwater, increasing circulation, reducing feeding and replacing chemical media, slime algae will subside naturally.

Nerite snails (left) & Cerith Snails

(Right) eat diatom algae from live rock and clean the glass of brown and green algae.

Turbo snails prefer short hair algae but will also clean diatom algae. They prquire large amounts of algae to avoid starvation.

The Atlantic Turbin snail cleans glass and live rock of short growing algae and diatom algae

Trochus snails eat hair and diatom algae from glass and live rock.

A mixture of small hermits are excellent scavengers and hair algae eaters. They often pull algae between polyps without any harm to the animals.

Sea hares eat macro algae and filamentous algae and will quickly starve once stores are depleted. Starvation is a common cause of death.

In the Saltwater “Fish-Only” Aquarium:

Algae will grow naturally in the saltwater fish-only aquarium. These aquariums often contain a mixture of marine fish – many species that will eat most algae control organisms. Triggerfish, pufferfish, larger wrasses, many eels, lionfish and groupers find animals like snails and reef hermits a fine dining experience. For this reason, the best algae cleaner for these type of aquariums is Homo sapiens. These are hardy creatures that work hard and are in plentiful supply in every household. Using their strong hands, they can wipe algae from glass, remove decorations for cleaning and redecorate the aquarium all within a number of hours. Hand held scrub pads, magnetic algae cleaners and razor scrapers are all handled well by these creatures. If enough of them are present in the household, the aquarium cleaning job can be shared by several individuals leaving time for the previous cleaner to relax and supervise. The only drawback to these organisms is their ability to gripe and moan about having to work.

In the Garden Pond:

Algae grows mainly in the spring and summer months in ponds. You can reduce the algae growth from a massive bloom in the spring by removing dead plant material, fallen leaves and muck from the bottom of the pond. A strong flushing of clean treated water flushed through the biological filter will also remove organic material that feeds algae. Regular 25% partial water changes on the garde pond will also keep organic levels lower.

BUT, even with all of these methods utilized, algae will still grow in your pond from the bright sunlight that heats up the water each day. Once water temperatures reach the mid 70’s, it is safe to add some of the tropical algae control organisms to your pond. They will consume the hair algae that grows on the walls of the pond and on the plants and pots under the water. Remember that these animals cannot survive cold winters and must be removed to warmer conditions during these cold months.

Common Plecostomus eat massive amounts of algae during the night from all areas of the pond.

Mystery snails (Ampullaria sp.) consume hair algae and diatom algae.

All aquariums and ponds will grow algae no matter how strong you follow your monthly maintenance procedures. This is a normal occurrence and just a part of our hobby. Algae does not mean your aquarium or pond is unhealthy but it can get out of hand and destroy the beauty of your investment. With a little help from algae loving aquatic organisms, your work load will be greatly reduced giving you more time to sit and enjoy the relaxing beauty of your aquarium and/or garden pond.

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