What Is The Best Algae Eater?

That is a difficult question, and one which I cannot directly answer because most algae eaters have a type they are most fond of and many of these creatures may well ignore other types. What needs to be done is consider the algae that is causing a problem and hopefully choose a creature to eat it.

The first creatures to consider are fish. Many fish are herbivorous and continue this habit in the aquarium. With some fish algae is an essential, and a lack of it could cause health problems. The numbers of herbivorous fish are too high to go through one by one, but two in particular will be very generally mentioned, using their common group name.

The first fish are the so called rabbit fishes (a well known one among these is the yellow ‘Foxface,‘ Lo vulpinus). These fish will eat algae provided by the aquarist along with normal food. They will also often eat [tag-tec]hair algae[/tag-tec] within their limits (a lone rabbit fish cannot be expected to control a serious problem). A point to bear in mind with this group of fish is that the dorsal spines are poisonous and the aquarist should exercise care.

Another well known group of fish are the surgeons or tangs (a well known one is the powder blue, Acanthurus leucosternon). This group of fish are [tag-ice]algae grazers[/tag-ice] and often travel in large shoals on the wild reef. This group will eat algae and other food provided by the aquarist, and if there isn’t any algae in the aquarium some must be provided preferably daily. It is possible that they will attack hair algae.

The problem with fish is that they are ’large’, and unless a suitably large aquarium is in use they are not in sufficient number to be effective. Small nano aquariums are too small for surgeons etc but of course they could still suffer from algae problems.

The solution that is employed by the majority of aquarists for many different sized aquariums is the introduction of [tag-self]aquarium snails[/tag-self]. These snails are an interesting and very useful addition as they consume algae. Some will also consume detritus. As far as I know, there isn’t a snail type that is ‘all singing all dancing,’ but they can be used for different purposes, all toward the control of algae.

The snail possibly best known is the Turbo Snail. These snails however will not usually eat hair algae but will graze small surface algae, and they do this very well. Further to the mentioned snail is the so-called Super Turbo. This one will eat hair algae and many other types, and they will do it with more gusto, hence the name (I assume).

Trochus snails are another that will eat hair algae, and also small surface algae and diatoms (brown algae caused by silicon). The brown algae that sometimes appears will often disappear of its own accord when the silicon supply exhausts.

If there is a sand bed in the aquarium then the Cerith snail is of use. It buries itself in the sand and helps to keep it healthy by aiding in compaction prevention. As far as algae is concerned, they come to the surface of the sand and feed on any film of algae that is there, and may well move to the glass and feed from that too before returning to the sand.

This is not by any means an exhaustive list of algae eating creatures suitable for the seawater aquarium. Hopefully it gives a direction for consideration and research should algae become a problem.

Of course, the aquarist should consider why there is an algae problem and take measures to correct the cause. For instance, are phosphate and nitrate measurements too high? Algae eaters are great assistants but have limits.

Having a few snails in a marine aquarium is usually fine, with quality live rock there is normally enough food for them to eat. However, as with other forms of livestock, they can be overstocked. It is of little use putting a high number of any particular type of snail into the aquarium – it is probable that the food source will be exhausted and the snails, or some of them, will die. The idea is to strike a balance where the aquarist is happy with the controlled algae level and the snails are healthy and happily munching away. So consider which algae(s) present the problem and select a snail or snails to suit. Then purchase three or four of each type needed. Introduce them to the aquarium and observe the impact on the algae. It can be judged at what speed the algae is consumed against its growth. Then an additional number of snails can be obtained and further observation undertaken.

In the home marine aquarium the aquarist will never achieve the diversity and balance found on the wild reef. However, with patience, research and observation a controlled situation can be achieved.


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8 thoughts on “What Is The Best Algae Eater?

  1. mathwhiz says:

    In the past, we have had wonderful luck with the diamond goby in controlling algea, although after it died (don’t know why), the last one we bought to replace it, didn’t seem to do as well of a job and didn’t live long either (possibly something wrong with it when we bought it). I read some really good things about aquatic hermit crabs – which we purchased a few and they started out doing pretty good – but now just seem to try to hide under the decor. – haven’t tried snails at all though.

  2. John says:

    Snails are the main resource for the control of algae (after the aquarist has set up good husbandry practices that is). Nature has provided a good variety to do specialist jobs and general ones.
    Interesting to hear of the Diamond Goby, though from your comments it seems a bit ‘hit and miss’.

  3. Kris says:

    ok, so I know this is an old article but I wanted to chime in on the Diamond Goby thing. I have found that mine keeps the sand bed pristine, and I think that is normal, but what surprised me is he helps with hair algae as well. I have a little bit of a hair algae infestation ever since my money cowreys died (seems they found something in my power head intake irrisistable) that used to eat it. The Goby will tear at the hair algae ripping it out from its roots, ingesting the small bits it gets and taking the larger bits to its caves, presumably to help shore them up. He by no means is sufficient for the job but I wasn’t expecting him to touch the stuff. I’m still on the lookout for more money cowries from my local LFS.

  4. michelle says:

    Question to the diamond goby owners:
    How do you keep yours in the tank?
    I have never had a problem in the past….. so when I recently brought one home, all he does is JUMP into the overflow. I have scooped him out of my refugium filter bed, and put him right back in the main display, and bam! He swims right up and jumps over the overflow wall right away! Any idea what gives? Overflow is too deep, can’t scoop him out. Either he has to jump back over, or take the ride through the hose again…..:(
    .-= michelle´s last blog .. =-.

  5. Kris says:

    Mine never even comes close to the surface… is something scaring it? Does your overflow have teeth? You might want to DIY a screen for the top of the overflow. The only time mine ever comes near the surface is when he is chasing food, so if thats what yours is doing I’d suggest turning off the return pump during feedings (good thing to do anyway). Hope this helps.

  6. michelle says:

    Nope, nothing scaring it. (Thanks for replying! :) ) He just liked going in there, I have watched the silly goof swim up to the top, swim around for a bit, (no one is near him) then he jumps right over the overflow wall into the overflow, hangs out in the bottom for a bit, then apparently gets sucked up through the intake, into my sump/refugium. Crazy. The last time he did it – I left him in there for a day – and when I took him out I put him in a pvc pipe, and lowered it next to a rock, he quickly went under the rock and hasn’t tried his silly maneuver since. I am happy to report he is sifting like crazy! Thanks!
    .-= michelle´s last blog .. =-.

  7. Nedra says:

    I read somewhere that you can put zucchini in the tank to help feed the algea eater. Does anyone know if it has to be seeded, blanched, how cut etc.

  8. John says:

    Hi. Yes zuchini can be fed to herbivorous fish, some take it with gusto. The vegetable should be sliced and the seeds removed. Some aquarists take off the rind. Then it should be boiled for up to a minute then placed on a base to cool. If the fish are to be fed this way regularly then preparation of several slices is helpful, when cooled they can go in the freezer. Before feeding obviously the slice should be de-frozen. It’s possible that the slice could float – if this is the case jam it down with a stone or a safe non polluting weight. Another good food that some fish really like is romaine lettuce, this too is boiled before a leaf is placed in the aquarium. The leaf can be held in place by plastic tweezers that attach to the aquarium glass with a sucker, these are available in some shops. If not it is easy to fasten a leaf to a single sucker meant for a pump etc. Uneaten food should of course be removed.

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