Chinese algae eaters can be found in virtually every store that sells fish. They’re a popular fish from the Cyprinid family, and are generally sold for about $2.00 each. The attractive juvenile Chinese algae eater has a small, cigar-shaped light brown body with distinctive stripes along both sides and speckles across its back. At the time they’re sold, most Chinese algae eaters measure an unassuming 1″-2″ long, and they seem like the perfect fish for a peaceful community aquarium. Especially with the monstrous adult size of the common plecostomus, this little guy sounds like a heck of a deal for algae control.
Unfortunately, many beginning fish keepers buy these fish with no real understanding of what they’re actually getting. In over 15 years of keeping fish, I’ve become the emergency home for dozens of Chinese algae eaters when their owners realized that they’d made a bad choice.
How well does a Chinese algae eater clean algae?
The newly-purchased juvenile Chinese algae eater is a voracious algae eater at this age, and pretty much keeps to itself. Not only will it munch most unsightly green, brown and black algaes, and even some red algaes, it also cleans up bits of leftover food from the substrate and roots out any living aquarium pests. As the Chinese algae eater gets older, though, all of this changes. Adult Chinese algae eaters lose interest in algae and, contrary to their name, may stop eating it altogether. These fish must be fed a variety of flake food, shrimp pellets, live worms or baby brine shrimp, and other such meaty goodies.
What is the adult size of a Chinese algae eater?
Size is a huge trap for a lot of novice fish keepers, and the Chinese algae eater is one of the big surprises in the bunch. This tiny fish grows very quickly. The more algae you accumulate in the tank, the faster you’ll see it shoot up to its adult size. Instead of 1″ or 2″, you now have an adult that measures up to a whopping 11″ long. Bear in mind that this can’t really be changed by crowding your fish – that “fish grow to the size of their tank” is a myth that hurts the health of millions of fish. A crowded Chinese algae eater will just get more territorial and aggressive toward its tank mates while it tries to monopolize the food sources.
How much space should a Chinese algae eater have?
It may seem small when you buy it, but the Chinese algae eater needs a lot of space. As with other large fish, the Chinese algae eater requires a tank that’s at least twice as wide as the fish’s adult length, and four times as long as the fish itself. It should never be in a small tank; it’s critical that this fish not be overcrowded.
What is the Chinese algae eater temperament?
Juvenile Chinese algae eaters get along great with tiny community fish, and are often perfectly docile. Be careful, though – this doesn’t last. As he gets older, the Chinese algae eater gets more territorial and more likely to pick fights with his tank mates. It does best in large aquariums with large semi-aggressive fish. An adult Chinese algae eater can be housed with large barbs, all but dwarf gouramis, and armored catfish. It’s a fine line between aggressive enough not to be eaten, and aggressive enough to turn around and eat the Chinese algae eater.
Overall, if all you want is algae control, there are better options. Yes, the Chinese algae eater is hardy and easy to keep healthy, but it comes with a lot of challenges that beginners probably aren’t equipped to tackle. Instead, opt for an otocinclus or bristlenose pleco if you need algae control in a small- to medium-sized tank. Make sure you know which type of pleco you’re buying, though, as the common plecostomus does regularly reach lengths of 18″or more. For smaller algae problems, nibblers such as goldfish, platies and gouramis may help control the problem.