Nature’s Janitors: Bottom-feeders and Algae-eaters
To make your own aquarium maintenance easier, you may want to consider purchasing your own janitorial crew. These natural scavengers will eat algae and food that drops to the bottom of the tank. There are many scavengers you can choose from that live happily in a community tank without bothering your other fish. Be sure to ask which ones are safe for a community tank before you buy one. Once you find some you like, you'll be happy you added them to your aquarium.
When algae grows in your tank, it is living proof that the ecosystem within can support life. It is unfortunate, however that most tanks have an overabundance of algae. This is where the algae-eaters come in handy.
There are many algae-eaters to choose from. Chinese algae-eaters are fine in a community tank when they are young, but as they mature they may become aggressive and attack your other fish. Flying fox and trunk barbs eat leftover food and algae, but they can get territorial as they mature, especially if you have similar species in your tank. Catfish also eat algae, and are very peaceful. They are perfect for a community tank.
Snails will eat algae, but they really like those nice aquarium plants you have in your tank. If you like natural plants in your aquarium, you may want to steer clear of snails. Apple snails actually prefer algae to plants, but if your fish sleep too close to them, they may feed on the fish instead! Snails can overpopulate your tank very quickly, so unless you really like snails, only get one.
You may add some live plants that are hosts to snail eggs without realizing it. Suddenly you notice little tiny snails are everywhere. The best way to be rid of them is to add a fish that likes to eat snails, such as a loach. Loaches also eat algae, so after their meals of snails are gone, they are still useful in the tank. Steer clear of sucker loaches, since they may nip at your fish as they mature.
Shrimp are a fun addition to your tank that will help keep your tank clean. Since leftover food helps algae to grow, it is best to get an animal that will clean it up. Bumblebee shrimp love leftover food, but you'll have to feed them as well. They are very tiny… only about an inch in length and pretty harmless. Ghost shrimp also help clean up the aquarium, but they may eat your smaller fish or eat the fresh food faster than your fish can. Another interesting scavenger to consider is a mountain fish, but they can also eat smaller fish in your tank.
If you have a saltwater tank, you can't beat a crab for cleaning up algae. Hermit crabs eat both leftover food and algae. Be sure you buy a crab that doesn’t grow very large… an inch is a good size. Bigger crabs may attack your fish. Emerald green crabs are mostly harmless and remain very small. Mithrax crabs love leftovers and algae, with a real taste for bubble algae. Sally Lightfoot crabs also eat many varieties of algae and although they look menacing, are very peaceful additions to your aquarium.
Utilizing nature's janitors will help keep your algae under control and keep your tank nice and sparkling clean. This leaves you more time enjoying your aquarium and less time dealing with maintenance chores.