Chinese Algae Eater Care Guide: Size, Tank Mates and More…

It is easy for algae to get out of hand in an aquarium. This can make it much harder to clean the tank, so some people look for algae-eating fish to clean it for them.

Chinese Algae Eaters are one of the best algae eaters you can get. Pretty much all of their time is spent searching for food.

They are easy to care for so even beginners can keep them.

This fish makes a great addition to a community aquarium that needs a bottom-dweller.

In our article below we cover everything you need to know when caring for Chinese Algae Eaters, including ideal setups, perfect tank mates, healthy diets and much more…

Category Rating
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Color Form: Pale Brown
Lifespan: 10 Years
Size: 5″
Diet: Algae eater
Family: Gyrinocheilidae
Minimum Tank Size: 50 Gallons
Tank Set-Up: Tropical freshwater with rocks and caves
Compatible: Community of smaller fish

Overview

Chinese Algae Eater Overview

The Chinese Algae Eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) is a freshwater fish from the Gyrinocheilidae family.

They go by a few names as well, such as Honey Suckers and Sucking Loache – look out for these names in stores too.

Surprisingly, the Chinese Algae Eater is rarely found in China. They are mainly found in rivers and lakes that run through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Make sure that this is the fish you want before buying – they can live for around 10 years, so are a big commitment! They are more likely to reach this age or even older if they are kept in a healthy, clean aquarium.

You might not see this species in every pet store, but they are not uncommon so it should not be difficult to find stock near you.

Expect to pay roughly $3 per fish.

Typical Behavior

Chinese Algae Eaters are natural loners, they are not social and don’t need to be kept in groups. In fact, they are likely to fight fellow members of their own species.

They generally keep to themselves and don’t cause much trouble, but they may show signs of aggression towards tank mates of a similar size.

Most of their time is spent in the lower levels of the tank, where they attach themselves to surfaces around the aquarium to feed on any algae they find.

This is usually the main appeal of these fish, they help to keep algae levels low which saves you time when cleaning.

Chinese Algae Eater Size and Appearance

Chinese Algae Eater Appearance

Chinese Algae Eaters have an elongated body with small fins. On their head is a sucker mouth with pronounced lips which lets them latch onto surfaces for feeding.

Their appearance is similar to other bottom-dwellers, but this species is larger than most. Naturally they reach 11 inches long, but they are likely to be nearer 5 inches when kept at home.

It is best to give them extra space in your tank in case they grow a little larger than expected.

They are not as colorful as some other aquarium fish. In the wild, they have a pale-brown coloration – along the side of their body would be a dark stripe that sometimes breaks into a line of spots. These colors are common in the home aquarium too, but there is another popular variety. Albino Algae Eaters have a solid gold coloration, lacking the lateral stripe and/or spots.

To help water reach the gills when their mouth is attached to something, they have specialized organs (two branchial apertures force water across their gills to help with respiration).

This leaves the mouth free to focus on scraping algae from walls and decorations.

It’s difficult to sex this species. Females tend to be fatter and more rounded, whereas males develop a “horn” on their head when mating.

Habitat and Tank Conditions for Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater Habitat

You would naturally find Chinese Algae Eaters in rivers and lakes flowing through Asia. The water here is warm and fast moving.

They spend their time in the lower levels around a rocky floor surrounded by stones, gravel and sand. It will also seasonally migrate to muddy waters and flooded coastal areas.

You should aim to recreate their natural habitat in your tank to keep them stress-free.

Tank Setup

Layer the bottom of the tank with substrate – you can use sand or gravel. We recommend sand as it is less likely to scratch them as they swim over it.

Place rocks and decorations on the substrate to provide plenty of crevices for them to hide in. They can then claim a territory and retreat here when stressed.

You can add live plants as another form of shelter, they will also help to keep the water clean. Though they will eat vegetation, they probably won’t eat your plants.

Use a heater to maintain the water within the range of 75-80°F. The pH can be anywhere from 5.8 to 8.0.

The outlet of your filter should create a sufficient flow of water around your aquarium. If needed you can use an air/water pump to make the current stronger.

They need a well-lit environment, so standard aquarium lighting should be fine.

This species is very sensitive to nitrates so make sure to perform regular water changes to keep levels as close to 0ppm as possible.

What Size Aquarium Do Chinese Algae Eaters Need?

Even though they are usually around 5 inches long, they need plenty of space. This means a minimum tank size of 50 gallons.

Tank Mates

Emperor Tetra

Your Chinese Algae Eaters will generally live a solitary life and stay away from other fish.

They don’t get on well with everyone, and can even become aggressive towards certain types of fish. The ones to avoid are fish of a similar size, appearance, or lifestyle.

One example is the Siamese Algae Eater. This is another large species that patrols the bottom levels of the tank looking for algae.

Large, slow-moving tank mates should be avoided too. Chinese Algae Eaters may latch onto something like the flat-bodied Discus, in order to eat their slime coat.

There are still plenty of possible tank mates. Small, speedy species will easily be able to escape a Chinese Algae Eater, but it will probably ignore them anyway.

You could try Mollies, Tiger Barbs, Platies, Clown Loaches, Dwarf Gourami, Swordtails, Zebra Danios, Cherry Barbs, Emperor Tetra, or White Cloud Mountain Minnow.

Invertebrates like shrimp and snails are best avoided as they might get attacked.

Keeping Chinese Algae Eaters Together

It is safest to keep Chinese Algae Eaters singly, as they are likely to show aggression towards other members of their own species.

They are sometimes kept in groups, but this requires a much larger tank so they each have plenty of space and don’t get in each other’s way – each fish should have 50 gallons.

Diet

Chinese Algae Eater 2

In the wild algae is their main source of nutrition. They rasp onto rocks and scrape off algae using their sucker mouths.

You will see a similar behavior in your aquarium. They will mostly be attached to walls or decorations to feed.

However, algae are not the only things they eat in their natural habitat. They sometimes feed on small creatures like maggots. These provide a different set of nutrients (including plenty of protein).

You can replicate this by adding some live or frozen foods into the tank once a week – bloodworms, daphnia and brine shrimp work well.

If you don’t feel that there is enough algae in your tank, Chinese Algae Eaters will happily eat algae wafers.

You can also use spare green vegetables from your kitchen. Feed them small pieces of lettuce, spinach or zucchini. They don’t need a set diet, as they will feed themselves on algae and scavenge any food their tank mates have not eaten.

Just regularly check that they have a supply of algae and occasionally supplement this with live or frozen foods and they will be fine.

Chinese Algae Eater Care Guide

Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese Algae Eater by Pseudogastromyzon (WikiCommons)

The easiest way to keep your Chinese Algae Eaters healthy is to maintain a clean tank. They are generally hardy fish but an unclean tank will likely lead to disease.

When cleaning a tank, it’s common to remove all the algae you see because it’s usually seen as a problem. Doing this would remove their main food source, so don’t completely wipe away all the algae.

There are not any diseases specific to Chinese Algae Eaters, but they can contract many common freshwater fish diseases.

One of the most prevalent is Ich. This is a parasite that causes white spots to form across their body. You can purchase medication from stores that should gradually reduce the problem. If disease is in your tank, check the water parameters. These include temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. If they are not where they should be then they will be promoting the spread of the disease.

Fix the parameters as quickly as possible to prevent the problem from worsening.

A poor diet can also be a cause of disease too. If your fish don’t receive a nutritious diet, then they will be too week to fight off disease.

Overfeeding can lead to its own problems, like bloat. You will have to reduce your portion sizes if you see this.

When you spot a sick fish, move them to a quarantine tank. This helps to prevent the disease spreading to their tank mates. Only reintroduce them once you are certain that the fish is fully recovered.

Breeding

This is a very difficult species to breed and there are only a few cases of this being achieved in home aquariums.

Most stocks that you find in pet stores have come from large fish hatcheries, and they will have used hormonal agents.

Those who have successfully achieved spawning at home have used very large setups with plenty of vegetation. This is probably because the extra space keeps them stress free and most closely resembles their natural wild environment.

If you want to try mating them yourself, you will need a group containing males and females. This is a challenge itself because they look virtually identical. Females are slightly fatter, and males develop breeding tubercles on their head when mating.

Raising the water temperature is a common way to trigger spawning in many species, so you could try this for Chines Algae Eaters.

Slowly increase it by 3°F a day until you reach 80°F to replicate spawning temperatures at the end of spring.

The water conditions will need to be kept perfect and their diet should be highly nutritional. You will also need a great deal of luck on your side.

Are Chinese Algae Eaters Suitable for Your Aquarium (Summary)?

This is a simple species to care for. Beginners will be able to keep a single fish with few problems since they are hardy and undemanding.

The biggest concern is their aggression, as they may attack other similar fish. However, if you have planned the tank well and chosen suitable tank mates, you should not have any problems.

If you are looking for a fish to help with algae control, a Chinese Algae Eater is a great option. Each time you see them they will probably be latched onto the side of your tank in search of food.

You will soon see algae levels drop, making your job easier when it comes to cleaning.

Why did you get a Chinese Algae Eater? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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