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Chinese Algae Eater

February 1, 2009

Chinese Algae Eater Factoids


Fast streams in India and Thailand

Maximum Size

6+ inches


Room temperature fine


Very flexible


Likes to taste tank mates

Potential Threat

Gets very aggressive as it grows larger


Likes to hide sometimes


Flakes, algae, aquarium slime, fish slime


Not likely but not impossible

Chinese algae eaters are not real beauties, but the gold ones do look better.

Small Chinese algae eaters going into a tetra tank.  Mediums going into a cichlid tank.

Origins: Chinese algae eaters come from India and Thailand. Wait a minute. You mean they don’t come from China? Next thing you’ll be saying is they don’t eat algae. Well, they do like fish food and fish slime better than algae.

When they get a good grip, you can hardly pour them out of a catching cup.

Some are pretty.  Note that “hole” at the top of his gill cover.

Hickey Fish: If you want a fish that gives your other fish hickies on their first date, then you want a (so-called) Chinese (so-called) algae eater. Little guys suck hickies. The big guys suck holes.

You can find marble Chinese algae eaters also.

Appeal: Chinese algae eaters are cheap and actually eat algae at first. The little suckers look cute and everyone wants one for their little tanks. Once they discover fish food, they forget about algae. In a tank with no vulnerable or belligerent bunkees,  they devour algae voraciously and grow fast.

Aqualand History: We went a couple decades without having the little beasties in our tanks. Then we noticed people buy them everywhere else because they want them. Who are we to stand in the way of what our customers want. So we sell them now – at least the gold ones (and the marble ones).

Fast Growers: As they grow, Chinese algae eaters try to run off all their competition. They hate each other and anything else that even resembles their own kind – such as sharks and loaches.

Look out for those hickey-making lips.

This two-inch Chinese algae eater thrives in a tank with dozens of American cichlids.

Worst Tank Mates: Slow-moving fish and flat-sided fish are loved by Chinese algae eaters. You’ll see them “kissing” goldfish, gouramis, and angels constantly.

Good Tank Mates: Chinese algae eaters have a hard time catching small, fast-moving fishes. Danios, barbs, and tetras survive fairly well with them.

Here’s a couple of large Chinese algae eaters getting along with African cichlids.

Better Tank Mates: When Chinese algae eaters get large, throw them in with your cichlids – preferably African cichlids. They can take turns “kissing” each other. We take in large ones at Aqualand all the time. In cichlid tanks, they like to hide in the rock work. They come out when they feel like playing tag.

Nice looking fish.

Best Tank Mates: Chinese algae eaters rarely bother turtles and crayfish.

This guy’s about four inches.

Size: Supposedly Chinese algae eaters grow huge. We’ve never seen any exceed six inches, but we’ve seen dozens over five inches.

Most Chinese algae eaters retail at 1.5 inches.

Colors: Gold Chinese algae eaters look pretty neat. They’re still nasty. The marble ones look neat and act nasty.

Those holes in their gill covers enable them to breathe in fast water.

Jumpers: Any fish that comes from fast-flowing streams can leap out of your tank. Covers yours securely.

Nice rasping lips for eating algae and pestering angelfish.

Sucker Mouth: In addition to passing out free hickies, their sucker mouths enable them to hold onto rocks in swift water. It also enables them to buzz thru your algae crop fairly quickly. Think of Chinese algae eaters as “tank temps.” Remove them after they remove your algae.

Foods: After your Chinese algae eaters devour your algae, start feeding them well if you intend to keep them. As you might suspect, any fish that eats slime off the walls is not a picky eater. And they are fast enough to pester any fish that passes by. Keep yours well fed.

Males grow funny growths on their faces starting at about four inches.

Different male Chinese algae eater.

Bigger males get kind of ugly in the face.

Sexing: Males develop breeding “horns” on their heads. Females get heftier. They need plenty of room if you want them to get along.  Add some caves, crevices, and crannies to increase their compatibility.

At around three inches, the gold ones are actually pretty as well as mean.

Give them something to munch on besides their tank mates.

Vacation blocks make an excellent food for any of the algae eaters.

Keep your Chinese algae eaters fed or they will eat fish.

Last Words: Since we’re seeing different color versions these days, someone out there is spawning them. Chances are, you’re going to need a powerhead or other high-flow water moving device to succeed. And it couldn’t hurt to cool them briefly first. LA.


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