Chinese Algae Eater – A Complete Care Guide

If you’re tired of scrubbing your fish tank every day, it’s time to stop.

No matter what your level of experience is with fish keeping, algae, sometimes can be a bane in your aquarium hobby. And that’s why you need the Chinese algae eaters in your fight against the dreaded algae.

But before moving further, let me clarify—Siamese algae eaters and Chinese algae eater are NOT the same. The Siamese algae eater is also called Flying Fox and resembles to an Otto-catfish. They are often confused in the fish-keeping hobby because of the latter part of their name; algae eater.

Now that we know the difference between the two fish species, let’s get started with everything about the Chinese algae eater. From their origin to the diet and their care, this article will cover everything briefly.

Let’s get cleaning your tank!

Key Takeaways

  • Chinese Algae Eaters grow up to 11 inches in the wild. They are not meant for small aquariums
  • They are tropical fish and prefer temperatures from 74-80 degrees
  • They are best in semi-aggressive tanks vs community tanks
  • They will eat algae, but do a better job when young

What are Chinese Algae Eaters?

The Chinese algae eater, Gyrinocheilus aymonieri, is one of the most popular tropical, freshwater aquarium fish species; Neither due to their striking appearance nor their social behavior, but due to their hard-working nature that helps clean your tank in no time.

And this is the reason the Chinese algae eater is highly desired and loved by novice and experienced aquarists. In the trade market, it is commonly called Honey sucker or sucking loach.

First described in 1883 by Tirant, the Chinese algae eater is now found in many areas of Southeast Asia and the Southern side of China. They are native to the mountains of Samrong Tong and Kampong Speu province as well as the Mae Klong, Chao Phraya, Mekong, and Dong Nai river basins of Cambodia, the Yunnan province in China, Laos and Thailand. And in its native countries, the Chinese algae eater is used as a food fish.

Origin and Habitat

They are found in many regions of Southeast Asia and Southern parts of China, particularly in the mountains of Samrong Tong and Kampong Speu province as well as the Mae Klong, Chao Phraya, Mekong, and Dong Nai river basins of Cambodia, the Yunnan province in China, Laos and Thailand.

For aquarium trade, the Chinese algae eaters were first exported to Germany in 1956 and they are very common in the aquarium industry. The distribution of the Chinese algae eater is wide with a considerable decline in the population over the last few years and is considered threatened in China and Vietnam.

The Chinese algae eater are usually found in medium-to-large-sized lakes, rivers, and flooded fields with clear, shallow waters. Their natural habitat is exposed to the Sun with covered substrate and they usually migrate towards the deeper waters in some seasons.

Appearance

They are not kept for their striking appearance because they have long. elongated light brown bodies with dark stripes on their backs. Like loaches, the mouth of Chinese algae eaters are located underneath or underslung helping them grip rocks and sandy substrate in the aquarium without moving much in the fast-moving waters. It also has many small tubercles or thorns around the mouth.

What Does A Chinese Algae Eater Eat

Their bodies are plain with variable color. However, they are commonly found in yellowish brown color with yellow eyes. The common color variations in the Chinese algae eaters are usually Golden, albino, marble, and lecustic morphs.

Golden algae eater

The Golden algae eater or honey sucker is olive to honey gold in color that may develop black lateral stripes. The belly of the golden Chinese algae eater is pale in color. They usually thrive in small groups. However, when kept alone, they do just fine.

Albino Chinese Algae Eater

Albino Chinese algae eaters are rare varieties of a Chinese algae eater. They have a pure golden body that lacks any black stripes or spots or dots like other Chinese algae eaters varieties.

Marble Chinese Algae Eater

They have slender bodies that are brownish yellow to golden in color. A dark stripe also runs horizontally through their body which is either solid or broken into spots.

Lifespan

When you’re investing in a Chinese algae eater, know that the commitment is long-term. They have an average lifespan of around five to ten years in captivity.

Average Size

The Chinese algae eaters are large fish that grows around 11 inches in length in their native regions. However, in captivity, they are much smaller in size. Chinese algae eaters reach around 4 1/2 inches with a few exceptions to reach 5 1/4 inches in captivity.

The lifespan and average size of the Chinese algae eater largely depend upon the care and environment.

Chinese Algae Eater Care

Chinese algae eaters are fairly easy to keep and quite hardy. But they are not suitable for community tanks because they are pretty large in size and aggressive which causes a lot of stress in the tank.

However, like other fish species, they demand ideal water parameters and a tidy substrate to remain happy, healthy, and thriving in an aquarium.

Aquarium Setup

When you’re keeping a Chinese algae eater, remember; that when they do the cleaning for you, you must provide them with well-oxygenated water and clean substrate.

Install a vacuum siphon to clean the substrate of your tank as they are bottom-dwelling fish and spend most of their time digging the substrate. Decomposing matter, nitrates, and phosphates may increase water hardness which is detrimental to the fish. Thus, I recommend replacing 25 to 50% of water at least twice a month.

I don’t advise removing the biofilm on rocks, decorations, and other objects. You should add a regular algae scraper to keep the glass clean and clear instead.

Tank Size

For choosing the ideal tank size, it’s crucial to keep the adult size of Chinese algae eaters in mind. Also, the tank size largely depends on the amount of fish to be kept in an aquarium.

A young Chinese algae eater would thrive in 30-gallon tank size. However, as adults, when they reach their maximum size, I recommend no less than 55 gallons or more to keep your Chinese algae eaters happy and thriving.

A 55-gallon tank for adult Chinese algae eaters is the bare minimum. If you’re keeping a group of fish, you need even more space.

Water Parameters

The Chinese algae eaters come from areas with warm tropical areas where the temperature usually remains around 74-80 °F. Here are other important parameters:

  • Water temperature: 74-80 °F
  • pH range: Neutral (6.5 to 7.5)
  • Water hardness: 5 to 19 dGH
  • Water movement: Moderate
  • KH: 8 to 10 KH

Filtration and Aeration

Sure, Chinese algae eaters keep your tank clean but they need something to keep the tank clean for them as well.

And this is why you need a filter in your fish tank. For Chinese algae eaters, I recommend a power filter or canister filter. Both have great features and have a lot of biological filtration that will reduce fish waste. Also, you can add a canister filter or power head to provide the algae eaters with a proper current. But remember to have a tight-fitting cover as this fish swim really fast and can jump when given the chance.

The Nitrogen Cycle

Like any other fish tank, Chinese algae eaters have the same nitrogen cycle with a series of biological processes to break down the fish waste and other toxins such as ammonia into nitrates, and nitrites that can be eliminated from the water more easily.

The water conditions should be highly monitored as Chinese algae eaters will die in poor tank conditions. Thus, before adding these fish to the fish tank, make sure you have a mature bacterial colony thriving in your filter. I also advise partial water changes every week to maintain the conditions.

Lighting

Lighting isn’t much of a concern for a Chinese algae eater, but you will likely place them in a tank with plants. If you have plants you will want to considered a planted tank lighting system. You don’t need dim lights for these fish. They are tolerate of low light and high intensity lighting.

Aquatic Plants and Decoration

The Chinese algae eaters are not finicky about the decorations in their fish tank and they would gladly accept any decorations you add to their aquarium.

However, their natural habitat has lots and lots of plants so they love an aquarium with many plants. Also, they are very active fish and likes to explore a lot. Thus, I recommend adding lots of caves and crevices, driftwood, twisted roots will also serve as a great retreat.

Tank Maintenance

The Chinese algae eaters’ tank develops decomposing organic matter, nitrates, nitrites, and other build-up that may increase the water hardness. Therefore, it is recommended to regularly maintain the tank.

I advise replacing 25% to 50% of tank water at least twice a month. If you have a group of fish with lots of aquatic plants and decorations, replace 20 to 25% water weekly.

Substrate

The substrate in your tank should be rounded and soft since these fish anchor to the surface of your tank with their mouths, the sharp objects might injure your fish.

I recommend adding boulders, gravel, sand, and areas littered with submerged driftwood and tree roots, and soft sand or gravel mix substrate with lots of stones throughout the tank.

Community Tank Mates

As juveniles, they do well in a community tank. However, as adults, they pose a threat to your peaceful freshwater fish because of their size.

Since they are very large in size, they get territorial and bully their tank mates. Therefore, as adults, try to keep them alone. If you want to keep them in groups, keep a group of at least 5 or more to tame aggression towards the tank mates.

In community tanks, you can keep them with fast-moving, active fish, such as cyprinids, characids, or similar species, basically any specie that inhabits the upper to the middle level of the tank.

Breeding Chinese Algae Eaters

It is very difficult to breed Chinese algae eaters in captivity. Very little to no successful cases have been reported of breeding or spawning of Chinese algae eaters. If you want to breed them, you need to closely monitor the water parameters and the filtration system; even then, the chances of successful breeding are close to none because it is very difficult to maintain their ideal living conditions

Also, in terms of sexual differences, the male and female Chinese algae eaters are almost identical which adds to the difficulty in breeding this fish.

If you want to try your luck breeding the Chinese algae eaters, I suggest placing them in huge tanks to alleviate their aggressive behavior. Also, raising the temperature to 80 °F might help in promoting breeding in Chinese algae eaters. During this whole process, make sure to provide them with optimum water conditions and nutrient-rich diet that may induce the spawning process.

Again, there are no known cases of breeding Chinese algae eaters in captivity, so it all depends on your luck.

Chinese Algae Eater Food and Diet

The Chinese algae eaters are omnivores. However, when they are young, they prefer a herbivorous diet consisting of algae and plant matter. You can also feed them live or frozen food and flake foods (video source).

Adult Chinese algae eater eat algae, small crustaceans, insect larvae, and scales of other fish.

I recommend feeding them premium quality flake food with fresh plant matter and algae wafers. You can also offer them crushed lettuce and spinach, shelled peas, cucumbers, chopped fruits occassionaly.

To improve the overall health and coloration, I recommend feeding them with small live or frozen foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, Daphnia.

Feed them regularly and offer algae wafers every alternate day. Many aquarists claim that Chinese algae eater stops eating algae as soon as it tastes fish food, so don’t worry about it and offer them every food.

Common Health Problems & Diseases

Chinese Algae Eaters have a scaleless belly and are prone to disease, so take caution when introducing these fish to an established tank. They are also very sensitive to medications used to treat many diseases, so a separate hospital tank is needed. Cold water and condition changes can also stress these fish and make them prone to disease. Remember that any additions to a tank, such as new fish, plants, substrates, and decorations, can introduce disease. Properly clean or quarantine anything you want to add to an established tank so as not to upset the balance.

These fish are very resilient, but knowing the signs of illness, and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. An outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if dealt with at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and a well-balanced diet. The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease.

FAQS

Are Chinese Algae Eaters good?

Yes, Chinese algae eaters are excellent aquarium fish that are fast-swimming species and hardy freshwater fish. They also keep the algae growth at bay in your freshwater fish aquarium. Appearance-wise, they are not the most colorful fish you would expect in your aquarium, but their instinct to keep the aquarium clean makes them an ideal choice for aquarists.

How do you take care of a Chinese Algae Eater?

Chinese algae eater care is fairly easy. They are very hardy fish species and don’t get ill easily. However, they are not compatible fish for community tanks. That’s because they are pretty large in size as adults and prefer solitude. They can also show some signs of aggression towards small, peaceful fish.

The water parameters, i.e., water temperature, water hardness, and pH range should be maintained to keep them healthy and thriving. They also appreciate a neat and clean substrate to dig into. Thus, an efficient aquarium filter is essential for their tank.

Is a Chinese Algae Eater a Pleco?

Plecos or Hypostomus plecostomus also eat algae and control algae growth in your tank. However, they are not Chinese algae eaters. They belong to different families and classes. But they do get along with each other well.

Thus, if you’re planning to keep them together, you can place them in the same tank considering the tank should be huge because they both are large fish that need a proper environment and filtration system in tanks.

How big do Golden Chinese Algae Eaters get?

The golden Chinese algae eater grows up to 12 inches or 30 cm in length. An aquarium size of around 150 liters and above is recommended for Golden algae eaters with enough plants and tank decorations for hiding places.

How much space does a Chinese Algae Eater need?

It depends on the age of Chinese algae eaters. Juvenile Chinese algae eaters need at least a 30-gallon tank size to thrive in their tank. While adults need at least 55 gallons or more to remain happy and healthy. Also, the tank size depends on how many fish are in the tank. If you’re opting for two or more, you need to increase the size of your tank.

What do adult Chinese algae eaters eat?

The best part about raising Chinese algae eaters is they don’t require much effort and time when it comes to food. Since they are natural scavengers, they spend most of their time foraging the substrate for food and nutrition. They feed on zooplankton, bacteria, and detritus.

However, as they age, the fish’s diet also changes. Adults don’t prefer algae as such and feed on protein sources such as maggots and insect larvae, brine shrimp to remain active and healthy

Can Chinese algae eaters live together?

Chinese algae eaters are not social animals. They are solitary and mind their own business. They don’t enjoy being in a community tank and neither do they like fish from their own species. Chinese algae eater usually takes other Chinese algae eaters as a potential threat and they will fight if housed together in the same aquarium.

Therefore, you should avoid keeping other bottom dwellers in their tanks. Go for top- or middle-dwellers to avoid fights and aggression in your tank.

Are Chinese algae eaters good in a community tank?

No, they are not good community tank species. They get too large and can display aggression to smaller fish. A smaller sucker fish like a Oto fish would be more ideal in a community fish tank.

Final Thoughts

Chinese Algae Eaters are a great fish for larger tanks or semi-aggressive setups. They have great personalities and will do a good job at eating algae when they are small. However, they can be difficult to breed. Have you kept a Chinese Algae Eater before? Let us know in the comments!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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