Tank Cleaners: Part 2 - Siamese Algae Eater

This post is the second in a series of posts aimed at preventing aquarists from falling victim to misconceptions about using animals (in lieu of traditional maintenance) to maintain the cleanliness of your aquarium.  In the first post, we discussed plecos. In this post, we will talk about another popular choice for managing algae: The Siamese Algae Eater.

Siamese Algae Eater (SAE)

Black Beard Algae (BBA) plagues some aquarists to the point of wanting to give up the hobby out of sheer frustration. BBA is one of the hardest alga to get rid of. It is capable of surviving nearly every aquarium safe algacide and almost nothing eats it. It also is capable of overgrowing a tank fairly quickly and is very difficult to remove manually, even from glass. While we have had some success "controlling" BBA using certain algacides or carbon supplements in some of our clients' aquariums, it usually comes back in spades as soon as any treatments are discontinued. In cases where it's presence is unacceptable, We have resorted to bleaching anything that had been exposed and needed to be reused while disposing of everything else. We've even gone so far as to quarantine the fish from the exposed aquarium to ensure that they do not spread spores through their waste or any other means.

One animal that seems to eat the algae is Crossocheilus oblongus (formerly Crossocheilus siamensis) A.K.A. the Siamese Algae Eater. There are, however, a few issues that will prevent this fish from being the solution to your problems with Black Beard Algae. The first issue is, unless your tank is under 30 gallons, you will likely need many to keep up with the algae growth and this may be a burden on your bio-load and prevent you from keeping the other fish you like.  Second, when being kept with other fish, the SAEs are known to eat the food you feed to the tank instead of the algae and will probably not eat the algae unless those other foods are withheld. They can become very aggressive during feeding and sometimes have a negative effect on the other fish in the tank. Even when this fish does eat algae, it is most likely spreading the algae spores, via feces, throughout the aquarium which will only cause the algae to grow in more places. In other words, using the Siamese Algae Eater is more of a means of control than irradication. 

From top: True SAE, False SAE, Flying Fox

From top: True SAE, False SAE, Flying Fox

Another issue is proper identification. As you can see in the comparison picture to the right, the SAE (top) has a diminished continuation of the lateral black stripe into the caudal fin (tail) however, there are two fish that look very similar to the Siamese Algae Eater and can easily be confused. The first is Garra cambodgiensis (middle) or the False SAE. Formerly Garra taeniata, this fish has a more overshot mouth and the lateral black stripe stops at the base of the caudal fin. These fish are sometimes used in foot baths in spas to remove dead skin cells from feet. The second is Epalzeorhynchus kalopterus, or the Flying Fox (bottom). Flying Foxes have a more definite continuation of the lateral black stripe into the tail. They can be very active and sometimes aggressive much like the true Siamese Algae Eater.

Finally, Siamese Algae Eaters are difficult to find. They are nearly impossible to breed in captivity so their availability is limited by collection rules and wild population sizes. Because of the similarities, many of the "imposters" are misidentified when collected and sold as true SAEs so do not trust your local fish store's labels. Make sure you know the physical differences so you can properly identify them on your own before making a purchase.

Having the right setup to achieve your aquarium goals is the best way to ensure a clean and healthy aquarium down the road and proper, ongoing, maintenance is the tried and true way to prevent catastrophes like a Black Beard Algae outbreak in your aquarium. Remember,  the aquarium service technicians at Diamond Aquatics are here to help. Call or email us to find out how we can help make your tank look its best.