Chinese Algae Eater: Care, Diet, Health, Tank Mates & More

Close-up image of a yellow chinese algae eater
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Should you be grappling with algae problems in your indoor aquarium or outdoor pond, or perhaps wish to add a new water-friendly pal to the bottom of your tank, the Chinese algae eater serves as an exceptional selection!

Article Summary

  • Chinese Algae Eaters have a moderate care level and are considered relatively hardy freshwater fish.
  • Chinese Algae Eaters primarily feed on algae, but their diet should be supplemented with protein sources such as insect larvae and brine shrimp.
  • They have a semi-aggressive temperament and can be challenging to find compatible tank mates.

Despite having its challenges, many aquarists find keeping this fish to be rewarding due to its aptitude for cleaning their tanks. Fear not, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide full of advice from experienced fishkeepers to make keeping this feisty fish easy.

Species Overview

Common namesHoney sucker, Sucking loach
Scientific nameGyrinocheilus aymonieri
SpeciesG. aymonieri
Size5-8 inches
Lifespan10 years
FamilyGyrinocheilidae
GenusGyrinocheilus
DistributionSoutheast Asia
ColorGolden to pale brown
DietOmnivore
TemperamentSemi-aggressive 
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Place in the tankBottom
Care LevelModerate
BreedingDifficult

History and Background

Despite their name, Chinese algae eaters are not actually from China but rather the Chao Phraya basin. Continue reading to find out more interesting facts about the background of these fish!

Origin

Chinese algae eaters are tropical freshwater fish that are native to southeast Asia, more specifically the Chao Phraya basin. These bottom dwelling fish are popular in the aquarium trade due to the juvenile’s fondness of eating algae and keeping the tank clean. However, in their native countries, they are used as food fish.

Are algae eaters easy to keep alive?

In terms of care, Chinese algae eaters are easy to keep and are considered to be relatively hardy freshwater fish. As algae eaters, you mainly have to keep their water quality clean while adding algae wafers and other protein to the tank. In fact, many aquarists allow their algae eaters to feed on the natural algae growth in their community tank with only the occasional protein supplement and then leave them alone.

Is a Chinese Algae Eater a Pleco?

No, while their appearance and habits are similar these two fish species are not related. Wild pleco’s are found in South America whereas Chinese Algae Eaters are found in Southeast Asia.

Chinese algae eater vs siamese algae eater

Chinese Algae Eater and Siamese Algae Eater
Chinese Algae Eater and Siamese Algae Eater

Many people mistakenly call the chinese algae eater the siamese algae eater, when in fact these are two different fish. Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences is that the chinese algae eater has a large mouth and lips to suction on to surfaces, whereas the siamese algae eater has a small mouth hidden by two whiskers (called barbels). We’ve included some other differences between the two fish below.

FeatureChinese algae eaterSiamese algae eater
Body shapeFlattened, ray finnedSlender, arrow like
Maximum size8-11 inches6 inches
BehaviorSemi-aggressiveFriendly
Body colorYellow, golden, light brown with light black spotsWhite/silver with black stripes and dark black spots

Are Chinese algae eaters good at eating algae?

Yes, Chinese algae eaters are excellent at eating algae which is why most aquarists love to keep them to control algae growth despite them not being brightly colored or having a vibrant personality like other fish. Juvenile chinese algae eaters feed on mostly algae but older fish do need supplemental protein such as insect larvae or brine shrimp.

Do Chinese algae eaters eat brown algae?

Yes, they will feed on a variety of algae including brown algae.

Do Chinese algae eaters eat hair algae?

Yes, these are one of the few fish species that eat hair algae.

Do Chinese algae eaters clean glass?

Grass algae will be eaten by Chinese algae eaters. However, if you have other grass-like plants in your aquarium you run the risk of them being nibbled on by these fish as well. If your chinese algae eater isn’t getting enough nutrients they are known to go after aquarium plants as well.

Appearance

Yellow Chinese Algae Eater Looking For Food
Yellow Chinese Algae Eater Looking For Food

To the surprise of many aquarists, chinese algae eaters are fairly plain looking with small fins and pale, neutral colored bodies. However, this hasn’t hindered their popularity in the hobby.

What do chinese algae eater look like

This fish has a slender golden to pale brown body with a lighter colored belly. There is a dark stripe that runs the entire length of the fish’s body. They have small fins meaning they are a slow moving fish, but have a dorsal fin with several rays. The flat bodied fish ends in a large sucker mouth. Once the lips latch onto a surface the mouth creates a vacuum to suction algae.

FUN FACT

Their large mouths and lips have earned them other names such as the sucking loach or honey sucker.

Color Variety

Color variations are rare in this fish species, but the best known one is the albino algae eater. Albino chinese algae eaters have a body that is solid gold in color, also called the golden algae eater. The Golden chinese algae eater is generally smaller than the more common, wild varieties of this fish and grows to a size of 5 inches in captivity.

Chinese algae eater size

In the wild, these fish are known to grow up to 12 inches, but captive breeds generally grow to be around 5 inches.

How big do Chinese algae eaters get?

Final size does depend on your fish tank size, as fish that are kept in the minimum tank size will likely be smaller than those kept in bigger enclosures. However, you can expect your fish to reach around 5 inches plus or minus an inch.

Temperament and Tankmates

Planted Aquarium
Planted Aquarium

The chinese algae eater is a semi-aggressive fish which means, while not impossible, it is hard to find compatible fish and tank mates to compliment them.

What eats a chinese algae eater?

Any fish that is larger than a chinese algae eater and prone to aggression can eat it. Even peaceful fish that aren’t known to pick a fight might attack the chinese algae eater if provoked like when the algae eater’s begin to suck on their slime coats.

Do Chinese algae eaters clean other fish?

You might notice your chinese algae eater attaching itself to another freshwater fish. It is actually eating the other fish’s slime coat off of it. This often occurs when the chinese algae eater is not getting enough protein in their diet, and is not good for the other fish. Removal of the slime coat can lead to greater risk of disease, infection, and skin irritation.

What fish can live with Chinese algae eater?

Due to their semi-aggressive behavior chinese algae eaters don’t have many possible tank mates. They tend to show aggression towards any fish that is a similar size or color that encroaches on its space. However, it is possible to pair them with peaceful freshwater fish that inhabit other parts of community tanks like mollies, zebra danios, and emperor tetra.

Fish that appear drastically different in color and size such as tiger barbs and dwarf gourami can also be a good option. Some aquarists have even successfully housed a chinese algae eater in community tanks with African cichlids.

Top 5 Compatible tank mates

  1. Mollies-as they will mostly stay to themselves at the top of the tank, mollies will most likely get along.
  2. Zebra Danios-another species that will hover at the top of the tank and stay out of your algae eaters’ way.
  3. Emperor Tetras -while it will likely stay out of your chinese algae eaters’ way the Emperor Tetra is also a fast swimming fish allowing it to escape from any attacks.
  4. Tiger Barb-unlikely to be confused with another chinese algae eater, many aquarists have success keeping these two fish together.
  5. Dwarf Gourami-a brightly colored fish, unlikely to be confused as another chinese algae eater.

It is not recommended to keep adult chinese algae eaters in the same tank as they will likely attack their own species. It’s easier to keep them with other types of algae eaters. But, if you are determined to house other chinese algae eaters in the same aquarium then you will need a group of at least 5, this will allow them to establish a hierarchy and may be the only chance of them coexisting together.

TIP

Because they are semi aggressive fish you should place other fish species in the aquarium prior to placing your chinese algae eater. This will establish a hierarchy in the tank and make it less likely for your chinese algae eater to claim the whole tank as their own.

Tank Requirements

Freshwater Fish Tank
Freshwater Fish Tank

Because these fish eat algae a fine balance is needed between keeping tank conditions clean and leaving enough bacteria to promote algal growth.

Water Parameters

Tank SizeMinimum 50 gallons
Water TypeFreshwater
Water Temperature74 to 80
Water pH5.8 to 8.0
Water Hardness8 to 10 KH
Water flowModerate to fast

Tank setup

Tank setup should replicate the natural habitat of Chinese algae eater’s as much as possible. Look to freshwater tropical rivers for inspiration.

What kind of substrate to use?

A fine sand substrate or small gravel mix substrate is preferable when it comes to this active fish. Be aware that any sharp pieces can impale their flat bodies as the fish swim along the bottom of the tank and sandy substrate will provide the least amount of irritation. We also recommend adding some large, smooth surfaces such as flat rocks or PVC pipe to provide a surface on which algae will collect.

Do Chinese Algae Eaters need a filter

Yes, like many fish species the chinese algae eater is sensitive to nitrates and other pollutants. Like any other fish tank, a filtration system and regular water changes are necessary.

Is a pump necessary for Chinese algae eaters?

Wild chinese algae eaters live in fast moving rivers and streams, and their fish tank should replicate that environment. The addition of a pump will help increase water flow within your aquarium.

Should I use a water heater for Chinese algae eaters?

As tropical fish, part of proper chinese algae eater care is maintaining proper water temperature between 74 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This likely means you will have to use a water heater to achieve proper water parameters.

What is the hottest temperature to keep in my aquarium with a Chinese Algae Eater?

The absolute hottest temperature that chinese algae eaters should be kept at is 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature should only be maintained for a short amount of time when breeding chinese algae eaters.

How much lighting do Chinese algae eaters need?

While your chinese algae eater doesn’t need lighting specifically for them, you will need bright lighting in your chinese algae eater’s tank. The addition of a light source will encourage algal growth. Unless you plan on adequately supplementing your chinese algae eater’s diet with lots of wafers and green vegetables a light source is necessary.

What plants do Chinese algae eaters like?

We don’t recommend having a heavily planted tank unless you are using deep-rooted plants such as Java fern or red repens. As Chinese algae eaters spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank they usually destroy any shallow roots. However, we encourage adding lots of fake plants as they will provide extra surfaces for algae to grow on.

TIP

Ludiwiga repens is also a great plant for tetras. If you plan on keeping chinese algae eaters with one of their few suitable tank mates, emperor tetra, consider adding this plant to your fish tank.

How many chinese algae eaters per 10 gallon?

10 gallons is not enough room to house even 1 adult chinese algae eater. Juvenile chinese algae eaters should be kept in a minimum of 30 gallons per fish, while adults should have at least 50 gallons per fish.

Diet and Health

Fish Food
Fish Food

The chinese algae eaters diet should replicate food sources that are readily available in their natural habitat like insect eggs, and brown algae.

What does Chinese algae eater eat?

As their name suggests, Chinese algae eaters prefer algae as their main diet. Juvenile’s are known to eat a considerable amount more of algae, whereas the adult fish’s diet needs to be supplemented by additional protein sources.

What to feed chinese algae eater?

A majority of the diet should be the algae in your tank and on tank decorations. If there isn’t enough algae you can supplement the diet with algae tablets, flake foods, and green veggies such as blanched lettuce or spinach.

Protein sources to supplement the diet includes daphnia, insect eggs, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, and brine shrimp. These can be sourced from live or frozen food and can easily be found at pet stores.

When to feed chinese algae eaters?

As your fish will be spending a majority of its time grazing it isn’t necessary to follow a strict feeding schedule. We recommend adding algae tablets every 2 to 3 days (only if your tank doesn’t have any algae) and protein once a week.

TIP

Be careful adding algae to your aquarium as any leftover food can foul your tank water quickly. Any uneaten food from your other fish will also be a source of algae.

How much to feed Chinese algae eater?

You shouldn’t be adding more than 2 algae wafers to your aquarium every 2 to 3 days to supplement the diet of your fish. If you have more than 1 algae eater we recommend adding 1 wafer per fish.

TIP

If you see your Chinese algae eater begin sucking on the slime coats of its tank mate it is a sign that you are not feeding it enough protein.

Protein sources should be added as a pinch of live or frozen foods.

Chinese algae eater lifespan

These fish can live up to 10 years, but this is affected by quality of chinese algae eater care including quality of diet, and tank parameters.

Are Chinese algae eaters hardy?

Chinese algae eaters tend to be considered one of the more hardier fish due to their large temperature range, and ability to scavenge for their own food.

Common diseases of Chinese algae eaters?

There are no diseases that specifically target these hardy fish. However, stressed fish are more likely to acquire a disease, and they can be more or less susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections based on tank water quality. Some freshwater diseases that are known to impact chinese algae eaters include;

Ich

The dreaded white spot disease, ich is caused by a protozoan parasite and can be treated by transferring them to a separate hospital tank and using aquarium salts or medicine like malachite green or copper sulfate. Symptoms include having white spots all over the body and fins and the fish rubbing against decorations.

Constipation

Though constipation doesn’t occur often in Chinese algae eaters due to their consumption of large amounts of dietary fiber it is easily treatable. Dosing with epsom salt and providing a diet of shelled peas should resolve the issue in two to three days. 

Bloating

Often caused by overfeeding, bloating can also be a sign of dropsy. Fish suspected to be bloated should be placed in a separate tank with the water level just above their head and water changes every 2 days. Bloating caused by constipation should be treated by reducing the amount of food given.

TIP

When bloated, a fish tends to float, by lowering the water level we reduce the fish’s stress and ensure it’s able to still swim.

Do Chinese algae eaters need oxygen?

Like all fish, Chinese algae eaters require a form of oxygen called “DO” or dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen is readily available in most water sources, but especially in fast moving or cold water. While chinese algae eaters are tropical fish their natural habitat contains much fast moving water providing them with an ample oxygen source.

RECOMMENDATION

If you notice your fish’s gills rapidly moving even while staying still it might be a sign that there is not enough oxygen in the water. Changing the pump to a higher flow rate or adding an air bubbler is one way to fix this problem.

Breeding

Chinese Algae Eater On A Driftwood
(1) Chinese Algae Eater On A Driftwood

Breeding these fish is extremely difficult, and not recommended unless you are an expert aquarist.

Can you breed a chinese algae eater?

Breeding these fish is very difficult as there are no established breeding methods for home aquarists. Even commercial fish hatcheries have difficulties breeding and use hormonal agents to breed chinese algae eaters.

How to breed a chinese algae eater?

Chinese algae eaters reach sexual maturity at around three years of age. If attempting to breed you should establish a separate breeding tank (at least 100 gallons) and choose a mating pair. Increase the temperature 2 to 3 degrees a day until you reach a temperature of 82 degrees and feed a high quality and nutrient rich diet of live and frozen foods.

At this point in commercial breeding the female would receive hormonal injections to help induce spawning. However, if the female isn’t interested in breeding the pair will likely fight. If this occurs you should remove the female immediately and try with another sexually mature female fish.

Once the eggs are laid and fertilized remove the parents from the tank and provide daily water changes to ensure a proper environment and pristine water conditions. The fry should hatch within three days.

What do chinese algae eater eggs look like?

Female chinese algae eaters can lay up to 3000 eggs on the walls of the tank and decorations. The eggs are cylindrical, white and small.

Is the Chinese algae eater for you?

If you’re looking for a fish that does well in a wide range of tropical water conditions and can help with your algal growth then the Chinese algae eater sounds like it would be an excellent fish for you!

Conclusion

While they won’t be the most colorful fish in your tank these beauties can get the job done when it comes to keeping your tank clean. We think this is just one of the reasons to love the Chinese algae eater, and hope you come up with many more.

(1) Gourami Watcher, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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