Chinese Algae Eater: Diet, Lifespan, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Chinese Algae Eater Appearance

Despite their mixed reputation the Chinese Algae Eater are still regarded as one of the best freshwater algae eaters around. 

That’s because apart from their aggression there is really not that much you can fault them for.

Firstly, they are avid algae eaters and do a good job of what they are kept for in the first place.

As long as your tank’s algae hasn’t gone out of control you can count on them to keep it to a safe level. 

They are economic tank cleaners that will lessen your task when it comes to tank cleaning.

Secondly, they are considerably hardy and aren’t so undemanding in terms of water conditions like many other fish. This is one of the reasons that even beginners can keep the Chinese Algae Eaters.

Thirdly they are easy to feed, the algae in your tank will do most of the job for you.

With this out of the way, understand that before you can keep them successfully you have to understand how to deal with their aggression. And learn how you can fashion the right set up for them.

This is guide will provide you with those answers plus any other thing that will help.

Let’s dive in!

Also referred to as the Honey Suckers or the Sucking Loache, the Chinese Algae Eater is one of the most commonly considered freshwater algae eaters in the hobby. 

They belong to the Gyrinocheilidae family and their scientific name “Gyrinocheilus aymonieri” aptly describe their appearance. The word Gyrinocheilus is derived from two Greek Words, ‘Gyrinos’ meaning “Tadpole” and ‘Cheilos’ meaning “Lip” (given their tadpole-like head)

In spite of the name, these fish are mostly found rivers and lakes that run through Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, not in china.

Most of the waters bodies in these areas are warm and fast-flowing. To survive the fast waters they use their sucker mouth to grip solid surfaces.

Chinese Algae Eaters usually prefer staying at the lower levels near the substrate which consists of boulders, gravels and sand. 

Also, they seasonally migrate to muddy and flooded areas near the coast. 

Much like with any other fish, they will do way better if their natural environment is recreated as close as possible in the tank. That means grabbing the key details of their habitat is very essential. 

When searching for them at pet stores remember the other names, not just look for the Chinese Algae Eater. 

Chinese Algae Eater Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 5.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 50 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Temperature: 75°F to 80°F
  • PH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 8 to 10 KH
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Tiger BarbsCherry Barb, Dwarf Gourami, Zebra Danio, White Cloud Minnows, Swordtsils, et Cetra.

Appearance

The most prominent feature of the Chinese Algae Eater is their tadpole-like head. 

In front of the head lies their sucker mouth and in they have a rather hefty lip which allows them to latch unto solid surfaces. 

Their mouth can grip glass and similar objects so effectively by generating a small vacuum against the objects.

It’s fun to watch how their mouth moves and generate that suction power when they latched unto glass. 

Similar to many bottom dwellers they have a stretched body with small fins. 

Surprisingly, Chinese Algae Eater are sometimes mistaken for the Siamese Algae Eater. They are very easy to distinguish; you just have to observe their mouths. 

Chinese Algae Eaters have very pronounced semi-oval sucker mouth. By the way, their mouth resembles that of the Otocinclus Catfish. 

Chinese Algae Eater lying on pebbles

If you are someone that always wants to keep colorful species in your tank this is definitely not the fish for you. These fish are kept specifically for their algae-eating capability, not for colorfulness. 

Most Chinese Algae Eaters are covered in pale brown color followed by a solid black stripe alongside their body. In some specimens, the black stripes break breaks into a line of dots.

Almost all the specimens you will see will have this black stipe except for the albino version which is covered in solid gold coloration throughout. 

It’s quite difficult to sex the Chinese Algae Eater especially when young. 

The only subtle differences to take note of is that females tend to be plumper and more rounded than the males when matured.

Also during mating, the males develop what looks like a horn on their head. 

Albino Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater Size

The average maximum size of the Chinese Algae Eater in the wild is about 11-inches long, while in captivity, it’s around 6-inches. 

That means they grow significantly smaller in aquariums due to so many reasons. It has been established that one of the major reasons is adequate space. 

This is evident considering how some aquarists have had their theirs exceed that 6 inches. 

But don’t get so excited because it’s no guarantee that yours will do the same even if you provide them with the biggest tank possible.

Space is one of the reasons, not the only one but, know that ample space will certainly improve their well being and overall lifespan. 

High-quality care will also help them reach their full size and lifespan potential. 

Lifespan

Keeping the Chinese algae is a long term commitment because most live for around 10 years in captivity. In fact, these fish can live longer than 10 years if they are receiving top-notch care. 

This is why I advise you only keep them if you are in on the commitment.

Otherwise, keep other algae eaters with lower lifespan than this like the Otcocinclus Catfish. 

Having said these, there are many factors that can influence their lifespan. 

Some of them include water condition, habitat set up, diet and the kind of care they received prior. 

Temperament and General Behavior

Contrary to Siamese Algae Eaters, Chinese Algae Eater aren’t peaceful. They are semi-aggressive fish that will show aggression towards their kind, species of similar appearance or even species of similar size. 

Because of this, it’s highly recommended you only keep one in your tank. They are not shoaling fish and will most likely fight amongst themselves if kept in groups. 

Naturally, Sucking Loache aren’t at all social. They prefer doing their thing and do not cause many issues.  

As bottom dwellers, they virtually spend all their time at the lower section tank latching unto surfaces in the aquarium and sucking off any algae they can find. 

Their penchant for latching unto objects is so extreme that they have been known to do it on flat-bodied fish like angelfish and discus.  

Once attached to those fish they try to consume any slime coat that might have build up on the fish body. 

As you would guess, this can be detrimental to the other fish as the Chinese Algae Eaters mouth is powerful enough to cause them physical injury thereby resulting in infection. 

Taking this into account, its best to not keep large flat bodied peaceful fish like the Discus in their tank. 

Chinese Algae Eater Appearance

Water Parameters

Many hobbyists think that Chinese Algae Eaters will do well even in dirty tanks and its actually helpful to them considering that they are tank cleaners.

No! that’s not the case, and if you want a sure way to harm them is keep a dirty tank.

What these fish need is a tank with clean water and some healthy level of algae they can snack on all the time. 

When it comes to the water parameters there are ideal ranges that you should maintain at all cost and avoid any drastic functions. 

To achieve this, you have to test the water regularly using good quality test kits that won’t give you faulty readings. 

The following are ideal water parameter ranges for keeping the Chinese Algae Eaters.

  • Temperature: 75°F to 80°F
  • PH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 8 to 10 KH

You will need a heater to keep the temperature within the above range. 

Tank Size

I have already pointed out how tank space can influence the maximum size this fish will reach. 

Even though they don’t grow to pass 6 inches in most cases, a single Chinese Algae should be kept in at least a 50-gallons tank. 

A tank this size will not make the fish feel cramped thereby making it able to reach that 6 inches (perhaps a bit more) if other parameters check out. 

Not to mention you will have a hard time fashioning the ideal set up if the tank isn’t adequately spacious. 

Though it’s not recommended to keep more than one Chinese Algae Eater in your tank some aquarists do it anyway. 

If you want to do the same you have to provide them with abundant space so that they don’t cross into each other’s territories. Allocate a minimum of 50 gallons per fish. 

Tank Requirements

You have probably heard this a million times “fish do best when their natural habitat is mimicked in the tank”.

Fortunately, we have learned a bit about the Chinese Algae Eaters habitat and we are going to use that data to fashion the ideal set up. The following elements are what will come together to give us the desired result. 

Substrate for the Chinese Algae Eater

Sand, gravel and rock boulders are what the Chinese Algae Eaters are used to as their substrate in the wild. The best for them in the tank is sand since its very smooth and won’t scratch their delicate underside. 

I recommend you skip gravels if you can not ensure their consistency. Any sharp piece among them can injure your fish if they swim over it. A good alternative to the sand is pebbles. 

Albino Chinese Algae Eater Latching on driftwood

Tank Decoration

Tank decorations like driftwoods, crevices, pieces of rocks will not only make the tank busier but will provide the Chinese Algae Eater with different hiding spaces they can retreat to when stressed.

Without these things, it will also be impossible for them to carve out their territories effectively. 

Another thing that will help is including some smooth flat rocks in the tank. These rocks are essential as they easily accumulate aquarium algae wich the fish can hop on and latch from time to time.

This will help give the fish a more natural feel to their tank. 

Plants

Adding live plants to the tank is a good idea as they provide numerous benefits like increasing the water quality and creating lots of hiding spots for the fish. 

Chinese Algae Eaters indeed eat plants but the thing is they only consume decaying, rotting or dying plants. As long as your plant is healthy, they will most likely not bother it. 

That said, it’s still important if you use a robust plant that can handle disturbances from their movements. A couple of examples include Java Fern, Amazon Sword, Anubias. 

Filtration

Since Chinese Algae Eaters are very sensitive to nitrates you will need a high-powered filtration system and conduct regular water changes to keep the nitrates from reaching harmful levels. 

Again, remember that these algae eaters are used to high currents in their natural habitat so you will want to recreate that in the tank as well. 

You can make use of a powerful pump and position the outlet in  a way that it will circulate the water all around the tank. If that’s not sufficient you can up the water pressure by using an air or water pumps. 

A low to moderate water flow isn’t going to make these fish feel at home. 

Lighting for the Chinese Algae Eater

Providing a well-lit tank is a necessity for these fish since their native habitat is sufficiently exposed to sunlight and not covered by any vegetation cover. Nothing fancy, a standard aquarium will suffice. 

Food and Diet

Unlike the Otocinclus Catfish or the Bristlenose Pleco, Chinese Algae Eaters aren’t herbivorous. They are omnivorous. Algae, insect larvae, maggots and the like are what make up their diet in the wild. 

As juveniles, they eat almost nothing but the algae. The same happens in the tank and at that stage they will do fine with just feeding off the algae they can find in the tank. 

However, if your tank doesn’t have enough algae for them, you can supplement it with algae wafers. 

As they mature they will start demanding some protein in the wild like the insect larvae and maggots. 

You can imitate this in the tank if you have a matured Chinese Algae Eater by giving it frozen or live foods like brine shrimp, daphnia or bloodworms once in a while. 

Green veggies like zucchini, spinach and lettuce work well for them, Just make sure to cut them into small pieces. 

The best part of keeping these fish is that they are economic tank cleaners that will clear out any algae and food particles other species missed while feeding. 

Chinese Algae Eater Tank Mates

Before selecting any tank mate, you need to be sure your Chinese Algae Eater will have all the wiggle room it needs. Given their aggression, they aren’t cut out for many community tanks. 

If you can remember, I mentioned that they tend to show aggression to fish of similar size, appearance and behavior.

Bearing this in mind, I recommend you avoid all bottom dwellers whether big or small to prevent them from getting attacked by these fish. 

I also mentioned that they have a disturbing habit of latching unto slow-moving flat-bodied species like Discus in order to suck the slime coat on their body. 

As such, you need to avoid any species they can do this kind of behavior to. 

All things considered, the best tank mates for them are small, peaceful species that aren’t bottom dwellers. It helps if the fish is quick too just in case they need to get away from the algae eater. 

Some of the most ideal Chinese Algae Eaters tank mates are;

It’s best not to keep them with aquarium critters like snails and shrimps since you can’t guarantee their safety. 

Breeding

Sadly, Chinese Algae Eaters are one of the most difficult species to breed in home aquariums. Those who were able to breed them were professional aquarists with access to large tanks equipped with abundant vegetation. 

Most of the Chinese Algae Eaters you will see in pet stores where bred in large breeding facilities that use spawning inducing hormones. 

The first challenge you will have in breeding them is getting a breeding pair. 

The males and females look virtually the same which is why it’s ridiculously difficult to tell them apart. 

If, however, you manage to put the breeding pairs in your tank (the tank should have ample space and vegetation more than the usual) you can try raising the temperature. 

Raising the temperature is a common way of triggering spawning for many fish. This can increase the chances of your Chinese Algae Eaters spawning.

Many expert aquarists recommend raising the temperature to up to 80°F. Two other things that will help are feeding the fish protein-enriched like live or frozen foods, and perfect water conditions. 

Even with all these, there is no guarantee that they will breed. That’s why it helps if you can commit for some trial and error. 

Common Diseases

Although Chinese Algae Eaters are hardy and like clearing up food at the bottom of the tank they cannot survive well in dirty tanks.

Whilst they don’t have any species-specific diseases you can expect to catch common freshwater diseases like ich if you have the habit of keeping a dirty tank. 

Ich if you haven’t come across is a very prevalent disease caused by a parasite that makes the fish body, head and even gills develop white spots.

This disease gives the fish a feeling of itch which is why you see them attempting to rub themselves against objects in the tank. If not treated quickly it could become fetal. 

Above all, this disease is caused by dirty water and poor water conditions such as nitrates, nitrites and ammonium build up.

Make sure to always keep the parameters within the recommended ranges and perform the recommended water changes.

While cleaning the tank do not wipe out all the algae so that you don’t take away their primary food source. It isn’t a problem if you have an algae eater in the tank.

Poor diet is another thing that can mess up your fish health so don’t take it lightly. On the other hand, overfeeding can be just as bad as it can lead to bloating. Use your best judgement to make sure you avoid it either. 

This shouldn’t be much of an issue if you are thoroughly familiar with your fish. You should develop a habit of observing them so that you can be familiar with the pattern of their activities.

Another benefit this can bring is, you will be able to quickly spot a problem whenever there is one. 

Closing

Now that we have covered everything about keeping the Chinese Algae Eater I hope you find it easy to decide if its right for your tank or not. 

Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick rundown of the major things we discussed before.

For the most part, these fish are fairly easy to keep. The only tricky part of having them is dealing with aggression. But even that can be tackled by providing them with the right set up and including only the appropriate tank mates.

I highly advise you keep nor more than one Chinese Algae Eater in your tank if you are a beginner.

To keep just one, you will need a 50-gallons tank and set it up with the right water condition, plants, substrate, and other tank decors. Avoid parameter fluctuations and commit to performing the recommended water changes.

When it comes to feeding, you should occasionally supply them with green veggies, live and frozen food. Don’t assume that algae is all they need.

This pretty much sums up the Chinese Algae Eaters care. If you still think they are not suitable for you there are certainly other simpler algae eaters you can opt for such as the Otocinclus, Rubber Lip Pleco, twig catfish to mention a few.

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with all you needed to know about keeping the Chinese Algae Eater.

Own the Chinese Algae Eater? I will appreciate if you share any experience you think can benefit this guide.

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