Minimum Tank Size: 55 Gallons (208 liters)
Care Level: Hard
Water Conditions: 6.0-8.0 pH (Soft to Hard)
Temperature: 71-80°F (22-27°C)
Maximum Size: 11 inches (28 centimeters)
The Chinese algae eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri), also known as the Indian algae eater, or the sucking loach, is a fish with a somewhat misleading name. While they do consume algae when they are young, they tend to eat less algae as they mature – as well as becoming large and territorial – making them a poor choice for most community fish tanks.
Not only do they do poorly in their role as an algae eater, but they also aren’t found in either China or India, making one question where their name originated from. These fish are actually native to South East Asia and are found in the river basins of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Vietnam.
In the wild, they inhabit clear fast-flowing mountain streams, and their sucker-like mouth allows them to grip onto rocks and other surfaces to stay stationary in the water. They primarily dwell near the bottom of the streams, where they consume algae and other detritus.
Chinese algae eaters are one of the few fish that can breathe without using their mouths, and they have unique gills with two slits. Water is able to enter through one gill, and exit the other – all without them having to release their grip on a surface with their sucker mouth.
These fish can grow fairly large in the home aquarium, and it’s not unusual for them to reach sizes up to 11 inches (28 centimeters) in length. If they are well cared for, they can live up to 15 years in a home aquarium, though 5 to 10 years seems more common.
These fish can become very territorial and aggressive as they age, and it can be difficult to find appropriate tank mates for them. Bottom-dwelling fish should be avoided, as well as any wide, flat bodied fish like goldfish. If they are kept with slow-moving fish, they will sometimes latch onto the fish’s side and feed on their slime coat, which often leads to infection. Top dwelling fish make the best tank mates for Chinese algae eaters, and larger characins or minnows tend to work best.
While it is usually recommended to keep these fish in a species only tank, their size makes that possible in only the very largest aquariums. Even individuals should be kept in at least a 55 gallon (208 liters) aquarium, and a group would easily need in excess of 100 gallons (380 liters).
Chinese algae eater’s natural habitat tends to be mostly composed of rocky or sandy substrate, with sunken trees and driftwood. This should be reproduced as closely as possible in the home aquarium, and it can be accomplished through a river rock bottom, and the addition of bogwood or driftwood.
It’s important to allow algae to grow on aquarium surfaces, so the addition of plants may be counterproductive as they compete with algae. However, most plants tend to be safe with these fish – even the more delicate leaved ones. But with or without plants, bright lighting is a must with Chinese algae eaters, as it encourages algae growth and allows them to graze.
Being a river species, they need to have their water kept in pristine condition. These fish tend to be more sensitive to poor water quality than most other commercially available fish, and they also need richly oxygenated water.
They also appreciate a fair amount of current in their tank, and this can be accomplished through the addition of a hang-on-back filter. A filter that I highly recommend is the Aquaclear Power Filter, which I currently use on most of my tanks. This filter is durable and long lasting, and has the added benefit of oxygenating the water with its current.
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In the wild, their diet is a mixture of algae, worms, larvae, crustaceans and insects. Because of this, their diet should never consist solely of algae in the aquarium. They should be offered a balanced diet that is supplemented with heavy algae growth.
Their primary diet should be composed of a high quality sinking food, and I personally recommend Hikari Tropical Algae Wafers, which are specifically made for bottom feeding herbivores. They should also be offered blanched vegetables such as zucchini, cucumber, spinach, romaine lettuce and shelled peas.
These fish will appreciate the addition of live or frozen foods as well, and they can be fed bloodworms, blackworms, daphnia and brine shrimp.
Chinese algae eaters tend to only take their food from the bottom or midsection of their tank, so it’s important to offer them sinking foods. This is especially true in a community tank, where they may not get any food if it doesn’t sink to the bottom.
The females tend to be plumper than the males, but it is nearly impossible to sex juvenile fish. However, when the male is preparing to spawn, he will develop distinctive tubercles on his snout.
At this time, there are no reliable reports of Chinese algae eaters spawning in the home aquarium, although there are some people who claim to have bred them in very large setups. They are currently bred commercially on fish farms through the use hormones.
Golden Chinese Algae Eater
There is a golden variant of this fish, and while many are natural, there have been reports that some have been dyed. Needless to say, this is incredibly cruel to fish, and these fish should be avoided by any responsible aquarist. However, at this time it is difficult to obtain information on whether this is wide-spread or not.