Clean up Crew in Freshwater Aquariums.

We love aquariums and a major part of the hobby is the undertaking of the maintenance but there is a point when it can become too much. You can help reduce this work by having a few inhabitants that are there not just to look good but to provide a valuable maintenance roll. This article will focus on freshwater aquariums, going through a few favourites of mine. Unfortunately I have yet to discover a critter which will actively clear your external filter for you but we can all live in hope.


There are a number of shrimps available to the hobby but I tend to stick to the hardier species; the Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina heteropoda) and the Algae Shrimp also known as the Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata). The Cherry Shrimp is the more attractive of the two but the Algae Shrimp is far more active and far hardier. Both are great at eating algae and spend most of their time foraging amongst the decoration, substrate and plants eating leftover food, debris and algae. Keep with smaller fish and avoid puffers, a good rule of thumb; if it will fit in their mouth don’t mix them.


All snails will eat algae, leftover food and debris from your aquarium but what you want is an attractive species that won’t breed to plague proportions. The Asian Trumpet is one such snail that causes problems. These can reproduce quickly and seemingly appear from nowhere. Often they hitchhike in on live plants or in the bag with new fish. If these become a problem it can be very hard to get rid of them. I like to use a biological control method in the form of a fish (which I will cover later) or with Assassin Snails (Anentome helena). The Assassin snail is a small carnivorous snail which will feed on these pest snails controlling their numbers. They will often reproduce themselves but never to plague proportions. They have a reputation of eating shrimps but I’ve never seen a snail quicker than a shrimp so when a snail is observed eating a shrimp I would suggest that the shrimp was already dead. I’ve had them in the same aquarium and they have not actively fed on their shrimpy friends.

The Zebra Snail (Neritina natalensis sp. zebra) is my ‘go to’ snail at the moment. It is readily available (here in the UK), cheap, hardy and attractive. It is a great algae eater and will (if kept in the right balance of numbers) keep the tank clean. They prefer more alkaline water and if kept in acidic conditions the shell can suffer and may even result in death. They will not breed successfully in freshwater as the eggs need estuarine conditions to develop so they will not over populate.


Let us start with fish that can be used to control pest snails. There are many which perform this task but again for the sake of keeping this as an article and not a book I will keep it to my ‘go to’ list. First up is the Yo Yo Loach (botia lohachata). These loach are active (if kept in small groups), hardy and great snail eaters. Best suited to mid to large sized aquariums as they can grow to 6” (15cm) and push around smaller slow moving fish. They like to dig around in the substrate so fine gravel or sand is best to stop them damaging their whiskers (barbels). Next up is the Zebra Loach (Botia striata). They are best kept in 2 or more. They love Asian Trumpet snails and will gobble their way through a good number daily. They are said to grow to 4” (10cm) but I’ve never seen one much more than 3” (7.5cm). My 3rd and final snail eater would be the Chain Loach (Botia sidthimunki). A small species of Botia that doesn’t grow much more than 2” (5cm) and ideal for small aquariums. A small group again will keep nicely on top of any pest snail population.

Sand shifting fish help to stop unwanted algae forming on the surface and also help pick up uneaten food. My favourite type of fish for this job is the Corydoras Catfish. The Corydoras group of catfish contains loads of different types (species) and most aquatic shops will have a number of types in stock. Just take your pick they will all do the same job. They don’t grow very big with 1.5” (4cm) being about as big as they get and again these must be kept in some groups but the different types with mix and often shoal together.

The list of fish which can help control algae is massive and is best covered in an article all by itself (so watch this space). This is only a quick guide to clean-up crew so if you require any more information please get in touch either by email or just follow us on Facebook and message us.