Do Plecos Eat Algae? – Guide to Plecos and Algae in Aquarium

pleco searching for algae to eat
pleco searching for algae to eat

Do Plecos Eat Algae?

While many Plecos will eat some algae, few can survive only on algae. Even Plecos which only eat algae in the wild will need extra nutrition in the form of vegetable or high-protein foods. If you are adding a Pleco to your tank ensure you understand its nutrition and dietary needs. Hobbyists who are planning to include one or more Plecos as part of their tank’s algae eating cleanup crew will need to do proper research earlier.

Most Plecos are nocturnal feeders and won’t display their true eating habits until evening after tank lights have been turned off. This can lead to mistaken assumptions about what they can and will eat. In the daytime some Plecos will seem to ignore food added to their tanks. If the same food was added in the evening just before lights out their behavior might be different.

For hobbyists looking for excellent algae eating Plecos to keep nuisance algae under control and off glass surfaces there are some good options. But even Plecos which are known for controlling algae will often need additional food variety in their diets. Some Plecos which eat only algae in the wild will need extra nutritional support to stay healthy and well-fed. Keep in mind that wild algae also includes small microorganisms and insect larva which Plecos will consume. Algae in aquariums is mainly just plain algae and won’t have the same nutritional profile as it does in the wild.

In General, Do Plecos Eat Algae?

Most Plecos are able to eat some algae, but few eat a diet of mostly or only algae. Plecos which are known for eating mainly algae in the wild are often actually eating periphyton. Periphyton refers to a complex mixture of algae, bacteria, microbes, and detritus attached to submerged surfaces. In the Pleco hobbyist community the word aufwuchs is often used to describe this growth. Aufwuchs is a German word for “surface growth,” and is more fun to say than periphyton while having the same general meaning. This periphyton, or aufwuchs, has much more biodiversity in the wild than in most aquariums. Algae in aquariums won’t be as nutritious for Plecos as periphyton in the wild. This is why Pleco hobbyists should be skeptical of claims that a certain Pleco variety eats only “algae.”

Best Algae Eating Pleco Species

Some of the best algae eating Plecos species include: Leopard Pleco, Green Phantom Pleco, and Rubber Lip Pleco. Bristlenose Pleco will also eat algae but are more likely to stay near the bottom of their tank rather than clean algae from glass. Most Plecos species which are known as excellent algae eaters will also need additional food: either vegetable, or meaty and high-protein. Research the dietary needs of the Pleco you’re planning to buy so you understand their needs and can provide proper nutrition.

Algae Eating Plecos Chart

A chart of algae eating Plecos is only a rough guideline to how much algae a certain Pleco species will eat. This information should be considered general, and more detailed research will be needed to plan for your Pleco’s diet. Some carnivorous Plecos which are listed as “Does Not Eat Algae,” will eat a small amount of algae as part of their diet. Some other Plecos are listed as “Eats Only Algae.” This is general and few if any of these Plecos should eat a diet of only nuisance algae and sinking algae wafers. However, this is a good chart to help identify which species are better or worse at eating algae in most aquariums.

Pleco SpeciesAlgae Eating Capabilities
Bristlenose PlecoEats Only Algae.
Clown PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Zebra PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Rubber Lip PlecoEats Only Algae.
Gold Nugget PlecoEats Only Algae.
Common PlecoEats Some Algae
Blue Phantom PlecoEats Some Algae.
Royal PlecoEats Some Algae.
Snowball PlecoEats Some Algae.
Green Phantom PlecoEats Some Algae.
Sailfin PlecoEats Some Algae.
Vampire PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Typhoon PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Leopard Frog PlecoEats Some Algae.
Butterfly PlecoEats Some Algae.
Rhino PlecoEats Some Algae.
Sunshine PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Blue Eyed PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Adonis PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Leopard PlecoEats Only Algae.
L397 PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
King Tiger PlecoEats Some Algae.
Orange Seam PlecoEats Some Algae.
Super Red PlecoEats Some Algae.
L236 PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Pitbull PlecoEats Some Algae.
Starlight Bristlenose (L183) PlecoEats Some Algae.
Candy Striped PlecoEats Some Algae.
Watermelon PlecoEats Some Algae.
Medusa PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Peppermint PlecoEats Some Algae.
Sultan PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
L129 PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Blue Panaque Pleco (L239) PlecoEats Some Algae.
Queen Arabesque PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Mango PlecoEats Some Algae.
Black Dragon PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Leopard Cactus PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.
Flash PlecoDoes Not Eat Algae.

Do Pleco Eat All Types of Algae?

Plecos can eat algae from tank surfaces and also from sinking algae wafers. Different species are more or less likely to keep glass surfaces algae-free. Some Plecos prefer to stay near the bottom of their tanks and may not venture far up glass to find and consume algae. These Plecos can be offered algae in the form of sinking algae wafers. Most algae eating Plecos will eat algae in wafer form but fewer species are good choices for keeping glass free of nuisance algae.

Do Plecos Eat Brown Algae?

Few Plecos enjoy eating brown algae so it’s best to not rely on them for control. Brown algae is very different biologically than green algae and often shows up in tanks with low lighting. Bright daytime lighting can provide the energy green algae needs to photosynthesize and spread which reduces nutrients available for brown algae growth. Green algae is less harmful than brown algae so keeping the latter under control is important. The best solution for brown algae is physical removal and increasing intensity of daytime lighting.

Do Plecos Eat Algae Off Glass?

Few algae eating Plecos are a good choice for keeping aquarium glass clean. Some exceptions are: Leopard Pleco, Green Phantom Pleco, and Rubber Lip Pleco. Most Plecos are bottom-dwellers and won’t make trips up tank glass in search of algae. These species will mostly eat algae from rocks, driftwood, and other surfaces in lower tank regions.

Can Plecos Survive on Just Algae?

While some Plecos can eat a diet of mostly algae, many of these need extra nutritional support to be healthy. As discussed earlier, green algae in aquariums is different than periphyton in the wild and usually won’t be as nutritious. It’s important to make sure your Plecos are getting proper nutrition and this usually means including extra meaty or high-protein foods. In addition, many aquariums don’t produce enough algae to feed Plecos as they mature. You may need to supplement with sinking algae wafers if your fish begin losing weight.

Plecos vs Algae Eaters

When planning a cleanup crew for your aquarium it’s best not to rely solely on Plecos expect in certain situations. Many other algae eaters are available to help control nuisance algae, and some have special advantages over Plecos.

Siamese Algae Eaters are a fantastic choice for hobbyists needing aquarium algae control. This species compares favorably to the Chinese Algae Eater, another common species used for algae control. Both of these species will also consume uneaten food intended for other tank mates. If you include either in a Pleco tank remember that Plecos are nocturnal and food added during the day may be eaten by other tank mates before Plecos have a chance to feed.

Shrimp are also another good choice for algae control. The Amano Shrimp is able to eat the most algae but isn’t as attractive as some other choices such as the Cherry Shrimp. Bamboo Shrimp are another good algae eater that can form an important part of your tank’s cleanup crew. An important advantage to shrimp is their ability to clean algae from plants with fine leaves. Shrimp are able to perch on delicate aquatic foliage and remove algae without harming the plants.

Some aquarium hobbyists include snails for algae control. Some varieties such as the Nerite Snail are good at eating some algae varieties that Plecos may avoid or have trouble eating such as Green Spot Algae. The Trumpet Snail, Mystern Snail, and Ramshorn Snail are other snail varieties popular with aquarium hobbyists. Adding snails to your aquarium shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Snails can reproduce quickly and you may end up with more than wanted. Snails aren’t a complete solution for algae control but can be useful when combined with other common algae eating species.

Some catfish and similar fish species can be useful for algae control. These include the Whiptail Catfish, Twig Catfish, and Otocinclus. These fish should be used with caution in Pleco tanks as they are bottom-dwellers who may be competition for food.

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