Chinese Algae Eater Expert Care Guide & Tank Set Up For Beginners

Every tank owner must have had his fair share of the tedious algae-cleaning process. If you’ve also gotten sick of rampant algae in your tank, then getting a Chinese Algae Eater is a wonderful solution.

Don’t be discouraged from getting one when people say it’s a hard fish to take care of. With our Chinese Algae Eater expert care guide, you’ll be able to handle this fish like a pro.   

Origin & Appearance of Chinese Algae Eaters

The Chinese Algae Eater is a tropical freshwater fish that many aquarists and hobbyists love to have in their tanks due to its algae-eating benefits. While it’s not particularly colorful and flamboyant like other fish species, it’s unique and attractive in its own way and can be very fun to observe.

Its scientific name is Gyrinocheilus Aymonieri, of the family Gyrinocheilidae. It’s commonly known in pet stores as the Honey Sucker or Sucking Loach. This is because of its characteristic behavior of sucking and sticking onto smooth surfaces when it eats, courtesy of its large, protruding lips.

Chinese algae eater (Gyrinocheilus Aymonieri) resting on driftwood in planted aquarium

Weirdly enough, most Chinese Algae Eaters don’t even come from China. It’s mainly found in the Chao Phraya river basin located in Thailand and can also be found in rivers coursing through Vietnam and Laos.

These rivers are generally warm and have strong, fast-moving currents that keep the water very clean. The riverbeds are strewn with stones and rocks sitting on a layer of sand or gravel. There, the Chinese Algae Eaters swim near the river floor, looking for food.

Nowadays, they’re available online and in pet stores for very moderate prices. Most store-sold varieties are bred and raised in large fish hatcheries and farms. 

Care Stats Overview

  • Common Name: Chinese Algae Eater, Honey Sucker, Sucking Loach, Golden Algae Eater, Chinese Sucker Fish, Albino Algae Eater, Cae Fish
  • Tank size: 50 gallons (200 liters)
  • Temperature: 74-80 °F (24-27 °C)
  • pH: 5.8-8.0
  • KH: 8-10 KH
  • Living zone: Bottom-dweller
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive  
  • Size: 5 inches (13 centimeters)
  • Diet: Omnivorous

Scientific Classifications

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class:  Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Gyrinocheilidae
  • Genus: Gyrinocheilus
  • Species: Gyrinocheilus aymonieri

Chinese Algae Eater Life Span

Chinese Algae Eaters are a long-living species, having an average life span of approximately ten years. These ten years can, of course, be shortened or extended depending on the quality of care the fish receives during its lifetime. The better its water conditions, diet, and original health, the longer the fish will live.

Chinese Algae Eaters need a person who can take care of them for a long time, so if you’re still a beginner or a casual hobbyist, then you’re better off choosing another breed that has a shorter life.  

Chinese Algae Eater Size, Color, & Markings

A Chinese Algae Eater can reach up to 11 inches in the wild, but most tank-raised breeds stay around the 5-inch mark. Its body is long and slender, with small fins and a sucker-like mouth. 

Females are generally larger and more bulbous than males. Yet, it’s quite challenging to differentiate between them outside of the breeding season when the males develop a sort of horn/thorn on their heads.

Both genders look pretty much the same, having a pale brown/beige-colored body that contrasts with two lateral black stripes running on its sides. These stripes can be broken up into dots or take on the appearance of a stripe overlayed with black dots. A rare variety, called the Albino Algae Eater, lacks any black stripes or dots and has a pure golden color.

Care Guide & Tank Set-Up For Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese algae eater in planted fish tank

Tank Size & How Many Can Be Kept Together

An adult Chinese Algae Eater needs a minimum tank size of 50 gallons (≈ 200 liters) in order to feel comfortable and secure.

A 30-gallon tank may be suitable for a juvenile fish. It can also work for an adult one if it’s the only tank occupant. However, a 50-gallon tank causes less stress and ensures they have more than enough space to move in and algae to feed on.

It’s generally recommended to keep only one Chinese Algae Eater in the tank as they are natural loners and can show aggression even to their own species. It can have more company when it’s still in adolescence cause then it’s not as violent. However, once it matures, it’ll attack any fish similar in size and shape, including other Chinese Algae Eaters.

If you’re set on keeping more than one fish, then a group of 5 or more is your best chance. They will establish a chain of command among themselves to keep anyone from stepping out of line.

These fish may try to jump outside of the tank, so make sure to have a lid on your tank, preferably with a latch, to ensure their safety.

The Nitrogen Cycle

The nitrogen cycle in the Chinese Algae Eater’s tank is the same as that of any other fish tank. It consists of the same series of biological processes that gradually break down the toxic by-products of fish, namely ammonia, into relatively safer substances (nitrites and nitrates) that can be more readily eliminated from the water.

Chinese Algae Eaters will die in poor water conditions that have high ammonia and even nitrate concentrations. Therefore, ensure that a mature bacterial colony is established in your filter before adding any fish to the tank. Also, make sure to perform partial water changes every other week to keep the toxins in check.

If you’d like a more detailed explanation of the nitrogen cycle and the importance of cycling your tank, read this article.

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: Chinese Algae Eaters live in warm tropical waters with a temperature around the 74-80 °F (24-27 ˚C) range.
  • pH: They can survive in a wide pH range, starting from 5.8 till 8.0. Ideally, it would be best if you stayed on the neutral side (around 6.5-7.5).
  • KH: Your carbonates and bicarbonates levels should come out to be about 8-10 KH.
  • Hardness: These fish usually live in soft to medium-hard waters with a GH ranging from 3 to 12.

Tank Set-Up For Chinese Algae Eaters

Thankfully, the tank set-up for this fish isn’t too complicated. They don’t require anything out of the ordinary and can adjust to most tank environments.

Most substrates work for Chinese Algae Eaters. Sand and gravel are both appropriate. You can also use rounded stones if you like. However, sand is usually preferred because it’s less likely to injure the fish. 

If you want to use gravel or stones, just make sure that the particles are smooth with no sharp edges, as these fish spend all their time swimming near the bottom of the tank.

It’s essential to provide them with many shelters and hideouts as they only feel at ease when they have their own personal space. This is even more crucial if you have more than one Chinese Algae Eater in the tank or when it’s in a community tank.

So, make sure to add plenty of tank decorations like large rocks and tree branches. Rocky caves and ceramic fish shelters are also recommended. And most importantly, scatter your aquarium with a multitude of plants. 

Small or big-leaved plants are suitable. You don’t worry about them eating and damaging the plants as long as they have sufficient food and algae around them. To ensure that they have easy access to algae, place smooth large flat stones on which algae can grow, and the fish can latch on with their mouths.

Also, don’t forget to provide the tank with a lot of light for the sake of rapid algae growth. Most standard tank lights are more than enough for this task, and the fish will be more than satisfied.

Chinese Algae Eaters prefer clean water rich in oxygen with a strong current similar to that of its natural habitat. So, siphon your tank’s bottom every two weeks or so, and make sure your filter is powerful enough. 

If the filter doesn’t produce enough circulation, then consider buying a canister filter or a water pump. Disposable air diffusers are also an asset to have as they increase the water’s oxygen levels.

Diet & Feeding

Feeding Chinese Algae Eaters doesn’t require much effort nor time. They are natural scavengers and can survive on any source of nutrition, including zooplankton, bacteria, and detritus.

In their natural environment, their main diet is algae. They attach themselves to rocks that support algae growth and scrape the algae off of it. You’ll see them doing the same thing in your aquarium, sticking to rocks, plants, and the tank walls to feed.

Juvenile Chinese Algae Eaters can subsist on just algae. However, once they mature, they don’t favor algae as much and start looking for protein sources in order to remain active and healthy. In the wilderness, they get this protein down from maggots and insect larvae.

As for tank-raised Chinese Algae Eaters, you should provide them with protein-rich sources of nutrition about once a week. Live or frozen foods are both acceptable for use, but make sure they’ll sink to the bottom of the tank. Bloodworms, Daphnia, Moina, and brine shrimp are all great sources of protein suitable for these fish. 

If you find that your fish don’t have enough algae in the tank or are starting to lose interest in eating them, then you can renew their interest by feeding them algae wafers. 

This adds some variation to their diet and will reinvigorate their appetite for algae. Crushed green vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and zucchini are also a great way to change up their diets every now and then.

Behavior & Tank Mate Compatibility

Chinese Algae Eaters like to be alone, mostly preferring to stay still and remain hidden. They’ll show violent behaviors if they feel that their space is crowded and invaded by others. 

They mostly spend their time in the lowest water column, latching and feeding on algae. They’ll mostly ignore fish in the middle and upper water columns but will fight any fish similar to it in size and behavior. So, avoid other algae eater breeds like the Siamese Algae Eater, as well as any shrimps or snails a subway can’t defend themselves.

Other species to avoid are flat-bodied fish like Angelfish and Discus. Also, stay clear from large, slow-moving fish like Goldfish. That’s because Chinese Algae Eaters will latch onto these breeds and try to suck off their slime coats, leading to parasitic infections.

Possible tank mates for the Chinese Algae Eater include Mollies, Minnows, Dwarf Gouramis, Swordtails, as well as Tiger, Tinfoil, and Cherry Barbs. Platies, Zebra Danios, Clown Loaches, Bala Sharks, and Tetras are also suitable choices. 

Their aggressive nature can even allow them to survive in community tanks containing African cichlids. Just include several species of different hierarchies and introduce the Chinese Algae Eater last to the tank. This is so that the Chinese Algae Eater won’t try to claim the whole tank as its territory and easily target the weaker breeds. 

Breeding

Breeding Chinese Algae Eaters is very difficult and seldom happens in tanks and aquariums. You’ll need every bit of luck on your side if you want to attempt breeding them, as even supplying them with the proper environment is sometimes not enough.

As mentioned above, males and females are pretty much identical, so to start breeding Chinese Algae Eaters, you have to pass the hurdle of actually acquiring both genders. Also, you have to place them in huge tanks to minimize any aggressive behavior between the pair.

Then, you can try to stimulate the breeding process by gradually raising the temperature till it reaches the maximum acceptable range (80 °F). You also have to supply the pair with pristine water conditions and a very nutritious diet during this period. And if you’re fortunate enough, they’ll start breeding.

Will You Pick The Chinese Algae Eater?

Chinese Algae Eaters are definitely worth a chance. They may not be the easiest to handle or the prettiest to look at, but they certainly have their own charms and advantages.

Once you provide them with the proper water conditions and tank set-up, they’ll easily thrive and stay by your side for a long time.

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Christopher Adams
Hey there, my name is Christopher and I'm the creator and editor of this site. I've owned successful aquariums for the past 23 years. My mission is to educate, inform, and entertain on everything that's fish.

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