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Chinese Algae Eaters: How To Take Care Of One

During the COVID-19 pandemic, aquarium hobbyists flourished, investing in their dream tanks and new fish to join their aquatic environment. For those breaking into the aquarist community you’re probably exploring all kinds of methods to elevate your tank, how to foster a holistic natural environment for your scaly pets, or looking to expand your fish population.

Investing in new fish is exciting, to say the least, but it’s easy to forget to do your research. If you were considering a Chinese Algae Eater, you’ve come to the right place. This is your Chinese Algae Eater guide to aquatic care.

Species Summary

The Chinese algae eater, scientifically known as the Gyrinocheilus aymonieri and commonly known as the honey sucker for its large puckered mouth. A freshwater fish natively from the northern Malay Peninsula, Mekong basin, Mae Klong basin, and Xe Bang Fai River.

Chinese algae eaters are known to be found in deep rivers as well as flooded fields. Despite its name, the Chinese algae eater is not found in China, but in other large regions of Southeast Asia.
This fish is sought out by local food markets for consumption and aquarium trade.

Distinct due to the black line running down its side and its typical position against a flat surface, these fish are coveted by aquarists for their diet, cleaning, and preserving tanks without the responsibility of maintenance.

This is a common misconception, like any other creature, your Chinese algae eater needs to be taken care of as any other fishy friend would be. In fact, these fish may not be as beginner-friendly as their eating habits make them out to be.

Chinese algae eaters have a lifespan of 10 years, a major commitment for amateur aquarists, especially if unaware of the lifestyle changes. Chinese algae eaters undergo throughout their lifespan. As youths, they’re algae-eating machines, but adults can be aggressive and territorial.


As a fish native to bottom-feeding, hiding at the bottom of rivers, it has colors to match. The natural color of a Chinese algae eater ranges from pale tan to olive, with a light underbelly and a dark lateral stripe. The dark lateral marking that these fish possess can appear as a solid line or as a spread of dark dots along the lateral line.

A distinct feature of this fish is its dorsal fin, the only dorsal fin in the genus with 9 branched dorsal rays, giving the dorsal fin a spiked appearance. Additionally, this fish possesses a distinct, inferior, largemouth with a sucker modification to assist in latching to smooth surfaces.

Chinese Algae Eater Appearance
Chinese Algae Eater Appearance

This modification assists with eating algae off of inferior, smooth surfaces as well as anchoring the fish down to the river floor in rivers with a strong current.

Their comparatively drab appearance isn’t a major selling point for aquarists, but these fish are still highly sought for their puckered mouth tank­cleaning capabilities. Often confused with the Siamese algae eater, the Chinese algae eater has a much more pronounced mouth and tan color as opposed to yellow.

Additionally, the Chinese algae eater is far more aggressive than the Siamese algae eater, making the Siamese algae eater prone to aggressive Chinese algae eater attacks because they share the same diet.

Chinese Algae Eater Size
Chinese Algae Eater Size

Chinese Algae Eater Size

The Chinese algae eater is recorded to reach at least 11 inches, a size that varies depending on the environment. As with any other fish, tank size affects the growth of your fish. If you put a big fish in a small tank, its growth can be stunted. A tank of 52+ gallons is recommended for a Chinese algae eater.

Although 52 gallons is a starting point. 11 inches is sizable for a tank fish. A fish will not outgrow its environment (here, it’s a tank), but it’s still important to the fish’s health that it has a healthy-sized environment to grow and flourish. A tank of 60 gallons or more is better suited for the Chinese algae eater.

Chinese Algae Eater Care

Chinese Algae eater care isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem, stick it in a tank with some smooth rocks that collect algae and it’ll self-regulate, right? Unfortunately for some unsuspecting owners, where the Chinese algae eater is an avid tank cleaner and tireless algae snacker in their youth, they transition to higher-protein diets as they age.

Supplementing their diet with frozen or live bloodworm, daphnia, brine shrimp, or high-quality flakes or pellets is beneficial for the fish as it grows. If you overfeed your Chinese algae eater, it will consume fewer algae in the tank, letting it grow sometimes out of control. Additionally, water should be changed semi-regularly to ensure the algae growth is healthy and nutritious.

Being used to river environments, Chinese algae eaters prefer oxygen-rich, clean water. It’s beneficial to the fish to either have a solid canister filter in your tank, regularly change the tank water or both. Additionally, it’s good to incorporate some water flow to mimic a river current

Chinese Algae Eater Tank Size
Chinese Algae Eater Tank Size

Tank Size

When your Chinese algae eater is young, it will only need a 26-30 gallon tank. However, this fish does grow sizably, you’ll need a 60-70 gallon tank to accommodate this bottom-feeder. Especially if you have a community of fish, which is recommended for welcoming a Chinese algae eater into your tank.

When considering your tank size, it’s important to keep in mind factors such as your current community of fish, and any tank decor you’re anticipating incorporating. Your tank must be big enough to foster healthy growth in your fish while also housing the environment that they need to thrive.

Water Parameters

You want your tank to reflect the fish’s natural environment as much as possible. Being from Asian rivers, the Chinese algae eater prefers warm, clean, oxygen-rich water with strong water circulation. Specifically, you want to aim for:

  • Temperature between 75-80F
  • pH between 5.8-8
  • Water hardness 3-12

Chinese algae eaters are considered to be highly adaptable fish, which is appealing to aquarists. However, their size and changes in dietary habits throughout life show that there’s more to this fish than mindless algae-eating and tank dwelling.

Chinese Algae Eater Tank
Chinese Algae Eater Tank

What to Include in Their Tank

The most important thing to include in a Chinese algae eater’s tank is shelter. Providing many caverns and plants with ample hiding spots can prevent aggression amongst fish. Especially if you’re housing your Chinese algae eater in a tank with many other fish, you need to provide enough space for each fish to have a crevice of its own.

An obvious, and yet not so obvious, component to include is a smooth, larger, round bottom substrate such as smooth round rocks. These rocks grow more algae, providing constant snacks and nutrition to keep your Chinese algae eater busy.

Additionally, algae grow efficiently with bright light, so you could incorporate some solid lighting into your setup to ensure your Chinese algae eater is well provided for. You could fill your tank with plants as well. Fish like having lots of leafy plants for extra places to hide.

Although your algae-eater consumes plants on the regular, you won’t need to worry about it, eating your plants. Assuming it has a sufficient diet of algae and protein, it won’t bother with your plants at all.

Chinese Algae Eater Disease
Chinese Algae Eater Disease

Diseases to Watch Out For

You won’t have to worry about your fish spreading diseases to others in your community. Chinese algae eaters don’t have any diseases specific to their species, however, they are particularly prone to catching diseases from other fish.

Chinese algae eaters often latch onto other fish, especially large smooth fish, and your algae eater could contract diseases from another fish that way. You can’t train a fish not to latch on to another, you’ll just have to be cognizant of the diseases that your other fish may carry.

Most commonly, your Chinese algae eater could contract Ich (also called white spot disease), a common fresh-water parasite causing white spots to appear on your fish. Ich is one of the few parasitic diseases that can be spotted with the bare eye which is super helpful in identification and care.

Food & Diet Recommendations

As a Chinese algae eater grows, its diet will shift. When young, they’re algae-eating machines and can maintain their health and nutrition through the consumption of tank algae. However, as they grow older and larger, they’ll need more protein in their diet.

Protein can be live or frozen bloodworm, daphnia. brine shrimp, but you could also feed your Chinese algae eater high-quality flakes or pellets. Dry pellets are ideal for the golden Chinese algae eater. If you over-feed your Chinese algae eater, they’ll stop eating algae.

If you notice your tank algae is getting out of control, it’s a good idea to wean off of the supplemental protein. You could also feed your algae-eater cabbage, spinach, or lettuce, but it must be thoroughly cleaned first by pouring boiling water over it.

You should have many plants in your tank with small leaves for hiding places for your fish. Despite its plant-eating habits, you won’t need to worry about your Chinese algae eater consuming these plants.

Temperament and General Behavior

Chinese algae eaters won’t be very active in your tank. Typically, you can find these fish hanging in the bottom of your tank lurking for a snack or hiding. However, Chinese algae eaters are semi-aggressive, so you shouldn’t have more than one in your tank where they’ll be competing for resources.

When they’re young, the Chinese algae eater is content to sit at the bottom of the tank and vacuum up algae all day every day. As they grow older, they start adopting more territorial and aggressive traits.

If your Chinese algae eater is underfed, it may begin to latch on to sleeping fish, sucking off their slime and scales. This aggressive tendency is the main reason not to house a Chinese algae eater in a community tank.

Ideally, your fish is never underfed, especially the fish that can scrape its nutrients off of rocks on the ground, but fish can’t communicate their bodily needs to us, so there’s no way to know for sure. To be safer rather than sorry, use caution when adding a Chinese algae eater into your tank.

Tank Mates

Chinese algae eaters don’t get along well with other fish. In their youth, they’re fine to co-exist with a group, but as they grow older they become territory-obsessed and aggressive towards any fish that’s similar in appearance, lifestyle, or size. Additionally, it is not recommended that your algae eater lives amongst slow, large fish such as angelfish.

Angelfish and similar species are shaped perfectly for the Chinese algae eater to latch on and injure. Although they usually only practice this aggression when underfed, it’s not worth risking the wellbeing of your fish to try to force them to coexist.

Fish communities establish a hierarchy, so it would be beneficial to have 3-5 species in your tank. If you have a smaller community, the fish might start picking off the smallest and weakest fish. Borne fish species that would bode well with your Chinese algae eater are tiger barb, clown loach, bala shark, harlequin rasbora, neon tetra, tinfoil barb, rosy barb, platy, and swordtail.

The good news is that your aggressive Chinese algae eater can coexist with other fish, but the bad news is that each fish has specifications and behavioral quicks of its own and it’s up to the aquarist to strike a balance in their tank to foster a growing population of varying species. You’ll have to navigate behavioral problems with physical limitations and tank conditions.


Although there aren’t many differences between males and females, you can identify the females as slightly more rounded, and the males can be identified by a mating horn that they develop. Your Chinese algae eater can reproduce after the age of two, but it isn’t an easy process.

The Chinese algae eater is considered to be a highly infertile fish and currently is bred in fish hatcheries with the help of hormone injections. You could try to breed Chinese algae eaters, but it requires a separate 53+ gallon tank with good filtration and water flow.

You want the lighting to be low and the water parameters as follows:

  • Temperature: 75.2 F
  • pH: 6.0-8.8
  • Water hardness: No more than 5

You should have two females and two males in the tank, and administer hormone injections. You should not administer hormone injections to your fish unless you have the relevant skills and knowledge – please do not administer injections to your fish if you do not know how to. YouTube videos don’t count as relevant education, and you could seriously harm your fish.

One female fish can lay up to 3000 eggs that the males then fertilize. The eggs require constant maintenance, including water renewal and removal of dead eggs. Adding an antifungal agent to the water can help to preserve some of the embryos. Incubation lasts for one day. and the new fish babies will not display any cannibalism.

Should I Get One?

If you’re an aquarist hobbyist, this fish probably isn’t for you. Due to its size, aggression, and lifestyle changes throughout its growth and development, this isn’t a beginner-friendly addition to your fish family.

Especially if you were considering this fish just to clean your tank, you’re misunderstanding the tremendous effort it takes to develop a balanced and prosperous community within your tank, a balance easily thrown off by a large, territorial, algae eater.

If you’re a well-seasoned aquarium veteran, I think you could manage this fish. You should be completely aware of the massive amounts of work and effort needed to maintain an algae eater, but if you’re equipped with the proper knowledge and resources to foster that fish in your community, then it’s your challenge to take.

Difficult but lovable, the Chinese algae eater isn’t the easiest to take care of, but it certainly isn’t impossible. The biggest aspect to consider is the algae eater’s aggression towards other fish because if you have any large, slow-moving species, the algae eater could cause serious harm to these members of the community.

Knowing more about this unique fish can help you properly prepare to welcome one into your home, but if you’re on the fence about tanks and fish and thought you’d just want to try it out for fun, this fish might have your hands a little too full.

Additionally, a Chinese algae eater is a 10- year commitment. If you anticipate any major life changes – moves, job changes, starting a family, you need to consider that accommodations will need to be made for your tank because the odds are that this fish is going to experience a good chunk of your life with you.

This Chinese Algae Eater Guide will help you prepare, but you should continue to do your research on this species and other species you might want to have in your tank. Get as ready as possible to welcome your new scaly friend to your home, and get excited for the journey you’re embarking on.

The Diet of Chinese Algae Eaters
The Diet of Chinese Algae Eaters

The Diet of Chinese Algae Eaters

The Chinese algae eater, Gyrinocheilus aymonieri, is a type of fish that is natively found in freshwater in Southeastern parts of Asia. Despite their unimpressive appearance, Chinese algae eaters are a common addition to aquariums for their algae-eating diet.

The consumption of algae in tanks makes Chinese algae eaters a preferable choice for maintaining the cleanliness of the aquarium they are added to. Chinese algae eaters may choose to consume other plant matter in the tank, and less favorably, other fish in the aquarium.

Older Chinese algae eaters are more likely than younger individuals to deter from an algae-based diet and may consume small crustaceans. Chinese algae eaters may also consume other small fish, or remove the scales from other fish when they are mature.

Chinese algae eaters may be deterred from consuming other animals in the tank with dietary supplements other than algae. Fish flakes, alternative plant material, shelled peas, lettuce, as well as other vegetables and fruits can be fed to Chinese algae eaters to discourage their consumption of fish or crustaceans in the same aquarium.

Chinese Algae Eaters’ Sleep Behavior

Chinese algae eaters are freshwater algae-eating fish that belong to the Gyrinocheilus family. A common question among people who are new to this fish is, ” Do Chinese algae eaters sleep? ” and the simple answer to this is no. Chinese algae eaters are nocturnal animals that are rather dormant during the daytime and begin to be active at night.

The Chinese algae eaters are also known as the Honey Suckers or Sucking Loach. These fish are great algae eaters and cleans fish tanks with incredible efficiency as they are constantly searching for food. These bottom dwellers are rather easy to take care of as they do not need special conditions in order to survive or be healthy in a fish tank.

When taking care of Chinese algae eaters, it is very important to avoid overcrowding the tank in order to keep them from growing aggressive toward the other fish in the tank.

About Rencel Leyran