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No matter what type of tank you have, I think Apistogramma owners everywhere dream of crystal-clear aquariums without unsightly algae. I know I do. I would give anything to have a fish tank that looks like something out of the great show Tanked [1]

Unfortunately, once we mix fish with water and light, algae growth is a fact of life that we will have to face sooner or later. A small amount of algae is welcome and expected, but an outbreak can turn your tank into a green mess in no time.

In addition to the scheduled maintenance tasks, the best method to prevent heavy algae build-up is to get an excellent algae eater for your Apistogramma aquariums. 

Do Apistogramma Eat Algae?

Contrary to what you may read out in forums and blogs, most Apistogramma species are micro-predators and primarily carnivorous in the wild. They feed on aquatic invertebrates, insect larvae, and plant detritus. So, in general, the answer is no – Apistogramma do not eat algae.

However, we have an exception here—Apistogramma angayuara [2], which is known as the smallest Apistogramma species, measuring only 0.9 to 0.95 inches when fully grown. A. angayuara has a unique diet that consists mostly of rhizopods.

Can Apistogramma Live With Algae-eating Shrimp?

Many shrimp make the most effective clean-up crew members in the aquarium hobby, with Red Cherry Shrimp (RCS) and Amano Shrimp being the most popular.

Red Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) grows to a maximum of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length and come in a very bright, vivid red color, which can easily make them prey for Apistogramma, especially those Apistos with large mouths, such as Cockatoo dwarf cichlids (A. cacatuoides), Azure Cichlid (A. panduro), or Inca cichlid (A. baenschi).

When it comes to a head-to-head comparison between Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp, the latter is definitely a winner at algae eating.

The Amano Shrimp (Caridina japonica) is mostly translucent that tends to have either a brown or tan hue. Plus, they get bigger than Cherry Shrimp, reaching about 2 inches (5 cm) long.

Obviously, the Amano shrimp is a good candidate for Apistogramma aquariums.

Apisto are, well, cichlids! Your Amano shrimp might be getting eaten by Apistogramma when they are molting and shedding their exoskeleton.

On the other hand, shrimps require slightly alkaline, hard water (GH>5°) to build strong exoskeletons. In your average Apisto tanks, where the water is usually soft and acidic, shrimps may not be able to grow and reproduce.

Some hobbyists have reported success in mixing Amano shrimp with Apistogramma borellii, but we cannot guarantee that it will work in your tank.

Algae-Eating Snails for Apistogramma Tanks

red-rim melania (Melanoides tuberculata)

Certain snails gained a reputation for being excellent algae eaters, but not everyone is a fan of snails. The most powerful algae-eating snails are those coming from the Neritidae family.

Not only are nerite snails capable of removing and eating the green spot algae, which can be difficult to scrape off of plants and rocks, but they also give you peace of mind that they will not out-reproduce in your tank and take over.

However, we don’t recommend adding nerite snails to your Apisto tanks. Read more about the nerite snails and Apistogramma coexistence.

Are Siamese Algae Eaters Compatible with Apistogramma Cichlids?

Crossocheilus oblongus (Siamese Algae Eaters )
Heather Brown | Instagram

If you have trouble with excessive amounts of hair algae or black beard algae, a group of at least three Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus oblongus) does a great job than others. However, there are several reasons why SAE is not your best option.

The main reason is that the SAE is a large, schooling, bottom-dwelling fish. They will grow quite large, up to 6 inches (15 cm). Think about it, a school of three large SAEs will take up so much space and compete with the Apistogramma for territory, not to mention only juvenile SAEs are effective algae eaters, and the adults will eventually be big enough to get the lion’s share of Apistogramma’s food.

In a nutshell, unless you have a particularly large tank, SAEs are not compatible with Apistogramma cichlids in the long run.

Otocinclus Catfish: The Best Algae Eater for Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlids

Otocinclus and Apistogramma

Commonly known as “dwarf suckers” or “otos,” the Otocinclus catfish (Otocinculus sp.) typically stay small, with adults usually not growing more than 2 inches (5 cm) in length.

Their slender bodies are small enough to reach the harder-to-reach spaces for algae but large enough not to be eaten by most Apistogramma.

Oto cats live in shoals or schools, requiring at least three to six individuals to feel comfortable and safe in the aquarium.

These diminutive fish will spend most of them between the middle and bottom of the tank so that they won’t compete for territory with Apistos.

Plus, Otocinclus catfish are best suited for the live planted tanks and can often be found hanging out live plants or other decorations using their suckermouths. By doing so, they can feed on diatom algae, which makes them excellent natural cleaners for your tank.

As a bonus, they only clean the decaying debris and algae off of the live plants, and there are no worries about them nibbling on plants’ leaves. 

Lastly, Otocinclus catfish are easy to care for and hardy because their modified digestive tracts can allow them to breathe air in water.

Remember to remove these timid and peaceful catfish if you plan to breed Apistogramma.

Wrapping Up

As you can tell, the best algae eater for Apistogramma tanks is not an easy question to answer.

Snails and shrimps may work to some extent, but they may be eaten by the Apistogramma cichlids in the tank.

If you want a reliable algae eater that won’t compete with your Apistogramma for food or territories, Otocinclus catfish are your best bet.


  1. Tanked | Imdb
  2. Kullander, SO and Ferreira, E. (2005) – Two new species of Apistogramma Regan (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from the rio Trombetas, Par State, Brazil. Neotropical Ichthyology, 3(3):361-371, 2005.
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Ivan Yeoh
Ivan Yeoh

I’ve been working with fish for the past 12 years, and I can honestly say that it has never been a dull day. In my time, I’ve worked at the largest fish farm in Singapore – so you could say I know a thing or two about keeping things running smoothly in watery environments.

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