4 Reef-Friendly Algae Eaters for a Clean Tank

sea snail

Some aquarium creatures spend their entire lives sifting through sand in search of nourishment. Rock and glass cleaners prefer to ignore the substrate and instead search for algae on the aquarium walls and rocks. Algae eaters that are reef safe forage without harming your corals or other tank occupants.

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    Reef Safe Hermit Crabs

    Hermit crab - Asia, Maldives, Baa Atoll, Kunfunadhoo (Soneva Fushi)

    Hermit crabs that are reef safe subsist nearly entirely on algae and debris. They spend all of their time in your tank moving over the rocks and substrate. Because they are smaller, they will not reorganize the "furniture" in your tank.

    Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab (Clibanarius tricolor) grows to a size of about 1 inch as it eats all kinds of algae, including red slime algae.

    Red Tip Dwarf Clibanarius sp., the hermit crab, consumes a variety of algae, including red slime algae (cyanobacteria), and sifts the sand.

    Dwarf Yellow Tip Hermit Crab (Clibanarius sp.) is another small variety (1 inch), which allows it to get into all of the nooks and crannies in a reef tank.

    Zebra Dwarf The Hermit Crab (Calcinus laevimanus) has an expanded left claw that it employs to resist its adversaries by holding it across the front of its shell like a shield. This hermit crab is normally found inside the reef in the wild, hiding behind rocks during the day and hunting for food at night.

    Calcinus elegans (Electric Blue Hermit Crab) features vivid blue legs with black striping and bright orange antennae. Both claws are brownish-green and almost the same size. This crab eats red slime algae as well as other forms of algae.

    The indigenous Electric Orange Hermit Crab (Calcinus sp.) has vivid orange legs and strikingly blue eyes. It reaches a maximum size of 2 inches and feeds on debris, uneaten food, and a variety of algae. It sifts the sand as well.

    The body and legs of the Halloween Hermit Crab (Ciliopagurus strigatus) are brilliant orange with red banding. It reaches a height of around 1 1/2 inches. It eats several different types of algae, including red slime algae.

    Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) has red legs and a yellow face and grows to about 1 1/2 inches in size.

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    If they land on their backs, several snail species are unable to flip over. These species like to spend their time on your tank's rocks and glass rather than the substrate. These herbivorous snails will clean your live rock and tank glass to perfection.

    Chestnut Cowries (Neobernaya spadicea) are herbivorous snails that thrive on diatom and microalgae. If this creature runs out of algae, it will starve to death.

    Because Margarita Snails (Margarites pupillus) consume a lot and will die if they run out of food, it's important not to overstock the aquarium with them. They are a snail species that may self-right if they land on their shell on the substrate.

    Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.) come in a variety of shell sizes and markings and are very sensitive to copper and nitrate in the water.

    Banded Trochus Snails (Trochus sp.) reach a maximum size of 3 inches and feed on cyanobacteria and diatoms found on rocks, tank walls, and substrate. Macroalgae are not eaten by them. The banded trochus snail, unlike other snails seen in reef aquariums, can self-right when pushed over.

    Mexican Turbo Snails (Turbo fluctuosa) reach a maximum size of around 6 inches and rely on diatoms and microalgae to thrive. Hair algae from the living rock and aquarium glass will also be consumed.

    Zebra Turbo Snails (Turbo sp.) grow to about 2 inches in size and also require plenty of diatom and microalgae to survive.

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    These blennies are herbivores and will spend all of their time eating the algae on your live rock and tank glass.

    • Black Combtooth Blenny (Ecsenius namiyei)
    • (Exallias brevis)
    • (Atrosalarias fuscus)
    •  (Ecsenius lineatus
    • One Spot Blenny (Crossosalarias macrospilus) 
    • (Salarias fasciatus), also known as the lawnmower blenny because it devours
    • (Salarias segmentatus)
    • (Salarias ramosus)
    • (Ecsenius stigmatura)
    • (Ecsenius bimaculatus)
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    Reef Safe Tangs and Surgeonfish


    Surgeonfish make great reef tank glass and rock cleaners. Being herbivores, they eat only algae and leave your corals alone. However, some tangs can get too large for small tanks.

    • (Paracanthurus hepatus)
    • Blonde Naso Tang (Naso lituratus)
    • (Zebrasoma desjardinii)
    • Clown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus)
    • (Zebrasoma xanthurum)
    • (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis)
    • (Acanthurus triostegus)
    • (Ctenochaetus strigosus; consumes )
    • Goldrim Tang (Acanthurus nigricans)
    • Orangebar Tang (Acanthurus olivaceus)
    • (Acanthurus leucosternon)
    • Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens; loves algae and gets along with everything in the tank)


"Blue Tang Surgeonfish. Georgia Aquarium, 2020" ;