Chinese Algae Eater: Species Profile

Category: Catfish

Common Names: Chinese Algae Eater

Scientific Name: Gyrinocheilos aymonieri

Family: Gyrinocheilidae

Minimum Tank Size: 55 Gallons

Care Level: Moderate

Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Max Size: 10 Inches

Temperature: 74-80 F

pH: 6.5-7.5

Tank Level: Bottom

Colors: Tan, Black, Yellow

Diet: Herbivore

Breeding: Difficult

Chinese Algae Eaters Swimming in Front of Plants

Chinese Algae Eater Species Overview

Chinese algae eaters won’t add color to your tropical fish tank, but these solitary, bottom-dwelling fish will help keep your tank sparkling clean.

For this reason, Chinese algae eaters are a popular choice among fish keepers who struggle with controlling algae outbreaks in their tanks.

Nevertheless, these fish have an aggressive streak, so pairing them with the right tankmates is crucial. Therefore, we recommend Chinese algae eaters for people with an intermediate to advanced level of experience in caring for tropical fish.

Distinguishing Features

Chinese algae eaters have a relatively dull appearance, allowing them to blend in well with their surroundings. Their colors range from pale brown to golden, with darker highlights in stripes and dots throughout their bodies.

In almost all cases, Chinese algae eaters have lighter-colored cream bellies that transition up towards the midway point on their bodies.

A dark grayish-black horizontal strip separates this lighter color from their darker brown or tan top. Some Chinese algae eater varieties have dots that make up this stripe rather than a continuous line.

It’s also common for individuals to have grayish-black dots on the topmost part of their bodies, including small accents on their heads.

The most notable characteristic of the Chinese algae eater is that they have a wide mouth. As their name suggests, these fish are algae eaters, so use this wideness to create a suction on surfaces.

For this reason, you might frequently see Chinese algae eaters latched onto the side of a tank.

All members of the species have long, thin bodies. Although their fins are small and unnoteworthy, they have erect dorsal fins.

Their dorsal fin appears spikey, but it likely won’t cut you if it brushes against your skin.

Chinese Algae Eater eating off Rock


Chinese algae eaters hail from the freshwaters of the Chao Phraya basin. This area is a large river in Thailand, meaning that these fish often reside in that country and neighboring states like Laos and Vietnam.

It likely doesn’t surprise you that Chinese algae eaters love grazing on algae in the wild, so they choose habitats where it grows rampantly. They also enjoy eating periphyton, which is a combination of algae, bacteria, and detritus.

But as you’ll soon learn, Chinese algae eaters consume more than algae in their natural habitat.

The fish thrive in flooded, muddy plains in their home countries. Evolution has enabled them to withstand the monsoons that often pass through Southeast Asia.

These fish like fast-flowing water and often reside in areas with sandy substrate.


Chinese algae eaters grow anywhere from five to seven inches long in the average tropical fish tank. But in the wild, they commonly grow to just under one foot in length.

There often isn’t a significant difference between males and females in terms of length.

But, typically, the female does have a wider, more robust appearance. That’s especially the case when she carries eggs.


Chinese algae eaters have a lifespan of five to ten years in captivity. That’s a massive range, and the quality of care you provide will largely determine how long your fish live.

You can increase their chance of a long life by following the tank parameters we’ll soon share with you.


Unlike many of the colorful tropical fish that you might have in your tank, telling the difference between male and female Chinese algae eaters is challenging.

Both genders have equal markings and color patterns.

So, the best way to tell these fish apart is by comparing which look the widest and with the roundest bellies—those are the females.


If you’re looking for a peaceful fish to add to your tropical aquarium, we encourage you to look elsewhere; Chinese algae eaters fall into the “semi-aggressive” category.

Moreover, this species can transform into full-out aggressors if you don’t give them enough space and hiding places. Female Chinese algae eaters are often just as aggressive as males.

The good news is that you can house them with other fish so long as you’re careful.

For starters, you should choose tankmates that aren’t of a similar color and size. Those types of fish tend to irritate Chinese algae eaters more.

Yes, that potential for conflict means that it’s wise not to pair these fish with other species in the same tank unless you offer them ample space to keep them away from each other.

Tank Parameters

If we haven’t scared you off at this point with the Chinese algae eater’s aggressive tendencies, you’re in for a treat—these fish are an excellent supplement to filters for helping keep your tank clean.

But following the tank parameters below is vital to keep your fish in optimal health.

Close up of Yellow Chinese Algae Eater from Side

Minimum Tank Size

Ideally, you should offer your Chinese algae eater a tank of at least 50 gallons. That said, some owners can get away with having a 30-gallon tank, particularly if there are no tankmates.

Nevertheless, for every Chinese algae eater you want to add to your tank (which isn’t necessary), you’ll need to account for an extra 30 to 50 gallons of water.

Water Parameters

Chinese algae eaters are relatively hardy for being tropical fish, but they must have the following water conditions to thrive.


You should keep your Chinese algae eater’s tank between 74°F to 80°F. Using a heater is the best way to ensure their water remains within this range.


The species has an impressively high tolerance for varying pH levels. They can live in water with a pH between 5.8 to 8.0.

Nevertheless, their ideal environment is near neutral, with a pH between 6.5 to 7.5.


As freshwater fish, Chinese algae eaters don’t need salt in their water. However, a small amount can boost their health and immunity.

Therefore, feel free to add freshwater salt to their tank, ensuring that the specific gravity stays at 1.004.

Tank Setup

Once you get your water parameters in order, the fun part begins with setting up your tank. Read on for must-know information on how to make your Chinese algae eater feel at home.


Chinese algae eaters spend a lot of time at the bottom of their tank, so ensuring they have the right kind of substrate is vital. Sand or fine gravel is ideal for them.

The most important part to watch out for is that the substrate you use doesn’t have sharp edges since Chinese algae eaters will rub against it as they swim.


Your Chinese algae eater will welcome having decorations as these will offer your fish a lot of hiding places. Hollow logs and rock formations with indentations and large holes are ideal.

When arranging the decorations in your tank, it’s important to strike a balance between giving your fish enough space to hide and ensuring they have enough space near the substrate to swim freely.


In the wild, Chinese algae eaters will typically populate an area where there’s a lot of vegetation. So, they’ll appreciate having plants in their tank.

The downside to this is that they tend to uproot live plants. Therefore, if you struggle with keeping live plants in your tank, you might need to resort to putting in fakes.

Of course, Chinese algae eaters are also happiest when some algae are in the tank.

You should never compromise your tank’s health for extra algae growth. But most Chinese algae eaters will be able to hunt down small amounts of naturally occurring normal algae growth.

Profile View of Yellow Chinese Algae Eater on Gravel


Proper lighting is vital for your Chinese algae eater’s health and happiness. These are diurnal fish, so they rely on light to know when to wake up and sleep.

Furthermore, keeping an aquarium light in your tank will help spark the algae growth that your Chinese algae eater will love to eat.

We recommend investing in an aquarium light that has an automatic timer. This option will prevent algae from growing excessively and ensure your pet fish gets proper rest.


Setting up a high-quality filter is vital. These fish have a low tolerance for nitrates, which is a chemical that builds up in closed environments like aquariums.

Ideally, you should use all three primary filtration methods in your tank: Mechanical, biological, and chemical.


Chinese algae eaters thrive in warm environments. With that in mind, buying a water heater is essential to ensuring their water stays within the 74°F to 80°F range.

You should also buy an aquarium thermometer and keep it attached to the side of the tank so that you can quickly determine if the thermometer is working properly.


Young Chinese algae eaters can live almost entirely off algae. But it’s best to supplement their diet, especially as they get older.

That’s because, in the wild, Chinese algae eaters are omnivores. So, try beefing up their diet with items such as:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia

You can also feed your fish algae wafers to ensure they have access to sufficient algae and raw cucumbers for more veggies.

Knowing how much to feed Chinese algae eaters can be tricky since they supplement their diet with algae in the tank. But a general rule of thumb is to feed them twice per day and let them eat as much as they can in two to three minutes before removing the remaining food.


We won’t beat around the bush—breeding Chinese algae eaters is challenging.

For starters, it’s hard to tell the male and females apart. But if you know you have a male and female pair, you can move them to a breeding tank of at least 100 gallons.

You’ll want to raise the temperature of the tank to 82°F, as this will trigger them that it’s time to mate. Meanwhile, give them food high in protein.

When the female is ready, she’ll lay up to 3,000 eggs on plants and the tank’s sides. The male will then fertilize the eggs.

At this point, you should remove the parents to prevent them from eating the fry (their baby fish). The fry will hatch within 72 hours and require a diet high in algae.

Close up of Yellow Chinese Algae Eater

Common Diseases

No matter how carefully you care for your Chinese algae eater, diseases can strike. Below are some of the most common illnesses that can affect them.


Ich is a parasitic infection that often occurs from a new, infected fish added to the tank. Chinese algae eaters with ich develop small white spots on their bodies and itch themselves against objects in the tank.

Treating ich involves quarantining the fish, regular water changes, and medication.

Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease is a general term for a condition that causes Chinese algae eaters to become bloated. Many situations can cause this, including constipation, overeating, and other illnesses.

The treatment for swim bladder depends on the contributing issue, but it often involves putting your fish on a short fast. You can also consult your local pet store for help.

Velvet Disease

Velvet disease is from the Oodinium dinoflagellate parasite. It causes Chinese algae eaters to turn a dusty gold color, and the infection is highly contagious among other tank mates.

To treat velvet disease, shut off your aquarium light, increase the water temperature, and add aquarium salt to the tank.

Yellow Chinese Algae Eater on Black Gravel with Plants

Potential Tank Mates

Many fish keepers want to include other tank mates in their Chinese algae eater’s aquarium to add vibrancy. But selecting the right tank mates for your fish is crucial.

It’s a bad idea to pair the Chinese algae eater with slow-moving fish, especially those with flat bodies. That’s because they may latch onto the fish to suck algae off them.

Unfortunately, this results in a parasitism relationship—although your Chinese algae eater wouldn’t be acting aggressively, it could harm the fish.

Some of the best fish species compatible with Chinese algae eaters include:

  • Mollies
  • Platies
  • Tiger barbs
  • Dwarf gouramis

The common theme these fish have is that they’re smaller and typically live in the middle to the upper portion of the tank. Thus, there’s little chance they’ll come in contact with your algae eater.