Are you dealing with an algae problem in your tank? Or maybe you’re just looking for a great saltwater fish that will bring some interesting character to the tank AND be functional. Check out the 21 Best Algae-eating saltwater fish! Scan through the list for a visual experience and learn about the algae-eating preferences of the individual species here, or jump down to the summary table further down this article.
1. Achilles Tang
Achilles tangs will eat filamentous blue-green, red, and green microalgae.
2. Atlantic Blue Tang
Atlantic blue tangs will eat fleshy brown macroalgae, as well as filamentous green red, and blue-green microalgae.
3. Brown barred goby
Brown barred gobies will eat filamentous green microalgae.
4. Cherub Angelfish
The Cherub angelfish eat detritus and filamentous green microalgae and well as filamentous blue-green microalgae.
5. Chevron Tang
The Chevron tang will eat filamentous green algae.
6. Combtooth blenny (Mimic blenny)
The combtooth blenny is one of the best algae-eating saltwater fish. They will consume filamentous green & blue-green algae, as well as detritus.
7. Convict tang
Convict tangs eat filamentous blue-green microalgae and both fleshy and filamentous red algae.
8. Foxface Rabbitfish
The Foxface rabbitfish may sound like a character from The Hunger Games, but the good news is that they are one of the best algae-eating saltwater fish. They are known for eating filamentous green microalgae and fleshy green or red macroalgae. They are a great choice if you want to keep Caulerpa macroalgae under control. Learn more about the Foxface rabbitfish here.
9. Kole Tang
The Kole tang, also known as the Yellow-eye or Bristletooth tang is an attractive algae-eating saltwater fish that will rasp the live rock and aquarium glass, eating diatoms and detritus. They are also one of the smallest tang types, which gives the advantage of being able to be kept in aquariums that are 75-gallons or larger.
Learn more about the Kole tang here.
1o. Lawnmower blenny
Guess what? Any fish named after a piece of machinery that is used to cut a luscious green lawn is probably a safe bet as an algae-eating saltwater fish, and the Lawnmower blenny does not disappoint. The Lawnmower blenny will eat diatoms, filamentous blue-green and green microalgae, as well as detritus. That list includes hair algae. Learn more about caring for the Lawnmower blenny in a saltwater aquarium here.
11. Lemonpeel Angelfish
Lemonpeel angels are saltwater fish that will eat filamentous green algae species, but be careful, they may also nip at your zoanthid polyps, as well.
12. Potter’s Angelfish
Potter’s angelfish, arguably one of the most desirable saltwater fish overall, is also a reasonably helpful algae-eating saltwater fish, consuming diatoms, detritus, and filamentous green microalgae.
13. Powder Blue Tang
The Powder blue tang will eat fleshy red macroalgae or filamentous red microalgae, as well as blue-green microalgae.
14. Powder Brown Tang
The Powder brown tang is known for eating filamentous blue-green and red microalgae, as well as fleshy red macroalgae. Learn more about Powder Brown Tang aquarium care here.
15. Rainford’s Goby
The tiny Rainford’s goby is one of the saltwater fish algae-eaters that will help keep some natural pressure on the filamentous red and green microalgae growth in your tank. They actually need to graze hair algae to be healthy. They also have tiny mouths, so you might need to entice finicky eaters with equally tiny live food, like baby brine shrimp.
16. Red-lipped blenny
These little creatures look like they’re wearing makeup, which is fun and cool, and they will also chow down on the resident algae population in your tank, chewing on all three major types of filamentous microalgae: red, green, and blue-green, as well as detritus and diatoms, making them one of the best saltwater fish that eat algae.
17. Desjardini Sailfin Tang (Indian Ocean)
Eats blue-green microalgae, fleshy green macroalgae, as well as the dreaded bubble algae, making it an MVP among algae-eating saltwater fish species.
18. Sailfin Tang (Pacific)
The ‘other’ Sailfin tang species, is also a great saltwater fish that eats algae, making a meal from filamentous brown, green, red, and blue-green microalgae.
19. Scribbled Rabbitfish
The Scribbled rabbitfish is an extremely attractive saltwater fish, both for the colorful look and algae-eating behaviors, chowing down on filamentous brown, green, blue-green, and red micro. Rabbitfishes, like this one, are great algae-eaters, likely preferring fleshy macro over micro, but if choices are limited, will likely also be helpful in controlling hair algae, including bryopsis.
2o. Sphinx Goby
The Sphinx goby is a long and slender fish with a taste for green and red filamentous algae. it is not as commonly available as some of the others on this list of the 21 best algae-eating saltwater fish, so it may be an opportunity for you to add some unique flair to your tank.
21. Yellow Tang
What list of best algae-eating saltwater fish would be complete without the ubiquitous yellow tang? This gorgeous saltwater fish will eat:
Filamentous blue-green, brown, green, and red microalgae.
Definitions and a disclaimer
The problem with problem algae is that not all alga are created or consumed equally. As you can tell from this article, there is a lot of variety between algal species and the saltwater fish that eat them.
Filamentous microalgae – these are the relatively more simple (structurally speaking) algae species that are strings of cells or solo cells, like the dreaded hair algae or algal films.
Fleshy macroalgae – these are the more complex and plant-like algae including Caulerpa, Ulva, Halimeda.
But even if the fish listed here dine on one major representative of the algae group, there is, unfortunately, no guarantee they will eat the others. You may also want to consider that individual results are very likely to vary. Algae-eating in a reef aquarium appears to be a relative thing that happens on an individual basis. Some individuals are great algae-eaters and never stop. Others will start out eating algae well and then prefer prepared foods later on.
This article is intended to be a nice introduction to the topic. For true saltwater algae problems, it is recommended that you do a deeper dive into the specific care requirements for the fish in mind and the attributes of your problem algae.
Best algae-eating marine fish for nano aquarium
To the best of my knowledge, there is no universally agreed-upon size cut-off for a nano aquarium, other than the fact that it is defined as being smaller than a ‘typical’ aquarium. Let’s assume, for the sake of this context, at least, that a nano aquarium refers to a tank about 110 liters (29-gallons) and smaller.
Based on that size restriction and the relative needs for the 21 fish on this list, the two best algae-eating marine fish for a nano aquarium would be the Combtooth Mimic blenny and Rainford’s goby, both of which are suitable for tanks as small as about ~38-liters (10-gallons).
Combtooth Mimic Blenny
If the size of your nano aquarium pushes the limits of the definition, close to 29-gallons, or so, you could potentially add:
- Lawnmower blenny
- Red-lipped blenny
- Brown barred goby
to the list of algae-eating marine fish suitable for a nano aquarium.
I compiled the following table, adapted from the CORAL MAGAZINE article, as a quick reference to the information on this page about the individual algae-eating preferences of the saltwater fish listed on this page.
Check out this video, if you have time to dive deeper into this topic and see a few other great algae-eating saltwater fish.
Don’t forget about the invertebrates that eat algae
While the focus of this article was to highlight the best saltwater fish that eat algae, there are a lot of great invertebrates you can add to your clean-up-crew to help with the task of keeping those algae under control. A few popular invertebrates are:
And of course, let’s not forget hermit crabs and those aquarium bulldozers the sea urchins. If you want to explore more algae-eating invertebrates for your clean-up crew, check out this list of 23.
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Creating the right environment for these amazing fish to thrive
A thriving reef tank starts with a high-quality reef salt mix and maintaining your water parameters. Problem algae blooms are sometimes caused (or perhaps encouraged) by low magnesium, or excess nutrients. A good protein skimmer can also help you remove excess nutrients from the water column, which should also help you keep your water in tip-top shape so that you don’t end up with fish with legs or some other mutation.
Other algae-eating Tangs that didn’t make the list
There are a few other algae-eating Tang species that didn’t make this list of the top 21 that you might also want to check out:
What to read next
If you have specific problem algae in mind, it’s a good idea to learn more about the individual problem you’re having.
Learn more about dealing with:
Another great place to continue learning more is this article with 23 quick tips for controlling aquarium algae
Or dig into other problem areas, like dealing with bristle worms.
Michael, Scott W. “Fishy Grazers on the Reef and in the Aquarium.” Coral: the Reef & Marine Aquarium Magazine. Volume 12: Issue 4 Jul/Aug 2015
Sprung, Julian. Algae: A Problem-Solver Guide. Ricordea Publishing. Miami: 2002.
Ulrich III, Albert B. The New Saltwater Aquarium Guide. www.SaltwaterAquariumBlog.com Publications 2014.