Every aquarium needs a clean up crew; they’re the street sweepers and recycling agents of the ocean and any decently sized tank should have its own established and carefully chosen gang of critters which will make sure that all waste is quickly disposed of.
Snails, shrimp and starfish make great clean up crew members and not only are they good at their job but they’re also fascinating to look at as the go about their work. Some care needs to be taken however because if you get the balance wrong then your clean up crew can turn and you’ll find that instead of doing their job…cleaning up uneaten food and other debris, they turn on one another or even your smaller fish and corals.
Adding more than you need is a rookie mistake in terms of setting up a new aquarium and many hobbyists who are keen to get things right will add hermit crabs only to find that they’re overly aggressive and will do away with gentler creatures like snails…often for the purpose of shell robbery! As hermit crabs grow, they naturally need a larger shell and will attack snails for theirs…but snails are excellent in terms of algae clearance so if you’ve got to choose between hermit crabs and snails, it makes sense to go for the snails every time.
Some fish keepers have been known to place empty shells in the aquarium as a deterrent to hermit crabs in their murderous quests but the fact is that even with free shells lying about, many hermits will attack and kill snails regardless just for the opportunity of trying on their shells. Although hermits are great when they’re small, as they grow they cause many problems and are probably best avoided.
Shrimp are great in terms of cleaning up the mess but if they’re not kept well fed, they will often snack on your coral polyps…not a good thing! Ensure that shrimp have plenty to eat or they could turn on small fish as well as corals.
Snails and starfish make the least aggressive clean up crew owing to their docility as well as their excellent sifting skills and their love of all kinds of algae. There are of course many breeds available and getting the balance right might take a little while but try a few different snails and as your tank becomes more established, you will see which work well and which don’t.
Some of the most popular types are as follows;
- Dwarf cerith
- Dwarf planaxis
- Nerite snails
- Serpent starfish
All of the above specialise in the removal of different algae and waste in tanks and they won’t cause trouble amongst your fish and corals either! Ask questions, check out the different options and try varying creatures out…you will soon get the measure of your set up and what’s best for your needs.
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