10 Great Bottom Feeders For Your Aquarium

If you’re looking for a natural way to clean up your tank, then bottom feeders are a great bet. Bottom feeders don’t normally eat droppings, but many will consume excess fish food and clean your tank of algae. Not only do bottom feeders help keep your tank healthy, but they can be a joy to watch.

Below are ten great types of bottom feeders for your aquarium.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco by Pete Brown

The Bristlenose Pleco is perfect for aquariums that are 20-gallons in size or larger. The species prefers to have hiding spots in the tank and can get along well in peaceful communities. The Bristlenose prefers to stay at the bottom level of your tank where it will sift through the substrate to find it’s next meal. It isn’t uncommon, however, to find a Bristlenose attached to the side of a tank. The species grows to be between three to five inches in size.

This fish can handle peaceful and smaller semi-aggressive tank mates. While the Bristlenose is generally hardy in nature, it’s important to remember this is a fish that often sits still and blends with its environment. This can make the Pleco hard to find at times, but this is a natural behavior.

This species of Pleco comes in a dull range of colors like green, black, brown, white, and yellow. Bristlenose are nocturnal fish that like to forage for vegetation at night. Their diet should mainly consist of plant matter with only a small amount of meat mixed in. It’s important to make sure that you add in food for your Plecos such as algae wafers or select vegetables. This fish can live up to twelve years in captivity.

Pepper Cory Catfish

Pepper Cory Catfish

Peppered Cory by Rebecca Louise

Cory Catfish are able to live in tanks as small as 10-gallons in size. Pepper Cory prefer a moderate amount of lighting and plenty of plants to hide in. Pepper Cory loves to spend time at the bottom of their tank, where they find meals in the substrate. For this bottomfeeder, you will want to avoid rough gravel. It’s best to use dark-colored smooth stones or sand for this fish to avoid injuries. Pepper Cory will grow between two to two and a half inches, with the females of the species being smaller.

Cory Catfish are small and should be housed with tank mates of the same size; This species also prefers to be kept in groups, so make sure that your tank has at least two Pepper Cory at all times. Unlike some other fish, this species does prefer to live in a colder environment, making them a bad match for fish like the Freshwater Angel.

Like most catfish, this species usually comes in colors like green, tan, and brown. They are omnivores, and you should ensure that they have algae wafers to eat on along with some protein-based foods like worms. The Pepper Cory can live upwards of fifteen years in captivity when well taken care of.



Crayfish by coniferconifer

Crayfish are less commonly seen in tanks than their fin equipped counterparts. The Crayfish has to be kept in a tank that is 30-gallons in size or more. Crayfish will shed their exoskeleton from time to time and become easy to injure. To help protect them during this time, you should have a tank with several small hiding holes where the Crayfish can seek refuge. Keep in mind that this is one of the largest species of Crayfish and will grow to be between six to eight inches in size.

The downside to having a Crayfish is that while they are excellent cleaner, they are not good for a tank with small, slow-moving fish. You should avoid keeping your Crayfish with shrimp or snails that could easily become a meal. With that being said, they can generally live with even more aggressive fish species without much of a problem.

The Crayfish can be a beautiful specimen that comes in shades of red, purple, black, yellow, and white. The Crayfish is an omnivore but does need protein in his diet. The Crayfish is happy to be fed brine shrimp and algae wafers. This species of fish is incredibly hardy and can live to be four years old.

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach by AJC1

The Kuhli Loach can be kept in small-sized 15-gallons tanks, making them perfect for smaller communities. You will need to be careful if you are setting up a tank for a loach. These fish only grow to a max size of four inches and have a slender body. Be sure to use precaution with your filter and tubing to keep your Kuhli from getting trapped. The species is also more susceptible to disease and can’t be in tanks where large amounts of chemicals need to be added into the water.

Kuhli Loaches should also be housed with peaceful tank mates as they have a delicate body. Peaceful communities with small fish will be best for this species. You will also need to make small hiding spots that the loach can retreat to if they feel threatened. Even some small semi-aggressive fish will be too much for this species to handle. The Kuhli is generally a mix of yellow, brown, and black in color.

Kuhli Loach should be kept in sand substrate aquariums where they will naturally spend their day filtering the sand. Surprisingly, they are omnivores and will eat both algae and small bits of protein. They can be fed using wafers or finely chopped brine shrimp. In addition to acting as a natural substrate filter, these through cleaners can live up to ten years.

Bumblebee Goby

Bumblebee Goby

Bumblebee Goby by wildsingapore

If you are going for a micro-community set-up, then the Bumblebee Goby is a perfect choice and needs only a 10-gallon tank to live happily. Instead of just sucking to the bottom of your tank, the Bumblebee prefers to swim around the bottom layer looking for food. They prefer a tank with plenty of plants to hide in and don’t take well to living with fish of the same species. In fact, the male Bumblebee Goby can often be a bit territorial. This is another small species and only grows to be a maximum of four inches.

While the Bumblebee Goby do prefer to live alone, they can be integrated into a community tank. It’s best to let them be the only bottom feeder as they may end up bullying other fish. When they are first introduced, they do tend to act shy, so give them a few days before deciding how well they have adjusted to your community. Like their name states, they are a mixture of yellow, black, and black stripes, with the males often having brighter coloring.

Bumblebee Goby tend to eat free-floating food and prefer live shrimp that they can chase down. Avoid algae wafers for this species, and instead, add in some frozen shrimp or flakes. This picky eater usually lives for around four years.

Blue Velvet Shrimp

Blue Velvet Shrimp

Blue Velvet Shrimp by keen-eyed

This is a bottom feeder that will add a bright splash of color to your tank. These shrimp can live in a tank as small as 5-gallons in size. Blue Velvets have a great reputation for being a good beginner fish, especially if your tank needs extra cleaning. Their small size does put them at risk for getting caught in the filter as their full-grown size is usually around two inches. You will also need to keep multiple Blue Velvets in one tank for optimal cleaning.  

Like the name suggests, the Blue Velvet has a bright electric blue coloring that makes them easy to find. In general, they can do well in a peaceful aquarium, but larger fish may easily find themselves snacking on the blue velvet. This is especially true if you have fry in your tank. In general, if you have any small species of shrimp, you should expect a few of them to eventually get eaten.

Blue Velvet Shrimp are able to eat pretty much any type of fish food. They are scavengers by nature and take pleasure in digging out food particles from the substrate. To ensure they are getting enough to eat, you can add in an algae wafer or even pick up some shrimp food. On average, a Velvet Shrimp will only live around two years max.

Nerite Snail

Nerite Snail

Nerite Snail by Psychlist1972

Nerite Snails are a perfect choice if you want to add a bottom feeder to an established community. The Nerite Snail is happy in a slightly dirty environment and only needs a tank size of 5-gallons. In fact, the species will fare best in a tank that has living plants and been through a few water cycles. Nerite Snails are extremely small and will only reach a half an inch in size for most breeds. Like with shrimp, you will need multiple Nerite snails for cleaning, especially if you have a larger tank.

Since Nerite Snails are so small, it can be easy for them to be consumed by larger fish. Even some larger peaceful fish may end up confusing your new snail colony for food. It’s best to keep these snails in a peaceful community full of small fish, preferably ones who like vegetation. There are many different colors and shell patterns of the Nerite Snails, including zebra patterns, plain colors like black and white, and even a horned variety.

Like most snails, this species is a vegetarian. They love to eat the algae and live plants in your tank. To help with their diet, simply add in some algae wafers. The average Nerite Snail will live for around two years.

Orange Head Geophagus

Orange Head Geophagus

Geophagus by LHG Creative Photography

The Geophagus does well in larger aquariums and should be housed in no less than a 55-gallon tank. They prefer to live in tanks with a large quantity of live plants or driftwood to hide in. This is a rather large bottom feeder that can grow to be around ten inches in size. You should avoid housing more than one Orange Head at a time unless you have ample room in your aquarium to provide each fish with their own sifting grounds.

This species prefers to have calm, peaceful tank mates. They don’t tend to eat smaller fish and tend to stick to the bottom of the tank. The Orange Head Geophagus body is made up of a plethora of colors. On the species body, you will find thin black stripes, a reddish-orange had, and blue fins.

This species feeds itself by using its mouth to sift through sand to find food particles and invertebrates. This fish will need a fine sand substrate and can be fed using brine fish. To ensure your Orange Head is getting the proper amounts of nutrients, you should only feed it high-grade foods. This species can live up to three years.

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eater

Siamese Algae Eater by  carolineCCB

The Siamese Algae Eater is a popular choice for Algae management that can live in a 20-gallon tank or larger. It is an easy to care for fish that is often confused with the Siamese Flying Fox. They are a species that is able to easily be kept alone. This species comes from a warmer environment and prefers a tank with tons of vegetation. In fact, when this fish isn’t looking for its next meal, it tends to spend its time in a hiding spot. Siamese Algae Eaters tend to grow around six inches in size.

Like many small fish, the Algae Eater does best in a tank with peaceful fish. They also are able to be kept completely alone or in a school if you need them to clean a larger tank. The species has a simple coloring, a white body with a single black stripe running through the middle.

Like the names implies this fish mainly lives off of consuming plant matter and loves algae. To make sure your fish stays fed, add in a few algae wafers. A group of Siamese Algae Fish can quickly destroy an algae population cutting off their own food supply. This fish has the ability to live for around ten years when in a proper tank environment. 

Zebra Loach

Zebra Loach

Zebra Loach by Memories Visual Depot

The Zebra Loach is slightly bigger than some other Loach species and needs to be kept in a 20-gallon tank at the smallest. This species prefers to only have a moderate amount of lighting, especially during the day when they are active. It’s important to have sand or smooth gravel substrate as this fish often likes to burrow. You will also need to have a balance of hiding spots and plants in your tank to make the Zebra Loach feel at home.

This is another species that likes to have a peaceful tank with smaller fish. The Zebra loach can be kept in groups of the same species if you need more cleaning power. Like the name describes, this fish has a zebra pattern of yellow and brown stripes.

Zebra Loaches get their meal by sifting through the substrate to find fallen vegetation or small invertebrates. It’s best you use a combination of fish flakes and small shrimp to feed this species. In particular, the Zebra Loach tends to enjoy eating bloodworms. The lifespan of this species is around five to eight years.

Picking a Bottom Feeder

The bottom feeder you choose needs to be compatible with your existing tank. Both the fish in your tank, water tempature, and substrate all need to be appropriate for a bottom feeder.

If you choose a small species like the a loach, then you will also have to consider if the fish will easily be able to get stuck inside of the filter or tubing.

In short, pick a fish that can survive in your tank or that you can easily make a community around.

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