Taking Out the Trash: the Role of Cleaners in the Aquarium Ecosystem

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When most people look at an aquarium, they focus on the spectacular fish, and perhaps the plants or rocks get a few glances. But the truth is, a good aquarium is an entire ecosystem, with fish, plants, bacteria, and organisms all working together to create a healthy and beautiful environment.

One of the most important roles to fill in any ecosystem is the role of trash removal. We all know what happens in a city when garbage collectors go on strike: it’s not a good thing. Like people, fish generate waste that can build up and isn’t healthy for them over time. Fish waste and decaying food create ammonia, which can build up to toxic levels in a closed system like an aquarium. So a good aquarium includes beneficial little critters that take care of the waste and help keep the environment clean.

Of course, you also want your home aquarium to be beautiful and interesting, and fortunately, many of these helpful invertebrates are also attractive in an aquarium environment. Here are some good species to enlist for your cleaning crew:

Snails:

Snails are helpful for controlling algae, and will also scavenge for waste and leftover fish food. Some snails may also snack on aquarium plants, so choose a species that won’t harm your vegetation. Many aquarium owners love Nerite Snails; they are visually attractive, good for the ecosystem, and won’t eat plants, or breed and become a nuisance.

Lobsters:

Lobsters or crayfish scavenge tank waste and leftover food, add interest, and come in a variety of colors. They can be territorial and aggressive with their own species, though, so it’s better to keep just one. Hammars Cobalt Blue Lobsters are particularly eye-catching.

Shrimp:

In an aquarium, shrimp will eat algae, waste, and leftover food. They are also interesting to watch and are available in many colors. Beware that some fish think of shrimp as a tasty snack, so monitor the species interaction and give your shrimp plenty of hiding places. Fire Shrimp or Blood Shrimp are a striking color and helpful tank denizens.

Crabs:

Crabs are popular scavengers in home aquariums and are hardy creatures. They are particularly active invertebrates, and interesting to watch. However, they are not fully aquatic and will need access to dry land in order to survive. Fiddler crabs are fun in an aquarium, and many people keep them as pets in their own right.

Clams:

Clams act as living water filters and can be very easy to care for. They do well in aquariums with a number of living plants, and often nearly bury themselves in the substrate, invisibly busy cleaning the water. They shouldn’t be kept with fish that feed on invertebrates. Their shells are usually shades of brown, but some do have stripes for visual interest.

Even these famous scavengers will need some care of their own in an aquarium. Choose cleaning invertebrates that are compatible with the fish, plants, rocks, and water conditions in your tank. Many of these helpful species will need their own dietary supplements, even though they do primarily feed on the waste in the tank. And some fish will be tempted to eat the cleaning crew, so be mindful of how they will interact.

With proper care, these invertebrates will make a significant contribution to the health and beauty of your tank, and reduce the amount of algae and waste that you have to clean yourself. They also add interest and visual appeal to the aquarium ecosystem. All in all, cleaning invertebrates are necessary to the health of your aquarium and fish, and their bright colors and interesting behaviors make them fun and enjoyable as pets.

Contact Aqua Creations for more information on these attractive and essential aquarium inhabitants, and help keep your tank clean and healthy.

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