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Most of us aquarists would agree that a great and healthy fish tank is usually one that recreates a natural ecosystem as best as possible, meaning that it has a good degree of self-regulation and happy fish-life.
But many people ignore the help that Mother Nature can give their tank in the form of ‘Clean-up crews’ and leave out invertebrates that can make a real difference to the quality and aesthetics of your aquarium! Keeping some of these little buddies in your tank can save you money on treatments and additives to keep your water and tank fresh.
Here’s are some of the Best Fish Tank Buddies that you can add to your tank to help out with the cleaning!
There are lots of different kinds of shrimp available on the market, including marine and freshwater variants of different sizes depending on the size of your tank. These little algae cleaners keep your rocks and corals clear of algae and are one of the true hygienists of the aquatic world.
Be careful though! As with introducing anything new to your fish tank, it is best to read up on your chosen shrimp’s compatibility with your existing tank inhabitants. You wouldn’t want to lose any shrimp or fish by finding out too late that one of your fish is the natural predator or prey of that particular shrimp!
Work out the size of the job at hand too – adding too many shrimp to an aquarium might mean that they clean up a little too quickly and are left with no algae to feed off, causing starvation and lost shrimp, but otherwise your tank should provide them with everything they need.
A lot of varieties of shrimp look great too! Check out colourful critters like the Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
There are some seriously colourful sponges out there that can act as a natural filter for your fish tank. They become home to beneficial bacteria that break down nitrates and algae while adding a little colour and texture to your aquarium. If your tank has reached maturity, you have the right lighting to support sponges, and you are confident your water chemistry is pretty stable then a marine sponge can really give your filtration system a helping hand as well as being a colourful addition.
To get let a sponge thrive you need to let it attach itself to some rockwork as they can’t manage in sand substrates. There are lots of different types, from ball-sponge to tree sponge, but make sure you pick one that is compatible with the environment within your tank.
These aqua beauties are bottom feeding invertebrates, and ‘sand-sifter’ varieties can be great for sand or light gravel substrates. Not only do some varieties munch on the top layer of algae on the substrate, but some like to bury themselves a layer deep, kicking up previously stationary algae into the water to be disposed of by your tank’s filtration system.
Once again, be careful when choosing a starfish. Some species are more than happy to take a bite (albeit slowly) out of any sea urchins you may be keeping in there, so choose one that is going to be compatible with your existing aquatic fauna.
Slugs & Snails
While you might not want these guys in your vegetable patch, their aquatic cousins can really spruce up your aquarium. While shrimps and starfish have got your rocks and substrate covered, snails and slugs prefer the flawlessly smooth surface of the viewing glass, allowing them to feast on the algae that sticks to it. This improves your view of the tank and its’ contents and reduces the need for regular scrubbing with a magnetic algae scraper.
While the common garden slug or snail might be a little shy in the good-looks department, they have some pretty handsome aquatic relatives too – check out the Tiger Cowrie snail (Cypraea Tigris)! You can take a look at Sea Hares too!
These little crustaceans devour a multitude of aquatic detritus and tidy up the bottom of your tank. Apart from shrimps they are the most mobile on our list, much faster than most starfish and snails so they are your tank’s quick-cleaning response team!
Dead matter and algae are their favourites and they will scuttle about in search of anything your fish drop as well as solid algae. Some crabs also fan the water for free-floating algae particles that your filter may struggle to pick up due to their small size.
Selecting your clean up squad
There are plenty of clean-up crew buddies to help you out and add to the diversity in your tank ecosystem. The important thing to remember when choosing is something that we can’t stress enough – Compatibility.
You need to make sure your new fauna is compatible with the chemical balance in your tank – don’t add freshwater variants to your Marine tank. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to splash out on a costly crustacean to find out that you have simply provided your crustacean eating Marine Betta with an expensive meal…
But don’t be dissuaded. With a little research you can really enhance the health, diversity and look of your marine or freshwater tank with these naturally helpful little friends for little cost while making your regular cleaning tasks a little lighter.