glasscatfish 150x150 The Cleanup Crew

Glass Catfish

Having a team of fish in your aquarium can help you create a better balance.  The moment you put food in your aquarium, your team of eating machines spring into action.  Depending on who you’ve got on your team will affect how fast they can get the job done.  There are 5 positions in for your cleanup crew to fill.

At the top you have your team leader.  This position is filled by your most boisterous fish.  This could be your prized fancy goldfish, your arowana, your angelfish, or even your group of tetras.  The top position is filled with the fish you’re intending to feed.  Once they’re done ingesting their favorite treats, second in command takes over.

P10100241 The Cleanup Crew

Corydoras waiting for food.

The second in line are your more shy fish.  They’re the last one to go through the buffet line; only getting the leftovers.  Generally, this roll is filled by catfish.  For community tanks corydoras or loaches will work well in this position.  For African Cichlid tanks this is usually African catfish, such as synodontis catfish.  In large aquariums bichers and other large catfish can be used as the scavengers.

goldmystery The Cleanup Crew

Golden Mystery Snail

After these fish have done their work, it’s time for creatures further down the food chain to go to work.  Typically these are invertebrates such as snails and shrimp.  They’ll feed on the feces of other fish by extracting nutrients breaking the waste down further.  This can also be accomplished with sand sifting fish including some of the geophagus species, goldfish, and other select species.

shrimp The Cleanup Crew

Crypt. Parva, Snowball Shrimp, Tiger Shrimp, Endlers Livebearers.

The fourth stage of your cleanup crew is beneficial bacteria and live plants.  Both of these will feed on the end product of the lowest forms of waste.  The bacteria will process this waste and take it from toxic ammonia and turn it into less toxic nitrates.  Plants will generally use the nitrates as part of their growing cycle to create more plant mass turning the harmful nitrates into beautiful and lush plants.

P1000966 The Cleanup Crew

Water changes are a must!

The last in command is you, the on-call janitor.  Even though everyone before you did their job and broke down that waste, there still has to be someone to take out the trash.  There is no fish that will do this, they can only package it nice and neat for you to take out.  This means changing water and trimming plants.  If everyone pitched in this job should be easy.  Everything is ready to go and you shouldn’t have to do it too often.

One analogy that may further help you understand the way a cleanup crew works is a package arriving at an office building.  The package is the food that you “deliver” to your aquarium.  The first person opens the package and takes out the widgets they needed.  The second person takes the extra packaging and drops it off at the recycling room.  The next person sorts the Styrofoam peanuts into the garbage bin, the cardboard into the cardboard recycling and the paper into the paper bin.  The fourth person then takes all the bins and trash bags and sets them near the back door.  You the final person then takes it to the curb on trash day.

As you can see, when everyone pitches in, they all only did a tiny bit of work to get to the end result.  However, if some people are missing from the chain, the system may break down and you can lose some people in the middle of the chain, unless the next person in line picks up the slack.

With the proper cleanup crew in your tank, you should be able to predict where your waste is.  It could be in the gravel, in your filter, or even waste in the form of plants that may need to be pruned or culled.  Wherever it is, you need to be able to identify and remove it.

There are many different fish combinations that can be used to complete a cleanup crew.  Take some time to look at your tanks and see what might be able to add to help create a more efficient team.  One fishes feces is another fishes food!

Suggested Community Tank Crew:
The stars of the show – The Main attraction
Corydora Catfish
Red Ramshorn Snails
Good Filtration and easy to grow live plants such as Vallisneria
30% water changes once a month

Suggested Goldfish Tank Crew:
Goldish – Despite being labeled dirty fish are actually very clean, they clean up after themselves always sifting through the gravel.
Trapdoor Snails
Good Filtration
30% water changes twice a month

African Cichlid Clean up Crew:
African Cichlids of your choice
Synodontis Catfish and/or loaches such as clown loaches
Good Filtration and live plants such as Anubias
30% water changes once a month

Big Fish Clean up Crew
Arowanas, Stingrays, Oscars etc.
Bichers, Loaches, Catfish that will fit your tank size.
Crayfish if the other scavengers will allow it.
Good Filtration, big canister filters or a wet/dry
30% water changes every week to two weeks.
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P1000640 The Cleanup Crew

Ranchu Goldfish combing the bottom for leftovers.