Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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AbbeysDad 04-11-2013 09:26 AM

Cleaner fish/Scavengers: friend or foe
Some time ago in my never ending research on water purification I came across an article that focused on lowering nitrates. I was struck by comments the author made suggesting that cleaner fish or scavengers (bottom feeders, snails, etc.) were a bad thing. He wrote: "As an analogy; if you had a small child that is constantly spilling and making messes, would you "baby sit" this small child with your dog that is never let out? I think you would find the "Messes" eventually left from the dog to be just as bad and likely much worse."

Now I think the author just isn't thinking organic decomposition all the way through. ALL organic waste will eventually be broken down into it's basic elements. The scavengers are merely part of a process that would just take a little longer if they were not present, but the end result is the same in terms of the 'final product'.

What do you think?

reference: Aquarium Nitrates; Lowering Nitrate Levels, How to Control

Chesh 04-11-2013 10:42 AM

Haha, I'd be dead in the water (no pun intended) if I didn't own two Cheerio-loving dogs to help me 'clean up' after the tots! Of course, they have their own dogrun to put their messes into, lol. . .


• Reduce Fish, this includes "Cleaner Fish" or similar; this is similar to the above recommendation as less fish or other inhabitants (crabs, shrimp, snails, etc.) means less organic waste.
As well I should address the often implied Urban Myth about "Cleaner Crews"; adding fish such as Plecostomus to clean your aquarium only cleans cosmetically. The facts are this fish or similar dumps far more organic waste than they take in and in fact while algae might be unsightly, removing it via a plecostomus not only removes a life form that removes nitrates, but adds a life form that adds much more to the nitrates. Snails are even worse in this respect.
I am not suggesting that fish such as Plecostomus should not be kept, but if you are keeping these (along with snails, both freshwater or marine) thinking these are keeping your tank bio load lower and thus nitrates lower, you have them for the wrong reason.

As an analogy; if you had a small child that is constantly spilling and making messes, would you "baby sit" this small child with your dog that is never let out? I think you would find the "Messes" eventually left from the dog to be just as bad and likely much worse.
I think it's a valid point, depending on the target audience. YOU are reading this article with a comprehensive understanding of the subject, but my guess is that most people likely to stumble onto this are struggling with a problem they don't fully grasp. . .

I can't even begin to count how many people told me that a Plec was necessary to any tank as a cleanup crew, and we know full well where this thinking leads without understanding. . . the same applies to other critters, snails being a prime example. In a poorly managed tank snails (depending on the type) are more likely to be given more than enough 'waste' to thrive and multiply out of hand, adding to the bio-load, and thus, the nitrate problem. I've seen so many posts where people recommend adding livestock to a tank in order to 'fix' a problem, without ever addressing the initial cause. If a beginner were to take said advice, I think that, ultimately, he would find himself in a more difficult situation than he was in the first place - probably with higher nitrates, in this situation!

Other methods of controlling nitrates are mentioned in the article, including water changes, vacuuming, reducing stock, reducing food, cleaning filters, adding plants - all sound advice, and put in such a way as to be easily understood by a beginner. . .

So yeah. You're right - cleanup crews are nice to have around, and beneficial to the tank in which they live - provided that things are kept properly maintained and balanced. But from the perspective of a beginner struggling with nitrate issues, I have to say that this is a decent article that touches base on a lot of valid points, and should provide a decent framework of understanding that will *hopefully* allow the reader to solve their problem in a manner that would work best for their individual situation, and come away with a better general understanding of how aquariums work.

. . . and once they understand a little bit better how nitrate works, THEN they can put the plec back in. . . :-)

JDM 04-11-2013 11:14 AM

Tank cleanliness is not up the the fish, that's up to us. In the wild the water volume is so large as to not be an issue, fish per gallon is more magagallons per fish.

The analogy of the messy kid is a poor one as it is not workable on any level. The dog would die fairly quickly if you left it with the kid as it's only source of food... actually, the kid might end up being the food source depending upon the dog and the messes are a secondary result.

I think that any fish or invertebrate just needs to be accounted for in the whole cycle and balance. Get fish that you want to keep, not specifically to deal any issue UNLESS the fish is desirable to be in the tank. Personally I don't count the snails as, like you said, they just speed up the process... or I count them differently than fish perhaps.


fish monger 04-11-2013 11:35 AM

With said creatures, in a well managed tank, the goal should be to provide the proper habitat for them, not for them to provide the proper habitat. Beginners are usually at the mercy of the very off hand advice given by beginners at pet shops. I was. "Get catfish to clean up extra food, poop, etc." That being said, there is no doubt that some creatures do break down waste further to make it easier for plants, bacteria to use. I agree that you shouldn't get a creature to cure the ills of a tank.

Byron 04-11-2013 11:45 AM

One must keep things in context, both within that article and in an aquarium.

It is certainly true that plecos produce a lot of waste and add a lot to the bioload, in comparison to other fish. This is why one must think carefully before getting one. And to get one to "clean up" algae or whatever is obviously a mistake. So in that context he is correct.

I don't know who the author is ["Carl" is at the bottom of the article], or when this was written. But it is now accepted wisdom to keep nitrates below 20ppm max. And below 10ppm is better. And the comment on snails is a bit off. Snails, at least the "common" small ones, eat organic waste and break it down further so that the various bacteria/archaea can get at it quicker; this is obviously a plus.


MoneyMitch 04-11-2013 03:21 PM


Originally Posted by JDM (Post 1718785)
Tank cleanliness is not up the the fish, that's up to us.


couldn't agree more.

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