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Family: Gyrinocheilidae

Common Name: Chinese Algae Eater

Origin and Habitat: SE Asia: occurs over a wide area of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Inhabits flowing streams having substrates of gravel, sand and rocks where it grazes aufwuchs (algae mats containing crustaceans and insect larvae).

Compatibility/Temperament: As it matures this fish becomes aggressive, especially toward slow-swimming flat-bodied fish. Should not be kept with fish that remain close to the substrate such as cichlids or catfish. It has frequently been observed grazing mucus from the flanks of other fish. Best kept as a solitary specimen, or a group of 5-6 but only in very large tanks due to the conspecific aggression. Given its habits and eventual size, this is not a fish recommended for the community aquarium.

Chinese Algae Eater Diet

When young this fish will graze some algae from rocks and wood but it requires more basic prepared foods, frozen bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, etc. As it matures it eats even less algae.


Can attain 12 inches, but in aquaria usually 6 to 8 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches is the absolute minimum, preferably larger for a full-grown fish.

Water parameters for Chinese Algae Eater

Soft to medium hard (5-20 dGH), slightly acidic to basic (pH 6-8), temperature 22-28C/72-82F but long-term preferably no warmer than 26C/78F.


The common name for this fish, Chinese Algae Eater, is certainly misleading, since it is not found anywhere in China and is not a particularly good algae eater. Though (unfortunately) widely available in stores, this is definitely not a fish for the home community aquarium. In its habitat areas, large specimens are sold as a food fish in markets.

It occurs in flowing streams, clinging to the rocks, stones and sunken wood with its large suckermouth. In common with the suckermouth catfishes, this fish has an opening on the upper part of the gill cover that allows it to take in water without using its mouth, which is then able to be used to grasp surfaces.

Sexual dimorphism is not easily distinguished, but it is reported that males often have tubercles on the head; females are larger and plumper. Although there are no known reports of breeding in aquaria, it is farmed in large numbers in Asia through use of hormone injections. Some varieties have also been developed, such as the albino and golden, sometimes via injecting the fish repeatedly with artificial coloured dyes. Such practices must not be encouraged through purchase of such fish or support of any store selling them.

The fish in the family Gyrinocheilidae are morphologically unique from all other cyprinids. They lack pharyngeal teeth and barbels, and they have a small aperture at the top of each opercle which is what allows the fish to remain "attached" to another fish or rock, wood, etc. while water passes over the gills without having to enter via the mouth as with other fish.

The genus Gyrinocheilus was erected by L.L. Vaillant in 1902 and currently contains only three known species; the other two, G. pennocki and G. pustulosus, are very rarely if ever seen in the hobby. The genus name is derived from the Greek gyrinos [= tadpole] and cheilos [= lip], obviously a reference to this fish's rasping mouth.

This species was first described in 1883 by G. Tirant as Psilorhynchus aymonieri. In 1986 it was moved into the present genus by Kottelat in his review of the nominal species described by Tirant. It is sometimes seen under the species epithet kaznakovi that was assigned by L.S. Berg in 1906, but in 1993 Roberts & Kottelat determined that this was the same species so the name G. kaznakovi is now regarded as a synonym of G. aymonieri. G. monchadskii, described as a distinct species by Krasyukova & Gusev in 1987, was also determined by Roberts & Kottelat to be conspecific, and the name is therefore another synonym for the subject species.


Kottelat, Maurice (1986), "A review of the nominal species of fishes described by G. Tirant," Nouvelles Archives du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, Lyon Fasc. 24, pp. 5-24.

Roberts, T.R. and M. Kottelat (1993), "Revision of the southeast Asian freshwater family Gyrinocheilidae," Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 4, pp. 375-383.

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