Chinese Algae Eater – care and keeping

Chinese Algae Eater or golden algae eater (lat.Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) is not very large tank fish, that will help its tank owner to deal with algae in it. This is what we know from the theory, however, things are a bit different in the real life.

After being a tireless tank cleaner in its youth an adult CAE species changes its gustatory preferences and starts to fancy live food as well as it can even start to nip scales from its tankmates.

Habitat in the wild

The fish inhabits in mountain streams and lakes that flow over large part of Thailand and some areas of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam as well as in Borneo. Despite the fish name, it doesn’t inhabit in China.

Nowadays species caught in the wild are not exported, all chinese algae eaters you see on sale were bred in fish hatcheries.

The fish dwells in fast flowing streams and river tributaries with rocky bottom that contains field stones, pebbles, gravel and sand. Often these are areas with flooded trees and their roots.

This algae eater performs seasonal migration during which they can be encountered in more muddy waters and even in flooded coastal areas.


Natural coloring of the fish is quite variable. The species encountered in the wild are pale clay-colored with reticulate pattern and lateral dark stripe. Quite often the stripe breaks and forms a line of spots.

Though, golden colored species is more often encountered in tanks. It has solid yellow coloring (Albino Algae Eater).

However, this coloring is its only distinctive feature that makes it different from its wild relative.

The fish is a large one, in the wild it may grow up to 11 inches (28 cm) long, but in the tank size is about 5 inches (13 cm). Its average lifespan is about 10 years.

The fish has elongated body with inferior sucker mouth due to which chinese algae eater sticks to stones and scrapes algae fouling.

Gyrinocheilus aymonieri has a unique physiological organ – two branchial apertures through which water gets in and washes its gills.

This feature allows to free the mouth from the necessity to breathe and it is used only to cut algae from various surfaces. The mouth has pronounced lips and it acts as a sucker with rigid coarse lamellas.

Chinese algae eater vs Siamese algae eater

Difficulties in keeping

The fish is good both for beginners and experienced aquarists, though there are some peculiarities.

As a rule, is bought to deal with algae in a tank, but it grows to be quite large and doesn’t stand fishes of similar size and appearance.

Also it likes clean water and is sensitive to nitrates content in tank water. If you don’t keep the fish with tankmates of similar genus and the tank water is clean, chinese algae eater appears to be quite enduring and easily adapts to various tank water parameters.

Keeping in a tank

Scientific NameGyrinocheilus aymonieri
Common NameChinese Algae Eater, CAE
Tank size26 gallons and more
DietOmnivorous bottom feeders
Temperature75°F-80°F (24 – 27˚C)
Sizeup to 5 inches (13 cm)

Chinese algae eaters is an active fish that spends most of its time on the bottom. For the juveniles a tank of 26 US gallons (100 liters) is quite enough, for adult species a tank of 52 US gallons (200 liter) and more is required, especially if you have a group of fish in the tank.

CAE will feel fine in any tank if it has several shelters. You may also put tank plants and some snags in it. Bright lighting will ensure algae growth on plants and decorations, where the fish will constantly feed.

In such environment the fish will demonstrate more natural behavior and it can be kept together with many other active and spry fishes.

Gyrinocheilus is rather strong and enduring fish, that can adapt to a wide range of tank conditions. Wide range of water parameters suits the fish. Recommend water temperature is between 75°F-80°F (24 – 27˚C), acidity -pH 5.8-8.0. The fish prefers tank water reach with oxygen and strong water circulation.

Compatibility and tank mates

Chinese algae eater it’s quite aggressive fish!

As a rule CAE show aggression towards their kind and species with similar size, appearance and lifestyle – for example, SAE. In tank, especially a small sized one, only one fish can be kept; keeping a couple or a group of fish in such conditions will inevitably lead to death of the weakest species.

This genus is also not recommended as a tankmate for large slow fishes (goldfishes, discus).

CAE fish may damage their integument by sucking on it and scraping off the slime that covers body sides.

CAE are welcome in community tanks provided with active average sized tank mates. These can be pleco, tiger barb, clown loach, platy, swordtail or with african cichlids.

Keeping a group of CAE is one of the way to decrease interspecific aggression, but you should get at least 3-5 species and more, since they have hierarchic relations and in case of smaller group the fish may start pinching weaker species.


In the wild Gyrinocheilus feeds not only with algae and fouling on stones and plants, but with small maggots as well. That’s why, to keep the fish in good shape you should feed it with some live or frozen food from time to time.

Food such as bloodworm, daphnia and brine shrimp will do as well as high quality dry flakes and pellets.

Keep in mind, that if the fish is not hungry or overfed, it may stop eating algae and thus cleaning the tank. Except common live food and flakes you can feed the fish with spinach, cucumber, lettuce and cabbage leaves after pouring boiling water on them.

Young species are peaceful and excellently clean algae in a tank. Adult species are less hardworking in this respect and may show some aggression.


It is hard to define sex, though adult females are fatter, than males and they look more rounded. A reproductive male develops breeding “horn” on its head.


Breeding in home aquariums is quite complicated. Since 1955 young species of the fish were imported into Europe in large numbers. This testifies that CAE is a rather fertile fish.

Nowadays, the fish is bred in hatcheries using hormonal agents. One female can lay up to 3 thousand eggs.