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7 Best Bottom Feeder Fish For Freshwater Aquariums

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If you want to automate some of the maintenance in your tank, adding a few bottom-dwelling fish to your livestock is one of the easiest, most entertaining ways to do it.

Bottom-dwelling fish help take care of the housekeeping while you get to enjoy seeing them interact with their environment. These fish enjoy cleaning.

Choosing the right bottom-dwelling fish for your tank, though, requires a bit of picking and choosing. You want to make sure that whatever fish you choose can be found in your local pet shops or fish store, while also making sure they’ll play well with your other tank mates.

7 Types Of Bottom Feeder Fish For Aquariums

Each type of bottom feeder has its own specific needs, personality, behavior, and level of care required to keep them happy and healthy.

To help you work through the process of deciding which are right for your tank, we have listed 11 of the most common types of bottom feeder fish for aquariums.

We have found these are the best fish for cleaning the bottom of a tank. The type you choose is entirely up to you. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll be able to quickly spot which species is perfect for the aquascape you have created for them.

Remember, we’re here to make general recommendations and give you the guidelines for each type of bottom-feeding fish. You will want to double-check to make sure the fish you are choosing to introduce to your tank will play well with your other tank mates.

#1 - Kuhli Loach

One of the best bottom feeder fish you can consider is the Kuhli Loach. This is an elongated, eel-like fish that make great additions to most tanks. They’re well-known for their ability to take care of your tank, keeping waste and food byproducts from building up.

However, they’re also known as being very good at hiding and staying burrowed until it’s time to do their light housekeeping tasks. The coloring and markings on Kuhli Loaches are some of the most distinctive we have seen on bottom-feeding fish.

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  1. Compatibility & Personality

    Kuhli Loaches are one of the least-aggressive bottom feeders you can add to your tank. They do prefer to be gathered with their kind, which means you can keep more than a few Kuhli Loaches without creating issues.

    Since these fish spend most of their time hiding away, our best advice is to avoid putting them in a tank with aggressive species. The aggressive species will cause stress in your Loaches and keep them hidden -- unable to fend for themselves.

  2. Habitat & Care Tips

  3. You’re going to see Kuhli Loaches spending most of their time burrowed into your substrate. That means you want to ensure they have fine gravel or sand they can use to hide under. Sharp rocks create potential issues for them when they’re trying to burrow.

    You will also need to cover the inlet and outlet tubes on your filter. Putting a screen over the pipes will help keep your Loaches out. You also want to add a screen to the top of your tank. We have heard numerous stories of Loaches breaching the tank and ending up on the floor next to it.

    If you want to watch your Loaches, you will need to add a nighttime light. These are a nocturnal species that prefer foraging during the later hours. If you want to supplement your Loach’s diet, you can add in blood and glass worms, in addition to the debris that collects in your tank.

  4. Lifespan & Average Size

    Most Loaches are a smaller species. They tend to grow around 4 inches in length and reach full maturity within a year or two. If you keep them healthy, a Loach can bless your tank for up to 10 years or more.

#2 - Zebra Loach

Another one of the best bottom-feeding fish for your tank are Zebra Loaches. The Zebra Loach got its name from the zebra-style stripes lining their bodies.

These are some of the hardiest fish you can add to your tank. The Zebra Loach can withstand significant fluctuations in your water quality without becoming too stressed or developing illnesses.

  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. Zebra Loaches, like their Kuhli cousins, are quite docile. However, where the Zebra Loach varies is that they will defend themselves if provoked. Zebra Loaches love to play around with their tank mates, which can create stress for more non-aggressive species.

    Like Kuhli Loaches, Zebra Loaches prefer to be kept with multiple fish of their species. They do get along with most other types of fish but will feel more at home when they are being held with their kind.

    However, it is worth noting that you do not want to include Zebra Loaches with Cory Catfish. Both are known for being territorial and will get aggressive with each other, given the opportunity.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. Another area where Zebra Loaches differ from their cousin, the Kuhli Loach, is that Zebra Loaches prefer foraging during the daytime hours. They enjoy hiding in and around plants, logs, rocks, and other water features.

    Zebra Loaches also enjoy burrowing into your substrate. If you’re going to use rocks and gravel, you want to make sure that the substrate doesn’t have any jagged or rough edges. Sand is the best choice.

    Zebra Loaches aren’t as tolerant of swings in your water quality so you will be required to monitor your pH levels, ammonia levels, nitrates and nitrites more often. You also do not want to keep bright lights in the tank with Zebra Loaches.

    You can supplement your Zebra Loach’s diet with the same blood worms and glass worms, as well as frozen or freeze-dried foods from your local fish store.

  5. Lifespan & Average Size

    Zebra Loaches, like their cousins, stay reasonably small. At full-growth, they will reach 4 inches in length and can live for around ten years when properly cared for.

#3 - Yoyo Loach

YoYo Loaches, or Reticulated Loaches (as they’re sometimes referred to), are another Loach that has a very distinctive pattern. Most people believe the YoYo Loach got its name from the combination of the letters Y and O on their skin.

  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. The YoYo Loach is one of the most favored types of bottom-feeding fish because they display far more personality than many other species. These are known to be playful and active when they’re kept with other non-aggressive species.

    Some owners have even reported that YoYo Loaches are self-aware, playing with their owners whenever they recognize their presence. If you keep YoYo Loaches with the wrong types of fish, though, they will become aggressive towards the more non-aggressive species. These fish have been known to be territorial.

    YoYo Loaches, like Zebras and Kuhlis, prefer being kept with a few of their kind. Matching their personality to other semi-active, non-aggressive fish is highly advised. YoYo Loaches have been known to gang up on more docile species of fish, so you want to take note of who you’re keeping them in the tank with.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. Another area where YoYo Loaches begin to differ from Zebra and Kuhli is that they are far more susceptible to developing sickness and disease if your water quality rapidly fluctuates. They are not as tolerant of changes in conditions as their cousins are.

    Sand is one of the best substrates for YoYo Loaches. They’re known for burrowing and staying hidden until nighttime. These Loaches prefer to eat protein-based food sources, such as blood worms and brine shrimp.

    If you’re planning to add YoYo Loaches to your tank, you want to make sure you have a good screen over the top of the tank. These fish are known to jump out, given the opportunity.

  5. Lifespan & Average Size

    Some tank owners have reported that their YoYo Loaches have lived for up to 15 years in captivity. Most YoYos, though, will live between 5 to 10 years, given your conditions are well-maintained. These Loaches grow to around 5 inches in length at full maturity.

#4 - Bristlenose Plecostomus

One of the best bottom feeders for a 10-gallon tank is the Bristlenose Plecostomus. These are a unique looking fish that are great for keeping your tank cleaned. Because they grow to the size of their surroundings, keeping them in a 10-gallon setup works just fine.

  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. The Bristlenose Plecostomus is a relatively laid-back fish. They are slow-moving and get along with most other fish you have in your tank.

    You do want to make sure you’re keeping them away from aggressive species, such as Cichlids, because the docile Pleco may find itself under constant pressure.

    Plecos are one of the most well-known algae eaters for freshwater aquariums. They spend their days slowly moving from spot to spot, cleaning up algae as they go. If you’re looking for a housekeeper that pulls their weight, the Bristlenose Plecostomus is a great choice.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. Bristlenose Plecostomus’ prefer being in and around plants. Any area where they can feed on the plants and the algae in your tank is a healthy environment. These fish also prefer having flowing water and will consistently position themselves near the outlet on your filter.

    Bristlenose’s are a nocturnal species. You’ll find them most active during the nighttime hours, while they keep themselves hidden during the day. If you want to supplement their diet, you can buy Pleco-specific food from your local fish or pet store.

  5. Lifespan & Average Size

    The Bristlenose Pleco will grow to around 6 inches in length when they reach full maturity. If you are planning to add one to your 10-gallon tank, you’ll want to keep them by themselves.

    However, if you are maintaining a larger tank, adding more than one won’t hurt. These are smaller than the common Pleco that can grow to around 12 inches in length, making them great for smaller tanks.

#5 - Cory Catfish

Cory Catfish are another fantastic bottom feeder that works well in most tanks. These catfish have a hard plating over their body, which helps them survive against more aggressive species.

As their name implies, these fish are known for their catfish-like whiskers on the front of their face. These barbels help them track food and are used as an extra sense.

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  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. Cory Cats are another relatively-docile and non-aggressive species. They are known for getting along with just about every type of freshwater fish, except the more aggressive species. If you have fish that are known to be aggressive in your tank, you want to avoid Cory Cats.

    Cory Catfish will usually not defend themselves. Instead, they will find a place to hide and stay put until they develop an illness that puts their life in harm’s way. Before you decide they’re a good fit for your tank, you want to identify which fish could become potential predators for them.

    Cory Cats do prefer being kept in larger groups of fish, especially when other Cory Catfish surround them. Keeping them inside of a school of their kind helps them maintain their health and brings out their natural personalities.

    Seeing these fish group together and swim in sync is one of their most entertaining features.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. When Cory Catfish are in their natural, wild habitat, they are known for hiding in and around plants and rocks. When you keep them in captivity, you should attempt to replicate this same environment.

    Cory Catfish prefer living in and around sand, instead of gravel. The rough edges on gravel will harm the Cories. You also want to make sure you have plenty of undercurrent and water moving around inside of the tank. This helps mimic their natural habitat, where water is consistently flowing around them.

    Cory Cats also prefer living in and around plants. Keeping moss and ferns, as well as Hornwort and Pennywort in your tank, will give them plenty of cover.

  5. Types Of Cories

    One of the most significant selling points for Cories is that there are so many different subspecies to choose from. You can mix and match and watch your Cories thrive in healthy conditions.

  6. Albino Cories - Albino Cories are a white/pink catfish that is beautiful to watch and keep. These are some of the more active Cories you can find, too.

    Peppered Cories - Peppered Cory Catfish are known for their black and silver markings. These are some of the most common Cories and are the easiest to find.

    Panda Cories - Panda Cory Catfish, as the name implies, resemble a Panda Bear. They have a lighter-coloured body with dark marks surrounding their heads and tails. Being a common subspecies makes it easy to find.

    Pygmy Cories - Pygmy Cory Catfish, is, as the name implies, a smaller subspecies of Cories. They grow to around 1 inch in length when they reach full maturity, which makes them great for smaller tanks. These Cories will spend most of their time around the center of the tank while their cousins will prefer hiding around the edges.

    Sterbai Cories - The Sterbai Cory Catfish is one of the most attractive subspecies we’ve featured. Many tank keepers prefer the Sterbai because of their distinctive coloring and gorgeous patterns.

    Julii Cories - The Julii Cory Catfish features amazing stripes that allow you to get lost in their visual appeal when you sit and watch them interact with the tank. While these are some of the most beautiful Cories, they are also some of the rarest. You may have a hard time tracking down a Julii Cory Catfish.

#6 - Otocinclus Catfish

Ottos, or Otocinclus Catfish, are commonly known as a “suckerfish”.

While they are a catfish, they differ from what most people think about when they hear “catfish” because they do not share whiskers on the front of their face. This lack of whiskers often gets them confused with other species of bottom-dwelling fish.

  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. Otto Cats are another non-aggressive species. They play well with most tank mates, especially other non-aggressive fish. If you want to diversify your livestock, you can easily add Otto Catfish in with Cory Cats, shrimp, and snails without much worry.

    You do want to avoid adding Otocinclus Catfish to your tank if you have aggressive species, such as Cichlids, Goldfish, Oscars, and Convicts. These energetic species are sometimes known for eating your Ottos.

    Otto Catfish do thrive when they are being kept with their kind. You’ll find them schooling and burrowing together, even maintaining the tank in a small school.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. Ottos primarily feed on algae, but you can supplement their diet if they are doing too good of a job of keeping your tank clean. You can drop in bits of zucchini or algae wafers. It’s highly advised to keep these fish in a tank with plants, so they have plenty of places to hide.

    You also need to ensure that you are keeping your tank conditions and water quality consistent. Otto Cats do not do well when the water conditions are constantly fluctuating. Large swings in temperature could prove fatal for your Otocinclus Catfish.

  5. Lifespan & Average Size

    These are another smaller species of bottom feeders. At full maturity, they will grow between 1 inch to 2 inches in length. If you keep your conditions stable, your Otto Cats can bless your tank for up to 5 years or more.

#7 - Algae Eater (Siamese)

The Siamese Algae Eater is a small bottom feeder fish that is closely related to the carp family of fish. They are an easy-to-find species that are readily available in most of your local pet shops and fish stores.

The Siamese Algae Eater is considered a delicate species that makes a great addition to nearly any freshwater aquascape that isn’t littered with aggressive species.

  1. Compatibility & Personality

  2. Siamese Algae Eaters are not known for being an aggressive species of fish. However, they are a very energetic species. These fish have gotten the nickname “The Flying Fox” because they are always on the move.

    It’s worth noting, though, that being more active can sometimes cause your more docile fish to begin stressing out. These fish do best when they are kept in a small school of their kind, usually as the only type of algae eater or bottom feeder.

    However, they can easily be kept with other fish, too.

    You can include a Siamese Algae Eater in your tank if you have other fish, such as barbs, tetras, gouramis, guppies, and Cory Cats. When you keep them with other Siamese Algae Eaters, you’ll begin seeing their personality come alive.

  3. Habitat & Care Tips

  4. A Siamese Algae Eater is one of the most versatile fish you can find. They quickly adapt to most tank conditions and are one of the hardiest species we’ve featured. These fish are known to start looking for food as soon as you introduce them to your tank.

    They prefer living inside of a planted tank, too. This helps them track algae and keep themselves hidden when they’re feeling less-than-active. They will keep your tank free of any algae blooms and waste created by your aquatic plants.

    Siamese Algae Eaters also aren’t known for being incredibly picky about what they feast on. If you notice that they are doing too good of a job at keeping your tank clean you can supplement their diet with algae wafers, flakes, and even live foods, such as brine shrimp.

  5. Lifespan & Average Size

  6. Siamese Algae Eaters are known to stay relatively small compared to other bottom feeders. At full maturity, they will reach around 5 inches to 6 inches in length. Because they are a hardy species, Siamese Algae Eaters have been known to live longer than ten years, in the right conditions.

Tips For Keeping Your Bottom-Feeders Happy & Healthy

  • Make sure that the bottom-feeding fish you are thinking about keeping will play well with the other species in your tank. Most are known for being docile and non-aggressive!

  • Ensure that the fish you are thinking about adding to your tank will have enough room to grow and thrive. Buying a large fish for a small tank is a bad idea!

  • Make sure you are keeping similar species together in a habitat they will thrive in. Adding fish that prefer sand to a tank that has gravel is a recipe for disaster.

  • Before you introduce any new fish to your aquascape, you want first to make sure that you are correctly cycling the water. Then, keep an eye on the conditions, so they remain in a range that your new livestock prefers!

  • Avoid adding aquascaping that has sharp, rough, or jagged edges. While some fish do prefer these types of decorations, many bottom-feeders will injure themselves.

  • If you want to make sure your bottom-feeders have enough to eat, you can supplement their diet with algae wafers and other foods. However, you want to make sure that your bottom-feeders can get enough food to eat. Sinking pellets work great for this.

  • You need to avoid overstocking your tank. Including too many fish for your tank’s size not only creates a situation where you could cause stress in all of the fish, but it also requires your bottom feeders to work harder. It leads to unhealthy conditions!

What Are The Best Bottom Feeder Fish For Freshwater Aquariums?

In our experience, Cory Catfish, Siamese Algae Eaters, and Plecostamus are some of the best bottom-feeding fish you can put in nearly all freshwater tanks.

You do want to make sure you are keeping them with other non-aggressive species but, in the right conditions, these fish will give you hour after hour of entertainment and meditation.

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Aqueon Bottom Feeder Fish Food Tablets, 3-Ounce Pouch
Nutrition for bottom-feeding fish; Formulated so that fish utilize more of what they eat and create less waste
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Tetra ShrimpWafers Complete Diet for Catfish and Loaches 3 Ounce
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