Why marine tank janitors?

Today I am going to shed some light on a great boon for saltwater tank enthusiasts (especially reefers) and that is the purposeful selection of various saltwater aquarium species that make themselves very useful by:

  • Grazing on pest algae.
  • Consuming uneaten food, that otherwise would breakdown into nitrogenous waste.
  • Sifting and aerating sand for food morsels; thus minimising the need to    vacuum the base layer.
  • Cleaning the glass of algae and the like.
  • Feeding on and processing of detritus.
My favourite Starfish; the Blue Linckia.

My favourite Starfish; the Blue Linckia.

But this list is not the only benefit of these creatures, these invertebrates and fish species add personality to your tank, many are colourful and interesting to watch, they also help to complete your tank eco-system and aid your filtration system by breaking down waste.

A lot of aquarium writers state that these species should be some of the first you add to your tank, this is not so. Wait until your tank is established and already is housing quite a lot of the key species you intend to keep. The reason for this is that now there will be plenty of food for your clean up crew to thrive on when you add them in at this later stage.

Having biological “cleaner” species in your tank definitely does not mean you can stop doing maintenance yourself, these little guys will simply do part of the job for you and help make your life easier and your tank more sparkly!


Beware; it’s easy to make poor “clean team” choices…

Selecting a clean-up crew that will clean the tank, not prey on your existing pets and thrive in your tank is actually harder than you might think…

The bottom line is that there are many species offered for clean up purposes that are simply unsuitable for your tank because:

–    They will eventually starve from lack of enough suitable food.
–    They don’t have suitable habitats.
–    They will be preyed on by what you keep already.
–    They will prey on what you keep already.
–    They will reproduce uncontrollably.
–    They are added in numbers that cause problems.
–    They will have nasty interactions with other marine life that will cause a lot of problems for your tank…

Your aim is too create an eco-system that in part cleans itself, so a clean up crew must be taken seriously in regards to their collective wellbeing and the wellbeing of your tank as a whole. I find it very disappointing that many pet stores and LFS’s offer species that will cause problems for tank owners or will die quickly.

In terms of stocking levels, start with just a few of each carefully chosen species (for example 10 small snails) and see how they go, are they keeping up with algal growth/detritus processing after a few months? If not add a few more. Its much better to do it this way than watch your invertebrates slowly starve to death. Many people recommend 1 crab for every gallon and 1.5 snails for every gallon, I think halve this and see how you go.

Achilles TangMy recommendations for a good saltwater aquarium clean up crew:

1. Small hermit crabs (other sorts of crab are prone to snack on invertebrates and not only detrtus).

2. Snails: Turbos and Astrea snail are my favourites.

3. Marine worms: These unsung heros are very beneficial and process a lot of waste.

4. A good algae eating Tang, like a brown Scopas Tang.
Clean-up crew fish predators and other killers:

If you have Triggerfish, Parrotfish, Filefish, Pufferfish or Boxfish sadly the chances of many of your clean-up crew thriving may be slim…as is the case if you treat your display tank with copper or many other medications (which is why you need a quarantine tank!). In general it really pays to keep tabs on your crew and see how they are doing, as you would with your other marine pets.

Remember a good clean-up crew will and can never replace a regular maintenance schedule; it will merely provide you some assistance and some entertainment as you enhance your eco-system using nature!

Saltwater Aquarium Advice