Critters for that Clean Up Crew!

 

Overtime uneaten food, waste and algae often build up in an aquarium and unless you are personally going to improve your maintenance schedule then I recommend you get some help to overcome these issues. This is where your clean up crew comes into action. When I say clean up crew I don’t mean a team of maids come charging in and give everything a deep clean. Instead you get round the clock care performed by hard working little critters that will munch their way through left over food and unsightly algae. Sounds good right? Well here are a few things you need to know about the critters involved in this necessary team.

 

 

A clean up crew is a team of critters that help eat left over food and keep algae under control. I personally would be lost without the little team I have. They aren’t the prettiest of creatures but if you are trying to create a sustainable ecosystem then you are going to need them. After all, would our towns and cities work if we didn’t have bin men and cleaners?

 

We can only do so much in terms of maintenance and often need help from mother nature and her creatures. These creatures come in the form of shrimps, crabs, snails, star fish and urchins (and sometimes a fish). Some are reef safe and others depend on the individual critter, some are great for a newly set up tank and others need a mature system.

 

Below you can find a list of creatures that are often used as part of a clean up crew, many of which I personally use in my own aquariums. However there are many other Shrimps, Crabs, Snails etc. that can be kept within the aquarium. The list below is simply a good choice of creatures that are commonly used as part of a clean up crew.

 

 

# Shrimps

 

Shrimps are a personally favorite of mine, they come in many forms and all do similar jobs within the aquarium.  They will eat pest critters and keep their numbers under control. They will also scavenge on any left over food preventing it from rotting at the bottom of the aquarium. As an added bonus many shrimps are reef safe.

Below are some of the most common shrimps used within the hobby;

 

 

# Peppermint Shrimp

 

The peppermint shrimp is part of the ‘cleaner’ shrimp family and is often considered more of a scavenger than a cleaner. These shrimps will tend to move around the aquarium eating left over food or smaller critters found on the live rock. A true peppermint shrimp may also eat glass anemone however this tends to depend on the individual shrimp as some will eat these anemone and others won’t.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 0.5 – 1.25 Inches

 

 

# Banded Coral Shrimp / Boxing Shrimp

 

The Banded Coral Shrimp is often a shy shrimp as they often hide within the rock work for up to 1 or 2 days at a time. This shrimp should be kept on its own or as a mated pair as they will become aggressive towards other Banded coral shrimps. Larger shrimps are likely to kill smaller inverts within the aquarium but prove peaceful towards fish and corals. These shrimp tend to be intolerant to high levels of copper and nitrates so a mature aquarium tends to be better to house this individual.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Semi-aggressive

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 3 Inches

 

 

# Cleaner Shrimp

 

The cleaner shrimp is possibly my favorite of all the shrimps. They are peaceful, beautiful and serve as a great part of any clean up crew. They are considered the medic of the reef as they will remove parasites from many fish and mammals of the oceans. Like all inverts the cleaner shrimp is intolerant of copper based medicines or high nitrate levels.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 2 Inches

 

 

# Crabs

 

Crabs are an interesting addition to any aquarium and are often full of personality. Many crabs will often pray of fish and pick at corals so been able to identify the type of crab you have in your aquarium is a must.

Not all crabs are a pest, some can be helpful within the aquarium and prove to be a valuable member of a clean up crew.

 

 

# Emerald Crab

 

This hardy little crab will eat many forms of algae and other meaty items within the aquarium. I have had these little crabs for years and they are great little scavengers eating all forms of uneaten food. As an added treat they will take many forms of frozen food and often love a bit of seaweed.

Caution must be shown as there has been cases of these crabs picking at corals however this can simply be avoided by ensuring the crabs are well fed. I have never had a problem with the two I have but they are fed on a regular basis.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Semi-aggressive

Reef Safe – With Caution

Size – 2.5 Inches

 

 

# Blue Legged Hermit Crab

 

The Blue Leg Hermit Crab is a small hermit that is one of the most commonly used critters as part of the clean up crew. As hermit crabs do, they live in the shells of snails and move to a bigger shell as they grow. If there are not empty shells within the aquarium they may kill snails to obtain a new home. If you are going to keep hermits and snails together then I recommend you keep empty shells within your aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes (If starved they may eat corals)

Size – 1 Inch

 

 

# Red Legged Hermit Crab

 

The Red Legged Hermit Crab is basically the bigger form of the Blue Hermit. They have basically the same needs and do virtually the same job within the aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes (If starved they may eat corals)

Size – 1.5 Inches

 

 

# Snails

 

Snails are commonly used within a clean up crew and all have their own functions within the aquarium. Some spend all of their time grazing on algae on the rock work and glass while some spend their time within the substrate searching for left over food and other meaty items. The best option is to keep a selection of snails within the tank that will both eat algae, disturb the substrate and scavenge on left over food.

 

 

# Turbo Snail

 

As the names indicates these snails don’t move at a snails pace. Well, they aren’t exactly fast but for a snail they can move. They love nothing more than graze on algae on rock or the walls of your aquarium. The right amount in your aquarium will maintain algae and prevent blooms. There are many types of turbo snails from the Mexican Turbo to the Giant Turbo but they all do the similar role within the aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 0.5 – 1.5 Inches

 

 

# Nassarius Snail

 

The Nassarius Snail is ideal if you find your substrate is gathering muck and left over food. They bury themselves into the sand bed and scavenge for food. As a result of how they feed these snails are more suited to an established set up to ensure there is enough food.

Many reefers refer to these snails as ‘zombie’ snails as once they detect food in the water they rise from the sand bed in their hunt just like the waking dead. Nassarius Snails work well when combined with the Turbo Snail as the combination takes care of both the sand bed and algae growth.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 0.25 – 1.5 Inches

 

 

# Cerith Snail

 

The Cerith snail is a small scavenger with an elongated spiral shell that is usually black with tiny white dots covering the entire shell. One of the most ideal scavengers, detritus eaters, and algae eaters these snails are perfect for the reef aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 1.5 Inches

 

 

# Starfish

 

Starfish can be a great part of a clean up crew but only in a mature aquarium as they need plenty of organisms to feed upon. They do a great job of scavenging detritus and uneaten food that would otherwise rot. Below are a few species of starfish that are ideal in the home aquarium.

 

 

# Brittle Star Fish

 

A Brittle Starfish is often found on live rock as a hitchhiker and are found within many aquariums. There are many forms of Brittle starfish that range in size and all are a great addition to the aquariums clean up crew.

Brittle stars are nocturnal and often hide under rocks during the day. At night, they come out to eat detritus and small organisms. They cannot tolerate copper-based medications.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 2 – 10 Inches (Depending on type)

 

 

# Sand Sifting Starfish

 

These relatively bland looking creatures are bottom dwelling scavengers. They roam around the aquariums substrate eating detritus and uneaten food and are a great addition to any mature aquarium. At first glace they seem bland and colorless but at a closer inspection they have wonderful brown and beige markings.  They are great for turning over the aquariums sand bed.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 12 Inches

 

 

# Other

 

There are several other critters that can be recruited as part of your aquariums clean up crew. Below are a few examples of some that you may find in your local fish store.

 

 

# Pincushion Urchin

 

The Pincushion Urchin has an oval to round body covered with hundreds of uniform spines. Its color can range from red to purple to white and blue.

It requires ample hiding places and sufficient room in which to forage in the home aquarium. They are ideal at grazing on algae and clearing up left over food and detritus. Although some may prey on smaller inverts within the aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 8 Inches

 

 

# Spiny Urchin

 

The Spiny Urchin does the same job as the Pincushion Urchin in terms of a clean up crew. The main difference is the length of the spines on the urchins body. These urchins are unique and look great in an aquarium.

Due to the large spines they need a larger aquarium with room to move about to prevent them breaking. Boisterous fish often pierce themselves on the urchins spines and for this reason they are best suited to a peaceful communal aquarium.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 12 Inches

 

 

# Fighting Conch

 

They are excellent sand sifters, and very beneficial in the reef aquarium. As they burrow and dig through the aquarium substrate, they clean and aerate the bottom. Similar to snails but on a much larger scale.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 3+ Inches

 

 

# Sea Cucumber

 

It does well in a large aquarium if provided with ample room to roam. Generally, for every 3 inches of sea cucumber there should be 20 gallons of water. It prefers a thick sandy substrate so it can scour through the sand for organic foods.

Like all cucumbers there is a chance they can poison an aquarium. Although it is rare if the animal gets sucked up into a power head there is a good chance your aquarium may suffer.

 

 

Care level – Easy

Temperament – Peaceful

Reef Safe – Yes

Size – 12 Inches

 

 

# Tank Size

 

This is possibly the most important part of the whole post. Whatever type of clean up crew you want to have in your aquarium you must remember not to over populate your system. To many critters and there wont be enough food for them to eat. Many people over populate with the theory that more cleaners is better but this simply is not the case.

This post is simply to give you a brief overview of what the average clean up crew is made up of. When introducing any animal into your aquarium always do your research to find out what size tank they are suited to and how many you can keep in your system.

 

I hope this helped you decide what you want in your clean up crew or simply informed you of what a clean up crew is. If you want more information please just ask!

 

If you found this helpful support my cause and follow us on Facebook.

0