Some aquarium critters spend all of their time sifting through sand, looking for food. Rock and glass cleaners spend their time browsing for algae on the aquarium walls and rocks, preferring to avoid the substrate. Reef safe algae eaters do their foraging without destroying your corals or other tank inhabitants.
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Reef Safe Hermit Crabs
Reef safe hermit crab species survive almost solely on a diet of algae and detritus. They spend all of their time crawling over the rocks and substrate in your tank. Being smaller in size, they won't rearrange your tank's "furniture."
Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab (Clibanarius tricolor) grows to a size of about 1 inch as it eats all kinds of algae, including red slime algae.
Dwarf Red Tip Hermit Crab (Clibanarius sp.) eats many kinds of algae, including red slime algae (cyanobacteria) and sifts the sand.
Dwarf Yellow Tip Hermit Crab (Clibanarius sp.) is another small variety (1 inch), which allows it to get into all of the nooks and crannies in a reef tank.
Dwarf Zebra Hermit Crab (Calcinus laevimanus) has an enlarged left claw (hence its nickname "left-handed hermit crab"), which it uses to repel its enemies by holding the claw across the front of its shell like a shield. In the wild, this hermit crab is usually found inside the reef, hiding under rocks by day and out foraging for food at night.
Electric Blue Hermit Crab (Calcinus elegans) has bright blue legs with black banding and antennae of bright orange. Both claws are brownish-green in color and nearly equal in size. This crab consumes all types of algae, including red slime algae.
Electric Orange Hermit Crab (Calcinus sp.) is endemic to Hawaii, has bright orange legs, and unusually blue eyes. It grows to about 2 inches and eats detritus, uneaten food, and many kinds of algae. It also sifts the sand.
Halloween Hermit Crab (Ciliopagurus strigatus) has a body and legs that are bright orange with red banding. It grows to about 1 1/2 inches in size. It consumes many kinds of algae, including red slime algae.
Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) has red legs and a yellow face and grows to about 1 1/2 inches in size.
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Reef Safe Snails
Some species of snails cannot turn themselves over if they fall on their backs. These species greatly prefer to spend their time on the rocks and glass in your tank, rather than on the substrate. These snails are herbivores and will do a great job of cleaning your live rock and tank glass.
Chestnut Cowries (Neobernaya spadicea) are herbivorous snails that require plenty of diatom and microalgae to survive. If this animal runs out of algae, it will slowly die of starvation.
Margarita Snail (Margarites pupillus) eat a lot and will die if they run out of food, so great care should be taken to avoid overstocking the aquarium with these animals. They are a species of snail that can right themselves if they fall on their shell on the substrate.
Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.) come in a variety of shell sizes and markings and are very sensitive to copper and nitrate in the water.
Banded Trochus Snails (Trochus sp.) grow to about 3 inches in size and consume cyanobacteria and diatoms from rocks, aquarium walls, and the substrate. They do not eat macroalgae. Unlike most snails common to the reef aquarium, the banded trochus snail can right itself when knocked over.
Mexican Turbo Snails (Turbo fluctuosa) grow to about 6 inches in size and require plenty of diatoms and microalgae to survive. They will also consume hair algae off the live rock and aquarium glass.
Zebra Turbo Snails (Turbo sp.) grow to about 2 inches in size and also require plenty of diatom and microalgae to survive.
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Reef Safe Blennies
These blennies are herbivores and will spend all of their time eating the algae on your live rock and tank glass.
- Black Combtooth Blenny (Ecsenius namiyei)
- Short Bodied Blenny (Exallias brevis)
- Highfin Blenny (Atrosalarias fuscus)
- Linear Blenny (Ecsenius lineatus)
- One Spot Blenny (Crossosalarias macrospilus)
- Sailfin Blenny (Salarias fasciatus), also known as the lawnmower blenny because it devours green hair algae
- Segmented Sailfin Blenny (Salarias segmentatus)
- Starry Blenny (Salarias ramosus)
- Tail Spot Blenny (Ecsenius stigmatura)
- Two Spot Blenny (Ecsenius bimaculatus)
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Reef Safe Tangs and Surgeonfish
Surgeonfish make great reef tank glass and rock cleaners. Being herbivores, they eat only algae and leave your corals alone. However, some tangs can get too large for small tanks.
- Pacific Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus)
- Blonde Naso Tang (Naso lituratus)
- Red Sea Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma desjardinii)
- Clown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus)
- Purple Tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum)
- Chevron Tang (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis)
- Convict Tang (Acanthurus triostegus)
- Kole Tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus; consumes brown diatom algae)
- Goldrim Tang (Acanthurus nigricans)
- Orangebar Tang (Acanthurus olivaceus)
- Powder Blue Tang (Acanthurus leucosternon)
- Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens; loves algae and gets along with everything in the tank)
Blue Tang Surgeonfish. Georgia Aquarium, 2020