Staghorn algae (causes and therapy)

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Unfortunately, algae in your aquarium are an occupational hazard for everyone in your hobby. In fact, algae aren't all bad for your tank. These organisms convert waste products into oxygen through photosynthesis, helping to keep your water clean. Algae are a nuisance, however, as they cover your decorations, smother live plants, and obscure the glass.

In this article, we'll take a look at staghorn algae and show you how to get rid of them.

What are staghorn algae?

Staghorn algae (Compsopogon sp.) Are a type of red algae that form long strands of coarse gray-green growth, sometimes up to six inches or longer, that wave around in the current. Interestingly, if you take a piece of staghorn algae and soak it in alcohol, it will turn red.

The colonies of staghorn algae are soft, slippery and very fast growing, stubborn and extremely difficult to remove by hand. Green staghorn algae look very similar to the popular aquarium plant, Java moss, and newcomers to the hobby often confuse the two. Staghorn algae are extremely unsightly in the aquarium, grow on the edges of plant leaves and hold onto practically every surface. In appearance, these algae look very similar to black beard algae.

Is algae bad news for your aquarium?

Although they can look unsightly, algae are not particularly harmful to your aquarium. Like all aquatic plants, algae use organic nutrients like fish waste as a type of fertilizer and convert CO2 into oxygen, which is actually good news for your tank.

However, unlike many species of aquatic plants, which are sensitive to the amount of light and nutrients, algae are much less complex life forms that can thrive in far worse conditions than plants. Algae can use different light wave bands and live on organic compounds that are unusable for plants.

Some species of fish and many invertebrates eat algae, and the organisms make up a large part of the diet of some animals.

A small number of algae can also be a very natural looking and attractive feature in an aquarium.

On the other hand, most hobbyists do not appreciate the growth of algae algae in their tank, as it can choke sensitive live plants and make the tank look messy.

What causes staghorn algae?

Staghorn algae generally grow in planted tanks and develop from poor water circulation and / or low levels of CO2. In new tanks that have not been properly operated, high levels of ammonia often trigger the growth of deer algae.

Nutrient and slight imbalance

All forms of algae growth, including stag horn, are triggered by an imbalance of light and nutrients in the water.

But what does that mean?

Basically, living plants need just the right amount of nutrients and light to grow and flourish. However, if you provide too much light and too little food, algae will use the available light and multiply quickly, taking over your entire tank. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to create a perfectly balanced tank. How come? Well, the better the balance, the faster your plants will grow, so you'll need to prune them, change the amount of light and nutrients the plants need, and upset the balance again.

How to get rid of staghorn algae

Since there is always an imbalance between lighting and nutrient levels in your aquarium, your goal is to keep your aquarium as close to equilibrium as possible. Also, you'll need to add an algae-eating crew to control algae outbreaks.

This two-pronged approach can be very effective in fighting algae.

Use plant power!

While adding more plants during an outbreak of staghorn algae isn't the best idea, filling your tank with live plants is the best way to keep algae at bay.

This is because plants use available resources more efficiently than algae and bacteria. Healthy plant growth is therefore an excellent sump for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and potassium, all of which contribute significantly to large algae outbreaks. In fact, plants use these nutrients so efficiently that many hobbyists find they need to add more. When choosing plants to add to your aquarium, choose fast growing species to maximize nutrient use and starve algae.

Add a cleaning crew

Not all algae eaters eat red algae, including staghorn algae. However, there are a few options that can be thought of as a cleaning crew.

Siamese algae eater (Crossocheilus siamensis)

The fabled Siamese algae eater is one of the most insatiable members of the cleaning crew and gleefully eats staghorn algae to clean the tough, fibrous algae from plants, decorations and surfaces throughout the tank.

Otocinclus catfish

Otocinnclus catfish feed almost frenetically on whatever algae they can find. This is good news for you if you have stag horn and other different types of algae in your aquarium. These manic little guys are scraping algae from rocks and other surfaces throughout the tank, especially wood and leaves.

If you do decide to ingest some of these small fish, you will need to supplement their diets unless your tank contains unlimited algae. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Otocinclus to starve to death when the algae supply in their aquarium is depleted.

Amano shrimp (Caridina japonica)

Amano shrimp were first popularized in the hobby by their namesake Takashi Amano. These adorable little creatures will eat algae almost all the time, but they're tiny and you need a good number of them to dent a serious staghorn infestation.

Aquarium snails

Freshwater aquarium snails, while having a bad reputation, are extremely important in the tank's ecosystem and also eat detritus and algae. Yes, snails often eat plants, but they generally feed on dying parts of plants and remove the decaying matter before they can pollute the water column. Avoid species like large pond nails or apple snails in planted tanks as these do quite a bit of damage to your plants.

Reduce light

As mentioned earlier, reducing the amount of light in your tank can be very effective in stifling algae growth.

Aquatic plants get along quite well with eight to ten hours of light a day. More than that, and algae may start growing. So if you don't have a timer aquarium lighting unit, invest in a simple timer from your local hardware store and use it to limit the amount of light your tank receives on a daily basis.

Bring out the big guns!

There are a few products available that can help you remove staghorn algae if it becomes a serious problem in your tank.

The addition of liquid carbon to the water turns the algae white or pink after a few days of treatment and they die. The dead algae are quickly eaten by shrimp and other residents in your tank.

If this doesn't work, or you have a small local staghorn algae infestation, you can use what is known as the mist method, in which liquid carbon is applied directly to the algae.

Final thoughts

Staghorn algae are a nuisance in the aquarium. It looks unsightly and robs living plants of valuable nutrients.

You can take action to combat the algae by reducing the amount of light the tank receives each day, treating the water with carbon, adding more live plants, and introducing a group of algae eaters to cook a meal out of the offending organisms.

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