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What Eats Fish Poop in Freshwater Aquariums?

What Eats Fish Poop in Freshwater Aquariums?

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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There are numerous clans of the “clean-up crew” that can help maintain and clean your freshwater fish tank. Snails, shrimp, Plecos, and Corydoras, do a fantastic job in getting to those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies in your aquarium.

However, do these crew members eat fish poop as happily as they munch on plant rest and uneaten food?

No freshwater fish eat fish poop as part of their diet. Even though you may see fish species like Plecos and Corydoras nibbling on the feces, you’ll notice that they typically spit the poop back out. Thus, use a vacuum to siphon the fish poop from the sand or gravel in the fish tank.

Despite the help from the clean-up crew and the slight possibility of eating poop, more tank mates in the aquarium inevitably equal more poop! Therefore, you’ll, unfortunately, have to get your hands dirty to remove the waste from the tank. Here’s how.

Do Fish Eat Poop in Freshwater Tanks?

A Pleco Near the Bottom of a Fish Tank

A common question asked by many aquarium hobbyists is how to get rid of all the poop in the fish tank, and are there fascinating fish species eager to do the job?

It’s a common misconception, but ultimately, no fish species will eat fish poop as part of their diet because the feces lack essential nutrients, a vital factor for all living organisms’ growth, development, and ultimate health.

However, to some extent, you may notice various fish species sniffing or nibbling on fish poop, especially if it’s still floating around in the water before settling on the sand or gravel substrates.

The truth is, fish generally try to eat anything and everything floating around in the fish tank. So, when they eat fish poop, it’s not deliberate. Instead, they most likely mistakenly ate the waste, thinking it was food.

If you keep a closer eye on the fish, you’ll notice that they spit the feces back out after tasting it.

Which Fish Species Are Most Likely to Eat Fish Poop?

Corydoras Hanging Out at the Bottom of the Tank

Now that we’ve cleared the air stating that there isn’t a fish species that solely eat fish poop as part of their diet, we can look into the ones most likely to eat waste products floating in the fish tank.

Plecos and Corydoras are the two most prone fish species to eat fish poop.

The reason is, most tanks have spots with low currents in their tanks where particles tend to settle. In addition, both species are bottom dwellers and avid algae-eaters.

They spend their day sucking algae off the glass and plants, turning over sand and gravel, searching for worms, dead plant matter, and leftover food.

While scavenging for leftovers, Plecos and Corys can mistakenly nibble or consume fish waste.

Lastly, even if you find that your Plecos or Corys are prone to eat fish poop, the waste lacks potential nutrients for them to thrive. So, you’ll need to provide additional supplements and food to nourish their bodies.

Do Snails and Shrimp Eat Fish Poop in Freshwater Tanks?

Snail in Home Aquarium

So, snails and shrimp are opportunistic feeders that roam around the tank in search of organic matter. But, with their obvious and seemingly non-fussy diets, do snails, and shrimp eat fish poop as well?

Snails and shrimp are willing helpers that thrive on organic matter and help to keep your freshwater tank clean. They scavenge between the gravel, sand, and rocks to feast on algae and decaying vegetation that provide most of the nutrition they need to stay healthy.

Snails and shrimp consuming algae and decaying matter helps get rid of impurities, keep the tank clean, slow down the water hardening process, and reduce ammonia in your freshwater aquarium.

However, as we explained earlier, fish poop is waste that ceases to provide any nutritional value to supplement snails or shrimp’s growth. So, snails and shrimp will not actively search out and eat fish waste even if it appears as they consume it.

The only time you’ll find snails and shrimp eating fish poop is from their scavenging nature. They test the waste to see if it’s a viable source of nutrients or if you aren’t feeding them an adequate diet with the right supplements.

Types of Snails And Shrimp That Eat Fish Poop in Freshwater

Amano Shrimp in Tank

In contrast to most snails and shrimp that avoid eating fish poop, conflicting opinions state that several snails, including Malaysian Trumpet snails and Bladder snails, occasionally eat fish poop.

In addition, there are two types of shrimp known for eating poop: Ghosts and Amano shrimp. Like other shrimp, they won’t benefit from eating fish waste and prefer alternative food sources.

Even though Ghost and Amano shrimp owners state that they eat poop, they only nibble on other fish’s waste when hungry and underfed.

You’ll also notice that they leave their own feces without touching it.

What Will Remove Fish Poop in Your Freshwater Tank?

Simply put, you!

Unfortunately, despite the many cleaning benefits of the clean-up crew, they do not help reduce fish waste in the tank. Instead, honestly put, they increase it; the clean-up crew also has to defecate.

However, don’t let this blind you to their benefits. These critters remove all the organic leftovers and impurities in your tank that would otherwise lead to toxic ammonia build-up.

Although fish poop can benefit your aquarium plants to a degree, the old fish waste eventually mixes with the aquarium water after breaking down into smaller particles.

These particles will contribute to hardening the water. When and how fast this occurs depends on the aquarium size, climate, and the amount of fish you own.

So, even though you have a handy clean-up crew, the best way to keep your tank clean is to do the dirty work yourself, either through water changes or vacuuming the gravel or sandy substrates.

How to Remove Fish Poop in Your Freshwater Tank?

Dirty Fish Tank Water

Before starting, note that there are two varieties of poop that you can expect in your tank. The first is organic waste, and the latter, inorganic waste.

Organic waste typically passes through the gills of fish and rapidly dissolves in water. Therefore, organic waste requires little manual care.

On the other hand, the latter requires more attention as it has an insolubility trait in water. As a result, you’ll generally see inorganic poop settled on the bottom of the gravel or sand in your fish tank, along with other debris.

The inorganic waste of freshwater fish does not dissolve easily into the water; the fish poop gets trapped between rocks, gravel, and sand on the aquarium floor.

You can either remove the fish poop by hand or vacuum to siphon the waste materials. Before using the vacuum, ensure that it doesn’t contain a toxic chemical that can harm the fish or alter the water pH and hardness.

The most efficient yet tedious way of removing fish poop from the freshwater aquarium is to clean the tank directly.

Removing Fish Poop from Sand

Manually cleaning your freshwater aquarium is a tedious task, but with help from a couple of tools, you can quickly get rid of the accumulating poop in the sand.

Picking up the fish poop by hand takes forever, and unfortunately, the waste breaks down into smaller pieces, leaving residues behind challenging to clean. In turn, this method also spooks the fish.

Therefore, save yourself time and effort, and instead, invest in a vacuum cleaner for aquariums to remove the fish poop of sand substrate.

You’ll first have to remove the fish and move them to a temporary location while cleaning their home. Then, remove all the rocks, ornamental pieces, and large gravel pieces.

You can store the fish in a polythene bag or a different fish tank. While doing so, ensure that you use the same aquarium water they were previously in; this will prevent altering temperature and water quality from killing the fish.

While vacuuming the sand, consider pinching the intake tube or using a filter at the front of the intake to prevent sand from being sucked into the filter. Additionally, rake the sand to make the fish poop float to the surface, then siphon them.

Alternatively, consider using a turkey blaster or a smaller vacuum for more accurate cleaning.

Removing Fish Poop from Gravel

Cleaning a Fish Tank with a Hand Pump

Fish poop is more challenging to clean from gravel than sand as fragments get trapped under the gravelly substrate.

Therefore, following a similar process to removing fish poop from sand, use a siphon vacuum to clean the tank. Thoroughly vacuum the gravel substrate to eliminate the excess fish poop and other organic or inorganic waste products.

Similar to cleaning sand substrates, remove the fish before vacuuming the tank.

In addition, if you have a heavily planted tank or a tank with loads of ornamental pieces, first remove the parts before vacuuming the tank. Alternatively, use a vacuum with a narrow mouth to avoid disturbing the plants.

However, if you don’t have a vacuum to clean the gravel, you can follow the manual process by placing the fish in a different location.

Then, remove all the water from the tank and pour the gravel into a bucket. Finally, thoroughly rinse the fish tank and gravel using a shower head or hose.

Then, place the gravel back into the tank and fill up the tank with clean, dechlorinated water. Be sure that the new water is the same temperature as the current water in the tank.

Use a Filter and Wavemaker to Rid of Fish Poop

Fish Tank

Another alternative method to regularly get rid of fish poop in your freshwater aquarium is to manipulate the water flow to your advantage. You can do this by aiming the wavemaker or filter across your tank’s substrate.

You can also use powerheads to generate the desired flow or adjust the flow of your tank by adding a sponge to the intake of your filter and increasing the flow. However, note that you should only increase the flow of your aquarium if your fish can tolerate it.

This way, the fish poop is directed toward the filter intake, causing most waste to move to the filter instead of sinking to the substrate. Of course, you’ll still have to vacuum the debris to remove the remaining poop from the tank, but it’ll be a lot easier.

The filter intake sponge is a pretty effective tool; they are easy to remove and simple to clean.

How to Reduce Fish Poop in a Freshwater Tank?

Too Many Fish in Tank

First and foremost, there aren’t any species of fish that will eat fish poop to clean your tank. Second, the larger your clean-up crew, the more waste you’re dealing with; it sucks, doesn’t it?

The best explanation for why your tank has too much fish poop is from overloading your fish tank.

Therefore, it’s advisable to stick to a moderate amount of fish and clean-up species in your freshwater aquarium to prevent the rapid accumulation of feces. Along these lines, limit the amount of food you’re feeding your fish by supplying food according to their size, condition, and developmental stage.

In addition, adhere to a regular vacuuming schedule to provide a clean and healthy environment for your pet fish.

How Often Should I Clean Fish Poop in My Freshwater Tank?

The frequency that your tank will need cleaning depends on the size of the tank and the amount of fish in it.

A good rule is to replace the filter every third week as the absorbing qualities quickly become exhausted, no longer serving their intended purpose.

In addition, sponges need to be gently rinsed weekly to remove the fish poop and accumulated debris. You won’t have to replace the sponge as often; you can return it to the filter after cleaning.

Lastly, the best option is to clean your tank weekly by vacuuming the gravel or sand or scraping the poop off the substrate while performing a water change. Also, clean the rocks and plants as soon as you see fish waste or other debris on them,

Final Thoughts

At first glance, it may seem that fish help clean up the aquarium by eating poop. However, this is not true. Fish poop is a waste product that does not provide any form of nutrition to fish, snails, or shrimp.

So, even though you occasionally see them nibbling on fish poop, they typically spit it back out after realizing that it isn’t food. Therefore, the only proper way to get rid of the waste is to get your hands dirty and do it yourself!