If you’re in the process of setting up a saltwater aquarium, you shouldn’t forget to add reef cleaners to the cast of colorful characters that will be living in your saltwater tank! Reef cleaners are the janitorial staff of your tank, and will play a major role in keeping your setup happy and healthy for the other fish with whom they share the aquarium. If you don’t have much experience in choosing and taking care of reef cleaners, here are three commonly found choices that are low-maintenance and perfect for beginner aquariums.
Banded Coral Shrimp
Easily recognized by their vivid red and white patterns and long, thin claws, the banded coral shrimp is a notoriously hardy reef cleaner that can tolerate changes in pH better than some other species of invertebrates. The banded coral shrimp is especially useful in beginner aquariums because their body growth rarely exceeds three inches, making them the perfect size to fit in both nano saltwater tanks of less than thirty gallons as well as larger aquariums. Be sure to monitor your nitrate, copper, and iodine levels within your aquarium, as banded coral shrimp (like most invertebrates) cannot withstand abnormally high levels of these elements.
Related Article: What to Expect if your shrimp breed in your tank.
Boasting a peaceful temperament and distinctive blue and red striped legs, the Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab is an excellent double-duty worker when it comes to aquarium cleanup. Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crabs don’t take up much space- they’re one of the tiniest crabs available for purchase, typically only growing to about .25 to .50 inches when they reach adulthood. This means that they can happily live inside nano tanks holding less than thirty gallons of water. Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crabs love to snack on green algae accumulations that grow on rocks and the side of saltwater aquariums, as well as cyanobacteria that can hard your saltwater fish. Like most hermit crabs, the Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit will also aerate the sand as it moves along the surface of the tank. These qualities make the Dwarf Blue Hermit Crab one of the best beginner reef cleaners.
Formally referred to as the “Edible Sea Cucumber,” sea cucumbers are an excellent reef cleaning addition to any aquarium because they are relatively low-maintenance. They typically don’t even require supplemental feedings if they can catch organic food particles when a tank is not over-crowded. Some sea cucumbers are larger than the other reef cleaners mentioned, and usually do better in a larger aquarium. As a general rule, you should provide at least twenty gallons of water for every three inches of sea cucumber you introduce to your tank. While sea cucumbers are incredibly docile, please keep in mind that they do have the potential to poison an aquarium. However, this is an incredibly rare occurrence that’s typically only seen when the animal is accidentally sucked into a pump, filter, or overflow body and suffers lacerations.
Take the time to properly research the needs of each individual cleaner before introducing them into your aquarium. A good reef cleaner crew will maintain the clean tank environment that your corals and finned friends depend on. Other great cleaners include starfish, snails, emerald crabs, or nudibranchs. For more information on saltwater aquariums, join our saltwater forum to ask which reef cleaners can thrive in which environments.