Farlowella, Otocinclus etc. as algae eaters

Subject: Farlowella, Otocinclus etc. as algae eaters

> Otocinclus and Farlowella are both delicate fish. 

I can't speak to Farlowellas, as I've never kept them.  But I do 
not find Otos to be delicate once acclimated.  IMO, most are on 
the brink of starvation when the hit the retail level.  Wait till 
they've got rounded bellies again before you buy, and they do 

> They need fairly soft water.

My water is moderately hard, and they do fine they probably won't 
do well in Rift lake type water, but neither do most plants, and 
we are, of course, talking about planted tanks.

> And they are predominantly green algae eaters. Dealing wi
> silica test of diatoms to digest them is more costly.

It may be more costly, but my experience is that Otos eat diatoms 
with relish and seem none the worse for the effort.

> And more importantly
> for Otocinclus to work, you need a shoal. One e-mailer said that
> ten with great effect.

This is true.

> But a single or pair of Otocinclus - what
> community fishkeepers are likely to buy - would have no impact.

Not only would it have little impact, but it is cruelty to keep 
shoaling fish without a shoal.  This is true of _all_ shoaling 
fish, not just those we consider "delicate".    What we should do 
instead is to EDUCATE people that it is not proper husbandry to 
buy shoaling fish one or two at a time.  They are cheap, and 
should be purchased a minimum of 6 at a time IMO, and a dozen is 

> Farlowella rarely live for more than a few months in the UK. Pos
> shorter distance from the Amazon to the USA may stress them less
> they are hardier. Whatever, they are one of those fish I don't l
> recommend (like marine butterflyfish). The mortality 'en route' 
> dealer's tanks is way to high. And most sold die within a few we
> fish either starving or failing to adjust to community life.

That may be a problem in the UK, but the fish are bred quite 
regularly by private aquarists in this country.  I would think if 
a UK hobbyist got some captive bred stock, they should be able to 
do the same.  After all, you've got some top notch catfish people 
in your country!

> Otocinclus are not popular here because of their habit of taking
> from the sides of large fish, especially discus and other cichli
> not frequent, but *does* consistently get reported. Although usu
> to be because the fish are starving, it may be a natural behavio
> algae is mineral and protein poor. All loricariids need inverteb
> the diet. I feed bloodworm, whitebait and krill; but protein ric
> catfish pellets do fine as well.

As you say, this is infrequent.  And again, most aquatic gardeners 
don't keep many large fish.  I personally have kept Otos and 
Discus together for prolonged periods with no problem.  Otos work 
a little better with Discus thatn SAE's because SAE's are much 
more omnivorous, and quickly learn to eat Discus food 
preferentially before algae.

> Possibly a good alternative is Hypoptoma, a loricariid that reac
> little under ten centimetres. It looks like a giant Otocinclus. 
> no idea about its mortality during collection and import.

Some of these are coming in from time to time.  Some are 
aggressive, and some eat plants.  Others appear to be OK.  
> Common plec species are farmed and 'wild population' friendly.

Yes, and they get too big not to do damage in a serious planted 
tank.  Plus, they are accused of the same behavior you accuse Otos 
of with much more damaging consequences due to their much larger 

> Without getting 'preachy' part of my work is in assessing biodiv
> teaching environmental issues. And this starts from Ground-Zero.
> is up to us, who can influence the types and quantities of impor
> wild places of the Earth, to act accordingly.

I work with some of the folks at the New England Aquarium, who are 
heavily involved with and fully support the work of Dr. Chou in 
the Amazon river basin.  There is strong evidence to believe that 
the responsible harvesting of aquarium fish in the Amazon basis 
may in the end be what _saves_ the ecosystem.  

Natives are learning that strip mining and clear cutting ruin 
their rivers as well as the surrounding forest leading to loss of 
the sustainable income of harvesting aquarium fish.  The studies 
done in the region show no decrease in the local populations of 
aquarium fish that can be attributed to over collection.  Instead, 
the problems are mercury poisoning from strip mining and runoff 
from deforestation.

In fact, the harvesting of Zebra Plecos and other unusual 
loricarids is being strongly encouraged in the hope that as many 
of these species as possible will be established in captive 
breeding programs before the level of mercury rises so high that 
the whole river is dead.  It is a race against time.  The NEA 
folks spend time in this river system annually, and every year 
they have to go farther up stream before they pass the heavily 
poluted area with its adjacent strip mines.

To learn to manage their natural resources responsibly, these 
people _have_ to have a sustainable source of income.  Otherwise 
their decisions will always be based on what will feed their 
children _now_, not what is good for the long term stability of 
the ecosystem.  

Captive breeding is a very good thing, and absolutely essantial 
for some species.  In the case of Amazon river fishes, however, 
responsible harvesting may be the very best way to preserve the 
natural environment.