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What is Black Brush Algae and how to deal with this type of algae

There are many forms of algae that seem to delight in invading our aquariums and giving us headaches as we try to clear them, while a tank is cycling it is quite common for diatomic algae, green algae and suchlike to make a stand against us while the water parameters are settling down , but one form of algae always seems to strike us when the tank has matured and can be very difficult to eradicate.

This algae is the Black Brush Algae, sometimes referred to us as Black Beard Algae due to the long filamentous structure and it seems to appear from nowhere but unlike the other forms of algae it does not disappear as quickly as it came. Black brush Algae can quickly take over an aquarium , covering the décor and the tank glass, some keepers seem to like it but there are a larger number that would rather never see it again.

This form of algae belongs to the family of Rhytophyta and can be found in many colour forms, there are reds, black and browns but the strange thing is most of this family of algae only inhabit brackish or saltwater, there are only a very few that will actually inhabit freshwater systems but it is still a very common occurrence.

Using a scraper on Black Brush Algae is useless, as is trying to literally pull it away from the décor, in fact this often causes more damage when attempted, especially if the algae has colonised the edges of plant leaves. There are methods for controlling this though and these will be explained in detail in the later sections of this article. In the wild this algae is often found in fast flowing waters attached to rocks or the substrate so it definitely gets a strong foot hold and is determined not to be moved.

How does Black Brush Algae enter the Aquarium?

This is a question often asked by fish keepers and for a long time the answer was a bit of a mystery, now research has found most of this algae’s secrets and this has helped enormously with the answers as to how to deal with it. The most probable cause of this algae entering your aquarium is through the addition of plants that may have filaments of Black Brush Algae on their leaves, these may be too few to be spotted easily but once in the tank environment they will soon multiply and colonise the plant. When adding new fish to the aquarium there cold be free floating spores in the water that the fish was brought home in, even dealers suffer from this plague, the spores could even be inside the stomachs of some fish so it just shows how easy it is to unintentionally introduce this pest to the aquarium.

This is yet another reason why the water from a bag containing the fish should never be added to your aquarium, you just do not know what it contains even from the most reputable of dealers.

Preventing Black Brush Algae from entering you Aquarium

One of the best ways of dealing with Black Brush Algae is to prevent it from entering your aquarium in the first place, of course it cannot be guaranteed that it will never surface its head in there but minimising the chances of it doing so is a major part of the battle against it. As mentioned above, this unsightly algae can be brought into the aquarium on plants that you have purchased. When you check the plants for hitch-hikers and suchlike it is impossible to see everything that the plant could host so there is another method for cleansing each plant. Dip the plants in a mild solution of bleach, this may sound a bit drastic but it is very effective and if done properly, the plants will not incur any damage at all. Dilute the solution so that it is 5% bleach and 95% water and dip the plants for 2 minutes, swirl the water around the plant and then remove and rinse them in clean water for another 2 minutes. This will kill any spores or snail eggs immediately and the plant can go into the aquarium.

When you purchase new fish, keep the in a quarantine tank for a few days so that it gives them time to cleanse any spores out of their digestive system. This is a practice that should be carried out on all purchases as a matter of routine anyway as it will also prevent any possible diseases or viruses from being added to the tank, we never know what some fish carry in their systems so better safe than sorry.

Dealing with Black Brush Algae in the Aquarium

There is only one way that algae can multiply and thrive in an aquarium, they require nutrients to do this so if the same nutrients are not available then the algae will struggle and eventually die off. If you are running a planted tank you need to work out a balance of how much available nutrients are being added to the tank, you need to add just enough to feed the plants, any excess will just feed the algae. Always follow the instructions on any containers or plant foods very carefully and don’t add extra thinking that the plants will benefit, they can only take in so much. It is often better to use tablets or similar that are placed in the substrate as liquid foods spread around the water column and are much easier for the algae to feed from.

Certain species of fish can be utilised in the battle against Black Brush Algae, these species are few and far between as most fish will not consume this form of menace, one species that everybody has heard of has the be the Siamese Algae Eater, they will eat algae that comprises of filaments and can do a good job in the aquarium but they can also be very territorial so do not add this fish if the other tank mates run the risk of being bullied. Several species of shrimps can also act as a natural algal control in the aquarium, most of the Caridina species are renowned for this but they can also be the prey of many predators so ideally should only be used in a shrimp species tank or with a tank containing herbivorous species of fish so that they do not fall victim to hungry mouths.

There are some commercial treatments available that are supposed to control algae but I find that these work short term and do not deal with the reasons that that the algae was there in the first place so they can prove to be an unnecessary expense over time and not a total solution. Many of these also contain copper, this can be detrimental to the livestock in the aquarium especially if you are keeping scale-less fish such as Loaches.

Hopefully this article will help any reader that has had to suffer with this problem and give you some ideas, but always remember that prevention is definitely better than the cure!

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