Hair algae is a light green or green-gray type of algae that can become a nuisance in the aquarium. In a favourable environment, hair algae and grow really fast and an aquarium can therefore become filled with long, green “hairs” in no time. Even after a good manual scrub, the algae can be back within a few hours.
Hair algae are capable of growing attached to most types of surfaces, from stones and aquarium decorations to glass, equipment and plants. Hair algae might look unsightly in the eyes of the aquarist, but it has its own role to play in the ecosystem and quite a few organisms like to feed on hair algae. In the limited space that is an aquarium and with too few natural enemies and too few plants and other types of algae to compete with for light and nutrients, the hair algae can however become a problem not only for the aquarist but for the inhabitants as well.
Hair algae will often show up together with thread algae in aquariums.
How can I control hair algae in the aquarium or pond?
- Water management
Hair algae thrive when the nitrate levels are allowed to exceed 10 ppm and a sudden hair algae boom in the aquarium is often a sign of poor water management. Check the water quality on a regular basis and carry out frequent water changes. It is also important to avoid over feeding. Some aquarists have managed to get on top of a persistent hair algae problem by switching to live food only. Live food that stays alive until eaten will not increase the nitrate levels as much as uneaten dead food.
As mentioned above, hair algae will thrive in an aquarium where there is an abundance of available nutrients (e.g. fish waste). One way of reducing these amounts is to include live plants in the set up. Live plants need the same types of nutrients as algae and will therefore compete with the algae for food.
- Hair algae eating creatures
If you want to use algae eaters to control the algae, make sure that you pick suitable species. To begin with, the species must be suitable for your particular aquarium. Many algae eaters are forced to live in aquariums with an unsuitable pH-level, temperature, tank mates and so on, because the aquarist is only interested in their algae eating ability and does not care about the fishes/invertebrates and their well being. Secondly, get algae eaters that love to eat hair algae. Many algae eating species are not very fond of hair algae and some might even decide to devour you live plants and leave the hair algae alone. Last but not least, most algae eating species prefer young and fresh algae, so you should be prepared to remove the old hair algae manually.
- Light control
Hair algae need light to grow. If you have a hair algae problem, reducing the amount of light can be helpful but it is rarely enough to fix the problem on its own.
- Manual removal
Hair algae can be removed manually, e.g. by twirling it around a tooth-brush.
- Be careful with new items
Once you have managed to get on top of the hair algae problem it is important to avoid introducing more hair algae to the aquarium. Hair algae will often enter an aquarium attached to a new plant or to the shell of an invertebrate. It can also be floating around in the water bag when you get a new fish. You might not even notice it at first; it is common for hair algae to linger around in the aquarium and grow very slowly until the aquarist makes a mistake and allows the levels of organic waste to increase. It can therefore be hard to connect the sudden algae explosion with that new plant you bought several weeks ago. Use standard safety measures before introducing new items and creatures into the aquarium. Live plants will for instance usually tolerate being cleaned with diluted bleach.
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