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10 Interesting Animals That Eat Algae

Algae is a type of organism that can be found on bodies of water and moist trees. While algae can be a great source of nutrients, it can also produce toxins, which means it can be dangerous. That’s why animals that eat algae play an important role in many habitats. Let’s take a look at a list of 10 of them.

10 Animals That Eat Algae

Since algae is primarily found in bodies of water, it’s primarily eaten by aquatic animals. These 10 algivorous creatures all eat algae and help keep aquatic ecosystems in balance.

1. Fish

Siamese algae eater underwater
Siamese algae eater underwater | image by Andrew via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

There are many saltwater and freshwater fish that are known for eating algae. In fact, some fish, like the Siamese algae eater, are named for their love of algae! Other types of fish that eat an algae-heavy diet include silver carp and the Florida flag fish.

Saltwater fish that love to feed on algae include the bristletooth tomini tang and the lemon peel angelfish. Some creatures, like the quoyi parrotfish spend their entire day grazing on algae!

2. Snails

Malaysian trumpet snail eating algae
Malaysian trumpet snail eating algae | image by David Elliott via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Snails are a type of gastropod that’s known for its sluggish pace. Most freshwater snails, including the Malaysian trumpet snail and the Mystery Apple Snail, feed on algae. Of course, there are many saltwater snails that enjoy algae as well, like trochus snails and conch snails.

Some types of snails, like Mexican turbo snails and astrea snails, have a preference for hair algae. Also known as string algae, this algae gets its name from its resemblance to long strands of hair! This type of algae can entangle fish, but algea-eating snails can keep it from growing out of control.

3. Shrimp

Red Cherry Shrimp from freshwater tank
Red Cherry Shrimp from freshwater tank | image by Robert Howie via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The shrimp is a type of crustacean that can be found in rivers, lakes, and in the ocean! Most shrimp are scavengers and will eat almost any food that comes its way. This means that many types of shrimp have an algae-heavy diet.

Species of shrimp that are known for eating algae include bamboo shrimp, bee shrimp, and cherry shrimp. While shrimp love to eat algae in the wild, many algae-eating shrimp are also used to clean aquariums! The amano shrimp thrives on algae and is commonly found in fish tanks.

4. Mayflies

Mayfly by wal_172619 from Pixabay

Mayflies are one of several types of insects that feed on algae. Also known as fish flies, these aquatic insects usually eat algae on rocks. While mayflies spend their adult lives on the surface of the water, they spend most of their lives as nymphs that live underwater.

Typically, a mayfly nymph will eat a wider range of algae than an adult mayfly. Mayfly are actually able to purify the water as they feed, which is why they play an important role in many aquatic ecosystems. There are more than 3,000 known species of mayfly in the world today!

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5. Turtles

Red Eared Slider
Red Eared Slider by Светлана from Pixabay

While not every type of turtle can eat algae, it’s a major part of the diet of many turtle species, including spotted turtles, midland painted turtles, and red-eared sliders. Turtles may graze on algae or use their beaks to scrape it off of rocks.

Many sea turtle species, such as the olive ridley sea turtle and the loggerhead sea turtle, also love to eat algea. Green sea turtles actually get their name from their algae-heavy diet. They eat so much algae that it gives them a bright green hue.

6. Salamanders

Red Cave Salamander
Red Cave Salamander | image by Peter Paplanus via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

While people often mistake salamanders for reptiles, they’re actually a type of amphibian. Some salamanders are terrestrial, but many species are aquatic and regularly feed on algae. There are even salamander species that have a symbiotic relationship with algae.

Some types of algae live inside of salamander eggs and collect nutrients from its host. Certain salamander species, like solar salamander, even have algae inside their cells! Algae is a food source for salamanders, but these organisms rely on salamanders as well.

7. Tadpoles

Group of tadpoles

Frogs need a lot of protein in their diet, which means they’re unlikely to eat algae. However, when frogs are in the tadpole stage, their digestive systems aren’t fully developed. Algae is the perfect way for tadpoles to get the nutrients that they need.

The main type of algae eaten by tadpoles is planktonic algae. Tadpoles have extremely small mouths, and this single-celled algae is easy for them to eat. As tadpoles grow older, they also feed on filamentous algae, a moss-like type of algae that’s found along the edges of ponds.

8. Sea Urchins

Red Sea Urchins underwater
Red Sea Urchins underwater | Image by raving666 from Pixabay

Sea urchins are round, spiny creatures that eat large amounts of algae. In fact, because sea urchins eat so much algae, devastated underwater kelp forests in California. In addition to algae, sea urchins feed on slow-moving underwater animals.

There are over 950 species of sea urchin, and these creatures can be found in all five of the world’s oceans! The sea urchin’s mouth has five teeth, which allows it to scrap algae off of the surfaces that it swims over.

9. Crabs

Hermit crab
Hermit crab stokpic from Pixabay

Since crabs are scavengers, they’re happy to feed on algae. Most types of sea crab eat both red and green algae. Certain species of crab are especially fond of algae, including the anemone carrying hermit crab and the arrow crab.

Not only do crabs eat algae, but some crab species use algae in interesting ways. For example, decorator spider crabs secure algae to their shells so that they can hide from predators! Some algae-eating crabs, like the dwarf red-tipped hermit crabs, are frequently found in aquariums.

10. Sea Slugs

Sea slug on corals
A sea slug on corals | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
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Sea slugs are close relatives of sea snails, but they don’t have shells! There are over 3,000 different species of sea slug in total, and most of these species are known for their bright and vivid colors. While sea slugs are carnivores that feed on sponges and coral, they also eat a lot of algae.

In addition to eating algae, there are some types of sea slug that use algae as a form of defense. Some sea slugs eat the defensive chemicals that grow on algea. While these chemicals aren’t harmful to sea slugs, they make this gastropod poisonous to many of its natural predators.