Staghorn Algae: Cause, Prevention, All You Need To Know

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: August 4, 2023

You will know that maintaining one isn't accessible if you have an aquarium. There are a lot of issues that can arrive even with proper care. Having algae in your tank is probably one of the most common problems.

All aquarists and hobbyists face having algae in this tank one or the other day. Staghorn is one example that can cause havoc if allowed to get out of control. It can prove detrimental to the health of life plans and other decorations in your tank.

A staghorn algae outbreak can be different for different types of setups. This can be due to a variety of reasons. If you notice algae developing in your tank, you should not worry; there are ways to fix it.

This article will tell you all you need to know about staghorn algae and how to control its spread in your freshwater tank. We will cover essential topics starting from their appearance and different methods to get rid of them. So without further ado, let's jump into it!

What is Staghorn Algae?

Staghorn Algae, scientifically called Compsopogon sp., is a genus of red algae and a member of the Compsopogonaceae family.

What is Staghorn Algae

Staghorn algae, also known as hornwort or elodea, is a freshwater alga that typically overgrows in aquariums. This type of algae can become very dense and overtake other plants and life forms in your tank, making it difficult to control.

They are found in various freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. They have often been considered nuisance algae in the wild because of their ability to quickly overrun an area and outcompete other plants for space and nutrients.

These algae are found in every part of the world, making it a common problem for aquarists everywhere.

The only continent they couldn't reach is Antarctica due to the extreme cold there makes it impossible for it to grow. But as far as other continents are concerned, they can tolerate a wide range of conditions.

This alga is super clingy and will stick to things like glue, it makes it very difficult to remove by hand. You must know how to handle this situation and eradicate the growth of this alga from your tank, as it will slowly cover every part of your tank and make it look disgusting.

Appearance And Physical Characteristics

Staghorn algae are characterized by their long, slender, and branched shape. The branches can grow up to several inches long and are often covered in small white bumps or spines.

The algae are usually a dark green or brown color but can sometimes be red or purple. They mostly turn red when they start dying. They attach themselves to surfaces using small root-like structures called rhizoids.

The filaments of Staghorn Algae will grow into dense clumps on the surface of plants' leaves and can make them look fluffy and fuzzy. Once attached, they can quickly spread and cover large areas. If left unchecked, staghorn algae can grow out of control and overrun an aquarium.

When it grows a lot, spreads further, and becomes dense, it can look like java moss, an all-time favorite of aquarists. Still, you should know that these two are very different, and you should not get confused between them because if you neglect Staghorn Algae, it can destroy the beauty of your aquarium.

Different Causes Of Staghorn Algae Outbreaks

There are many different causes of staghorn algae outbreaks in aquariums. Some of the most common include:

Excess nutrients in the water: Staghorn algae thrive in waters with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are often found in fish waste, uneaten food, and decaying plant matter. If too many nutrients build up in your aquarium, staghorn algae can quickly take advantage of this and grow out of control.

Poor water quality: If the water in your tank is not adequately filtered or maintained, it can lead to excess nutrients building up over time. This provides the perfect environment for staghorn algae to grow and increase.

Incorrect lighting: Staghorn algae need access to light to photosynthesize and grow. If your aquarium is not getting enough light, or if the light is too intense, it can cause staghorn algae to grow out of control.

Overcrowding: Too many fish in your aquarium can lead to excess waste and nutrients building up in the water. This can create the perfect environment for staghorn algae to thrive.

Is Staghorn Algae Harmful?

While staghorn algae might look unsightly, it is not directly harmful to fish or other aquatic life in your aquarium. But it can be harmful to your fish indirectly.

Is Staghorn Algae Harmful

However, it can easily outcompete other plants and algae for light, nutrients, and space in the tank, eventually crowding everything else out of existence. It will also impact the water quality, which is harmful to the animals in your tank.

Many animals like to have live plants from your tank, which will get affected, and your fish can get stressed and unhappy because they will not enjoy their favorite live plants.

A little bit of Staghorn Algae is not entirely a bad thing. Algae take toxic organic compounds (fish waste) for growth. They also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during the process of photosynthesis.

How To Control Staghorn Algae?

If you've noticed staghorn algae starting to grow in your aquarium, you will be able to notice it quickly, and there are a few things you can do to control it.

Removing it manually

To remove staghorn algae from your aquarium, gently scrub the algae by using a toothbrush or another soft, non-abrasive brush. Be sure to wear gloves, as this process can be messy.

You can also try to pull it out with the help of your hand but be sure that you do not rip apart the leaves of your live plant. You must also perform a water change after you have removed it.

Using liquid carbon

Another option for controlling staghorn algae is to use liquid carbon. Liquid carbon can be added directly to your aquarium, giving plants the nutrients to thrive.

This will help reduce the number of nutrients in your water, which will ultimately starve out and control the growth of staghorn algae. You can find liquid carbon at most pet stores or aquarium supply shops.

You can also directly apply liquid carbon to the affected areas as it is acidic. It will kill the algae in a duration of a few days. The fish will eat the dead algae, or it will get filtered, or you can choose to remove the debris by yourself.

You can also use hydrogen peroxide, just like liquid carbon. But these chemicals can be harmful to your fish and shrimp and must be used cautiously.

Lowering Lights

If your aquarium is getting too much light, it can cause staghorn algae to grow out of control. Try to lower the intensity of the light or the number of hours per day that the light is on. This will help reduce the number of nutrients available for the algae to grow.

You must limit the light in your tank. Live plants require only 8 to 10 hours of light every day. Make sure you do not provide more light than this.

There is another way you can remove algae, and it is by performing a blackout. This way can be a little rough. You need to turn off all the lights for three days and cover your aquarium with a cloth so that no light can get in. This will ultimately kill the algae. Don't add any fertilizers or chemicals to your tank during this process.

Introducing algae eaters in your tank

This is another way of controlling or preventing staghorn algae from growing in your aquarium. Algae eaters like shrimps, snails, and shrimp are excellent for controlling algae growth, including staghorn algae.

Regardless of the method you choose to control staghorn algae in your aquarium, it is essential to be consistent with your efforts and persistently monitor your tank for new or recurring growth.

Preventative Measures

In addition to the methods mentioned above, you can also take some preventative measures to keep staghorn algae from taking over your aquarium in the first place.

Some of the things you can do are:

Introduce more plants

Plants compete with algae for nutrients, so adding more live plants to your aquarium can help control and prevent the growth of staghorn algae. Look for fast-growing species that can quickly outcompete the algae for resources.

Feed your fish and plants responsibly

Giving your fish and plants too much food can imbalance the nutrients available in your tank, creating ideal conditions for staghorn algae to thrive. You can limit algae growth by feeding your fish and plants appropriately based on their specific needs.

Regularly clean your aquarium.

A well-maintained aquarium is less likely to experience an algae outbreak. Regularly cleaning your tank and doing water changes can remove built-up nutrients that could otherwise fuel algae growth.

Choose the right fish

Some fish are more likely to eat algae than others. Adding fish known for their algae-eating tendencies can help reduce the number of staghorn algae in your tank.

Wrapping It Up

Staghorn algae can be a nuisance in your aquarium, but you can keep it under control by taking preventative measures and using the right control methods.

You can enjoy a thriving aquarium ecosystem by maintaining a healthy balance in your tank and regularly removing any algae that appear.

We hope this article has helped you learn more about staghorn algae and how to control it in your aquarium. We also hope you got the answers to most of your questions and found this article helpful and informative. Thank you so much for reading!

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