Algae – Staghorn & Brown(Diatoms)

February 27th, 2008

At the last GWAPA meeting, I gave a presentation called Algae in the Planted Aquarium. While preparing for the presentation, I had to gather a lot of information from a number of different sources on the Internet. I’ve decided to declare this week Algae Week, and share that gathered information by posting about two types of algae each day. This is the third installment featuring Brown (Diatoms) and Staghorn Algae.

Staghorn (Compsopogon sp.)

Staghorn Algae

Staghorn algae is aptly named as its branching resembles the antlers of a stag’s horns. They are coarse, branching strands that commonly attach to plant leaves and equipment. The strands can appear white, grey, or green in coloration.


  • Nutrient Imbalance – Strive for the following nutrient levels: N (10-20ppm), P (0.5-2ppm), K (10-20ppm), Ca (10-30ppm), Mg (2-5ppm), Fe (.1ppm).
  • Low CO2 – Strive for 20-30ppm concentration of CO2, as permitted by fauna.


  • Manual removal – Use toothbrush to remove as much as possible.
  • Water change – Maintain weekly/bi-weekly water change schedule.
  • Increase CO2 – This will stimulate plant growth, which should help the plants out-compete the algae for resources.
  • Bleach treatment – Dip affected items/hardy plants into a bleach/water solution using a 1:20 ratio of bleach to water. Before putting them back into the tank, make sure the item is free of any bleach odor.
  • Maintain proper macro (NPK) dosing scheme


  • Most fish/inverts will not eat staghorn algae.

Brown Algae (Diatoms)

Diatom Algae

Brown Algae, or diatoms, often present themselves as a brown, muddy, muck that covers plant leaves and hardscape items. It is rare to be seen in a fully established aquarium.


  • Newly setup tank – Aquariums that have just been setup seem to be prone to diatom algae.
  • Excess nutrients – Silica in particular appears to be a trigger. Contact your water utility company for a report detailing silica concentrations in your water supply.
  • Possibly old bulbs – Sometimes, old bulbs can encourage the conditions for diatom algae.


  • Time – Allow it to use up the excess silica, and it will often disappear on its own.
  • Manual removal – Siphon/scrape diatoms manually for quick removal.
  • Algae CrewOtocinclus and Nerite snails are fantastic at clearing a tank of diatoms. They help with other sorts of algae as well.


Aquatic Plant Central – Algae Finder

5 Responses to “Algae – Staghorn & Brown(Diatoms)”

  1. Tennessee Mom Says:

    The staghorn algae is beautiful! It’s hard to judge what size it is. Is it like java moss? or is it bigger?

    The Brown Algae looks gross, sure glad I don’t have that! 🙂

    I’m going to look into the snails. For some reason I thought those were illegal to ship..

  2. guitarfish Says:

    I’d stay that staghorn algae is like java moss sized, without the moss fronds (so not as thick around).

    Nerites are not illegal to ship, at least in my state that I know of. My local fish store has been getting them in. Good luck!

  3. Holy G Says:

    I have green dust and fuzz algae in my tank is there any fish that I can buy and eat this algaes?

  4. guitarfish Says:

    Check out the full algae reference:

  5. 13 Types of Algae: Causes, How to Get Rid of & Best Algae Eaters Says:

    […] can also try a bleach treatment: dip your affected items and hardy plants into a 1:20 solution of bleach and water for 2-3 minutes. […]

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