The Clean Up Crew for Saltwater Tanks

Emerald crab | Clean up crew

What is a clean up crew?

A clean up crew is a group of invertebrates that are kept in a saltwater aquarium for the sole propose of consuming algae, detritus and uneaten fish foods. This is why they have been given the name clean up crew. Verity is key when it comes to a clean up crew different invertebrates consume different materials.

Personally I have always enjoyed watching hermit crabs work their way around an aquarium. I also prefer invertebrates on the smaller side for my clean up crew because corals and live rock can get knocked around. They can also help cut down on the need for aquarium maintenance (but not replace it). A heavily stocked clean up crew is the key to good aquarium husbandry and a successful saltwater aquarium.

Clean up crew feeding habits.

In order to support a successful clean up crew you must keep different members of invertebrates within the aquarium. There are three types of feeding habits when it comes to invertebrates.

  • Herbivores
  • Omnivores
  • Carnivores

I would recommend staying away from the carnivore type feeders, if you a new to the hobby because they need a steady supply of food and they will find a meal if one is not provided for them(if you catch my dirt).

Here is a quick list of my favorite cleaning crew inverts:

  • Blue legged hermit carb | Algae, uneaten foods | Opportunistic , could kill fallen snails.
  • Scarlet hermit carb | Algae, uneaten foods | Opportunistic, could kill fallen snails.
  • Scarlet cleaner shrimp | Phytoplankton, uneaten foods | Best kept in pairs
  • Emerald crab | Algae, bubble algae and uneaten food | Recommend not to over stock.
  • Astraea snail |Algae, Diatoms and Cyanobacteria | Difficulty Uprighting themselves.
  • Nassarius snail | Uneaten meaty foods | Recommend not to over stock.

Clean up crew stocking levels.

I’ve always done well with the 1 hermit cab and/or snail for every two gallons of aquarium, philosophy. It’s also important to keep in mind to keep your crew stocked up because this little critters do not have long life span. It would be a good idea to stock up every 6-9 months.


Clean up crew acclimation.

Hands down, drip acclimation is the best way introduce new inhabitants to your aquarium. The process doesn’t need much water and it is almost fool-proof. As far as time goes for drip acclimation anything over an hour I would consider efficient.

After a trip to the local fish store I went home to drip acclimate my new clean up crew members. I only had one container for my drip acclimation setup and I was pressed for time so I added my new Scarlet hermit carb and Emerald crab into that container at the same time. Needless to say the scarlet hermit crab lasted about one second before the emerald crab had its way with it.

What I would take away for that experience is not to ever add deferent species together in the drip acclimation container. Many reef invertebrates are territorial and adding them together in a confined space is not recommend.

For more information on saltwater aquarium keeping please visit Mad Hatter’s Reef.

Save a Reef… Grow your own.

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