Chaeto (Chaetomorpha Algae) is one of the macroalgae or saltwater plants commonly planted in the reef tank aquarium. It has multiple benefits and functions. If you do not know what does Chaeto algae actually do in a reef tank, you should read this post.

Chaeto works as a natural filter to remove excess nitrates and phosphates from the tank water. It also works to accommodate Copepods and Amphipods. Ensuring the cleanliness of the water, it helps to maintain the water quality in the reef tank.

In this article, I am going to explain the benefits and functions of Chaeto in detail along with the tips on how to grow them. Just keep reading.

What is Chaeto?

Chaeto is the nickname for Chaetomorpha algae. It grows only in saltwater and is classified as one of the most used macroalgae to purify water in the reef tank. Chaeto is also called as Green Hair Algae or Spaghetti Algae due to its shape. Once you have a look at them, you will notice that grown-up Chaeto algae look like a ball made up of tangled green spaghetti.

Though many use Chaeto for the refugium only, you can place them either in the refugium or in the main display tank. They grow very fast in favorable conditions and are hardy in nature. As you can put them anywhere in the system and they multiply pretty fast, you do not need to worry about spending hours taking care of them.

You are not required to plant a bucket of Chaeto in the refugium when you start. A bunch of Chaeto of a tennis ball size is perfect enough to begin with.

To ensure that they grow faster, you need to just make sure that you have kept them under bright lighting along with the moderate flow of water.

Chaetomorpha Algae

Why Chaeto: Functions and Benefits of Chaeto in a Reef Tank

Chaeto algae are widely popular for filtering out nitrates and phosphates from the water. Let’s see two of the core functions and benefits of Chaeto in a reef tank aquarium:

Removes Excessive Nitrates and Phosphates

If the fishes and corals of your reef tank are under threat due to high levels of nitrates and phosphates in the water, it is Chaeto that can come to your help. Chaeto feeds and grows on phosphates and nitrates of the tank water. Thus, it keeps those elements in check and maintains a healthy tank.

Do you know how Chaeto grows up? Chaeto needs a good amount of light because it goes under photosynthesis to absorb the required amount of nutrients from the water. Its cell structure is formed by this process. The more nutrients it takes from the water, the bigger and faster it grows.

However, when it grows too much, you have to trim and remove some parts of it. When you remove some of its portions, you are indeed removing the harmful nitrates and phosphates from the water as those elements are absorbed by this macroalgae.

So, do you need to remove additional nitrates and phosphates from the water? If the answer is yes, Chaeto algae are the simple solution. Just buy some Chaeto algae from any online or offline store, let plenty of light fall upon it throughout day and night, make sure that it is getting water regularly, and that’s enough for it to filter your water naturally by absorbing all the nasty stuff from the tank and refugium.

You might ask, why are these Chaeto algae so popular? Well, one of the reasons is that it is inexpensive but simple. Secondly, it does not need any extra attention and care. And finally, it is widely available to buy.

Explore how to remove phosphate in a reef tank.

Accommodates a Variety of Microfauna

Chaeto is a great home for dozens of Microfauna that are ideal food for the fishes and the corals in the reef tank. Most of the fishes do not hanker after Chaeto, but they can have a great feast from the Microfauna such as copepods and amphipods. As Chaeto proves to be an ideal home for worms, marine zooplankton, copepods, and amphipods, the inhabitants of the tank get an extra source of food.

How to Use Chaeto to Reduce Nitrates in the Reef Tank?

Chaeto is unique because it is able to sequester the phosphates and nitrates away from the tank water into the structure of its cell. Chaeto does it biologically when it absorbs the elements merely as food.

Reducing toxic nitrates and phosphates from the system is quite complicated and time-consuming when done with chemicals and other absorbing media. But, when it comes to Chaeto, it is a cheap filter that saves you time and money. When the Chaeto is grown full by taking nitrates as food, you can simply trim or remove it from the aquarium. And thus, you get rid of nitrates from the tank.

So, if you are spending a lot of money on purifying chemicals, changing the water frequently, you should just try Chaeto as an alternative. What you all need is to set up a refugium with access to light.

How Much Chaeto Do You Need for Achieving the Nitrate Balance?

Too much nitrate or too little of it is not ideal for the reef tanks. There should always be a balance. To understand how much Chaeto you need to maintain the nitrate balance, you should first get to know how the entire chemistry of the nitrogen cycle occurs in the tank.

First of all, you input energy in the tank by providing the inhabitants with food.

Secondly, when the food is digested and then excreted, the nitrogen cycle begins to work. At this phase, the bacteria convert the toxic ammonia (NH4) from the waste into Nitrite (NO2) at first and later into Nitrate (NO3).

And finally, there come the advantages of Chaeto that you can make use of to filter out nitrate from the system.

To be frank, how much Chaeto you need to clean the water out of nitrate depends on many factors. Regarding the exact amount, there is no shortcut formula that you can apply while adopting Chaeto in the system. However, I suggest you go under trial.

Start with a small amount (a handful of Chaeto will do for a small tank), not too little or too much. Keep monitoring the nitrates by checking it every now and then. Now, if you keep the track of nitrates, you will see that the nitrates are lowering slowly. If you need to speed it up, add more Chaeto.

If you need a massive drop in nitrates, you can achieve that by changing the water weekly. Note that, Chaeto will not give you a sudden big blow or radical change in the nitrogen cycle as it is the case with water changes. It works slowly from the background and takes time to lower the nitrates.

What If Nitrates Keep Rising After Adding Chaeto?

The nitrates should come in a balance only if you can add the required amount of Chaeto for your tank. If you notice that the nitrates are rising and pretty high, you should consider adding or growing more Chaeto in the system. On the other hand, excess food can also be one of the reasons for having more nitrates. In that case, keep a careful eye on how much you are feeding the tank inhabitants.

What If Nitrates Get Dropped After Adding Chaeto?

It is normal that after adding plenty of Chaeto in the system, the nitrate will start lowering gradually. However, if you add too much Chaeto compared to the nitrates available in the water, created by the nitrogen cycle, you will soon experience that the Chaeto will stop growing and some parts of it may die out when the nitrates will drop to zero. However, you do not need to fear about losing all the Chaeto as it is not dependable only on nitrates to live. Chaeto can still survive by making food from photosynthesis.

What If Nitrates Remain Steady After Adding Chaeto?

Though this is a rare incident very few reefers might experience, there is a chance to achieve this once the Chaeto is perfectly adopted to control the excessive nitrates without driving it away completely from the tank. However, you should try to achieve a steady and balanced level of nitrates if possible by changing the water in case Chaeto is slow to work.

How to Grow Chaeto for Reef Tank?

You should be glad to know that it is not very tough to grow Chaeto in any sump, aquarium, refugium, or dedicated Chaeto/algae reactor. To grow Chaeto, nitrates, phosphates, and plenty of light with some water are required.

The growth of Chaeto algae depends largely on the adequacy of light. More light means more growth. As photosynthesis is the key factor for the Chaeto to grow and collect the necessary nutrients, you should make sure that you have invested enough to supply a decent light for speeding up the Chaeto growth.

You will also need to supply the Chaeto with enough nutrients (nitrates and phosphates) it feeds on. If the nutrients are not available in the water compared to the amount of Chaeto, some of the algae might starve and die. On the other hand, other species fighting for the nutrients can also affect the growth of Chaeto in the tank.

Though water is not vital for the growth of Chaeto, moderate flow of water will help it grow better. As Chaeto has no feet to attach with the ground, water helps it to move from one place to another in the tank. This allows the Chaeto to get more light and space to grow faster.

However, if your tank system does not come with a flow of water, you can flop the Chaeto around and spread it out evenly so that all parts of the Chaeto become equally exposed to light and thus grow itself rapidly. It is enough to do this once a week.

When Chaeto gets all the required nutrients along with adequate light, it really grows fast. If you think that it has become very dense, trim some parts of it and remove them from the tank. By removing those parts, you are also removing the nitrates and phosphates.

What If Chaeto Is Not Growing?

If you notice that Chaeto is not growing or it has started dying off, there can be two reasons behind it. Firstly, it may happen due to the lack of adequate nutrients in the reef tank. And secondly, Chaeto might not thrive well if the light is not sufficient to promote its growth.

If the first thing occurs, it means that your tank is almost clear of the nitrates and phosphates for the Chaeto to absorb. In that scenario, you have nothing to worry about.

However, if you cannot grow Chaeto due to the inadequacy of light while the nitrates and phosphates are high, you should come forward to setting up proper lighting to let the Chaeto thrive on its own. If you see that one of the parts is dying off, consider flipping the part over and let the light shine on it evenly.

You can also consider adding a low dose of iron supplement to promote Chaeto growth as some aquarists report positively about this approach.

How to Maximize the Chaeto Growth: 15 important Tips to Remember

Use Algae Reactor: If you can keep your Chaeto in the Algae reactor, that will be more favorable for the Chaeto to grow compared to keeping them in anywhere else. An algae reactor helps to bring a balance in the pH level, increases the amount of dissolved oxygen, and takes up excess carbon dioxide from the water. This will make the reef water cleaner.

Maintain Proper Water Parameters: Maintaining the appropriate water parameters will help the Chaeto grow quicker and better.

You should maintain a specific gravity level of 1.024 to 1.025 at a temperature of 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The magnesium level should range from 1250 ppm to 1400 ppm.

When it comes to Calcium, it can start at 380 ppm and go up to 480 ppm. And the Potassium level should not exceed 420 ppm, PO4 should be limited to .07 ppm.

A boron level of 5 to 6 ppm works better.

Make sure that the alkalinity level is within 9.5 dKH.

And finally, the minimum iodine level should be .06 ppm while the maximum level can be up to .12 ppm.

Maintain a Proper Water Flow: Use a pump to maintain sufficient water flow in the reactor. Keep track of the time it requires to fill a certain volume.

Do not Trim Much or Too Often: Make sure that you are avoiding excess and frequent pruning. Grow Chaeto gradually and plant them either once per week or once every two weeks.

Do not Rinse the Existing Chaeto with Freshwater: It is saltwater that you should use while you rinse the Chaeto that you keep in the reactor. A 5-gallon tank should be fine to execute this.

Keep the Nitrate Level Stable: While you are growing Chaeto in the reactor, you have to keep an eye on the nitrate level. Nitrate is one of the core sources of food that maximize the Chaeto growth. You will need to use a nitrate supplement and keep the minimum level of 20:1 and a maximum of 200:1 to the phosphate. However, the recommended level is 100:1

Avoid Using GFO: If you are growing Chaeto with an algae reactor, using GFO is a no-no. GFO removes certain elements from the equation that are helpful for fostering Chaeto.

Supply 8 Hours of Darkness: Light is not everything Chaeto needs. It requires at least 8 hours of darkness to optimize its growth. Make sure that you have switched off the LEDs of the reactor for 8 hours or more every day. To keep the pH stable all through the day and night in the system, you should consider running a reverse daylight cycle.

Avoid Using Biopellets: If you are growing Chaeto in the algae reactor, you should avoid the use of Biopellets. It is because Biopellets have an effect that lowers the nitrates, the essential element for Chaeto growth. They might also invert the NO3 and PO4 ratio in the system.

Buy New Light Sleeves: If the light sleeves are used for about one year or more, you should replace them with the new ones. It is important because after a certain period, the light sleeves do not perform well or maintain the intensity of LEDs due to the scratches and aging.

Maintain the Right Phosphate Level: Apart from nitrate, Chaeto also benefits from the phosphate to grow. The recommended range of phosphate is between 0.03 and 0.07 ppm. Make sure the range does not go below 0.02 ppm. To maintain the proper ratio of NO3 with PO4, you can consider using phosphate dose.

Maintain the Suitable Amount of Boron and Iron: Iron and Boron contribute to the fast growth of Chaeto. Using iron supplements will raise the level of iron. On the other hand, you can consider using Borax to increase the boron level.

Apply B12 Supplement: It is believed that the doses of B12 supplements can enhance the growth of Chaeto. You can try B12 supplements if you see that bacteria are not producing the required amount of B12. However, note that B12 supplements might have some limiting effect on some marine organisms.

Acclimate the Chaeto Gradually to the LEDs: You should give Chaeto some time to get used to LEDs. Start using LEDs for 4 hours in the beginning and then increase the cycle by the passage of time. However, you can also start at 8 hours and then gradually reach the 16 hours cycle. To lower the photo-oxidative stress, I suggest you use potassium iodide while the Chaeto goes under the acclimation period.

Control High Magnesium: High magnesium suppresses the potassium uptake. It also interferes with the calcium functions. Thus, if the magnesium level is high, the Chaeto growth will be very low. The highest magnesium level should not exceed 1500 ppm to ensure the rapid growth of Chaeto. 

Final Thoughts

Chaetomorpha algae are one of the best natural ways to filter the reef tank. It is quite easy to grow and it is not expensive to buy. What you all need is a tank with an adequate arrangement of light and a bunch of Chaeto resembling the size of a tennis ball.

When it comes to buying Chaeto for your tank, you will get them easily on any local pet store or Amazon. Now that you know what does Chaeto do in a reef tank and how to grow them, make use of it to get rid of the nasty stuff from your reef tank right away.

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