Plecostomus Catfish (Plecos) are also referred to as “janitor fish” for their unique ability to clean tank algae.
They’re bottom dwellers and can usually be found in community aquariums.
Plecos are hardy and able to control algae bloom.
However, this fish needs care and attention to ensure it can flourish in a home aquarium.
So let’s learn more about plecos.
Pleco Species Overview
Plecos, plecostomus, or suckermouth catfish, is a tropical freshwater fish inhabiting tropical northeastern South America.
This fish is mainly found in northeastern Brazil, the Guiana, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Plecos prefer fast-moving streams and rivers with rocky substrates.
However, they can survive a wide range of water conditions in the wild and in aquariums.
Plecos live in freshwater or brackish water.
They survive droughts by storing oxygen in their stomach and breathing through their skin.
If their habitat dries out, plecos can live for up to 30 hours on land without water and wriggle through dry land in search of another water body.
Plecos have a flat, elongated body shape and are usually gray, olive, or brown in color, with black or dark brown markings.
All plecos have an underturned mouth, flat belly, expansive fins, and a long, slender tail.
These fish have a unique physical feature on top of their bodies.
They have several rows or layers of armor plates. These plates are strong and offer protection from predators.
Plecos have small rounded gleaming eyes on their head.
These fish are nocturnal, so their eyes have tissues to regulate the amount of light that gets into them.
On the bottom of their head is that iconic sucker mouth.
Names of Species
There are more than 150 pleco species that have been discovered.
These fish are popular among aquarists because of their numerous benefits.
They’re also unique, easy to take care of, and fun to watch.
Given below is the list of plecos bred in captivity:
- Bristlenose Pleco,
- Clown Pleco,
- Zebra Pleco,
- Sailfin Pleco,
- Royal Pleco,
- Snowball Pleco,
- Rubber Lip Pleco,
- Leopard Frog Pleco,
- Peppermint Pleco,
- Candy Striped Pleco,
- Vampire Pleco,
- Sunshine Pleco,
- Butterfly Pleco,
- Blue-Eyed Pleco,
- Tiger Plecostomus,
- Galaxy Pleco,
- Goldy Pleco,
- Gold Nugget Pleco,
- Redfin Cactus Pleco,
- Scarlet Pleco,
- Honeycomb Pleco,
- Red tail Sternella Pleco,
- Blue Phantom Pleco,
- Spotted Adonis Pleco,
- Spinet Monster Pleco,
- Gold Stripe Panque,
- Starlight Pleco,
- White Seam Pleco,
- Broken Line Royal Pleco,
- Orinoco Zebra Pleco,
- Green Phantom Pleco,
- Inspector Pleco,
- Flash Pleco,
- Sao Francisco Pleco,
- Blue Panque Pleco,
- False Goldy Pleco,
- Spotted Medusa Pleco,
- Queen Arabesque Pleco,
- Sultan Pleco,
- Chocolate Zebra,
- Tapajos Pleco,
- Spotted Royal Pleco,
- Green Panque,
- Mustard Spot Pleco,
- Longfin Albino Pleco,
- Chocolate Pleco,
- Albino Pleco, and
- Xantos Pleco.
The average lifespan of a pleco is between 10 to 15 years.
Plecos even live longer than 15 years in the wild as they’re not at risk of common aquarium diseases.
The main reason for their long life in the wild is that they live in waters that provide them with the best conditions, helping them to thrive and have a longer lifespan.
There’s no guarantee of longevity with any particular fish species in captivity.
The quality of care you provide affects the health of fish for better or worse.
Adult plecos can reach lengths of up to 19.7 inches in the wild.
In captivity, the average size of plecos is around 11 inches in length when fully grown.
The Vampire pleco can grow up to 10 inches, and the Bristlenose pleco can grow around 5 inches in length.
At the same time, the Royal pleco grows big, around 17 inches in length.
There is gender dimorphism in plecos, meaning the males and females are different in appearance.
In general, male plecos grow slightly larger and longer than females.
Pleco Tank Setup
Plecos inhabit the freshwaters of South America. They prefer fast-flowing streams with rocks and pebbles at the bottom.
So, it’s essential to create a habitat in your home aquarium that mimics their natural environment.
Let’s understand how to set up a pleco tank in detail.
Adult plecos can grow pretty large than most aquarium fish. So a large tank is always better for the plecos to move and grow.
The tank should be longer than it is wide.
Plecos will need a tank size of 75 to 80 gallons as they need a lot of space.
However, if you want to help them reach their full size and potential, you’ll need a tank between 100 and 150 gallons.
Plecos need cover to hide. So you must also provide them with hiding places such as caves and crevices.
You have to factor in all these things while deciding the tank size.
Tank Equipment And Decorations
The natural habitat of plecos has moving water with rocks and stones.
So you should create traditional riverbed decorations in your aquarium to give them conditions that replicate their natural habitat.
Plecos live at the bottom of the aquarium and enjoy burrowing.
To replicate their natural environment, use gravel, stones, and clay to create the substrate.
Live plants act as a food source and hiding place for the plecos.
However, plecos are known to tear down plants from the substrate.
So choose hardy, deep-rooted plants like Java Fern, Amazon Sword, and Anubias.
Caves, castles, and shipwrecks are great hiding spots for plecos.
Most plecos love to eat and rest on driftwood, so add some of these decorations to the tank too.
Lighting should be kept relatively low and only 7 to 10 hours every day.
At night, the light should be off. You can use a red light at night to see if the fish is active.
Given below are the items required in a pleco tank:
- Aquatic plants like Java Fern, Amazon Sword, Anubias, etc.
- Water conditioner,
- PH testing kit,
- Water siphon, and
- Decorations like artificial rocks, caves, tunnels, driftwood, etc.
Regularly cleaning the aquarium is essential regardless of whether you already have filtration systems or other maintenance equipment.
Plecos are hardy and can survive challenging conditions. However, you still have to take proper care of them.
So let’s understand how to take care of plecos.
Plecos are bottom feeders that can help keep algae bloom in check.
However, they’re scavengers and will eat anything that comes their way, including algae, wood, plants, and small insects.
Plecos can be herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. There are fewer carnivore species in the aquarium trade.
So you will come across only herbivores and omnivores who prefer plant-based food.
Live foods like worms are a nutritious addition to the aquarium.
They can sink to the bottom of the aquarium, making it easy for the bottom-feeding plecos to eat.
Some of the live and plant-based food that you must feed your plecos are:
- Fly Larvae,
- Fresh Vegetables like broccoli, romaine, zucchini, squash, carrot, cucumber, peas, sweet potato, Brussel sprouts, green beans, etc.
Plecos will eat anything that comes across them, but it’s essential to provide them with nutritional food.
Buy organic vegetables to avoid feeding them vegetables sprayed with harmful chemicals.
Plecos are freshwater fish. They can survive a wide variety of water conditions in the wild and in captive environments.
They’re hardy and survive variations in the water parameters.
However, it’s not recommended as it creates a lot of stress on the fish. You should replicate the conditions of their natural habitat.
The ideal water parameters for plecos are:
|72°F to 86°F (22°C to 30°C)
|6.2 to 8.2
|Water Hardness (dH)
|Up to 28
Many fishkeepers think that they can keep plecos in unsuitable water conditions as plecos clean the tank.
It’s essential to understand that they’re algae eaters but can’t completely remove algae or waste from the tank.
Plecos also create a lot of waste. So there’s no way they maintain stable water parameters.
You will have to change 30% of the tank water every week to maintain stable water conditions.
Cleaning the gravel during a water change will help remove unwanted pathogens from the tank.
Clean the entire tank at least once a month.
You should also test the water regularly to determine the maintenance intervals.
Stable water parameters will ensure that your plecos remain healthy and happy.
Plecos are known to eliminate unwanted detritus and algae from the tank and help in maintaining the water quality.
They’re hardy and can withstand variations in tank conditions.
However, plecos are susceptible to freshwater diseases if kept in poor conditions or under unsuitable water parameters.
Given below are some of the common diseases that can affect plecos:
- Fin Rot,
- Cloudy Eye,
- Sunken Abdomen, and
- Bloated Abdomen.
Unlike most aquarium fish, plecos don’t need much care.
However, like other fish species, they will thrive if you provide suitable water parameters and excellent care.
Pleco Behavior And Temperament
Plecos are peaceful fish that can live in a community tank.
But stress, competition over food, and unpleasant tank conditions can often lead them to show their aggressive side by chasing and pushing each other around.
Many plecos are night creatures and spend most of their time hiding in a crevice, under an overhang, or in a cave.
Some fish may adapt to aquarium life and become more sociable during the daytime.
Plecos usually grow big and need a lot of space in their tanks.
So they aren’t too happy sharing the available space with other fish, especially if the tank size is inadequate.
Keeping two adult plecos in the same aquarium can be dangerous as they can get aggressive toward each other.
They can also severely injure tankmates like goldfish or discus fish by sucking the slime from their bodies.
So it’s essential that you keep tankmates that swim at different levels in the tank or fish that can hold their ground when challenged by aggressive plecos.
Plecos are peaceful and friendly. They rarely display aggression toward other fish.
So they can be good companions to other peaceful fish species that need similar water conditions.
Plecos occupy the bottom of the tank. So it’s best to add tankmates that prefer to swim at a different level in the tank.
Some of the tankmates that you can keep with plecos are:
- Cichlids (docile ones),
- Hatchet fish,
- Platy fish,
- Swordtail, and
- Freshwater crabs.
Avoid placing bottom feeders faster than plecos as they will directly compete with the plecos for food and stress them.
Keeping the plecos with larger, aggressive fish can also be dangerous.
Given below are some fish that you shouldn’t keet with plecos:
- Clown loaches, and
Plecos also can’t live with axolotls.
Plecos are often suitable companions for other types of freshwater fish in community aquariums.
However, when plecos reach adulthood, they can’t get on with other plecos of the same species.
The freshwater plecos don’t need a special breeding tank. They can breed in the existing tank with other tankmates.
However, plecos can get territorial and aggressive during breeding.
To breed plecos successfully, keep both the male and female plecos together once they complete the age of one year.
Reduce the water temperature to replicate their breeding season.
If the fish displays interest in breeding, the male pleco will perform the mating dance to woo the female.
The male will attract the female inside the chosen cave, where the female will lay her eggs.
The male will then fertilize the eggs and keep guard until the eggs hatch.
Pleco babies are born independent. They don’t need care from their parents.
After the eggs hatch, you can feed baby fish food and algae powder to the fry.
The fry will take at least a week before they start swimming.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Plecos Have Scales?
Plecos don’t have scales. Instead, they have bony plates that are often referred to as scales. The body of a pleco is covered by tough, bony plates called armor-clad scales. These bony plates protect the plecos from any harm. However, these plates are missing on the head and belly of the pleco fish.
Are Plecos Nocturnal?
Plecos are nocturnal fish. They spend most of their day resting inside caves, overhangs, deep burrows, or dark crevices of the tank. They come out at night to search for food at the tank’s bottom. Plecos are solitary, shy fish that like to spend their day in the dark corners of the aquarium.
Do Plecos Eat Snails?
Plecos usually don’t eat snails because snails aren’t a part of their regular diet. However, plecos will eat them if they’re starving or develop a taste for them. They won’t eat all the snails, though. You can stop plecos from eating snails by providing ample hiding places and keeping them well-fed.
Do Plecos Need A Filter?
Plecos need a filter in their aquarium. They’re messy fish that create a lot of waste compared to the number of algae that they clean from the tank. That’s why a filter is required in a pleco tank to clean the water, remove the build-up of ammonia and nitrates, and oxygenate the aquarium water.
Can Plecos Live With Axolotls?
Plecos can’t live with axolotls in the same tank because of their size difference. They also have different water parameter requirements and distinct dietary preferences. As opportunistic scavengers, plecos chew everything they come across in an aquarium, including the slime of an axolotl’s body.