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Aquarium Plecostomus Catfish Species

PlecostomusThe Pleco fish is super popular due to it’s scavenging hunger. It does great in fish aquariums! Mainly an algae eater but the Pleco will also feed on meaty foods. They are sometimes called the ‘garbage disposal’ due to the wide variety foods and clean up process they due on the bottom of fish aquariums.

These bottom feeders are going to eat all of the uneaten food that the other fish leave behind. It’s important to research your tank’s variables before just adding one of these catfish. Another amazing benefit to keeping them in aquariums is they eat all the uneaten fish food that sinks to the bottom. If that fish food were to just sit on the tank bottom.. it would create nitrates and in turn hurt your water parameters.

Take Care of a Pleco in 7 Easy Steps

1.) Have an Established Aquarium Running
Make sure that your fish aquarium is effectively running and keeping fish alive over time. Catfish are usually super hardy but it’s still a good idea to make sure your setup is ready for new fish.

2.) Feed Them the Proper Food
Buy some good algae wafers for your catfish. A lot of brands are full of “fillers” and.. just crap. Buy a reputable brand that your fish will love (maybe a couple dollars more). I personally recommend the “Omega One” brand. Here is an Amazon link – image.

food for catfish

3.) They Need Hiding Spots
Most catfish are going to need dark hiding spots. Small tunnels or caves work tremendously well. Amazon.com sells actual caves designed for aquarium catfish (image/link below). Or I’ve seen some people use small pieces of black pipe in their aquariums. The fish just needs to hide because they are nocturnal and get insecure without hiding spots. Here is an example of a hiding cave from Amazon.com

cave pleco

4.) Some Needed Protein
These fish get the nickname “garbage disposals” for a reason.. BECAUSE they eat literally everything. They are omnivores and that means they also need some meat or protein from time to time. Here are some ideas.. if you have a fish that has died and sank to the bottom.. let the catfish eat on that for a while. OR.. at night drop some “cichlid pellets” that sink to the bottom for them. They are nocturnal so do it at night so the other fish don’t eat all of them. Don’t go overboard with this.. but just some protein from time to time.

5.) Catfish vs. Catfish
I advise to only keep one pleco per aquarium but some do get along quite well. Some of them will fight to the death though! Just be careful to watch and make sure your catfish aren’t fighting.

6.) Regular Light Schedule
Some aquarium keepers keep their lights on 24-7 all the time (this is unhealthy by the way). Catfish need a regular lighting schedule because they are nocturnal and when its dark is when they come out to feed and move around. Buy a light timer and try to replicate a REAL light schedule that your fish can get used. Replicate what a natural habitat would be for when the sun rises and when it sets.

7.) Don’t Forget About Them!
It’s super easy to forget that bottom feeder is just sleeping somewhere in your tank. I personally go weeks without seeing some of my catfish because they hide all day and only come out at night time. Don’t forget to drop that food in at night when the lights are off. It seems like somewhat of a stupid thing.. but it’s very common to have happen.

*Note – Common Questions Asked (Posted Bottom of Page)

About the Catfish Species

The Plecos are popular aquarium fishes and many Pleco species can be successfully kept even by novice aquarists. In addition to being sturdy and adaptable, the Plecos can also aid the beginner aquarist by consuming excessive algae growth.

Pleco is the common name used for a group of catfishes in the family Loricariidae. One of the species in the family is named Hypostomus plecostomus, and since this species is highly popular in the aquarium trade all the other related species is today referred to as Plecos in everyday language. Another name for the fishes in the family Loricariidae is “Armored catfishes”. Armored catfishes look as if they are carrying old fashioned armour, since the upper parts of the head and body is decorated with longitudinal rows of scutes.

pleco bristlenoseIf you find a fish in your local pet store that is sold as “Common Pleco” is can be any of the many Pleco species. Chances are however that it is either a Bristlenose Catfish (Ancistrus dolichopterus) or a Suckermouth Catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus), since these two are among the most frequently kept Pleco species. Two other examples of popular Pleco species are the Sailfin Catfish (Liposarcus multiradiatus) and the Liposarcus pardalis.

Wild Plecos are found in freshwaters in Central American and South America. The temperature in the aquarium must therefore be kept in the 23-27° C (73-81° F) range. All Plecos species are night active. You can make them less shy during the day by dimming the light in the aquarium and including floating plants in the set up. During the day, the eyes of a Pleco are protected by a specialized omega iris. As a Pleco grows older, it can sometimes become highly territorial and start displaying aggressive tendencies towards other fish. Sometimes it is necessary to move an old Plecos to its own aquarium to avoid stress and injury.

How Large Can They Grow?

Before you purchase a Pleco, it is a good idea to find out how large that particular species can grow. A small 8 centimetre (3 inches) Pleco from the fish store can eventually turn into a 60 centimetre long (2 feet) fish that needs a very large aquarium to do well. Different Pleco species will have different colorations, and some of them can also be recognised on special anatomical features. The Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus) can for instance be recognised on its protruding “horns”.

pleco eatingThe Bristlenosed Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus) is often the first type of Pleco encountered by novice fish keepers and you can find it in many community aquariums kept by beginner aquarists. This is a very sturdy fish species that will adapt to most conditions, as long as you keep the water in the 23-27° C (73-81° F) range.

Wild Bristlenose Pleco is found in the Amazon River (including the tributaries) and the ideal aquarium for a Bristlenose Pleco is therefore one that resembles the Amazon habitat. It is not uncommon for a Bristlenose Pleco to reach an age of 10 years or more in a well cared for aquarium.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the Pleco will help remove excessive algae growth from the aquarium. In most aquariums, the Pleco will however need more food than just natural algae. Algae wafers from the pet store are usually highly appreciated. Since wild Bristlenose Pleco feed on plant material, it will also like vegetables in the aquarium. You can for instance feed your Bristlenose Pleco boiled peas, cucumber and squash. (sourced: aquariumforum.info)

You will find that these catfish absolutely love aquarium driftwood in their habitat. Some species come very close to needing it in their diet to chew on and such too. Make sure to research your particular species on if they need driftwood in their diet.

Referred to as a “Common Pleco”

The usual bottom feeder catfish that most pet stores carry is referred to as the common Pleco. It’s somewhat of a vague term to use just because it usually references to numerous species of plecos. The most common types are the Sailfin Pleco, Bristlenose Pleco, Amazon Sailfin Pleco, and the general Suckermouth Pleco.

fish common pleco

They are all so closely related that it doesn’t really even matter what species you get because taking care of each will be the same. Let’s jump into the facts regarding how to care for these awesome catfish.

Aquarium Tank Size

Almost all beginners have no idea that these catfish can commonly grow up to 15 inches long and up. Somewhat of a scary topic… but it’s the brutal truth. These cute little catfish are sold at around 3 inches long and commonly placed into 20 gallon aquariums. A fish that grows up to a food long will need a tank size of 100 gallons (rough estimate). The rule of thumb for aquarium fish is 1 inch of fish needs 10 gallons of water.

Granted, it takes the fish years to grow that long but just a heads up on possible tank upgrades you might need. Some aquarium owners just sell the fish when they outgrow their tanks. Pet stores can sell larger fish for a higher price so they will sometimes buy the fish right from you. I’m not trying to scare you but instead just properly educate. This video is a great guide if you enjoy learning from videos more than articles.

Growth Size, Full Size?

Like I already mentioned, Plecostomus catfish can grow up to 2 feet long. That’s 24 inches folks! Crazy large. These catfish will grow large in small habitats too. The size of their habitat does not stunt their growth.

Feeding Plecos

pleco bristlenoseThese fish eat both sides of the food chain. They are omnivores and mostly love algae but will also take advantage of a meal indulged in meaty food. You will commonly see them eating dead fish on the bottom of your tank. Great scavengers at that!

Feed them algae tablets right before your aquarium lights go off. This helps to rid other fish of stealing these algae tablets and eating them. Because remember the the tablets need to fall all the way to the bottom in order for the bottom feeder catfish to eat them. Other fish love to steal them when possible.

Lifespan and How Old?

Did you know these fish are almost prehistoric? Ok.. I made that up but don’t they sort of seem like it? These fish live up to 20-30 years long! I mean.. WOW! That just adds to the value of why I am in love with these awesome creatures.

Habitat Setup for Aquarium

It is said that Plecos need wood in their habitat to live healthy lifestyle. I have owned dozens of tanks without any type of wood successfully with Plecos. Just to be safe though, you can add some wood to their habitat. The most important aspect for their habitat is hiding places. Make sure that when you common Plecostomus goes to run and hide.. that it has plenty of places to go to. I use black pipes and other decor that the bottom feeders love hiding in.

Live Plants Taste Good!

Does it seem odd that a strong algae eater would eat your live plants…? Nope. So word to the wise, these fish love to eat live plants. Sturdy and very strong plants may survive but your just tempting fate trying to grow tasty plants around a plant eater.

Gravel Versus No Gravel

Bare bottom tanks work with Pleco catfish just fine but I have found that they appreciate a tank with a substrate much more. Because they use their sucker to slowly move around and search for food in crevices, gravel just makes for a better setup. You can ideally use any substrate with these fish though.

Water Temperature

Most fish aquariums are “tropical setups” in the water temperatures of 72-84 F range. Plecos will do just fine I’m that and even lower temps. Even down in the mid 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A pretty adaptable fish when it comes to water temps really. Maybe that’s why they are multiplying in huge numbers down south haha!

Top 20 Questions Asked Regarding Plecos:

Benefits to My Fish Aquarium?

The Pleco is mainly an algae eater and that means good news for your aquarium. That annoying algae that grows everywhere is now a tasty meal for the Pleco. They are on a constant feeding frenzy of finding their next snack. There is realistically small algae particles everywhere in your tank, so the Pleco has it’s work cut out.

To make things even better, the Pleco is a true bottom feeder and will eat almost anything it can. They commonly get blamed for killing fish, but the truth is the fish died and sank to the bottom and the Pleco took action on its next food source. They will eat all those uneaten food particles that are bad news for nitrate levels too. They don’t eat poop but really help keep a tank clean.

leapord frog pleco

Tank Size Requirements?

Smaller Plecos do perfectly fine in smaller aquariums but as they grow, they demand larger surroundings. Within their 15-20 year lifespan, they can sometimes grow up to 2 feet long. It’s pretty easy for your Pleco to outgrow smaller tanks in the 30-55 gallon range. Their growth does take some time and some may not grow outside of what their tank size allows for. If you get on YouTube, you will find a plethora of videos where aquarists have Plecos that are 16 inches long in 30 gallon aquariums. It’s important to note that these fish have the power to out grow their aquarium in certain scenarios.

What is a Common Pleco?

Pet stores will refer to their plecostomus catfish as “common plecos” a lot of the time. This is just a generalized group of pleco catfish that are so similar in traits that they categorize together. There are around a dozen types that are referred to as “common plecos” like the Sailfin Pleco, Bristlenose Pleco, and so forth. That generalized term doesn’t get used much around here for more in-depth catfish owners. We use the “L-number” parameters to name these species. Because they are so many types.. the number system works easier.

How Large do They Grow?

These bottom feeders can easily reach 1 to 2 feet in length. Most aquarium owners have no idea of this when they purchase this bottom feeder. These fish also live 20 to 30 years in captivity and that makes for a decent size aquarium that is needed. Anywhere from 50 to more gallons will be adequate size.

It is completely fine to have one of these in a smaller aquarium if they are in their youth of age. Must be aware though that this fish is going to need an upgrade in aquarium size as soon as it starts to grow. I personally see these fish in 20 gallon tanks all the time and I try to stress that you need a bigger aquarium. People just fail to realize that these fish need larger living environments.

Tank Mates and Roommates?

Plecos are very territorial towards others of the same species. Do not keep two Plecos in one tank or you will have issues. It may work out right away but keep a close eye on them at all times. Their attacks are very abrupt and sudden.

plecoAs far as other fish species you have a very large spectrum of choices. Other fish have a tendency to leave them alone just because they said on the bottom and don’t really do anything except feed. To mention that their skin is known as an armor in the fish species habitat. It really doesn’t seem like a fish that you would want to fight with (to other fish). The stories you do read one Fish actually come after them and set up in a bad scenario. The top dorsal fin of the Pleco is very pointy and fish will have great deal of issues trying to eat it.

The only fish that we hear of having issues with the Pleco are unusually aggressive fish. Species that come to mind quickly might be.. Piranhas, Oscars and such. Some fish you might want to stay clear of our very flat fish to where the bottom feeder can get it sucker stuck on the side of fish and possibly kill it. You have to remember that this fish love sucking on things and will do so all day long!

Nocturnal Lifestyle

It should be known that this fish is entirely nocturnal and has a special eyelid that protects its vision during sunlight. If you have a light on during the day it will use a special eyelid and cover its eyes but when the lights go out that’s when the eyelid arises and it starts its day.

You should know that the best time to feed these guys is right before you turn your light off this way that the other fish cannot feed on the special food design for the Pleco. This works out the best because they are the only ones I can see at night and while the other fish are sleeping it can do its own thing and feet on the food you gave it.

Food and Nutrition

You should realize that these fish eat plants and they are algae eaters. When setting up your tank around this fish you need to realize that they may wreck some species of plants that are very delicate. Air commonly known to rip up plans and take out the routes from within the ground. Stick with plants that are super sturdy and durable that can withstand some force of the Pleco.

A good way to save a lot of your plants is to use some treats like zucchini and lettuce or just special tablets designed for them. You keep their appetite fulfilled it is less likely that they are going to tear apart your life plants just because they have something that is a lot easier and right in front of them. Are a lot of different vegetables that you will find that your fish walls. Zucchini is one of the most popular and you can check out this thread on giving them a treat of zucchini.


What Do You Think?

Posted by Jim:
I am considering plecostomus for an outdoor pond in Livermore CA. The pond is a 150 gallon Rubbermaid tub. Will plecostomus survive here? The summer highs average about 92 *F and winter lows about 25-40*F

Here is the climate report: Annual high temperature: 72.8°F – Annual low temperature: 47.8°F

Reply from Chris W:
As long as you have a “common” species from your pet smart or petco you should be completely fine. Actually these common plecs are taking over the swamps of florida water holes becuase some aquarists have been letting them go and they are now breeding and taking over in the ponds. Lots of people keep them with goldfish tanks and goldfish are considered “cold water” fish so you should be fine.

Posted by Kelly Niuy:
Can a person keep Plecos together in the same tank? Or what catfish tank mates can live beside them?

Reply from Admin Chris:
It is said that it’s fine to keep juvenile Plecos together in the same tank but having larger ones together is not a good idea because their aggression levels are higher. Even though these fish seem to themselves.. when you add another of the same species you will quickly learn their real aggression levels. Hope that helps.

Posted by Sarah N:
My daughter has a 10 gallon aquarium and we have a Plecostomus and some other fish. Is this a terrible idea and what happens when the tank is too small for fish?

Reply from Admin Chris:
To be completely honest.. ten gallon aquariums are not good for pet fish this size. There only a handful of species that do well in that small of a tank. Catfish are not one of them. This happens all the time and we get this question a lot. All I can say is I urge you to get your child a bigger tank and maybe indulge in the awesome hobby of fish keeping. A 30 gallon tank would be a great start.