10 Facts You Need to Know About the Pleco

The Pleco’s natural habitat is in the rivers of the Amazon jungle in South America. They belong to the armored catfish family due to the rows of armor-like scutes that cover parts of their body – the location of these scutes varies from species to species. There are more than 150 identified species of Plecos. Although the Pleco has become a very popular aquarium species, most of them should not be kept in an aquarium environment due to their very large adult size. In this blog post we are going to learn 12 facts about the Pleco that will help you to better understand this species, as well as learn what types of habitats they can be kept in where they will absolutely thrive.

1. What Are The Different Types of Plecos?

While there are over 150 identified species of plecos, only very few are “ideal” for captivity. Let’s take a look at each of them and their maximum size so that you can determine which species will thrive in your current aquatic habitat or the one that you are planning to set up.

Bristlenose Pleco – Image Source: Aquaticarts.com

Bristlenose Pleco

Maximum Size: 5 inches

This species is highly recommended for larger aquariums (55+ gallons) that are community aquariums. This peaceful pleco has fleshy appendages around its lips, snout and head. These “bristles” grow as the pleco grows. The males tend to have more bristles than the females do. The females tend to barely have any in fact.

YouTuber KeepingFishSimple created a great beginner care guide which you can watch here for more information on this species:

Zebra Pleco – Image Source: Aquascaper

Zebra Pleco

Maximum Size: 3.5 inches

The zebra pleco has beautiful black and white stripes along its body. Native to the Rio Xingú basin in Brazil, this species was placed on the endangered species list due to the development of the Belo Monte Dam. Since then certain members of this species have been banned for export. So if you do find one for sale in the aquarium trade be sure to do your research on how to properly care for them. YouTuber TM Aquatics shares his experience with the L046 Zebra Pleco in this comprehensive video:

Clown Pleco – Image Source: Inland Aquatics

Clown Pleco

Maximum Size: 3.5 inches

This species is primarily found in Venezuela and they have also been reported in Columbia. This small pleco is known to eat a lot of algae in aquariums. YouTuber Big Fish Little Fish Aquatics goes over their care needs in detail in the video below.

Gold Nugget Pleco

Maximum Size: 10 inches

This beautifully colored pleco is known to be better suited for experienced fishkeepers with very large aquariums or ponds. They are a very desirable pleco due to their dark green to black bodies with yellow spots and a yellow band on the outer edge of both its caudal fin and its dorsal fins. The males have a flatter, broader head and longer pectoral fin spines than the females. Aquariadise has a comprehensive care guide for this species which you can check out here: Ultimate Gold Nugget Pleco Care Guide

Sailfin Pleco – Image Source: FishinAquarium.com

Sailfin Pleco

Maximum Size: 19 inches

Unless you have a VERY large aquarium (300 gallons or more) or a large pond, this species gets way too big for most standard size aquariums. Aquarium Source has a comprehensive guide on how to care of this species which you can read here: Sailfin Pleco 101: Care, Size, Diet, and More

Royal Pleco – Image Source: Unknown

Royal Pleco

Maximum Size: 17 inches

The royal pleco comes from Columbia. There are 6 different pattern varieties of this species, however, these patterns are very minimal in their differentiation. As this species grows they tend to get aggressive towards other royal plecos. So if you are thinking about keeping one of these, there should only be one per habitat. Another drawback to this species is their size. So unless you have a very large aquarium or a pond, there are other species that are more suitable for your set up than this one. Check out the video below to see an adult.

Aquarium Source has a comprehensive care guide if you have the right habitat for this species and are looking into keeping it: Royal Pleco 101: Care, Size, Growth Rate, Food & More

Snowball Pleco – Image Source: Discus.com

Snowball Pleco

Maximum Size: 6 inches

This species has a really cool pattern all over its body that resembles small snowballs. In the wild you can find them in the Rio Negro in Venezuela. They are known to be a very peaceful species that gets along well with other peaceful species. So they are ideal for the right size community aquarium. Watch a snowball pleco munch on a zucchini in the video below:

If you are interested in this species, AquariumSource.com has a full care guide which you can check out here to learn more about them: Snowball Pleco Care: The Complete Guide

Rubber Lip Pleco – Image Source: KeepingFish.com

Rubber Lip Pleco

Maximum Size: 7 inches

In the wild this species is found in the Magdalena River in Columbia and the Apure River in Venezuela. They eat mostly algae which makes them a great cleaner fish for larger aquariums. YouTuber Everyday Fishkeeping took a quick video of his rubber lip pleco cleaning the glass on his 40 gallon breeder aquarium so that you can see it in action:

For a full species care guide, check out AquariumSource.com’s rubber lip pleco care guide here: Rubber Lip Pleco 101: Care, Max Size, Diet, And More

Leopard Frog Pleco – Image Source: Aquaticarts.com

Leopard Frog Pleco

Maximum Size: 4 inches

These beautiful plecos have a yellow body with black bands. Their fins appear to have separate pieces to them with a split at the end which you can see pictured above. This species is now tank bred and is available at a significantly less cost thanks to breeders.

For a full care guide, check this one out from AquariumSource.com: Leopard Frog Pleco (L134): The Complete Care Guide

Once you have decided which species will thrive in your aquatic habitat, be sure to do extensive research on the species of your choice before you make a purchase.

2. Are Plecos Algae Eaters?

Yes! In fact, this is their role in their wild habitat. They keep the algae under control so that it does not over grow. The pleco has a sucker-like mouth that allows the pleco to adhere to a surface and suck the algae off of the surfaces of its habitat.

3. What Does a Pleco’s Diet Consist Of?

In addition to the algae in their habitat, pleco owners feed them algae wafers and supplement with raw zucchini or cucumbers.

4. Are Plecos Aggressive?

Certain species of plecos are reported to only show signs of aggression towards other species of plecos. This is why it is VERY important that you do your research and ensure that any pleco that you are keeping will not cause an issue for your other plecos – if you are planning on keeping multiple species of plecos. Very few species of plecos have been reported to pick on other fish and invertebrates. So make sure that you choose the right pleco for your aquarium or pond based on what their needs are and what you currently have in the habitat. They do have a behavior that sometimes gets mistaken as aggressive behavior in which they essentially “shoo” away other fish in their paths while they are consuming the algae in an aquarium or in a pond. This is reported to be a normal behavior. But they should not be biting or inflicting any kind of harm to other plecos, fish or invertebrates in your aquarium, pond, etc.

5. What Fish Are Compatible with Plecos?

Pelcos tend to do very well in community aquariums, ponds, etc. This will vary by species for example, the bristlenose pleco is known to get along with the following species:

  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Platies
  • Swordtails
  • Corydora Catfish
  • Gouramis
  • Bettas
  • Otocinclus Catfish
  • Tiger Barbs
  • Angelfish
  • Neon Tetras
  • Khuli Loach
  • Siamese Algae Eater
  • Rosy Tetra
  • Rummy Nose Tetra

While it has been reported that the zebra pleco should be kept in a species only habitat. Do your research on the species that you would like to keep and be sure that the current inhabitants of your aquarium, pond, etc. are compatible with the pleco that you are looking to add in with them.

6. What Are Common Diseases Found in the Pleco?

Common diseases that the pleco is susceptible to are:

Ich

A parasitic disease that presents as white spots which appear all over the body, fins and gills. Your pleco will “flash” or rub the sides of its body on your substrate as well as lose it’s appetite and it will likely hide more frequently. This is a common disease with freshwater fish, so it is fairly easy to cure if address early on. Ich occurs when there is poor water quality and it grows exponentially in warmer temperatures.

YouTuber AQUAPROS made a fantastic video on how to treat any fish with ich:

Dropsy

This bacterial disease presents as bloating of the pleco’s body and a loss of coloration. This disease is known to be tough to cure. YouTuber Everyday Aquatics created an excellent video on dropsy and shows how he treated his betta fish with the disease and cured it:

Fin Rot

Is caused by a bacterial infection due to poor water quality and low water temperature. This disease can be difficult to cure, but it is easy to prevent. Fin rot presents as a milky discoloration on the edges of the pleco’s fins. As the disease spreads, pieces of the pleco’s fins will fray and die off leaving the fins with a ragged edge.

Signs of Fin Rot Illustration – Image Source: Ashley Nicole DeLeon – The Spruce, 2018

Spruce Pets has an entire guide on the disease including details on how to prevent it and how to treat it: Fin Rot in Aquarium Fish

Fish Fungus

This fungal infection presents as white or grayish, cotton ball resemblance growths on the pleco’s body. It can spread fairly quickly so once you notice it, you’ll need to act promptly in order to cure your pleco. YouTuber Aquarium Co-Op has a great video on this disease and how to treat it:

Pop-Eye

This bacterial infection presents as the pleco’s eyes protruding. YouTuber Lifewithpets treated her betta fish successfully that had contracted this disease. Here is her extensive video showing step by step how she cured her betta fish Bandit:

Hole in Head

It presents as small indentations or holes in the pleco’s head. In the video below, YouTuber Creative Fish Studio shares his oscar’s recovery story from this disease and shows how he treated him.

Part 1:

Part 2:

7. Are Plecos Jumpers?

Yes! If you are keeping plecos in an aquarium of any kind, you will want to have a good lid in order to prevent them from jumping out. For ponds, you’ll need to have high enough ledges so that the pleco cannot jump out. Some species of plecos are reported to sometimes get spooked which can result in them jumping out of the aquarium. Other reasons for them jumping out is poor water quality, getting bullied by aggressive species in your aquarium and electrical shocks from equipment (use a grounding probe to eliminate this from happening).

8. How Do You Breed Plecos?

Depending on the specific species that you are interested in breeding will determine their specific breeding behaviors. Some are easier than others and some are much more profitable than others. For example, the bristlenose pleco is known for being relatively easy to breed while the zebra pleco is said to be more of an advanced project or venture to pursue. Bristlenose plecos are about $20 at the highest retail price while the zebra pleco can be as much as $200.

A great resource to help you get started with breeding plecos is this video:

Jeremy Basch explains how he is saving an endangered species of pleco along with making a profit. In the video he explains how this species breeds and what you’ll need in order to take this on if you are interested.

9. What is a Plecos Lifespan?

On average the pleco can live from 10 to 15 years of age in the right conditions.

10. Are Plecos An Invasive Species?

In several countries they are invasive and a serious problem for some freshwater fisheries. For example, the sailfin catfish invasion has been linked to the decline of freshwater fisheries. Plecos feed on algae and absorb high quantities of phosphorus. They need to do this in order to maintain their bony skeletons. Phosphorus is key to the growth of algae. Algae is the base of the food chain.

So if a pleco is released into a body of water that it is not naturally occurring in or that they are not indigenous to, they can greatly alter nutrient dynamics. As a result this can change food availability in an ecosystem and affect all other organisms that depend on those resources in order to survive. Invasive plecos have caused problems for people who rely on other fish as a source of protein and income in Central America, Asia and the Caribbean. This has led to the ban of the species in India since the year 2000. So if you do end up needing to re-home a pleco at any point, please do so with another hobbyist and do not release them into your local body of freshwater.

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