Are Plecos Invasive?

Plecos are considered invasive species in several areas because they’re pretty hardy and can survive in many areas that are non-native. They can tolerate different living conditions where other fish are unable to survive. They also have bony scutes that cover their bodies and protect them from injuries and attacks from other animals that would have otherwise been predators. 

Despite being helpful algae eaters that live at the bottom of the tank, plecos can represent a real threat to local species. People who dump their pet plecos in rivers and streams can negatively impact other fish species as plecos become invasive.

In this article, we’ll explain why plecos are considered invasive. So, keep reading to learn more about this topic.

Are Plecos Invasive?

Plecos originate in the Northeastern waters of South America, but they’re found in several parts of the world as they thrive as an invasive species. As long as the water parameters are suitable for these fish, they can easily adapt and live in their new home.

Despite their origin, plecos can nowadays be found in several areas in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the United States. Moreover, plecos are able to survive out of the water for up to 20 hours. This makes them more tolerant than most fish.

Galaxy Pleco

These fish find their way to different water bodies when people dump them. People get plecos because they’re bottom dwellers aiming to create balance in a community tank. They’re quite popular because they’re hardy and easy to care for, and they put the algae growth under control in a fish tank.

In some cases, these fish can accidentally escape from fish farms, finding their way to local water bodies.

Plecos have armored bodies covered in bony scutes. These scutes provide protection from aggressive fish and infections, helping them survive for long periods.

However, after a while, people feel that they don’t need these fish, so they’ll decide to dump them instead. People can dump plecos for several reasons.

  • They have no time to take care of a community tank, so they get rid of all the fish.
  • Plecos tend to live longer than most fish, outliving most of the living creatures in your tank.
  • They picked the wrong tank mates to add to the tank, so plecos are unable to get along with other fish species.
  • The tank is too small, and the plecos are growing to become too big.

What Happens When People Dump Plecos in Different Water Bodies?

Once they’re dumped in springs or rivers, plecos are able to push out and replace native species. They feed on the vegetation in different water bodies, depriving other fish of their food.

Moreover, there are several predators that feed on native fish. These species might not be able to feed on plecos because they’re larger and have armored bodies.

Plecos absorb high quantities of phosphorus to maintain the health of their bony skeletons. Phosphorus is essential for the growth of algae which represents the foundation of the food chain. As a result, the introduction of plecos can deprive many marine creatures of their primary food source.

They feed on the eggs of native fish, affecting their populations. They also affect the availability of food sources, so native fish are unable to thrive.

Plecos damage the shorelines of waterbodies because of their burrowing behavior before the mating season.

When introduced into a new habitat, plecos have no natural predators. Nothing will stop them from growing to be extremely large, which can jeopardize the safety of other species.

In addition, in areas where native fish provide people with a protein source, plecos can represent a real issue. Plecos are not as common as food, but some people eat them.

Will Plecos Eat Other Fish?

Plecos don’t generally attack other fish in their natural habitat or in a fish tank. They’re generally friendly fish that live at the bottom of the water body or tank, feeding on algae and decomposing organic matter.

However, plecos can attack and eat other fish. They attack dead or dying fish just before they die. They usually do this when live food is scarce. Plecos don’t attack healthy fish because they’re not aggressive.

If you want your plecos to stop eating dead or dying fish, you need to remove them from the tank as soon as possible. Leaving decomposing dead matter in the aquarium will tempt plecos to eat it.

Are Plecos Invasive in Florida?

The local waters in Florida are infested with the invasive plecos that compete with the native species in Florida. These fish can harass other native species and affect their population.

They represent a serious problem to the native fish of Florida as they gather around the bodies of moss-covered Florida manatees. Some manatees are able to tolerate the presence of these fish, while others will try to dislodge them. The effect of plecos on manatees is still not clear.

Most plecos are found in Florida after escaping fish farms, while there are lots of fish abandoned by irresponsible aquarists. Once established, plecos are pretty difficult to remove.

Plecos spend time grazing on the algae growing on manatees’ backs and can survive in the waters of Florida for several reasons.

  • These fish produce a large number of offspring and are able to survive without much care.
  • They have large stomachs that allow them to survive for long hours outside the water.
  • They’re quite tolerant of salinity and pollution, unlike other introduced species.
  • They grow rapidly every year.
  • They have a longer life span compared to most native species.

Wrap Up

Plecos are considered invasive species in several parts of the world because they’re hardy and tolerant. They’re able to adapt to different living conditions where other fish won’t survive.

People usually dump plecos when they grow to become too big. However, they sometimes also escape fish farms to infest nearby local water bodies.

Introducing plecos to local water bodies can greatly affect native species. These fish compete with local fish for food, eat their eggs, and might even feed on adult fish. Plecos are considered invasive in Florida, where they feed off the algae found on the back of manatees.