Clown Pleco: A Species Care Guide

Clown plecos are often colorful and have beautiful patterns that attract fish owners. You’ll find them in the tropical waters of South America in Venezuela or Colombia. They are generally small but quite strong and hardy. You’ll find them mostly on river basins, where it feeds on decaying plant matter and nibbles on driftwood at the bottom.

They’re popular species in aquariums as they don’t require extensive maintenance. Plecos are best for beginners because of the simple care schedule. They have an easy and flexible program with few demands and a vibrant aura.

It’s a freshwater fish that thrives well in low visibility areas and thrives in tough conditions like dirty water. They’re easily adaptable to different environments, which makes them easy to care for in the tank.

Distinguishing Features

The vibrant colors and patterns of clown plecos are their highlights in aquariums. The name clown plecos come from their distinct, bright, blended colors and patterns. Their colors depend on genetics and their health during growth and development.

By Kai Schreiber [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via
You’ll find them in yellow, brown, black, yellow, and gray mixtures and patterns. Wild plecos have more pronounced and standout patterns and colors than species in captivity. The most common patterns are rings, stripes, or waves that spread out from their black or gray body base.

Clown plecos have a large body and head up to the dorsal fin, which tapers into the caudal peduncle. Its head is usually wide and flat, especially in aquarium species. The dorsal fin is large and usually stands out in color, size, and shape.

They have large lips that allow them to suck from the riverbed or the tank floor. They also lie nibbling at wood as they’re wood-eating fish. Their pectoral fins are also quite pronounced. When they lay on the floor, the fins could cover their bodies. However, they’ll be inclined to fan their fins with appropriate and thriving tank conditions.

The dorsal and pectoral fins have the same surface areas. You’ll find them stacked at the back, compressed away and closer to the body when not resting on the substrate. It’s challenging to tell the difference in gender through their appearance as there’s not much difference.

The differences in the head and body are typically minute and challenging to differentiate. The color and shapes are fairly similar and can vary according to their habitat.


Tropical fish thrive in tropical areas in South America, specifically in the river basins in Venezuela. Also, you can find them in lakes, ponds, and other streams of water with dense root networks and vegetation.

The river network across the countries in the Apure and Caroni river basins, which are close to trees, forests and other natural vegetation, has many pieces of driftwood and a dense root network that the plecos can nibble on at the riverbed. Also, you can find it in the Rio Orinoco drainage.

They like hiding between the dense root network or wood on the riverbed in crevices. It keeps them from danger and provides a comfortable place to lay as they nibble on the wood and other vegetation.

Clown plecos are adaptable and can survive in dirty water with low visibility in their natural habitat despite being freshwater fish. They’ll find their way to feed and hide in such waters through the large masses of decaying plants and vegetation. It shows how hardy and adaptable they are in difficult situations.

Clown plecos are bottom-feeder fish. They focus more on getting their food, residing at the river bed. Their primary food source is decaying plants, vegetation, driftwood, and algae. They’re quick to adapt to different seasonal changes in the tropics. Thus, ensure you mimic these changes to make them comfortable in the tank.

Clown plecos aren’t endangered, and aquarists have easily integrated them into the tanks. They’re readily available in pet stores or breeding programs, where they’ll let you know about their care schedule and process.


The clown pleco is a tiny but hardy fish that rarely surpasses the 4-inch (10 cm) mark in adulthood. Their average size is approximately 3.5 inches (8.75 cm) long from the tip of the head to the tail. Because of their small appearance, people refer to them as the dwarf pleco.

Plecos in the wild could measure up to 5 inches, but those in captivity maintain at 4 inches. There’s no size difference between males and females. They’re the same weight and height if bred in the same conditions. Proper care of water conditions and feeds could increase their average size in the aquarium.

It allows them to maneuver through the river easily and swiftly as they look for food and hiding places. Those in captivity could gain more weight if fed appropriately and in the right conditions. These plecos grow rapidly during their earlier years – up to 5 years – where they mature and reduce their growth rate.


Plecos generally have long lifespans of between 10 to 15 years. They can live up to 20 years if kept in proper conditions. Notably, these fish grow to maturity within their first five years. Their survival afterward depends on the care and water conditions that they’ll live in.

In the wild, they’re quite peaceful,which increases their lifespan. However, their small nature makes them a potential target for carnivores, which is why they’re good at carving out hiding places in mazes and river beds, keeping them safe and protected. Fortunately, in an aquarium, their lifespan can be elongated with proper feeding regimes and environment.

Being freshwater fish, you’ll need to be more careful to ensure their water conditions are up to par. Regular cleaning and proper diet help increase your clown plecos lifespan.


Differentiating male and female clown plecos through appearance is quite difficult. However, you can easily see the fish using the whiskers, head, and odontodes. The following are the primary differences.

Body Shape

Male clown plecos have broader heads that take a triangular shape with a smaller middle shape. Females will have a smaller and slimmer head shape but a wider middle when growing in the same conditions as the males.

Reproductive Organs

Check out these parts on the lower side of the fish near the tail fin for confirmation. The genital papilla in male clown plecos tends to be longer and more pointed. The females have broader and rounder organs.


Males have longer whiskers than females. However, ensure you compare fish of the same age lest you sex them incorrectly.


As clown fish mature (around eight months), they’ll grow tentacle-like whiskers on their cheeks and snout. Males will have extensive and longer odontodes than females. It’s a sure way to tell the fish’s sex once they mature and are ready for breeding.


Clown plecos are non-aggressive fish who don’t take an interest in other fish, even in aquariums. They focus on getting their food and surviving, which makes the perfect fish to live with other mates. They’ll mostly be on driftwood, where they suck and nibble at it. They’ll often swim alone while looking for fish or drift around the bottom while enjoying a swim.

They’ll rest on it at the bottom of the tank if they aren’t nibbling at it. You’d be surprised at how much driftwood it nibbles at daily. If it’s your first time keeping a clown pleco, ensure you provide good driftwood for their wood-nibbling escapades.

Having two male clown plecos in the same tank nearby could awaken their aggression. The males are quite territorial and could start fighting, disrupting the peace. Ensure you separate the males when in the aquarium. You can use a separate tank or increase the capacity of the tank and have them in different sections.

Tank Parameters

The tank parameters determine the comfort and happiness of the Clown pleco fish. The tank should mimic the conditions and appearance of its natural habitat. Check on the pH, water temperatures, lighting, and decor the tropical fish selected requires. Consider these factors when choosing your tank parameters.

Minimum Tank Size

Clown plecos spend most of their time at the river or lake bottom. Thus, you should get a tank large enough that accommodates them when moving and food hunting at the bottom of the tank. Get taller tanks allowing your plecos to enjoy getting to the bottom and drifting away on the wood pieces.

A 20-gallon tank is a minimum size for one or two plecos. It’ll have your fish grow healthy and happy in the tank. If you intend to have additional plecos, add 10 gallons for every extra fish. It gives the plecos sufficient space preventing any territorial squabbles on space and driftwood.

Water Parameters

Clown plecos are freshwater fish that aren’t quite difficult to maintain. They have minimal demands in their care procedures. First, you must use fresh water with a water hardness of between 6 to 8 dGH. Plecos have more waste in the water because of their wood nibbling. Be ready to monitor the water composition and clean it regularly to keep them comfortable.

Consider these factors when setting up the pleco’s tank.


The tank temperature for clown plecos should range between 72 to 82 degrees. However, ensure you monitor and change the water temperature to imitate the changing seasons in their natural habitat.


Plecos require low pH levels of between 6 to 8. This range means that the water shouldn’t be over-alkaline or acidic to avoid toxicity in the tank. Ensure that the pH levels don’t go too low or high to avoid toxic environments causing illness or death of the fish.


Salinity refers to the concentration of sodium ions in your aquarium. Significant changes in the saltiness in the aquarium water could cause dehydration, illnesses, and death. Ensure the saltiness of your aquarium should be at least 15 parts in a thousand.

Tank Setup

The setup’s structure and appearance should provide an accommodating environment where the fish can thrive. Get a tall rather than a broad tank for the fish’s comfort. Regular cleaning and filtration allow the water to remain fresh and accommodating.

Despite having appropriate water conditions in the aquarium, its appearance should bring in other natural elements that resemble their natural habitat. For example, adding plants, sand, or rocks could make the aquarium resemble dense riverbeds in tropical rainforest areas.


The tank substrate covers the bottom of the aquarium. Many fish tank owners use it for aesthetics, but it creates the perfect contrast for your tankscape. The gravel, sand, rocks, and plants used can be a nitrogen filter for the aquarium.

Use smooth rocks because a rough texture could graze the belly of the fish, causing sores and wounds. Also, place pieces of wood on the tank’s base for the clowns to rest and nibble at.


When installing decorations in your aquarium, use reasonable colors that match their natural habitat. Get pieces of driftwood, rocks, and live or plastic plants to install across the tank’s base.

Plecos spend most of their time at the bottom. You can add some castles, rocks, and wood where algae can grow, or they can snack on sometimes. Also, include different shelter options where the plecos can hide like differently shaped plastic plants or rocks.


Use live or plastic plants in the aquarium for decor and the fish’s lifestyle. Live plants will provide changing scenes in the aquarium, which works best for the plecos.


Plecos are nocturnal – where they’re active at night. They thrive in areas with less direct sunlight. Avoid placing artificial light in the tank and place the tank away from direct sunlight.


Your tank needs proper nitrogen filtration to maintain the right pH and composition of the aquarium water. You can use mechanical filters to remove wastes and filter the water in the tank. This way, the tank water always has the right pH and hardness levels free from waste.


Clown plecos need warm waters to thrive. You’ll need a tank heater to maintain temperatures between 72 and 82 degrees, especially in winter. Lower or higher temperatures destabilize the water conditions, thus causing illnesses or uncomfortable situations.


Clown plecos feed on decaying plant matter and other organisms in the river. They also snack on wood frequently. You should focus on algae and other plant-based feeds like zucchini, peas, or lettuce with high nutritional value. The algae on the rocks and wood perfectly supplement your plecos.

Feed them bloodworms three times weekly to increase their protein intake. Feed them once daily as they take up to a whole day to digest their food.


Clown plecos mostly breed during the rainy time of the year. Thus, lowering the water temperatures and slightly increasing the pH level as you approach spawning is necessary.

Transfer the spawning pair to the breeding tank. Ensure the tank has proper hiding places where they can spawn their eggs. Use wooden caves for these hiding places.ž

After spawning, the male will protect the eggs until they hatch. If you notice the male hovering around these caves for most of the day, they’re protecting the eggs.

Once they hatch, transfer the male out of the tank and nurture the young fish with the proper diet to maturity.

Common Diseases

Common fish illnesses caused by parasites, bacteria, or fungi often have treatments or solutions. Clown plecos are hardy and hardly affected by specific illnesses. However, they might get parasitic or fungal infections that affect their skin. Or poor water quality might affect their health.

Here are some subtle symptoms to help you identify their illness. If you notice any of these signs, you should have your fish checked:

  • Sores on the skin
  • Poor feeding
  • Unusual body or skin forms, usually white
  • Abnormal breathing

Excessive ammonia content in the tank water limits the amount of oxygen. You’ll find your fish gasping for air and generally lethargic because of limited ammonia content. Use a neutralizer and clean out your tank regularly to prevent reoccurrence.

Ich is another common disease for clown plecos. It’s a parasite-caused disease that affects the skin of the fish. Look out for white patches on the fish’s skin for this infection. They’re quickly transferrable since the Ich spores lie in the substrate and can easily multiply and infect other fish.

To treat it, reduce the tank water volume by a third. Then, mix the Ic treatment and let it rest for a day. Repeat the cycle until there are no more signs of ich spores on the substrate or the fish.

Potential Tank Mates

The peacefulness of clown plecos allows them to integrate with other types of fish. Potential tank mates for the clown plecos include:

  • Bala sharks
  • Ember tetras
  • Dwarf gouramis
  • Minnows
  • Angelfish
  • Rasboras