Gold Nugget Pleco Care Guide

Category: Catfish

Common Names: Gold Nugget Pleco

Scientific Name: Baryancistrus sp

Family: Loricariidae

Minimum Tank Size: 55 Gallons

Care Level: Moderate

Temperament: Peaceful

Max Size: 8 Inches

Temperature: 72-80 F

pH: 6.5-7.5

Tank Level: Bottom

Colors: Black, Yellow, Tan

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Difficult

Are you interested in adding the gold nugget pleco to your tank? Read on to learn about this species.

Species Overview

The vibrant gold nugget pleco, also known by its scientific name, baryancistrus xanthellus, thrives in freshwater in tropical climates. Though difficult to find in most pet stores, several varieties can be purchased online if you want to add this colorful fish to your aquarium.

The conditions necessary for keeping gold nugget plecos should mimic their natural habitat in Brazil. The specifications for housing these plecos include a large tank size, one of several reasons they aren’t considered a beginner fish.

Fishkeepers choose the gold nugget pleco for its colorful patterns but also for its ability to clean up the tank. These bottom feeders consume food scraps in addition to eating algae growing on the sides of the aquarium.

Golden nugget pleco

Distinguishing Features

The gold nugget subspecies of pleco have several features that make the fish distinct. A light band of color on the caudal and dorsal fin edges sets them apart. This coloration presents in young fish but fades with age.

Gold nugget pleco showcases light spots all over the body in a bright yellow color, especially in juveniles, resulting in the fish’s Portuguese name, amarelinho, or little yellow. This bright coloration provides one of the main draws for aquarium enthusiasts who choose this fish.

The L-number system is a semi-scientific means of classification used to tell members of the armored catfish family apart. Fishkeepers also use these L-numbers to mark pattern differences between members of the same species.

A gold nugget pleco falls into one of three categories of appearance. The way each fish looks relates to the specific conditions of their natural habitat.

  • L081: small spots
  • L018/85: medium spots
  • L177: large spots


Like other members of the loricariidae family, this suckermouth catfish species hails from South America, specifically Brazil. The gold nugget pleco naturally occurs in the Xingu River and its tributary, the Iriri River.

These fresh waters flow through the tropical savanna. Unlike other rivers in the area, the Xingu River is known for its clear water. Gold nugget pleco is especially prevalent in the Volta Grande section of the river, where the river spreads out.

Low waterfalls and rapids characterize this portion of the river, formed by granite outcroppings. The young fish stick to the more shallow regions near flat rocks, while adult gold nugget plecos are found in deeper water, typically close to boulders submerged in the river.

These unique habitats are threatened by nearby mining operations altering the landscape and introducing pollutants from industrial processes. A new hydroelectric plant at Belo Monte in the fish’s natural span may affect the population.

By Anne Blindheim [CC BY-SA 3.0]


Once your pleco reaches adulthood, the size of the fish should be between 6 and 11 inches. The exact size a gold nugget pleco grows depends on diet and environment, though genetics also plays a role. Wild fish also reach larger sizes than their counterparts kept in tanks.

Keeping your pleco in a smaller tank or with additional tank mates might result in your pleco reaching smaller sizes than average. Even with the best care, gold nugget pleco won’t reach the same size as they do in the wild, where they can grow up to 13 inches.


In general, members of the pleco species live between 10 and 15 years. Some reports suggest that wild individuals live even longer. However, when kept in aquariums, gold nugget pleco survive for around five years.

Other hobbyists report keeping these fish alive for longer than the average aquarium-kept pleco, with some specimens reaching eight years in age. If you add a gold nugget pleco to your tank, the correct parameters can ensure its longevity.


At early ages, the genders of gold nugget pleco can be hard to distinguish. However, once your fish reaches adulthood, some indicators should help you correctly sex the fish.

Looking at the forehead of your fish is the best way to tell its gender. You’ll notice a rounder shape in females, while males have flatter but broader heads. When a female gold nugget pleco is ready to spawn, you should also see a plumper midsection.


The first thing you’ll notice about your gold nugget pleco is that they won’t be very active during the day. These fish are nocturnal, so they’re active at night and often hide throughout the day.

These plecos also stick to the bottom of the tank, keeping to themselves. For the most part, gold nugget plecos are calm when left alone. However, they can become aggressively territorial, especially regarding other catfish or creatures inhabiting the same part of the tank.

Tank Parameters

If you’re considering adding a pleco to a well-curated aquarium, you may already know the challenges of monitoring tank parameters. Each component needs to be perfect for the tank to thrive. Gold nugget plecos have specific needs that make them a challenging choice for a beginner but a good option for intermediate to advanced keepers.

Minimum Tank Size

The recommended tank size for these plecos is at least 55 gallons. These work for juveniles and fish on the smaller side. The most successful hobbyists recommend starting with a 150-gallon tank, especially if you plan on giving your pleco tank mates.

Dimensions come into play when choosing a tank style. A tall tank meeting the gallon requirement won’t be ideal for a pleco spending most of its time at the bottom of the aquarium. Some hobbyists recommend a tank that is four feet in length minimum.

Water Parameters

After finding the correct tank for your gold nugget pleco, you’ll need to set specific water conditions for it to thrive. The temperature and makeup of the water need to be closely monitored.


Hobbyists keep plecos at a variety of temperatures, ranging from 73° to 84°. However, if you want to adjust a tank’s temperature, it’s essential to do it slowly to acclimate the fish.

When choosing a temperature in the range, refer to the seller’s keeping methods. Each fish group is slightly different, and providing the pleco with what it is used to is a good way to start.


Gold nugget pleco thrives in a neutral environment, living in water with a pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.5. Try to get the tank as close to 7.0 pH as possible to provide truly neutral water conditions.


Since gold nugget pleco live in freshwater environments, your tank should not have salinity. A pleco can tolerate low salinity levels, but keeping them in these conditions is not recommended.

Water Hardness

Water hardness measures the amount of magnesium and calcium ions in the tank. The amount of these elements determines whether the water is hard or soft. Gold nugget plecos tolerate a range of water hardness from 5 – 15 dGH.

If GH in a tank is too low, you could notice problems like plants wilting or shrimps and snails looking flakey. In fish, nutrient deficiency presents with a lower appetite, fading colors, and lack of energy.

Water Changes

Members of the armored catfish family are notoriously messy, so expect to make more water changes than with other tanks of the same size. Adding a more powerful filter can also help with upkeep.

Tank Setup

Your fish needs more than just water to make an aquarium suitable for living. Fishkeepers endeavor to recreate natural conditions found in the wild. For gold nugget plecos, that means making a habitat mimicking the clear and rapidly flowing Xingu River.


Since a gold nugget pleco spends most of the time at the bottom of the tank, a soft sandy substrate is the best choice. Not only is this softer on the fish, but it also more closely resembles a natural environment.


The decorations used in your aquarium should be set up to give this shy fish plenty of places to hide. In nature, gold nugget pleco hides among rock outcroppings, so they will appreciate cave-style hides.

In addition to stones, driftwood is another excellent option to provide your pleco a spot to relax out of sight. A submerged bucket offers an option for large specimens that may be harder to find suitable hides.


Since these fish require lots of cover, plants make great additions to their tanks. You can choose artificial varieties or try making a planted tank. If opting for real plants, it’s important to note that algae levels may increase, requiring more water changes.

Some gold nugget plecos may even eat the plants, though others seem uninterested. If you want plecos to leave plants alone, give them lots of other food. Consider these live plants for your tank:

  • Amazon Swords
  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Java Moss
  • Vallisneria


Though these nocturnal fish prefer the dark, they still need some light. With the appropriate hides, you can use the light of your liking, but your pleco will appreciate a dimmer light source.


Gold nugget plecos require higher oxygen levels and good water flow. Choose a powerful filter, as these help with tank upkeep and create water flow. An air pump can also be added to the tank to create ideal conditions.


Your gold nugget pleco will require a heater to maintain the tropical temperatures the fish is acclimated to. Submersible heaters are good to have on hand, especially if it becomes unexpectedly cold in warm areas.

Tank Cycling

It’s important to note that before adding any fish to an aquarium, it should go through a process called tank cycling. Doing this establishes a colony of bacteria in the filter that will help remove waste your fish creates.

There are several methods to start tank cycling and many guides on how to do so. In brief, the different ways of cycling include adding ammonia to the system, using a biofilter from an already established system, or purchasing one.


In the wild, gold nugget pleco primarily consumes algae. However, your tank won’t produce enough algae, so it’s essential to supplement their diet with other foods. Commercial products include catfish pellets and algae discs.

Vegetables are another excellent option for feeding your pleco. You can provide chopped broccoli, cooked peas, cucumber, sweet potato, or zucchini.

Though these fish eat a primarily vegetarian diet, they also need protein. Options like bloodworms, small crustaceans, and white fish are good choices. They should be fed to your gold nugget pleco in small amounts.

While vegetables or algae discs should be fed daily, protein should be used as a treat and given around every other day. Since these fish are most active at night, right before lights out is the ideal time to feed them.


Uninformed new owners often underfeed plecos due to their reputations as algae feeders. Malnourishment is a common cause of sick fish and can result in death. The fish should be offered a wide variety of foods to ensure it’s eating enough.

Some imported fish may show signs of malnourishment before they enter your care. When choosing a gold nugget pleco for your tank, check for signs before purchasing a sick fish. Fish not properly fed exhibit sunken bellies and sunken eyes.


Fishkeepers rarely breed gold nugget pleco because the process is so challenging. Because of this, most fish sold on the market are harvested from the wild. Though some skilled aquarium hobbyists have managed to breed these fish, the attempts are not well documented.

If you want to try your hand at breeding gold nugget pleco, you’ll need to invest in an exceptionally large tank. Since adult plecos require tanks up to 150 gallons, an aquarium twice this size is ideal for a breeding area. This space ensures the male and female pleco have enough space to scavenge for food.

A breeding tank should have plenty of space for hiding, especially cave-like structures. Plecos lay eggs in spots like this in rivers where they naturally breed. Once eggs are laid, the male of the species guards them.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a slightly raised temperature and a higher protein diet help the gold nugget pleco breed. However, with breeding being so rare, there’s not enough evidence to assume this is the rule rather than situational.

Only advanced keepers should attempt breeding. You should also discontinue any attempts if either fish shows signs of distress.

Common Diseases

Gold nugget pleco isn’t particularly susceptible to disease but can become ill when environmental factors aren’t correct. Due to their need for high-quality water, these elements can easily affect these fish.

These are some of the most common conditions affecting hobby aquariums, along with some solutions.

  • Ich: If you notice white spots amid your pleco’s vibrant yellow ones, there’s a good chance the fish has ich. You can combat the disease by raising pH or salinity slightly while considering your pleco’s preferred parameters. Ich medication can also be added to the tank.
  • Bacterial and Fungal Fin Rot: A fuzzy white outer layer on your fish indicates fin rot, usually caused by bacteria or fungus. Left untreated, rot dissolves the gold nugget pleco’s slime coating and then attacks the fins. Look for a medicine that treats both causes of fin rot since it’s easier than pinpointing whether the rot is fungal or bacterial.
  • Internal Bacterial Infections: Your gold nugget pleco can also suffer from internal bacterial infections. If this is the case, you may notice red spots on your fish or notice abnormal swimming caused by swim bladder issues. These require antibiotics for treatment.

Regardless of the problem, you should initiate small water changes over time to correct tank parameters. Significant water changes may be too much for your fish to tolerate.

Your biofilter is another factor to consider when treating illness. If treatment for your gold nugget pleco requires antibiotics, they kill off helpful organisms in the biofilter. Treat your fish in a separate tank for the best results.

While most diseases arise from inadequate tank parameters, new additions to the tank can also be responsible for problems. Protect your gold nugget pleco by quarantining any new tank mates to ensure their health before adding them to an aquarium.

Potential Tank Mates

While gold nugget plecos behave peacefully as juveniles, adult males become more territorial with age. For this reason, keeping multiple plecos together is not recommended. The best potential tank mates for gold nugget pleco inhabit different tank areas, like the top or midsection.

Potential tankmates should share similar requirements to the gold nugget pleco, like temperature and other water conditions. It’s also important to note that adding more fish to your tank will increase tank size and filtration requirements.

Some fish you add to your pleco’s tank may need to be purchased in groups to feel safe. Schooling fish should be added in groups of at least five for this reason.

Consider these species for the potential tank mates for gold nugget pleco:

  • Tetra
  • Gourami
  • Danio