How Big Can a Plecostomus Get?

Hypostomus plecostomus, commonly called Plecos, is a tropical catfish belonging to the largest catfish family, the Loricariidae.

There are over 680 pleco species, but generally, they can grow up to 24 inches at the largest, but some species max out at as small as 2 inches. If you don’t know which species you have, you should assume they will max out at 24 inches.

This species is known for its mouth that acts like a suction, branding them as bottom cleaners, which makes them popular among fishkeepers for their ability to eat algae, thus cleaning the tank in the process.

Read on to find out how big a plecostomus can get!

How Big Can a Plecostomus Get?

Most plecos take about five years until they’re fully grown. A pleco’s growth rate peaks in its first year, where it can grow up to 5 inches in its first year. Then, as it ages, its growth rate decelerates until it reaches its prime, when it reaches about 24 inches long.

Factors that affect the growth of a Pleco include:


One of the common determinants of how big a pleco can get is its genes. There are pleco species that are naturally small, such as the following:

  • Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco: 2 inches
  • Pitbull Pleco: 2.4 inches
  • Dwarf Snowball Pleco: 2.4 inches
  • Angelicus Pleco: 3.1 inches
  • Clown Pleco: 3.5 inches

By Kai Schreiber [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via
On the other hand, some plecos can get quite large, including:

  • Sunshine Pleco: 12 inches
  • Royal Pleco: 17 inches
  • Sailfin Pleco: 19 inches
  • Common Pleco: 24 inches

No matter what size, most pleco species are ideal for beginners because they’re low-maintenance.

Tank Size

Another factor to consider is tank size. Plecos need enough space to maximize their growth. So, if the tank is too small, they won’t be able to thrive no matter how hard you try.

Small-sized plecos need at least 10 gallons when they’re juveniles. That’s why upgrading to a 30-gallon tank or more is recommended as they grow older.

For bigger plecos, the minimum tank size required is 75 gallons. Then, as they mature, you can move them to a tank larger than 100 gallons.

Ecological Conditions

For plecos to thrive, they need to be in the best ecological conditions possible. Considering they’re tropical fish, it’s best to mimic their natural habitat, which is lukewarm freshwater.

The water needs to be somewhere between 72°F and 86°F. Although some plecos can stand cooler temperatures, it’s advised to prevent temperatures from dropping below 72°F.

Additionally, the pH balance should be neutral, ranging between 6.5 and 7.5.

Plecos spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, which is why picking the right substrate type is vital for their well-being. Generally, plecos prefer sand or gravel substrate, with the former being less abrasive, which reduces their risk of injuries.

Plecos also love live plants because they shield them from direct light. Lastly, they like hiding, so caves and other enclosures are recommended.


Plecos need more than just algae to survive. They’re omnivorous, meaning they also need protein to survive.

They also enjoy eating veggie wafers and blanched vegetables such as zucchini, sweet potato, carrot, and romaine lettuce. For proteins, plecos like frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Ideally, you should feed your plecos every day. Veggie wafers make great snacks, but they should also eat blanched vegetables and protein once or twice every week.

Keep in mind that plecos are nocturnal. So, make sure to feed them at night.

How Fast Do Plecos Grow?

Most plecos live up to 15 years in captivity, depending on their diet and living conditions. In the wild, they can live for more than 15 years.

So, to ensure they grow big and strong, it’s essential to pay attention to their surroundings and environmental conditions.

Also, consider that your pleco’s growth and lifespan will be significantly affected by their tankmates. Plecos are territorial and will constantly fight to protect their food supply and hiding spots.

Not only that, but bigger plecos will sometimes harass their smaller counterparts until they become stressed. This has a direct effect on their growth rate and development. In some cases, it can also lead to their death.

black lined pleco

What to Do When Your Pleco Gets Too Big?

When your pleco gets too big for your tank, and you don’t want to upgrade, there are various things you can do to move them to a new home.

Yet, the one thing you should never do is throw them back in the wild! Plecos that have been living in captivity won’t survive the harsh environment of the wild.

Here are a few more humane alternatives:

Give them to a Friend

If you have a friend who keeps fish, consider giving it to them. Just make sure they have a big enough tank.

Another option is to give it to someone who has a pond. If your plecos are compatible with the fish in the pond, then they’ll make excellent bottom cleaners.

You can also try donating it to an aquarium hobbyist.

 Sell or Trade Your Pleco

There are tons of fish marketplaces online that you can use to sell or trade your pleco.

It’s an excellent way to ensure you’re giving them away to someone with a bit of knowledge on how to raise and care for plecos.

You might even find someone willing to trade your pleco for a different kind of fish.

Go To Your Local Pet or Fish Shop

If you bought your pleco at a fish or pet shop, consider asking them if they want to take your pleco back. Of course, this might not always work because they probably already have an abundance of fish.

It’s best to find them a home where they will thrive. After all, plecos aren’t picky when it comes to their homes. As long as they are put in the best condition possible, they will not stop helping you stop algae from growing in your tank!


You seriously need to consider how big your plecos can get when setting them up in an aquarium. Other than that, they’re fairly easy-going and low-maintenance.

All they ask is you feed them a well-balanced diet and add some fun decorations to their tank. Also, thanks to these bottom feeders, the tank will always be sparkly clean.