Plecostomus: Species Profile

Pleco on Leaf

Common Names: Plecostomus, Pleco, Suckerfish, Common Pleco

Scientific Name: Hypostomus plecostomus

Family: Loricariidae

Minimum Tank Size: 120 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Peaceful

Max Size: 18 Inches

Temperature: 72-82 F

pH: 6.0-8.0

Tank Level: Bottom

Colors: Black, Gold

Diet: Herbivore

Breeding: Difficult

Plecostomus Overview

Plecostomus, often called suckermouth catfish or plecos, are members of the Loricariidae family. This large fish family has over 600 species, with only a few commonly added to aquariums.

Many people love these fish because they help keep the tank clean. But, although they are easy to care for, keeping up with their growth can be challenging.

Plecos are suitable for beginners, so long as you have a tank size that adequately fits the chosen species.

Distinguishing Features of the Plecostomus

Most people can easily recognize plecos with their scales that resemble armor. These scales sometimes contain extra ridges, giving their body a spiky appearance.

Plecostomus fish are primarily brown with dark spots or stripes, though some may have yellow or tan patterns. Because of their camouflaging colors, they can sometimes get lost in tanks with many plants.

These fish get their nickname, suckermouth catfish, for their unique mouths. They are among the few fish that can breathe while suctioning to a flat surface.

Another unique quality of fish from the Loricarridae family is their eyes. These fish can see in just about any water environment.

Rather than the standard iris most fish have, suckermouth catfish have an omega iris. By moving their dorsal fold up and down, they can control the amount of light that enters their eye.

Whether in dark or light water, these fish have excellent vision.

Here are a few of the most common plecostomus breeds

Zebra Plecostomus

These unique fish have black and white stripes across their body, fins, and tails, hence their name. They grow to be about three and a half inches at maturity.

Birger A [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Bristlenose Plecos

One of the most common plecos, these fish grow to be around 5 inches in length and have uneven colors that may include olive green, yellow, or brown.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

Common Plecostomus

Common plecos are one of the more giant breeds, growing to be up to 24 inches in length. They have a similar coloring to the bristlenose pleco.

Common Pleco on Driftwood

Clown Plecos

Clown plecos have a stunning color display of white and yellow bands on their pale orange body. They grow to around 4 inches long and enjoy community tanks.

Snowball Plecostomus

This breed reaches about 6 inches in length and is all-black with white spots on its body, fins, and tail. It is an excellent tank cleaner that will suck up any uneaten food at the bottom.

Snowball Pleco L142

Sailfin Plecos

This fish grows about a foot in length and can live up to 20 years. They have an interesting leopard-like pattern on their bodies, making them an attractive addition to your tank.

Sailfin Pleco

Royal Plecostomus

Although this pleco grows about 17 inches in length, it grows more slowly than other plecostomus. They have uneven black and white stripes across their body.

Young Royal Pleco

Gold Nugget Plecostomus

This breed has a black body with bright yellow spots. They will grow to be 10 inches in length and live to be about 5 years old.

By Anne Blindheim [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Leopard Frog Plecostomus

As the name suggests, this pleco closely resembles a leopard frog with its unique black and yellow stripes. They only reach about 4 inches in maturity.

Orange Spot Plecostomus

This breed has an all black body with tiny orange dots all over. They can be more aggressive than other plecos, so they do best alone. Orange spot plecos grow to be about 5 inches in length.

Origin of the Plecostomus

Plecos are native to the rivers of South America, but you can find them throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Though they are considered invasive species, they have been captive-bred for generations.

Plecostomus fish usually live in fast-moving rivers where they use their suckermouth to attach to rocks and submerged tree branches.

Although mostly in rivers or streams, they also inhabit brackish estuaries, acidic black waters, and sometimes even underground pools.

Their thick, bony plates allow them to protect themselves against predators. As a double-whammy, plecos also have spines in their dorsal and ventral fins to use as a defense.

If a plecostomus senses a nearby threat, they can swing their spines forward, giving them a more prominent appearance. They will also be able to maneuver deeper into their hiding spot.

Average Plecostomus Sizes

You’ll see plecostomus swimming around at about 3 inches long at a pet store.

Like most other fish at the shop, they will look small and manageable. However, some plecos may reach 24 inches long, depending on the breed.

If you don’t want to worry about accommodating a 2-foot-long fish, you can opt for the zebra, bristlenose, or clown plecos. Although these fish don’t get as huge, they’ll reach up to six inches in length.

Thunder Royal Pleco

The only downside to choosing smaller suckermouth catfish is that they’re more costly.

Lifespan of the Plecostomus

Depending on the breed, plecostomus will live 10-15 years, some reaching 20 years of age.

However, to ensure quality life and a healthy pleco, they need to have the proper tank size and good water conditions.

Although there’s no way to tell how long your pleco will live, good nutrition and an ideal environment will give you the best chance of giving them a long, happy life.

Male vs. Female Plecostomus

Most plecos can be challenging to tell the difference between males and females by looking at them. They don’t have any distinct features to give you any clues, though there are a couple of ways to tell.

Female plecos usually have more extensive and rounder bellies, while males tend to be skinnier. However, if the fish aren’t the same age and receive the same care, this distinction may not be of much help.

Underfed or sick female plecostomus fish can resemble males, so it’s essential to identify the sex.

Some species of male plecostomus have more prominent lower lips to aid them in gathering eggs, while others have cheek spines for defense.

Bristlenose plecostomus are the easiest to differentiate; the males have long whiskers, whereas the female does not.

Temperament of Plecostomus

Because plecos are nocturnal, they’ll spend most of the day hiding somewhere in their tank. Some plecos can adapt to aquarium life and may start socializing more throughout the day.

Plecos are generally easy-going fish that do well with tank mates. Even though they aren’t aggressive, they may attempt to eat smaller fish.

As they age, some plecos can get more territorial and aggressive. They’ll set up a territorial perimeter during the night as they keep watch.

Because most plecostomus get large and need a lot of space, it’s easier to just have one in your tank anyway.

If you opt for smaller suckermouth catfish, you can keep them together. However, like other fish, males tend to be aggressive if there are too many; be sure that more females are than males.

Plecostomus Tank Parameters

Plecostomus needs lots of space to swim around and decor and vegetation to hide behind. Choosing the right tank will be the biggest challenge for the pleco, which is otherwise easy to care for.

Minimum Tank Size

Choosing the right tank size can be tricky, especially if you opt for a larger pleco. For the 24-inch fish, you have to have an aquarium minimum of 100 gallons.

Here is the minimum tank size for different breeds:

  • Bristlenose: 25 gallons
  • Clown: 30 gallons
  • Zebra: 30 gallons
  • Snowball: 30 gallons
  • Gold nugget: 50 gallons
  • Royal: 125 gallons
  • Sailfin: 125 gallons

Water Parameters

As natives of the Amazon River Basin, your fish will prefer warm waters. It’s best to replicate their environment the best you can.

You should try to replicate the environment as closely as possible.


The ideal temperature for a pleco will lie between 74 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If your tank is in a cooler area, you’ll need a heater to maintain an adequate temperature.


Plecos prefer a pH between 7.0 and 8.0.


You should only add freshwater (0 ppt) to your tank.

Tank Setup

Because suckermouth catfish are native to fast-moving rivers streams, they have to have a filter to replicate this fast water flow.


These bottom dwellers will spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank and gliding over the substrate. To avoid scratching or injury to your pleco, choose a soft sand bottom.

Plecos also enjoy burrowing in the sand so keep that in mind when adding your plants and decor.


Plecos love having lots of plants and natural woods to nibble on. If you add wood to their tank, make sure that it doesn’t have any substances that could harm them.

It’s best to choose driftwood or similar decor from aquarium shops because it’s often cleaner. Otherwise, you’ll need to take time to soak and clean these pieces thoroughly.

Because plecostomus will do most of their swimming at night, your fish will want other decor pieces to hide out in.

You can add decorative caves or hollow logs to give them a place to relax.

Close up of a Plecostomus


Plecos like to snack on the plants you add to the aquarium, so it’s best to use live aquatic plants rather than artificial ones.

Additionally, the vegetation will give your fish more hiding areas.

Choose plants that can withstand some chewing and breakage without getting too depleted. Some excellent plant choices for a pleco aquarium include:

  • Amazon frogbit
  • Java moss
  • Amazon sword
  • Hornwort
  • Water wisteria


Plecos don’t need any special lighting to thrive if the temperature is adequate. Using an aquarium light with a timer may help them have a bit more visibility at night.

However, because they can see well in most water conditions, lighting isn’t a huge deal.


Native to fast-moving rivers and streams, plecos enjoy having a high-speed filter that creates a lot of water flow.

Additionally, suckermouth fish produce a lot of waste that will need to be filtered up. Make sure to choose a filter that’s compatible with the size of the aquarium you choose.


As tropical fish, plecos need warm water. You’ll need to invest in an aquarium heater to allow the water to stay between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit.


Although plecos will eat a good amount of algae and plants within the aquarium, they’ll need more to stay well-fed. They’ll need a well-rounded diet to thrive and stay healthy.

Choose a specialized fish pellet made for the suckermouth fish’s unique mouth. These pellets will be the bulk of their diet, but you’ll also want to supplement live or frozen food and fresh vegetables.

Although plecos are primarily herbivorous, they do best with protein in their diet. Remember, your fish tank can never provide enough algae to keep them healthy.

Some protein sources to give your plecostomus:

  • Frozen bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Earthworms
  • Bloodworms

Some fruits and vegetables to feed your plecostomus (avoid any citrus foods, like tomatoes):

  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Seaweed
  • Melon
  • Shelled pea
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Lima beans

Other treats plecostomus will enjoy:

  • Algae wafers
  • Driftwood

The feeding schedule will depend on your plecostomus’s age. Young plecos will feed on algae in the tank along with pellets and algae wafers.

As your fish grows, it’ll need more consistent feedings. Since they’re nocturnal, you can give your pleco an algae wafer before you go to bed. If you wake up and it’s gone, you can provide them with another wafer.

Although you need to ensure your plecos get protein, they’ll only need meat once or twice a week. You’ll also only give them fresh vegetables as a treat for a day or two each week.

Homemade Plecostomus Food

Your pleco will do great if you stick to the feeding schedule above. However, you can also make homemade fish food for a more all-natural approach.

It may sound like a lot of work, but making food for your plecostomus is easier than you think.


  • Spinach
  • Shelled peas
  • Cucumber
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Gelatin Mix


  1. Chop all of the ingredients into small chunks, then blend.
  2. Add water as needed to keep the mixture from getting too thick
  3. In a separate container, make gelatin mix
  4. Mix everything, separate into ice cube trays, and freeze
  5. Once frozen, you can give your pleco a cube of their homemade treat

Start by filling the ice cube trays about halfway to see how much your pleco will eat in one sitting. Although this shouldn’t be the only food in your pleco’s diet, it makes a healthy treat for them to enjoy.


Plecostomus can be challenging to breed, but it’s not impossible. If the eggs don’t hatch the first few times, don’t get discouraged.

It may take a few rounds to get a healthy batch. You may also add a couple of female fish to your tank; some male species, such as the bristlenose pleco, can impregnate them, giving you a better chance of healthy eggs.

Additionally, one female may not be interested while the other may feel more inclined.

If you can get your female to lay eggs, you can tell by looking if they will hatch or not. Fertile eggs will be orange, while infertile eggs will be more of a whitish color.

Pleco fry has large appetites that can be hard to keep up with, so keep that in mind before attempting to initiate breeding.

Here are the steps to maximize your chances of successful breeding:

  1. Choose a male and female pleco around 1-2 years old. Although they are fertile at 6-9 months, younger plecostomus may not be as interested in breeding.
  2. Create a separate breeding tank that has plenty of room.
  3. Ensure that there are plenty of hiding spots within the breeding tank.
  4. Feed your fish plenty of live and frozen foods for several weeks to stimulate the spawning instinct
  5. The male pleco will choose a cave and clean it out.
  6. When the female is ready, she’ll enter the cave to deposit her eggs. The male pleco will fertilize them and keep watch over the cave until they hatch.
  7. After a few days, you’ll see the hungry fry appear. Feed them high-protein infusoria, brine shrimp, micro worms, and sinking tablets. (Avoid overfeeding.)
  8. Remove the adult plecos and place them back into their main tank. Although plecos don’t intentionally eat their young, it can happen accidentally because they’re so tiny.

Common Diseases

There are a few common diseases that affect freshwater fish, like plecostomus. The most common are Ich, fin rot, dropsy, fish rot, and pop-eye.

Cloudy Eye

Although not a disease, plecos are susceptible to getting a slimy coat over their eyes if in poor water conditions. Fish with “cloudy eyes” may swim in unusual patterns or bump into objects.

Because of this film, it’s harder for them to see. If you don’t care about the water conditions, this slime can start covering their entire body.

Remove anything from their tank that may harm them. After thoroughly cleaning their tank, ensure that you stay on top of your cleaning routine so they can heal.


Ich, Ick, or white spot disease is common in freshwater fish. This disease is easy to notice because your fish will have salt-like white spots on its body.

Poor water quality is the usual cause of fish who contract white spot disease. Luckily, there are medications readily available in pet stores to treat it.

You may need to quarantine infected fish while you medicate them. It’s also essential to ensure that their water meets their requirements and is kept clean.


Bloating and loss of coloration are the main signs of dropsy, which is also called Malawi bloat. Malnutrition is another possible cause of this bacterial infection. Fishlore recommends changing 25 percent of the tank water every two days to clear up the problem.

Feeding the pleco better-quality food should also help. If the fish doesn’t improve, get medication from your pet store.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a bacterial infection that causes lethargy and loss of appetite. The most noticeable symptom of this infection is discolored fins with a rotting appearance.

As with many other common diseases, poor water is the leading cause of fin rot. You’ll need to quarantine infected fish and give them antibiotics.

Fish Fungus

This fish fungus causes white or gray fungal growths on the plecostomus’ body. This fungus is easy to identify because it looks like cotton balls on its body.

Usually, this disease occurs because a fish scrapes their skin, creating a breeding surface for fungus. Poor water quality paired with a cut is a formula for fish to wind up with this ailment.

You’ll need specialized treatment to ensure that the fungal infection doesn’t spread.


Aptly named, the main symptom of pop-eye is protruding eyes. If untreated, fish may lose their eyesight or even lose their eye completely.

To treat pop-eye disease, you’ll need to change the water, provide vitamin-supplemented food, and tetracycline.

Head and Lateral Line Erosion

Head and lateral line erosion (HLLE), also referred to as “hole in the head,” is a disease where a fish will have small holes or indentations on its head.

While specialists are unsure what causes lateral line erosion, it’s assumed that activated carbon, poor water quality, or inadequate nutrition are the primary causes.

You’ll need to remove all activated carbon and stay on top of water changes to treat this.

Potential Tank Mates

Although plecos can become more aggressive as they age, they’re generally calm fish and do well in community aquariums.

Because they are mainly herbivorous fish, they don’t typically try to eat any smaller fish, even when they reach their maximum size.

However, tiny fish may accidentally get eaten by the plecostomus’ large mouth.

The most important factor when creating a community aquarium containing suckermouth fish is the size. Even if you add smaller fish, you’ll want to make sure they all have plenty of space to keep to themselves when they want to.

Some of the best plecostomus tank mates include:

  • Gouramis
  • Tetras
  • Bettas
  • Mollies
  • Guppies
  • Kuhli Loaches
  • Platies

Green Phantom Pleco L200

They will do well together as long as the tank mates have a similar peaceful temperament as plecos. Avoid adding any aggressive fish that could cause a plecostomus to go into defense mode.