Snowball Pleco: Species Profile and Care Guide

The snowball pleco’s scientific name is Hypancistrus inspector, and it’s not among the most renowned plecos.

However, the snowball pleco’s black coloring and yellow or white spots make them stand out in any aquarium.

These fish are smaller than the normal pleco. You’ll often see them resting or swimming around the bottom of the tank. They are omnivores and feed on anything from vegetables and algae to shrimps.

While the Snowball Pleco has a unique natural habitat compared to most fish, they’re tolerant and readily thrive in captivity. The low maintenance nature of this fish makes it appropriate for aquarists of any skill level.

Snowball Pleco L201

Distinguishing Features

Snowball plecos are lovely creatures with a familiar appearance. These species have the same iconic Pleco look, which includes an underturned mouth, torpedo-shaped outline, and flattened belly.

Like other Pleco species, the snowball pleco features splayed-out pelvic and pectoral fins. The fish also has a huge triangular-shaped dorsal fin. In the appropriate conditions, you may notice this dorsal fin standing upright, providing the Snowball a distinctive appearance.

The base color of the snowball pleco is dark gray or black. Males might also feature a dark-brown hue with a slight reddish undertone.

The base coloration is accented with pale yellow or white polka dots for both females and males. These dots cover the whole body, including the head and fins.

These tiny colorations provide a nice contrast to snowball pleco’s general dark appearance. The “Snowball” name stems from the display of these colors on the fish.

Besides, it’s easy to identify differences between a male and female snowball pleco. The males feature a mild red tone, whereas the females are more rounded and plumper.

Snowball Pleco L142


The snowball pleco hails from one of the tributaries of the Amazon River, known as Rio Negar. The river is commonly referred to as the globe’s biggest blackwater river because of its characteristic tea-colored water.

This river passes through several countries. However, you’ll specifically find these fish species in the part that crosses Venezuela.

The water conditions of the snowball pleco’s natural habitat vary significantly, so you cannot place them in any aquarium with other fish species. Nevertheless, the specie’s hardy nature renders it easy for fish keepers to design a suitable habitat for them without great effort.


Typically, snowball plecos bred in captivity are not quite big. Nonetheless, they’re not excessively small as well. A fully-grown snowball pleco can develop up to  5.5-6.5 inches.

However, some species also reach up to 20 inches long, often in the wild. Nevertheless, keeping such huge fish in your home tank is not advisable.

The only variation between males and females is the difference in looks. Generally, male plecos develop slightly longer and bigger than females.


Typically, the lifespan of a snowball pleco is between 8-10 years if it remains healthy and disease-free. This lifespan is slightly less than other Pleco species, so you must keep the Snowball’s aquarium well-maintained.

Else, your snowball pleco may fall prone to life-threatening infections and illnesses and die even before half its average lifespan.

Like other freshwater fish species, the snowball pleco requires good water conditions and a decent diet. Besides, this fish requires habitat with adequate room to avoid competition for food and other resources necessary for proper development.


Whereas some fish species display slight differences, female and male snowball plecos are quite easy to tell apart. Males are frequently less plump and smaller than females. You’ll also notice that males have a distinct reddish tone.

Besides, the snowball pleco possesses cheek plates with bristle teeth on either side of their head. These teeth, also known as odontodes, are significantly more in males than females.

Two Snowball Pleco L201


Snowball plecos aren’t exceptionally social. Often, these species will not pay much attention to other fish in the aquarium. For the better part, the snowball pleco likes sticking to itself at the bottom of the tank and spends most time hiding in caves.

Nevertheless, this fish may become more social during the breeding season. This is the only period there’s an obvious motivation to step out and interact with others.

While this fish is generally calm and friendly, keeping males in one tank is not advisable. Males in one aquarium often demonstrate territorial aggression.

However, males get along well with females. Therefore, ensure you have the correct pairing to keep more than one in a single tank.

Besides, the snowball pleco is nocturnal. It’s a beautiful sign to observe their white and yellow snowballs flashing in the dark.

During the day, you won’t see much of these species. They spend most time hiding in caves, driftwood, plants, and other items at the aquarium’s foot.

Tank Parameters

When setting up an aquarium for your snowball pleco, you should ensure that it provides optimal living conditions. Some key factors include the size of your tank, the water conditions, and the general environment.

Minimum Tank Size

Thanks to their small size, snowball plecos don’t need large tanks. Ideally, you can place the fish in a 40-gallon tank, and they’ll thrive there. Besides, these fish species don’t grow much, even when fully mature, which makes tiny tanks more than enough.

However, if you’d like to create a community tank, increase the aquarium’s size. If you place more fish in a single, tiny tank, stress levels might ramp up as the fish fight for food and space.

Besides, experts demonstrate that the life expectancy of snowball plecos kept in big tanks is greater than in small tanks. Thus, if you have room, treat your fish with a huge aquarium.

fresh water aquarium with hypancistrus L201 fish posing on a plant

Water Parameters

Snowball plecos hail from an interesting natural habitat. The Rio Negro River is dark, which mimics tea-stained water. This dark discoloration results from the decayed plant matter at the foot of the river bed.

With this darker coloration comes distinctive water compositions. When designing the aquarium, you should ensure it mimics this natural environment. Although mimicking the actual environment isn’t feasible, you should offer some standard or basic parameters with regard to the water type.

The snowball pleco doesn’t have typical scales on its body. Instead, they feature a plate-like texture.

These plates are vulnerable to mineral and water temperature fluctuations. Therefore, you should watch out for the following water parameters:


The perfect water temperature for snowball plecos is 72-86°F (22.2-30°C). Remember that South America, particularly the Amazon where you find the fish, enjoys a tropical climate.

As with other fish species, ensure you maintain constant temperatures to improve the lifespan of your fish.


Due to vegetation decay in the Rio Negro River, the water conditions are slightly more acidic than most fish prefer. Nonetheless, this fish can also live in somewhat neutral water.

As such, the perfect pH range for a snowball pleco aquarium is 5.0 to 7.6. Monitor the pH levels often to ensure it remains within range and doesn’t experience drastic fluctuations.

Snowball Pleco L201 on Driftwood


Nitrate and ammonia levels in the aquarium of your snowball pleco should remain low. Salinity levels of 35 grams per liter are okay. Thus, you’ll have to change about half of your tank’s water weekly.

Moreover, vacuum the aquarium’s substrate regularly to eliminate leftover food and other unnecessary particles. These procedures ensure that your tank’s water is free of any toxicity.

Tank Setup

A snowball pleco won’t survive in the aquarium without the correct tank setup. Keep reading to discover how to set up the perfect aquarium for your fish.


Placing the correct substrate is vital as these fish are naturally bottom-dwellers. The snowball pleco will spend much time swimming near the surface. Therefore, ideally, place a soft and sand-like substrate. Ensure you avoid placing anything sharp as it could harm the fish.

The fish’s natural environment is pretty dark. So, put some peat or mix several tea bags to discolor the water.


Snowball plecos spend their daytime hiding and resting inside driftwood and caves. Therefore, you should decorate your tank with cave-like structures, surface plants, and driftwood. The more your decorations, the better for your fish, provided these ornamentations don’t create hindrances to your fish’s swimming.

The driftwood is a vital element of aquarium decorations as it does release tannins into the water. These tannins can also help in discoloring the tank’s water.


Snowball plecos require lots of oxygen, which water filters or plants could provide. Whereas water filters have their limitations, plants produce oxygen naturally. So, you should add some aquatic plants, such as Hornwort, Anubias barteri, and Java moss.

Select plant species that complement one another and suit the wants of your fish. The snowball pleco loves digging, so you should consider hardy plants that could withstand this trait.

Besides, these fishes love plant surroundings. While they’ll occasionally feed on algae and other plant material, they aren’t aggressive plant eaters and, instead, appreciate swimming around them.


The tank water should be somewhat blurred and opaque. Therefore, strong lights are not appropriate for these species.

Nevertheless, consider erecting decorative lights, but ensure you keep everything dim. This way, you can enjoy the view of your fish without causing them any irritation.


Snowball plecos thrive when the water is highly oxygenated and continuously flowing as it mimics their natural habitat. So, consider placing a strong filter. Besides, the filter controls nitrate and ammonia levels.

If you don’t have a filter, you can use an air pump, bladder, and air stones.


Snowball plecos are also accustomed to warm water. Therefore, you should gradually add hot water to your aquarium or use a heater to keep the water warm.

Snowball Pleco L201


Snowball plecos are not picky eaters. These fish are omnivores, meaning they can feed on anything edible, plant, or animal foods. Therefore, you should provide them with insect larvae, bloodworms, algae wafers, brine shrimp, daphnia, and more.

You should also supplement the meals with vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, spinach, and some fruits. Besides, snowball plecos may occasionally feed on algae that they find inside the aquarium.

However, it’s crucial to note that snowball pleco spends most of its time at the bottom of the aquarium. Therefore, you should ensure that what you feed them gets to the bottom, which is why sinking pellets are frequently suggested. Some Snowballs also love feeding on decayed organic matter.

Whereas snowball plecos typically consume anything, you should be cautious not to feed them with copper-rich foods, as they have a copper sensitivity. As such, avoid foods such as peas, spirulina, and more.

As for the meal frequency, you should feed the snowball pleco twice daily. Provide them with the food quantity they can finish within minutes. Otherwise, you risk issues associated with overfeeding, and the buildup of leftover food, which creates a generally unhealthy environment that provides a breeding ground for diseases.

In case of leftover food, clean it up or introduce scavengers such as Japanese Trapdoor Snails that will clean it up. Also, ensure you replace 30-50% of the water in the aquarium weekly.


Snowball plecos are suitable for novel hobbyists. However, breeding them requires a little effort and dedication.

You will need a separate tank and set it up to allow the snowball plecos to breed in captivity. You’ll also have to mimic their natural habitat environment for successful reproduction.

Ensure the water conditions in your breeding tank meet the ideal parameters and that the water is as clean as required. You should also set up huge caves to create a space for the females to lay their eggs. Then, ideally, place the female and male snowball plecos in a 1:1 ratio.

You can induce spawning by offering your select pair adequate top-quality frozen and live foods. A successful pairing is evident once the female snowball pleco swells up, a sign that it’s packed with eggs.

The female will lay its eggs in the cave you created in the tank to protect them. Once laid, the males take over to protect these eggs and continually fan water away from them.

The eggs will take about a week to hatch. The fries will survive in the first few days by eating the egg sac.

However, once these fries develop slightly big and begin roaming freely in the tank, you may readily feed them with baby brine shrimp. At this point, you can also feed the fries with tiny bits of blanched vegetables, including lettuce, and spinach, as you watch them grow. Once they develop fully, you should place them in separate aquariums.

Common Diseases

Although no fish condition is specific to snowball plecos, they are vulnerable to numerous illnesses prevalent to other species. Most of these illnesses result from the actions of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and so on.

However, unfavorable water conditions can worsen the disease. Some of the common diseases to watch out for include:


Itch, also known as white spot disease, stems from a parasite attack. One telltale sign of an itch is the white spots that the fish develops across the body. The fish is also likely to exhibit signs of tiredness, such as becoming excessively inactive by often resting at the bottom of the tank.

Itch is highly contagious, thus, requiring prompt care. The typical over-the-counter solutions for Itch are made of copper.

Unfortunately, snowball plecos are sensitive to copper. Therefore, you should select a copper-free treatment. Also, quarantine your fish to keep the condition from spreading.

Pop-Eye Disease

Pop-Eye Disease results from a bacterial infection. The disease makes the fish’s eyes protrude abnormally.

You should drain the whole water in the tank and clean it thoroughly. Besides, you should administer antibiotics like tetracycline to the affected fish. Also, feed them vitamin-rich foods, such as frozen brine shrimp, to enhance their immunity.

Cottonmouth Disease

Cottonmouth disease is another bacterial infection that commonly affects snowball plecos. One significant sign of this condition is the paleness of some body parts, particularly the areas around the mouth and head. Other vital signs include breathing difficulties, skin ulceration, and spots on the gills.

If you suspect cottonmouth disease, change up to 50% of the water in the tank and remove any carbon from the filter. Then, treat your water with antibiotics or aquarium salt.

Potential Tank Mates

The snowball plecos are friendly and peaceful, so they can get along well with most mates. If you’re trying to introduce other fish into the same tank as the snowball pleco, don’t select a species that could easily overpower or prey on it.

Conversely, avoid pairing the snowball pleco with smaller-sized species as it could easily prey on them. Ideally, choose non-aggressive and similar-sized tankmates. Besides, you should consider selecting aquatic species that love swimming in other water levels, except the bottom of the tank.

Moreover, because of the territorial nature of snowball plecos, it’s best not to place a number of them in one tank. They’ll directly compete for food and space.

With this information in mind, here are some aquatic pets or fish species that should be good tankmates for a snowball pleco:

  • Rainbow fish
  • Panda cory catfish
  • Various types of Snails
  • Guppies
  • Discus
  • Big shrimp species like Amano Shrimp
  • Hatchet fish
  • Mollies
  • Freshwater crabs
  • Corydoras