Care Guide for Plecos – The Mighty Armored Catfish


Care Guide for Plecos – The Mighty Armored Catfish

Are you looking for a suckerfish to keep your aquarium clean? Many people mistakenly think plecostomus catfish, or plecos, will clean their aquarium of all fish poop and debris. Let’s discuss this incredible animal and their care needs before you decide to buy them.

What are Plecos?

Plecostomus refers to the Loricariidae group of armored suckermouth catfish from Central and South America. The common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) is often sold in pet stores as a cheap cleaner fish. The 3-inch baby grows to nearly 2 feet and has a huge appetite. We strongly advise against getting monster fish unless you are prepared to keep them for their entire lives because they are nearly impossible to rehome. Also, do not release your common pleco into the wild because they are a highly invasive species and can do a lot of damage to the environment.

Thankfully, there are much smaller plecos that are better suited for the average home aquarium. All three types of clown plecos, including rubber lip and bristlenose, are beautiful catfish. They can grow to about 4 to 6 inches long. Although they are slightly more expensive than the common plecos, their small size and lower food costs will make up for the difference in the long-term.

Plecos are known for their armored bodies and distinctive suckermouths.

Are Plecos Easy to Keep?

In general, their water parameters are fairly similar to other tropical fish. They prefer a heated aquarium around 74 to 80degF (23 to 27degC), and they can live a broad pH range of 6.5 to 7.8. Most plecos are night-bound, so they appreciate any cover or hides you can provide to keep them from the sun. To keep the nitrate levels below 40 ppm, you will need to conduct regular tank maintenance. (If you’re not sure what nitrates are, read our article on the aquarium nitrogen cycle.)

For the 4 to 6 inch plecos, 20 to 29 gallon water is sufficient. The common pleco will start in a 75 gallon tank, and then move on to 180 or 500 gallons. These enormous aquariums are not feasible for the average fish keeper, which is why we strongly recommend the smaller species.

Columbian Zebra Pluckers (Hypancistrus bilittera), have a striking design and can only grow up to 4 inches in length.

What Do Pleco Fish Eat?

Pluckers are considered cleaner fish, scavengers and algae eaters. However, they need to be fed high-quality fish food on a regular basis. This is like having a pet. Yes, the dog will eat any scraps that fall to the ground, but they should still have daily meals consisting of actual dog food.

These catfish also require proper food that meets their nutritional requirements. While many people tend to give plecos algae wafers, most prefer them to eat a variety of food, including Repashy gel food and frozen bloodworms. Because not all plecos like the same food, it is worth doing some research. Some prefer to graze on vegetation and algae, while others like to rip on driftwood. Others crave more protein. Although many plecos can be safe for plants, some bristlenose plecos have been known to eat sword plants. Since the majority of plecos are nocturnal, a good practice is to feed them when the lights are off so that they get a chance to feed while the other fish are less active.

One of the most common complaints we hear from pleco owners is “I don’t understand why my fish died.” It was given one algae wafer each night.” Let’s return to the pet dog analogy. You can feed your puppy one cup every day. However, when he turns adulthood, he will probably need more. Similarly, your adult pleco needs more food than a juvenile to support its larger body. The best rule of thumb is to aim to achieve a slightly rotund abdomen. If the stomach is distended or the fish is overweight, increase the amount of food. If its stomach is too swollen, it could be eating too much or constipated from an overabundance of leftover food in the tank. You should vacuum your aquarium regularly if you notice a lot of stringy pleco poop. This could indicate that nitrates are building up and may be toxic. (Download our guide to water changes to figure out how often you should clean your aquarium.)

Observe the roundness of your pleco’s belly, and adjust its food portion size accordingly to maintain a healthy weight.

Do Plecos Eat Fish Poop?

Plinkos are diverse in their food preferences. However, they do not live exclusively on feces. They may occasionally eat the substrate while they scavenge in the waste, but the fish waste is not enough to sustain them. Remember, plecos can be cleaners, but they are still living animals that need proper nourishment.

What fish can be kept with plecos?

Plecos will be fine with almost any peaceful, community fish that isn’t big enough to eat them. Likewise, do not add any fish that are small enough to fit in the pleco’s mouth. These catfish are known to be scavengers, and will not eat other animals unless they have died. Although there have been cases of plecos eating another fish’s slime, this is more common with larger plecos who aren’t getting enough food. If you keep a smaller pleco, make sure to feed it well.

Many smaller plecos can live together with other peaceful community fish like neon tetras.

Is it possible to keep two or more plecos in one tank? It depends. It depends. Smaller species like the bristlenose pleco can be kept in multiples as long as you aim for more females than males and provide plenty of caves and hides for everyone to choose their favorite.

Bottom line: buy the right pleco that will, even at adult size, fit the size of your aquarium. To learn more about their care and requirements, visit online forums and social media sites. You are ultimately responsible for cleaning the fish tank. However, if you need some help, read our popular article about top 10 clean up crew members.