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 is the common title for the Loricariidae, a family of armored suckermouth cats that hail from Central and South America. The common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) is often sold in pet stores as a cheap cleaner fish. This 3-inch baby will grow up to almost 2-foot and have a large appetite. Monster fish are almost impossible to rehome and we strongly recommend against getting them. 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. Bristlenose, rubber lip, and clown plecos are all beautiful catfish that stay between 4 to 6 inches in length. 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.
Plecos are easy to keep?
Their water parameters are similar to those of 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. Pelegros love to be covered and protected from the elements, as they are usually nocturnal. Regular tank maintenance is necessary to maintain a nitrate level of 40 ppm. (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. However, the common pleco should probably start in a 75-gallon tank and eventually move up to 180 or even 500 gallons. These enormous aquariums are not feasible for the average fish keeper, which is why we strongly recommend the smaller species.
Columbian zebra plecos (Hypancistrus debilittera) have a striking pattern and only grow to 4 inches long.
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. It’s like having a pet dog. Although the dog may eat anything that falls to the ground, they should still be fed real dog food every day.
These catfish also require proper food that meets their nutritional requirements. Most people give them algae wafers. However, plecos love well-balanced meals that include a variety foods such as Repashy gel food or frozen bloodworms. It is important to research your species as not all plecos will eat the same foods. Some prefer to graze on vegetation and algae, while others like to rip on driftwood. Others crave more protein. (While many plecos are safe for plants, bristlenose plecos are known to sometimes snack on sword plants.) It is best to feed plecos when the lights are out, as they are more active than other fish.
One of the most common complaints we hear from pleco owners is “I don’t understand why my fish died.” I gave it one algae wafer every night.” Let’s go back to our pet dog analogy. You can feed your puppy one cup every day. However, when he turns adulthood, he will probably need more. Your adult pleco will need more food to sustain its larger body than a juvenile. It is a good rule of thumb to have a slightly rotund stomach. If the stomach is distended or the fish is overweight, increase the amount of food. It could be constipated or eating too much from too many leftover foods. 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 are more than just cleaners. They are also living animals and require proper nutrition.
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. Usually, these catfish are scavengers and won’t eat other animals unless they have already passed away. There are reported cases of plecos sucking on another fish’s slime coat, but this seems to mainly occur with larger plecos that aren’t getting enough food. This problem should not occur if you have a smaller pleco.
Many smaller plecos can live together with other peaceful community fish like neon tetras.
Are there any rules regarding keeping more than one pleco in the same tank? It depends. It depends. Bristlenose plecos, which are smaller in size than the bristlenose, can be kept in multiples if you keep enough hides and caves available for all species.
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. While you ultimately have to clean your fish tank, we recommend that you read this popular article on the top 10 cleaning crew members.