Algae-eating catfish are popular options for planted freshwater tanks, but not all Pleco Fish train in peaceful communities. The common plecostomus may be cheap and widely available, but these giant catfish can become problematic as they mature. Is the Common Pleco a good option for your aquarium?
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Fast facts on common plecostomus
Common name (species)
gewune plecostomus(Hypostomus plecostomus)
Central and South America
Averages 15 inches in length, but adults range from 12 to 24 inches at maturity
Omnivore scavenging; juveniles consume algae, wood and plant matter, along with decaying leftovers and live hatchlings, insects and eggs. Food preferences often shift from algae to live plants and larger live prey in adulthood
Feed daily and offer a mix of commercial sinking algae wafers and spirulina pellets supplemented with fresh blanched vegetables. Offer 2 to 3 protein treats per week, such as brine shrimp or bloodworms
Easy, but gets more challenging as the catfish matures
Nocturnal and active at night
Varies as catfish mature; juveniles may be shy and gentle, but adults tend to be aggressive and territorial
Mostly bottom-dweller, but can use the entire tank in adulthood
Minimum tank size
75 to 150 liters per catfish
72 to 86°F
Not sensitive; tolerates up to 25 dGH
6.5 to 7.5
Well filtered and very clean water with a mild to moderate current
Probably egg layer; not bred in captivity
Juveniles can initially be kept in peaceful community tanks and with other Pleco species, but they often become aggressive with age. Adults are best kept alone or in a community tank with large, aggressive cichlids such as Oscars or Green Terror
OK for planted tanks?
Ideal for planted aquariums, but may eat plants instead of wood or algae. Adding blanched vegetable treats and/or fast-growing hornwort can protect plants from damage
What are Plecostomus?
I am a big fan ofalgae eaters, and some of the most impressive are thearmored sucker catfishknown as plecostomus. Plecos are onepopular option for both novice and experienced fish keepersbecause they generally arehardy, easy to care for,Inhelp remove algae and decaying wastefrom your tank.
Overview of the Common Suckermouth Catfish
While there are more than150 speciesof armored catfish, one of themost common in the aquarium tradeis the "original" orOrdinary Pleco(Hypostomus plecostomus). But unlike smaller species, such as the Bristlenose orClown, Gewone Shouldersoften do not work in community aquariums:
- Common Plecos can grow over 18 inches (45 cm) in length and can easily outgrow a small tank in a few months.
- They often become more aggressive as they age and may start hunting and consuming your other community fish.
- Common sucker catfish can fight if kept together in groups unless they have a spacious environment (such as an outdoor pond).
- There are also severalgiant specieswhich look similar and may be advertised as Commons, but are in fact unrelated species of plecostomus with unique care requirements.
Natural history and habitat
Common plecos are native to a wide range of Central and South America. They can be found in streams and riverine habitats, and mostlyprefer to hide among wood, branches and debris,along the bottom of watercourses. In the wild,these catfishAreopportunistic eatersInreadily consume anything that fits in their mouths.
Common Pleco size and appearance
Common plecos areWild caughtand usually sold as 3-inch juveniles, but they can double their size in less than 6 months! Since giant plecosrange between 15 and 24 inches(depending on the species) when fully grown, they need large and spacious aquariums.
Aredifficultto spot thedifferences between males and females, and can even be expertsunable to identify the exact speciesunless they know the catch location. In appearance, giants have thesame pleco body shape and featureslike the rest of the catfish in the family Loricariidae:
- Common plecos have a broad headInsmaller body,sideways squeegee,erect spiny dorsal finInstrong pectoral, ventral and caudal fins.
- Shemissing scalesall the way, and havehard, armored plates instead.
- They can beblack, brown, gray, olive or red-orangeand often havecamouflage patternson theirbodies and fins.
Plecos are hardy catfish and can easily survive ten years in captivity. With careful care and spacious environments, a common Pleco can live in your aquarium for up to 15 years!
Behavior and temperament
Common Plecos areshy young fishhide during the day and feed on algae, wood, plant material and leftover food, butthey usually don't stay that way. As they grow and mature,huge plecos often become territorial and even aggressiveWith each other and the rest of the community.
Young plecos can be friendly bottom dwellersfor a few monthsand thenhave a sudden change of attitude. They often startattack and even eat smaller or move more slowlyfish. Adult Commons become aggressive and territorial towards the community and do not play well with peaceful species:
- You may notice small or medium fish missing or find their partially eaten bodies, and you may even witness an attack on larger fish as your pleco grows bolder and larger.
- Although they are bottom dwellers when young, adult giant plecos often use their entire tank to hunt, so your mid and surface level fishnot necessarily be safe from predation.
- Although they are billed as functional algae eaters, that really only applies to young fish.Adult plecos prefer meaty, live mealsInsoft vegetationto scrape algae off the glass of your aquarium.
How to care for your common pleco
Plecos are generally easy to care for, but present a few problems as they grow and develop. It is better and more cost effective to start with a set up that is ideal for your adult fish rather than upgrading things later on.
Tank setup and habitat requirements
What are the requirements for a giant pleco aquarium? These eating machines needplenty of roomand arobust, high-quality filter system, but are otherwise tolerant of a wide variety of conditions.
Since giants can be up to 24 inches tall, you'll need atat least a 75 gallon tankfor a single adult fish, though150 liters would be even better. While you can temporarily keep juveniles in smaller setups, I don't recommend it because they grow out of them quickly.
I usually recommend using aqua soil, sand or fine gravel for pleco tanks to avoid injury to their abdomens or fins,but common plecos are tough and can handle any type of substrate.
Pleco water and temperature parameters
Commons prefer hot water out72 to 86°F, so you may not need a heater in your aquarium or outdoor pond. They arenot picky about the hardness of the water, and prefer neutral conditions with apH between 6.5 and 7.5.
Filtration, aeration and lighting
In the shouldersavoid brightly lit areasand usually stay in shaded areas of the tank or under decor until the lights go out at night. With themhuge appetite, these fishproduce a lot of wasteand require a high quality canister or HOB filter with replaceable media to keep their water clean. An air stone is highly recommended to keep the oxygen levels in your water high.
Plants and decorations
The ideal decor for a pleco tank is lots of driftwood, driftwood, tree roots, branches, sticks and stones. These provide plenty of hiding places for your fish during the day and ample surfaces to grate algae and fiber.
- Plecos are a natural fit for planted aquariums, but adult catfishmay choose to eat your plants instead of grazing on algae.
- Aquarists often plant fast-growing hornwort and offer blanched vegetablesdistract their plecos from chewing live plants.
Because plecos have huge appetites and produce a lot of waste, toxins build up quickly in their water. Even with onewell-maintained filter systemand useverse filtermedia, you must have oneAt least once a month 30 to 50% water changeto maintain a healthy pleco tank.
While they often aresold as algae eaters, are common plecos actuallyallesetersInmust eat both plant and animal foods. Aquarium algae cannot provide fish with a balanced or complete diet, so you will need to supplement your plecos with commercial products and fresh treats.
Keep that in mindgiant plecos are voracious eatersand can try to eateverything they encounter, vanpiecesleft behind by other fish to kill orslow-swimming members of your community. It is best to feed your plecos every day and give protein-rich live food a few times a week:
- Offer your plecostomus commercial foods such assinking algae wafersInspirulina-pelletsas their primary diet.
- Supplement with regular treats fromfresh blanched vegetablessuch as spinach, cucumbers, peas, carrots and courgettes.
- Offer a few times a weekalive, driedoffrozen brine shrimp,bloodwormsofinsect larvaefor extra protein.
Despite the advice given at many Big Box pet stores, the Common Pleco isnot a good option for the vast majority of community aquariums. Although juvenile plecos are often timid and peaceful fish to begin with, they rarely remain so once they reach adulthood. In general, plecos don't do well in peaceful or semi-aggressive communities.
If you wanthold a Common in a community setup, it is best to increase your pleco with agroup of aggressive cichlidslike itOscarsofGreen horrors. Your pleco will grow along with your aggressive community. Adding a juvenile to an existing aggressive aquarium can also work, if there are plenty of hiding places to keep them safe until they grow up.
Common plecos are not bred in captivity and we don't know much about their reproductive behavior or requirements. They probably need a pond-like enclosure of at least 300 to 500 gallons to induce spawning, but there are no successful breeding reports to go by.
Catfish are a popular choice for aquariums because they are usually very healthy fish and do not have many common problems. They are prone to the typical waterbornediseases and parasites such as Ich, so always quarantine new fish and plants for a few weeks before adding them to your tank.
The only other problems you will usually see are related to imbalance or overfeeding. If plecos don't get enough fiber or feast on protein-rich treats, they may develop bloating or constipation. You can avoid these problems by feeding lots of plant foods and limiting protein treats to a few times a week.
Common Pleco Configuration: List of Products and Equipment
To set up a community tank for a single Common Pleco and a few aggressive cichlids you will need:
- 150 gallon or larger aquarium with a stand and cover/lid
- High-quality jerry can and/or HOB filter system(s)
- Any type of surface
- Decors such as driftwood, sticks/branches, stones and plastic plants
- Hoses and/or vacuum system for water change
To feed your plecos you will need:
- Commercial sinking algae wafers and/or spirulina pellets
- Fresh blanched vegetables
- Live/frozen/dried protein treats
Optional but useful equipment included:
- LED lighting or night moonlight
- Air nozzle, pump and plastic hose
Does a giant Common Pleco seem like a good choice for your tank, or do you think a smaller species would be better for your community tank? I've actually had to rehome a Common myself, so we'd love to hear about your experiences with these troublesome Plecos. Leave a message in the comments below or join the bigger pond on our social media pages!
Looking for a rare and unique bottom dweller pleco? Check out ourBlue Phantom Pleco: Catfish Care and Species Guidealso!
How many plecos can I have in my tank? You should only keep one plecostomus per tank. This is because they can be territorial, especially as they age, and having more than one can lead to aggression. By keeping only one pleco, you are also ensuring that there is enough food to go around.How many pleco fish can you have in a tank? ›
How many plecos can I have in my tank? You should only keep one plecostomus per tank. This is because they can be territorial, especially as they age, and having more than one can lead to aggression. By keeping only one pleco, you are also ensuring that there is enough food to go around.How many gallons does a common pleco need? ›
Adult Common Plecos need a tank size of 75 to 80 gallons at the very minimum. However, to help your fish reach its full size and potential you'll need at least 150 gallons!How old is a 1 inch pleco? ›
The first year of its life, a bristlenose pleco will grow the fastest and it will grow up to 1 inch in the first 2-3 months. After 2 to 3 years it will have reached its full size, at around 6 inches.Is one pleco enough? ›
As a result, it's best to be safe and only keep one Pleco per tank. Even with a large tank, it's important to avoid overcrowding your Pleco. Fish should have enough room in the tank to have their own territories.Will a pleco outgrow a 10 gallon tank? ›
If you have a large tank or pond, don't completely dismiss the idea of getting a pleco. They are long-lived fish that are relatively easy to care for and have a unique beauty. The chances of a pleco outgrowing your tank are small.How many gallons do 2 plecos need? ›
Housing Requirements for Plecostomus
For example, the common pleco, Hypostomus plecostomus, can grow to over 12" and will eventually need an aquarium of at least 75 gallons, while Otocinclus will be perfectly content in a 10-gallon tank.
Yes, all plecos need a heater in their tank. Because they originate from the Amazon tropics, the water will need to be permanently heated to mimic their natural environment and maintain their body temperature/metabolism. The best temperature for plecos is between 72°F and 76°F, for most pleco species.Do plecos keep tank clean? ›
Keeping an aquarium looking clean and free of algae is most often an ongoing battle. You may even have searched for fish that clean the tank. In freshwater aquariums, “Plecos” (short for plecostomus and used to refer to fish of the family Loricariidae) are one of the most common fish purchased to aid in algae cleanup.How long do plecos live in a tank? ›
The average lifespan for plecostomus is 10 to 15 years.
The average lifespan of a pleco is 10 to 20 years. On average, big pleco species live longer than small species. How old a pleco gets highly depends on its living conditions such as tank size, water parameters, stress and diet. In bad conditions, they may only live 5 years.How many babies can a pleco have? ›
How many eggs do plecos lay? The average amount of eggs that plecos lay is 10 to 100 eggs per spawn. Hypancistrus species tend to lay less eggs, between 5 and 30, Ancistrus (bristlenose pleco) species tend to lay more eggs, between 50 and 200.Do pleco fish grow to the size of the tank? ›
To some extent, plecos grow up to the size of their tank. A tank that's too small will not allow the pleco to full develop. However, plecos will grow out of a tank if it's too small for them, and potentially cause damage or die.How many algae wafers should I feed my pleco? ›
We would recommend one of the wafers every couple of days. You could even break it in half and feed one half per day, if you prefer. As to the other fish, feed once or twice a day, and 1 pieces of food (flake, pellets, whatever) per INCH of fish.Can a pleco survive on just algae? ›
Most omnivorous and vegetarian species of plecos will eat algae. This includes bristlenose plecos, common plecos, and clown plecos. Carnivorous species like zebra plecos and snowball plecos do not eat algae. In the wild, bristlenose plecos and young common plecos are mostly omnivores.How many days can a pleco live without water? ›
Plecos can survive out of water for up to 20 hours, and their armor reduces water loss.Why did my pleco jump out of the tank? ›
The most common reason why plecos jump is poor water quality, caused by a nitrite spike, ammonia spike, nitrate spike, or overstocking. Other reasons are stress, fights and tank size.How long can a pleco live without a filter? ›
Plecos can live for up to 2 hours without a filter. These guys produce a lot of waste, so it's important to make sure their tank is well-aerated, and they have access to clean water.Can catfish and pleco live together? ›
Cory catfish and plecos can live together as tank mates, because they are both peaceful fish. A tank size of minimum 20 gallons is needed.What do plecos like in their tank? ›
They prefer a heated aquarium around 74 to 80°F (23 to 27°C), and they can live a broad pH range of 6.5 to 7.8. Since most plecos are nocturnal, they greatly appreciate any hides or cover you provide to keep them out of the light.
In many cases, it's fine to keep several different plecos in the same tank. However, there can be problems. Keeping a fish that is quite shy with one that is very outgoing and greedy (e.g. common bristlenose) can lead to the shy fish not getting sufficient food.What is the smallest algae eating pleco? ›
Some of the smallest pleco fish species are Bristlenose Pleco, Blue Panaque Pleco, and Angelicus Pleco. The smallest pleco fish on this list is the Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco measuring under 2 inches in length.Do plecos need wood to survive? ›
Most plecos don't need driftwood to survive. However, for almost all plecos it is recommended to have at least some driftwood. Driftwood balances their diet and is beneficial for their digestive system due to the fibers they absorb when grasping on the wood.How cold is too cold for a pleco? ›
Plecos can't be kept in cold water, or in any temperatures below 72°F, for a long period of time. Some plecos can do well at lower temperatures for some time, but in order for these fish to thrive, temperatures should not drop below72°F.Do plecos like warm or cold water? ›
Most plecos are tolerant of waters ranging from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (18-30°C), though they prefer temperatures between about 75 and 82°F (24-28°C). With that being said, there are some pleco species that are hardier than others, and may be able to withstand some cooler waters.Do plecos prefer sand or gravel? ›
The ideal substrate for plecos is fine gravel or soft sand because it will allow the pleco to filter through the substrate to find food. The tank should be densely planted, especially with broad-leafed species like Java Fern and Anubias, to ensure that the pleco can feed on algae growing on the surface of the leaves.Do plecostomus eat fish poop? ›
They're excellent at eating algae, uneaten food, and fish waste. Plecos: Plecos are known for their algae-eating abilities. In addition to eating algae, they will consume uneaten food and fish waste.Do plecos need light? ›
Does a Pleco Need Specialist Lighting? Specialist lighting isn't necessary when keeping a Bristlenose. You'll simply need to provide natural lighting to help keep your plants healthy.Are common plecos aggressive? ›
Plecos are typically docile and peaceful fish, although it's worth noting that occasionally, like any other living creature, they might end up in a bit of a bad mood and get a tad aggressive. Sometimes they even go so far as to attack a tankmate.How do I know if my pleco is starving? ›
Sunken belly. Noticing whether your pleco has a sunken in belly can be hard, especially if you don't see it very often. If your pleco has a sunken belly, it's starving due to malnutrition. A pleco can't survive off of algae and needs its own diet, apart from what you feed its tank mates.
The biggest reason for Pleco's death is due to stress. Stress is caused by the wrong parameters and fluctuating water conditions and due to some other conditions. Having aggressive tank mates, disease, underfeeding, and all such situations can lead to a dead fish.How long can a pleco go without oxygen? ›
An aquarium fish can stay up to two days without oxygen (in still water) but they still need some more amount of oxygen to breathe and do their essential daily work.How can you tell if a pleco is male or female? ›
Size – Males tend to be bigger than females. Body shape – Females are more rounded, broader than males (looking from above). Pectoral fin spines – Males grow spines on the pectoral fins. Pectoral fins shape – Females have more rounded pectoral fins than males.Do pleco fish eat baby fish? ›
Do plecos eat baby fish? Pleco catfish will only eat weak or dead baby fish, that lay on the bottom of the tank. They will not eat healthy or active baby fish. In some cases, they might eat their own fry/eggs if they are undergoing stress.Do plecos eat vegetables? ›
Vegetables are a great addition to most plecos' needs. Most plecos are omnivores, which means they will eat vegetables.What happens if you don't have enough algae for pleco? ›
Plecos are algae-eaters, but your home aquarium won't provide enough algae to keep your pleco full. You'll need to feed plecos algae wafers too. Plecos are omnivores, so you can also feed them meat, like shrimp and bloodworms, as well as vegetables including zucchini and kale.Can a pleco live in a 55 gallon tank? ›
These fish stay relatively small but can still keep a 55 gallon tank free of surface algae, in my experience.What is the biggest pleco breed? ›
Liposarcus anisitsi (Eigenmann & Kennedy 1903) is the snow king pleco (formerly of the genus Pterygoplichthys) and grows to 17 inches in length (30 inches according to Burgess 1989). The leopard pleco (Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps, Kner 1854), formerly Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps, reaches about 20 inches maximum.Should I remove uneaten algae wafers? ›
The simplest way to avoid cloudy water is to remove any uneaten portion of the algae wafer after 45 minutes to an hour. If your bottom feeders haven't eaten it within an hour they probably won't - then the wafer will just continue to dissolve and your water may become cloudy as a result.Which pleco eats the most algae? ›
Plecostomus are one of the most well-known algae eaters, but they often get very large as adults and aren't suitable for the average home aquarium.
Plecos often hide behind the filter or heater, because it's a safe place with less light and away from potential danger. This is most likely because it's stressed and there's a lack of other hiding places.Can a pleco live in a bare bottom tank? ›
It might surprise you, but many people choose to keep there plecos in a bare-bottom tank. Plecos poop a lot. This means that strong filtration is need along with water changes. In a bare-bottom tank, waste will be sucked up more easily by the filter and it can be more easily kept clean.Do plecos eat fish flakes? ›
So, what do plecos (sucker catfish) eat? Plecos eat algae, fresh vegetables, wood, and fish flakes. They are technically omnivores, even though they prefer to feed on algae exclusively.Can you have live plants with a pleco? ›
Plecos are often wrongfully accused of eating and destroying plants. In fact, most plecos species really enjoy plants because they bring cover and improve the water parameters.Can you turn fish tank filter off at night? ›
It is not a good idea to turn off your aquarium filter every night. The filter plays a key role in the health of your tank, and shutting it down for hours at a time can eventually lead to problems.Can you keep a pleco by itself? ›
They can live alone or with tankmates.
They will be at home with other peaceful community fish and are compatible with many species you can find in local pet stores. It's not necessary to get a school of plecos to keep in your tank, but you can get more than one if you desire.
To conclude, you should only keep one Pleco in your tank at a time. If you have a really big tank, you can keep more small size Plecos in it. However, you'll need to make sure that they have enough space to swim and play, and you'll need to make sure they have enough food and water.How many plecos can I put in a 20 gallon tank? ›
A bristlenose will max out in most tanks at about 5 inches. So no more than one will be fine in a 20 gallon tank.Can you have 2 algae eaters in one tank? ›
If you are dealing with a specific type of algae, your best bet is to choose an algae eater that will feed on that type of algae. For tanks with more large-scale algae problems, it may help to add two or three different types of algae eater to your tank (as long as they're able to live with each other).Can plecos and catfish live together? ›
Cory catfish and plecos can live together as tank mates, because they are both peaceful fish. A tank size of minimum 20 gallons is needed.
They prefer a heated aquarium around 74 to 80°F (23 to 27°C), and they can live a broad pH range of 6.5 to 7.8. Since most plecos are nocturnal, they greatly appreciate any hides or cover you provide to keep them out of the light.Can a pleco eat another pleco? ›
Plecos are not cannibalistic. They are omnivorous and only eat other fish that are dead. That being said, if a pleco has died, another pleco might try and eat it. The only case that plecos might eat their own species is during the breeding process.What is the easiest pleco to breed? ›
Breeding bristlenose plecos is extremely easy. If you put a male and female together and have some form of cave, it's almost guaranteed they will spawn.Do plecos grow according to tank size? ›
To some extent, plecos grow up to the size of their tank. A tank that's too small will not allow the pleco to full develop. However, plecos will grow out of a tank if it's too small for them, and potentially cause damage or die.Will plecos eat fish flakes? ›
So, what do plecos (sucker catfish) eat? Plecos eat algae, fresh vegetables, wood, and fish flakes. They are technically omnivores, even though they prefer to feed on algae exclusively.What happens if you put too much algae remover in a fish tank? ›
Remember that overuse of algaecide can cause future outbreaks of algae — worse than the original problem and it can damage plants and fish. If it is necessary to get control of algae, follow all directions to the letter and make sure to get the pond into balance after its use.Can I use no more algae with fish in tank? ›
This product must only be used at the recommended use rate of 1 tablet per 10 gallons (40 Liters) of aquarium water. Copper, one of the active ingredients in this product, is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. If used at the recommended use rate, this product is not expected to be toxic to fish.Can too much fish food cause algae? ›
Decomposing fish food also offers a place for mold and fungus to grow. Excess food causes a rise in nitrate and phosphate levels, which contributes to increased algae growth. Poor water quality also stunts your fishes' growth, causing their colors to fade and lowers their resistance to disease.