Plecostomus – A Complete Guide – Care, Diet, Facts

The plecostomus, or pleco, is a species of catfish that many have in their homes. The common pleco is the most popular domestic pleco species.

Plecos make a great addition to any home as they’re easy to care for, affordable, and unique. Whether you’ve had an aquarium for years or are looking to begin fish rearing, plecos are a great fish to consider adding to your tank.

There are a few things that you should know before bringing a plecostomus into your home, however. If you’re looking to be a good pleco owner, you should understand what they require to have a comfortable life in your home aquarium system.


About Plecos

Plecos are a South American fish that live in Brazil, Trinidad, and Tobago, where they reside in warm, freshwater. While they can survive many habitats, most live in rivers or estuaries. Fish keepers should ensure that their tanks are up to proper standards.

Common Plecos are individuals in the Loricariidae family of fish. This family consists of over 150 different species.

The Genus Hypostomus was established in 1803. Since then, they have been staples in aquariums. Plecos were traded under the name “Suckermouth Catfish” since 1893. Their popularity has only grown and has made them one of the most popular fish in tanks today.


Plecos are an efficient, unique species that are commonplace in domestic tanks due to this. With supply for these productive animals, demand has increased. Many aquarium owners seek plecos out to maintain a cleaner tank.

There are over 150 different species of plecos. Keep in mind that each species of Plecostomus is unique and requires different needs. These differences can include diet and habitat size.

Not all pleco species are suitable for aquariums. Many plecos in pet stores are young. As juveniles, they may only be a few inches long. However, even the common pleco can grow to be over a foot long. You should consider the species’ size before adding them to your system.

Beginner fish keepers may believe that “common pleco” refers to the Loricariidae family overall. While a common misconception, the common pleco is actually the Hypostomus Plecostomus. They are also known as suckermouth catfish. This is a specific, smaller species in the family. This species is one commonly seen in household aquariums.


Most plecos are dark brown with light brown spots. This coloration can change based on their environment. Plecos are most commonly seen in darker colors. These dark hues allow them to blend into their natural, brackish water environments. This is important as they are smaller, nocturnal animals. This makes them vulnerable to predators. Their camouflage allows plecos more protection against these circumstances.


Plecos’ size makes them a unique addition to home aquariums. Plecos can reach great lengths. If not expected, this can cause a lot of chaos in a smaller aquarium. While most household fish are smaller in size, common plecos can grow up to two feet.

A unique direct adaptation that plecos have is their stunted growth in aquariums. They’re often smaller in aquariums than in the wild. However, they can still grow to over one foot long making them too large for many domestic tanks.

Keep in mind that while you might purchase a pleco at a few inches, they will grow to be much larger. If you are choosing to purchase a pleco, ensure you’ve done proper research prior to buying a tank.

Body Parts

Plecos are a great example of an adaptive species. Plecos have a specific set of adaptations. Adaptations are physical traits tailored to their environment. They demonstrate these adaptations in their armored skin, suction-like mouth, and ocular membranes.

A notable part of plecos’ appearance is their mouth. This suction-like mouth allows them to clean algae. Plecos earned the nickname “suckermouth catfish” due to this. Their ability to “suck” up algae allows them to find nutrients more easily. As bottom dwellers, they scavenge for their food. Having a mouth located beneath them is vital. This allows them to gather their food like a vacuum.

Common plecos’ also have a membrane that covers their eyes. This protective membrane allows them to control light exposure. This membrane helps to protect the sensitive eye from overexposure to light. This is an especially important adaptation for a nocturnal animal.

Like other members of the pleco family, common plecos have a long, thin body covered in bony plates. These plates cover everywhere except the ventral side or underside. This is why common plecos have been nicknamed the “armored catfish”.


The common pleco is a monomorphic species, meaning that the two sexes look the same. This monomorphism makes it difficult to distinguish the males and females apart just by looking at them.

If you are considering adding more than one pleco to your tank, size and social structure need to be understood. Their monomorphic behavior can disrupt this. Adding two males to an aquarium could endanger the social structure in your tank. With little way to tell the two sexes apart, this is one of several reasons two plecos can be a difficult idea.

Tank Requirements

Before purchasing a pleco, you need to prepare their habitat. The first step is ensuring that their aquarium is set up.

Before introducing your new fish, the tank’s water must cycle. This creates good bacteria that provide a healthy environment for your pleco.

Plecos do best in warm water. It’s important to provide them with warm water that mimics their natural habitat of South America. It might be a good idea to add a heater to your aquarium. Their water should always be between 72 and 86 degrees.

To ensure their tank meets these requirements, you should have a thermometer, as well. The thermometer should be placed away from filters and heaters so that there are no skewed readings.

It’s important to regulate your tank’s pH balance. PH, or potential of hydrogen, is the measure of acidity in the water. Guppies do best in pH levels between 6.5 and 7.5.

You should clean your tank weekly and perform water change as necessary.

It’s important to provide your tank with a filter that will suit its needs. This varies based on size and your fish species’ requirements.

Furthermore, plecos require places to hide. As nocturnal animals, they will often hide in caves and thick vegetation during the day.

Keep in mind that plecos can live ten to fifteen years with good care.

Social Behavior

Plecos tend to do well with most other fish. Keep in mind that plecos can grow to be large fish. You should not house plecos with animals that can fit in their mouth.

Ideal tank mates include cichlids, tetras, gouramis, guppies, hatchets, and other community fish that are not too small. Plecos can also be placed in a tank with angelfish, barbs, bettas, loaches, mollies and platies.

The common pleco is a nocturnal animal, meaning that they are most active at night. During the day, they may seem timid and will often hide in plants or decor.

When they are active, common plecos are bottom dwellers. They are often seen on the floor of aquariums, cleaning up.

While they have a peaceful nature, common plecos are best kept alone due to their size.

You do not need to house plecos with other fish. Likewise, it is advised against due to size constraints. To house more than one pleco, you’ll need at least a 300-gallon tank.


Plecos are very difficult to breed in a captive setting. As egg-laying fish, plecos require a safe place for their young.

In the wild, plecos will spawn in caves, leaving their eggs on flat surfaces. The male plecos will guard the eggs until they are fry or young fish.

As fry, plecos need a lot of protein. Bloodworms and shrimp can provide this protein.

This combination of habitat and diet make successfully raising plecos a difficult task in a household aquarium.

If you choose to attempt breeding your plecos, you will need a breeding tank.

Plecos are oviparous, meaning the females lay eggs that hatch outside of the body.

A popular species of plecos to breed is the bristlenose plecos. As they breed in caves, you should provide similar hiding locations. Bristlenose plecos typically breed in cooler water; your tank should be adjusted appropriately. This will induce mating behaviors.

You should not house plecos together at this time. During the breeding season, males can display aggressive behavior to other males.

Remember that it’s important to separate the young from the adults. As omnivorous scavengers, the adults will eat the juveniles if provided the opportunity.

When transporting fish, it’s important to ensure that they are healthy. Transport can create high-stress levels which can be fatal to fish.


While plecos are often marketed as algae eaters, it’s important that they are provided a diet, as well.

Plecos are an omnivorous species, so they eat both plant and animal matter.

Choosing the correct diet for your pleco is important. When choosing a diet, ensure that the quality is high and contains a lot of protein. It’s important to read the label; especially the ingredients.

Avoid food with a lot of wheat or soy. These items are often low in quality and lack the proper protein that your fish needs.

You can also feed your plecos live or frozen meat products such as shrimp or bloodworms. They’ll eat vegetables, as well. Lettuce, zucchini, and cucumbers are all good supplements to your pleco’s diet.

Some species of plecos will eat wood, as well. Driftwood will assist with providing the required fiber that will assist with their digestion.

Providing them with a variety of food items is important to ensure good health.

Keep in mind that, as nocturnal animals, it’s best to feed your plecos at night. This is when they are most active.


It’s important to monitor plecos’ behavior to catch any potential disease as soon as possible.

“Ich” is a common disease among many fish in home tanks. Ich is often seen as a fish rubbing against portions of their tank or growing small, white dots on their skin.

“Cloudy eye” is another disease in plecos. This disease is a noticeable white or grey slime over the eye. A pleco may swim differently due to lack of eyesight or have lost luster in their appearance’s color.

It’s important to monitor your fish for any of these behaviors or any other changes that might be a symptom of a disease. Taking care of your fish and their habitat via proper diet and cleaning is important, but sometimes illness is inevitable. There are medications for certain diseases that can be given in these circumstances.

Global Reputation

Invasive species are species that have become prominent in an environment that they are not naturally found.

Plecos have become an invasive species in areas of the Gulf of Mexico. They have been introduced to areas of these waters they did not previously occupy. They now overpopulate the shorelines of Florida, Texas, and Mexico.

This invasive status is believed to be caused by aquarists. It’s believed that these plecos were discarded after outgrowing household tanks. This is a common occurrence for animals that grow larger than expected.

Plecos are one of many invasive species introduced via human interaction. These species negatively affect ecological systems by creating resource competition.

Unique Traits

All species of plecos have elongated intestines. This is important for their digestion. These intestines help plecos process their diet of mostly vegetation.

This is important to keep in mind when providing their diet. Their system is specifically structured to handle vegetation.

Are Plecos Right For Me?

Plecos make a great addition to a household aquarist ready to take on an interesting species.

The information provided in this article is meant to provide you with the information you need to be a great pleco owner.

It’s vital that you understand what your pleco will require to live a healthy life in your home. When provided with the necessities, plecos make great fish for your aquarium. It is important that you’re prepared to give them what they require in a way of diet and habitat before purchasing your fish. With their unique, efficient appearance, it’s easy to see why plecos are such a popular fish!

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