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. Before you buy, let’s talk about the amazing pleco, their care requirements and whether or not they are the right fish for your pet.
What are Plecos?
Plecostomus refers to the Loricariidae group of armored suckermouth catfish from Central and South America. Common pleco (Hypostomus pilostomus) is often found in pet shops 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. You should also not release common plecos into the wild as they can be a very invasive species that can cause a lot of harm 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.
Plecos are easy to keep?
They are generally similar to other tropical fish in terms of water parameters. 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.)
As for tank size, the 4- to 6-inch plecos we mentioned previously can be housed in 20 to 29 gallons of water or more. 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. It’s like having a pet dog. The dog can eat whatever is left on the ground but should still eat regular meals of dog food.
The catfish require appropriate food to meet their dietary needs. People tend to only give them algae wafers, but most plecos prefer well-balanced meals consisting of a wide variety of foods, such as frozen bloodworms and Repashy gel food. Do some research on your particular species because not all plecos eat the same thing. Some graze on algae and vegetation, some like to rasp on driftwood, and others crave more protein. While many plecos will not harm plants, bristlenoses have been known as snacking on sword plants. Plucking plecos at night is a good idea. This allows them to get enough food to eat while other fish are sleeping.
A problem we often hear from new pleco owners is, “I don’t know why my fish died. I gave it one algae wafer every night.” Let’s go back to our pet dog analogy. Your puppy will need more food than you give him when he grows up. 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. Increase the food intake if the abdomen is feeling sunken or the fish is not gaining weight. 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. Although they might occasionally eat fish waste while digging in the substrate, it is not sufficient 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 can eat almost any peaceful, communal fish that aren’t large enough for them to eat. Likewise, do not add any fish that are small enough to fit in the pleco’s mouth. These catfish are usually scavengers and won’t eat any other animals unless the deceased have passed away. 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 small plecos can be paired with other peaceful fish, such as neon Tetras.
Is it possible to keep two or more plecos in one tank? It depends. It depends. You can keep smaller species, such as the bristlenose pleco, in multiples provided you have enough hides and caves to allow everyone to choose their favorite.
Bottom line: buy the right pleco that will, even at adult size, fit the size of your aquarium. For information on their care and feeding requirements, you can read online articles or visit social media groups. Ultimately, you are responsible for cleaning your fish tank, but if you’re looking for some little helpers, check out our popular article on top 10 clean-up crew members: