Pleco Fish Care: Lifespan, Tank Mates, Diet, & Health

pleco-fish-care
Written by Jordan

Quick Stats

  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Scientific Name: Hypostomus plecostomus
  • Care level: Easy to Intermediate
  • Temperament: Docile
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water conditions:
    Temperature: 75°F to 82°F / pH: 6.5 to 7.4 / KH: 7-10
  • Max Size: Up to two feet in length (24 inches)
  • Minimum tank size (as adult): 150 gallons

Overview: Pleco Fish Care

Plecostomus, commonly referred to as plecos, are well known algae eating fish that are related to catfish. These frequently kept freshwater fish are popular due to their easy care requirements and cute appearance. Plecos are mistakenly labeled beginner fish since they are hardy and are not typically picky eaters since they are, by nature, scavengers.What many don’t know is that the common pleco that are sold in stores can grow rather large and plecos lifespan can reach an upwards of 30 years.

Plecos are sometimes called “sucker fish” due to their uniquely adapted mouth that allows them to adhere to hard surfaces to remove algae and other growths.

Plecos are a species of armored catfish typically found in tropical areas of northeastern South America. Common areas to find these fish in the wild include Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, and the Guianas. These fish are very hardy and can survive in most conditions due to their simplistic dietary requirements and general durable nature. Referred to as “common plecos” in most fish shops, these fish are sold usually as very young or moderately aged fish that are no more than a few inches big. This can be rather misleading since under healthy conditions, plecos routinely reach lengths of 20 inches or more and will only remain small if left in an inadequately sized tank set up or if stressed frequently which can stunt the fish’s growth and damage its overall health.

Pleco Diet & Feeding Habits

What do plecos eat in the wild?

Bloodworms, mealworms, earthworms, and shrimp are great sources of protein that plecos would typically eat in the wild.

What food should I feed my pleco?

There is a common misconception surrounding pleco fish care; many people believe that you do not need to feed plecos since they just eat the algae and waste products that are already within the tank. Though they do sometimes eat this algae, you still need to feed them a varied, balanced diet in order to keep them completely healthy and happy. A stressed fish is a sick fish and few things stress out plecos more than having a poor diet.

For starters, plecos need to be fed a good quality algae wafer. These are relatively inexpensive; opt for higher quality products. These may cost a bit more but they lack filler ingredients and unnecessary chemicals and preservatives. Additionally, plecos need some sort of protein since they are omnivorous. To supplement their protein intake, sprinkle in some fish food for them. Most fish food is made from other fish and shrimp, making it perfect to mimic the natural feeding habits of the scavenger plecos. A little tip: feed your plecos fish food at night when goldfish and other tank mates are asleep to make sure that your pleco is getting enough. They do not need fish food all of the time and should be routinely fed the algae wafers with the fish flakes or pellets added in sparingly.

Another great way to help make sure your pleco is eating enough and healthily is to supplement his diet with whole foods. Adding in vegetables is a great way to go about this. Leafy greens like romaine lettuce, celery tops, slices of cucumber, and partially cooked zucchini and peas are all great options. Just be sure that you feed your pleco heartily and often, as they can sometimes end up munching on other fish in your tank if push comes to shove.

Pleco Habitat & Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for a pleco is rather easy since they are not picky, though it does require some thought and planning. Plecos are sold small so, at first, you can probably get away with a smaller tank, with bigger always being better. As your fish grows, you should expect to need to upgrade your tank and make accommodations for such future changes. Plecos can get large so having a secondary tank or tank changing plan ready to go when you first bring your fish home is a good idea to help things go smoothly down the line.

It is not recommended that you use an acrylic tank with plecos, as they can scratch the glass and create weak points easily due to their preference of suctioning to flat surfaces. Since plecos prefer water that is slightly acidic, many people add driftwood pieces to the tank; additionally, this also gives other fish places to hide which will help benefit the overall health of your tank society.

Maintaining the appropriate bacterial cycling, water quality, water temperature, and pH when taking care of any fish is vital in preventing illnesses and making sure everyone is healthy and happy. Be sure to add a strong aquarium filter to your tank, too.

There is a common myth that plecos filter the tanks and therefore a physical product is not needed; this is false and not using filtration can result in your fish becoming unhealthy or even dying if ammonia and debris levels get too high. If you are concerned about your water quality or are new to fish keeping, try having a water testing method on hand to help double check that everything is as it should be.

Adding plecos into highly decorated or heavily planted tanks can be a bit frustrating due to their frequent desire to eat live plants or uproot fake ones. Plecos are curious and a bit of a bottomless tank species so if it can be eaten, they will eat it. Additionally, they are rather active, especially at night, so tank decorations should be secure to prevent any accidental uprooting or trapping. Plecos love flat surfaces and will appreciate smooth stones or large hides, too.

Pleco Tank Mates

Plecos are generally good tankmates for most other fish. As long as the other fish are around the same size as your pleco. Larger fish may end up eating your pleco which could result in the death of both fish since, obviously, the pleco would not survive being eaten and the other fish would likely choke on the pleco’s unique body structure. e

Plecos do not generally eat other fish unless they are already deceased due to their scavenger nature but, if they are starved, plecos do sometimes consume smaller fish, especially if they are very tiny. Keep everyone around the same size to keep things safe. Of course, you should always double check specific species interactions to make sure they are safe but for the most part you are fine on the pleco’s end since they are rather docile.

The main caveat to pleco tank population forming is that you should only have one pleco per tank. Plecos are very territorial when around other plecos and will sometimes fight to the death. To prevent this, keep one pleco per tank and if you absolutely must have more than one in a tank, make sure that it is large enough that they can each claim an area as their own and intermingle as little as possible. You really do not want to plecos interacting unless they have to; it could be really stressful for the entire tank and place all of your fish in jeopardy.

Pleco Health

Generally, plecos are rather hardy fish that will experience few health problems. There are two main issues that can plague plecos, both of which are common in other aquatic animal species, as well. One issue is called cloudy eye and is characterized as the fish’s eye appearing to be covered by a thick, white or grey slime. They may swim awkwardly and appear dull in coloration due to the stress and lack of vision. To treat this, improve your water quality and test for any imbalances immediately upon noticing the condition. If all else fails, seek out an aquatic veterinarian for treatment, especially if you notice your fish exhibiting any odd behavioral changes or appearing lethargic.

The other illness that is common to the species is known as ich. Ich is an abbreviation of ichthyophthirius multifiliis and is caused by a common, highly contagious ectoparasite. Ich commonly shows up as white spots on the fins and body of the fish and can cause itching which leads to the fish rubbing against objects to seek relief. They may also swim awkwardly and seem sluggish or agitated. To treat ich, use a commercial treatment and quarantine your fish immediately; since the parasite is highly contagious you should also monitor your other fish to help ensure it has not spread and act accordingly if other fish begin to exhibit symptoms.

Aside from these two disorders, if your pleco shows any of the following symptoms, you should seek help from an aquatic veterinarian. Loss of color is a common indicator of underlying health issues or stressors with your fish. If your fish seems dull or dim, it probably has some sort of concerning health issue occurring. Additionally, fungal spots on the body, fins, or mouth should be an immediate indicator that help is needed. Frayed fins and labored breathing are also signs of more serious complications or injuries so be sure to check into any concerning symptoms. Generally, if you think something may be wrong it is best to be proactive in order to make sure your fish is as healthy as possible.

Breeding Plecos

Due to plecos being territorial and unsafe to house together in most tank situations, it can be quite hard to breed your plecos successfully and safely.

Most pleco breeding occurs within professional breeders or in natural settings; very few hobbyists have successfully bred their plecos. The minimum tank size for a pleco to be successfully bred is between one hundred and two hundred gallons.

Many hiding places should be placed through the tank to give the plecos a place to escape the other plecos; if they are forced to interact regularly they will likely fight which will result in the death or injury of one or both fish.

Your male pleco will choose one of these hides to breed in and meticulously clean the inside of his new hide before attempting to entice the female to come inside.

If she approves, she will go in and deposit her eggs for him to fertilize and care for until they hatch a few days later. Once the plecos hatch, they can be fed infusoria for a few days then be switched over to brine shrimp and commercial fry foods. Bits of spirulina powder can also be given though it can make the water very dirty so it should be used sparingly.

Interesting Facts About Plecos

When taking in a pleco, it is important to understand that it is a long term commitment. Do not let the lower price tag fool you; though the fish will cost you around the same price as a cup of coffee, they live quite full lives.

Typically, most species of pleco can live between twenty and thirty years if properly cared for. Plecos are almost prehistoric animals who have adapted to suit the world we live in. They are hardy and can survive under most conditions. Keep this in mind if you are planning on getting a pleco, as they can get large and will need a few tank upgrades as they reach maturity if you want them to be fully healthy and happy.

Since plecos are subtropical fish, you should shoot for around seventy two to eighty four degrees fahrenheit. Most plecos can survive at lower temperatures, even when the temperature dips down to the mid to low sixties but thrive under warmer conditions. If you want your pleco to be at its healthiest, be sure to monitor the water temperature and warm it with a heater as needed. Additionally, using a light to mimic the natural light and dark cycle of the pleco’s South American habitat can prove to be quite beneficial in their overall health and regulate their feeding habits.

If the pleco you purchase is listed only as a “common pleco”, it could very well be one of any number of species. Many mass pet retailers market plecos as a sort of “one size fits all” species, intermingling different varieties under the same umbrella sales term. Due to this, it is quite easy to get a pleco that may not be the best fit for your tank. Most are docile but some do prefer alternative conditions when compared to other pleco fish. To help prevent confusion, try researching pleco species and familiarizing yourself with photos of the different varieties to help you better know what you are purchasing. There is no shame in whipping out your phone and Googling the appearance of a pleco you are considering to help make sure that it is exactly what you are looking for!

One fun fact about the pleco concerns its nocturnal lifestyle adaptations. If a pleco really desires rest, many species can actually shut out light. Several species have something called an omega iris which allows them to close out light and rest more fully, helping them to balance out their life cycle and keep stress levels to a minimum. This adaptation is one of many that makes the pleco so very amazing!

If you have done a bit of research into pleco care, you have likely heard that you should never, ever dump your plecos down the toilet or into natural water sources. This is because, due to their hardy nature, plecos can quickly become a very serious invasive species based problem. When a species not native to an area is introduced and thrives, it throws off the entire ecosystem, resulting in the death and potential extinction of many native species. Due to this, the responsible way to handle a pleco that you can no longer care for is rehoming it or donating it to a facility equipped for its care. If you are not prepared to care for a two foot long fish, a pleco is probably not for you unless you opt to seek out a smaller version, which can be rather difficult to locate.

Bettas are notorious for being aggressive with other fish, often causing conflicts which result in fights to the death. Due to this, bettas are typically housed alone. Amazingly, though, plecos and bettas do well together in most situations. This is due to the pleco staying out of the betta’s way and not causing any sort of competition for food. Still, if you choose to house a betta and pleco together, be sure to make the tank as large as possible and keep an eye on them upon introduction to make sure they get along well enough to be left together. There are still risks associated with housing the species together so precautions should be taken to keep everything safe and stress free for both fish.

About the author

Jordan

Hi, my name is Jordan. I've been in the fishkeeping hobby since my childhood.
Welcome to my blog where I help fishkeepers enjoy the hobby by offering free guides, advice, & product reviews.
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