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 and how do they work?
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. The 3-inch baby grows to nearly 2 feet and has a huge appetite. Monster fish are almost impossible to rehome and we strongly recommend against getting them. Your common pleco should not be released into the wild. They are an invasive species that can cause significant damage to the ecosystem.
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 well-known for their armored bodies, distinctive suckermouths, and unique sexes.
Are Plecos 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. You also need to do regular tank maintenance to keep the nitrate levels at 40 ppm or below. (If you’re not sure what nitrates are, read our article on the aquarium nitrogen cycle.)
The 4- to 6-inch plecos mentioned earlier can be kept in tanks containing 20 to 29 gallons or more of water. 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 Zerbii (Hypancistrus Debilittera) are a striking species with a 4 inch 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. Because not all plecos like the same food, it is worth doing some research. Some prefer to graze on vegetation and algae, while others like to rip on driftwood. Others crave more protein. While many plecos will not harm plants, bristlenoses have been known as snacking on sword plants. It is best to feed plecos when the lights are out, as they are more active than other fish.
We often hear pleco owners say, “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. If you feed your puppy 1 cup of food every day, he will likely require more than 1 cup when he reaches adulthood. Your adult pleco will need more food to sustain its larger body than a juvenile. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a slightly rotund belly. If the abdomen is sunken in and the fish is underweight, try increasing 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. Although they might occasionally eat fish waste while digging in the substrate, it is not sufficient to sustain them. Remember, plecos can be cleaners, but they are still living animals that need proper nourishment.
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. Usually, these catfish are scavengers and won’t eat other animals unless they have already passed away. Some plecos have been known to chew on the slime of another fish, but this usually happens with larger plecos that don’t get 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.
Can two or more plecos be kept in the same tank? It depends. Some species, especially the males, can be territorial towards other bottom dwellers or their own species. Research their behavior and ask hobbyists about their experiences. 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. Read online articles and visit social media groups to research their care and diet requirements. 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: