Pleco Catfish – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Size, Breeding

Popularly known as Pleco, the Plecostumus catfish refers to the Loricariide family catfishes. There are over 150 different species in this family, ranging from peaceful to aggressive and from tiny to large catfish.

Most beginner fish keepers assume that the Common Pleco is all that there is in the Loricariide family, but in reality, it refers to the Hyposotomus plecostomus – a specific species in the family.

Plecos spend most of their time hanging from the sides of your aquarium – they attach to hard surfaces like rocks and glass. They eat live plants, and they’re primarily nocturnal. Besides, they can be territorial and aggressive towards other Plecos.

The Common Pleco fish is an armored catfish, and it’s one the most preferred catfish among fish keepers.

Appearance

Most Pleco fishes are brown, but some species’ coloration is influenced by their environment. Plecos also characterized by sand-colored patterns and spots.

The Plecos armored catfish tag comes from the outsized bone plates that coat their body. The Common Pleco has an elongated body encased with four stripes of bone plates. It’s only their abdomen that’s not covered.

Another unique quality of Plecos is their mouthparts – they are adapted to eating algae. As for their size, in the wild they grow up to a length of 24 inches, in an aquarium they grow up to around 12 inches.

The Common Pleco is also characterized by a large head with small eyes atop their head. Their eyes have a membrane which the fish uses to control the amount of light that gets into their eyes.  Also, the fish is distinguished by its moon-shaped fin – the bottom part is longer than the upper part.

Habitat

The plecostomus have South American origins – they are native to the rivers and streams in the Amazon forest.  But, they are very adaptable and so they can thrive in various habitats. The natural habitat of most Plecos is fast-flowing rivers and streams with a rocky substrate. However, some thrive in brackish estuaries.

Each species is unique though, so your tank setup should be particularly adapted to your specific Pleco fish. For instance, smaller Bristlenose Plecos like Otocinclus Catfish can thrive in a 10-gallon-sized tank, conversely larger species like Bristlenose need a 25-gallon tank, at minimum.

In nature, Pleco fishes live in shallow rivers and streams that meander through tropical forests. The water in such rivers is usually littered with plants and driftwood as well as fast-moving. During the day Plecos hide in the driftwood.

So how can you mimic this natural setting in an aquarium? For one, your aquarium should have many hiding places where your Plecos can sleep during the day. Therefore, you should add hollowed logs and caves, which will serve as hiding places. Upturned flower pots, too, make great hiding places.

Plecos also prefer heavily planted tanks. But you should only keep hardy plants because Plecos usually nibble on them. Java moss and other fast-growing plants are ideal. Dense vegetation and debris make the fish feel secure and safe.

Feeding

Plecos are touted as ‘algae eaters’. But you shouldn’t misconstrue this to mean they are herbivorous. Most of them are carnivorous; they ear crustaceans, invertebrates, and smaller fish. While they don’t outright prey for meat, they scavenge – this makes them opportunistic omnivores.

Some Pleco species also chomp on wood, so do your research on the species you hope to keep to ensure you provide it with proper nourishment.

The common misconception about the Common Pleco is that it can live sorely on algae. This is erroneous, in fact, an algae-only diet leads to them being malnourished and unhealthy. The ideal diet should comprise of algae, vegetables, and occasional live food/meat. In a nutshell, feed them with high-quality pellets.

For vegetables, you should feed them spinach, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, shelled peas, and other nutrient-rich veggies. For live food, you should feed them with larvae, crustaceans, bloodworms, and earthworms. Worms are great because they drift to the bottom where Plecos can easily find them.

A crucial point you should remember is that Plecos need lots of fiber; this is why you should feed them lots of veggies. You should also provide them with driftwood which helps with their digestion.

As for their feeding habits, Plecos are nocturnal and so it’s best if you feed them in the evening.

Water & Tank Requirements

Plecos are hardy; they don’t require precise water parameters. The key thing is keeping the water well filtered and maintaining a strong current.

When it comes to parameters, the water temperature should hover from 72°F to 86°F, PH level from 6.5 to 7.5. The essential aspect of water requirements is keeping water clean. You should also change 10-30% of your tank’s total volume of water, at least, every month.

Compatibility

A fact you should always keep in mind is that Plecos are nocturnal. When young, this fish is peaceful, so you can keep it in a community tank. Cichlids, gouramies, tetras, and other community fish make for ideal tank mates for Plecos. However, even when young, you should not place them with Angelfish and Discus – they usually nip at them.

The rule of thumb is, if a fish is smaller than the Pleco’s mouth, it’ll likely end up as the Pleco’s dinner, so don’t keep it with smaller fish. As it ages and outgrows other fish, move it to its own tank.

Breeding

Little is known about the Plecos’ breeding patterns either in nature or in aquariums. What has been established, though, is that it’s almost impossible for them to breed in captivity.

In the wild, Plecos typically spawn in caves, where they lay loads of eggs on flat surfaces. The males then stand sentinel at the cave until the eggs hatch. The pleco fry are demanding eaters, they require large volumes of protein-rich diet.

Conclusion

In principle, the Plecos don’t have difficult care requirements, keeping them is easy. However, due to their tank-size requirements, you may need a bit of experience before you start keeping them. They demand a large commitment, but keeping them is easy and fun.

Updated: March 6, 2020

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