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?
Plecostomus is the common title for the Loricariidae, a family of armored suckermouth cats that hail from Central and South America. As a pet fish, the common pleco (Hypostomus plumbomus) is often sold as a cheaper 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. 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. Bristlenose, rubber lip, and clown plecos are all beautiful catfish that stay between 4 to 6 inches in length. 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 famous for their distinctive suckermouths and armored bodies.
Plecos are easy to maintain
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. Since most plecos are nocturnal, they greatly appreciate any hides or cover you provide to keep them out of the light. To keep the nitrate levels below 40 ppm, you will need to conduct regular tank maintenance. (If you’re not sure what nitrates are, read our article on the aquarium nitrogen cycle.)
For the 4 to 6 inch plecos, 20 to 29 gallon water is sufficient. 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 plecos (Hypancistrus debilittera) have a striking pattern and only grow to 4 inches long.
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. Think of it like having a pet dog. The dog can eat whatever is left on the ground but should still eat regular meals of dog food.
These catfish also require proper food that meets their nutritional requirements. Most people give them algae wafers. However, plecos love well-balanced meals that include a variety foods such as Repashy gel food or frozen bloodworms. Because not all plecos like the same food, it is worth doing some research. Some like to graze on plants and algae while others prefer driftwood and more protein. Although many plecos can be safe for plants, some bristlenose plecos have been known to eat sword plants. It is best to feed plecos when the lights are out, as they are more active than other fish.
One of the most common complaints we hear from pleco owners is “I don’t understand why my fish died.” I gave it one algae wafer every night.” Let’s go back to our pet dog analogy. You can feed your puppy one cup every day. However, when he turns adulthood, he will probably need more. Similarly, your adult pleco needs more food than a juvenile to support its larger body. It is a good rule of thumb to have a slightly rotund stomach. If the stomach is distended or the fish is overweight, increase the amount of food. If the fish’s stomach is feeling bloated, this could indicate that it has been eating too much or being constipated by 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?
As mentioned before, plecos vary in their food preferences, but none of them live solely 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 will be fine with almost any peaceful, community fish that isn’t big enough to eat them. 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 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. While you ultimately have to clean your fish tank, we recommend that you read this popular article on the top 10 cleaning crew members.