Care Guide for Plecos – The Mighty Armored Catfish
Are you looking for a suckerfish to keep your aquarium clean? People often mistake plecostomus catfish or plecos for plecostomus, believing that they will clean up the aquarium of all fish waste 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, the common name for the Loricariidae family consisting of armored succkermouth catfish which hails from Central or South America, is Plecostomus. 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. Monster fish are almost impossible to rehome and we strongly recommend against buying them. Common plecos are highly invasive and can cause serious damage to the environment.
Thankfully, there are much smaller plecos that are better suited for the average home aquarium. The beautiful clown, rubber, and bristlenose pleco catfishes range in size from 4 to 6 inches. While they may be a bit more expensive than the common pleco, their size and low food cost will compensate.
Plecos are famous for their distinctive suckermouths and armored bodies.
Plecos are easy to maintain
The water parameters of their aquarium are very similar to that 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.)
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. A 75-gallon tank is sufficient for the common pleco, but they can be moved up to 180 gallons or more. 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?
Although plecos are known as cleaner fish, scavengers, and algae eaters, they must be fed a regular diet consisting of high-quality fish foods. This is like having a pet. Yes, the dog will eat any scraps that fall to the ground, but they should still have daily meals consisting of actual dog food.
The catfish require appropriate food to meet their dietary needs. Most people give them algae wafers. However, plecos love well-balanced meals with a wide range of food options, including Repashy gel foods and frozen bloodworms. Because not all plecos like the same food, it is worth doing some research. Some like to graze upon vegetation, others like driftwood, while some prefer more protein. (While many plecos are safe for plants, bristlenose plecos are known to sometimes snack on sword plants.) It is best to feed plecos when the lights are out, as they are more active than other fish.
New pleco owners often say that their fish died because they don’t understand what happened. It was given one algae wafer each night. Let’s return to the 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. The adult pleco also needs more food to support its larger bodies. It’s a good idea to aim for a somewhat rotund belly. Increase the amount of food if the abdomen is swollen or the fish is too thin. If its stomach is too swollen, it could be eating too much or constipated from an overabundance of leftover food in the tank. 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. They may occasionally eat the substrate while they scavenge in the waste, but the fish waste is not sufficient for their survival. Remember, plecos can be cleaners but they are still living animals and need proper nourishment.
What fish can be kept with plecos?
Plecos are fine with most peaceful, community fish. Also, don’t add fish smaller than the pleco can swallow. 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. You shouldn’t have any problems if you keep a small pleco and feed it well.
Many tiny plecos can be paired with peaceful community fishes like neon tetras.
Is it possible to keep two or more plecos in one tank? It depends. Some species (especially the males) can be territorial towards their own kind or other bottom dwellers, so research their behavior and ask fellow hobbyists about their experiences. Bristlenose plecos, which are smaller in size than the bristlenose, can be kept in multiples if you keep enough hides and caves available for all species.
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.