Care Guide for Plecos – The Mighty Armored Catfish


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 name given to the Loricariidae family of armored suckermouth catfish that come from Central and South America. Common pleco (Hypostomus pilostomus) is often found in pet shops as a cheap cleaner fish. However, this 3-inch baby eventually grows up to be a nearly 2-foot beast with a surprisingly large appetite (and matching waste load). If you don’t have the finances to keep monster fish for their entire lives, we strongly advise against it. They are difficult to rehome. You should also not release common plecos into the wild as they can be a very invasive species that can cause a lot of harm 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. They may cost a little more than the common pleco, but their manageable size and smaller food bill will more than make up for it in the long run.

Plecos are known for their armored bodies and distinctive suckermouths.

Are Plecos Easy to Keep?

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. 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. Common plecos should start in 75-gallon tanks and grow to 150 or 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?

Although plecos are known as cleaner fish, scavengers, and algae eaters, they must be fed a regular diet consisting of high-quality fish foods. 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. 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. It is important to research your species as not all plecos will eat the same foods. 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. Plucking plecos at night is a good idea. This allows them to get enough food to eat while other fish are sleeping.

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. If you feed your puppy 1 cup of food every day, he will likely require more than 1 cup when he reaches adulthood. 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 abdomen is sunken in and the fish is underweight, try increasing the amount of food. 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 enough 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 eat any peaceful, common fish that isn’t large enough to eat. Likewise, do not add any fish that are small enough to fit in the pleco’s mouth. 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. Keep a smaller pleco, feed it well, and you shouldn’t have this problem.

Many smaller plecos can live together with other peaceful community fish 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. Read online articles and visit social media groups to research their care and diet requirements. While you ultimately have to clean your fish tank, we recommend that you read this popular article on the top 10 cleaning crew members.