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Plecostomus

Plecostomus Care Sheet

includes plecostomus species

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Plecos, consisting of more than 150 species, are catfish who have sucker-shaped mouths and bony plates and spines over their bodies instead of scales to protect them. They can raise and lower their spines and plates when threatened by a predator. Plecostomus means “folded mouth” in Latin. These fish are well-known algae eaters who originated in the rivers of the Amazon jungle in South America. In nature, many live in fast-moving rivers and streams where they use their suckermouths to attach to rocks and wood to help prevent them from being swept away by water currents. Some pleco species have adaptations in their gastrointestinal tracts that enable them to breathe air and extract oxygen from it within their intestines. Plecos are often called “janitor fish” because they are scavengers and will eat and clean up almost anything. They are recommended for beginning aquarists.

Plecostomus Caresheet

Typical appearance and behavior

  • Come in a variety of colors and sizes, depending on species
  • Spend most of the time on the bottom or hanging from the side of the aquarium
  • Attach to glass, rocks and other hard surfaces with their specially adapted mouths
  • Very territorial towards other plecos
  • Will uproot or eat most live plants
  • Primarily nocturnal (active at night)
  • Like to spend time hiding
  • Can live harmoniously with similar-sized aquarium fish

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Most are good for beginning aquarists, however, there are a few species that require more advanced care
Average Life Span Depends on species; on average, up to 10-15 years when properly cared for
Average Adult Size 1.5 to 12+ inches long, depending on species
Diet Most species are omnivores
Minimum Habitat Size 20+ gallons, depending on species
Water Temperature 72-82°F

Habitat 

Habitat size

Keep in an appropriate size aquarium, from 20 gallons for smaller species to 75 gallons or more for larger species.

Building your habitat

  • Water health - Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Moderate water circulation should be provided to mimic water currents found in plecos’ natural habitats. Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing .
  • Décor - As plecos like to hide, caves, hollow logs or other safe hiding spaces should be provided. Acrylic aquariums are not recommended for large plecos, as they will scratch the acrylic with their sharp spines and sucker mouths. Driftwood is commonly used as a source of food, providing cellulose and lignin and enabling plecos to hide.

Feeding

What to feed

Some species of pleco exclusively eat algae, while others eat plants. Some are more carnivorous, still others mainly eat wood fiber and the small crustaceans who live within the wood. In general, plecos are opportunistic scavengers who will eat anything that comes their way. A well-balanced pleco diet consists of:

  • Algae and sinking algae wafers
  • Plecos require plenty of fiber. Supplement with raw zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, lettuce, spinach or cucumbers as a treat once or twice a week. Raw vegetables should be anchored near the bottom of the aquarium
  • Some plecos require driftwood as part of their diet, supplying them with cellulose and lignin
  • More carnivorous species need higher-protein foods such as bloodworms, shrimp pellets, krill or brine shrimp 

Things to remember when feeding your pleco:

  • Feed daily
  • Typically feeds at night when other fish are less active. Tends to be shy and may not want to be watched while eating

Plecostomus care

  • Water care
    • Daily - Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
    • Weekly - Test water quality at least once a week
    • Weekly to monthly - Change 10-25% of the total volume of water every 2-4 weeks, or as needed. Change filter media monthly
  • Introduce new inhabitants to the aquarium gradually. May be housed with most other fish, but smaller plecos should not be housed with larger predatory fish species
  • Avoid overcrowded conditions; they are a major cause of stress and disease 
  • Maintain good water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration 
  • Ensure diet is appropriate for the particular species and that hiding places are provided in the aquarium

Where to Buy

Various plecos are available at Petco online and in store. If visiting in store, call ahead to check availability. 

Supplies

Aquarium mates

Can be kept with community fish, ideally similar in size; keep only one pleco per aquarium. Can live harmoniously with bettas, mollies, guppies, loaches and platies. May not do well when housed with larger, more aggressive species such as angelfish or cichlids unless plecos are of a more substantial size. 

Health

Signs of a healthy plecostomus

  • Clear eyes
  • Remains on or near the bottom of the aquarium
  • Eats vigorously
  • Attaches to the side of the aquarium or décor

Red flags

  • Loss of color
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Frayed fins
  • Sunken abdomen
  • Bloated appearance

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Cloudy eye Symptoms or Causes Eyes are covered with white or gray slime and appear cloudy; fish may appear off-color and swim awkwardly. Suggested Action Improve water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health Issue Ich
Pale, white lesions on body
Symptoms or Causes White spots appear on fins and body; fish rubs against hard objects or swims erratically.
Caused by infection with Epistylis parasites, common in bottom-dwelling fish; predisposes them to bacterial infection.
Suggested Action Quarantine fish immediately; use commercial ich remedy for at least 2 weeks.
Improve water quality by ensuring proper filtration; consult local aquatic specialists or aquatic veterinarians for treatment.
Health Issue Sunken abdomen Symptoms or Causes Not enough food. Suggested Action Increase supplemental feeding.
Health Issue Bloated abdomen Symptoms or Causes Obesity or constipation. Suggested Action Reduce supplemental feeding or increase fiber intake..

FAQs 

  • What do plecos eat? In general, plecos are opportunistic scavengers who will eat anything that comes their way. Some species of pleco exclusively eat algae, while others eat plants. Some are more carnivorous. Still others mainly eat wood fiber and the small crustaceans who live within the wood.
  • How long do plecos live? A pleco’s life span depends on the species; on average, up to 10-15 years when properly cared for.
  • How big do plecos get? Plecos can be as small as 1.5 inches long or  up to 12+ inches long, depending on species.
  • How fast do plecos grow? Plecos grow very quickly, some up to 5 inches during their first year.
  • Can a plecostomus live in a pond? Larger species of plecostomus can live in ponds, eating algae, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop too low, and the pond doesn’t freeze.

Additional care sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All  products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as mycobacteria and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing and/or caring for aquatic life and should consider having a pet other than aquatic life.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about aquatic life and disease.

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian.