Creating the Perfect Habitat for Your Plecostomus

Plecostomus (lat. Hypostomus plecostomus) is a type of suckermouth catfish, which is often encountered in home aquaria. Many aquarists have had this fish or saw it on sale. This is a perfect tank cleaner, plus it is one of the most enduring and undemanding kind of catfish, but…

Habitat in the wild

The plecostomus, also known as pleco, are a group of freshwater catfish belonging to the family Loricariidae. Loricariidae is a large family of armored catfishes that includes numerous species of fish characterized by their bony plates and spines along the body.

Plecos are native to South America and are highly popular among aquarium hobbyists due to their algae-eating habits and unique appearance. They have a sucker mouth that allows them to attach to surfaces, helping them scrape off algae and other organic matter from rocks and aquarium decorations.

Within the Loricariidae family, there are several genera and many species of plecos, each with its own distinct characteristics and care requirements. Some well-known genera of plecos include Hypostomus, Panaque, and Ancistrus.

It is prevalent in tropical waters of central and South America, in Amazon River basin (Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad). The fish dwells in oxygen-rich lotic waters and in brackish waters of river estuaries.

In general, plecos are found in areas with slow to moderate water flow, and they tend to inhabit areas with rocky substrates. The rocks provide them with surfaces to graze on algae and shelter among crevices. Additionally, some pleco species are known to inhabit areas with submerged logs and driftwood, which offer hiding spots and natural feeding grounds.

Water parameters in their natural habitat can also differ depending on the region and species. However, in general, plecos prefer water that is neutral to slightly acidic or slightly alkaline, with temperatures ranging from the low to mid-70s Fahrenheit (around 22-26°C).

Plecostomus can live in various conditions of tropical forests. Such unexpected adaptability to completely different environmental conditions was developed by the fish during its evolution and thus guaranteed that the fish has well-developed survival mechanisms.

One of the special mechanisms is its suckermouth. With its help plecostomus can not only collect food and various waste from the bottom, but also fix itself at some place by holding with its suckermouth to the surface.

This gives the plecostomus a chance to stay on its territory during rain season, while fishes that are less adapted to such conditions are carried away downstream by strong water flow.

During dry season when many waters get dry, another adaptive mechanism helps this catfish to survive – this is the ability to take in oxygen from atmospheric air. This is due to a special structure of the plecostomus intestinal tract, that is penetrated by lots of capillary tubes. According to some reports this catfish can stay out of water for up to 30 hours.

Description

Size

The Hypostomus plecostomus, commonly known as the Common Pleco or the Suckermouth Catfish, is one of the larger species of plecos commonly kept in aquariums. As adults, they can grow quite large.

On average, the adult size of Hypostomus plecostomus ranges from 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) in length. However, it’s essential to note that some individuals can even exceed these average sizes under the right conditions.

Due to their potential size, the common pleco requires a spacious aquarium to thrive. A tank size of at least 75 gallons or more is recommended for adult specimens to ensure they have enough room to swim, hide, and exhibit their natural behaviors. Because of their large size and care requirements, it’s crucial to carefully consider the commitment and resources needed to provide appropriate care for Hypostomus plecostomus before adding them to your aquarium.

Lifespan

In captivity, with proper care and a suitable environment, the average lifespan of a common pleco is typically around 10 to 15 years. Some individuals can live even longer, up to 20 years or more, when provided with excellent care and a healthy environment.

It’s important to note that the lifespan of any fish can be influenced by factors such as water quality, diet, stress levels, and genetic factors. Providing a spacious tank, balanced diet, clean water, and proper maintenance will contribute to the well-being and longevity of your pleco.

Body

The head of the suckermouth catfish is big; the eyes are small and high-set. There is a membrane on the eyes, it is like a microscope or photo camera diaphragm – it allows to control the light level that gets into the eye: during the day it covers almost the whole eye and at night it gradually opens.

The body is elongated and covered with 4 rows of bone plates. The body bottom and the abdomen don’t have them. The first ray of the dorsal has sharp spines. Dorsal, pectoral and tail fins are well-developed.

The dorsal fin is high and long (1 coarse and 7 soft rays). The anal fin consists of one coarse and 3-5 soft rays. The tail fin is moon-shaped, the bottom part is longer. The plecostomus body coloring is gray-brown or brown with green tint; it has a pattern made of dark spots and stripes.

Last update on 2024-02-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

CharacteristicDescription
FamilyLoricariidae
Common NamePlecostomus, Pleco, suckermouth catfish, common pleco
Scientific NameVarious species, e.g., Hypostomus, Panaque, Ancistrus
SizeVaries by species, typically 4 to 24 inches (10-60 cm)
Lifespan10 to 20+ years in captivity
HabitatFreshwater rivers, streams, and tributaries
DistributionSouth America
DietAlgae, plant matter, and some protein-rich foods
BehaviorNocturnal, often hides during the day
Tank RequirementsLarge tank with hiding spots, rocks, and driftwood
Water ParametersNeutral to slightly acidic or slightly alkaline
Water TemperatureLow to mid-70s Fahrenheit (around 22-26°C)
CompatibilityGenerally peaceful but may be territorial
Special ConsiderationsSome species may grow large and require spacious tanks. Provide proper filtration and regular water maintenance.
Albino plecostomus

Difficulties in keeping

Suckermouth catfish may be a troublesome tank dweller for an aquarist. Usually plecostomus is bought as a juvenile, when it is about 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) long. But it grows fast and can become up to 60 cm (24 inches) long, though in tanks it is as a rule about 30 cm (15 inches) long.

Suckermouth catfish is easy to keep in a tank provided with a diet rich in algae or fed with special food for catfish. However, due to its size the fish won’t do for beginner aquarists, since it requires large tanks.

Tank water parameters aren’t that important, the main thing is that the water should be clean. Be ready to get a big tank, since plecostomus grows fast.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank decor

When setting up an aquarium for suckermouth catfish, such as Hypostomus plecostomus or other pleco species, it’s essential to consider their natural habitat and behavior. Providing suitable decor and hiding spots will make the aquarium more comfortable and enriching for these fish.

Here are some decor ideas for a suckermouth catfish tank:

  1. Covers: The suckermouth catfish is a bottom dweller. It is timid and during the day it hides under snags or in caves. It is active in the twilight and at night. May spend large amount of time mowing on its fins between the tank plants and shelters. You should put some snags, stones and other shelters into the tank – the fish will hide there during the day. Snags in a tank are not only shelters for the fish, but also this is where algae grows fast and they also contain cellulose that the fish needs to have good digestion.
  2. Driftwood: Suckermouth catfish love to graze on driftwood as part of their diet and use it as hiding spots. Adding driftwood pieces to the tank not only serves as a natural decor element but also provides essential dietary benefits for the fish.
  3. Rocks and Caves: Create caves and crevices with rocks or aquarium-safe decorations. These hiding spots will give the catfish a sense of security, especially during the daytime when they are more likely to be resting.
  4. Live Plants: Adding live plants can create a more natural and aesthetically pleasing environment. Additionally, some plecos enjoy nibbling on certain plant species, so providing edible plants can be beneficial. It likes thickly planted tanks, but it may eat tank plants with soft leaves or accidentally pull out some large plants. You must keep the tank covered all the time – the fish tends to jump out of water.
  5. PVC Pipes: Cut pieces of PVC pipes can make excellent artificial hiding spots for the catfish. Make sure the edges are smooth to avoid any injuries.

Remember to provide plenty of open swimming space as well, as these catfish need ample room to move around. A well-decorated tank with ample hiding spots will help reduce stress and encourage natural behavior in your suckermouth catfish.

Substrate

The choice of substrate for a suckermouth catfish, like the Hypostomus plecostomus or any other pleco species, is an essential consideration when setting up their aquarium. The right substrate will support their natural behaviors, maintain good water quality, and promote a healthy environment for the fish.

For plecos, a suitable substrate should be:

  1. Smooth and Non-Abrasive: As plecos are bottom-dwelling fish with a soft underside, it’s essential to avoid sharp or abrasive substrates that could damage their delicate skin and barbels. Sand, fine gravel, or smooth river rocks are good choices.
  2. Dark in Color: Opt for a substrate that is darker in color as it will help enhance the colors of the plecos and make them feel more secure.
  3. Natural-Looking: A natural-looking substrate, like brown or black sand or gravel, can mimic their natural habitat and make them feel more at home.
  4. Easy to Clean: Choose a substrate that is easy to clean and maintain. Smooth substrates are less likely to trap debris, making it easier to keep the tank clean.
  5. Inert: Ensure that the substrate is inert and does not leach harmful chemicals into the water that could harm the fish.
  6. Depth: Aim for a substrate depth of around 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) to allow the plecos to forage and dig if they want to.

Remember, plecos, especially Hypostomus plecostomus, are known for their algae-sucking capabilities, so they might not spend much time sifting through the substrate like some other fish species. However, providing them with a suitable substrate will still contribute to their overall well-being and create a natural and aesthetically pleasing environment in the aquarium.

Tank size

The tank size for a Hypostomus plecostomus should be appropriate for their adult size, as keeping them in a tank that is too small can lead to stress and health issues.

For an adult Hypostomus plecostomus, a minimum tank size of 75 (283.9 liters) gallons is recommended. However, if possible, providing an even larger tank, such as a 100-gallon tank or more, would be better, as it allows these fish to have plenty of room to swim, explore, and exhibit their natural behaviors. Once again, the suckermouth catfish grows very fast and it needs space to swim and feed.

Having a larger tank not only benefits the well-being of the pleco but also makes maintenance easier and helps maintain stable water parameters. Additionally, providing plenty of hiding spots, rocks, and driftwood in the tank will give the pleco places to explore, rest, and graze on algae.

Remember that these fish can live for many years when properly cared for, so investing in a suitable tank size from the beginning will provide a comfortable and healthy environment for your Hypostomus plecostomus throughout their life.

Water parameters

As we mentioned above, tank water parameters aren’t crucial. The water has to be clean with efficient filtration and regular renews, since considering the size it produces quite a lot of organic waste.

Required water temperature is:

  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F (22°C to 28°C)
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 2 to 12 dGH (degrees of General Hardness)

Diet

The suckermouth catfish mainly eats vegetable food and algae, though it may eat some live food. It may eat some soft leaved tank plants, but only in case if it doesn’t have enough of algae and supplements to its diet. To keep the plecostomus you need a tank with large amount of fouling in it. If the fish eats algae faster than it appears, you should feed it with artificial food.

As for the vegetables, you can feed suckermouth catfish with spinach, lettuce, squash, cucumbers. As for the live food, it can be earthworms, bloodworms, insects larvae, small crustaceans. It’s better to feed in the evening shortly before you turn off the tank lights.

All pleco have this peculiarity of keeping in a tank – they need cellulose for their digestive system to function properly. In the wild they get it by scraping algae from snags, but they don’t always have this ability in tanks. So, put a snag into a tank.

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Tank mates

This is a nocturnal fish. It is peaceful when it’s young, but it becomes quite quarrelsome and territory dependent as an adult. May live peacefully with its kind, if they grew together in one tank, but if they fight, it is till the weakest one dies.

May nip scales from discus fish, angelfishes while they sleep. You can keep juveniles in a community tank, however, it is better to keep the adult species in a separate tank or together with other large fish species.

As a rule pleco tank mates are large cichlids from South America: oscar fish, green terror, flowerhorn. This happens for two reasons – the suckermouth catfish is extremely interesting and it makes your tank very unusual as well as it can protect itself even from such aggressive fishes.

Gender differences: male vs female

Determining the sex of Hypostomus plecostomus (Common Pleco) can be a bit challenging, especially when they are young. However, there are some general differences that can be observed in adult males and females:

  1. Size: In some species of plecos, adult males tend to be slightly larger than females. However, this difference might not be very noticeable in Hypostomus plecostomus, as size variations can also be influenced by individual genetics and environmental factors.
  2. Odontodal Growth: Adult male plecos often develop small, hair-like growths called odontodes on their pectoral fins and sometimes on their cheeks. These odontodes are more pronounced and numerous in males compared to females. However, this characteristic is not always reliable, and the presence of odontodes can also vary depending on the individual.
  3. Vent Area: In mature males, the area around the vent (anus) can be more pronounced and look slightly swollen compared to females. However, this difference can be subtle and challenging to distinguish, especially in young or smaller specimens.
  4. Behavior: During the breeding season, males might exhibit more territorial and aggressive behavior as they compete for the attention of females. However, this behavior is not exclusive to males and can vary based on the individual’s personality.

It’s essential to note that these differences might not be very distinct in all individuals, and sexing plecos based on physical characteristics can be unreliable, especially in young specimens. The most accurate way to determine the sex of a Hypostomus plecostomus is through breeding behavior or by examining the genital papilla during the breeding season. However, breeding behavior can be complex and challenging to observe in a home aquarium setting.

If you are specifically interested in breeding plecos or identifying the sex of your fish for a particular reason, seeking the expertise of an experienced fish breeder or aquarist might be helpful. In most cases, though, sexing common plecos in a regular home aquarium setting might not be easy or necessary, as they can be kept and enjoyed as peaceful and beneficial algae-eaters without the need to determine their sex.

Breeding

In the wild breeds in deep burrows along the river beaches. In a tank it is challenging to reproduce such conditions, moreover, it is impossible. The suckermouth catfish is massively bred in Singapore, Hong Kong, Florida.

Here are some general guidelines and considerations for breeding Hypostomus plecostomus:

  1. Tank Setup: Prepare a separate breeding tank to mimic the natural conditions of their native habitat. The tank should have plenty of hiding spots, such as caves, PVC pipes, or hollow driftwood, where the plecos can lay eggs and protect their young.
  2. Water Parameters: Maintain stable and clean water conditions. The temperature should be around 80-84°F (27-29°C), with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (around 6.5 to 7.5) and moderate hardness.
  3. Conditioning the Fish: Before attempting to breed, condition the male and female plecos by providing them with a varied and nutritious diet. Offer a mix of high-quality pellets, algae-based foods, and occasional live or frozen foods to boost their health and readiness to breed.
  4. Identifying Males and Females: As mentioned earlier, identifying the sex of plecos can be challenging, especially in young or smaller specimens. During the breeding season, males might develop small hair-like growths called odontodes on their pectoral fins and sometimes on their cheeks, but this is not always a reliable method.
  5. Breeding Behavior: Breeding in plecos often involves a complex courtship ritual. Males might become more territorial and chase females around the tank during this time. They might also clean surfaces, including the chosen nesting spots, in preparation for egg-laying.
  6. Egg-Laying and Care: Once the female has laid the eggs in the chosen hiding spot, both the male and female may take turns guarding the eggs. The male may also fan the eggs with his fins to provide oxygen. Plecos are generally good parents and will protect the eggs and later the fry until they are ready to fend for themselves.
  7. Separating Fry: After hatching, the fry will remain in the hiding spot for some time. At this point, it’s a good idea to remove the adult plecos from the breeding tank to prevent them from accidentally eating the fry.

Breeding plecos in a home aquarium setting can be a challenging task and might not happen spontaneously. It requires careful attention to water conditions, providing suitable hiding spots, and patience. If you are specifically interested in breeding plecos, it’s essential to do more in-depth research and possibly seek guidance from experienced fish breeders.