Sailfin pleco care guide

Sailfin pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps) is a kind of freshwater ray-finned fishes of Loricariidae family. This is a strong fish that eats huge amounts of algae. A couple of adult species can keep even large tanks clean. If a tank is rather large (of more than 70 gallons capacity) fish size can be up to 30-35 cm long.

Habitat in the wild

Peru and Brazil are sailfin pleco habitats. For example, this species was encountered in the Rio Pacaya river which has a slow water flow. Fish of this kind can form rather large groups to search food together.

Scientific NamePterygoplichthys gibbiceps
Common NamesSailfin pleco; gibbiceps pleco; high fin spotted plecostomus; leopard sailfin pleco; leopard pleco
Ease of keepingEasy
Lifespan20 years and more
Tank sizemore then 70 gallons (320 L) for one fish
Tank typeCommunity of large fishes
DietOmnivorous bottom feeder
Temperature77-79 °F (25-26 °C)
Water hardness9–20 dGH
SizeUp to 19.7 inch (50-55 cm)


Sailfin pleco features are rather pronounced nostrils, large dorsal fin with 12-13 fin rays. The first ray length is equal to the fish head length. Coloring: the body has large brown spots scattered on it with some yellowish fibres.

Adult sailfin pleco species may grow to be 55 cm long and lifespan may be more 20 years.

Care and keeping in a tank

Sailfin pleco care is rather easy provided that it has enough feed – algae and some additional feed.

Sailfin pleco is the fish just for beginners, but you have to keep how large is an adult fish, since quite often this species is being sold as a tank-cleaner. Beginners buy this fish for some small capacity tanks and some time later it becomes a problem.

It’s not necessary to keep high level of oxygen in a tank water when keeping sailfin pleco in a tank.

In case of having hypoxic water in a tank pleco comes up to the water surface more often and swallows some air that is then accumulated in its bowel. Oxygen can come through the gut walls and provide the fish with required amount of oxygen.

It’s desirable to create some moderate water flow in a tank and install good quality filters otherwise you’ll have to renew tank water rather often. Once the level of byproducts in a tank is high, the fish may sometimes have holes in its fins’ membranes.

Optimal temperature of tank water is — 77-79 °F (25-26 °C). Also sailfin pleco can easily survive some insignificant changes of tank water pH 6.5-7.5 and hardness (5-20 dGH). When growing up they become more lazy and like lying in covers.

Tank mates

Sailfin pleco is quite peaceful towards any other fish (can live with such aggressive fishes as large cichlids like oscar, jaguar cichlid, green terror and flowerhorn) , but there may be some fights as for the territory with some other catfish.

In a small and crowded tank gibbiceps pleco may become quite aggressive and attack other fish when protecting its territory. But it can live with such aggressive fish as oscar and african or american cichlids.

Pay attention, though sailfin pleco feeds mainly on plant food, in the wild the catfish are also scavengers. In a tank pleco may bite off some scales from discuses and angelfish at night, therefore it’s not a good idea to keep in a tank together with some flat from sides and slow fish.

Is more active at night and during the day the fish usually hides in some covers in a tank.


It’s important to feed gibbiceps pleco with a variety of plant food.

An ideal plant-protein ratio for the fish diet is 80% of plant and 20% of protein containing food. Spinach, carrots, cucumbers and squash will do as food. Nowadays there is a large amount of some specialized feed for catfish, which is rather balanced and it can be used as a basis of the diet and it can be combined with some plant additions.

It’s better to use frozen live feed, as a rule gibbiceps pleco picks it from a tank bottom after some other fishes have been fed. It’s preferable to feed the fish with prawns, worms and blood worms as a life feed representatives.

Prawns should be cut into small pieces for the juveniles and it’s ok to feed adult fish with whole prawns.

Gibbiceps pleco doesn’t do any harm to tank plants, however some adult species may turn out from the tank bottom some badly rooted plants. There definitely should be some snags in the tank, since fish spends the majority of its time gnawing them.

Absence of snags in a tank may lead to the fish indigestion. It’s recommended to keep the fish in 90 cm tanks till size becomes equal to 12 cm. As the fish grows it has to be removed into 300 liter capacity tank 120 cm long.

Gender differences: male vs female

It’s quite difficult to see difference between sailfin pleco male and female. In general, the male is larger and brighter colored and it has pins on its pectoral fins.


Breeding is impossible in a tank. The species you buy on the market were bred in the farms. The thing is, that in the wild for breeding the sailfin pleco requires some deep tunnels dug in the shore mud. The males stay in these tunnels after breeding and guard juveniles. In the farms they put fish into the large sized ponds with soft bottom.


This is a quite strong and disease-resistant fish. The most common reason of the diseases is the increase of byproducts level and the absence of snags in a tank which leads to the phys digestion problems.