Common Pleco

Common Plecos are enchanting freshwater fish often kept in home aquariums. Flaunting their impressive size and unique shape, they have won the hearts of aquarium hobbyists. These amiable fish require moderate care and maintenance, establishing them as a top choice for diverse aquatic setups.

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Care DIfficulty


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South America

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24 inches (60.96 cm)

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15 years

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Table of contents

Origin, Appearance, Size, and Lifespan

The Common Pleco, or Hypostomus plecostomus, also known as the Suckermouth Catfish, is a favorite freshwater fish originating from the freshwaters of South America. They are commonly found in the fast-flowing rivers and tributaries of countries like Brazil, Peru, and Guyana.

In their natural habitats, Common Plecos are often found in swift, deep waters with copious hiding places. These hideouts provide protection and also serve as their primary feeding grounds, where they scrape algae from rocks and submerged wood. These solitary fish typically stay hidden during the day and venture out in search of food when it's dark.

Their native environment consists of warm, slightly acidic to neutral water. The temperature usually ranges from 72 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 30 degrees Celsius), with a pH level of 6.5 to 7.5, and water hardness from 4 to 20 dGH. To replicate this environment in your aquarium, ensure a steady water temperature, utilize a high-quality filtration system, and include hiding places like caves and driftwood.

By emulating the Common Pleco's natural surroundings and maintaining the appropriate water conditions, you're setting your fish up for a wholesome and content life in your aquarium.

Common Plecos are known for their elongated, armored bodies and flat bellies, adorned with a variety of patterns ranging from dark green to gray. These unique features make them a fascinating addition to any home aquarium. Despite their considerable size, growing up to an astounding 24 inches (60.96 cm) in captivity, their distinct forms and tranquil demeanor make them an appealing choice for those desiring a charismatic, lively aquatic display. These intriguing creatures delight observers with their nocturnal activities, making them a valued gem among hobbyists at all expertise levels.

Given adequate care, Common Plecos can have a lifespan of up to 15 years. As solitary beings, they do well individually but should have plenty of space for movement and growth. To encourage their health and longevity in captivity, it's crucial to provide a spacious aquarium with plenty of hiding places and a varied diet of algae wafers, vegetables, and occasional meaty foods.

Fun Facts

Having explored the appearance and lifespan of Common Plecos, we'll now highlight some intriguing facts about these distinct fish that set them apart in the aquarium hobby. From their remarkable size to their nocturnal lifestyle, Common Plecos are teeming with unique characteristics that can engage any aquarium enthusiast.

  • Adaptations for survival: In the wild, Common Plecos are frequently found in fast-flowing rivers and tributaries. To survive in such dynamic environments, they have evolved with specialized mouthparts which allow them to attach themselves onto rocks, preventing them from being swept away by currents.
  • Natural 'clean-up crew': Common Plecos are renowned for their algae-eating habits. They are effectively nature's clean-up crew, keeping the aquarium clean by feeding on algae build-up on surfaces. However, this does not mean they should be the sole means of algae control in your tank.
  • Catfish family: Despite their unusual appearance, Common Plecos belong to the family Loricariidae, which consists of armoured catfish. While the plecos are not as sleek or streamlined as typical catfish, they share some common features like the ventral mouth and a love for the bottom layer of their environment.
  • Ability to breathe air: Uniquely, Common Plecos have a modified stomach that allows them to gulp air and extract oxygen. This adaptation helps them survive in environments with low oxygen levels and can be observed in aquariums when a pleco occasionally surfaces to gulp air.
  • Nocturnal lifestyle: Common Plecos are primarily nocturnal, which means they are most active during the night. During the day, these fish tend to hide in secluded spots, but when the lights go out, they become lively, exploring and scavenging for food.

Understanding these fascinating facts about Common Plecos will enable you to better appreciate their unique behaviors and characteristics in your aquarium. In the next section, we'll provide recommendations on tank setups, ensuring your Common Plecos have an ideal environment to grow and exhibit their unique traits.

Recommended Tank Setups

Each setup entails the fundamental components—tank, filter, heater, lighting, substrate, and more—to facilitate you in crafting a suitable environment for Common Plecos and other compatible freshwater fish species in your aquarium. As you transition from cost-effective to premium setups, you'll also encounter more options for customization, aesthetics, and advanced capabilities. Common Plecos are solitary fish, though they can coexist with other species. Being larger and longer-lived than many fish, they are typically priced between $10 and $25 per fish, although costs can fluctuate based on size, health, and availability.

Budget-friendly setup (around $200 - $300):

  • Tank: A 55-gallon aquarium with a hood or glass canopy ($80 - $120)
  • Filter: A canister or sponge filter rated for 55 gallons ($40 - $80)
  • Heater: 200-300 watt adjustable aquarium heater ($20 - $40)
  • Lighting: Basic LED aquarium light ($30 - $60)
  • Substrate: Economical aquarium gravel ($20 - $40)
  • Decor: A few pieces of large driftwood and rocks, providing hiding spaces for the Pleco ($30 - $60)
  • Fish: One Common Pleco ($10 - $25)
  • Thermometer: $3 - $10
  • Gravel Vacuum: $15 - $30
  • Fish Net: $2 - $10
  • Algae Scraper or Magnetic Cleaner: $5 - $20
  • Bucket and Hose: $15 - $30
  • Test Kit: $20 - $60
  • Fish Food: $10 - $25
  • Water Conditioner: $5 - $15

Mid-range setup (around $400 - $700):

  • Tank: 75-90 gallon aquarium with a hood or glass canopy ($200 - $300)
  • Filter: Quality canister filter rated for the tank size ($100 - $200)
  • Heater: 300-400 watt adjustable aquarium heater ($30 - $60)
  • Lighting: LED aquarium light with various settings ($60 - $120)
  • Substrate: Mid-range aquarium gravel or sand ($30 - $60)
  • Decor: A mix of large driftwood, rocks, and live plants for added aesthetics ($60 - $100)
  • Fish: One Common Pleco ($10 - $25)
  • Thermometer: $3 - $10
  • Gravel Vacuum: $15 - $30
  • Fish Net: $2 - $10
  • Algae Scraper or Magnetic Cleaner: $5 - $20
  • Bucket and Hose: $15 - $30
  • Test Kit: $20 - $60
  • Fish Food: $10 - $25
  • Water Conditioner: $5 - $15

High-end setup (above $800):

  • Tank: 100+ gallon rimless aquarium with a glass canopy ($300 - $500)
  • Filter: Top-tier canister filter rated for the tank size ($150 - $300)
  • Heater: 500 watt adjustable aquarium heater with an external temperature controller ($50 - $100)
  • Lighting: Advanced LED lighting system with adjustable settings ($150 - $300)
  • Substrate: High-quality aquarium substrate designed for aesthetics ($40 - $80)
  • Decor: A combination of large driftwood, rocks, and live plants to create a natural aquascape ($80 - $150)
  • Fish: One Common Pleco ($10 - $25)
  • Thermometer: $3 - $10
  • Gravel Vacuum: $15 - $30
  • Fish Net: $2 - $10
  • Algae Scraper or Magnetic Cleaner: $5 - $20
  • Bucket and Hose: $15 - $30
  • Test Kit: $20 - $60
  • Fish Food: $10 - $25
  • Water Conditioner: $5 - $15

Please keep in mind that these estimates are just suggestions, and other factors such as tank mates and the individual personality of the Common Pleco should be considered when setting up your aquarium. Prices may differ based on location, brand, and availability.

Set Up Your Tank

In the previous discussion, we took a look at the ideal tank setups for Common Plecos. Now, it's time to put that knowledge into practice. Let's delve into the stepwise approach to preparing your aquarium. These steps include choosing the right location for your tank, cleaning, and setting up the tank, installing vital equipment, and preparing the water for a safe and healthy environment for your Plecos. We'll also discuss how to properly acclimate your Plecos to their new surroundings. Adhering to these guidelines will aid you in developing a vibrant aquatic habitat where your Plecos can thrive.

  • Step #1: First, find an optimal location for your aquarium. It should be situated away from direct sunlight, heating appliances, and breezes. Make sure the surface is flat and strong enough to bear the weight of your filled tank. If you're using a tank stand, follow the manufacturer's instructions to assemble it, then place your empty tank atop it.
  • Step #2: After that, rinse the tank with clean water (without soap or other chemicals) to get rid of any dust or debris. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the interior. Wash the substrate (gravel or sand) thoroughly in a bucket until the water runs clear, then lay it evenly across the bottom of the tank, forming a slight incline towards the back for an appealing depth effect.
  • Step #3: Prior to filling the tank with water, pre-plan your aquarium layout, including the location of vital equipment such as heaters and filters. This foresight will simplify setup and future maintenance. Install your heater and filter as per the manufacturer's guidelines. If you're using an under-gravel or sponge filter, place it beneath the substrate before you add water.
  • Step #4: Adorn your tank with elements such as driftwood, rocks, and plants to create an enticing environment with ample hiding spots for your Plecos, ensuring there's enough open space for your fish to swim freely. Be cautious when arranging these elements so they don't interfere with or damage your equipment. Attaching plants to driftwood or rocks can help to keep them in place.
  • Step #5: Next, fill the tank with water that's been treated with a water conditioner, especially if your tap water has chlorine or chloramines. Place a clean plate or plastic bag on top of the substrate to avoid disruption while filling. Fill it till it's about 2/3 full. Connect the aquarium light to the hood or canopy as instructed by the manufacturer. To ensure a consistent day-night cycle, beneficial for both fish and plants, consider utilizing a timer for your aquarium light. Connect the heater, filter, and any additional equipment (such as air pump, CO2 system) to their power sources, and place the thermometer somewhere easily visible.
  • Step #6: Top up the water, leaving a gap between the water surface and the top of the tank for air exchange. Switch on the filter, heater, and other devices. Monitor the water temperature and adjust the heater as necessary. Let the tank cycle for 4-6 weeks to facilitate the growth of beneficial bacteria and stabilize the water parameters. You may add a bacterial starter culture to expedite the process during the cycling phase. Keep track of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels using an aquarium test kit.
  • Step #7: Once the tank has successfully cycled and the water parameters are stable, you can begin to introduce your Common Plecos. Start the acclimation process by floating the still-sealed fish bag in the tank for around 15-20 minutes to equalize temperatures. Then, open the bag and add a small amount of tank water to it. Continue this process, adding small amounts of tank water every 5-10 minutes over a span of 30-60 minutes. This gradual process will help the Plecos adapt to the new water chemistry. Use a net to gently move the Plecos from the bag to the tank, avoiding unnecessary stress and preventing any water from the bag from entering the tank.
  • Step #8: After all the Plecos are settled in, establish a regular feeding schedule, offering suitable, high-quality food in the right quantities for your Plecos. Regular water changes (20-30% every 1-2 weeks) are essential to maintaining a healthy environment for your Plecos. Always monitor the water parameters using a test kit. Especially during the first few weeks after introducing your Plecos, keep a keen eye on their behavior and physical condition for any signs of stress or disease. Be ready to intervene if needed, which may involve adjusting water parameters or seeking professional advice from an experienced aquarist.

By adhering to this detailed guide and applying the given setup tips, you can create a nourishing aquatic environment conducive to the healthy growth and wellbeing of your Common Plecos.

Recommended Water Parameters

For the well-being and health of your Common Pleco, it's crucial to maintain certain water conditions in your tank. Here's the optimal parameter range for them:

  • Temperature: The ideal water temperature is between 72°F and 86°F (22°C and 30°C).
  • pH: The pH level should be neutral to slightly alkaline, ranging from 6.5 to 7.5.
  • Hardness: Plecos prefer moderately hard water with a hardness between 4-15 dGH.
  • Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate: Both ammonia and nitrite levels should always be at 0 ppm, with nitrate levels kept below 40 ppm.
  • Lighting: Plecos are nocturnal, so they prefer dimmer lighting conditions with lots of hiding spots.
  • Water movement: They appreciate moderate to high water flow, simulating the swift river habitats they originate from.Regular testing and water changes are essential to maintain a stable aquarium environment.

Routine Water Maintenance

To ensure a healthy environment for your Common Pleco, regular water changes and maintenance are a must. Here's a suggested routine:

  • Weekly water changes: A weekly change of 30% of the tank water is recommended.
  • Test water parameters: Regularly test for pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and hardness.
  • Use a gravel vacuum: This will help keep the substrate clean during water changes.
  • Dechlorinate the water: Always treat new water with a water conditioner before introducing it to your tank.
  • Match temperature and pH: The new water should have similar temperature and pH to the existing tank water.
  • Acclimate the fish: Ensure that your Pleco has sufficient time to adjust after water changes.

In addition, other steps can be taken to ensure the health of your fish and the aesthetic appeal of your aquarium:

  • Monitor lighting duration: As Plecos are nocturnal, it's important to maintain a consistent day-night cycle with 8-10 hours of darkness.
  • Plant maintenance: Regularly trim live plants and remove any dead or decaying plant matter.
  • Filter maintenance: Clean the filter media every 2-4 weeks as per the manufacturer's instructions to maintain optimal water quality.

Diet and Feeding Schedule

Common Plecos are omnivores, needing a variety of foods in their diet. Here's what you can feed them:

  • Sinking pellets: These are a good source of nutrition and easy for Plecos to eat.
  • Vegetables: Blanched zucchini, spinach, peas, and cucumbers can be included in their diet.
  • Live and frozen foods: Treats like bloodworms and brine shrimp can be offered occasionally.
  • Feeding frequency: Feed your Pleco once a day, making sure to remove any uneaten food after a few hours to prevent water quality issues.

Stress and Diseases

Common Plecos may become stressed due to inadequate water conditions, overcrowding, or improper tank setup. It's important to monitor their behaviour and address any stressors:

  • Watch for stress signs: Lethargy, loss of appetite, unusual coloration or behaviour can indicate stress.
  • Check water quality: Regularly testing your water parameters can prevent many health issues.
  • Monitor tank mates: Make sure your Pleco isn't being bullied by more aggressive fish.
  • Create a suitable habitat: Provide ample hiding spots and enough space for your Pleco to roam.

While robust, Plecos can still contract certain diseases:

  • Ich: Characterized by white spots on the fish's body and fins, this parasitic infection can be treated with aquarium salt or anti-parasitic medication, and by raising the water temperature slightly.
  • Fin rot: This bacterial infection, causing the fins to fray and discolor, can be treated by partial water changes, aquarium salt, and antibiotics.
  • Fungal infections: Plecos can occasionally suffer from fungal infections. These manifest as fluffy white growths and can be treated with antifungal medications.
  • Dropsy: Characterized by a swollen abdomen and raised scales, this disease is often a sign of internal bacterial infection. Treat with antibiotics and isolate the fish if possible.

Keeping up good water quality, providing a balanced diet, and quarantining new fish can prevent most diseases. React promptly to any signs of illness to keep your Pleco healthy.


Breeding Common Plecos can be a demanding task, requiring specific conditions. Follow these steps to increase your chances of success:

  • Step #1: Establish an appropriate breeding environment. A tank of 100 gallons or more, a pH level of around 6.5 to 7.5, and a temperature of about 82°F (28°C) will be suitable. Add plenty of hiding spots such as caves or PVC pipes for egg laying.
  • Step #2: Select mature, healthy Plecos for breeding. Males can be identified by their broader heads and thicker pectoral fins, while females are generally plumper.
  • Step #3: Feed the breeding pair with high-quality foods like sinking pellets, vegetables, and occasional protein-rich foods for several weeks.
  • Step #4: Stimulate spawning by providing plenty of hiding places and a clean environment. The male will usually select a cave and guard it aggressively.
  • Step #5: Once eggs are laid and fertilized, the male guards and fans them until they hatch. This may take up to 10 days. Remove the adults once the eggs are laid to prevent them from eating the fry.
  • Step #6: Feed the fry with algae and small pieces of vegetables initially, then gradually introduce crushed sinking pellets as they grow.

Breeding Common Plecos can be a challenging yet rewarding experience for hobbyists willing to put in the necessary time and effort. Patience and maintaining the right conditions are key to breeding success.

Recommended Tank Mates

Here are the top 10 recommended tank mates for Common Plecos:

  1. Discus Fish
  2. Angelfish
  3. Oscar Fish
  4. Cichlids
  5. Tetras
  6. Gouramis
  7. Goldfish
  8. Barbs
  9. Mollies
  10. Bichirs

Avoid keeping them with smaller, slow-moving, or delicate fish, as Common Plecos may unintentionally harm or stress them due to their size and active nature. Always observe the behavior of the new fish and ensure that they are compatible and don't cause any stress or aggression towards the Common Plecos.


To wrap things up, Common Plecos are fascinating freshwater fish appreciated for their unique appearance and ease of care. These fish require specific water conditions, a balanced diet, and an ample-sized environment to flourish in captivity. Given the right conditions, they can live up to 15 years and make a great addition to suitably large aquariums. When considering tank mates, it's essential to choose larger, peaceful species that can coexist harmoniously with Common Plecos. Breeding Common Plecos can be a rewarding endeavor for experienced hobbyists, albeit challenging, with patience and the right conditions being crucial for success. Overall, Common Plecos are an impressive and active species that can add a dynamic presence to any aquatic setup.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal tank size for Common Plecos?

For Common Plecos, a minimum 75-gallon tank is suggested for one adult specimen. A larger tank is even better, as it helps maintain stable water conditions and offers plenty of room for your Plecos to move around.

How many Common Plecos should be kept together?

Typically, due to their size and territorial nature, only one Common Pleco should be kept in a tank. However, in larger tanks (150 gallons and above), more than one can be kept together, provided they have plenty of space to establish territories.

What water parameters do Common Plecos require?

Common Plecos thrive in water temperatures between 72°F and 86°F (22°C and 30°C), a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, and moderate water hardness between 4 and 18 dGH.

What do Common Plecos eat?

Common Plecos are omnivorous scavengers that require a diverse diet. Feed them a mix of high-quality sinking pellets or wafers, vegetables such as cucumbers or zucchinis, and occasional live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms.

Are Common Plecos compatible with other fish?

Yes, Common Plecos are generally peaceful towards other fish species. Ideal tank mates include other large, non-aggressive species.

How can I tell if my Common Pleco is healthy?

Healthy Common Plecos will have clear eyes, a well-rounded body, and an active behavior. Look for regular feeding and waste elimination habits.

How long do Common Plecos live?

With the right care and optimal tank conditions, Common Plecos can live for up to 15 years.

How do I breed Common Plecos?

Breeding Common Plecos can be difficult, as they require specific water conditions and a spacious, well-structured environment. Separate breeding caves are also required.

Do Common Plecos require a planted tank?

While not strictly necessary, Common Plecos can benefit from a planted tank. Live plants offer additional cover and contribute to a stable and balanced ecosystem. However, sturdy plants are required as Plecos might uproot delicate ones.

Can Common Plecos change color?

Yes, Common Plecos can change their coloration in response to different conditions such as stress, illness, or changes in their environment. If you notice your Common Plecos experiencing significant color changes, it's important to check the water parameters and monitor their health closely.