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Choosing a Plecostomus

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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It seem that no aquarium ever feels complete without the addition of a plecostomus. Natives of South America, these fish are easy to keep and to feed, and most species are peaceful by nature. Their unusual appearance adds interest to the aquarium, and they earn their keep by helping to keep the tank free of algae. These fish can grow to be quite large and it is not uncommon for them to outgrow their tank.

Appearance and Behavior

A plecostomus looks like half-fish, half-dinosaur. A member of the group of armor plated catfish, plecostomus are peaceful, solitary and not harmful to other members of the tank. They are nocturnal, so they will hide in the daytime hours and come out to do their most active feeding at night. Because they remain inactive during the day, this fish is likely to burrow into plants or rocks, and some tank decorations can be disturbed by this burrowing activity. The mouth of the plecostomus is on the underside of the head, hidden from view, but you will plainly see the suction apparatus when your fish attaches itself to the wall of the tank to scrape off any algae it comes across.

There are two varieties of plecostomus commonly available:

  • Zebra Pleco. Interesting horizontal stripes distinguish this species from its cousins. It has been reported to have a comical personality probably due to its clownish appearance.

  • Suckermouth. A large species, mottled brown in appearance, probably the most common type found in aquarium stores.

    Most of the armored catfish available are commonly referred to as Plecostomus even though they belong to other catfish species. Most will grow to a length of 10 inches.

    Feeding and Tank Requirements

    Plecostomus in general are vegetarians although there are a few species that require live foods. Aside from grazing for algae, they will also accept lettuce, spinach, zucchini and peas (smash the peas and place on a rock like a paste). Maintain water temperature between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH between 5.0 and 8.0. The tank should include hiding places for their daylight hours. Rocky ledges or a small clay pot turned on its side work well.

    Special Concerns

    This is a peaceful species that should not be hard to maintain. It will mix well with any fish in a community tank. Many plecostomus become large enough to require larger living quarters. Because they scrape algae from the sides of the tank, plexiglass tanks can be damaged. It's best to keep them in glass aquariums.

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