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Butterfly Pleco: A Detailed Care Guide

Butterfly Pleco: A Detailed Care Guide

Considering adopting a Butterfly Pleco? The Butterfly Pleco is an attractive and sought-after species but there are certain things you need to know before introducing one to your aquarium. 

Butterfly Plecos are small, slender freshwater fish with eye-catching black-brown stripes and contrasting pale gold bodies. They make excellent pets for beginners because they require only basic tank maintenance and do well alone in an aquarium. 

In this article, we will explore the essential aspects of caring for these beautiful catfish, providing you with the knowledge and tips necessary to create a thriving environment and ensure the well-being of your Butterfly Pleco.

Butterfly Pleco Overview & Natural Habitat

Here are some key facts about Butterfly Plecos: 

  • Common name: Butterfly Pleco, L168, or Chameleon Pleco.
  • Scientific name: Dekeyseria brachyuran.
  • Care level: Easy and ideal for beginner pleco owners. 
  • Size: 6 inches/15 cm.
  • Lifespan: 5 to 7 years. 
  • Temperament: Calm, shy, and with a tendency to camouflage. 
  • Diet: Herbivore. 
  • Group size: Solitary fish but will tolerate tank mates if the aquarium is large enough. 
  • Minimum tank size: 40 gallons/182 liters. 
  • Tank level: Bottom dwellers.
  • Water temperature: 77 to 82°F (25 to 28°C).
  • Water pH levels: 6.0 to 7.0.
  • Water hardness: 2 – 18 dGH.

Butterfly Plecos, also known as Dekeyseria brachyuran, are native to the freshwater rivers and streams of South America,  primarily found in the Amazon River basin.

Butterfly Pleco Appearance & Size

Butterfly Plecos are small fish with slender bodies and contrasting black-brown and pale gold stripes. 

When Butterfly Plecos are in a dark environment, their coloration will appear darker, helping them to blend in with their surroundings. 

They have fanned and fleshy dorsal and pectoral fins and bulbous “sucker” mouths to help them lift biofilm from aquatic vegetation and the inner surfaces of the tank. 

As adults, Butterfly Plecos reach a maximum size of 6 inches/15 cm, but some individuals can be smaller. 

Difference Between Males and Females 

There aren’t many differences between male and female Butterfly Plecos. However, females tend to be slightly larger and have more prominent and more rounded bellies

Additionally, males have more pronounced odontodes on the sides of their faces. 

Butterfly Pleco Personality & Behavior

Butterfly Plecos are placid, calm, and reclusive pleco fish. They’re nocturnal, and it’s normal not to see them during the day, as they like sleeping in hidden places where they feel safe. 

When the sun goes down, they become active and search for food but with their laidback temperaments, you’re unlikely to see them racing around the tank. I love watching plecos, especially during feeding time. I can’t help but smile at them.

The only time they’ll display aggression is when another fish enters their territory. However, even then, warnings to other fish rarely end up in a fight.

Butterfly Pleco Expected Lifespan

The average lifespan of a Butterfly Pleco is 5 to 7 years. In the wild, they usually live to 5 years of age, but you can extend this to 7 by feeding them with high-quality food and ensuring that their tank conditions are always optimal. 

Butterfly Pleco Care & Tank Set Up

When setting up the tank for your Butterfly Pleco, there are a few things to remember to ensure your pet lives in healthy conditions.

Tank Size

Butterfly Plecos are smaller than many other pleco varieties and need a 40-gallon/182-liter tank to be happy. This makes them great aquarium pets if you don’t have the space for a larger tank in your home. 

How Many Butterfly Plecos Are Suitable for a 40-Gallon Tank?

Two butterfly plecos are suitable for a 40-gallon tank, but they should be either two females or one female and a male. Putting two Butterfly Pleco males together in the same tank is a recipe for disaster, as they will likely fight. 

Water Parameters

Before introducing a Butterfly Pleco to your aquarium, make sure that you meet the following tank water parameters: 

Water Temperature 

Butterfly Plecos like a water temperature range of between 77 to 82°F (25 to 28°C). This is a fairly narrow range, and you may need to use a tank thermometer to ensure that your Butterfly Pleco is always at a comfortable temperature. 

Water pH Levels

Butterfly Plecos like water that is slightly acidic, and you should aim for a pH level of between 6.0 and 7.0. This is because Amazonian rivers become slightly acidic after heavy rains. 

It’s recommended that you measure the pH every few days to ensure it’s at a healthy level, and you can do this with a simple tool you can purchase online or at a pet store. 

Water Hardness

The water in a Butterfly Pleco’s tank should consistently have a hardness level of between 2 and 18 dGH. As with the pH, you can buy a water hardness tester to ensure the water is always at a safe level. 

Water Current 

Butterfly Plecos originate from fast-flowing rivers and like strong currents in the tank with a lot of aeration

You can create these conditions in the aquarium by using a pump. 

What To Put In The Tank

Tank water conditions for Butterfly Plecos are important, but what you put in the tank can improve your pleco’s quality of life:


Butterfly Plecos like scavenging at the bottom of the tank and in the substrate to look for tiny pieces of algae and loose aquatic vegetation. 

To allow them to do this, they need a tank substrate that is soft enough. Soft sand or fine gravel without any sharp edges is ideal. 


When setting up your Butterfly Pleco’s tank, consider the decorations carefully because they need plenty of hiding places. These should include: 

  • Pieces of driftwood
  • Flat tank boulders or rocks
  • Hollow decorations (such as cave or decorative castles)

Ideal Plants

Butterfly Plecos love swimming through and hiding in aquatic vegetation, and you should provide plenty of tank plants for them. Aquatic plants also provide Butterfly Plecos with shade, which is vital as they don’t like bright light. 

Butterfly Plecos also like eating the algae off leaves but they aren’t known to bite and create holes in plants. If you’re looking to add some vegetation to your Butterfly Pleco’s tank, some great examples include: 

These plants are widely available for sale online or at aquatic pet stores. 


Butterfly Plecos need low to moderate light conditions in the tank and don’t require special lighting. 

During the day, they seek out dark places within the aquatic vegetation, but you may need to use a tank light on the dimmest setting to encourage algae to grow. 


Since Butterfly Plecos need a specific water temperature, you may need to occasionally use a water heater to keep the temperature comfortable. 


Like most plecos, Butterfly Plecos produce a lot of waste matter, which can quickly affect the tank water’s nitrate levels. A high-quality filter is advisable to ensure the water has consistently healthy parameters. 

Butterfly Pleco Tank Mates

If you want to introduce a tank mate or two to your Butterfly Pleco’s aquarium, below are some suitable recommendations: 

  • Loricariids
  • African Steatocranus
  • Tetras
  • Retroculus
  • Angelfish

You can introduce another Butterfly Pleco but avoid keeping two males together as they will compete for territory, creating a stressful environment for both individuals. 

Tank Mates To Avoid

When choosing a tank mate for your Butterfly Pleco, consider fish that prefer the top or middle of the tank, as Butterfly Plecos are bottom dwellers

Some tank mates never to introduce include the following: 

  • Discus
  • Goldfish
  • Crayfish

Butterfly Pleco Food & Diet

Butterfly Plecos are primarily herbivores and feed on loose plant matter and algae growing on the side of their tanks. 

However, you should also feed them fish flakes or sinking pellets once a day and provide at least one piece of driftwood for them to nibble on. The driftwood provides additional dietary fiber and doubles as a hiding place for them. 

If you want to treat your Butterfly Pleco, they will gladly gobble up small pieces of blanched vegetables. 

Breeding Butterfly Plecos

With their exquisite markings, it’s understandable if you want to breed your Butterfly Plecos. Breeding this species can be challenging because you should avoid keeping more than one male in a tank. 

As cave spawners, female Butterfly Plecos lay their eggs in hollow spaces (such as PVC pipes) after mating. After this, the male takes over by protecting the eggs for around 10 days until they hatch. 

When the fry (baby Butterfly Plecos) have hatched, they are vulnerable to the other fish in the tank, who may eat them. To protect them, house them in a “nursery” tank until they reach maturity. 

Butterfly Pleco Common Health Issues

Butterfly Plecos don’t typically have health issues unless they are malnourished or the tank water pH levels are continuously unsuitable. 

However, they can be susceptible to the following: 


Epistylis is a pathogen that can occasionally multiply in aquariums if the conditions are favorable. When this happens, they target a Butterfly Pleco’s gills and fins, especially if they have been injured or damaged by sharp tank decorations. 

Epistylis Symptoms

In the beginning stages of an epistylis infection, you may not notice any symptoms. However, as the infection progresses, you’ll see fluffy white spots or outgrowths on your Butterfly Pleco’s fins and gills. 

Epistylis Treatment

If you’re certain that your Butterfly Pleco has epistylis, you should buy a treatment product from your local vet or pet store. 

Epistylis treatments promote healing of the gills and fins and also kill any pathogens so they cannot multiply further. 

However, if the treatment doesn’t appear to be working, you should contact your vet. 

Epistylis Prevention

Epistylis is easily preventable by cleaning out your Butterfly Pleco’s tank water regularly and keeping the pH and nitrate levels at appropriate levels. 

Are Butterfly Pleco Right For You?

Butterfly Pleco are right for you if you can maintain a suitable tank temperature and you’re happy only to have your pleco (or a limited number of other fish) in the tank at any given time.

A Butterfly Pleco is also great if you want a fish with unique features, such as contrasting stripes and the ability to camouflage itself. 

Butterfly Pleco FAQs

Are Butterfly Plecos Easy To Breed? 

Butterfly Plecos are easy to breed but because you shouldn’t keep more than one male at a time in the tank, reproduction can sometimes fail. Once the young have hatched, you should keep them in a separate tank to keep them safe, as other fish may eat them.

How Big Do Butterfly Plecos Get?

Butterfly Plecos grow to a maximum of 6 inches/15 cm and aren’t the largest pleco species. Due to their size, they need a tank of only 40 gallons/182 liters, which is significantly smaller than that which larger plecos require. 

Do Butterfly Plecos Eat Algae?

Butterfly Plecos eat algae because they’re primarily herbivores. They eat the algae off aquatic vegetation and also the inner surface of the tank.

If you think your Butterfly Pleco isn’t getting enough algae, you might consider giving them algae wafers, which you can buy from any good pet store or online. 

Are Butterfly Plecos Aggressive? 

Butterfly Plecos aren’t aggressive and are known to be calm, shy, and not intimidating. They like hiding away and are very territorial. If another fish enters their territory, they’ll display aggression but will only carry through on it if entirely necessary. 

Do Butterfly Pleco Eat Other Fish?

Butterfly Pleco don’t usually eat other fish but will sometimes eat fry (baby plecos), the reason you should keep juvenile plecos in a nursery tank. They’ll only eat other fish as a last resort and if they have no other food in the tank, as they’re primarily herbivorous.  

Wrapping Up

Introducing a Butterfly Pleco to your tank is a wonderful idea if you want a stunning striped fish with a special talent – to camouflage into its surroundings. 

Butterfly Plecos are fairly easy to care for and need plenty of algae and appropriate freeze-dried food or sinking pellets to remain healthy. As long as you keep the tank at the correct temperature, pH, and water hardness level, your Butterfly Pleco should live to its full lifespan of 5 to 7 years.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...