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Gold Nugget Pleco Care: Everything You Need To Know

Gold Nugget Pleco Care: Everything You Need To Know

With a beautiful pattern and the power to clean algae off your tank, the Gold Nugget Pleco (also known as the Baryancistrus xanthellus or L018) is the perfect addition to your freshwater aquarium. Though expensive, the benefit of having a Gold Nugget Pleco in your tank usually outweighs the cost. 

The Gold Nugget Pleco is an algae-eating fish and a catfish variety. It’s one of the most popular bottom-dweller fish and has a beautiful and unique gold polka-dot coloring. Originally from South America, this gorgeous fish needs specific tank temperatures but are easy to care for. 

Before investing in a Gold Nugget Pleco, it’s essential to learn about their correct care requirements so they can live a happy, healthy life in your aquarium. Below, I’ll discuss the Gold Nugget Pleco in-depth, from species facts to care and everything in between. Let’s begin!  

Gold Nugget Pleco Overview & Natural Habitat

  • Common name: Gold Nugget Pleco
  • Scientific name: Baryancistrus xanthellus
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Size:  7 to 10 inches (17 to 25 cm)
  • Life Span: 5 years
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group size: Solitary Fish
  • Minimum tank size: 50 gallons
  • Tank level: Bottom dweller
  • Water temperature: 74 to 82°F (23.33 to 27.77°C)
  • Water pH levels:  6.4 to 7.4
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dH

The Gold Nugget Pleco originates from South America and, more specifically, the tropical region of the Amazon River. Strikingly beautiful and relatively easy to take care of, the Gold Nugget Pleco has many aspects that might make them the perfect new fish for your tank. 

The Plecostomus Species

The Gold Nugget Pleco is a member of the Plecostomus species and is also known as L018 due to being the 18th species to be classified. It’s a member of a smaller classified group of Baryancistrus, which are more medium-sized fish compared with other Plecostomus fish. 

These fish are known for being peaceful but territorial if they don’t have enough space, so choosing your aquarium or tank size is essential. 

Gold Nugget Pleco Appearance & Size

The Gold Nugget pleco has a unique coloring of gold dots and stripes. They have fan-shaped dorsal fins, and their body shape resembles many catfish species with a notable flat body and a sucker mouth. They’re one of the most vibrant bottom-dwelling fish you can get, and you will love the beauty they add to your tank.

A Gold Nugget Pleco can grow to be 7-10 inches (17.78-25.4 cm) but are typically on the smaller side of this scale. In the wild, these fish can easily reach a length of 13 inches (33 cm). Your tank size is a huge contributing factor to how big your Pleco will grow, in addition to their diet and how well you maintain the tank or aquarium. 

Difference Between Males and Females

It’s difficult to determine the sex of Gold Nugget Plecos until they have reached their full adult size. Males have flatter, broader heads and longer pectoral fin spines. Females on the other hand have a more rounded forehead and are slightly plumper.

Gold Nugget Pleco Personality & Behavior

Gold Nugget Plecos are known for their peaceful nature and fascinating behavior as they are primarily nocturnal, seeking shelter during the day and emerging as dusk settles in.

They typically keep to themselves and rarely get aggressive unless they feel their personal space is being intruded on. This makes them easy to introduce to your current community of fish.

Gold Nugget Pleco Average Lifespan

When provided with optimal care and a suitable environment, Gold Nugget Plecos have the potential to exceed a lifespan of five years. Setting them up in the right environment supports their well-being and promotes longevity.

Gold Nugget Pleco Care and Tank Set Up

Like any fish, you’ll need to pay attention to the tank in which you place your Gold Nugget Pleco, as it can harm them if they don’t have a suitable proper environment. Though they’re easy fish to care for, they still have specific needs that need to be met to give them a happy, healthy, long life. 

Let’s take a look at the ideal tank conditions for a Gold Nugget Pleco:

Tank Size

The size of your tank matters if you want to allow your Gold Nugget Pleco to feel comfortable. They need at least a 50-gallon aquarium to allow them enough space to grow and have their own space. Remember that you shouldn’t overcrowd your tank either– if you want more fish, upgrade your tank or aquarium size to accommodate the new member.

Tank Maintenance

Every fish, big and small, deserves tank maintenance often enough to ensure they’re being well taken care of. For the Gold Nugget Pleco, you must have a good filter system in your tank as they’re very sensitive to pollutants. You also need to change the water frequently to keep things fresh and reduce ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels. 

Even though the Gold Nugget Pleco is an algae-eating fish, it cannot clean an excessively dirty tank. Keeping the tank clean allows your fish to focus on eating algae in a healthy environment that won’t make it ill. 

Water Parameters

Maintaining optimal water parameters for Gold Nugget Plecos is a relatively straightforward task. While they have some flexibility in adapting to different water conditions, it is crucial to provide them with the ideal environment to ensure their well-being and longevity.

  • Water temperature: 74 to 82°F (23.33 to 27.77°C)
  • Water pH levels:  6.4 to 7.4
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dH

Water Temperature

The ideal temperature for a Gold Nugget Pleco is between 74-82°F (23.33-27.77°C) as they come from a warm and tropical climate. They may get stressed out or sick if the water gets too cold. Gold Nugget Plecos, like other wild-caught fish, are much pickier with their tank temperatures as they aren’t often bred in captivity. 

Water pH Levels

The pH for your tank should be suitable for a Gold Nugget Pleco. A pH of 6.4-7.4 is needed for them to survive. Be sure to test the water every few days before introducing them so you can monitor these levels.

Water Hardness

Gold Nugget Plecos can adapt to a wide range of water hardness, although maintaining a soft to medium hardness is considered optimal for their well-being. It is recommended to aim for a suitable range between 5 to 15 dH.

What To Put In The Tank

Gold Nugget Plecos love to hide, as they’re nocturnal and need dark places to rest and recover. When decorating your tank, consider an environment that will mimic what they’re used to in the wild. Since most Gold Nugget Plecos are not bred in captivity, they must find materials they would see in their natural habitat.


Since the Gold Nugget Pleco is a bottom-dwelling fish, the substrate is important. A soft, sandy material is the best choice as it gives them a soft place to swim around since their bellies drag across the substrate. It’s also closest to what they are used to in the wild. 

A rockier substrate is not the worst, as the Gold Nugget Pleco will often be attached to decor, glass, and driftwood as it cleans algae. If your existing aquarium contains gravel, just keep an eye on your Gold Nugget Pleco to see if they seem stressed or cut and injured.


If you’re considering adding a Gold Nugget Pleco to your tank, take some time to assess your current tank conditions to see if it would be the right fit. This beautiful fish will bring you joy for years to come if they can be happy with their environment.

Artificial caves and castles with entrances big enough for your Gold Nugget Pleco are a must. Some caves and castles can match your tank aesthetic while providing a safe place for your Pleco to rest. Make sure no sharp edges can harm your Gold Nugget Pleco. 

Driftwood is also a popular choice for Gold Nugget Plecos. However, you should take care when buying driftwood for your tank because they sometimes contain harmful chemicals that can be dangerous if your Pleco ingests them. To play it safe, use manzanita wood, a safe driftwood variety for a Gold Nugget Pleco.  

Ideal Plants  

Gold Nugget Plecos love lush plants, which can benefit them in many ways. Live plants are better than plastic plants for the Gold Nugget Pleco as long as they are tough. Some benefits of live plants include: 

  • Plants make a great hiding spot. This can minimize stress as it gives the Gold Nugget Pleco space from other fish and feels like their natural environment. 
  • Vegetation is good for the health of your Gold Nugget Pleco. Vegetation releases nutrition to the fish in your tank and keeps the water healthy. 
  • Plants block out light. The Gold Nugget Pleco is nocturnal and will need a darker environment, something that live plants can provide.  

Before buying plants, consider how resilient they are. Gold Nugget Plecos can cause some wear and tear as an algae eater. Some of the toughest plants you can get suitable for a Gold Nugget Pleco are Java Ferns and Eelgrass, as they can withstand a lot of chewing. 


Gold Nugget Plecos have a preference for lower lighting, which closely resembles their natural habitat. Lighting shouldn’t be a big problem considering they are nocturnal. You can have the standard aquarium lighting, and your Gold Nugget Pleco will be fine.

However, it is best to switch off the lights during feeding time to bring them out of hiding, especially if you schedule feedings during the day. It would help if you also switched the lights off at night.


Gold Nugget Plecos originate from the Amazon River and need warmer water to stay happy and healthy. They do best in water temperatures between 74 to 82°F (23.33 to 27.77°C).

If you live in a warmer climate and your tank can maintain this temperature range you won’t need a heater. If you do need a heater for your tank to maintain this range, make sure you invest in a good quality heater.


Gold Nugget Plecos do well with a filtration system that provides a moderate flow of water. They are known to produce a lot of waste, so you need a good filter that will guarantee optimal water conditions 

Regular maintenance, such as cleaning or replacing filter media and performing water changes, is also crucial to keep the filtration system working effectively.

Acclimating Gold Nugget Pleco To Tank

Properly introducing your Gold Nugget Pleco to their tank and the other fish is essential to ensure longevity and avoid illness.

This process is several steps long but can make a difference in protecting your Gold Nugget Pleco and the other fish in the tank. Here’s what you need to do:  

  1. Dim the lights. By dimming the overhead lights in your room and the tank, your fish won’t be shocked by any change in brightness. This is especially important for the Gold Nugget Pleco as they are nocturnal and prefer the dark floor of the tank. 
  2. Rinse the plastic bag your Pleco is in. This prevents outside contaminants from getting into your aquarium. 
  3. Get rid of excess water in the plastic bag. You’ll want to pour out most of the water in your bag, but keep enough that the dorsal fin is still covered. 
  4. Float the plastic bag on top of the aquarium for 15 minutes. This allows the water in the bag to gradually become the same temperature in the aquarium, rather than shocking your fish immediately. Try rolling the bag top down a few times to make this easier. 
  5. Add aquarium water to the bag after the temperature is the same. Do this until the bag is full. Repeat this a few times, allowing 5 to 10 minutes between each addition. 
  6. Release fish into the aquarium using a net. Be sure to gently lift the fish into the tank, and for the Gold Nugget Pleco, try to release it close to the substrate, as that is where they’ll usually spend most of their time. 

Once your Gold Nugget Pleco enters the tank, give them time to adjust. After a day, if they’re still acting odd, you may want to keep a close eye to ensure they do not develop any illness. If this is done incorrectly, your Gold Nugget Pleco can become ill or even die from shock.

Here is a great YouTube video on how to add fish to a tank:

Gold Nugget Pleco Tank Mates

As a territorial bottom-dweller, the Gold Nugget Pleco will do best with any fish that stay in the middle or top of the tank. There is a long list of fish that fit this criterion, but the top suggestions are the following: 

If you’re adding a Gold Nugget Pleco to an existing tank, be sure there are no other bottom-dwelling species, including other Plecos. If you must get a second Pleco, establish separate territories with decorations as dividers and at least 1.5 square feet (0.13 sq m) per Pleco. Snails are fine as long as there is enough space and algae in the tank for both to enjoy.

Tank Mates To Avoid

Steer clear of fish that are large, aggressive, or known to be competitive for food.

  • Goldfish
  • Oscars
  • Cichlids

Gold Nugget Pleco Food & Diet

Gold Nugget Plecos eat algae, but this doesn’t mean they’re vegetarian. They need a mixed diet to stay healthy and well-fed, as the algae in your tank won’t be enough to sustain them. 

The best diet for a Gold Nugget Pleco should contain the following: 

  • Algae
  • Vegetables such as spinach, peas, zucchini, and lettuce 
  • Brine shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Driftwood
  • Dried pellets such as spirulina wafers
  • Tubifex 

You should feed your Gold Nugget Pleco at least once a night since they’re nocturnal. Be careful not to overfeed them, as this can cause illness and compromise the tank’s health if the food is not finished. 

Breeding Gold Nugget Plecos

It’s never a good idea to breed fish at home without the correct knowledge, and the Gold Nugget Pleco is no exception. They don’t breed well in captivity, so most are sourced from the wild. Trying to breed a Gold Nugget Pleco will only harm your fish, so if you’d like another Gold Nugget Pleco, it’s best to buy one from a reputable store.

Gold Nugget Pleco Common Health Issues

Now that you understand how to properly care for a Gold Nugget Pleco, any signs of illness or stress should be examined to determine the cause. 

It can be challenging to tell if your Gold Nugget Pleco feels unwell, so be sure to examine it for a while after adding them to your tank to see how they behave. You can also take steps to ensure your Gold Nugget Pleco is safely introduced to their tank. 

Signs of Illness or Stress in Gold Nugget Pleco

The Gold Nugget Pleco is a freshwater fish, and there are many common illnesses in freshwater fish to look out for. As a general rule of thumb, poor water quality, overcrowding, and poor diets are some of the top reasons a fish can get sick.

Here are some common freshwater fish diseases that can harm your Gold Nugget Pleco:


Fish typically have parasites at any given time, but it only becomes an issue when they become stressed out or shocked by their environment. Many parasites can harm your fish, but they often become an issue when a fish isn’t properly acclimated to a tank.

Signs of parasitic infection in a Gold Nugget Pleco include: 

  • Decreased appetite
  • Bruising
  • White spots
  • Lethargy

Bacterial Infections

Most bacterial infections in fish are caused by stress, secondary to primary stressors like overcrowding, poor diet, and poor water quality.

Signs of a bacterial infection in your Gold Bugget Pleco can look like this:

  • Decrease appetite
  • Fin erosion
  • Lethargy
  • Parasitic infections 

Ingestion of toxins

As an algae-eating fish, the Gold Nugget Pleco can be susceptible to toxins in the algae it eats. Toxins in the tank water can seep into the algae, which is later ingested.

Signs of toxins in a Gold Nugget Pleco can include: 

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hiding more than usual 
  • Swimming erratically 

Other common stress behavior includes losing color, cloudy eyes, and not moving around. The best way to combat illness and stress is to follow the care tips discussed earlier in the article. Like all illnesses, it’s best to consult a veterinarian with knowledge of fish to find the best next steps to care for a sick Gold Nugget Pleco. 

Wrapping Up

A Gold Nugget Pleco can be a great addition to your freshwater aquarium with the right preparation. They’re easy to care for as long as you pay attention to the tank’s conditions before, during, and after introducing them. 

If you have an existing aquarium community, a Gold Nugget Pleco will help keep your tank clean by cleaning algae while adding a vibrant visual element to your tank. It’s important to properly acclimate your Pleco to their new tank and give them enough space, as they are territorial creatures. They are best suited in freshwater aquariums containing no other bottom-dwelling fish. If you’re interested in Pleco fish and want to check out some others have a look at this article about Types of Plecos.

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...