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Royal Pleco Care: Everything You Need To Know

Royal Pleco Care: Everything You Need To Know

Royal Pleco is an easy-care fish if you duplicate its tropical habitat. This sizable, tiger-striped species is nocturnal, peaceful, and friendly with people.

Caring for Royal Pleco begins with securing a 120-gallon (454-liter) tank and a powerful water filter. Fill the tank with moderately warm water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Feed your Royal Pleco driftwood, a diet staple, along with algae-based wafers, blanched veggies, and brine shrimp.

The rest of this post will go into detail about caring for Royal Pleco and explain what you can expect from this gentle catfish. Keep reading to learn about its temperament, unique habits, mature size, and life expectancy. 

Royal Pleco Overview & Natural Habitat

  • Common name: Royal Pleco.
  • Scientific name: Panaque nigrolineatus.
  • Care level: Easy.
  • Size: at least 24 inches (61 cm).
  • Lifespan: 10 years.
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Diet: Omnivore.
  • Group size: Solitary fish, only keep one pleco per tank
  • Minimum tank size: 120 gallons/454 liters.
  • Tank level: Bottom dwellers.
  • Water temperature: 72 to 78o F (22.2 to 25.6°C).
  • Water pH levels: 6.6 to 7.5.
  • Water hardness: 5–10 pH.

Royal Pleco (Panaque nigrolineatus) is a type of plecostomus in the catfish family, Loricariidae. While there are roughly 150 plecostomus subspecies, the most common is the Royal Pleco. This striped beauty lives in the Orinoco and Amazon River basins of Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil.

As a tropical fish, Royal Pleco thrives in warm currents, scavenging the river bottoms for food. Since they can’t swim fast, predators can quickly overtake them. Thus, Royal Pleco often shelters in dense vegetation and beneath driftwood.

Royal Pleco Appearance & Size

Royal Plecos are unique and will be certain to attract attention to your aquarium with their sheer presence. Their bold markings are black or beige, running the length of their body. You’ll find brown, black, or light gray are their common base colors.

The striped pattern varies by fish, making each one uniquely striking. You’ll also be impressed by the Royal Pleco’s large dorsal fin, repelling predators. Bright orange-red eyes punctuate the sizable head. 

Another distinct feature of the Royal Pleco is its downturned mouth, earning it the nickname “suckermouth catfish.” Its spoon-shaped teeth are razor-sharp, ideal for scraping off algae and wood.

You won’t find protective scales on a Royal Pleco. Instead, this fish wears bony skin plates resembling armor. In contrast, the belly is soft.

Here’s a video that shows what Royal Plecos look like:

Growth Rate and Size

Royal Pleco grows relatively slowly, reaching its adult size in three to five years. When mature, the fish measures roughly 17 inches (43.18 centimeters) long. The Royal Pleco’s slow growth rate should be considered by any fish keeper looking to add one of these creatures to their tank.

Royal Pleco Personality & Behavior

Royal Pleco is a docile species, indifferent to other fish types. They are content to dwell on your aquarium floor, living happily and in harmony with their suitable tankmates.

Royal Plecos are nocturnal, so you’ll mostly see them active at night in low-light conditions. In fact, as you approach the aquarium, these guys may even greet you! During the day, you’ll find your Royal Pleco hiding in tank vegetation.

There is one exception to such agreeable behavior. If your Royal Pleco sees another catfish, it will become aggressive. So, it’s best to have only one pleco per tank.

Royal Pleco Expected Lifespan

Under ideal aquarium conditions, a healthy Royal Pleco can survive for at least 10 years. To date, the maximum lifespan recorded is 15 years. One key to longevity is a stable tank environment with ample swimming space.

Royal Pleco Care & Tank Set Up

Now that you know some information about the Royal Pleco, here’s some information on how to take care of them and what they will need to feel at home.

Tank Size

Since the Royal Pleco is large, you will need a tank volume of 120 gallons (454 liters) at a minimum. The width should measure at least 24 inches (61 cm). This way, your pleco can turn around smoothly and comfortably.

These tank parameters will give your Royal Pleco plenty of space to forage, develop, and mature. If your tank isn’t large enough, it will stunt your plecos growth and shorten its life.

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 72 to 78o F (22.2 to 25.6°C)
  • Water pH levels: 6.6 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 5–10 pH

Since suckermouth catfish don’t have scales on their bodies, they’re highly sensitive to environmental changes.

Follow the below water parameters to ensure the health and well-being of your Royal Pleco.

Water Temperature 

A Royal Pleco needs its tank water temperature to be between 72 to 78°F (22.2 to 25.6°C), as this mimics its natural habitat in the Amazon.

It is recommended to maintain temperatures on the warmer end of this range, as this species may experience lethargy and difficulties with feeding in colder water.

Water pH Levels 

In the wild, Royal Plecos live in neutral-pH water but will tolerate very slightly acidic or alkaline water. The optimal pH range for RoyalPlecos is between 6.5 to 7.5.

It’s advisable to monitor the tank’s pH every few days to ensure it always remains within this range, and you can do this with a pH measurement tool that you can buy online or from a pet store. 

Water Hardness

Water hardness refers to the number of minerals present and the fewer minerals, the softer the water. Bristlenose Plecos can tolerate a water hardness level of between 5 and 10 KH, which is considered soft to mildly hard. 

Water Current

As South American fish, Royal Plecos are habituated to fast-flowing rivers with strong currents. Installing a good quality water pump will help you to achieve the same conditions and will keep your Royal Pleco happy. 

Clean and Change Tank Water Frequently

It’s recommended to replace 25% of the tank water with fresh water once a week. You may also change it more frequently if debris clouds the water sooner. A high-quality heater will maintain a comfortable water temperature. 

Because Royal Plecos are large, they generate a substantial volume of waste products. So, vacuum the tank floor regularly and use a de-chlorinator to minimize buildup and eliminate harmful chemicals.

If any solid food remains after a feeding, remove it from the tank. Otherwise, it can rot, jeopardizing your fish’s health. Moreover, excess food can raise water nitrogen to unsafe levels.

What To Put In The Tank

By carefully selecting the elements to include in your tank, you can create a comfortable and stimulating environment for your pleco to be happy and feel safe.


Sand is the best substrate for your Royal Pleco. Gravel and stone chips may seem like attractive options, but they are not suitable for the species.

Royal Plecos have soft bellies, which can easily be damaged by sharp-edged substrates. Sand is a much gentler surface that won’t harm the delicate belly of your Royal Pleco.


Provide some strategic hiding spots with aquarium decor. Examples are bridges, houses, and smooth rocks. 

Since Royal Plecos digest wood, remember to decorate your aquarium with driftwood, it will serve as a source of food and shelter. I recommend arranging driftwood like fallen trees, simulating a riverbed. 

Ideal Plants

Royal Plecos like to hide out in dense vegetation, so you’ll want to include some broad-leafed plants like Anubias, Amazon Sword, and Java Fern.

  • Anumbias grows on wood and rocks, not in the substrate, making it perfect to grow on driftwood.
  • Amazon Sword can grow up to 20 inches tall, if your tank will accommodate this height, this plant is perfect for a Royal Pleco.
  • Java Fern not only provides great coverage for your pleco but it is also a good food source. Your pleco will eat the biofilm off of the Java Fern.

Steer clear of artificial plants. Royal Plecos are known to nibble on fake leaves. They won’t be able to digest the silk or plastic causing impaction and internal damage.


Royal Plecos like low-light environments that mimic their natural habitat. If you don’t have plants to offer adequate coverage for your pleco, make sure you have dim lighting.


If you find it challenging to maintain your pleco’s preferred water temperature range of 72 to 78o F (22.2 to 25.6°C), investing in a reliable heater will be essential for the well-being of your pleco. 

Keep in mind that it’s important to keep the temperature on the warmer side to ensure your pleco’s optimal health.


Driftwood hampers water circulation, forming areas susceptible to the buildup of waste. You’ll need a high-flow power filter to cycle the water, oxygenate it, and extract all the toxins. 

To boost filter efficiency, you can install a few powerheads. They’ll help to suspend waste long enough in the water for the filter to siphon them. 

Royal Pleco Tankmates

You’ll mostly see your Royal Pleco at night. Therefore, you’ll likely want other fascinating fish to care for during the day. 

The species below need the same aquarium setting as plecos, making them excellent tankmates. They’re also especially gorgeous!

Tank Mates To Avoid

When considering potential tankmates for your Royal Pleco, avoid other bottom-dwelling fish. Otherwise, your Royal Pleco’s health will decline from having to vie for its food.

Steer clear of fast-swimming fish that have a tendency to nip at fins. While these fish may not inflict significant harm on your pleco, they often dart down to the bottom and nip at the dorsal fin.

Fish requiring brightly-lit tanks with plentiful vegetation are also unsuitable tankmates.

Royal Pleco Food & Diet

While the suckermouth catfish is an omnivore, it favors plants over meat. To keep your Royal Pleco healthy, serve an array of foods.

The bulk of your Royal Pleco’s diet should be:

  • Algae-based wafers
  • Tablets
  • Pellets
  • Flakes

You may also provide different types of driftwood. This will attract a variety of fungi and bacteria, on which plecos also feed.

On the meat menu, serve brine shrimp, both live and frozen. Then, twice a week, offer kale, cucumbers, zucchini, or peas. Blanching will soften the veggies, helping your fish digest them.

Since Royal Pleco eats at night, add the above foods to the tank at that time. If you feed it during the day, any tankmates will consume what you intended for your catfish.

Note: When online pet stores import juvenile Royal Plecos, they’re often undernourished. Thus, make sure your new Royal Pleco has a well-rounded diet. 

Breeding Royal Plecos

Home aquarists face many difficulties when trying to breed Royal Plecos. One challenge is duplicating the mating and breeding conditions in the wild.

For instance, plecos mate in the rainy season, when river water turns softer and more acidic. Meanwhile, the water temperature drops slightly. Food is more abundant as well.

After mating, the female finds a cave for egg-laying. Then, the male fertilizes the eggs, guarding them until they start hatching. It takes about a week for the fry (babies) to emerge. 

The second challenge with breeding is pairing up plecos. Since catfish are naturally testy with each other, it’s tough to find a compatible male and female.

Mating in Captivity

The success rate with tank breeding is low. Still, if you want to give it a try, follow these steps:

  1. Find pleco pairs that have already bonded.
  2. Place the couple in a separate tank with the ideal setup for Royal Plecos. Recreate the river conditions conducive to breeding in the wild.
  3. Slowly raise the water acidity while slightly lowering the water temperature.
  4. Offer the pair high-quality food.
  5. Once your pair has mated, move them back to your original tank. Otherwise, they could accidentally eat the eggs.
  6. After the fry hatch, they’ll start swimming in about four days. Feed the youngsters crushed flake food and baby brine shrimp.

Professional breeders recommend vinewood, which is considered gourmet food for plecos. Since vinewood is soft, it digests easily. Moreover, it spurs mating by boosting the mood between males and females.

Upon mating, the female will lay her eggs on the tank floor. For her nest, she’ll likely choose driftwood, a rock, or a pile of debris. Therefore, it’s vital to avoid vacuuming the tank substrate while breeding.

When changing the tank water weekly, add rainwater. This will help to mimic tropical river water during the rainy season.

Royal Pleco Common Health Issues

Thankfully, Royal Pleco is a stout catfish species, not prone to sickness. Still, it’s crucial to recognize the red flags of potential diseases. This way, you can get timely veterinary care for your prized fish, promoting a quick recovery.

Below are potential diseases affecting Royal Plecos:

  • Columnaris: Life-threatening tissue damage caused by bacteria.
  • Dropsy: Parasites or bacteria render skin lesions and tissue swelling.
  • Fin rot: The dorsal fin degenerates and detaches.
  • Septicemia: A bacterial infection that poisons the blood.
  • Velvet: An unsightly film covers the skin plates, making them dry and cracked.
  • White spot syndrome: Parasites feed on pleco skin, depositing white crystals.

Never treat Royal Pleco with store-bought fish medications! Many of them contain copper, which is toxic to plecos. Moreover, since Royal Pleco lacks scales, it’s sensitive to certain drugs.

So, if your Royal Pleco appears sick, avoid diagnosing and treating the fish yourself. Instead, always obtain an evaluation and care from an experienced vet. Be sure to choose one specializing in tropical fish.

Note that many fish diseases are contagious. Therefore, remove Royal Pleco from your tank at the first sign of illness. Then, once a vet treats your fish, ask when it’s safe to end the quarantine.

How To Protect Royal Pleco From Stress

Plecos react poorly to fluctuating tank conditions. Signs of anxiety are:

One common source of distress for the Royal Pleco is aggressive tankmates. Since the Royal Pleco is peace-loving, it gets frightened by hostility. So, keep an eye out for bullying. 

If you spot a fish harassing your pleco, try redesigning your aquascape. One way is by creating more hiding places. If that doesn’t quell the tension, keep your pleco in a separate aquarium. 

The trauma could also be dramatic, such as the shock of being dropped. Other causes of angst are vacillating water temperatures and pH. Thankfully, these stressors are relatively easy to rectify.

Hence, if you see Royal Pleco acting strangely, be sure to find out why. If you identify the problem but can’t resolve it, ask your vet for advice. By eliminating stress triggers, diseases affecting your Royal Pleco are much less likely.

Royal Pleco FAQs

My Royal Pleco Often Sleeps Upside Down. Should I Be Concerned?

Sleeping upside down is normal for royal plecos. Often, they choose to snooze on a vertical piece of driftwood or a tank decoration. While this behavior may seem strange, it’s completely normal for these fish.

How Can I Tell if My Royal Pleco Is Getting Enough Food?

If your fish rushes to eat when you add food to the tank, it’s hungry. Conversely, if your royal pleco ignores their meal, it’s already full. So, initially, offer small amounts of food until you can gauge your fish’s daily appetite.

Is Royal Pleco an Endangered Fish Species?

The royal pleco is, unfortunately, facing endangerment due to the difficulties of breeding them in captivity. Most royal plecos are obtained in the wild during the rainy season. Thus, acquiring them is limited.

Wrapping Up

Royal pleco is a low-maintenance striped catfish breed. It needs a tropical aquascape with an acidic to neutral water pH and a high-flow power filter. 

Since royal pleco is nocturnal, feed it at night. Driftwood is a dietary staple, essential for its growth and health. Also, serve up algae-based dry food, brine shrimp, and blanched vegetables. 

Another key to longevity is a stable aquarium setting. Minimizing stress helps royal pleco to reach its life expectancy of at least 10 years.

Regarding temperament, the fish has a gentle, peace-loving personality. You’ll surely enjoy caring for a royal pleco!

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...