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Pleco Fish: Small Or Large, What One Will Suit Your Tank?

Pleco Fish: Small Or Large, What One Will Suit Your Tank?

Plecos are popular tank fish, and for good reason! They have an attractive appearance, are relatively low maintenance and entertaining to observe. So, how do you know which pleco variety will suit your tank?

The type of pleco that will suit your tank depends on how large your tank is and how much maintenance you’re prepared to commit to. Clown Plecos are low-maintenance and do well in small tanks, while Galaxy Plecos need very large tanks, are fussy eaters, and need more tank upkeep. 

This article will provide an in-depth guide on everything you need to know about plecos and how to choose the most suitable one for your tank. I’ll cover topics, such as tank parameters and size, food, and more. Let’s dive right in! 

What Classifies a Fish As Pleco? 

Plecostomus or plecos, as they’re more commonly known, are freshwater catfish that are part of the Loricariidae family. There are approximately 150 pleco species in various sizes and colors and are also colloquially known as “janitor fish” because they feed on algae and help keep the tank clean.  

Plecos are omnivores and originate from the tropical waters of West Africa and South America. 

A distinguishing feature of pleco fish is their sucker-like mouths that assist them in feeding on loose particles of vegetation. 

7 Small Types of Plecos

When I say “small”, I’m referring to a pleco less than 15cm/5.9 inches in size. If you’re looking for some small plecos for your aquarium, you have many types to choose from! 

Below are the 7 small types of plecos:

Bristlenose Pleco ‘Ancistrus cirrhosus

Bristlenose Pleco 'Ancistrus cirrhosus'

Bristlenose Plecos (or Ancistrus cirrhosis) originate from Brazil and have powerful sucking mouths that allow them to attach to vegetation and rocks in fast-moving rivers. They come in varying colors and patterns, with most having a dark green, gray, or brown body. 

Their heads are broad and have bushy outgrowths that give them an undeserved aggressive appearance. 

These plecos are well-known for being placid and easygoing fish and are an excellent choice if you want a large aquarium and want to introduce other pleco species. 

These fish are happiest in tanks with a stoned substrate with lots of algae, decorations, and aquarium vegetation. 

  • Size: 4 to 5 inches/10 to 12 cm.
  • Life span: 8 to 10 years.
  • Care level: Easy.
  • Temperament: Peaceful and friendly.

Angelicus Pleco ‘Hypancistrus sp.’ (L004)

Angelicus Pleco ‘Hypancistrus sp.’ (L004)

Angelicus Plecos (or Hypancistrus sp.) are tiny Brazilian plecos that only grow to 4 inches/10cm in size as adults. 

Since they originate from fast-flowing rivers, it’s a good idea to simulate the same conditions in your tank if you want your Angelicus Plecos to be content. I recommend adding plenty of pebbles, aquarium vegetation, gravel, and tank rocks to keep your plecos entertained and happy. 

Angelicus Plecos are easygoing but do not do well if there are organic pollutants in the tank. This means that you should keep the aquarium water as clean as possible by replacing up to 50% of it weekly.

These plecos like feeding on aquatic invertebrates, insect larvae, and bloodworms. They’re also partial to shrimps and freeze-dried fish flakes.  

This pleco species thrives in water with a pH of between 5.5 and 7.5 and temperatures of between 77 and 86°F (25 and 30°C). 

  • Size: 4 inches/10cm.
  • Life span: 10 to 12 years.
  • Care Level: Medium.
  • Temperament: Easygoing and non-threatening.

Butterfly Pleco ‘Dekeyseria brachyura‘ (L168)

Butterfly Pleco 'Dekeyseria brachyuran' L168

Butterfly Plecos (or Dekeyseria brachyura) is an exciting pleco species to have in your aquarium because they can camouflage themselves in dark conditions. With a light background, their colors become more prominent and their stripes more impressive. 

Like other plecos, Butterfly Plecos enjoy feeding on algae and other tiny particles of vegetation. However, they don’t do this as much as other pleco species and prefer eating bloodworms, shrimp or freeze-dried fish flakes. It’s not uncommon to see them taking tiny chunks out of wooden tank decorations.

This species is not challenging to care for, but they may not be suitable for beginners as they require very specific tank conditions to remain healthy. For instance, their tank water should always be spotlessly clean, well-aerated, and at a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. 

  • Size: 15 cm/6 inches.
  • Life span: 5 to 7 years.
  • Care level: Easy.
  • Temperament: Peaceful.

Clown Pleco ‘Panaqolus sp.’

Clown Pleco 'Panaque maccus'

The Clown Pleco (or Panaqolus sp) is ideal if you’ve never owned pleco fish before because they’re easy to care for and will delight you with their attractive stripes and the way in which they chew on wooden tank decorations. 

They have prominent and fleshy dorsal fins with large pectoral fins, which will be in the best condition if you maintain optimal tank conditions and feed them correctly. 

Clown Plecos are confident and playful fish and do well in tanks that are at least 20 gallons/75.5 liters in capacity. They do best with a tank pH of between 6.8 and 7.6 and a water temperature of between 75 and 82°F (24 and 28°C). 

With their diminutive size, Clown Plecos make great pets if you can only have a smaller tank. 

  • Size: 3.5 inches/9 cm.
  • Life span: 10 years if cared for well. 
  • Care level: Low. 
  • Temperament: Outgoing and playful.

Leopard Frog Pleco ‘Peckoltia compta

Leopard Frog Pleco ‘Peckoltia compta’
Photo Credit: IG Simple_Fins

One of the lesser-known but remarkable pleco fish is the Leopard Frog Pleco (or Peckoltia compta). Also known as the Imperial Tiger Pleco, this variety has a spectacular appearance with dramatic yellow and black vertical stripes throughout the body. 

Well-cared-for Leopard Frog Plecos can have very brightly colored yellow sections, making them fun to admire. They have large, fanned dorsal fins and enjoy spending time at the bottom of the tank, feeding on algae or vegetation particles. 

They require a tank size of at least 30 gallons/114 liters but would prefer a larger tank to explore. Leopard Frog Plecos do best in water with a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. 

  • Size: 3.5 to 4 inches/9 to 10 cm. 
  • Life span: 8 to 10 years.
  • Care level: Easy.
  • Temperament: Laidback and reclusive.

Queen Arabesque Pleco ‘Hypancistrus sp.’ (L260)

Queen Arabesque Pleco ‘Hypancistrus sp.’ (L260)
Photo Credit: IG The Trop Co

Queen Arabesque Plecos (or Hypancistrus sp.) are similar to Zebra Plecos in that they have black and white stripes throughout their bodies. However, Queen Arabesque Plecos have larger-sized black stripes but are just as striking and make impressive tank additions. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice tiny white spots on their fins.

They enjoy nibbling on driftwood within the aquarium and prefer a water pH of between 6.4 and 7.5. With their tropical origins, they like warmer water at temperatures ranging from 73 to 82°F/23 and 28°C). 

Aside from that, Queen Arabesque Plecos are easy to care for and require a tank size of at least 20 gallons/75.5 liters. 

  • Size: 9 cm/3.5 inches.
  • Life span: 10 years.
  • Care level: Easy. 
  • Temperament: Peaceful and friendly. 

Zebra Pleco ‘Hypancistrus Zebra

Zebra Pleco 'Hypancistrus zebra'

The Zebra Pleco (or Hypancistrus zebra) is a popular pleco species because it has beautiful black and white strips and would make a stunning addition to any tank. They have large dorsal fins and tails, prominent sucking mouths and whiskers on the side of their faces. 

If you want to add one of these popular pleco fish to your tank, it will need to be at least 30 gallons/114 liters. 

  • Size: 3.5 inches/9 cm. 
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years. 
  • Care level: Medium (since Zebra Pleco are timid, you may need to place food where they can access it easily).
  • Temperament: Reclusive and timid. However, they will defend their territory if threatened by another fish.

7 Large Types of Plecos

As with small plecos, there are also 7 main types of large plecos (when I say large, I’m referring to those 15cm/5.9 inches or more in size). 

Here’s what you can expect from large plecos:

Royal Pleco ‘Panaque nigrolineatus

Royal Pleco 'Panaque nigrolineatus'
Photo Credit: IG sgtropicalfish

Royal Plecos (or Panaque nigrolineatus) come in various colorations, depending on their origins. Most have dark grey bodies with lighter-colored, golden stripes that run horizontally throughout their bodies, giving them an interesting and unforgettable appearance. 

However, their most striking feature is their huge, bulging eyes which are red in color. This makes them look slightly aggressive but Royal Plecos only display aggression when confronted or another fish enters its territory. 

Royal Plecos have large bodies and often have spotted pectoral fins. Due to their large size, Royal Plecos need huge tanks to be happy, and a 125-gallon/474 liters tank will be perfect. 

  • Size: 17 inches/43 cm.
  • Life span: 10 to 12 years.
  • Care level: Easy.
  • Temperament: Docile and solitary and will become aggressive only when needed.

Sunshine Pleco ‘Scobinancistrus aureatus

Sunshine Pleco 'Scobinancistrus aureatus'
Photo Credit: IG heather_simpson

If you want a pleco fish that will be the star of your tank, consider the Sunshine Pleco (or Scobinancistrus aureatus). 

This beautiful pleco has a brown to muddy green body with spectacular white spots and bright orange fins, which refers to its cheerful name. 

Your Sunshine Pleco will maintain its bright and attractive coloration throughout its life, as long as you provide optimal tank conditions and feed them well. 

As one of the larger pleco varieties, you need a large tank that is at least 100 gallons/379 liters in capacity for your Sunshine Pleco. 

With their prominent size, these pleco fish are also known to be powerful and may accidentally knock over or damage tank decorations.

Sunshine Plecos love rasping on pieces of aquatic driftwood, so your tank should have plenty of this. As reclusive plecos, you should also have enough hiding places for your Sunshine Pleco. 

  • Size: 12 inches/30 cm.
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years. 
  • Care level: Moderate.
  • Temperament: Shy and calm but will defend their territory if threatened.

Sailfin Pleco ‘Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

Sailfin Pleco 'Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps'

Looking for a large and eye-catching pleco fish for your aquarium? Look no further than the Sailfin Pleco (or Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps)! 

This pleco species has large and impressive dorsal fins that resemble sails, giving them their unique name. When fully extended, the dorsal fin is huge and fans out over a wide surface area. 

Sailfin Plecos have yellow bodies with several large, black spots, which cover the entire body. 

They love eating and will happily consume anything you give them. However, their ideal diet is freeze-dried fish flakes suitable for plecos, bloodworms, and aquatic invertebrates. 

These plecos need plenty of space in the tank and require one with at least a 100-gallon/379 liters capacity. 

In addition, their ideal water pH is between 6.5 and 7.5, and they do best at temperatures between 77 to 79°F (25 to 26°C).

  • Size: 13 to 19 inches/33 to 48 cm.
  • Life span: 15 to 20 years. 
  • Care level: Moderate.
  • Temperament: Easygoing and calm.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco ‘Ancistrus cirrhosis var Albino

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

One of the most unique-looking pleco fish is the Albino Bristlenose Pleco (or Ancistrus cirrhosis var Albino), which has a solid pale yellow, cream or white body and red eyes. 

It has tentacle-like protrusions from its head and chin and a flat body. There is also interesting reddish-marbled patterning in the middle of the body and a prominent sucker mouth. 

The Albino Bristlenose Pleco is a smaller-sized fish in the “large” category, reaching a maximum adult size of only 6 inches (or 15 cm). However, they need a tank at least 30 gallons/114 liters large as they love exploring. 

The perfect tank pH for Albino Bristlenose Plecos is between 6.5 and 7.5, and they prefer water temperatures of between 60 to 80°F (16 to 27°C). 

Albino Bristlenose Plecos create a lot of waste products, so you need to monitor your tank water’s nitrate levels closely to ensure it remains healthy. In addition, you’ll need to change out the water by at least 25% each week. 

  • Size: 6 inches/15 cm.
  • Life span: Short (5 to 7 years).
  • Care level: Medium.
  • Temperament: Peaceful (as long as you don’t have two or more males in the tank at any given time).

Galaxy Pleco ‘Leporacanthicus galaxias

Galaxy Pleco 'Leporacanthicus galaxias'
Photo Credit: IG urbanaquarist

Galaxy Plecos (or Leporacanthicus galaxias) is another show stopping pleco fish, as it has a black body with bright spots throughout its body. 

They have fanned dorsal fins, large sucker mouths, and tiny yellow-gold spots on their fins. 

This pleco species love scavenging around the tank for loose pieces of algae, vegetation and food. That said, they can be selective about what they eat and prefer decaying vegetation and bloodworms. 

Though most plecos can be territorial when faced with another fish, Galaxy Plecos are even more so and are happiest in very large tanks where encountering another fish is rare. It’s for this reason that a 50-gallon/227-liter tank is best for them.  

The Galaxy Pleco should have a tank pH of between 5.6 to 7.0 and a water temperature of between 72 and 82°F (22 and 28°C). 

  • Size: 10 inches/26 cm.
  • Life span: 15 years, if cared for appropriately.
  • Care level: Medium (they can be fussy eaters, unlike most plecos).
  • Temperament: Reclusive but highly territorial, and larger tanks are recommended.

Rubber Lip Pleco ‘Parancistrus aurantiacus

Rubber Lip Pleco 'Chaetostoma milesi'
Photo Credit: IG ryanomite1

Rubber Lip Plecos (or Parancistrus aurantiacus) are so-called because of their prominent and rubber-like lips.

They are also occasionally called Rubbernose Plecos and originate from the rivers of Venezuela. 

Although Rubber Lip Plecos are omnivorous (like all pleco fish), they prefer eating vegetation

When keeping Rubber Lip Plecos, you should pay special attention to the tank conditions and the food you provide because this species is susceptible to ich. If your pleco is continuously stressed, their immune system may weaken, causing them to be prone to the parasitic infections that cause ich. 

The ideal tank water conditions for Rubber Lip Plecos should have a pH of 6.5 to 8 and a temperature of between 70 and 78°F (21 and 26°C).

  • Size: 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm).
  • Life Span: 10 to 15 years.
  • Care Level: High.
  • Temperament: Timid and reclusive.

Gold Nugget Pleco ‘Baryancistrus xanthellus

Gold Nugget Pleco 'Baryancistrus xanthellus'
Photo Credit: IG clownloachkeeper

The Gold Nugget Pleco or Baryancistrus xanthellus is a Brazilian variety that has a black body and striking gold-yellow spots. Additionally, the edges of their fins are golden yellow, giving them a beautiful appearance. 

Gold Nugget Plecos like a soft tank substrate consisting of sand and enjoy aquariums with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. 

They like feeding on algae, pieces of loose vegetation, and any suitable food you provide (they are not fussy eaters). 

Although they’re calm and placid plecos, they will defend their territories fiercely if another fish enters it. 

If you decide to introduce a Gold Nugget to your tank, you should ensure that the water pH is between 6.5 and 7.5 and the temperature ranges between 77 and 84°F (25 and 29°C). 

  • Size: 7 to 10 inches/18 to 26 cm.
  • Life span: Short (5 to 7 years).
  • Care level: Low (but they do require neutral pH water and warm water to mimic tropical conditions).
  • Temperament: Timid.

Pleco FAQs

What Is The Most Popular Pleco?

The most popular pleco is the Gold Nugget Pleco (or baryancistrus xanthellus) due to its unique and spectacular appearance. It has a black body with brightly-colored yellow-gold spots that give it a striking appearance. Gold Nugget Plecos come from Brazil and are known for their peaceful temperaments. 

How Many Plecos Should Be Kept Together?

You should only keep one pleco fish in a tank at a time. However, if you have a particularly large tank, you could keep two small plecos together. Plecos are highly territorial and need enough space to be happy. 

To reduce the chances of your plecos encountering each other, ensure you have plenty of hiding places (such as tank decorations, rocks and aquatic plants) for them to explore.

What Are The Best Tank Mates For Plecos?

The best tank mates for plecos are Cory Catfish, Hatchetfish, and Tetras. African Butterflyfish, Arowanas, Tiger Barbs, and Glass Catfish can also make suitable aquarium mates for them, as long as the tank is large enough.

How Do You Know If Your Pleco Is Happy?

Your pleco is happy if it shows signs of good health (i.e. a healthy weight and healthy-looking fins and eyes) and is active at night. Happy pleco fish will also spend lots of time near the bottom of the tank and will explore hiding places within the aquarium. 

How Do You Know If Your Pleco Is Stressed?

Your pleco is likely stressed if it looks unhealthy (i.e. weight loss or loss of coloration) and spends a lot of time at the top of the tank gasping for air. Erratic swimming and staying attached to the tank glass are also signs of a stressed pleco fish. 

What Is The Average Lifespan of a Pleco?

The average lifespan of a pleco fish is between 10 and 15 years. Their lifespan depends greatly on the diet and tank conditions provided and their overall health. However, some pleco fish in captivity have lived to 20 years.

Do Pleco Fish Eat Other Fish?

Some pleco fish (like the bristlenose variety) eat other fish but only if they have no other food sources in the tank. Plecos don’t typically hunt other fish and, if they’re desperate, they’ll eat a dead fish before killing a smaller fish for food.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you feed your pleco daily and include vegetation in the tank as well.

How Big Does A Tank Need To Be For Plecos?

How big a tank needs to be for plecos depends on their size. For very small plecos, you can get away with a tank that’s only 10 gallons/38 liters but a larger tank is always better. However, large plecos need bigger tanks that are at least 75 gallons/284 liters in capacity. 

Generally, the bigger the tank, the better when it comes to keeping plecos as they enjoy aquariums with lots of space. 

What Is The Best Pleco For A Small Tank?

The best pleco for a small tank is a Clown Pleco. As an adult, this pleco variety is relatively small and can happily live in a tank with a capacity of only 10 gallons/38 liters. In such cases, you should limit the number of other fish in the tank.

Do Pleco Fish Need To Be In Pairs?

Pleco fish don’t need to be in pairs. They are solitary and territorial fish that can happily live alone in a tank. Introducing another pleco to the aquarium can result in fighting, especially if the tank is on the smaller size.

Wrapping Up

Whether you opt for a large or small pleco, you’ll be assured of a beautiful-looking and peaceful fish that will make an excellent addition to your tank. 

If you don’t have space for a large tank, a small pleco (such as the Clown Pleco) is suitable for smaller tanks. However, if you can provide a large tank for a pleco, you can enjoy the delight that a large pleco (e.g the spectacular Galaxy Pleco) can bring.

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...