Common pleco- Feeding, Breeding, Behavior and Care Guide sheet

Common pleco is a freshwater catfish of the Loricariidae family. It is native to South American slow-moving rivers. It loves to hide a lot during the day but is majorly active at night.

Its massive size requires that it be kept in a big tank; the tank should be equipped with items such as driftwood, caves, snags, etc. It likes to stay at the bottom of the tank very often.

Though the common pleco is super aggressive when it attains adulthood, keeping it does not come with so much stress. This fish species also have certain survival mechanisms worth taking note of. In this article, we hint on the tank requirements, tank mates, feeding habit, features, lifestyle and breeding pattern of the common pleco. Additionally, we shed light on some of the diseases that it may be susceptible to.

Introduction

Common pleco, or the Hypostomus Plecostomus in the zoological world, is how the catfish that fall into the Loricariidae family are usually known.  You can hear some of them calling these the armoured catfish as well – thanks to the arrangement of four bones on the back that looks like the armour worn in the war in the earlier times. These were originally found in the Amazon River that flows all through South America and going by that these are fish that prefer fresh water with a vibrant undercurrent and with a lot of driftwood and stones. 

 In their natural habitat, these fish enjoy the woods and the riverbeds that are present in the natural course the river takes and love the same kind of set up if they are put in a tank too. If you are going to house this fish in an aquarium, then it is best you create a feeling of it living in a river in the forest, so it seems closest to its natural home. 

Since this fish needs a lot of oxygen, it requires perfect fresh water all the time. The ideal temperature of the water is between 72 degrees and 86 degrees F and the most optimal pH level between 6.5 and 7.5. 

There are close to 150 species in this family, and the most common of them all is termed as the common pleco. The color of this fish varies from a dark grey to brown, and there are sand brown patches on the skin.  This fish can grow really large and can become as big as 24 inches in its natural surroundings. 

However, when housed in a tank, this will grow up to about 15 inches.  In the aquarium, the fish can live anywhere from 10 – 15 years.  This makes them one of the largest and longest living fish in the aquarium and hence most pet owners prefer to have them in their tanks at home.

Plecos have long bodies, with well-formed bones, pectoral and tail and dorsal fins.  The tail fin has a quixotic crescent shape to it and is bigger at the bottom than the top.  Another interesting feature that needs mention is the eyes of this variety of fish. 

On their giant heads, the eyes look really small, but these eyes act like the lens of a photo camera.  The eyes have a layer of tissue that covers the eyes and helps in regulating the amount of light that goes in. 

Pleco fish are highly nocturnal creatures, and this membrane helps in completely covering out the light during day time, thereby helping them to sleep blissfully. During the night, the lens like organ helps the fish to let in just the right amount of light needed for them to swim through the tanks feeding and nibbling. They have a small cute mouth, that can suck up almost anything, and that is why these fish are also referred to as suckerfish. The fish is seen stuck at different parts on the tank, using its mouth.

Feeding

Most pet shops and sellers dealing with plecos tag them as eaters of algae.  They may sell them off to you mentioning that your pleco fish is going to be happy as long as you can feed it some algae. That is not true at all.  In fact, on close study, you will realize that your fish is a very good eater and all it does believe in is eating and excreting! 

So care has to be taken to see what you are feeding your fish. Plecos are as happy eating vegetables as they are when being fed meat.  They love spinach, peas, cucumber, zucchini and leaves of lettuce. 

 Since they prefer to stay at the bottom of the tanks, they tend to eat up crustaceans and driftwoods, so that also forms part of the food. The pleco fish need a lot of fiber, and most of its dietary requirement for fiber comes from the driftwood that is put in the tank. 

So this has to be monitored constantly as the pleco fish tends to continue nibbling on the driftwood all day through. The small plecos like eating fish pellets and tablets that can be purchased at the pet shops. 

The sinking varieties are best for them as they will reach the bottom of the tank where the plecos generally prefer to stay. Since they prefer to eat up the algae and other leaves of the plants in the tank, ensure that your tank is full of hardy plants, so they are able to handle the pressure that is being put on by these fish. 

However, if you see your plecos always eating up the leaves of your plants in the tank, then that can be taken as a good indication that you are not feeding them enough. 

The common pleco rests all through the day and becomes active only during the night, so the best time to feed them is during the evening, so the food that is provided energizes them to carry on all through the night. 

Breeding

It is highly difficult to spot the males from the females of the common pleco, and for a fish keeper who is a beginner, it is almost impossible to spawn them. 

The primary reason for the difficulty in breeding them is because they grow up to an enormous length of about 15 inches, and they will need at least a 750-liter water tank. It is difficult to have a tank of this size at home and hence it is almost impossible to breed them in some small home tanks. The adult fishes are a little too aggressive as well, and they do not respond well to co-habit.

In nature, they love to breed along the big rocks and caves that are present all over the river beds. When the time of spawning arrives, the male attracts the female inside the cave that he chooses and the female comes in and lays a lot of eggs. The male then fertilizes them and keeps guard until they are time to hatch. It takes a couple of days for the eggs to hatch and the fry to appear. These baby fishes will need about a week’s time to start becoming active.

For those who try spawning them, doing so in a natural pond is a better option than trying in a tank, as that is more like a natural habitat with enough place for the adult plecos. Spawning of plecos is done very successfully in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Breeding of the common pleco in the tank is a very difficult task and if you are really up for it, then here’s what you can do. First and foremost, you are going to need a really huge tank and a lot of plants and artificial caves.  Clean, unused flower pots placed on the sides can act as caves – and you can place more than a couple of them in your tank. You can also feed some healthy well balanced food and wait and watch to see if they attain the mood to spawn. 

First, the male gets into the cave or some shelter and starts cleaning up the walls.  Once the house is cleaned up, the male then starts attracting the female into the cave. If the female enters the cave or the hiding spot, then it lays a lot of eggs which are then fertilized by the male. 

The female leaves as soon as the egg laying process is over, while the male keeps vigil. It protects the eggs from predators until they hatch in about 3 – 4 days.  Once the eggs hatch, the fry start appearing and at that time they can be fed baby fish food and algae powder. The fry starts swimming in about a week’s time. To reiterate, the breeding of the plecos is not as easy as some other species and therefore do not lose hope if your plecos don’t seem to be mating.

Care

When you buy your common pleco from the pet shop, it may seem to be very small.  The young pleco will only measure about 2 inches, so do not get misled, that the smaller tanks would suffice. There have been some cases where it has been noted that if the tank is not big enough, then the plecos do not grow at all – this can often lead to cases of malnutrition and eventual death of the plecos. They need to about 700 liters of water for an adult, so that has to be amply provided for.

When having a tank of plecos, then it is better to keep cleaning your water at least once a week. The fish need clean water, so using high-quality filters is mandatory. 

Since they have the ability to suck up to the rocks or the tank borders, you will need to be extremely careful when you are removing the rocks or the plants, to ensure that the pleco is not resting on one of them! 

The fish also have a tendency to jump out of the water if it becomes too foul, so it is imperative that the water in your tank is absolutely pure.  These fish can live without water for about 30 hours. 

However, it may not be a great idea to fill your tank up to the brim as plecos like to keep jumping around. They tend to go up in the air to take in oxygen, and this is very important for the fish to maintain their flexibility.

Like already mentioned the fishes are nocturnal and spend most of their day time in hiding. So you will have to provide a lot of hiding place for them – whether they are plants, hard rocks, old flower pots or whatever. 

Also, these fish tend to stay at the bottom of your tank, so just put in a lot of gravel and driftwood into your tank, and your plecos are sure to be happy. 

Diseases

Like most other aquarium fishes, the pleco, too, is highly prone to the common ailment of ich.   If you see that your fishes have white patches all over their bodies, then it is absolutely likely that they have contracted this disease.  The best way to get your fish alright is first to take them out separately and treat the water, by heating it to kill the bacteria causing the ich.  If one of your fish is afflicted, then it is very likely that all of your fish are already affected as this spreads fast.

If you notice your fish refusing to eat, or incapable of moving along and color changes on the fins, then it is highly possible, that your plecos are affected by Dropsy and fin rot disease. There could be two reasons why your fish are going through this – one could be malnutrition or unclean water. So if you start feeding your fish a balanced diet, comprising both vegetables and meat, then you will see there is a definite improvement in their condition.

Also, if you can clean at least 30% of your water weekly, then that will also add to the betterment of the condition of your fishes.

Your plecos may also get affected by cotton wool disease.  This could be caused by oomycetes and is more likely to be a subsequent reaction to an already existing skin infection. There is a white fungal infection that develops on the fins of your fish, and this is more likely to happen when the pleco is already going through another infection. 

If you see this happening to your pleco, then the first thing you need to check is if the temperature of the water is too low and if yes, increase it.  This fungal infection can be treated by raising the temperature of the water in the tank. 

The other thing that could have caused the fungal infection is not changing the water at regular intervals.  If the water has turned foul, then your fish could contract the fungal infection.  So ensuring the water is pure and clean at all times, is the best bet to the health of your fish. 

Two other diseases can afflict your fish, though rarely. They may develop swollen eyes, also called popeye disease. This can be treated by cleaning the water in the tank, giving your fish food rich in vitamins, and also doses of tetracycline. 

The other disease that can affect the fishes is due to increased activated carbon levels in the tank water. It is called the hole in the head.  When Plecos are affected by this, they seem to develop some indentations in the head region. Enhancing the quality of the water in the tank and giving your fish a multivitamin diet is a sure shot option to ensure a healthy life for your fish.

Behavior

Plecos grow big in size and thereby need a lot of space in the tank which makes them not so happy to share the available space with other fish.  There could be problems even with two adult plecos in the same tank, as they can get aggressive with each other. 

Since the fish are nocturnal creatures, there will be no activity in your fish tank during the day, but the minute you feed them around dusk and try to minimize the lights in the night, the tank will come alive, and that is the time the plecos will be most active. 

Aquarium mates

Plecos are not a friendly group of fishes, and extreme care has to be taken to ensure you put in the right fishes along with them in the tank. They can be hostile to their own kinds, so this is an additional challenge.  If you notice any violent behaviour in the tanks, then it is best to immediately take the new entrant outside to instil peace in the tank. 

If you buy two small pleco fish and nurture them together, then they can be peaceful tank mates when they grow up.  When you put in grown-up fish together in a tank, they will continue to fight each other violently until one of them becomes weak and gives up its life.

The best companions for the Pleco fish are other big fish which are aggressive, and can stay in the top or middle layers on the tank.  That way, these fishes can stay in the same tank but not disturb the plecos that prefer to stay at the base of the tank.

Flowerhorns, Oscar fish and green terrors that are all from the Chichlids family are best friends that are compatible with the Plecos.  These fish can withstand any kind of attack from the Plecos. 

 The pleco fish can be very dangerous to angelfish and discuss fish, so it is best not to put them in the same tank as the plecos.  In fact, they can just nip off their fins when the smaller angelfish are sleeping, and this can be a threat to their life. Any kind of fat or succulent fish like goldfish are a strict no in terms of addition into the tank as the pleco fish can suck the fatter fish into their mouth.  

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