Royal Pleco Aquarium Care, Feeding, Breeding and Mates

If you are an aquarist on the lookout for growing attractive-looking fishes in your home aquarium, the Royal Pleco is an ideal choice for you. Yes, you guessed it right! Since it has the royal tag attached to its name, it does enjoy greater respect than fellow fishes in the marine world.  The Royal Pleco is a freshwater herbivorous fish and is a native to areas such as Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.

You can find the Royal Plecos commonly in the basins of the Amazon River and also in the Orinoco Rivers.  These fishes belong to the catfish family and are one of the very few species that have the capacity to digest wood. The scientific name of the Royal Pleco is Panaquenigrolineatus. Unlike other fishes that are only one of their kind, royal Plecos are of many types.  They can be differentiated by changes in their physical appearance and the areas where they can be found.

When they are offered on sale, the royal plecos are given unique numbers starting with L, for the purpose of their identity. Some of the common types of royal plecos are the following:

  • L27a or L190 – Panaquenigrolineatus, which is the type that we are speaking about, in this article
  • L27 – the regional counterpart of the Panaquenigrolineatus, also known as the Panaqueambrusteri; natives of Rio Tocantins and Rio Xingu
  • L27c – known as the thunder line royal pleco and considered as one of the most attractive among all the types of the royal plecos
  • L191 – Royal Pleco from Columbia, also known as the white-tailed royal pleco, because the juveniles (which are the ones that are imported) have white bands on their caudal fins; another name for this fish is the full-eyed royal pleco
  • L330 – Yet another royal pleco from Columbia, commonly known as the spotted royal pleco or watermelon royal pleco
  • L418- Royal Pleco from Peru, also known as the Peruvian Green Royal Pleco or shampupa pleco
  • L90 – Papa Royal Pleco, yet another variety from Peru; its caudal fins have unique, long extensions at the top and bottom, making it look quite attractive
  • L203 – third variety of Royal Pleco from Peru, also known as the Peruvian Black Royal Pleco; the juveniles of this type contain a white patch on their caudal fins.  This variety of royal pleco is also the largest of the pleco family, thereby earning itself the nickname of Volkswagen Pleco.

As you can see from the above list, there are quite a few types of royal plecos that you need to be aware of. If you plan to get yourself a royal pleco fish, you are in for a problem of plenty, indeed! It is important to understand the characteristics, country of origin of each of these plecos before you purchase the one that suits you the best. This way, you can not only provide a safe environment for the fish at your place but also be assured that you are equipped with the facilities to take care of the fishes in the best possible manner.

Physical characteristics

Though there are different types of royal plecos, their basic physical structure is almost similar to one another. A striking difference can be spotted in the Black Royal Pleco from Peru, though. While most of the other royal plecos grow to an average length of about 16 inches long, this gigantic fish grows up to a whopping length of 24 inches.

The royal plecos are quite a colorful type of fish as their light grey bodies match well with their dark grey-colored squiggles. Their red eyes, coupled with golden dorsal fins, make them very attractive fishes. However, when you plan to get one for yourself, you should be aware of the fact that these fishes don’t swim well. They are very large; therefore, they don’t have the flexibility that you would normally notice in other fishes.

One of the strange things that you will notice in the physical structure of the royal pleco is the heavy armor of skin that protects its body. This armor offers a complete covering to the entire body of the fish, except the belly region. Their teeth are quite sharp and are shaped in the shape of a spoon so that they can cut into wood easily. Their huge and boldly-colored bodies make them a delight for aquarists who are looking for colorful fishes in their aquarium.

Royal Pleco Feeding

The royal plecos have a lot of gut bacteria in their intestine, and they are some of the fewest species of fishes to be blessed with the same. Thanks to this feature, they can easily eat wood and digest them as well. When you put them in your tank, you will notice that they feel very comfortable to settle towards the bottom of the tank, munching on the rocks and wood flakes that you feed them.

When you are setting up the aquarium for the royal pleco, you should ensure that it has enough driftwood in it. It is highly recommended that you include as many types of driftwood as possible because these are the most common foods that the royal plecos enjoy a lot. Apart from wood, you can also feed algae-based foods to your royal plecos.

Wafers, pellets and flakes are some options that you can consider to feed algae-based foods to these fishes.  Vegetables such as zucchini, peas and cucumber should be included in minimal amounts and should be fed to the fishes in the form of treats only.

Royal Pleco Breeding

Unlike other catfishes and plecos, it is not common or easy to follow the breeding process of the Royal Plecos in your aquarium. It has been hardly done before, and even the ones who have done it earlier were expert aquarists, who took the help of other professionals for the same.

However, we don’t want to discourage you, either, by telling you that you cannot do the breeding process yourself. For the breeding of the Royal Plecos to be successful, you have to take care of a various factors such as aquarium conditions, climate, water quality, and the like.

You have to change the climate in the aquarium to dry followed by a rainy season, as the first step in the process. With the rains, the water’s softness and acidic levels increase, which help in breeding.  The strange point here is that even aquarists who have been successful in breeding royal plecos, term their exercise as purely “accidental,” as they aren’t able to pinpoint to a particular element that helped them in the process.

However, they do suggest certain changes that you could do in your tank to attempt breeding of the royal plecos. They are

  • Constant water change, which eliminates all types of pollution and dirt from the tank; it is highly recommended to change the tank water at least once a week
  • Ensuring the presence of vine tree wood pieces in abundant quantities inside the tank; this type of wood is very soft and easy to digest; therefore, it is loved by the royal plecos
  • Not vacuuming the tank regularly is an important factor, especially, if you don’t see any food leftovers. Once you can see that the royal plecos have eaten their foods completely, you don’t have to vacuum-clean the tank. This is because aquarists who were successful found that the royal plecos loved to lay their eggs deep inside the debris present at the bottom of the tank. So, not cleaning the debris does look like a practical solution, isn’t it?

Royal Pleco Aquarium Care

Setting up the tank properly is one of the best ways to care for the royal plecos. As we already told you, these fishes are quite huge, and they require big tanks. Here are some requirements that you should keep in mind while setting up the tank-

  • The aquarium should be big enough to hold at least 120 gallons because these fishes have the potential to grow quite long (on an average, they grow up to 17inches long!).
  • The pH level of the water should be in the range of 6.6 to 7.5, whereas the water-hardness levels should be in the range of 5 to 15 degrees dH.
  • The temperature inside the tank should always be maintained between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius, to ensure that the royal plecos feel comfortable.
  • Excellent filtration system inside the tank is a must because the large royal plecos are bound to produce quite a lot of waste as well. When the filtration systems are not proper, they can lead to improper water low inside the tank, and this will eventually make the royal plecos feel suffocated inside.
  • You have to ensure that you keep a sufficient quantity of wood inside the tanks. This will not only help in feeding the royal plecos but will also help them by providing perfect hiding spots. While driftwood should serve the purpose here, it would be great if you could find vine tree wood, because the royal plecos love to feed on them.
  • It is highly recommended that you don’t use any plants inside your royal plecos’ tanks because these big fishes tend to create holes in the leaves. Placing artificial plants inside the tanks is a strict no-no because they can turn to be fatal for the fishes, when the royal plecos ingest them.

In short, it can be said that the ambiance of the tank should be comfortable for the royal plecos to move around freely. As an aquarist, you can arrange the wood and lighting in such a way that it not only beneficial for the fishes, but also plays a big role in improving the visual appeal of the tank.Today, most of the juvenile royal plecos are sold to their respective owners when they are quite small, about 4 inches long. If you also intend to buy a royal pleco as small as this one, never make the mistake of putting them in a small tank. These fishes grow quite fast, and before you realize, it might be time for you to change the tank and the reset the conditions once again to accommodate the big fish.

When they are properly taken care of, they can live up to 10 years at least; therefore, it is very important for you to give extreme importance to the environment in which you plan to grow the royal plecos.  Though you may have a royal pleco in your tank, it might be difficult for you to tell its gender.

This is because it is quite difficult to identify the sex of these huge fishes. A general technique followed today is that royal plecos with round and blunt genital papilla are classified as females. The royal plecos with sharp and small genital papilla are classified as males. However, it is still not sure if this identification process is right or wrong.

Royal Pleco Diseases

As in the case of other fishes, the royal plecos are also prone to certain ailments, which you need to be aware of.  Though they belong to the “royal” category, they aren’t free from the diseases that their common counterparts are inflicted with, on a regular basis. Ich, one of the most freshwater fish ailments, is also quite common in royal plecos.

This is also called the white spot diseases, because the royal plecos develop small white spots all over their fins and body, when they are affected by this ailment. More often than not, the main reason for this disease is the poor quality of water inside the tank.

You have to immediately consult a doctor and get the royal pleco treated, while you get an aquarium test kit and keep monitoring the quality of the tank water at regular intervals. During the course of the treatment, it is highly recommended to place the royal plecos in a quarantine tank.

Though royal plecos don’t move about much, they are not too idle. When you notice a high level of lethargy among these fishes, and when you also notice consistent quantities of leftover food inside the tank, you should realize that the royal plecos are suffering from loss of appetite. This is a condition known as dropsy and fin rot. Sometimes, the ailment is also called dropsy and tail rot.

This is a bacterial infection that causes bloating, loss of coloration and lethargy in the royal plecos. Feeding good quality of wood to the fishes and giving them medications without any delay are the best ways to treat this condition.

It is important that you check the royal plecos regularly to check for changes in their bodies. Constant monitoring will help you notice strange white-colored ball-shaped growths on their bodies, which is a result of a fungal infection. This ailment, known as fish fungus, is caused by the water molds and can be treated easily.

When you spot these cotton ball-shaped growths on the royal plecos, you have to get them treated immediately, because these fungal infections can spread quickly. Medicines and excellent water quality should help your royal plecos recover from this fungal infection quite quickly.

Sometimes, you may notice that the eyes of your royal plecos are protruding in such a way that is not normal. Don’t get scared; this condition is known as pop-eye and is common among freshwater fishes. Medications, frequent change of water and feeding the royal plecos vitamin-rich foods should make them alright soon.

Hole in the head is another common ailment that the royal plecos are prone to. As the name suggests, you will find a hole in the heads of the fishes, because of the erosion of the lateral lines. While the exact reason for this condition is not known yet, what is assuring is that it is not a serious ailment at all. Improving the water quality of the tank, feeding nutrient-rich foods to the fishes and reducing their exposure to activated carbon can help the royal plecos recover quickly.

Royal Pleco Behavior

The Royal Plecos are very shy-natured fishes that don’t move about freely in the aquarium. Yes, their large bodies don’t give them enough flexibility to move around actively, but that’s not the only reason. As they are territorial by nature, they love to cling on to their specific territories, and they are comfortable underneath the tank, where they keep hiding or munching on the wood that is present inside.

Royal Pleco Aquarium Mates

While the Royal Plecos are quite friendly with other non-catfishes, they don’t exhibit the same warmth towards their own species. Therefore, non-fast fishes that aren’t catfishes are perfect aquarium mates for the royal plecos. Fast-moving fishes may eat up all the foods that are meant for the royal plecos, so you shouldn’t keep them along with the big fishes.

As an aquarist, you would also love your tank to look attractive from the outside, isn’t it? Therefore, you could opt for fishes that stay on the top levels of the water as aquarium mates for the royal plecos. Since the big fishes love the substrate, fishes that stay on the top would complement them well.

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