Common Pleco: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

Common Pleco swimming in tank.

Common Plecos are an attention-grabbing freshwater fish with a long history in the fishkeeping community. 

They are the most in-demand freshwater fish of the Pleco family, and it’s hardly surprising we constantly recommend them to aquarists of any background. Why? Because they are just magnificent.

If you don’t notice their large sizes, you won’t ignore the splendor of Common Plecos’ smooth-looking bodies.

Sadly, many aquarists have had to work through endless misinformation regarding Common Pleco care.

And to help you sift through the half-truths to get valuable information, we compiled a detailed guide to Common Pleco care.

The forthcoming paragraphs will teach you everything it takes to keep healthy Plecos at home, starting with the fish’s origin to tank size, water parameters, diet, behavior, tank mates, breeding, and more.

Species Overview

A few people call them the Sucker Fish. But a vast majority know them by the popular name, Common Plecos, a stunning freshwater fish whose rise in popularity in the broader aquatic scene has been nothing short of meteoric.

Hypostomus plecostomus has been a staple name in the fishkeeping world for as long as we can remember, always edging out its biggest competitors with its large size and eye-catching appearance.

Naturally, Common Plecos are part of the Loricariidae family, an exceptional group of freshwater fish known for nothing but a majestic appearance. They are dominantly found in South America and boast the largest population in Trinidad and Tobago, The Guianas, and Brazil.

CategoryRating
FamilyLoricariidae 
Color Brown, gray
Lifespan10-15 years
Care LevelMedium 
Behavior & TemperamentPeaceful 
Compatibility Limited because of size
Food and DietOmnivores 
SizeUp to 24 inches
Tank SetupFreshwater; driftwood and caves
Tank Size (Minimum)30 gallons

Lifespan

So, how long do Plecos live? 

On average, a Common Pleco will have a standard lifespan of 10 to 15 years. They enjoy a long lifespan, but this can change quickly if the captivity life is not as satisfactory as the wild environment.

It’s worth reminding that on many occasions, the Pleco fish becomes a long-term investment, with the aquarist always expected to dedicate their time, energy, and other resources to quality care.

Appearance

Common Plecos have a characteristic appearance that’s quite common in the fishkeeping world; flat bellies and long fins, with under-turned mouths. The general body coloration is pretty straightforward, with many fish taking on a standard brown base coloration.

In addition, they have small black botches on their bodies, giving them the distinct appearance that has made them quite popular in the aquatic scene. 

Of course, you can expect multiple color variations within the Common Pleco family, seeing everything ultimately depends on the fish’s specific location.

What will surprise you most about Common Plecos is the kind of protection on their bodies. These species have multiple armor plates, never seen before in most freshwater fish. So, it’s safe to say Common Plecos are well protected from possible predatory attacks at any given time.

What’s more, Common Plecos have expansive dorsal fins, with equally long and beautiful pelvic, pectoral, and tail fins. In conclusion, they possess small, well-positioned beady eyes to complete the characteristic catfish look. 

Size

But how big do Plecos get? One may wonder. 

A full grown Common Pleco measures about 15 inches in full length. They can easily hit an outrageous 24 inches maximum length in the wild, but that’s highly unlikely in captivity.

Just keep in mind that even with their small sizes as juvenile fish, it won’t be long before the Common Plecos demand a tank upgrade. And if you don’t create the right environment from the start, who will?

Common Pleco Care

Effective Common Pleco care isn’t a big deal. It’s even more interesting considering the Plecos’ adaptability to new environments. Their diverse diets alone will give you a stress-free feeding routine, provided every other condition is just right. 

Tank Size

A typical Common Pleco will have its best life inside a 70-80 gallon tank. But to maximize their happiness in captivity, we recommend a minimum of 150 gallons from the start.

The common claims that the Placo Catfish can thrive in a 30-gallon tank are wide off the mark unless it’s a juvenile fish.

Most newbie aquarists get it wrong when it comes to Pleco tank size because of ignoring the basics. So, we hope you will get things rolling by prioritizing a larger tank right from the beginning.

Water Parameters

Try as much as possible to match your Common Plecos to a suitable environment if you keep them at home. Of all the things that matter to the captive-bred Plecos, the general tank setup is probably atop their list of priorities.

And we can only think of one approach at any given time; mimicking the actual conditions in the wild. Common Plecos generally prefer slow-moving warm waters with proper oxygenation in the wild.

And whenever you are introducing them to a home-based aquarium, check to be sure the tank water satisfies the following conditions;

  • Water Temperature: 72°F-86°F
  • Water Hardness: Up to 25 dGH
  • pH Level: 6.5-7.5

As you can see, Common Plecos appreciate slightly acidic to neutral pH. And the easiest way to keep everything within the recommended levels is to test the water status regularly.

Investing in a reliable aquarium test kit at this point could make the difference by enabling you to measure the tank water status as needed.

An ideal cleaning routine is also mandatory to ensure your fish always have the best possible tank water conditions at all times. We recommend a weekly or biweekly schedule, cycling and changing up to 50% of the tank water every time.

What to Put in Their Tank?

In our opinion, Common Plecos are one of the easiest species to please. Just set up a river-style aquarium, and they will have the best place to call home.

Common Plecos are natural bottom dwellers, so you may probably guess the impact of the chosen tank decorations on their long-term health and well-being.

At the start, stick to fine sand as the suitable substrate. But how about gravel? You may ask. Well, there’s nothing wrong with gravel as a substrate.

However, we believe soft sand will make your fish more comfortable and prevent the risks of bodily injuries in the process.

Next, introduce enough vegetation in the form of live plants. There’s nothing more valuable to the Common Plecos than having enough places to hide inside the tank.

And natural plants will offer much more than just ordinary sheltering. They are good enough as the fish’s favorite hiding spots and, sometimes, an occasional snack. 

To create an even better living place, introduce small rocks and natural caves inside the tank. Natural caves, in particular, are essential to support the fish’s activity life deep in the night.

Wondering how? Well, Common Plecos are a nocturnal species, and it’s only the natural caves that will save them from potential aggressors and any unwanted night light.

And by the way, driftwood can be an important addition to the tank, with your fish occasionally snacking on them as they explore their territory.

In terms of lighting conditions, stick with a more subdued environment using the right equipment.

Proper filtration is an essential aspect of effective Pleco care because, just like most species, these fish produce enormous waste that can quickly sour the tank water.

Common Diseases

It’s no secret that most Pleco fish tend to be more vulnerable to common freshwater fish diseases, making it imperative to give them the best possible living conditions in captivity.

Of course, this looks contradictory, considering our endless praise of the fish’s protective body armor before. However, it should be stated that such a protective layer can do just enough.

It won’t help much in the face of common contaminants like ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and specific strains of bacteria.

As long as you keep Common Plecos at home, you must be wary of popular ailments like dropsy, Ich, and even fin rot.  

Ich, as usual, is easily transmissible, meaning you must act quickly to isolate all the infected fish from the aquarium.

Don’t doubt your instincts if you spot any abnormal hiding in your fish with accompanying loss of appetite and persistent rubbing against tank decorations. That could be Ich. And as usual, only timely intervention can save your fish from a fatal outcome. 

But don’t panic. Ich is easily manageable with simple medications.

On the other hand, dropsy is best described as a natural symptom, indicating other potentially serious parasitic and bacterial infections and liver dysfunction.

Typically, it results from fluid buildup inside the fish’s body, and if it’s your Plecos, they will struggle to swim, choosing instead to stay on the water surface.

In a Common Pleco community, other common disorders you can expect include fungal, bacterial, and parasitic infections. Fortunately for you, most of these conditions are easily manageable with simple strategies.

Because most of the conditions are linked to low water quality, we encourage aquarists to prioritize nothing but an effective cleaning routine if they keep Common Plecos at home.

What Do Common Plecos Eat?

Common Plecos require a diverse diet to maintain their majestic appearance. They are natural algae lovers, but you shouldn’t restrict them to such meals alone.

In general, Common Plecos are natural omnivores, constantly on the lookout for any suitable food they can snack on to satisfy their large appetites in captivity. You shouldn’t have any trouble looking for what to feed plecostomus at home as long as you’ve mastered their feeding routine.

Usually, protein-rich foods and vegetables are a great starting point. So, you can introduce them to blanched peas, zucchini, and lettuce, among other vitamin sources.

For protein-rich meals, suitable live and frozen foods will do the trick. Such options include earthworms, larvae, bloodworms, and small crustaceans.

Before we forget, Common Plecos will also enjoy a healthy meal of sinking dry food if it’s the right quality.

Behavior & Temperament

Juvenile Common Plecos’ easy-going temperament certainly sets them apart from many species. Usually, the young fish are happy to coexist with different species inside the same tank.

However, everything changes with increasing age, and you shouldn’t be surprised to spot aggressive behavior in the adult Common Pleco community.

Like most Plecos, the Sucker Fish varieties enjoy their own space inside the tank, which can sometimes see them attack and terrorize perceived weaker species. Also, they don’t see eye to eye with brightly colored fish of the same size like Discus.

Their nocturnal behavior also means Common Plecos will display a passive behavior throughout the day, either resting at their favorite hiding spot or scavenging for food towards the bottom end of the tank.

However, the activity mode quickly sets in with the fast-approaching darkness, and during this period, they will spend much of their time exploring the tank in search of food. A routine exploration can extend late into the night as long as Plecos have a constant food supply.

Common Pleco Tank Mates

Common Plecos’s best tank mates are another semi-aggressive fish of the same size.

It’s a huge risk in many aquarists’ eyes but probably the safest option with Common Plecos because if anything goes wrong, they are strong enough to defend their territory. And in the worst-case scenario, your Plecos have protective armors to guarantee their safety.

With your Plecos spending much of their time at the bottom of the tank, you will want any newcomer to inhabit the middle and upper sections of the same aquarium. This gives you a big chance of introducing small peaceful fish to the same tank if you play your cards right.

On that note, these are some of the best species you can keep together with Common Plecos;

Breeding

As you might have anticipated, Common Pleco breeding is extremely challenging. And one of the reasons you may never achieve that is the fish’s gigantic size.

Anyone looking to breed Common Plecos in captivity needs at least 300 gallons from the start. Besides, the fish’s aggressive behavior complicates the breeding process even further.

If you are committed from the start, you could be lucky enough to raise a bonded pair, giving you just the slightest chance of breeding the Plecos successfully at home.

When breeding begins, the bonded pair will locate a suitable spot for the females to lay their eggs. Usually, the male species are expected to protect the eggs up to the hatching period in just a few days. 

Get it straight as we wind up. With all its exquisite appearance, Common Pleco breeding is best left for professional breeders with enough skills and other resources. As for ordinary fish lovers, the sooner you accept the reality, the better the experience. 

Final Thoughts

Large and scary but easy to maintain. That perfectly sums up everything about the Common Plecos. While you would expect most large-sized species to demand their own space in captivity and even terrorize the smaller fish, Common Plecos are the exact opposite.

The juvenile species are peaceful yet so fun to watch. And even the adult fish will only show their aggression if kept in a small tank with the wrong tank mates.

If you’ve seen enough of the typical small fish and want to experiment with a stunning, large-sized variety, choose Common Plecos. It’s a decision many don’t regret, provided the tank setup is appropriate.

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