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

Royal Pleco swimming in tank.

Royal Pleco is a stunning freshwater fish that’s sure to capture your attention when kept in the right environment.

They are among the most popular catfish varieties that we just can’t get our eyes off in captivity. In all honesty, we can’t think of any better options when an aquarist prioritizes aesthetic appeal and value for money.

But with all its beauty, caring for an oversized, 17-inch catfish will never be everyone’s cup of tea and can get even more challenging to newbie aquarists.

So, before anything else, be sure to go through our detailed guide to understand the basics of Royal Pleco care.

This post will be keen to highlight everything you should know to maintain a healthy community at home. And starting with an overview, we will provide factual details about the Royal Pleco’s origin, lifespan, appearance, tank size, water parameters, diet, behavior, tank mates, breeding, and more.

After reading this guide, you will be ready to either welcome the first-ever Royal Pleco to your aquarium or make an informed decision the next time you visit a local pet store.

Let’s get started, then. 

Species Overview

Royal Plecos are an incredibly popular freshwater fish that has never failed to capture fish lovers’ attention in the pet industry. They are sometimes known as Panaque nigrolineatus, a unique freshwater fish with a quirky appearance that makes it easily recognizable in the fishkeeping community.

Royal Plecos were first discovered in specific South American countries, with a concentrated population in the Orinoco and Amazon rivers.

They exist in different varieties, with more subtle differences between most specimens depending on the origin.

Fortunately, Royal Plecos are a rewarding species with straightforward care requirements, and as long as you understand what they need in captivity, you will be good to go.

CategoryRating
FamilyLoricariidae 
Color Light and dark grey stripes
LifespanUp to 10 years
Care LevelEasy 
Behavior & TemperamentSlightly territorial 
Compatibility Aggressive with other plecos
Food and DietHerbivores 
SizeUp to 17 inches
Tank SetupFreshwater with plants and rocks
Tank Size (Minimum)120 gallons 

Lifespan

A typical Royal Pleco fish can easily hit the standard one-decade mark at home with quality care. Typically, these fish live for as long as ten years in captivity, and even though this is never automatic, you can have a massive influence on their lives by delivering what they need to thrive at home.

Like most catfish species, Royal Plecos demand long-term commitment, with the standard lifespan largely tied to the level of care at home. Always ensure the water conditions remain consistent throughout the fish’s lives to help increase their lifespan in captivity.

Appearance

A 17 inch long fish in a beautiful body can be somewhat intimidating. And that’s precisely what you get from Royal Plecos.

Generally, Royal Plecos have an attractive appearance, taking on the characteristic Pleco body profile, with large heads and fins and under-turned mouths.

What’s more, these fish appear heavier than most species in the same family, and that’s down to their unique bodies. Given their predatory instincts, Royal Plecos have sharp teeth perfectly shaped for hunting. 

Their bright red eyes are easily noticeable, perfectly complimenting the general body pattern. Even though Royal Plecos exist in multiple color variations, the most common varieties in the aquarium trade assume gray and black coloration.

The base coloration can be brownish if not the standard light gray. Next, beautiful dark brown or black stripes complement the specific base coloration, running laterally over the fish’s body.  

Also, you will notice a beautiful creamy-gold hue towards the end of the large dorsal fin. The rarest subspecies in the Royal Pleco family have multiple spots all over their bodies instead of the classic stripes.

And as you may already know, Royal Plecos have the iconic protective armor in place of the scales. Such plates cover the fish’s entire body except for the soft bellies.

Size

Royal Pleco growth rate is impressive, and they can measure up to 16-17 inches long with proper care. As expected with many catfish varieties, it’s easy for Royal Plecos to surpass the standard size in captivity than in the wild, with some fish known to go past the 17-inch mark.

You should do everything to match your fish to the best possible tank water conditions in captivity. And that begins with the consistency of the water parameters, a balanced diet, and suitable tank mates.

Royal Pleco Care

Royal Pleco care gets interesting if you already know what to look out for at any given time. Regardless of the chosen species, we see these Plecos as one of the easiest catfish varieties to care for at home.

Still, the surest way to help your fish reach optimal sizes at home is to provide ideal living conditions. And in the next section, we will show you the dos and don’ts of Royal Pleco care to help you plan better for their new home;

Tank Size

Significant tank size is mandatory to keep the large-sized Royal Plecos happy and active in captivity. You need at least 120 gallons from the start to be sure your lovely pets will be satisfied with their new home.

As far as Royal Pleco care goes, the tank volume is not enough to guarantee their health and comfort in a zoned environment. Tank width also matters. And in our opinion, never settle for anything less than 24 inches wide.

This is crucial to ensure your Royal Plecos have enough room when swimming or turning inside the tank. Don’t doubt yourself if you’re keen to set up an even larger tank because your Royal Plecos will appreciate it even more.

Water Parameters

Royal Plecos originate from warm, dark waters in the wild with plenty of food choices. So, if you intend to introduce them to a home setting, try as much as possible to copy such conditions.

Typically, Royal Plecos are safer in warm waters with a neutral pH and slight hardness. That’s why you should go a step higher to ensure the selected environment has everything your fish needs to flourish at home.

They are highlighted below;

  • Water Temperature: 72°F-78°F
  • Water Hardness: 5-10 DH
  • pH Levels: 6.6-7.5

Lack of scales in most Pleco species is never a good thing. And for Royal Plecos, it means they will be particularly susceptible to constant shifts in tank water conditions.

Always prioritize frequent water changes using a weekly or biweekly schedule after assessing its status with a suitable aquarium testing kit.

What to Put in Their Tank?

Royal Plecos are natural bottom-dwellers, and so any form of decoration begins at the bottom of the tank. As far as substrate choice goes, we can’t think of a more suitable option than soft sand.

Gravel is an exciting option, but there’s always a constant risk of damaging the fish’s fins or getting swallowed by your Royal Plecos. So, if you have to include it at the bottom of the tank, pay attention to its size to be sure it’s good enough as part of the tank décor.  

For the remaining part of the tank, the right pieces of driftwood will help you recreate the natural environment in the wild.

Unlike most species, Royal Plecos have an exciting relationship with driftwood, acting as the fish’s occasional snack in captivity while encouraging algal growth at the same time.

Introducing live plants to Royal Plecos’ habitat should be a stress-free experience because these fish don’t seem to have any preferences. 

They will be happy with the right live plants but can still be comfortable without any type in the same tank. If you incorporate new plants as part of tank décor, stick to the natural types.

If your aquarium lacks plants, consider a more subdued environment with the lighting conditions at the lowest levels. These are a nocturnal species, and the fact they are accustomed to murky wild waters makes it all the more imperative to create a darker environment.

A 17-inch fish can easily sour the tank water because of enormous waste production. So, be sure to install robust filtration equipment while taking the fish’s health and safety into account.

On top of that, Royal Plecos would appreciate a strong water flow in captivity, just like what they prefer in the wild.

Common Diseases

Like most catfishes, Royal Plecos can be predisposed to several conditions affecting other freshwater fish. They are susceptible to common ailments like Ich, dropsy, tail rot, mycosis, and swollen eyes.

As we’ve always emphasized, Ich is a common infection that almost always has a parasitic origin. You can mitigate its effects by using suitable medications.

However, the first step to limiting its spread in a thriving Royal Pleco community is improving tank water quality through effective and consistent monitoring.

In case of an Ich outbreak at home, you will want to quarantine all the diseased fish to control the disease spread throughout the population.

It’s hard to predict how your fish will respond to new infections in captivity, but the safest approach is to always stay on top of the tank water conditions at any given time.

What Do Royal Plecos Eat?

As with most catfish varieties, Royal Plecos enjoy a healthy diet in captivity, always settling for whatever food choices match their nutritional needs.

However, they are natural herbivores, meaning their diet will be entirely dominated by plant-based foods. Many aquarists settle for a healthy meal of high-quality commercial algae wafers as a standard protocol when feeding their Plecos.

Later, they introduce the typical dry foods as occasional treats, keeping in mind the fish’s feeding habits in captivity. Perhaps you will want to follow the same routine if you keep the Royal Plecos at home.

As for additional supplements, you can introduce your Royal Plecos to blanched vegetables like cucumbers, peas, and zucchini.

Behavior & Temperament

Generally speaking, Royal Plecos are docile freshwater fish, always keen to stay in their own space inside the tank. They often spend their time towards the bottom half of the aquarium, willing to scavenge for any available food or simply mind their own business.

They will be glad to cohabitate with most freshwater fish except their own. They can get quite territorial at the sighting of similar catfishes, casting doubt on any possibility of ever keeping multiple catfishes in the same aquarium.

What’s more, Royal Plecos are nocturnal fish and will spend most of their time in hideout throughout the day as shyness takes center stage.

But everything quickly changes with fast-approaching darkness. During that period, you will notice a more active demeanor inside the tank, with Royal Plecos either scavenging for food at the bottom of the tank or simply exploring their new home.

Never forget that Royal Plecos aren’t active swimmers, either, which further limits their activity levels and the worst of all, in a crowded environment.

Royal Pleco Tank Mates

The takeaway point at any given time is to exclude fellow Royal Plecos from the same tank. As long as that’s sorted, your Royal Plecos will be happy to exist with other tank mates, even as part of a community tank.

As usual, the two most critical aspects when choosing new tank mates for Royal Plecos include the typical behavior and the newcomer’s preferred position inside the tank.

Because Royal Plecos will want to stay at the bottom of the tank, it’s important to avoid other bottom-dwelling fish.

Regarding the general behavior and activity levels, it’s important to avoid any aggressive, fast-moving, or fin-nipping fish that could only increase the stress levels inside the tank.

In conclusion, here are a few best tank mates for the beautiful Royal Plecos at home;

Breeding

Don’t get it twisted. Royal Pleco breeding in captivity is a tough nut to crack. And in most cases, its best done by professional breeders with enough resources to pull it off at the first time of asking.

There are a few reasons Royal Pleco breeding is as good as impossible in captivity. And probably the most obvious is the fish’s aggressive behavior towards similar species.

Typically, it can be difficult to condition a 17-inch long species to successful breeding if you lack background experience handling them.

If you are keen to attempt Royal Pleco breeding, everything will depend on your ability to have a bonded pair from a young age. That will also mean replicating the actual conditions in the natural habitat, which again carries its challenges.

Usually, heavy rains precede the breeding season in the wild, raising the acidity levels in the process. If this were to occur in captivity, you would be forced to lower the water temperature and hardness levels to suit the potential mating partners.

Also, you can feed your Royal Plecos on plenty of proteins and other high-quality fish foods to condition them to breed. Royal Plecos are particularly fond of Vinewood that can be critical in triggering breeding.

If everything runs smoothly, the female Royal Pleco will lay her eggs on the selected substrate. Then, she will delicately arrange the eggs to create a pile, and the male Pleco must move swiftly to fertilize them.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve covered the dos and don’ts of Royal Pleco care, are you ready to introduce these beautiful species to your aquarium? We bet that would be interesting.

Caring for these beautiful freshwater catfishes is not complicated as long as you have a proper foundation and enough dedication from the start. We don’t see any reason you shouldn’t consider introducing them to your home aquarium at some point.

If you are still doubting your ability to raise a healthy Royal Pleco population, we would be glad to help. So, lets us know if you have any burning questions regarding the care guidelines.

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