Common Pleco: Care Guide

This guide will cover the basics of regular Pleco care. You'll learn about diet, ideal tank size, mates, lifespan, size and more!

Species Summary

Loved by many people as "Suck Fish", Common Pleco (scientific name: Hypostomus plecostomus ) is a freshwater aquarium staple! These fish have been traded for decades and continue to captivate fish enthusiasts.

Hypostomus plecostomus located on the substrate

The Common Pleco belongs to the family Loricariidae, a large group of catfish species. Originally, this species was native to South America. Specifically, they are abundant in countries such as Brazil, Guianas, Trinidad and Tobago.

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Note: Generic Plecos have also begun to appear in some countries around the world. Because pet owners release these fish into the wild, they are considered an invasive species in many areas.

There are many misconceptions about this fish. If you are thinking of owning a Common Pleco, it is important that you have a clear understanding of what it takes to care for this fish.

General Pleco Lifespan

In pristine condition, Pleco's typical lifespan is between 10 and 15 years! They have a longer lifespan than most tropical fish, so be prepared for years of care.

As always, there are no guarantees with any fish about longevity. The quality of care you provide will affect your fish's overall health for better or worse.


Regular plecos have a characteristic shape that you may have seen before. Like catfish, all fish have concave mouths, flat bellies, and enlarged fins.

When it comes to colors, Common Plecos is pretty straightforward. They have a base color of brown. Several small dark spots cover the entire body, creating a unique net-like effect.

Note: Other color variations still exist. You may see some Plecos that are lighter or have sand-colored spots. The color of this fish changes depending on the environment in which they come.

On their body, these fish have a unique appearance feature. They have several rows of armor plates! These panels are very tough and provide plenty of protection from predators.

These fish are bottom-dwelling creatures, so extra protection from above is essential. On their bellies, Common Plecos have no armor at all.

A Pleco that often swims with other fish in a freshwater aquarium

Like other fish in the Loricariidae family, the Common Plecos have impressive fins. The dorsal fin is extended and has several stiff fins. Same goes for caudal, pectoral and pelvic fins.

On the head, Common Plecos have small bead eyes. These fish are nocturnal, so the eyes are equipped with tissue to regulate the amount of light that enters. At the bottom of your head, you'll see that iconic mouth-watering mouth!

Average Popular Pleco Size

The average common Pleco size in captivity is about 15 inches in length at full maturity. They are known to reach a maximum size as large as 24 inches in the wild!

Some colossal specimens can reach similar lengths in captivity, although this is quite rare.

When you first buy a Common Pleco, it will likely have a maximum length of several inches. But don't let that small size fool you! As we said, these fish can be very large and have a fairly steady growth rate.

Care about

Properly caring for a common Pleco should not be a big challenge. These fish are well adapted to a variety of environments. Plus, they have healthy cravings for pretty much any food they can find!

That said, keeping a Common Pleco healthy isn't as easy as some people think. They have unique care requirements and some behavioral issues that you need to address.

Here are some care tips that you can follow to keep your Common Pleco happy and healthy.

Tank size

Adult common Plecos need a minimum tank size of 75 to 80 gallons. However, to help your fish reach its full size and potential, you will need at least 150 gallons!

Bigger is always better with Common Pleco.

If you plan on starting small, these fish do well in tanks that can hold up to 30 gallons when they are young. 

Read more: 14 Best Guppy Breeding Fish

Note: Tank size is the point where many aquarists start making mistakes with the Common Pleco.

Because these fish are often sold as fry, some think they would be fine with a smaller tank. Smaller tanks are fine as the fish get older, but you will have to move them to a much larger aquarium at some point.

Water parameters

Common plecos do best in environments that reproduce their natural habitat in the wild. This includes both trim (more on that in the section below) and water conditions!

These freshwater fish come from slow-flowing tropical rivers. The water is warm and has plenty of oxygen. Here are some basic parameters to follow when setting up a new home for your fish.

  • Water temperature: From 72°F to 86°F (somewhere in the middle of this range is ideal)
  • pH level: Neutral pH balance between 6.5 and 7.5
  • Water hardness: Up to 25 dGH

Stick to a consistent schedule when testing your water (once a week is fine). It is very important to ensure that the general parameters and conditions are stable.

Set up the rest of their tanks

To recreate the natural environment of Common Pleco, use traditional riverbed decorations. These fish will spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, so take some time to decorate just right.

Use a fine sand base layer on the bottom. Regular plecos are fine with gravel, but sand is softer and less likely to cause injury.

On the sand, arrange live plants. The plant will act as a shelter from the light. Next, add some natural caves and driftwood.

A shared Pleco with a smaller tank ally

Caves are essential for this nocturnal fish. They will hide in the dark to rest during the day. A cave will block out light while keeping the fish protected from any other nosy fish in the tank.

Driftwood is also important. These fish like to nibble on driftwood for fiber. It will also grow algae, another important food for Common Pleco.

Keep the light relatively soft. At night, the tank should be dark. Use red light to see fish after hours.

For the filter, choose the most powerful option you can find (our recommendation would be Fluval FX4). Regular plecos generate a lot of waste. They feed constantly, which can sour the water quality quite quickly.

Note: Many Pleco owners prefer excessive water filtration. This means they have a more powerful filtration system than what their tank normally needs. Given the Pleco's large size, that extra capacity can be of great help in keeping ammonia and nitrate levels under control.

Common underlying diseases

Plecos can contract all the same diseases as other freshwater fish. Many believe that Plecos are more susceptible to disease. While they have large plates of armor, these fish do not have small scales to protect their bodies from contaminants and bacteria.

Some common ailments you may experience are ich and ascites. Ich is a common illness often caused by stress. This disease is highly contagious and causes small white bumps all over the fish's body.

Drooling is a form of flatulence. The fish's body begins to swell with liquid, making it difficult to swim.

Your fish may also have a bacterial or fungal infection. These diseases tend to be accompanied by other diseases.

Fortunately, all of these problems are preventable.

They are usually caused by poor water conditions. Use the test suite to check the condition frequently. You should also do a 30% water change every week to support the filtration system.

If your fish are sick, isolate them to start treatment right away. Use a Pleco approved medication or use natural treatments to cure your fish. Regular Plecos can be sensitive to copper-based drugs, so use caution.

Food & Diet

Many pet stores market Common Plecos as one of the best algae eaters. And yes, they will consume algae from time to time.

However, it is not their main dish.

Refer: What To Do When You See Your Fish Die?

Common Plecos are omnivores with a large appetite. They will constantly scour the tank for food. These fish will consume anything they can put in their mouths, so you should have no trouble getting them to eat!

The mouth of a common Pleco

A varied diet that includes a variety of vegetables and protein foods is ideal. You can offer blanched lettuce, zucchini, peas, etc. to provide vitamins and nutrients.

For protein, consider raw or frozen snacks. This can include bloodworms, small crustaceans, fly larvae, and earthworms.

Note: You can also provide sunken dry food. Common Plecos prefer balanced pellets and algae cakes.

Behavior & Temperament

When he was young, Common Plecos was quite easygoing. They get along well with most fish of the same size.

However, that will change as they reach adulthood. These fish may exhibit aggressive behavior once they are fully grown.

This is mainly because they can become territorial. This behavior applies to fish of the same species!

In general, Common Plecos prefer to be alone and will have no problem attacking other fish. They seem to target brightly colored fish with flowing fins, such as Angelfish and Discus.

Don't expect to see much activity during the day. This species will spend the day in hiding when it is resting.

After sunset, these fish will go into scavenging mode! They will use their mouths to cling to glass, eat algae and eat driftwood. Plecos are constantly eating, so there's never a dull moment when they're awake.


Due to their territorial behavior, you can actually keep Common Plecos with other semi-aggressive fish. This may seem dangerous, but it is actually beneficial for every fish involved.

Regular plecos are hard enough to keep safe. Their armored body can protect them from bites and stings. Usually, semi-aggressive fish develop mutual respect and learn to coexist.

Your best bet is to pick similar sized fish that take up other parts of the water column. However, smaller peaceful fish that spend time near the top of the aquarium can also be active. Lizards usually live on the bottom, so they won't bump into fish that live in the middle and top of the tank.

Here are some good mates to try:

  • Oscar fish
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • Flowerhorn Cichlid
  • Gourami honey
  • Tetra black dress
  • Green Terror Cichlid


Breeding common Plecos in captivity is extremely difficult, and there are several reasons for this.

First, you will need a large tank. Two adult Common Plecos need about 300 gallons of space to stay healthy!

Second, the territorial nature of this species makes it difficult. Most fish will fight to the death rather than lay eggs.

Breeding will be much easier if you can keep the Common Plecos together as a bonded pair. If you are lucky enough to get a pair, the breeding process should be straightforward.

The male will find a suitable burrow to lay eggs. Then he will clean the cave and invite the children. She will then lay her eggs on one side of the cave. Males watch over the eggs until they hatch, which takes several days.

In general, breeding Common Plecos is intended for professionals with large tanks. Don't expect to see much success if you try to keep fish at home.             


If you are looking for a large freshwater fish with little maintenance, the Common Pleco is a great choice. There's a reason this species has been popular for so long!

There's something about their size and simplicity that's really fun to watch. Seeing this large aquatic creature moving around the tank was mesmerizing.

Read more: Do Fish Recognize Their Owners?

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