Caring for Your New Plecostomus

Origin.  Plecostomids hail from South America where the weather never gets cold.  This means they need a heater when we keep them in our tanks.  In our outdoor ponds, they can handle only the warmer months.

Heavy Armor.  Their heavily armored body protects them from all but the fiercest aggressors.  African cichlids will eat their eyeballs.  Piranhas learn to flip them over and eat their soft underbellies.  Big oscars can whip them back and forth and “snap them.”  But in general, not too many fishes can hurt a plecostomus.  

Netting Plecos.  Rather than net the biggies (which crawl out of nets), we catch them by hand.  Make sure you hold down their pectoral fins.  Plecos try to wiggle away.  In the process, those pectoral fins will clamp on your fingers.  Plecostomus can get you pretty good — especially the big guys.

Sucker Mouth.  With their sucker mouths they eat algae and other vegetation. Special rasping lips enable the plecostomus to tear holes in driftwood, delicately strip the top layer off the green leaves of an Amazon sword plant, and polish the glass walls of your aquarium.  Most people keep them for their latter attribute. Bristlenoses stay smaller than the econo plecos.

Grows Large.  In a large tank some species can grow to 18 inches and become quite destructive.  In addition to breaking off your filter stems, a big pleco can literally strip the scales off a large oscar or koi at night.  Smaller plecos usually remain harmless.  Slow moving fishes such as angels and goldfishes occasionally get pestered by plecostomids.

Nocturnal.  Plecos like to hide during the day in caves or behind your filter stem.  After a few weeks most learn to eat during the day.  Although plecostomids prefer to dine fashionably late in the evening, many soon learn to cruise the water surface belly up and wolf down their share of the floating flakes or pellets.  

New Plecos.  You need to give your new plecostomus extra rations once he polishes off your algae. He prefers the night shift.  Just remember that your other fishes usually eat all the floating food before your pleco “wakes up.”  Give him some extra flakes in the late evening.

New Tanks.  New tanks starve plecos to death.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, grows on the glass walls of a new tank.  The other fish eat all the food before your newly recruited pleco gets off his duff.  Add some food for him just before you turn off the lights.  He doesn’t need much but he does need something to eat.  Plecos do very well in established goldfish tanks.  

Special Foods.  As pleco foods go, algae wafers work exceptionally well.  These are specifically made for plecos.  Plecos also love the “vacation blocks,” but devour them so fast you won’t believe it.  Under normal conditions plecos will eat any type of fish food you feed, IF the other fish don’t polish it off before you turn the lights off. Just don’t add your pleco to a new (bare) tank and expect it to survive without food.

The Sexes.  Small ones all look alike.  Mature males sport tiny bristles and when breeding look more orange in the “sticker fins” on their sides .

Types.  Dozens of different species make it to the marketplace.  Most people get the regular ones grown on pleco ranches in Florida because they do the job and cost very little.  Other usually available Loracariadae (armored catfishes with a sucker mouth) plecos include:

bulletBristlenose and Bushynose
bulletClown and White-Spot
bulletYellow and Albinus (widemouth)
bulletButterfly and other Hi-Fins
bulletFarlowellas and Whiptails
bulletOtocinclus (under two inches) plus lots of others

Deutsche Plecos:  The Germans print a book of plecos that assigns them “L” numbers.  In this book you’ll find plecos you never heard of (and may never see).  It helps if you sprechen sie Duetsche kleine bissel.  Great book  Some of these less common plecos appear from time to time. 

Last Word:  We like plecos better than Chinese algae eaters.  Chinese algae eaters get mean fast.  Small ones suck hickeys on your fish.  Big ones kill your fish.  We’ve even seen Chinese algae eaters kill African cichlids.  On the other hand, we’ve also seen African cichlids kill plecostomus.  They start by plucking their eyes out

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