Plecos, more than algae eaters.

It is not clear when and why the name pleco was introduced into the aquarium hobby terminology. A generic term, it has been used mainly by pet stores to identify some of the catfish available for sale, often belonging to the Hypostomus plecostomus species where the word may have originated.

Hypostomus plecostomus are well-known algae eaters that come from the rivers of the Amazon jungle in South America. They can attach themselves to hard surfaces with specially adapted mouth parts. Acrylic aquariums are not recommended for large plecos as they will scratch the surface. Caution must be taken when introducing them with flat body fish like angelfish and discus, since they can be injured by sucking on them.

suckermouth catfish

The suckermouth catfish was named Acipenser plecostomus in 1758. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypostomus Plecostomus

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nocturnal scavengers will eat almost anything; plecos have developed a remarkable omega iris that allow them to block out the daylight, however it is important to provide them with some form of shelter, whether under driftwood or caves to rest during daylight. Their specialized eyes are very sensitive to water quality, they can suffer from cloudy eyes, a common disease among plecos and other fish characterized by eyes covered with white or gray slime that make them appear cloudy, in addition fish my appear off-color and swim awkwardly. As they grow older and bigger their peaceful temperaments may change, becoming aggressive and territorial towards their own species. A single species per tank is advisable.

Many times bought to combat algae problems, they require stable water quality and temperature, in addition pH levels are critical to their health. Driftwood is commonly used to maintain pH at slightly acidic levels. They should never be used to cycle a tank! The larger the aquarium the better, avoiding overcrowded conditions is key since they are a major cause of stress and disease. Regular water changes and adequate filtration are essential to keep the good water quality required. Symptoms to look for are: loss of color, spots or fungus on body or mouth, feeding during the day, cloudy eyes, frayed fins and labored breathing.

Although we will continue to use the term “pleco”, there is no distinction between catfish and pleco, both are the same. To learn more about plecos, refer to our catfish article.

Aquarium Setup: 72-79° F, KH 6-10, pH 6.5-7.4
Diet: Omnivore. Offer them algae and sinking algae wafers. Supplement with raw zucchini or cucumbers as a treat once or twice a week. Raw vegetables should be anchored near the bottom of the aquarium. Feed daily.Typically feeds at night.
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