Common Pleco (Hypostomus Plecostomus): Ultimate Care Guide


The Common Pleco is a popular Pleco type that can be found in many aquarium fish stores. The common pleco is such a popular choice for several reasons, one being that they are rather hardy fish. They’re also relatively easy to care for and their behaviors and personalities make for a source of entertainment. There is a lot of information that is unknown about the common pleco due to the fact that there has been information about them being spread around online that simply isn’t true. Unfortunately, this misinformation only proves to hurt the fish, as people who are just starting to learn about them and what is involved in being an aquarist are misinformed.

The common pleco’s scientific name is Hypostomus Plecostomus, but some fond aquarists will refer to them as “Sucker Fish”. As a member of the Loricariidae family, one can conclude that the common pleco is part of a large group of armored catfish. The common pleco originated in South America, predominantly in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, and the Guianas.

Common Pleco Care

Generally, the Common Pleco is an easy fish to care for, but they tend to become progressively more difficult to care for and potentially problematic as they mature. When it comes to the basic care, plecos are simple, the issue comes in when their temperament is taken into account. They are expected to be mellow when they are young, but as they get older, they have frequently been observed to behave increasingly more possessive and aggressive. Although the Common Pleco is usually fairly easy to care for, there are some specific care requirements that are necessary when it comes to managing the fish’s behavioral quirks.

Common Plecos appreciate their solitude and as they grow older, they will not hesitate to attack other fish. It appears that they target fish that are pretty opposite of them, with bright coloration and flowing fins.

Common Pleco (Hypostomus Plecostomus)
Common Pleco (Hypostomus Plecostomus)

Temperature

The Common Pleco is typically content so long as their tank is within the temperature range of 72°F to 86°F.

Water pH

The Common Pleco prefers that their pH stay nice and neutral at around 6.5-7.5. They also like the hardness of the water to be up to 25 dGH. It’s important, not just with Common Plecos, but with all fish that water levels are tested frequently. Ideally, the water levels would be tested once a week. This is to ensure that the water parameters and the overall conditions of the tank are stable. Having a stable environment can help these fish avoid some stress and be healthier overall.

Common Pleco Size

Although their size can vary, the Common Pleco has been observed to grow to an average of 15 inches long. That being said, that’s on the smaller side of the scale when you look at the range of adult Common Plecos that have been recorded, which is anywhere from 12 inches to 24 inches long. It’s a common misconception that when you buy a young Common Pleco at a maximum of a few inches, they will stay that small. For this reason, the Common Pleco is just one of many species that are purchased, kept for a while, and then brought to a store once they exceed the size that the inexperienced owner thought they would remain. Consider this your friendly reminder to whip out your phone and do a quick Google search to find out the maximum size of any addition to your aquarium that you may be considering.

Growth Rate

Depending on the type of pleco, their growth rate can vary over a significant range. However, as a general standard, your baby pleco should be able to grow to around 6 to 8 inches within two years.

Size by Age

While plecos may seem to grow a lot and fairly quickly in their early stages of life, this will generally slow down with age.

Full Size

The full size of a Common Pleco can fall anywhere within the range of 12 inches to 24 inches long if they are provided with enough room to do so.

Common Pleco Food & Diet

These fish are omnivores with a hearty appetite. It’s common that they will always be scavenging for any source of food that they can find at the bottom of the tank. Thankfully, this means that they will be easy to feed and shouldn’t be finicky. When it comes time for them to be awake, they will enter scavenging mode and eat anything they can find. With the option to use their sucker mouth to cling to the glass or eat whatever they please, be it algae or driftwood, if they’re awake, they’re eating.

What do Common Pleco eat?

In a perfect world, a diet that consists of both vegetable and protein-based food is ideal. For a vegetable-based diet, they can have blanched lettuce, peas, zucchini, and other vegetables that will act as an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients for the fish. Looking at a protein-based diet, there is a variety of options. Either live snacks or frozen snacks are a great option and can include earthworms, insect larvae, some small crustaceans, and bloodworms. If this seems like a lot of work, especially considering that this is only one of the fish in the tank, sinking dry food is also an option as Common Plecos are also content with munching on algae wafers and eating balanced pellet food.

Are Common Pleco good algae eaters?

Despite some false advertising in another area of information about the Common Pleco, some believe that they are incredible algae eaters when in reality, they’ll consume algae once in a while rather than it being a staple in their diet.

Common Pleco Lifespan

Many may be surprised when they find out that the common pleco can live to be around 10-15 years old! This is another aspect that should be researched before buying a fish as sometimes a fish’s lifespan may be a bigger commitment than you were looking to make.

Common Pleco Tank Size

The Common Pleco is a large fish, and even if you get one when it’s still small, we’ve already discussed the potential sizes that they can grow to. That being said, it’s important that your adult Common Pleco has a sufficient amount of room, which, in this case, means a 75–80-gallon tank at the absolute minimum. If you to help your pleco have the potential to grow to a nice, natural full size, or maybe even that high end of the range at 24 inches, you’ll have to give them at least double that. For the Common Pleco, there’s no such thing as a tank that’s too large – the bigger, the better. However, if you are planning on starting on a smaller scale before getting to the point of needing a 150–160-gallon tank, a young Common Pleco will do just fine in a tank of around 30 gallons.

Common Pleco Tank Setup

Setting up a tank is one of the parts of fishkeeping that allows the aquarist to truly be creative. Usually, so long as you have an idea of what your fish’s habitat would look like in the wild, any decorations will be just fine.

How to set up a tank for Common Plecos

Common Plecos spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank, so it’s important to get the decorations right. The goal here is to replicate the traditional riverbed that they would inhabit in the wild. You can accomplish this by having a fine sand substrate because it is softer and safer for the Plecos than other options. If you absolutely have to use gravel, they’ll be fine, but sand is preferable.

Being that these fish are nocturnal, it is important for them to have access to caves. This will give them the chance to hide from the light during the day and maintain a sense of privacy and separation from the other fish in the tank that may be more active and potentially bothersome to your plecos. You should also give the Common Pleco opportunities to get away from the light. Fortunately, you can do this by arranging live plants in your tank.

Driftwood is another addition that would add some value to the habitat. The Common Pleco likes to eat driftwood as it is a great source of fiber for them. The same goes for algae. It’s important to keep the lighting nice and low for the most part, but at night the tank should be completely dark. If you prefer to be able to see the first after the regular lighting hours, it’s preferable to use a red light in order to keep the fish accustomed to the cyclical lighting of day and night.

Finally, when considering which filtration method would be best for your Common Pleco, keep in mind that they are always eating and therefore produce a lot of waste. Without a strong filtration system, the water can quickly become tainted if not taken care of properly. Some may suggest that you should invest in the most powerful, quality filtration system that you can find. Some even prefer to “over-filter” the water, having a more powerful filter than needed for the size of the tank. In this specific scenario, the overcompensation of the filter will help combat the otherwise quickly rising levels of ammonia and nitrates.

Will Common Plecos destroy plants?

Being that Common Plecos are known for eating essentially anything that they can get their sucker mouth on, and that they prove to get more aggressive with age, it’s most likely safe to say that there’s a chance that your plants will pay the price. However, as every fish is different and has their own preferences and personalities, there is no guarantee either way.

Common Pleco Breeding

Unfortunately, for Common Plecos, breeding in captivity proves to be quite difficult. As previously mentioned, an adult Common Pleco needs around 150 gallons to reach their happiest and have the potential to grow to full size. If you were to add another adult Common Pleco to the mix, the need for space would double in order for them to both remain healthy. Another issue with breeding is that these fish get progressively more territorial with age. With a limited amount of space, even if it is 300 gallons, it can be hard to have enough space to avoid confrontation. If the fish are too cramped, breeding will be the furthest thing from their top priority as they focus on fighting for dominance, even if that means fighting to the death.

Your chances of being able to breed will increase if you have the means to raise two Common Plecos together. Of course, this includes needing to be lucky enough to get your hands on a bonded pair of Common Plecos, but if you can do that, the breeding process is relatively simple: the male will find a location that he deems suitable for reproducing, this is usually in a cave, and then he’ll clean out the cave and work on perfecting it before inviting the female in. Then she will have the ability to lay her eggs near the cave and the male will keep watch as he waits for the eggs to hatch. This usually takes a few days.

Being that the process is simple and comparable to the breeding process of other fish, it may come as a surprise that breeding is better off being left to the professionals as they have the means to do so, and space will not be an issue. Without the perfect conditions, it’s better to expect that the breeding will be unsuccessful if you attempt it at home.

Common Pleco Male or Female

There are four possible ways to determine the gender of your Common Pleco, but it might take some patience. First, as with a lot of other fish and animals in general, size can be a good indicator of gender. In this case, females are usually larger than males. This method of sexing can be unreliable if you have plecos that vary in age, or better yet if you don’t know their ages at all. The only time that this method is useful is when you know that the two are the same age. Females also tend to have rounder bodies than males. The male plecos usually have longer, skinnier bodies.

Depending on the species, bristles might be another way to indicate sex. Males typically have more pronounced bristles along their mouths or around the edge of their heads. Finally, their behavior is also an indicator as males are generally more aggressive. If you take some time to observe their behavior, you may be able to pinpoint which pleco is showing more aggression.

Common Pleco Disease

Plecos are susceptible to the common diseases that affect other freshwater fish. Some people think that these plecos are more sensitive and susceptible to disease than other fish because although they have large plates of protective armor, their body doesn’t have the small scales that help other fish fight out any potential bacteria or contamination. Some of the common diseases that you can run into with a Common Pleco are ich and dropsy, but they may also deal with bacterial and fungal infections. Fortunately for those who are looking to care for a Common Pleco, the diseases that could potentially affect them are all relatively preventable.

A lot of issues and illnesses within fish all start with poor water conditions. In order to make sure that the quality of your tank’s water is up to par, try to test the water levels and do at least a 30% water change on a weekly basis. However, sometimes illnesses happen even when you think you’re doing everything right. If you notice that a fish in your tank is sick, it’s important to quarantine any sick fish so that they can be treated properly, and eventually, they will be healthy enough to be returned back to the tank. While looking for a way to treat a Common Pleco’s illnesses, be wary of what methods of medication you use as plecos can be sensitive to copper-based medications.

Common Pleco Tank Mates

It can be difficult to find tank mates for common plecos because they are a bottom dwelling fish and can be territorial. One option for finding tank mates for common plecos is to look for fish that occupy different levels of the aquarium. For example, tetras tend to swim near the surface while plecos stay near the bottom.

Here are some examples of compatible and incompatible tank mates for Common Plecos:

Common Pleco and Betta

Due to the size difference between a Betta and a full-grown Common Pleco that can reach up to two feet long, this pairing is not a good idea. The Common Pleco also targets bright colors and flowing fins.

Common Pleco and Goldfish

Being that Common Plecos have shown aggression towards other brightly colored fish with long, flowing fins, this pairing may not be the best idea either.

Common Pleco and Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos will most likely be a little bit too vulnerable to be a compatible tank mate with a Common Pleco as their size is only a fraction of the Common Pleco’s and odds are that their space will be invaded.

Common Pleco and Shrimp

This is not a good pairing as Common Plecos are known to eventually be large enough to snack on small crustaceans.

Common Pleco and Corydoras

Similar to the possible issues that an aquarist may run into when trying to pair a Bristlenose Pleco and a Common Pleco as tank mates, the same may go for the compatibility with a Corydora. They are vulnerably small and may enter the Common Pleco’s territory which will be instant trouble, especially as the Common Pleco gets older.

Common Pleco and Angelfish

This is not a good pairing as Common Plecos have been known to go after fish that are brightly colored and have flowing fins, specifically Angelfish.

Common Pleco and Cichlids

Some cichlids would be good selections for tank mates such as the Green Terror Cichlid and the Flowerhorn Cichlid.

Ideally, it’s a good idea to keep fish with similar temperaments and of similar size together, but part of what makes these pairings easier is that Common Plecos are bottom dwellers and most of these other fish are not which means that they will stay out of one another’s way, but still be able to defend themselves if necessary.

Where can I find Common Pleco for sale?

As mentioned earlier on, these Common Plecos are often sold in places that are accessible to most, such as pet stores, where potentially inexperienced fish keepers may walk in, unsuspecting, and buy a Common Pleco or two before eventually realizing that they are unable to care for a fish of such massive sizes. These fish can also be found in online fish stores as they are, as the name implies, quite common. The connotation that they are easy to care for also draws people in, as they seem like a great option for a starter fish.

Common Pleco Price

Due to the fact that these fish have the potential to grow up to two feet, this is considered when pricing the fish. While, yes, odds are that you will be getting a fish of only a few inches, those that are creating the pricing likely know that the fish are of value when they grow to full size. Not to say that these fish are expensive, but they run a little bit on the higher side compared to some other fish that you may find in the neighboring tanks in the same store.

Overall, the Common Pleco may be a great addition for you, so long as you have the means, and you are fully informed on the fish’s quirks and preferences.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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