Pleco Tank Size: How Big of a Tank do Plecos Need?

Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps)
Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps) requires a tank size of 100 gallons or more.

How Big of a Tank do Plecos Need on Average

Many Plecos commonly seen by hobbyists will need tanks between 30 and 40 gallons in size. Pleco species have great variation in adult length and can need tank volumes anywhere between 20 and 200 gallons.

Compared to other freshwater tropical fishes, Plecos can need larger tanks than their size might suggest. Larger tanks can have fewer water quality variations which is important for long-term fish health. Many Plecos live in clean, fast-moving, rocky streams in nature. Providing a larger tank can make it easier to keep water quality high, and water chemistry changes will usually occur more slowly. A larger tank can make it easier to catch water problems before they have a chance to get out of control.

Plecos are bottom-dwelling fish that mainly live in the lower areas of their aquariums. Larger tanks may be needed to ensure your Plecos have enough substrate room to live and explore comfortably. If you are selecting a tank specifically for Plecos it’s best to choose one which is shorter and has greater available substrate area on its bottom. While many hobbyists choose aquariums with standard dimensions it’s important to understand that Plecos won’t often use mid and upper tank regions in tall, narrow tanks.

Tank decoration is particularly important for Plecos. Most species want caves and rockwork to provide resting and hiding areas. Some species eat wood and need added driftwood or cholla wood for nutritional support. All of these tank additions will take up space and increase the aquarium size needed to keep your fish from feeling cramped.

Minimum Tank Size for Pleco by Species

A list of minimum take sizes by Pleco species should only be considered a rough guideline. Different tank stocking choices can increase the size needed to keep your fish comfortable. Some Plecos are territorial while others appreciate the company of other individuals. For instance, L236 and Pitbull Plecos are often kept in groups of 5 to 6. The minimum tank sizes listed here are for a single fish. When planning a tank for multiple fish you’ll need to increase the size as needed.

Pleco SpeciesMinimum Tank Size (Gallons)
Bristlenose Pleco20 Gallons
Clown Pleco20 Gallons
Zebra Pleco20 Gallons
Rubber Lip Pleco30 Gallons
Gold Nugget Pleco50 Gallons
Common Pleco75 Gallons
Blue Phantom Pleco30 Gallons
Royal Pleco125 Gallons
Snowball Pleco40 Gallons
Green Phantom Pleco30 Gallons
Sailfin Pleco100 Gallons
Vampire Pleco50 Gallons
Typhoon Pleco55 Gallons
Leopard Frog Pleco30 Gallons
Butterfly Pleco40 Gallons
Rhino Pleco50 Gallons
Sunshine Pleco125 Gallons
Blue Eyed Pleco30 Gallons
Adonis Pleco200 Gallons
Leopard Pleco100 Gallons
L397 Pleco20 Gallons
King Tiger Pleco40 Gallons
Orange Seam Pleco30 Gallons
Super Red Pleco30 Gallons
L236 Pleco20 Gallons
Pitbull Pleco20 Gallons
Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (L183)30 Gallons
Candy Striped Pleco20 Gallons
Watermelon Pleco125 Gallons
Medusa Pleco40 Gallons
Peppermint Pleco50 Gallons
Sultan Pleco55 Gallons
L129 Pleco20 Gallons
L239 Pleco30 Gallons
Queen Arabesque Pleco20 Gallons
Mango Pleco75 Gallons
Black Dragon Pleco90 Gallons
Leopard Cactus Pleco90 Gallons
Flash Pleco30 Gallons

Best Plecos for Small Aquariums

Few Pleco species are small enough to live comfortably in aquariums less than 20 gallons. If you are planning a smaller tank there are fewer species to choose from. Dwarf Plecos are often the best choice as they rarely exceed 2½ inches when fully grown. Another complication when stocking a smaller tank with Plecos is water quality: smaller tanks can have rapid water quality changes which can harm sensitive Plecos. Smaller aquariums will need to be watched carefully to ensure water quality stays with a comfortable range for your fish. Plecos are mostly bottom-dwelling fish, and it’s important  to choose tanks which are shorter to maximize available substrate space. Tall, narrow tanks may have enough volume to support a particular species but can make fish feel cramped as there will be fewer available square inches of floor space.

If you’re planning a smaller aquarium to house Plecos there are some stocking choices that can work well. We’ll take a look at some of the more common Pleco species which are suitable for small tanks and what you’ll need to plan for when preparing a smaller aquarium.

Top 5 Best Plecos for Small Aquariums

Top 5 best Plecos for small aquariums are: Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco, Dwarf Snowball Pleco, Pitbull Pleco, Zebra Pleco, and Queen Arabesque Pleco. These species can live in tanks between 10 to 15 gallons. We’ll take a closer look at each one to see what makes them ideal for hobbyists looking to stock smaller aquariums.

  • Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco only grows to about 2 inches in length making it a good fit for 10 to 15 gallons aquariums. This species eats tank algae, sinking algae wafers, biofilm, and vegetables. A low protein diet means there is less meaty food to spoil and foul tank water if it isn’t eaten.
  • Dwarf Snowball Pleco is a carnivorous species that only grows to about 2½ inches. It can be comfortable in a 10 gallon aquarium as long as enough filtration is used to keep water quality high. This species also appreciates strong tank currents that simulate the fast-flowing streams it prefers in nature.
  • Pitbull Pleco is an unusual species in that it prefers living in groups of three or more individuals. With a maximum length of about 2½ inches it can live singly in a 10 gallon aquarium, but is happiest in a larger tank with other Pitbulls.
  • Zebra Pleco grows to over 3 inches in length but isn’t as active as some other species. This means it can be happy in a 10 gallon aquarium. The Zebra needs warmer water than some Plecos and needs a meaty high-protein diet. Distinct black and white lines make it easy to see why it’s called the Zebra Pleco. Unfortunately, it can be more expensive than other species
  • Queen Arabesque Pleco grows to about 3½ inches, making it one of the larger fish on this list. Too large for a 10 gallon tank, it should be provided a minimum of 15 gallons. While it must be fed a carnivorous diet it’s a peaceful and good-natured tank addition.

Can Plecos Live in a 5 gallon tank?

Unfortunately, no Pleco species is suitable for a 5 gallon aquarium. While small nano aquariums are popular with some hobbyists there isn’t a way for a Pleco to live comfortably in tanks this small.

Can Plecos Live in a 10 gallon tank?

Some Pleco species can live in a 10 gallon aquarium but this isn’t an ideal match. Dwarf Snowball Pleco, L236, and the Pitbull Pleco can fit in these small tanks but it isn’t recommended. If you plan to keep one of these fish in a 10 gallon tank be prepared for frequent water changes with regular nitrate testing. One problem with 10 gallon tanks is they are too small to support a healthy nitrogen cycle. This is a big reason more frequent water changes will be necessary.

How many Plecos in a 20 gallon tank?

A 20 gallon aquarium is the smallest tank that can comfortably support Plecos. 20 gallons is enough water volume to support a healthy nitrogen cycle which is important for best health and lifespan. This tank size can support a single Clown, Bristlenose, Zebra, or Queen Arabesque Pleco, among others. This is a good tank size for Pleco species that appreciate company and can support groups of up to three L236 or Pitbull Plecos.

While a 20 gallon aquarium will support Plecos it’s important to install enough filter capacity to keep water quality high. Regular water changes and nitrate testing will be needed. Expect to replace 30% to 50% of tank water each week. Nitrate levels should be as low as possible, preferably 0ppm, but this can be hard to achieve in smaller tanks such as this 20 gallon size.

How many Plecos in a 40 gallon tank?

A 40 gallon aquarium can support multiple small, or one large Pleco. Some good choices could be a Clown and a Zebra Pleco, or one Snowball or King Tiger Pleco. Some species do best in groups of multiple individuals. However, when combining different species it’s important to remember that some can be territorial and may not coexist in the same tank. Adding extra caves and rock work can give Plecos separate areas to hide and claim territory. But some species will be incompatible and you’ll need to move any Plecos that fight to another tank to prevent injuries.

How many Plecos in a 75 gallon tank?

75 gallons tanks are excellent for multiple Pleco species. They’re roomy enough for rock work, caves, and driftwood. They also have enough water volume to support steady water chemistry. A 75 gallon tank can support one larger fish like Common or Mango Plecos. This tank size is large enough to house a mix of different, smaller Pleco species like Typhoon and Leopard Frog Plecos.

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