Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps): Ultimate Care Guide

Scientific NamePterygoplichthys gibbiceps, Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps
Common Name(s)Sailfin Pleco, Leopard Pleco, Gibby, L083, L165
OriginSouth America
Temperature Range73-86°F
Water ParametersKH 6-10, pH 6.5-7.4
Adult Size1’7”
DietOmnivorous bottom feeder

Sailfin Pleco Facts

1. It has been known to suck the slime off of other fish.

2. Because it’s native to an area that experiences extremes in precipitation and will bury itself and go dormant in order to stay protected from dry seasons.

3. Though they’re known colloquially as suckerfish, plecos are actually catfish.

Sailfin Pleco

So, you’ve just gotten a new freshwater tank, or you’re looking to add a fresh fish to an already existing tank. You’ve done a ton of research, and one of the most common recommendations – the Sailfin Pleco. The Sailfin Pleco is a beautiful fish to look at, and its beauty is even more captivating when it’s the main attraction in your tank. Unfortunately, not everyone is equipped or experienced enough to care for this unique freshwater species. If you think you can handle them and have a tank large enough to accommodate them, then you should consider getting yourself a Sailfin Pleco today.

Also known as the Sailfin Plecostomus, the Sailfin Pleco is a freshwater catfish from freshwater river basins in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador. These gorgeous fish tend to prefer more calm and shallow waters. The Sailfin Pleco usually spends most of its time on the bottom of murky, slow-moving rivers in areas that aren’t usually seen by the naked eye. But, when these gorgeous fish are spotted, you’re in for a treat. They are sometimes referred to as Leopard Plecos because their bodies consist of a series of spots that covers most of the surface area. These spots cover their entire body, heads, tailfins, and underbelly, a trait not usually seen in most fish species. These unique looks can almost instantly make them the center of attention in any tank. With the proper lighting, their pattern truly pops and becomes eye-catching.

Sailfin Pleco Care

Sailfin Pleco may seem appealing for many aquarists, regardless of skill level. Their unique pattern makes them a popular choice. When considering the addition of a fish to a tank, or a first-time purchase of a fish and a tank, one must always consider the ease of raising their preferred species. The size of a fully-grown Sailfin Pleco is the biggest hurdle one must cross when owning one. It is not recommended to start with a fish this size. But if you have your heart set on owning the always gorgeous and eye-catching Sailfin Pleco, you’ve come to the right place. Continue reading for more information about this bottom-dwelling species.

Are Sailfin Pleco easy to care for?

The biggest problem that most people have when owning a Sailfin Pleco is the sheer size of the fish. They can reach nearly 20 inches when fully grown, which isn’t a size that many people are prepared for. When fully grown, the Sailfin Pleco needs a tank that is at least 100 gallons in size. If you can deal with the massive size of the tank and the Sailfin Pleco itself, you should have no issue raising this fish. As long as you set up their tank to emulate their natural environment and feed them a healthy and balanced diet, you should have no issue owning and caring for a Sailfin Pleco.


The Sailfin Pleco is native to rivers, and river beds in South America, which means they prefer a more tropical climate. It is in your best interest to mimic their home environment as well as you can. With that in mind, you should try to maintain a temperature in a range they are used to. Sailfin Pleco’s environment tends to have a temperature between 73 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the wild. The tank of a Sailfin Pleco should also be kept between 73 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A heater will definitely be required to reach and maintain those temperatures. You should set your heater for around the middle of the range.

Water pH

pH level is an extremely important factor for any tank setup. Unfortunately, it is a parameter that many beginners often overlook. Any fluctuations in pH level can and likely will cause adverse effects to the species in your tank. The pH level of a Sailfin Pleco tank should always stay between 6.5 to 7.4. Keeping it within that range will help your Sailfin Pleco remain healthy and happy. You regularly must check your water parameters to ensure that you can catch any changes before they become a more significant issue. If you notice any problems early enough, you can quickly solve them before they become a more significant and more impactful problem.

Sailfin Pleco Size

The fully grown size of any fish should be one of the first questions you ask when thinking of purchasing one. A fully grown Sailfin Pleco can be between 13 to 19 inches, although they tend to be even bigger in the wild. A number of factors will affect the size of your fish when fully grown. The food you provide your fish when it is still growing will significantly impact their size. If you do not feed them a balanced and healthy diet, they will not grow to their full potential. The quality of the breeder can also impact the size of your Sailfin Pleco when fully grown. Despite the possibility of variation in size, you should always plan for your fish to be on the larger end of the spectrum; this will ensure that you are well-equipped for any size.

Food and Diet

Sailfin Plecos are extremely easy to feed. These fish are omnivores and aren’t picky in the slightest. For the most part, Sailfin Plecos tend to different types of aquarium algae. As such, you should ensure that your tank has some natural algae growth. Most experts also recommend feeding Sailfin Plecos some Alage wafers, which is usually their food of choice. If you’d like to spice things up every once in a while, the Sailfin Pleco has also been known to love cucumbers or zucchinis. You may also have some luck feeding your Sailfin Pleco some frozen or live food such as bloodworms or larvae. Be warned that overfeeding can be an issue for any fish, especially the Sailfin Pleco. Overfeeding can lead to some serious medical problems. If order to avoid that, you should be sure only to give them as much food as they can eat in around 2 minutes. It would be best if you fed your Sailfin Plecos around twice daily.

Sailfin Pleco Lifespan

The lifespan of any fish, or pet, is greatly influenced by the care their caretakers and owners give them. Your pet will significantly suffer if you do not care for them properly. A Sailfin Pleco is no exception to this. If you do not carefully maintain their water quality, feed them a healthy diet, and ensure their tank is large enough, then your Sailfin Pleco will not be around for a long time. That is truly a shame because the Sailfin Pleco can be a life-long companion. The average lifespan of a Sailfin Pleco is between 15 to 20 years. However, wild Sailfin Plecos are more likely to reach the higher end of that spectrum than their captive relatives.

Sailfin Pleco Tank Size

A large fish needs an even larger tank in order to survive, thrive, and be happy. The Sailfin Pleco can reach around 19 inches when fully grown, meaning its tank needs to be much larger. Most aquarists will recommend a tank size of at least 100 gallons for a Sailfin Pleco. Although some may recommend around 70 or 80 gallons, it is a much safer option to go larger. If you wish to keep your Sailfin Pleco in a community tank, you’ll need to go even larger than 100 gallons. You must ensure that each species in your tank has enough room to thrive.

Sailfin Pleco Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for any species is extremely important. Any species that is placed in a tank that they don’t feel comfortable or safe in will have much undue and unwarranted stress. You should always do your best to emulate the native environment of the fish in your tank. Sailfin Plecos are native to murky, slow-moving river basins in South America.

Sailfin Plecos don’t really have a preferred substrate. However, loose gravel or sand is recommended. These fish are bottom-dwellers, meaning most of their time is going to be spent towards the bottom of your tank. Gravel or sand is recommended because it won’t be too rough on them and will be loose enough for your Sailfin Pleco to dig in. One of the most essential features that you should include in your Sailfin Pleco tank is several pieces of driftwood. Not only will your Sailfin Pleco love to hide under the driftwood, but the driftwood will also be the perfect surface for algae to grow on. Your Sailfin Pleco will gladly snack on any algae grown on the driftwood. Speaking of snacking, your Sailfin Pleco will also snack on any plants that you place in your tank. If you plan on adding any plants, ensure they can withstand a few nibbles from an eager fish.

A filter will also help keep the water clean, ensuring that you don’t have to perform water changes frequently. A filter will also help create a bit of a current, which the Sailfin Pleco prefers.

Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps)
Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps)

Sailfin Pleco Breeding

Most home aquarists will inevitably consider breeding any species they have in captivity. Breeding Sailfin Pleco is complicated to execute at home. Even with tons of luck, you likely won’t be lucky enough to get it to happen for you. Just emulating the breeding conditions in a tank is nearly impossible. There are some unconfirmed reports of aquarists breeding Sailfin Pleco at home, but there has never been any evidence of it. If you wish to attempt to breed Sailfin Pleco, then we want to wish you the best of luck in your endeavor.

How do Sailfin Pleco breed?

Sailfin Pleco are usually born in the wild or in environments in commercial facilities specifically designed for that purpose. Sailfin Pleco breed in the wild, usually only when it is very muddy. They tend even to bury themselves in the mud. These conditions are nearly impossible to replicate in a tank, which is most people are discouraged from even attempting to breed Sailfin Pleco at home. When it is time to breed, the female will dig deep into the mud and lay upwards of 500 eggs. A male follows her into the newly dug hole to fertilize and guard the eggs.

Sailfin Pleco Male or Female

It is extremely difficult to tell the difference between male and female Sailfin Plecos. Male and Females don’t tend to have any significant or notable differences. However, those trained in spotting the differences claim that there are some critical differences between male and female Sailfin Plecos. They claim that Male Sailfin Plecos tend to be more aggressive than their female counterparts. If given the same care and are roughly the same age, experts claim that female Sailfin Plecos will be slightly larger than the males. They also claim that females Sailfin Plecos are more rounded than males.

Sailfin Pleco Diseases

Sailfin Plecos tend to be a significantly hardy species. Being a hardy species means they aren’t very susceptible to many illness infections and are pretty resilient. Despite being resilient, they aren’t immune to everything. The most common illness that the Sailfin Pleco can suffer from is Ich. Ich is easily diagnosed by the appearance of the white splotches along the body of the inflicted fish. If you are vigilant, you can easily catch Ich before it becomes a major issue. The earlier you catch it, the better your fish will be. However, you can avoid many potential illnesses or infections just by keeping your tank in the best condition possible.

Where can I find Sailfin Pleco for sale?

The Sailfin Pleco isn’t a very rare species, meaning they are readily available. These gorgeous fish can be found at several retailers online. However, make sure you purchase from a respected site or dealer. You can also likely find them locally at an aquarium specialty store. On average, the Sailfin Pleco sells for around $20. That price can differ based on the size and age of the fish you purchase.

L165 gibbiceps, 900 Liter Aquarium fish tank /+ Acanthicus Adonis L155 Pleco

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