Sunshine Pleco (Scobinancistrus aureatus): Ultimate Care

Sunshine pleco (Scobinancistrus aureatus) is one of the most vibrant fish in the Loricariidae family. While there are other members of the species that are also spotted, the more distinct features of the sunshine pleco really start to shine once the fish becomes a bit larger.

Sometimes these plecos are referred to as “goldies” because of their yellow, almost gold coloration. They originate from Rio Xingu in Brazil, where they occupy the bottom of waterways scavenging for food. They are in high demand in the aquarium trade, not just for their looks, but also because they stay a more manageable size than other plecos.

Sunshine Pleco
Sunshine Pleco

Sunshine Pleco Care

Sunshine plecos are easy to care for, as they are surprisingly hardy and can adjust to most standard aquarium conditions. While they can adjust to other species’ preferred water parameters, having their ideal water conditions will ensure a healthier, longer life.


The ideal water temperature for a sunshine pleco is 74-84° F (23-29° C). Their preferred temperature is the middle, but they are comfortable across the entire range.

Water pH and Hardness

Sunshine pleco requires a water pH level of between 6.0 to 7.2, which should be relatively neutral. The water hardness should be 30 dKH.

Sunshine Pleco Size

Sunshine plecos are one of the more popular plecos because of the size they can grow to compared to other fish of their species.

Maximum Size

The average size of a full-grown sunshine pleco is roughly 12 inches. Some specimens may get a bit larger, while others will max out around 10 inches. This makes them a great choice for a standard-size tank.

Growth Rate

Compared to other plecos in their species, sunshine plecos are one of the slower-growing species. In their first year, they will grow a few inches in length, and then their growth rate will slow as they get older, down to roughly 1 to 1.5 inches per year until fully grown.

Food & Diet

Sunshine plecos are known for their appetites. They can often be greedy at mealtime and will eat almost anything they can get their mouths around.

What Do Sunshine Plecos Eat?

Sunshine plecos are omnivores, requiring both protein-rich foods and vegetables. High-quality sinking cichlid pellets, or pellets intended for carnivorous catfish, make great options for most of their diet. Bloodworms, shrimp, and tubifex worms can also be used, live, frozen, or freeze-dried.

Sunshine plecos thrive on a diet high in protein, so supplementing their diet once a week with vegetables is enough to keep them healthy. Zucchini, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, and other similar vegetables are all popular choices. All are healthy choices, so you can stick with your fish’s preference. Leave the skins on the vegetables, as they usually eat the skin of the vegetable first. 

A balanced diet will give your fish a longer, healthier lifespan.

When to Feed You Sunshine Pleco

If your sunshine pleco is comfortable enough to move around the tank throughout the day, they can be fed during the daylight hours. One advantage of feeding during the day is that you can watch to be sure the other species in their tank don’t get all the food before it sinks to the bottom.

If your pleco isn’t active during the day (which is completely normal), or if there is lots of competition for food, they can be fed as the lights are turned out, or about an hour later. This ensures that they are most likely the only ones active in the tank at that point, and therefore should be able to get most, if not all of the food.

Do Sunshine Plecos Eat Algae?

Despite their sucker mouths, sunshine plecos aren’t the most prolific algae eaters. They can’t survive on algae alone and need to have their diet supplemented with other foods.


The average lifespan of a sunshine pleco in an aquarium is roughly 10 years. However, many aquarists have reported their sunshine plecos to live up to 15 years, when kept in ideal living conditions.

Tank Size

The minimum tank size you’ll need for a fully-grown sunshine pleco is 125 gallons. A bigger tank will give them even more space to move around. You can start juveniles in a smaller tank, but you will have to upgrade it eventually. Most aquarists prefer to start with a larger tank, allowing their growing pleco lots of room to roam and grow.

Tank Setup

To have a happy and healthy pleco, a well-designed tank is critical. Almost all of the time plecos spend in their tanks is at the bottom, so making sure this area is perfect for them is crucial.

What is the Ideal Tank Setup for Sunshine Pleco?

The ideal sunshine pleco setup starts with a fine substrate material, preferably sand. Small gravel also works well, too. Using as much natural material as possible, including rocks and driftwood, add some dimension to the floor of their tank.

Even if you only have one pleco in your aquarium, make sure there are multiple caves and crevices your pleco can fit into. In the wild, they would have many different spots they could take cover if they feel threatened, not just one central spot.

Adding plants, either live or artificial is up to your discretion. Plecos are known to sometimes ruin plants with their rummaging behaviors. Their natural habitat doesn’t have much plant cover, so they are just fine without plants if that is your preference.

Sunshine plecos are nocturnal fish, so they will spend most of the day hiding in dark spots. Having subdued lighting on their tank can help encourage them to be more active during the daytime.

Do Sunshine Plecos Need a Cave?

Sunshine pleco needs at least a few caves and crevices throughout its tank. When threatened, they will wedge themselves in caves and crevices, and expand their fins to ensure they can’t be pulled out.

They must have multiple places to hide, especially in a larger tank. They need to be able to quickly get to cover if they feel threatened, no matter where they are in their tank. The more cover they have, the more comfortable they will feel, and the more active they will be.

Do Sunshine Pleco Need Driftwood?

Unlike other plecos, sunshine plecos don’t like to eat wood. However, they should still have some in their tank, as they can get fiber from it when they need to.


Breeding sunshine plecos is a delicate and complicated process, but it can be done. Until a few years ago only a handful of aquarists had been able to successfully breed their sunshine plecos in captivity. Since then, the process has been repeated and documented for others to try as well.

In order to breed, your fish must be at least 3-5 years old so they are at their sexual maturity. You need to have at least one male and one female, however, you can have more than one breeding male. Each male needs to be provided with their own cave to breed in, as they are a cave-breeding fish.

Each cave needs to be slightly larger than the male’s body, but small enough that he can trap the female inside. Once he finds a suitable cave, he will clean it out, and wait for a female to arrive. Once she enters, the male will trap her inside and not let her leave until she lays her eggs.

Once the eggs are laid, the female is allowed to leave the cave, and the male will fertilize the eggs. He will then guard the eggs until they hatch, cleaning and fanning water on them while he waits. The eggs usually hatch in 7-10 days, although water parameters can have an effect on the hatching time.

After hatching, the fry will generally stay at the back of the cave and feed on their egg sacks for the first few days. The male will keep them protected in the cave for 10-12 days until they are fully developed and ready to leave.

Sunshine Pleco Eggs

Female sunshine plecos lay roughly 100 to 150 eggs each time they breed. The eggs are 2-4 mm in size and are laid in clutches around the cave. The color of the eggs varies slightly from species to species, with sunshine pleco eggs being orange.

Sunshine Pleco Fry

Sunshine pleco fry will spend the first 10-12 days in the cave they were born in before they venture out. Once they are strong enough, they will leave the cave and attach themselves to a piece of driftwood or glass in their tank.

The fry will usually stay together in a large cluster in one spot until they grow to about half an inch in length. 

Sunshine Pleco Male vs Female

Male and female sunshine plecos are roughly the same size when fully grown, so the best way to differentiate their sex is to view their heads from above. The males have a more squarish, angular head, while the female has a more pointed head. This is generally only evident in fully grown fish, and not nearly as evident in juvenile plecos.

Males of the species will also develop a more bristled appearance on the leading edge of their pectoral fins, as well as a more whiskered appearance to their faces. In contrast, females will only slightly develop in these areas.

Buying mature fish is the best way to ensure you get a male and female to breed if that is your intention. It can be rather time-consuming raising fish from fry, only to realize you have the wrong male-to-female ratio.


Sunshine plecos are fairly hardy fish, but they are still susceptible to all the common diseases that freshwater fish can succumb to.

Ich – Ich is the most common problem for plecos to deal with. It is a parasitic infection that causes white spots to form all over the body of a fish. It is highly contagious, so quarantining any affected fish in a separate tank is the first step.

Once separated, treat the affected fish with copper-free medicines or salts from a fish supply store.

Fungal Infections – Sunshine plecos are known to be susceptible to fungal infections if their water parameters aren’t closely monitored. They can produce a lot of waste, so keep a close eye on their ammonia and nitrate levels, and perform regular water changes.

Stress – Less than ideal water conditions, or living in a tank with large, aggressive fish can cause your pleco unnecessary stress, which can lead to health issues as well. Make sure they are placed in an ideal living situation for the healthiest fish.

Tank Mates

Even though they are usually peaceful and calm fish, during breeding season, males can get quite territorial when trying to find a cave to breed in. For the most part, they will be fine most other peaceful fish.

Tetras – Tetras make a great choice for tankmates, as they are docile and peaceful, and also very colorful. Both species require similar water parameters, and both will occupy different areas in their tank. Keep in mind that sunshine plecos are carnivorous, so some of the smallest tetras may end up getting eaten from time to time.

Bettas – Although bettas can be aggressive, provided they are placed in a large enough tank, they can be excellent tankmates for a sunshine pleco. Both require very similar water parameters as well, making it simple to keep them both in ideal water conditions.

Oscars – Even though Oscars can be quite aggressive, they have been known to be okay in the same tank as a sunshine pleco. Ensure there is adequate cover and hiding spots for your pleco to ensure it isn’t bullied by the oscar. Keep a close eye on both fish, especially when they are first placed in the same tank.

Goldfish – While plecos and goldfish can live together, sunshine plecos prefer warmer water than some other species of plecos. Housing them together would require one of the two species to be in less-than-ideal living conditions, which isn’t great for their health.

Snails – Snails can be kept in a tank with sunshine plecos, but because they are omnivorous, some or most of them are likely to get eaten. If you intend to breed the snails, avoid placing them in a sunshine pleco tank. If you are fine with your plecos feeding on them from time to time, then snails can be added to their tanks.

Angelfish – Sunshine pleco and angelfish require very similar water parameters, which makes them an ideal choice for tank mates. Although angelfish can be a bit aggressive, the large size of the pleco and the fact that they inhabit different areas of the tank will help keep the aggression to a minimum.

Shrimp – Shrimp should only be added to a sunshine pleco tank if you are okay with them being eaten. Sunshine plecos feed on shrimp, so eventually, they will all become a meal. Shrimp live in the same area of the tank as plecos do, so it won’t take them long to hunt the shrimp down.

Cichlids – Despite the aggression of some species of cichlids, sunshine pleco can hold their own in a cichlid tank, provided the water parameters are ideal. Some cichlids require a water temperature that isn’t ideal for your pleco, so these species should be avoided. Also, avoid the most aggressive cichlid species, such as wolf or jaguar cichlids.

Corydoras – As they are both such peaceful fish, sunshine plecos and corydoras can be great tank mates. One thing to consider before pairing them together is that they both occupy the same area of the tank, the bottom. Ensure that the tank is large enough for them both to have suitable room to roam.

Guppies – While they can be kept together, due to the size difference, some guppies are likely to get eaten by your pleco. This can be avoided at least partially by ensuring your pleco is always well-fed, but sooner or later they are likely to develop a taste for your guppies.

Otocinclus – Otocinclus aren’t the best choice as tank mates for a sunshine pleco, as they occupy the same area of the tank. Otocinclus are much smaller than sunshine pleco, and are likely to be eaten, if not right away then eventually. Some aquarists do have luck pairing these two species, but most won’t place them together to avoid issues.

Kuhli Loach – Loaches are another bottom-dwelling fish that some aquarists have luck with when pairing with sunshine plecos, while others avoid it. While they don’t share the same diet so they won’t compete over food, they do both inhabit the bottom of the tank. Kuhli loaches are known to be great hiders, so there is a chance they can survive with the much larger sunshine pleco, although it is not guaranteed.

African Dwarf Frog – Frogs should not be kept with any fish that are territorial with the bottom of the tank, such as sunshine plecos. There is quite a size difference between the two species, so the frogs are likely to become a meal rather quickly.

Are Sunshine Pleco Aggressive?

When living in ideal conditions, sunshine pleco are very peaceful fish, even though they are omnivorous. If their tank conditions aren’t correct, or if the tank dynamic is off, they tend to become a bit aggressive.

If you notice your pleco becoming aggressive towards others in the tank, double-check your water conditions, and ensure that all the species in the tank are well-suited for each other.

Are Sunshine Pleco Territorial?

Sunshine plecos do have a bit of a reputation for being territorial with the bottom of their tanks, so it is important to consider where other species will live within the tank before adding them. Avoiding other species that will also live at the bottom of the tank is the best way to avoid any unwanted aggression from your pleco.

This is especially true during mating season when the males will become quite territorial with the cave they have selected for breeding in.

Where Can I Find Sunshine Pleco for Sale?

Sunshine plecos can be one of the harder plecos to find, but they are available, especially if you order online. Some local fish stores may stock them, but it is likely only to be larger shops that would have one for purchase. These plecos are very popular and aren’t likely to last in a store before being purchased.


Sunshine plecos are one of the more expensive plecos to purchase, due to their beautiful markings and rarity. As such, they can be quite expensive, especially when compared to other, more common plecos.

A small, juvenile sunshine pleco can cost around $75-100 US, while a more mature and larger specimen can be up to several hundred dollars.

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