10 Best Types of Plecos

Have you ever been watching your favorite animal channel show and caught a glimpse of a breed of fish that looks like it’s a catfish, but at a second look, it clearly isn’t? If you are thirsting to learn more about this fish then you might have gone ahead and did a little digging, only to find out that it is called “Pleco”? Don’t worry too much about it, as we are here to satisfy your thirst for knowledge by teaching you everything you need to know about this breed of catfish.

Hypostomus plecostomus, commonly known as “pleco,” can be found in tropical freshwaters. It belongs to the armored catfish family, and to distinguish them from others of the same physical attributes, don’t be surprised when they are referred to as plecostomus when you make inquiries about them or they are being sold to you in most aquarium shops.

To avoid all these tongue-twisting names, you can call them “scavenger fish” for short – a name they are called because of their feeding habits.

Types of Plecos

Characteristics of Plecos

As said above earlier, there are various types of plecos out there. A common characteristic amongst them is that they possess a mouth that performs like a sucker, enabling the fish to attach itself to surfaces, hold, and nibble at food. A diet that majorly consists of algae, aquatic plants, and crustaceans that are small in size.

Before we delve into details for the types of plecos there is for aquarium keepers that might be considering adding some of this breed to their tank; it is essential to note that this fish is sold when they are young and small – they can grow to about 50 centimeters in size It is also essential to know that this fish is a bottom feeder is a nocturnal fish. Even though it contributes a lot of waste to the nitrogen cycle, it is still a favorite among fish keepers for its ability to clean algae. Thanks to its semi-attractive nature and thick armor, it can hold its own amidst the other fishes.

This particular family of fish is quite popular among aquarium keepers for quite a number of reasons. They are quite the eye-catcher – distinct, very easy to take care of, and it is fun just to see them go about their business inside the tank.

Types of Plecos

In this guide to your pleco ownership, we shall discuss the various types of plecos that we have and their species and help you with the knowledge you need to make the right choice for one that suits your tank.

1. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose plecos need little or no introduction, they are unique and fun-loving, making them popular in freshwater tanks. They’re one of the smallest catfish breeds, as they only grow to between 3 – 5 inches.

This particular breed exists majorly in three colors – brown, green, or gray with either white or yellow spots, and some might even be uneven with the coloring they have, but they mostly have lighter abdomens and darker backs.

Given that they are bottom dwellers and nocturnal eaters, you will do well to provide them with a lot of driftwood, roots, plants, and other forms of shelter where they can hide during the day before coming out to eat at night. Even though they are herbivores, they won’t harm your live plants.

Just like all other catfish, they tend to spend most of their time foraging through the substrates for food – primarily algae, which in turn helps to keep the tank clean. Even though they look alike, you can distinguish between the male and female by the sizes of their whiskers, bristles – the males have the larger ones and are generally larger than the females.

2. Zebra Pleco

Despite being shy and nocturnal, this species would surely be the star of the show with its distinct look as soon as it sets its gill into your tank, even though it could be when you are not looking. Despite being an endangered species, it is still highly sought after by aquarists, which leads to its expensiveness.

It is a bit smaller in size compared to other plecos when fully grown. You can get it to fully attain its life expectancy and to live as long as ten to fifteen years, bar any illness – just make sure it has access to a high standard of living – feeding inclusive.

With respect to the markings on its body – white and black, it is ideally given its name with respect to the land animal that adorns the same markings. These markings run vertically over its body and glistens under the appropriate light conditions, with distinct characteristics like its markings, large bulbous eyes, four whiskers used for probing, large rayed and pectoral fins.

Its care is similar to its brothers from the same region; however, it is important to pay attention to its environment and care – particularly its tank size and water parameters, and what you put into their tank – sand substrates and plants are important.

3. Clown Pleco

In recent years, this particular type of pleco has risen to higher acceptance amongst aquarium keepers, and it doesn’t look like it’s waning in popularity anytime soon. You might find fish stores recommending this breed to you for a couple of reasons, as they’re easy maintenance and provide little or no trouble in the tank with other fish.

Seeing that this breed ranks high on fish keepers’ bottom-feeder list comes as no surprise. It can deal with low-visibility and slightly dirty water, and take a day or so lateness from you on their tank cleaning schedule – but you can cut this short if you don’t ascertain that you are breeding them in the best condition. Maintain good conditions and you can have yourself their companionship for ten to twelve years.

The clown pleco is primarily black, with bright brands all over its body – these brands can be either whitish-yellow or orange. The vibrancy of these patterns can vary depending on their genetics – wildly raised crown plecos tend to have brighter colors, a sign of their healthiness during development.

This species has the attributes of the standard pleco. However, they tend to have an enormous upper body – a thick, large head and body from their dorsal fin forward, but start to reduce in size from there down to their caudal peduncle. Its dorsal fin is tall and quite noticeable when it spreads.

Measuring an average size of about three and a half inches, Clown plecos require very straightforward low maintenance regardless of your experience. All you need do is pay constant and adequate attention to consistently monitor their water and maintain their optimal environment.

4. Gold Nugget Pleco 

Creating a beautiful sight with its black base covered in evenly spaced and roughly the same sized bright yellow spots, there is no need for any more introduction before you know the beautiful sight you are witnessing is that of a gold nugget pleco.

Despite being known recently, it has found a way to endear itself to aquarium keepers because of its color pattern and appearance. As a matter of fact, it belongs to an elite few of the most colorful freshwater fish – its contrast and pattern are very eye-catching.

It possesses the standard pleco features – a suckermouth and head that angles down to hold on to a substrate, but its body is widest around its eyes and pectoral fins. Its pectoral fin is very large and points backward, especially when taking a breather on a substrate, with a dorsal fin that looks like a fan and a slightly larger caudal fin.

The gold nugget is a rather large type of pleco – seven to ten inches in length. Peaceful and lonely in nature with an easy diet, it automatically reduces the stress factor the owner might be thinking of. Just provide them with an ideal tank big enough to give them enough room to explore and thrive. Very easy, right?

Essentially, because it is linked to the fish’s growth and health, it is important to maintain premium water parameters for them – especially during the first few weeks of your ownership. While setting up its tank you should consider mimicking to a comfortable level its natural habitat in the wild by applying the use of sandy substrates, a fair amount of plants, vegetation in the tank that can serve as its snacks, and some caves or structures that can provide a hiding place for this nocturnal species.

5. Sailfin Pleco

If a cropped image – without its fin, just the body of this species were shown to you, your mind would think it’s that of a leopard. Well, you aren’t wrong. Its pattern looks like that of a leopard. Its enormous dorsal fin – very tall and covers a lot of space-inspired its name. The Placement of the condensed dots against a lighter background skin color results in a very cool leopard-like skin.

The Sailfin Pleco thrives in its natural habitat as they enjoy spending their time away from the spotlight by hiding in caves and under driftwoods or any other structure that provides shade – in the wild, they bury themselves in the mud when water levels get too low for them. They don’t have a big appetite for a fish their size as they only feed on plants (they love algae too) and occasionally some meaty food. However, their size tends to discourage some people.

A typical Sailfin Pleco lives for around fifteen to twenty years in captivity, and it’s more common for them to reach the peak of their lifespan in the wild. To ensure their longevity, you have to keenly take care of them properly – set them up with the right kind of habitat and watch them thrive if their size won’t bother you.

Some factors you should consider when picking one up is the size of your tank – it must be able to take up to a hundred gallons at the least as they can grow to be very big. Also, the interior choice of the tank is very important. Even though they aren’t very picky, you should add a decent piece of driftwood and some plants to the tank for them.

6. Royal Pleco

Panaque negrolineatus, or the Royal Pleco as it is commonly called, is known for being one of the fishes that have the ability to digest wood. Not only do they add to the aesthetic of your tank, but they are also low in their maintenance needs.

Like many other pleco species, it can also get quite large – up to 16 – 17 inches, and some varieties can get bigger (e.g., Black Royal Pleco). In the right living conditions, they can live up to an average of 10 years, and like other species, their life expectancy depends on the quality of care they receive.

At first glance, the bright red eye at the top of its body gives a stunning contrast against its body’s muted tones. There are numerous variations in coloring amongst its subspecies. Unlike other plecos, they have tough armor-like skin plates instead of scales with a much softer belly.

A sizable tank with the ability to hold at least 120 gallons is recommended, and not only that, it should have a space of at least 24 inches from its front to its back. Why? Swimming is not their most excellent suit, and they might have a hard time maneuvering in tight spaces. If you are adding plants, make sure they are real, as these types of plecos feed on them.

7. Snowball Pleco

Wearing a pattern we consider the prettiest among its peers – the simplicity and contrast it provides is such a joy to behold. This species is predominantly docile and undemanding, hence its suitability for aquarists of all levels. Originating from the biggest blackwater, i.e., Rio Negro in Venezuela -on the planet – The snowball pleco can attribute some of its unique requirements to this habitat.

In comparison to all other types of plecos – the snowball pleco is quite small and, when fully grown, is about 5.5 to 6.3 inches in length. They need good watering conditions to thrive to avoid them coming down with diseases that could shorten their lifespan – so premium care for them is paramount.

Despite its somewhat familiar shape, the Snowball pleco is a beautiful creature with the same plecos structure we are used to – sucker-like underturned mouth, flattened belly, and a body like that of a torpedo. Its pectoral and pelvic fins are splayed out, and if you are in luck to catch its triangular dorsal fin standing upright, you would be caught in its awe.

This fish species has a base color of black or dark gray – the males may have a shade of dark brown laced with a slight tinge of red. However, white or yellow polka dots accentuate their base color all over their body for both sexes. As similar as both sexes are, their differences are easy to spot. The males usually have a subtle red tone, while the females are plumper with a more rounded finish.

8. Rubber Lip Pleco

Rubber lip plecos are freshwater fishes that can live for 12 years with the proper care. They are bottom-dwelling fish belonging to the Chaetostoma genus.

This species is commonly confused with Chubby Pleco. A tell-tale difference between the two is that the Rubber Lip Pleco has spots on its head, while the Chubby Pleco has crossed stripes.

Rubber lip plecos grow very slowly, usually not to more than 4.2 inches, and will thrive well in a tank of at least 55 gallons.

When it comes to their diet, they feed on algae in the aquarium. Their diet should be plant-based, although they can eat meat, dried worm, or brine shrimp once in a while.

9. Leopard Frog Pleco

For a pleco species that is durable and remains small even after it has reached its adult size, the Leopard Frog Pleco is a good choice. It has an extremely attractive yellow and black stripe pattern and is pretty simple to care for.

They can grow anywhere between 3.5 to a little past 4 inches in size, and the minimum recommended tank size for them is nothing less than 30 gallons. Leopard Frog Plecos live for about nine years with excellent and appropriate care.

If you want to keep more than one of these fish together, it is best to do so in a very large tank. This may seem unnecessary for their small adult size, but it is important because they are territorial in nature and are likely to become aggressive to other Leopard Frog Pleco.

In addition, they may not thrive well in fluctuating water conditions, so it is crucial to ensure that the tank’s water parameters are stable.

10. Peppermint Pleco

The peppermint plecos are not left out when we speak of plecos with an artistic impact, attractive, and peaceful. They are usually dark brown in black and are a lovely addition to your aquarium or any freshwater. They have small white spots on their body and fins.

A peppermint pleco can grow as long as 17.5 centimeters, or almost 7 inches. The recommended tank size peppermint pleco is 50 gallons or more.

They feed on algae in the tank, or leftover food. Since they are not picky when it comes to their food choice, their diet is not usually a problem.


In all honesty, we believe you can clearly make the right choice with the species and the details we have provided above. However, there might still be some questions creeping up in your mind. Below, we shall try our best to answer the questions we think they might be.

How do I know what kind of pleco I have? 

Aside from learning about them when you are getting them from a verified fish or aquarium shop where you have experts to tell you what type of pleco they are selling to you, or that which you might already have, it is pretty hard for someone who is inexperienced to tell which is which. There are about 150 different species. We all know they have similar characteristics and behaviors. However, you could get better and comprehensive info from their names and patterns by looking them up on the internet.

What is the most common type of pleco?

Regarding this piece, the most common pleco has a lot of advantages that have enabled it to warm its way into the hearts of many aquarium keepers and fish lovers. Famous for its relatively low maintenance and hardiness and its ability to fare very well with aquarium keepers of all levels, it is no surprise to us as we have largely explained its anatomy in detail above – the bristlenose pleco is indeed the most common and popular type of pleco. It is highly accessible – you can find its kind in most pet stores.

What types of Plecos stay small?

The size and growth rate of a pleco depends majorly on some factors, including water quality, heredity, and food eaten during development. However, if your tank won’t be able to handle their sizes, some small-sized plecos can do the trick for your tank – most notably the bristlenose pleco, clown pleco, or zebra pleco, which we have explained above, and some other few.

What fish can live with a Pleco?

Generally, Plecos are peace-loving amphibians – they just want to scavenge and eat algae at night while they sleep by day. They can get along with just any cichlid just as long as they are peaceful too. However, some species of Pleco tend to fight each other when they reach maturity and inhabit the same tank, and you might have to separate them. Asides from that, they make good companions for other peace-loving cichlids.

Is Pleco good for an aquarium?

Pleco are great for a couple of reasons, besides the fact that they bring life to your tank – and can be a great addition to your tank. Although they are not a substitute for you cleaning your tank by yourself, they can do their own little bit of cleaning as they are part of a beautiful crew of freshwater cleaners – they help to reduce algae in the tank by eating it up. Essentially, they are a good choice and a natural way of controlling your tank.

Which Pleco eats the most algae?

At the top of this piece and the algae-eating chain are the bristlenose plecos. Despite their small size and hardy nature, they pack a massive appetite for algae in their stomach. If your tanks hold plenty of drifting wood that in turn breeds algae then these species can be your go-to fish for algae control. They will consume much without taking up a lot of space in your tank.

Final Thoughts

There exists a wide range of options in the plecos family, and it should come as no surprise to us that it might be hard for you to make a decision.

Hence we have done our bit by giving you more information on ten picks from the various types of plecos that we think would be the right choice to add to your tank.

Depending on the size of your tank and your personal preference, choose any of the recommended types of plecos and watch your aquarium spring to life.