How Big do Plecos Get?

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Pleco catfish is a popular aquarium fish among fish keepers. Maybe you already have a pleco fish or you want to buy one, you should know that pleco fish can grow quite a bit in size.

But how big do plecos get? Can pleco fish grow to full size in aquariums? How long it takes for pleco fish to grow out?

Pleco catfish (Plecostomus) can grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) in size. However, it takes a long period of time for them to grow this big. For such fish, you need special conditions, especially if you keep them in an aquarium.

Though, you should be aware, that there are different types of plecos, which will grow only up to 3-5 inches (7-15 cm) in size. I will list these smaller breed plecos in this article below. But first, let’s see what is the minimum tank size requirement for common pleco (Plecostomus) catfish?

Aquarium Size for Pleco Fish

At first, when you buy plecos, they are only 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) long. They could be even smaller than that. At this point, you don’t need an oversized aquarium to house them.

Most of the time, a 30-gallon aquarium will do just fine. But don’t forget: this aquarium is good only when they’re still small.

The Common Pleco is the most popular type among this species. It grows up to 24 inches long, as mentioned above. Because of this, you’ll need a way bigger tank than 30-gallons, when they grow large.

Most people who own large plecos, are using aquariums of at least 80 gallons in volume. And this works only if you have 1 Common Pleco in the tank.

Usually, it isn’t recommended to keep more than 1 Common Pleco in your aquarium. But if you want to, you can do that. The only problem is the tank.

For multiple plecos, you’ll need an even bigger tank, than just 80 gallons. For 2 or 3 plecos that are fully grown, a 150-gallon fish tank is required. You need a lot of space for such a tank.

That’s why most people who want to buy a pleco, settle for only 1. This way, you can avoid the huge tank, that is necessary for multiple plecos to thrive in.

But not all plecos grow this big. There are certain breeds that stay smaller all their life. Let’s talk about some of these now. If you can’t afford a huge tank, like above, any of these plecos could be a good alternative.

List of Small Pleco Fish Breeds

There are many pleco fish that won’t grow huge during their life. But there’s one aspect about most of them, that you should know before buying any: these plecos are more expensive than the Common Pleco that grows big.

Many people who own such small plecos, refer to them as exotic plecos. These are the ones I will introduce to you:

  1. Bristlenose Pleco
  2. Clown Pleco
  3. Rubber Lip Pleco
  4. Pitbull Pleco
  5. Queen Arabesque Pleco
  6. Zebra Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco


Bristlenose Pleco Albino

This version is the most popular small pleco. You can find it at pretty much any pet shop. The full size it grows to is no more than 5 inches. It can live up to 20 years in a well-kept home aquarium.

Something great about this type of pleco, is the fact that you can put it together with almost any other tropical fish species in the tank. It is very peaceful and lives without any issues in a community tank. And a real plus: they will clean the tank as a hobby.

Clown Pleco


Clown Pleco

This one grows to only 4 inches big. So, keeping it together with other small tropical fish won’t be an issue. Especially because the Clown Pleco is a peaceful breed.

Make sure you have a lot of driftwood in the tank where you keep this fish. The reason for this, is that the Clown Pleco’s main source of food is driftwood. Also, don’t put much larger fish in the same tank as this breed. Because the Clown is so small, other fish could mistake it for food.

Rubber Lip Pleco


Rubber Lip Pleco (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

The Rubber Lip Pleco is quite similar to the Bristlenose from above. It grows about the same length, and it even looks similar. It’s known for its cleaning capabilities.

A Rubber Lip Pleco can clean a whole 30-gallon fish tank from algae by itself. If you want a “hard working” fish, the Rubber Lip Pleco might be a good choice.

Also, consider that the Rubber Lip Pleco is quite cheap compared to the others on this list.

Pitbull Pleco


Pitbull Pleco

The Pitbull Plecos are probably the smallest plecos in this category: they only grow to 3 inches big. It’s best to keep them in small groups, because they like to school or swarm together.

But if you decide to do that, know that a 30-gallon fish tank is required to make them feel at home. Also, the bottom of the tank, should be covered with sand or a softer rounded gravel. That’s because they like to clean the bottom, by rolling the gravel in their mouth.

Queen Arabesque Pleco


Queen Arabesque Pleco

This one is among the most expensive on the list. If you plan to buy it, be prepared for higher prices. Why? The most important aspect that makes the Queen expensive is the special look.

It has a black and white pattern covering all of its body. It looks like a maze. It’s probably the most beautiful pleco on this list. As far as growth goes, it won’t get bigger than 4 inches.

Keep in mind though that the Queen needs warmer waters, than most plecos.

Zebra Pleco


Zebra Pleco

If you want the most exquisite looking fish, go for the Zebra Pleco. But be aware that it’s the most expensive as well.

Like its name suggests, it looks entirely like a zebra, only it’s a fish. The Zebra Pleco is a very shy breed, that needs a lot of hiding places in its environment, like caves. Also, you have to provide it with a warmer water environment, than most other tropical fish need.

What to do With Your Overgrown Pleco Fish?

Did your pleco reach its full size, but you don’t have enough space for such a specimen. What should you do then? Let me tell you first what you must not do: do not release the pleco into the wild!

Most plecos that were living in captivity, won’t survive in the wild. So, never release them like that. If you don’t have enough space for them, just sell them to someone who does. If nobody wants to buy them, then give them away.

Before you do that though, make sure the one who receives your fish, has a big enough aquarium for housing big plecos. Otherwise, they won’t thrive in their new home.

How Fast can Pleco Fish Grow?

This mostly depends on the breed you personally have. A Common Pleco will grow to its full size during its whole lifespan (15-20 years). However, there are exceptions: some reach full growth in less time, but this isn’t very common.

The small plecos listed above, will reach their full size quicker than the Common Pleco. It’s quite obvious, given they only grow to 4- or 5-inches long.

At What Size can You Breed Pleco Fish?

This answer also depends on the type of pleco you own. In most cases, a pleco should be fully developed before you start breeding. For instance, a Common Pleco is fully developed, before it reaches full growth.

The exact details for breeding pleco fish aren’t very clear up to this point. Not many people try to breed them, because it’s quite hard to do so. If you want to try though, wait until your pleco develops all its functions fully. If you own small plecos, you can start the breeding sooner.


In this article, we talked about pleco fish growth. At first, I mentioned that pleco fish (not all of them) can grow up to 24 inches long. The most popular type that grows this big, is the Common Pleco.

Also, I gave you some advice about the aquarium you need to house such big fish. After that, you learned about 6 different pleco breeds, that won’t grow big. Most of these, only grow to 4 or 5 inches long.

If you plan to buy pleco fish, make sure you do everything as the chosen breed needs it. Do a thorough research before you make a purchase. Set up everything accordingly, to meet the requirements.

And be really careful about the tank itself. Buy one that’s big enough even if your plecos grow to full size.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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