15 Types of Plecos – Popular and Rare Breeds

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Plecostomus catfish are great cleaners that can adapt to any community setup. They don’t need much care since they are generally hardy and can coexist with a variety of other peaceful species.

They also don’t exhibit territorial or aggressive behavior and will consume detritus and food leftovers, among other things, keeping the tank clean and fresh.

Unfortunately, they don’t display as much variation as other species. Or do they?

Today, we will discuss the 15 most popular and rare breeds of Plecostomus that you should have on your ‘to-get’ list. Let’s get it going!

1. Bristlenose Pleco

Few species of plecos are more popular than the bristlenose. This catfish can reach 5 inches in optimal conditions and are perfectly suitable for beginner aquarists since they don’t require extensive care or special living conditions. The fish is highly distinguishable in terms of appearance.

The bristlenose pleco showcases a thick, spotted body with powerful side fins and a flat belly. In typical catfish fashion, the mouth is located underneath the head, allowing the fish to scrape food from hard and flat surfaces, including the tank wall.

Bristlenose plecos showcase an array of bristles around the mouth which they use to scan their environment for food.

Most plecos have dark coloring, usually, a mix of grey and dark blue, with tiny white and yellow spots sprinkled everywhere. Some even showcase olive green, brown, or black.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Aim for a tank size of 20-25 gallons for an adult pleco specimen. You can add an extra 5 to 10 gallons for every new pleco.

Temperature is ideal between 60 and 80 F, which reinforces the fish’s amazing adaptability to various water conditions. The ideal pH level sits between 6.5 and 7.5.

Bristlenose plecos are easy to accommodate and live most of their lives near the substrate on a constant lookout for food and peace.

Feed them sinking pellets, algae wafers, veggies, and some occasional live foods once or twice per week for some dietary variation, and they’ll thrive.

2. Gold Nugget Plecos

The gold nugget pleco is among the most gorgeous catfishes you can get. This one is among the flashiest bottom dwellers around, and it also grows to impressive sizes for a pleco.

Expect your golden nugget to reach 10 inches in good condition and with sufficient food.

The fish’s appearance is typical of a bottom-dwelling catfish. The flat stomach and the long and robust body are there, and so are the lateral fins and powerful tail.

The fish is generally completely black, sprinkled with a myriad of yellow spots. The dorsal and caudal fin have bright yellow edges. The fish also showcases large and bulbous eyes, although no mouth bristles are present.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

This one is a bit different than your typical bristlenose pleco. Gold nuggets are a tad more demanding in terms of care.

Aim for a tank size of at least 50 gallons for one specimen, given the fish’s size and active temperament.

It’s also worth noting that gold nugget plecos are slightly more territorial and don’t tolerate other bottom dwellers in the tank.

They also require a more omnivorous-oriented diet compared to the pleco and a tropical-style habitat. Ideal water conditions revolve around 70-82 F with a mid-range pH, similar to bristle plecos.

So, this one is more fitting for intermediate aquarists since it may be more than a handful for beginners.

3. Zebra Plecos

Zebra plecos are small but beautiful, displaying slim and agile bodies with large fins, especially the caudal one (the tail.)

The head is typically disproportionate to the body, with the fish displaying large eyes and a rounded snout.

Zebra plecos are either white or silvery, with distinct black bands traversing their bodies in a zebra-like pattern. These fish can reach 3.5 inches and remain smaller than your typical bottom-lurking catfish.

They are also more timid than other species of plecos, so they need a variety of hiding areas to remain comfortable during the day. They will mostly come out to feed during nighttime.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Despite their small size, zebra plecos require at least 30 gallons of water per fish, preferably with rocky hiding spots near the substrate.

They can tolerate other tankmates since they aren’t territorial or aggressive. But they are timid and peaceful, so they’re likely to become stressed when housed with overly curious and energetic fish that could bother them too frequently.

Zebra plecos are omnivorous, so they prefer a combination of veggies, plant matter, and live food as part of their daily diet.

I only recommend this breed to intermediates and up since they’re not exactly suitable for beginners.

4. Clown Plecos

Things become even more interesting with clown plecos, especially due to the fish’s exquisite color and pattern variation.

This degree of variation is atypical for most pleco breeds. Clown plecos can grow to 3.5 inches and showcase a compact body with flashy striped fins.

They don’t have a basic background color but rather intense patterns, providing the fish with an impressive variation.

Most clown plecos showcase brown, yellow, white, and even orange stripes, often coming in different patterns. Some are straight, while others follow the body’s curves.

Clown plecos can easily reach 10 years in captivity with good care and a personalized setup.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Aim for at least 20 gallons of space for one fish and a water temperature of 72-82 F. Clown plecos are very fond of driftwood, as they use it for both shelter and food.

They collect algae off of the wood and even chew on the driftwood itself occasionally.

This breed is generally easy to care for, although they do require some specific environmental conditions, including dim lights, plenty of hiding areas, and clean waters.

That said, they can be beginner-friendly with some preparation and know-how.

5. Common Plecos

Common plecos may sound…common, but this doesn’t change the fact that they are quite the eye-candy.

These are large catfish, often reaching up to 15 inches, especially in a large setting with plenty of swimming space. Common plecos showcase dark colors, usually brown and black, with a net-like pattern, bringing colors like yellow, green, or light brown.

They like to maintain a low profile and stick to the substrate, often blending in the environment thanks to their inconspicuous coloring.

They have long, powerful bodies with flat bellies and incredibly long and wide fins.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Common plecos require at least 100 gallons per fish. This can lead to confusion among more inexperienced aquarists who acquire a juvenile common pleco.

This breed can be quite small when juvenile, so people think they only need a small or medium-sized tank for them. This can hinder the fish’s growth, as the 15-inch common pleco requires up to 150 gallons to reach its full growth potential.

Other than that, the common pleco isn’t a demanding species. Aim for water temperatures of 72-86 F and a pH level of 6.5-7.5.

Common plecos aren’t difficult fish, but they require a lot more space than your typical catfish.

For this reason, I don’t recommend them to beginners with no experience in setting up 100-gallon+ tanks.

6. Royal Plecos

Royal plecos make for another peculiar addition to your tank. This breed produces even larger specimens than the common pleco, with your typical royal catfish reaching up to 17 inches.

They are generally peaceful but can exhibit some territorial aggression if their territory is being patrolled by other species, especially other catfish.

The royal pleco showcases a distinct and unusual appearance for a Plecostomus. The body looks short, with the head and thorax occupying most of the ‘real estate.’

The abdominal and tail area is shorter and slimmer. Royal plecos have different colors, from cappuccino to purple and dark green or grey. However, they all display horizontal full-body stripes, generally black or dark brown.

The bulbous, red eyes also make for a noteworthy feature.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

The royal pleco requires at least 125 gallons for one specimen, although you’ll most likely need to go for a 150-gallon setup.

Required water conditions are typical for plecos, varying between 73 and 83 F with a pH of 6.5-7.5.

While these fish aren’t difficult in terms of general care, I don’t recommend them to beginners due to their tank size requirements and more territorial nature.

They might be difficult to integrate into a community setup that contains several other bottom dwellers.

7. Rubber Lip Plecos

Rubber lip plecos look as exotic as they sound. Their 7-inch-max bodies are long and slim with oversized heads and even more oversized mouths.

The fish’s upper and lower lips are meaty and wide, which explains the fish’s highly descriptive name.

Most rubber lip plecos come in dark colors like green, grey, or even black, with body stripes and spotted heads.

Requirements and Difficult of Care

These are easy-going fish that don’t need much in terms of daily care. Aim for an aquarium size of 30 gallons for one fish, and decorate the setup with plenty of plants, rocks, and driftwood.

This bottom-dweller will rarely get out of hiding as it prefers to keep a low profile, especially in a community setup.

Rubber lip plecos are beginner-friendly, although I recommend them to slightly more experienced aquarists due to their specific environmental and dietary requirements.

8. Sailfin Plecos

This is another bottom-dwelling monster that’s bound to make an impression. Sailfin plecos have earned their name due to their astounding dorsal fins that can expand to impressive sizes.

Pectoral fins are also wide and powerful, allowing the sailfin pleco to glide undetected over the tank bed.

Sailfin plecos can reach 19 inches in extreme cases, although you’ll most likely find them between 15 and 17 inches max.

The fish has a large, prolonged head and an unexpectedly slim body. The tail fin is wide and powerful enough to ensure great propelling power.

These fish showcase darker colors with spotted patterns, mixing a base brown with yellow, green, and even dark blue spots.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Prepare a 100-gallon+ tank for your sailfin pleco, along with numerous caves and other hiding areas.

Open swimming space is also necessary for this shy fish, although sailfin plecos spend most of their time in hiding.

These fish qualify as beginner-friendly so long as you provide them with sufficient space and a personalized habitat.

Sailfin plecos also require 2-3 meals per day to satisfy their elevated appetite.

9. Snowball Plecos

Snowball plecos are proof that simplicity is sometimes the best in terms of coloring and pattern. These fish can grow to 6 inches and come with black or brown bodies, covered by dozens of white dots.

Hence, the name. There’s no denying that the fish is beautiful and set to make an impression in any aquatic setup.

These fish are shy, as is typical with pleco catfish, and prefer a dark and calm environment to thrive.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Provide your snowballs with at least 40-50 gallons of space and a dim-lit and safe habitat.

Water currents are preferable to replicate the catfish’s natural conditions along with a temperature of 73-86 F and a pH level of 5.8-7.5.

They are easy to care for and don’t need special treatment to thrive. Keep the tank clean, provide them with a tank area with strong water currents, and add plenty of plants, driftwood, and rocks for a boost of comfort and security.

10. Vampire Plecos

Vampire plecos make for quite the unique entry on this list thanks to their unusual behavior and appearance. For a clearer picture, they are very similar to snowball plecos in terms of an overall pattern.

Most vampire plecos are black with white spots all over the body. Some are brown with yellow spots.

The pleco has a large, long head with a sucker mouth more prominent than other breeds. One of its trademark features is the eyes with fluctuating pupils that change in size depending on the light intensity.

Another one is the fish’s uncommon diet for a catfish. Vampire plecos are carnivorous fish, although neither aggressive nor predatorial.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

This fish will reach 9 inches and requires approximately 30 gallons of space.

Provide them with a clean, personalized, and stable environment with a sandy and fine substrate to protect their delicate rays, and they won’t ask for much more.

Vampire plecos are generally easy to care for, so long as they have a balanced diet with one meaty food daily and a clean habitat with friendly tankmates. Hiding spots are also necessary, in typical catfish fashion.

11. Butterfly Pleco

The butterfly pleco is one of my personal favorites. This cute, 6-inch-long catfish comes with a unique presence and an adorable appearance.

Butterfly plecos are flatter than other pleco breeds and prefer dimmer environments due to their shy nature. They display an impressive pattern variety, with some breeds being striped while others are spotted.

But it’s their camouflaging ability that separates butterfly plecos from other breeds. These fish can change their coloring depending on the intensity of the environmental light.

It’s also a nice feature to possess when housed with more aggressive fish species, as it allows for a greater degree of security and comfort.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Butterfly plecos are hardy and easy-going but require specific living conditions. These are low-light fish that prefer to live in the shadows; otherwise, they won’t get out of hiding and will experience stress in the long run.

Butterfly plecos are mostly herbivorous and demand at least 80 gallons and temperatures around 72 to 84 F as ideal living conditions.

They are considered beginner fish in terms of difficulty of care, so long as you provide them with optimal living conditions.

12. Sunshine Pleco

The thing that helps the sunshine pleco stand out is its coloring. Most specimens are dark in coloring, with bright yellow or red spots covering the entire body.

Some variations also showcase blood-red edges around the fins and mouth.

Sunshine plecos can grow up to 12 inches and display some territorial behavior, especially against other bottom dwellers.

Otherwise, this breed is docile and can adapt to community life easily.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

Provide your sunshine pleco with ample swimming space. This breed needs at least 125 gallons and a variety of hiding areas to thrive.

An omnivorous diet is necessary, although the sunshine pleco has a sweet tooth for live foods with shrimps and snails making up for much of their dietary preferences.

These fish rank as intermediate in terms of general care, but they can be manageable at a beginner level with sufficient work and dedication.

13. Peppermint Pleco

This is a 7-inch spotted pleco that’s similar in appearance to the snowball. They come with agile and slim black bodies, usually covered by a lot of white dots.

The snout is long and protrusive, with subtle barbels visible underneath. The fish also features visible protective plates, spiky fins, and bulbous eyes.

A rocky layout is necessary to cater to the fish’s feeding behavior. Peppermint plecos latch onto any hard surface to rest or feed.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

A 50-gallon setup is necessary to accommodate this species. Also, since the peppermint pleco comes from the fast-flowing waters of Rio Xingu, Brazil, strong water currents are necessary to replicate its natural conditions.

The specific tank setup may make this species more fitting for intermediate and experienced aquarists.

14. Leopard Frog Pleco

Leopard frog pleco sounds like a very confusing-looking fish, but this isn’t the case. The leopard pleco is small, only capable of reaching 4 inches and showcases a thick yet aquadynamic body.

The head is rather flat with bulbous eyes and a wide mouth which is probably where the frog association comes from.

This breed displays an astounding color and pattern variety, with different fish being yellow, brown, black, or even white with black or brown stripes.

Some also have transparent fins with a similar leopard pattern.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

These are hardy and resilient fish that can adapt to various living conditions. This being said, they can get quite aggressive when housed with other bottom dwellers.

Expect a similar behavior when keeping more than one leopard frog pleco per tank. Males are not used to sharing anything, including food, space, females, and even hierarchical positions.

You need approximately 30 gallons for one fish, which sounds extreme when looking at the fish’s size, but understandable once you consider its behavior.

Leopard frog plecos are largely dormant during the daytime but very active during the nighttime.

15. Blue-Eyed Pleco

Naturally, we’ve saved the best for last. Blue-eyed plecos are my favorite catfish by far. This aquatic monster can reach 2 feet in captivity and needs a lot of space for optimal comfort.

This breed comes with several unique physical characteristics that imbue the fish with a dose of uniqueness and exotic.

The first one is the neon-like blue eyes that are visible even in dark waters. This can produce an eerie yet delightful spectacle, especially in a dim-lit, rocky aquarium.

Another noteworthy feature is the fish’s body and head plates, making the animal look like a prehistoric creature. Finally, you have the overall body shape that would’ve been common some 50 million years ago.

The blue-eyed pleco has a cone-shaped body, a narrow tail, and a large and long head and snout.

Most fish come in dark and inconspicuous colors like black, dark blue, grey, and even dark brown and burgundy. The dorsal fins are wide and spiky, providing the fish with a fossil-like appearance.

In short, this species is nothing short of adorable.

Requirements and Difficulty of Care

You need at least 180-200 gallons to accommodate this monster, which makes sense given the pleco’s size. These fish also need strong water currents to replicate their natural living conditions.

Keeping them in stale waters will cause them to become stressed and even sick as a result.

I don’t recommend them to beginners or even intermediate aquarists. This is best left to professionals.

Conclusion

Who would’ve taught that plecos offer so much diversity in terms of color, size, pattern, and even behaviors.

As you can see, there’s a breed for everyone, whether you want a small community catfish or a larger and more impactful specimen.

Fortunately, most catfish are easy to house. Just provide them with a fine substrate, multiple hiding areas, and a clean and shady environment, and they will thrive.

avatar 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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