Common plecostomus sells in most fish stores for anywhere from $3-$15 apiece. Most are sold while they’re only about 3″ long, and their small size may catch a beginning fish keeper unaware. It’s important to note that there are hundreds of types of plecostomus, or plecos, and the common pleco is just ahead of the brown bristlenose for easy availability. This plain-looking fish is actually one of the giants of the home aquarium world. While it’s often bought to control algae, it’s often the wrong choice for the average aquarium.
Housing requirements for the common plecostomus
Hardy common plecos can be kept in either cold or warm water aquariums. In most areas, they’re perfectly adaptable to outdoor ponds or stock tanks. While they can live in virtually any type of water that’s within the parameters for aquatic life, they do need to be in large tanks. On average, common plecos will reach an adult size of 8-12″, though 16-20″ is not unusual. It’s never a good idea to try to stunt a fish’s growth by keeping it in too small of a tank – this is unhealthy and cruel. As a catfish, the common pleco is a slow grower – it may take as much as two years to reach its full adult size.
Your tank should be at least 55G to accommodate a single common plecostomus. It’s possible that it will grow out of this tank in time, but it’s a pretty safe starting size. Anything smaller and the fish is virtually guaranteed to grow out of it within the first year. If you persistently find uprooted plants and broken decorations, your tank is probably too small for the pleco.
Common plecostomus tank mates
The common pleco is a mild-mannered, non-aggressive fish that can be kept with most other fish if the tank is big enough. Because of its bony head and spiny body, it’s safe even with most semi-aggressive and aggressive fish. It should not be combined with aggressive fish that also have hard mouths, though – freshwater puffers, for instance, can pick apart even a plecostomus.
A common pleco is a “slime sucker” that wants to clean everything – which can include its tank mates. For this reason, he shouldn’t be kept with certain larger fish that have thick slime coats and swim slowly. This includes goldfish, silver dollars, angelfish and more; the common pleco can damage their slime coats and leave them vulnerable to injury and infection.
What to feed a common plecostomus
The common myth is that the common plecostomus is an algae eater, and therefore doesn’t need anything else to eat. As juveniles, common plecos provide good algae control for most types of algae, but need more and more variety as they age. Common plecos are voracious eaters that enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruits. You can feed your common pleco a combination of cucumber, melon, berries, the firm meat of squashes, peas, and other semi-soft produce. They will also eat shrimp pellets, flake fish food, and “snail cookies” formulated for fish with high calcium needs.
Overall, the common plecostomus really does take a lot of space and work, and it’s not a fish for someone who just wants an algae eater in a starter aquarium. It’s perfect for large aquariums and can grow into a surprisingly showy fish. If you want fish that will eat algae and fit in smaller tanks, consider otocinclus, bristlenose plecos, or other such small fish. Platies, gouramis and goldfish will nibble at algae and can help keep it controlled between cleaning, but they may not be enough by themselves. Finally, apple snails – especially juveniles – enjoy algae as part of their diet.