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Common Plecostomus Care Part Two

Last Updated: 2/14/20

Air Gulping
Plecos out of Water


Commercial Foods:

Plecostomus require special food. They cannot live solely on algae in the tank in most cases or leftover fish food. At dusk, add those dry spirulina tablets that say they are made for plecostomus. Mine preferred those made by Wardley the most. I fed three brands as of 2008. When Plecy died 2/14/20, he had mostly been eating Hikari algae wafers for years.

Here are the three kinds of algae wafers or pleco foods that I was (10/7/04) feeding Plecy back on 10/7/04. I put in one of them every night and would later up that to two a night: OSI Sinking Spirulina Wafers, Wardley Premium Spirulina Discs, and Hikari Algae Wafers. I used to feed Tetra PlecoMin too which was smaller in size but they stopped selling that. In early 2006, I got the newer Aquarian Algae Eater Sinking Algae Chips. Funny, the first three ingredients were fish, wheat, and rice!


To give your pleco a good meal, cut a cucumber in half (I only used about 30% of its length), spoon out the seeds (I used a grapefruit spoon), attach it to something (they used to make special vegetable holders but you can use a rubber band over a rock), and place it on the bottom. They will also eat squash and zucchini in this way. My pleco did not like those as much, and they made a bigger mess. Boiling is not necessary although some people always do it. Remove the leftovers every morning. Feed as often as necessary, depending on their size. My pleco was about 15 inches (as of December 2008) and got his cucumber every single morning at which time I removed the one from the day before. They are supposed to eat leafy vegetables like lettuce and kale too but mine did not care for them. Also, be sure to include driftwood for them to chew on for roughage. They also like to camouflage themselves while sucked onto the wood. See this section for how to treat new driftwood.

Live Plants:

Large common plecos WILL devour or destroy virtually any plant that you can think to add to the tank. The only plants that mine left alone when he was smaller was a large onion plant (Crinum thaianum) and java moss (it must be secured with a clip to the wall or the pleco will uproot it). A well-fed pleco will not eat all plants but he will uproot them. Give the pleco large pots, driftwood, ornaments, etc. in which to hide during the day while it sleeps. Light the tank well so that during the night, it will have some natural algae to eat. Also, be sure to provide lots of aeration in their tanks and vacuum up their copious volumes of feces every week with a 30-50% water change.

Some plecos will turn upside down and suck floating fish foods off the surface during the day! I did not see Plecy do this often but, since half a dozen people have e-mailed me about this asking if it is normal, I thought I would mention it as it is obviously somewhat common. Smaller and hungrier plecos are more apt to do this.

Comments from Others:

Stuart sent me the following pleco information tidbit related to feeding:
"One interesting tidbit I noticed you didn't have up on your site, and that is something I've confirmed with several more knowledgeable people over the years...you can tell how healthy a pleco is by the size of the indentation above and behind their eyes. According to my information, this is where the pleco's body stores unused fat. If the indentation is deep, they are not getting enough food. If the indentation is level, they are getting enough food, and if it is bulging, they are extremely healthy." Thanks Stuart! Plecy's indentation is level.

Don told me on 6/12/05 and 6/13/05 that his pleco likes green bananas (partially peel it) and watermelon (cut half an inch above the rind; his pleco eats the green and red, leaving the white)!

On 12/31/05, Don told me that his pleco likes summer squash, zucchini, and kiwi! He says, "Cut it in half and leave the skin on so it does not fall apart. Then, in the morning, there is only the skin. Nothing else." I do not even treat myself to kiwi so I do not know if I could part with some for Plecy!

On 2/15/07, Kate shared the following: "I gave my plecos some spaghetti squash, and they loved it! Still didn't eat much; I had to remove a lot of it after 24 hours because it was unfinished. But they did love it. I just recently tried Kiwi on them because of the suggestion on your page; they didn't like it. They went over and took a quick taste of the new object in their tank but they quickly decided Kiwi wasn't for them. My husband's pleco liked it more then mine; it finished the core of it and left the seeds and outer part of it alone. I just thought I would tell you to be aware of the kiwi in the water; it will give you a nice THICK gunk through out your entire tank and make the water filthy."

Air Gulping

Many species of plecostomus, including the common varieties can gulp air to gain better control of their buoyancy. In oxygen-poor environments, they may use some of the oxygen for respiration as well. Often, at dusk, a pleco will rush very quickly to the top of the aquarium and gulp air and then make a splash on its way back into the water. Some plecos are known to be more forceful while doing this, creating quite a splash. If there is no lid, they may jump out. If there is a lid, the pleco may bash itself on it. When I would hear a bang, I knew it was Plecy hitting the glass lid during an air gulp. Usually, the event is not so violent but some individuals "go crazy" and bash themselves to death (often there is a water quality problem in those cases). On their way back down into the aquarium, the pleco will open its fins and sort of glide down and often emit some bubbles from its mouth (at least Plecy did). With the extra air in their bodies, the pleco can now go about its nightly sucking ritual in almost any position. This is all normal behavior and no cause for concern. While plecos sometimes spend some time on their backs (upside down), if they are not attached/sucking on something at the time and it continues for a number of days, this may indicate a health problem. My 26-year-old pleco, Plecy, was spending time in the open, sideways, upside down, etc. and not sucked on things beginning on 2/1/20, and so, I knew he was dying. His respirations increased, and he was gone on 2/14/20.

In the section with photos of my pleco, I happened to get a photo of an air gulp.

Plecos Out of Water

In the wild, some plecos spend dry season above the water line, in mud holes in the bank. They make a sort of wet cocoon around themselves. They can utilize atmospheric oxygen somewhat. For this reason, plecos can survive out of water much longer than other fish. If a pleco jumps out of its tank, put it back in some tank water to see if it recovers, and it may as long as it did not dry out totally. Plecos love to jump from tanks (perhaps they think they will find a bigger and/or better tank if they jump) so be sure there are no holes in the lid through which a pleco can jump. If they do jump, they tend to bounce all over the floor trying to find water. This not only dries them out sooner, they tend to collect debris and dirt and physically injure themselves. If you have a cat, he/she may also find this great fun. Anyway, it is better if your pleco never decides to jump ship.

See my old 40 gallon tank page and my new 65 gallon tank page for information on my plecostomus and his former 40 gallon setup and new 65 gallon setup.


I once read that the male's chin barbels are more hooked while the females are smooth. I do not know if this is even true. People who can sex common plecostomus are few. I do know that plecos will fight with each other over territories so stick to a single one, unless you want to breed them or have a huge tank (200+ gallons). For Hypostomus punctatus, the males are supposed to be smaller with larger barbels than the females. To determine sex this way, you would need many large (a foot or more) plecos to compare. For the majority of us, we will never know if our pleco is a girl or boy.


Common plecostomus have only been bred a few times in captivity. I read a report of a Hypostomus punctatus breeding in a tank where the male guarded and fanned dark brown eggs and later guarded fry in tree roots . Some think that is just a myth. Males take up residence in caves where the female lays her eggs. In the wild, these spawning caves are along river banks near the surface. The male sort of hangs out with the eggs and hatched fry who suck on whatever is around. The keys to their breeding are HUGE tanks (500-2000 gallons), a pair of plecostomus (very hard to tell sex) that get along, lots of surface algae and vegetables, and few distractions. Most plecos are raised in ponds in the far east, Florida, and other places. A few plecostomus, like bristlenose plecostomus, have been bred in aquariums. With this species, it is also possible to tell male from female with certainty (the male has more barbels and adornments). Unfortunately, for most of the "common" plecos, breeding in an aquarium is not likely.

Back to the main plecostomus page.

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