Top 5 Types of Plecos That Stay Small

types of plecos that stay small

The Plecostomus is in millions of aquaria around the world. These dedicated, suckermouth catfish have long been a staple in the aquarium trade. Unfortunately, the Common Pleco gets too big for most small to medium-sized tanks. Enter small Plecos, which come with a bit of variety.

Looking for a smaller algae-eating solution? Read on!

1. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

  • Maximum Size: 5″
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Special Care: Driftwood Required

The Bristlenose Pleco is essentially a scaled-down version of the Common Plecostomus. There are a few species, but the “big” guys only hit about 5″. These species are all in the Ancistrus genus, and they’re rarely differentiated.

They can be a bit boisterous, and fine substrates will be stirred up on occasion. I’d recommend at least a 20-gallon tank for them, although some of the smallest species could potentially do fine in a slightly smaller tank.

The Bristlenose’s bristles form on the mouth. In most species of Bristlenose, the males will have them over their mouth and sometimes by their dorsal fins. In most cases, a female species has some along the edge of the mouth, but not quite as impressive as their male counterparts.

Bristlenoses are also easy to find in most pet shops. Sourcing some of the more exotic small Plecos can be difficult for people new to the hobby. Give them a shot if you’re not sure about adding more exotic species to your tank.

2. Zebra Pleco

Zebra Pleco

  • Maximum Size: 3″
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Special Care: Driftwood Required, Feed Frozen Foods

The Zebra Pleco, or at least the L046 and L098 species, are close to the opposite of what most people expect from a Pleco. They’re relatively sedate, preferring to hide out rasping on driftwood unless the tank is prepared for them properly.

They’re also carnivorous. The suckermouth you see on Pleco species is an adaptation to rapids, not necessarily an adaptation for sucking algae. You’ll want to feed them brine shrimp, blood worms, or other meaty foods. They’ll also eat some fallen flake, but it’s not a sure thing.

Unfortunately, these little guys are endangered in the wild and often smuggled in illegally. If you decide to go with this exotic little fish, you should look for a captive-bred fish. It’s not only ethical; it also means you’ll have a fish that is adapted more to aquarium conditions. Wild fish regularly die after capture and transport.

Due to their endangered status and relative rarity, you can expect to spend at least $100 to add a Zebra Pleco to your tank. They’re also not big on cleaning your tank, but they’re exciting to look at, and captive-bred populations may be all that’s left. In the end, they’re worth the money.

3. Clown Pleco

Clown Plecostomus

  • Maximum Size: 3″
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Special Care: Driftwood Required

The Clown Pleco is another of the dwarf Plecostomus out there. This one is herbivorous, so it’ll clean the tank in addition to rummaging in the substrate. Make sure they have wood, most species require it, but Clown Plecos tend to rasp more than most.

In most tanks, you’ll also need to supplement with algae wafers. Plecos need quite a bit of food, especially when they’re growing. A well-balanced tank won’t provide them with much to munch on, so make sure they’re well-fed.

While they’re generally peaceful critters, the Clown Pleco can become territorial with other males. Sexing them is difficult, but the males develop some growths near their fins, and they have larger barbels than the females. Make sure you have a tank of at least 55 gallons if you’re planning on keeping more than one.

Clown Plecos are relatively common in local fish stores, so they’re not too hard to get your hands on. Their brilliant stripes and overall use in a tank make them a great pleco for 20-30 gallons tanks.

4. Rubber Lip Pleco

rubber lip pleco

Image by: Mark Smith

  • Maximum Size: 4 ½”
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Special Care: Driftwood Required

The Rubber Lip Pleco is another common Pleco in stores. They reach about 4 ½”, making them suitable for tanks of only 20 gallons. They’re also one of the most herbivorous of Pleco, preferring an almost entirely plant-based diet.

They’re excellent algae cleaners. You’ll only need to supplement with algae pellets or wafers. It does depend on the fish, however, since some simply won’t eat algae. Frankly, you should be relying on invertebrates and a balanced tank to control algae in the first place.

There’s one problem with the species: a close relative is often sold as the same fish. The Rubber Pleco reaches 7″, still small but not what I’d consider a truly small Pleco. You can distinguish them by the markings on their head: Rubber Lip Plecos have spots, while Rubber Plecos have stripes on their head.

They’re a welcome companion for most tanks, especially if they happen to have a taste for algae. Give them a shot if you’re looking for something a bit less exotic.

5. Queen Arabesque Pleco

Queen Arabesque Pleco

  • Maximum Size: 3 ½”
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Special Care: Driftwood Required, Frozen Foods

The Queen Arabesque Pleco is a small sucker catfish with a marbled pattern. They’re rare still, but they can be found by a dedicated keeper. Hint: look for Pleco specialists; the Queen Arabesque is the L260 when L-numbers are involved.

These ones are mainly carnivorous like the Zebra Pleco. You’ll need to provide plenty of frozen foods that are high in protein for them to stay healthy. They’ll mostly leave algae alone, although they may remove it from driftwood while rasping.

Most are still close to the wild, so make sure you have slightly acidic conditions, high flow, and the all-important driftwood. They’ll help the fish live much longer. Despite their rarity, they’ve actually been bred in captivity with success if you’re interested.

They’re a prize fish if you’re willing to look. These small Plecos take some extra work compared to most species, but their striking looks make it all worth it.

Small Suckers, Big Win

Small Plecos are there for those who want them. It’s just a matter of picking out the right species for your tank. Whether it’s an exotic Zebra Pleco or a relatively plain Rubber Lip… they’re all excellent pets in the right sized tank.

Which one of them seems like the right fish for you?

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