So, you want to keep a pleco? Or maybe the fish store is telling you that a "sucker fish" or "suckermouth catfish" or even "sailfin catfish" will keep your tank clean and eat all that nasty algae? DON'T believe it!!!!!!!
Before you purchase a pleco, please read this information to ensure that you're getting what you paid for and that you are choosing the right fish for your tank setup. Plecos are beautiful and interesting fish, and given proper care can live for many years (10-15).
Pleco Myths and Facts
Myth #1: "A pleco will clean your tank!"
This is the first and biggest myth (lie) that you will hear. In fact, very few plecos will eat algae off your glass once they start to grow, although some species (like bristlenose plecos) will graze on it more than others. Plecos are messy fish which produce a lot of waste (and no, they don't eat poop). They requre heavy filtration and lots of water changes. Having a pleco is NOT a substitute for regularly cleaning your tank, doing water changes and vacuuming your substrate to remove waste. If you're buying a pleco because you don't like cleaning the tank, your problems will just get worse! Always test your water regularly, do not overfeed and maintain your tank to keep your fish healthy and your algae down.
Myth #2: "You don't need to feed the pleco, it will just eat algae and leftover fish food scraps."
Plecos need a varied diet to keep them healthy. Most plecos are omnivores or vegetarians and need plenty of fresh vegetables like blanched yam, cucumber or zucchini, plus prepared algae wafers or other appropriate food. They also need wood of some kind in the tank to chew on. Some types of pleco are more carnivorous and need a meatier protein rich diet. NO pleco will eat poop from other fish. Research your pleco on Planet Catfish to find out what its specific dietary needs are. If you don't feed your pleco, it will starve and die. A healthy pleco should have a nice rounded belly. A pleco with a hollow looking stomach is sick or starving!
Myth #3: "Plecos will only grow as large as your tank lets them. A 10 gallon is just fine."
Common plecos and other large plecos sold in pet stores can quickly grow up to 18"-24" long and produce a corresponding amount of waste. Placing them in a tank that is too small means that they will quickly outgrow and pollute the tank, killing themselves and the other fish. Some pleco species like bristlenose plecos and otoclinus will remain small and are suitable for smaller tank setups, but most of the larger plecos need at least 30 gallons to start out, and adult commons or sailfins should be kept in a 100+ gallon tank or in a pond.
Myth #4: "Your pleco can live with any other fish."
Plecos don't always do well with some types of fish. Larger plecos may suck on the slime coat of fish like discus or goldfish, causing wounds or ulcers. Some plecos can be territorial and aggressive to other fish, especially over food or breeding space. Also, small, peaceful plecos like bristlenoses should be kept with similarly small, peaceful tank mates. Make sure that your pleco will not be outcompeted for food, especially if you have other fast bottom feeders like clown loaches in the aquarium. Some plecos like zebras require a species only tank with very specific setup and water parameters. Remember that a lot of plecos come from South America where the water is quite soft, so placing them in a tank with hard water fish like African cichlids isn't always a good idea.
Pleco Care Basics
This thread is a wonderful basic guide to the more common types of pleco out there and the size of tank and care that they require: Guide for Purchasing Plecos
Plecos have been know to jump out of tanks, so a well fitting lid is a must. Plecos are messy fish, so make sure that your tank has adequate filtration. Maintain your tank with regular water changes (20%-50% weekly is a good start), vacuum the substrate to remove poop, and ensure that your tank is cycled before adding any fish (First Tank Guide: Cycling Your Tank).
Tank decor should include wood for the pleco to chew on and some form of cave or hiding place for it to feel secure.
Plecos are typically nocturnal feeders who will come out to eat at night. Most plecos are omnivores or vegetarians and need plenty of fresh vegetables like blanched yam, cucumber or zucchini, plus prepared sinking algae wafers or other appropriate bottom feeder food. They also need wood of some kind in the tank to chew on. Some types of pleco are more carnivorous and need a meatier protein rich diet. Research your pleco on Planet Catfish to find out what its specific dietary needs are.
Feeding Plecos, Part 1: Types of food
Feeding Plecos, Part 2: Who eats what?
Research Your Pleco!!!
Before buying, research your pleco on Planet Catfish. This site has comprehensive information about all types of catfish, including plecos.