Six Great Plecos All Aquatic Retailers Should Carry
Plecostomus’ adaptability to a wide range of water conditions and popularity as tank cleaners are the main reasons that aquatic departments large and small stock these specimens.
Gold nugget plecos are prized for their coloration, hardiness and size. They will attract clients immediately (regardless of their price) and only grow to 6 inches.
Suckermouth catfish, i.e. Plecostomus, all are grouped within their own family: Loricariidae. This, the largest family of catfish, specimens of which all are found in the freshwater habitats of the Amazon river, its tributaries and the brackish estuaries of South America. Their adaptability to a wide range of water conditions and popularity as tank cleaners are the main reasons that aquatic departments large and small stock plecos.
Sucker-cats are benthic fish, acting as pertinent cleaners needed to clear river bottoms for new epifauna growth; they are considered ‘tier-one’ detritivores. Because of this behavior (contrary to beginner instincts), dirty tank bottoms can be detrimental to their health, as they succumb to internal infections easily. In my experience, cleaning substrates regularly is the most important care fact in keeping your pleco stock healthy. These fish are cryptic and nocturnal, and are best sold to displays where they can be seen or lured out of cover with food.
Shops can carry many varieties of plecos—large, small, cheap, expensive and rare, and many that have not been identified taxonomically. This is why we see plecos in the trade given L-numbers (‘L’ stands for Loricariidae). It’s a way for us to identify them when there are no official scientific names designated. Here are six interesting Loricariids I believe you should always strive to stock:
No. 6 Gibbiceps (L-83): Some of the hardiest, most affordable and best algae eaters. Only stock six small ones per 20 gallon. They grow longer than 18 inches and are not compatible with live plans. Offer your clients an exchange on larger grow-outs, as you’ll be able to sell the bigger ones with a better margin.
No. 5 Bushynose/Bristlenose (LDA072): The easiest pleco to spawn. Customers love them because they are easy to sex, with males possessing the ‘bushier’ nose (see photo). They stay relatively small (reaching approximately 5 inches) and do well with harder water qualities, such as your livebearer or brackish tanks.
No. 4 Royal (L-191): The most widely available of the fancy plecos. Receiving them in good condition is a must in order to do well with them. Examine their eyes; if they are sunken into the orbit cavity, do not purchase them. Always keep them with driftwood and not live plants, and you’ll do well with them. They can reach 18 inches.
No. 3 Otocinclus (LDA023): Most plecos including “fancy” varieties are not ideal for displays that have live plants. Otos are one exception, and in many situations are a must have for natural aquaria. They keep micro-algae in check and do not eat live plants. I recommend one per 15 gallons; let your clients know that they do not live very long (usually two years).
No. 2 Gold nugget (L-18): If you’re willing to try the fancy pleco types, I suggest these guys for their coloration, hardiness and size. Display them in small areas, i.e. cubes with clear tubes for cover. They will attract clients immediately (regardless of their price). They only grow to 6 inches.
No. 1 Clown (L-104): The best pleco for 5- to10-gallon community tanks because of their adult size (maximum 3 inches). We stock a lot of this species and prefer to recommend them instead of common plecos. Clowns ship in better shape and have a higher ratio of success. Common plecos (L-21) grow quite large (longer than 18 inches) and often are imported with concave abdomens. Always avoid any plecos with severe sunken stomachs.
There are many pleco species left out of my list. In fact, as I write this, we have more than 44 species in the shop, and I had a hard time deciding on six. I’ve chosen what I think fit the needs of most aquarists you encounter. Of course, increasing your species selection is recommended, as you develop a reputation for having a diverse stock.
Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J., is a regular contributor to Pet Product News.