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Suckermouth catfish of the family Loricariidae (lore öih-CARE- iday) often referred to, as plecos, have long been the mainstay of the Aquarium ãclean-up crew.ä Plecos are armored catfish whose large bony scales or scutes provide a shield against attack. These protective scutes are what give the pleco its prehistoric appearance. The reality is that these are highly evolved and sophisticated fish.

Despite its popularity, most aquaristsregard these fish as a necessary evil in their tanks. This is due to the rather unattractive appearance and large (to 15ä tall) adult size of the common pleco.

This situation is changing rapidly. There are over 300 species of plecos described and over half of these are now available to the aquarium trade. Most plecos are not the huge brown and black monsters you are used to seeing. Many are small and well suited to aquarium life.

Fancy Plecos can be divided into three major groups, those that grow quite large (up to twenty inches), those that grow between six and twelve inches and those that stay under six inches in length. The really large fancy plecos are more suited for the hobbyist that is willing to provide a proper home for these great beasts. These plecos include the Rhino, Red Sailfin, Cactus, Goldy, and the paragon of all plecos, the Scarlet Dragon, an immense spotted monster with ruby red fins. While these plecos are interesting , they are beyond the reach to those of us with less than 100 gallon fish tanks.

The midsize plecos include the Royal plecos (Panaque spp.), the Vampire plecos and one of my favorites the Redfin Leopard Pleco. These plecos are good in tanks of at least 33 Gallons. The Royal Pleco is an unusual fish with alternating gray and black stripes with ruby red eyes. (Also in this group is the now extinct Blue Eyed Pleco). The Vampire plecos are aptly named. Instead of the usual suckermouth, the protrusible jaws of this fish are filled with long red teeth. This indicates that unlike most plecos, this fish does not eat algae but prefers a more meaty diet. The Redfin Leopard Pleco is a beautiful spotted species with a bright red tail. But be warned this is one of the most aggressive plecos and can cause serious damage to other fish with its spine covered body. The smaller plecos are really what this article is about. These fish can be kept in tanks as small as ten gallons for their entire lives. Smaller plecos have such diversity in color and form that they can be subdivided into four major groups:

1) The Clown Plecos
2) The Bulldog Plecos
3) The Whiptail Cats
4) The Bushy Nose Plecos.

The Clown Plecos are the smallest (with the exception of Otto Cats) loricariids on the market and are probably the best suited to life in an aquarium of 15 gallons or less. There are many different species available, the most frequently obtainable being the common Clown Pleco. It is a hardy and relatively attractive species. Its basic coloration is light chocolate brown with yellowfish stripes. It rarely grows over three inches in length. Other species in this group you are likely to see include the Leopard, King Tiger, Queen Arabesque, Butterfly and the crème de la crème of this assembly, the Zebra Pleco, a strikingly beautiful fish with black and white stripes.

The Bulldog Plecos are an interesting group. Often referred to as Rubbernose Plecos, these fish have the most powerful jaws of any pleco and are excellent algae eaters. Having a uniquely rounded profile, these fish are generally small and passive (despite the name). Again these plecos are excellent for the average aquarium. Some species you are likely to see include the Thomasi, Spotted Bulldog, Rubbernose, and a new and beautiful green species with yellow dots. (Golden Bulldog).

The Whiptail Cats are a very elongated group of plecos and include the Farlowella, Twig, and Royal Whiptail Cats. They have an interesting shape, resembling sticks, which lends them a bizarre appearance. They do not to have much colour, dull browns and grays predominate. These fish are very passive and should only be kept with peaceful fish, they are not particularly hardy and require excellent water quality to survive.

The last group of plecos I am going to discuss is the Bushynose or Ancistrus Plecos. These fish are without a doubt the best algae eaters in the Aquarium world. Almost all the species in this group max out at around six inches in length. The most readily available species is the common Bushynose Pleco, an interesting species with bizarre fleshy growths around its head. Perhaps the most spectacular plecos in this assemblage is the Golden Nugget Plecos in the genus Barancistrus. These plecos are excellent algae eaters and have a spectacular color pattern of rich chocolate brown covered with fluorescent yellow spots. The dorsal and caudal fins are trimmed with a wide yellow band.

Definitely no ugly duckling, these fish can be recommended to anyone who wants a showpiece fish in their tank. Other species you are likely to encounter are the Mango, Gold Point, Medusa, Midnight, Pancake, and Orange Seam Plecos.

While all the above mentioned fish are bottom feeders, they cannot be expected to entirely survive on the algae and leftover food from other fish. Contrary to popular opinion, plecos do not feed on other fishes feces. A supplemental food is usually required to keep these fish in top condition. What I feed my own plecos are algae wafers. Both Wardley and Hikari (Available at Big Alâs) make excellent products of this type and are relished by plecos as well as many other tropicals (cichlids, mollies, and barbs, to name a few).

The Fancy plecos are a worthwhile addition to any aquarium. Their interesting behavior, bizarre shapes and sometimes-brilliant color make these fish much more than a mundane cleaner. They can and will become the stars of your fishtank. Give one a try!

James Martin
Staff member of Big Al's

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