Hypostomus plecostomus, also called the sucker-mouthed catfish or pleco, originates from Central and South American rivers and must be kept in aquariums that replicate this environment. Plecos are able to withstand a range of temperatures and water quality, and make great tank mates with several fish species.
Natural Habitat of the Plecostomus
Plecos are adaptable fish that can live in fresh or brackish water. In the wild they live in rivers in Costa Rica, Panama and South America. The water level in the rivers where plecos live varies with the amount of rainfall the region receives. Because river beds dry up in different seasons, the pleco has adapted to survive in very small water bodies. One adaptation is the pleco's ability to breathe through its skin. They can also wriggle on dry land from one water body to another in search of more favorable conditions. Plecos can live up to 30 hours outside water if they store enough oxygen in their bellies -- this is why plecos are sometimes seen gulping air at the water's surface. In the wild plecos breed in deep burrows in the muddy river bed, laying up to 300 eggs at a time.
Plecos as an Invasive Species
Plecos have been found living wild in Texas and Florida after they were released by fishkeepers. In the United States, plecos are considered an introduced and invasive species. Plecostomus specimens have also been collected in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Plecos were intentionally introduced to U.S. waters by aquarists as well as fish farmers hoping to use the animals as a means of algae control in their tanks. Because it has established itself in North America in addition to its natural habitat in Central and South America, Hypostomus plecostomus is considered the most geographically widespread fish in the family Loricariids.
Pleco Captive Habitat
Plecos are popular aquarium fish for their friendly nature toward other fish and willingness to keep tank surfaces free of algae. These fish can reach almost 2 feet in length when fully grown and provided with adequate tank space, so plecos should be kept in aquariums of at least 75 gallons. Other than naturally occurring tank algae, plecos need minimal diet supplementation if leftover food from tank mates is available. Driftwood is required for pleco habitats -- these fish need to chew wood to stay healthy. Live plants should be securely anchored and hardy because plecos like to dig up plants and eat them. Temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees F are acceptable for plecos. They can tolerate pH levels anywhere between 6.5 and 8.0. A high-powered filter provides oxygenated water with a strong current that replicates the pleco's natural river environment.
Pleco Habitat Companions
Plecos should never be housed with other plecos -- these animals do not tolerate their own kind, even though they are completely docile with other fish. Because they don't tolerate sharing living quarters, plecos are not successfully bred in aquariums, only in fish farms. Plecostomus are omnivorous bottom-feeders and can be safely housed with fish much smaller than themselves. Plecos generally pair well with cichlids, angelfish, barbs, bettas, other catfish species, gouramis, guppies, hatchets, loaches, mollies and platies.
Madeline Masters works as a dog walker and professional writer. In the past she has worked as a fitness columnist, fundraising copywriter and news reporter. Masters won two Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Awards in 2009. She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.