Common Pleco – Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps
Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

A much sort after monster catfish for a large freshwater tropical aquarium is the fantastic Common Pleco, Sailfin Pleco or as they are sometimes referred to, Gibbiceps.

Pleco’s are flat on the underside from head to tail yet on their top side they are sharply rounded from the front tapering down less sharply to the tail.

This fish is extremely popular in the aquarium, due to its unusual appearance and its ability to eat algae; the bane of all aquarists.

In general P. gibbiceps is peaceful towards other fish though territorial disputes arise with other plecos.
Wood is an essential part of this species diet—possibly as a digestive aid rather than for any nutritional value.
As the fish grows big (up to 60.96 cm in the aquarium) a large tank with good filtration is required, in general these fish are tolerant to a wide range of freshwater conditions though prefer well aerated water.

Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps shows all the characteristic features of its genus—a large dorsal fin with more than nine rays, prominent nasal flares and a prominent hump or crest anterior to the dorsal fin as well as a substantial base to the dorsal fin.

A typical pleco patternation consists of primarily irregular largish brown spots on a yellowish backgroung giving a honeycombed like appearance. As this fish grows the spots get smaller.

Like most plecos this species is primarily herbivorous though will eat dead fish in the aquarium.. therefore they are actually clasded as Omnivores.

In the wild these fish are found in shoals in sluggish rivers of the Amazon and Orinoco river systems, they also occupy flooded land during the wet season.

During the dry season gibbiceps will aestivate in burrows around 1 metre long dug into mud banks along the length of a river, egg rearing is also presumed to take place in burrow.

The species name comes from the Latin gibbus—hump, and caput—head, a reference to the centrally located ridge.

Plecos are a scaleless fish that feature bony plates that cover their body – this allows for some protection from predators. The plates cover a (generally) depressed body and often large tail fin.

As part of the Loricariidae family their most recognisable feature would be their sucker mouths. The downward facing mouth features modified lips which allow the fish to feed, breathe and attach itself to anything using suction.

In the wild Pleco’s hide in driftwood and other dark places by day and come out and hunt for vegetation by night. Therefore it is important to set up the aquarium with plenty of cover for them to hide.

Make no mistake, Plecos will eat cheap bunch plants. Not only that but they commonly uproot bunch plants and you might find your tank set up in tatters after a few hours of your large Pleco roaming around. We sell plant anchors to counter this issue if you are determined to have a well planted tank – wrap two to three of these around each bunch plant to keep your setup looking good.

It is certainly important to choose tough plants such as Amazon Swords, Anubias Plants on Driftwood and Java Fern.

In addition other cover such as caves, rocks or ornaments would definately be an advantage in keeping these fish.

Omnivores, young specimens will almost exclusively eat plants, algae wafers, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, spinach or alike but ensure to anchor any vegetable matter so it will stay at the bottom of an aquarium.

Occasionally you might catch them feeding on a dead fish.

Larger specimens also feast on plants, algae wafers, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, spinach or alike but I find they are also partial to bloodworms or brine shrimp.

Sexing Pleco’s is difficult, its been suggested males can have a different appearance by looking at them overhead.

Venting is the only true way of determining sex. In males there is a small yet thick stump which noticeably protrudes from the fish’s undercarriage. In females it is less obvious and is recessed or lies flat with the body.

Plecos originate in South America where they inhabit (in particular) the Amazon Basin and its tributaries. There they survive two different types of habitat, cooler rocky or sandy streams or rivers with a water temperature of around 20-24C; or a warmer muddy environment with a water temperature between 24-27 that may have a low oxygen level.

Larger specimens can be territorial toward other Plecos – particularly in aquariums less than 6 foot. It is recommended to only perhaps have one in a tank less than 250 litres.

We find Plecos tolerate a wide range of water conditions in a tropical aquarium, but coming from the Amazon they certainly prefer softer, slightly acidic water.

The aquarium should be set up with plenty of hiding places that might include plants, ornaments rocks and driftwood. Most Loricariidaes are nocturnal and are sensitive to light.

As long as the aquarium is lit, the pleco will use its specialized omega iris to keep the light from entering its eyes. When the lights are turned off in the aquarium, the omega iris will open and the fish will start searching for food.

Plecos are omnivores. Smaller specimens may be able to manage on just the existing algae that might grow within the tank, however as the specimen grows then algae chips or pellets should be introduced as well as shelled peas, cucumber, zucchini or generally any soft green vegetable. You might like to skewer vegetables on a tea spoon or anchor them down with a weight. Remove the leftovers within 2-4 hours.

Commonly the reason these fish are kept in a tropical aquarium is for their ability to eliminate algae and reduce the maintenance.

They are a brilliant subject for a tropical aquarium and are sure to be a talking point for visitors admiring your home aquarium.

Scientific Name : Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

Common Names : Gibbiceps; Sailfin Pleco

Care Level : Easy

Size : 60cm (24 inches)

pH : 6.0 – 8.0

Temperature : 22°C – 28°C (72°F – 82°F)

Water Hardness : 3° to 20° dH

Lifespan : 20 years

Origin / Habitat : Woody backwaters of the Amazon Basin. Known to live in sandy to rocky streams and also muddy murky areas.

Temperament / Behavior : Peaceful. May fight with other Plecos however.

Breeding : Plecos are near impossible to breed in an aquarium, more success comes from ponds with the correct water conditions as well as the correct temperature range. In the wild these fish burrow into the bank and lay their eggs in cave.

Aquarium Size : 250 litres minimum

Tank Mates : All fish

Fish Disease : Bacterial issues mainly

Diet / Foods : Omnivore. Mainly eats algae, wood and soft plants but does eat dead fish in the aquarium.

Tank Region : Bottom

Gender : Small specimens are near impossible to sex, however it has been suggested that large specimens can be sexed by looking directly overhead, where are male tapers evenly from head to tail whereas a female will appear more rounded in the stomach area (which may also indicate the presence of eggs.) Also Males in a group can be sometimes by sexually determined by their behaviour in that they most probably will be more territorial.