9 of the most desirable plecs for the aquarium

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Zebra plec, Hypancistrus zebra. Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

Far from cheap, not always readily available and sometimes difficult to keep, aquarists just love those suckermouthed plecos. Here are some of the species that breeders and collectors adore.

WORDS: NATHAN HILL

 Prepare to pay £100 or more for a juvenile Zebra plec. Prepare to pay £100 or more for a juvenile Zebra plec.

1. Zebra plec
Scientific name: Hypancistrus zebra (High-pan-sis-truss zeb-ra).
Origin: Endemic to the Rio Xingu, Brazil.
Size: To 8cm/3.1in.
Tank size: Minimum 60 x 30cm/24 x 12in.
Water chemistry: Soft acidic to slightly base water; pH 6.0–7.5, hardness 2–16°H.
Temperature: 26–30°C/78.8–86°F.
Feeding: Carnivorous fish that enjoys bloodworms, brine shrimp and even Daphnia.
Notes: Despite being threatened by dam construction, wild caught fish offered in the UK may well have been illegally caught and smuggled out via other countries. Tank bred/farmed fish are available and completely legal. 

 Gold nuggets are particularly territorial towards other plecs.  Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  Gold nuggets are particularly territorial towards other plecs.  Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

2. Gold nugget plec
Scientific name: Baryancistrus xanthellus (Barry-an-sis-truss zan-thel-us).
Origin: Rio Xingu and Iriri, Brazil.
Size: To 22cm/8.6in.
Tank size: Minimum 120 x 45cm/48 x 18in.
Water chemistry: Slightly acidic to slightly base; pH 6.4–7.6, hardness 2–14°H.
Temperature: 27–32°C/80.6–89.6°F.
Feeding: Omnivore eating some algae and inverts. Offer Repashy gel foods.
Notes: Territorial with other cats, aggressive with other nuggets. Will leave plants alone in a planted layout. 

  Often available at a small size, the stunning Sunshine plec will outgrow the average community tank. Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  Often available at a small size, the stunning Sunshine plec will outgrow the average community tank. Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

3. Sunshine plec
Scientific name: Scobinancistrus aureatus (Scoh-bin-an-sis-truss or-ee-ate-us).
Origin: Rio Xingu, Brazil.
Size: To 30cm/12in.
Tank size: 180 x 60cm/60 x 24in.
Water chemistry: Soft acidic to neutral water; pH 5.8–7.2, hardness 2–14°H.
Temperature: 25–29°C/77–84.2°F.
Feeding: Omnivore, offer prawns, mussels and fish pieces, as well as fruit and veg with the skin on.
Notes: Big and robust, and retains gorgeous markings into adulthood. Excellent in a tank with other large fish such as South American cichlids. 

 The Blue phantom is a more peaceful species of plec.  The Blue phantom is a more peaceful species of plec. 

4. Blue phantom plec
Scientific name: Hemiancistrus sp. L128 (Hem-ee-an-sis-truss).
Origin: Rio Orinoco, Venezuela.
Size: To 18cm/7.1in.
Tank size: 120 x 30cm/48 x 12in.
Water chemistry: Soft acidic to neutral water; pH 6.0–7.0, hardness 2–12°H.
Temperature: 22–30°C/71.6–86°F.
Feeding: Omnivore, offer tablets, gel foods, vegetables and frozen bloodworm.
Notes: Works surprisingly well in a peaceful, slightly acidic community tank, though can take a while to acclimate to a new set-up. 

 Royal plecs will need plenty of vegetable foods plus some wood to graze on. Another large-growing species.  Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  Royal plecs will need plenty of vegetable foods plus some wood to graze on. Another large-growing species.  Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

5. Royal plec
Scientific name: Panaque nigrolineatus (Pan-ak-ay nig-row-lin-ee-ah-tuss).
Origin: Colombia, Venezuela, South Central Amazon Basin.
Size: To 35cm/13.8in.
Tank size: 180 x 60cm/60 x 24in.
Water chemistry: Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline; pH 6.5–7.5, hardness 4–15°H.
Temperature: 22–30°C/71.6–86°F.
Feeding: Veg, veg and more veg. Offer greens, peas, and fruit. Ensure there’s wood in the tank for them to graze on. 
Notes: There are many varieties with subtle differences between them. Whichever one you get, expect someone to dispute its identity.

 Flash plecs are one of the more readily available species and stay at a manageable size.  Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  Flash plecs are one of the more readily available species and stay at a manageable size.  Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

6. Flash plec
Scientific name: Panaqolus albivermis (Pan-ak-ay al-bee-verm-iss).
Origin: Rio Alejandro, Peru.
Size: 13cm/5.1in.
Tank size: 90 x 30cm/36 x 12in.
Water chemistry: Acidic to alkaline water; pH 6.6–8.4, hardness 4–18°H.
Temperature: 25–30°C/77–86°F.
Feeding: Xylivore (wood eater), ensure wood is always present in tanks, along with offered vegetable fare.
Notes: Frequently misfed, these plecs go very well in a set-up with South American tetra, but they can become more territorial as they mature.

 Blue-eyed plecs are stunning but rarely available. When they are, expect to pay hundreds... Blue-eyed plecs are stunning but rarely available. When they are, expect to pay hundreds...

7. Colombian blue-eyed plec
Scientific name: Panaque cf. cochliodon (Pan-ak-ay cok-lee-oh-don).
Origin: Magdalena and Cauca basins, Colombia.
Size: 28cm/11in.
Tank size: 180 x 60cm/60 x 24in.
Water chemistry: Soft, acidic to neutral water; pH 6.0–7.4, 4–14°H.
Temperature: 20–24°C/68–75.2°F.
Feeding: Xylivore (wood eater), ensure wood is always present in tanks, along with offered vegetable fare and occasional meaty treats like prawn.
Notes: Rarer than an uncooked steak, if you find one in the UK you’ll be one of a small handful
of people to ever see these fish in the flesh.

 The King tiger plec is a lovely species that's pretty straightforward to keep and feed.  Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  The King tiger plec is a lovely species that's pretty straightforward to keep and feed.  Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

8. King tiger plec
Scientific name: Hypancistrus sp. L066 (High-pan-sis-truss).
Origin: Xingu, Brazil.
Size: 12cm/4.7in.
Tank size: 90 x 30cm/36 x 12in.
Water chemistry: Very soft acidic to neutral water; pH 5.8–6.9, hardness 2-8°H.
Temperature: 25–29°C/77–84.2°F.
Feeding: Carnivorous, offer plenty of bloodworm and prawn, as well as carnivore tablets and pellets.
Notes: Prone to being confused with other species, you get a very pleasant fish for not too absurd a price. A real keeper.

 The Magnum plec is less common in the shops than it used be, possibly due the lack of successful breeding efforts.  Picture by   AquariumPhoto.dk  The Magnum plec is less common in the shops than it used be, possibly due the lack of successful breeding efforts.  Picture by AquariumPhoto.dk

9. Magnum plec
Scientific name: Baryancistrus chrysolomus (Barry-an-sis-truss cry-so-low-muss).
Origin: Rio Xingu, Brazil.
Size: 22cm/8.7in.
Tank size: 120 x 45cm/48 x 18in.
Water chemistry: Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline; pH 6.5–7.5, hardness 4–15°H.
Temperature: 26–29°C/78.8–84.2°F.
Feeding: Omnivore, ensure algae growth but add veg like courgette and sweet potato.
Notes: Juveniles tend to be more contrasted than the adults.