Clown Pleco Species Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

This shy little friend hardly has any demands when it comes to food and decor. Now, if you’re interested in adopting this loving fish in your tank, let’s get started!

What is a Clown Pleco?

Clown pleco is a delicate small catfish that’s perfect for freshwater aquariums. It is a beautifully colored fish and proves to be a great starter pet for beginners.

OriginApure and Caroni river basins, Orinoco river drainage, Venezuela and Colombia, South America
Scientific NamePanaqolus maccus
Common NamesClown panaque, Clown plecostomus, Ringlet pleco, L104, L162, LDA22
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
AppearanceBlack or brown body, tan or orange rings, wide flat head, upright dorsal fin
Size (Adult)Around 8.8 cm (3.5 in)
LifespanUsually, 10-12 years; Max: 18 years
TemperamentShy, peaceful but territorial to own kind
Tank LevelBottom dweller
Water Temperature73-83 °F (23-28 °C)
pH Level6.8-7.6
Water HardnessUp to 10 dGH
Care LevelEasy
Minimum Tank Size30 gallons for 1
Tank EnvironmentDimly lit, fast current, sandy substrate, planted aquarium
Tank MatesPeaceful, non-identical, middle and top-level dwelling species

Where are Clown Pleco fish found?

The clown pleco mainly inhabits the Apure and Caroni River basins and Orinoco River drainage, Venezuela and Colombia, South America.

You’ll typically find it in Andean whitewater streams around driftwood, roots, and tangled plants near banks. It camouflages itself and finds plenty of food there.

It is identified as Least Concern according to the IUCN Red List Status in 2020.

Which family does Clown Pleco belong to?

The clown pleco species belongs to the Loricariidae family under the Siluriformes order.

Though scientifically known as Panaqolus maccus, it’s popular worldwide by several names like clown pleco, clown panaque, clown plecostomus, and ringlet pleco, and L-codes like L104, L162, and LDA22.

Fun Fact: While the clown pleco is known to reach up to 3.5 inches, many people report that their pleco stopped growing after 2.5 inches.

How do Clown Pleco look?

Clown pleco fish looks stunning with a big area spread over the nose and the mouth.

What is the Size of Clown Pleco?

On average, a fully-grown clown pleco reaches up to 8.8 cm (3.5 in), irrespective of gender.

What Color are Clown Pleco fish?

The clown pleco has a dark brown to black body color with several tan to bright orange bands or rings on its body. The brightness of these bands changes based on age, diet, and mood.

Depending on the origins of the pleco, some exhibit straight bands while others have wavy bands.

What are the Features of a Clown Pleco?

This pleco has a flat and wide head that tapers down to its wide tail, a narrow body, a downward-facing suckermouth, straight rayed dorsal fin, and wide pectoral and abdominal fins.

The scaleless fish also has spoon-shaped teeth – that are wider at the tip than the base – and lacks buccal papilla in its mouth.

How do you differentiate between a male and female Clown Pleco?

The adult male clown pleco grows elongated interopercular odontodes along its back in the mating season. There’s also a small pointy genital papilla in the male.

In the mature female fish, there’s a large, round, and swollen papilla. She also has a noticeably wider body when viewed from above compared to the male.

How do Clown Pleco behave in a fish tank?

The nocturnal fish is shy, minds its own business, and tries to stay camouflaged in the background.

It confines itself under driftwood and other hiding places, so you won’t see it a lot – especially during the day. The bottom dweller is not an active centerpiece.

Clown pleco is a peaceful species and fits in most friendly community tanks. The docile pet doesn’t get aggressive.

However, it’s territorial around its own kind and fights for dominance.

What is the Lifespan of a Clown Pleco?

Clown pleco is known to live up to 10-12 years. However, some even vouch that it can reach up to 18 years.

Author’s Note: The clown pleco eats the algae on your water filter. Hence it doesn’t let the filter look dirty.

How to Take Care of Clown Pleco?

Clown plecostomus
Image by: JC_Aquariums

If you want to bring this one-of-a-kind fish home, let’s familiarize yourself with everything necessary to keep it healthy below.

What is the Suitable Tank Size for Clown Pleco?

A dedicated tank for a single clown pleco must be at least 30 gallons.

If you will house more clown plecos, choose a bigger tank of 40 gallons or more with more width than height. This will help prevent fights for territory. However, in my opinion, it’s better to avoid housing more than one clown pleco in one tank.

If you want a setup of diverse, peaceful community species, opt for at least a 40-gallon tank or even more, depending on other species.

What should be the Water Chemistry for Clown Pleco?

The fish is pretty sensitive to water, so keep an eye out for all water parameters and maintain these:

  • pH Levels: 6.8-7.6
  • Water Temperature: 73-83 °F (23-28 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 10 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Less than 30 ppm

What should be the Tank Environment for Clown Pleco?

Next, you must choose the items that need to go inside the tank and make your pet fish feel at home. So, let’s first begin with…

Do you need Substrate for Clown Pleco?

Since the clown pleco has a soft, scaleless belly, use smooth and fine sand substrate to prevent it from getting cut.

You can also use smooth pebbles but make sure it’s big enough not to get sucked into your pleco’s mouth.

Which plants do you need plants for Clown Pleco?

Since the nocturnal fish feels more comfortable in dim lights, opt for plants that have low lighting needs. You must also steer clear of plants with soft stems, roots, or leaves. The pleco may nibble on those.

Some great choices are hornwort, Amazon swords, and Anubias. However, place them strategically so your fish has enough space to explore.

Avoid using creeper plants, as they grow pretty fast and block the swimming space of the fish.

What type of Lighting do you need for Clown Pleco?

In strong lighting, the clown pleco stays hidden for long hours except during meals. So, it’s better to use dim lighting. It’ll encourage your fish to be more active in your tank.

You can also use indirect lighting and add floating plants to disperse light. Never expose the tank to direct sunlight, or the fish will be stressed.

What type of Décor do you need for Clown Pleco?

Clown pleco absolutely loves natural decor. So, place bogwood and driftwood in a manner that they act as shelter without crowding the center of the tank. You can also add lots of caves and castles to provide hiding spots.

Further, add a few big rocks that will not only provide shelter but also be a great base for algae growth. The pleco loves to munch on algae.

If your tank has more than one clown pleco, use decor to break their line of sight. This will prevent fights.

What Filtration process do you need for Clown Pleco?

The bioload of clown pleco is pretty high. So, you must use a reliable canister or hang on back filter and a few air stones for water oxygenation. Besides that, you must perform regular water changes to avoid organic waste buildup.

What is the Water Flow Rate required for Clown Pleco?

In the wild, the clown pleco is used to living in fast-flowing streams. So, incorporate fast filters to mimic the same.

Care Tip: Avoid using fancy and expensive wood decor as your pleco might munch on them.

What type of food does Clown Pleco eat?

In the wild, the primary diet of clown pleco is logs and branches with growing algae mats, including insect larvae, small crustaceans, protozoans, and rotifers.

While the scavenger eats algae and biofilm, it can’t survive on them alone. It needs a varied omnivorous diet.

Some great dietary components are:

  • Mashed and blanched vegetables: Potato, cucumber, lettuce, zucchini, shelled pea, yam, squash, spinach, romaine, banana, carrot
  • Algae supplement: Algae wafer, algae tablets
  • Live/frozen feed: Worm, shrimp pellet, bloodworm, blackworm, daphnia, fish meal, brine shrimp

Feed your pleco twice a day – in the morning and at night. You can also add a variety of wood – the most inexpensive and aquarium-safe option is cholla wood.

Feed it a varied diet to keep it healthy and eager for meals.

If the pleco is young, ensure you feed it more high-protein live/frozen feed. For adults, feed live/frozen feed only 2-3 times weekly.

What are the Tank Mates for Clown Pleco?

Clown pleco is friendly and mellow in peaceful community tanks that don’t harass it or intrude on its space (middle and top dwellers). Some great choices as tank mates are

If you want to have more than one pleco in your tank, make sure you keep them under constant surveillance in a spacious tank. If there’s any sign of aggression, separate them right away. Otherwise, you might lose your fish.

Which Tank Mates should you Avoid Keeping with Clown Pleco?

Poor tank mates for the fish are:

  • Similar-looking species: Fights might break out among them
  • Aggressive, large, predator species: They might harass, kill, or eat your pleco.
  • Bottom-dwelling species: The territorial pleco won’t stand any intrusion.

Here are a few names that you must avoid adding to your tank:

  • Common pleco
  • Cory catfish
  • Flowerhorn cichlid
  • Red-tailed shark
  • Rainbow shark
  • Goldfish
  • Betta fish

What are the Common Diseases in Clown Pleco?

The clown pleco is pretty hardy and doesn’t fall sick easily. However, they may fall prey to the most common freshwater fish diseases like these…

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
IchExternal Protozoan ParasiteWhite spots, flashing, lethargy, appetite lossAdd ich medicines, increase aquarium temperature
White spot disease/ColumnarisBacterial InfectionGray/white patches, fin fraying, lethargy, appetite lossEnhance water chemistry, add antibiotics, reduce stress
Fin rotBacterial InfectionFin fraying and/or disintegration, fin discoloration, lethargy, appetite lossEnhance water chemistry, remove objects that may physically injure fish, add antibiotics

Quick Tip: Since plecos are scaleless, don’t use copper or permanganate-based medicines.

Always keep edible driftwood in the tank, which regulates their gut bacteria and prevents digestive issues. Without driftwood in their daily diet, they may starve.

What is the Breeding Process of Clown Pleco?

Clown pleco breeding process level is moderately difficult. Unlike most other plecos, it’s much easier to mate, and breeding in a home aquarium is possible. To try your luck at breeding this fish, follow these steps:

What is the Breeding Tank Setup for Clown Pleco?

In a 55-gallon tank, add an air stone and a power head. Add lots of driftwood, plants, and hiding spots. This will prevent the pair from becoming aggressive.

Place PVC pipes, caves, and smooth slates as spawning spots. Make sure the spawning spots are big enough for the female fish – with 5-6 inches of space.

Feed the pair frozen feed – bloodworms, daphnia, or brine shrimp – thrice a week.

Which Season is Best for Clown Pleco Breeding?

Mimic the dry season of the pleco’s natural habitat for two months by following these water chemistry:

  • Water Temperature: 80 °F (27 °C)
  • pH Levels: 7.5
  • Water Hardness: Fairly hard

Next, plug out the heater and perform a 20% water change daily with cool reverse osmosis water or rainwater. Let the temperature fall to 70-72 °F (21-22 °C).

After you perform water changes 4 times, plug the heater.

Pay attention to the pair for a month following this. If there’s no spawning, repeat the entire process. Several rounds of dry and rainy season induction are necessary for successful breeding.

How many eggs does Clown Pleco lay?

Female fish lay 20-25 large eggs, and the process continues until 1-2 days. The male externally fertilizes eggs and watches over and protects them until they hatch.

The fry venture out of the hatching spot only after a month of egg laying. Meanwhile, they live off their egg yolk.

Once you notice the eggs, take out the female fish from the tank.

How to raise the Fry for Clown Pleco?

Feed the juvenile swimmers algae, driftwood, bloodworms, and brine shrimp. Once the young ones start consuming food, you can relocate the male fish as well.

Breeding Tip: If you notice the male pleco has disappeared, it’s probably because he’s busy guarding the eggs.

A word from FishInAquarium

Clown pleco is popular for being hardy and easy to care for. It’s also very easy to breed. So, it’s perfect for those who want to watch the fascinating breeding process of this armored catfish.

The pleco is also pretty inexpensive. So you can easily bring one home without digging a hole in your pocket!

If you liked this guide, share it with your friends and let them join in the ride of raising clown pleco. Are any questions bugging your mind? Drop an email, and we’ll get back to you!

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.