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Sailfin Pleco Care, Tank Mates, Breeding, Diet & More

Do you like plecos? Aren’t they too cute with their elongated body and funny and friendly attitude? If you are looking for a slightly different pleco for your tanks, then the sailfin pleco can be your best buddy.

The ray-finned sailfin plecos are found in the Amazon basins across Brazil and Peru. These types of catfish live for 20+ years with better care in a 100-gallon tank. They are so easy to care for that even a beginner can keep them. However, breeding this fish is tough in a home tank.

Species Overview

Level of CareEasy
AppearanceDark brown colored appearance with pretty spots pattern throughout the body
Life Expectancy20 years
Size50 cm
Tank Size100-gallons
Tank EnvironmentSoft acidic water with sand substrate
Tank MatesPeaceful

Sailfin Plecos, or the ray-finned freshwater catfish, have their origin in the river of Amazon basins near Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru. Unlike other catfish, they are quite large in length.

With their scientific name, Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps, they are a popular member of the “Loricariidae” family. With a dark brown-colored appearance and unique spots on their skin, these look unique and beautiful.

Their skin looks almost similar to the skin of a leopard. Hence these fish are also known as Leopard Pleco or Clown Pleco.

Also, sailfin plecos are pretty famous for their shape, as they seem almost similar to sail or yacht. And this is the very reason behind the unique name of this fish species.

They usually grow a bit large, and with their eye-catchy look, they are pretty suitable for a community aquarium. These fish have an elongated body with the covering of bony plate-like structures in their armored clad scales.

They come with a huge head and tiny eyes. Their eyes are placed uniquely on their head, which helps this fish to have perfect eyesight.

Juveniles are usually of the same color as adults. Unlike other catfish, they do not change their color as they grow. On the other hand, their dorsal fin is beautiful and looks much similar to marine sailfish.

Besides, the attractive dorsal fin has rays on them, which makes them appear pretty different from any other fish. They are thus very unique to keep in your tank.


These usually extends up to 50 cm in length, which is a huge size compared to any other catfish of these types.


Just like its look, a leopard pleco is also quite different and unique in terms of lifespan. They usually live longer when they reside in their natural habitat. But in captivity, the life span of this fish reduces to a certain extent.

These fish usually live as long as 20 years while they are in their wild habitat of Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela. However, their lifespan can drop up to 10- 15 years when kept in an aquarium.

Behavior & Temperament

Sailfin plecos exhibit amiable behavior. However, they can get hostile towards their own specimen type.

Also, these fish might feel threatened about losing their individuality. But they are not at all aggressive.

Besides, these fish species are night lovers. Thus, they tend to be much more active during the nighttime.

Tank Requirements

Since sailfin plecos are bigger in length, they need a large tank for their care. They can grow larger if they receive proper care in a robust tank capacity.

Also, these need adequate space to swim around. Thus, you need to arrange the aquarium décor in a way so that your fish can stay healthy while swimming about happily. To make them feel safer, you must replicate their tank décor range similar to their natural habitat.

You can incorporate some illuminating objects in tanks to ensure that they get a minimum amount of light during the night hours as they are nocturnal by nature.

Do you know what is more interesting about sailfin pleco? These fish species are easy to sustain at any water temperature. Though you can keep this fish in a bit of soft and slightly alkaline water, it is better to provide them with a neutral water condition.

Tank Setup

For leopard pleco, it is crucial to ensure a tank setup, which will offer this fish the proper level of care. So, here are a few tips that you can follow for setting up the tank properly.

  • These fish usually prefer more space in their aquarium for hovering around freely. Thus, it is better to house them in a 100-gallon tank. Also, make sure the aquarium’s glass is thick enough, as this fish species is quite powerful due to its large size and may shatter the glass at one stroke of its tail.
  • The temperature of the tank water needs to be maintained in the range of 73-85℉.
  • It is better to keep the pH of the tank water levels between 6.5-and 7.4.
  • Also, the water hardness for the tank should be maintained at around 6-10 KH.
  • You can keep hardy plants like java moss, hornwort, or water wisteria in their tank.
  • In the case of the substrate, add a sandy one, as it will prevent your fish from getting injured.
  • Make sure you are adding a piece of wood to the tank for algae build-up. And these fish species feast on those algae strains.

Tank Mates

Sailfin plecos are pretty peaceful by nature and very cheerful as fish. They easily get along with all other fish. Thus, keeping them in a community tank will be much easier for you.

These don’t eat other tiny tank mates, so you can easily house them with smaller size fish species. But introducing them with another sailfin pleco in the same tank might threaten each other to some extent. With another one in the tank, these fish can become much distressed and tend to be territorial.

So, if you are confused about the compatibility of tank mates, which would gel well, check out the list below.

Food & Diet

These eat almost anything as they are not at all picky eaters. Usually, a sailfin pleco is omnivorous by nature and feeds on plants and animals for their living. Also, these fish quickly feed on algae that grow in the natural habitat.

So, you can consider adding wood as decoration to the tank, which will generate more algae. And this can be a good source of food in the tank. Besides, algae wafers and other algae-based foods serve to be the staple food for their better nutrition.

Though most of their diet consists of algae, you need to add much variety to their diet. And for doing so, you can offer them fish pellets or dead meat. However, they do not need flake foods, unlike other plecos.

Thus, you can offer these fish other food products like snacks or vegetables regularly. Foods like zucchini and cucumbers are great options for them. Also, you can offer this fish a mixed diet of frozen and dried live foods.

They easily eat insects in the wild. So, you can offer your gibbiceps with bloodworm or larvae for a change in their diet.

Sailfin Pleco Care

It is simply effortless to provide care to your leopard plecos. Neither do they require a complex diet, nor do they demand top-notch maintenance.

This freshwater fish species are usually bottom eaters. So, to offer them proper care for feeding, you must provide them fish food once or twice a week based on the algae growth in the tank.

Besides, these sailfins are a bit messy as they excrete very often. Also, they tend to eat from the excreted substance, which is not good for their health. So, make sure to perform frequent water changes for this fish.

It is better to clean their tanks once every week. Ensure to equip a proper filtration system to the aquarium to facilitate better water flow and keep your sailfin pleco happy and healthy.

This breed of catfish is too sensitive to medications. So, as an owner, you need to make sure that you keep them away from any disease. Even if you need to add medication to the aquarium, make sure it is in the right proportion.

Besides, to maintain the good health of your fish, you need to keep the plants in the tank clean. Also, these might start eating plants as they grow. So, be very careful not to add any plastic plants to the tank as décor.

Though it is quite hardy, it can fall ill sometimes. In case the water parameters do not fit these fish’s needs, they can fall sick. They are more susceptible to the most common fish disease, ICH, and various other parasitic infections. Thus, it is essential to maintain very high water quality in the aquarium.

Breeding Guidelines

Though raising a sailfin pleco fish is much effortless, their breeding may not be that easy. This fish can be pretty challenging to breed at home as it is quite hard in sexing them. They can be recognized with a trained eye only.

Thus, these are typically bred on a commercial basis. To breed a pair, you need to keep the adults in a large commercial fishery pond. You need to create an artificial spawning bed for these fish to help them in mating.

Do you know these easily breed in the muddy water of Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela? And this is why it is better not to opt for breeding these in your home aquariums, as they are better bred either in their origin of natural habitat or artificially.

Interesting Facts

There are some fascinating facts about sailfin plecos. Do you want to know them? Well, then have a look below.

  • Since their eyes are placed relatively higher on their head, it helps this fish to see very clearly in the dark.
  • Males come with a small-size protrusion as their genitalia, located in their undercarriage.
  • In the case of a females, they have minute-size recession or flat genitalia.
  • Though they do not do well with another fish of their own kind, if two sailfins are nurtured together since birth, then they don’t feel threatened by each other at all.

Where to Buy?

You can easily buy a sailfin pleco from your nearby aquarist shop. They are not only easy to find but also available at an affordable price range.

You can even get them from any fish hobbyist store. Besides, there are plenty of online fish and animal stores where you can place orders for these lovely and cute fish with brown spots.

Final Thoughts

A sailfin pleco is pretty easy to take care of in a home aquarium. This fish looks quite different with its sail-shaped, large size body and comes as a unique one to add to your tanks.

Also, as they are usually omnivores by nature, they easily eat almost anything in your tank. Due to their calm and peaceful temperament, these serve as great tank mates for other fish species. Thus, for beginners, they are simply one of the best choices.