Snowball Pleco Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

If you want to add a single distinct fish that stands out in your community tank, a snowball pleco is an amazing choice.

It is easy to care for, isn’t a fussy eater, and won’t bother other species. And if you want to observe your tank after a long hard day, this nocturnal species’ antiques will entertain you.

So, if you want to add it to your collection, let’s get started!

What is a Snowball Pleco Fish?

OriginUpper Negro, upper Orinoco, and Casiquaire River basins, Venezuela, South America
Scientific NameHypancistrus inspector
L NumberL102
Common NamesSnowball pleco, true inspector pleco
IUCN Red List StatusNot Evaluated
AppearanceBlack-brown body with
Size14-16 cm (5.5-6.3 in)
Lifespan8-10 years in captivity; Up to 15 years in the wild
TemperamentSlightly aggressive, territorial towards conspecifics (similar species) Peaceful toward non-territorial ones
Tank LevelBottom dweller
Water Temperature72-86 °F (22-30 °C)
pH Level5.4-7.6
Water Hardness6-15 dGH
Care LevelModerate
Minimum Tank Size55 gallons for 1
Tank EnvironmentSpacious tank with dim lights, soft substrate, branches, and lots of caves
DietOmnivorous with carnivorous preferences and scavenging habits
Tank MatesOther similar-sized, peaceful, non-territorial, upper-dwelling fish

What is the natural habitat of Snowball Pleco Fish?

The fish is native to Venezuela and Brazil, South America. It is mainly spotted in the upper regions of Negro River, upper regions of the Orinoco River, the Casiquaire River, and middle regions of the Solimoes River.

It is, however, not known whether the species inhabits clear, black, or white water specifically.

Which family does Snowball Pleco Fish belong?

The catfish belongs to the family Loricariidae under the order Siluriformes. Its taxon name is Hypancistrus inspector.

Commonly, in the worldwide aquarium trade, it’s called snowball pleco, and it is associated with the code L102.

However, some traders get confused among snowball pleco (L102), Colombian snowball or Orinoco angel pleco (Hypancistrus sp.) (L201) and Black phantasm pleco (Hypancistrus sp.) (L501).

So, the ones who are aware may use the name true inspector pleco to emphasize its originality.

Fun Fact: The “inspector” in the fish’s binomial name means “observer” in Latin – this is primarily because of its big eyes.

How does Snowball Pleco Fish Look?

Snowball pleco in aquarium

The fish is bilaterally symmetrical and has many unique characteristics, including:

What is the Size of Snowball Pleco Fish?

Irrespective of gender, the adult fish grows up to 14-16 cm (5.5-6.3 in) long.

What is the Color of Snowball Pleco Fish?

The body of the pleco is brown or black. A black seam or ribbon runs across the edge of its dorsal and tail fin.

It has big yellow, cream, or white spots all over its sides, but the ventral side (from its head to anus) is almost void of such spots. Moreover, the spots are also smaller on its head.

What are the Features of Snowball Pleco Fish?

Ventral to its pectoral girdle, you will notice it has small plates on its skin, and its lateral scales are not keeled.

But the ventral row may have elongated tooth-like denture structures (odontodes). These structures form more than one keel-like row on its caudal peduncle.

Compared to other plecos under this genus, the dentition of this one is much more different.

In the adult fish, there are also other features like:

  • Total dorsal spines: 2
  • Total dorsal rays: 7
  • Anal spines: 1
  • Anal soft rays: 3-4

Like any other pleco, it has a flat belly and a sucker mouth on the underside. Its dorsal fin is triangular and big, but the pelvic and pectoral fins are spread out.

How is a male and a female Snowball Pleco different?

The adult male pleco has a higher reddish tone to its body color. The female adult fish is most brownish black, i.e., its reddish tone is lower.

The male fish also has intense odontal growth, i.e., external teeth on its head’s sides. But the female is rounder with almost no odontal development.

How does Snowball Pleco Fish behave in the tank?

This is not a social fish and usually likes to stay aloof at the bottom of the aquarium or in caves. It is generally peaceful toward other non-territorial species.

In addition to that, it doesn’t appreciate the presence of similar species, especially the males, who are highly territorial and aggressive towards each other.

However, one male in the presence of one or more females can be peaceful. During the mating season, the male may even become forward and pursue the female.

Moreover, being a nocturnal species, the fish will rest in its cave throughout the day and only become active after dusk.

What is the Lifespan of Snowball Pleco Fish?

In the wild, the fish has a reputation of living till 15 years. However, captive-bred ones live for about 8-10 years. Its longevity gets shortened in the tank due to its high bioload.

Author’s Note: Unlike popular assumptions, the fish isn’t an avid algae eater. Instead, it is a glutton for meaty food.

How to take care of Snowball Pleco Fish?

Two snowball plecos

To increase the life of your pleco, you must take care of its needs, and here’s how you can do that.

What is the Tank Size of Snowball Pleco Fish?

The fish thrives in spacious tanks, requiring a minimum tank size of 55 gallons.

What is the Water Chemistry of Snowball Pleco Fish?

Water has the greatest impact on the health of your fish. So, strictly follow these levels

  • pH Levels: 5.4-7.6
  • Water Temperature: 72-86 °F (22-30 °C)
  • Water Hardness: 6-16 dGH
  • Carbonate Hardness: 6-10 dKH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 20 ppm

What is the Tank Environment for Snowball Pleco Fish?

Making your pet pleco feel as comfortable as its natural habitat would be best. So, here are the necessary measures for that.

Which Substrate is needed for Snowball Pleco Fish?

Since the fish is a bottom feeder, a soft and smooth substrate is the ideal choice. If you go for sand, make sure it is fine.

Some say that gravel is uncomfortable for the fish, and it may try to swallow it, so avoid using it.

Which Plants are needed for Snowball Pleco Fish?

The fish doesn’t usually uproot any plant but can thrive on herbivorous meals. So, it’s better to avoid adding plants to the aquarium bottom. Instead, add floating plants to provide them shade.

Which Lighting is best for Snowball Pleco Fish tank?

Since the fish is nocturnal, it feels more comfortable in dark spaces. So, go for the dim light setting.

What Décor is suited for Snowball Pleco Fish?

You can add minute decor like caves, tunnels, driftwood, or water-worn rocks that don’t have sharp edges. This will give plenty of entertainment for the pleco at night and shaded areas to hide and rest.

What type of filter is needed for Snowball Pleco Fish tank?

Naturally, the fish inhabits medium to fast-flowing water, mostly clean of debris. It can’t stand a polluted environment and needs oxygenated water. So, invest in a strong oxygenating filter to help your pet fish thrive longer.

What is the Water Flow Rate for Snowball Pleco Fish tank?

Though the fish is naturally found in medium to strong current areas, a medium water flow is enough to make it feel at home.

Fish Care Tip: Replace 30-50% water volume in your tank weekly to protect the fish from diseases.

What does Snowball Pleco Fish eat?

In the wild, the fish is chiefly carnivorous and feeds on small crustaceans, so it prefers a similar diet.

But they can also thrive on omnivorous feeds so long it’s a high-quality, nutritious meal. Its diet must always include:

  • Spirulina
  • Shrimp mix
  • Brine shrimp
  • Tablets and pellets that are complete diets (like tabimin)

You can also include a variety of substances like the following for a balanced diet for the fish:

  • Daphnia
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Bloodworm larvae
  • Fresh mico-chopped fruits
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Parboiled potatoes
  • Blanched peas
  • Algae wafers
  • Sinking pellets

Always feed them for only two minutes and clean up excess food to avoid polluting the tank. But the fish is a slow eater, so notice if any other fish steals its share. If that happens, make sure you help them feed enough.

On the other hand, if you miss any surplus food, the bottom feeder will crawl around and eat it up.

What are the Tank Mates to keep with Snowball Pleco Fish?

The fish is an excellent addition to a peaceful community tank. So, you can house it with any other peaceful, similar-sized, and non-territorial species that are middle or top dwellers. Some great choices are:

What are the Tank Mates to Avoid Keeping with Snowball Pleco Fish?

The species is mainly incompatible with territorial fish. It also can’t be housed with fast and fin-nipping species as it’s too slow to defend itself and might get its food stolen.

You must also avoid keeping it with bigger fish as it might fall prey to them. So, avoid:

  • Other plecos: It might cause fights over territory and food
  • Cichlids: They prey on the species
  • Goldfish: They prey on it and pollute the tank faster

What are the Common Diseases in Snowball Pleco Fish?

Plecos are definitely hardy, but that’s only if you can maintain the perfect environment. In a tank, things will not always be stable, so beware of the following diseases:

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
IchParasitic protozoaWhite spots, inactivity, flashing, appetite lossElevate temperature, appropriate medicine
Fin rotBacterial infectionFrayed and/or disintegrated fins, red marks or discolored fins, appetite loss, inactivityWater quality maintenance, removal of sources of physical injuries, appropriate medicine
ColumnarisBacterial infectionGray or white patches, inactivity, fin fraying, appetite lossWater quality maintenance, stress reduction, appropriate medicine
Hole in the headParasitic protozoaColor loss, red feces, hemorrhage around its headAppropriate medication ASAP
Skin flukesParasitic infectionRed patches, excess mucus secretion, gasping for air, inactivity, appetite lossEnhanced water quality, balanced diet and proper medication
DropsyInfection, stress, water quality issues,Bloated belly, redness near fins, ulcersImproved diet, water changes, appropriate medication
PopEyeBacterial infection,Swollen eyesPerform water changes, balanced diet, and appropriate medicine

Quick Tip: Usually, most OTC medicines for fish diseases include salt and copper. This fish is sensitive to both due to its lack of scales. So, always ask about the composition before getting medicines specific to this species.

If such medicines are unavailable, you have to depend on quarantining the fish and maintaining good water chemistry.

How to Breed Snowball Pleco Fish in an Aquarium?

There have been former reports of breeding this species in captivity. However, you must be extremely patient as it’s a hit-or-miss process. Follow the steps below to multiply your chance of breeding:

1. Separate Tank Setup

Prepare a minimum 40-gallon tank with plants and lots of big enough caves as hiding space for the fish because it is a cave spawner.

Install a reliable heater and filter. Maintain a temperature around 72-86 °F (22.2-30 °C).

2. Fish Conditioning

Introduce the paired fish in the tank and feed them with mostly live and frozen feed. If you succeed in maintaining the right conditions, the female fish’s body will swell, indicating the presence of eggs.

After this, the female investigates the tank and lays her eggs in the secured caves. The male fish fertilizes those and guards them throughout the incubation period. It might even fan the eggs sometimes.

3. Hatching and Fry Development

The eggs hatch after about a week, and the fry initially feeds off the yolk sacs for a while. Once the fry swims freely, feed the young fish blanched vegetables and baby brine shrimp.

Breeding Tip: If breeding fails on the first go, try again. Usually, the second spawning attempt after a failed one has higher success rates.

How to Buy Snowball Pleco Fish?

You can distinguish snowball pleco from Orinoco angel pleco (L201) as the former is fuller-bodied.

You can also tell the species apart from Black phantasm pleco (L501) as the spots on the latter are uniformly sized. But L102s have smaller spots on the head.

A word from FishInAquarium

The snowball pleco is usually not that active. So, make sure to keep it with lots of vibrant and colorful fish to highlight its beauty. This can also be your ideal “first” pick if you’re a beginner, interested in raising and breeding plecos.

So, if all the information here answers all your queries, share it with other hobbyists. Encourage them to know more about this fish and raise it better. But if there are any further questions, never hesitate to drop a mail, and we’ll reach out ASAP!

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.