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!
|Origin||Upper Negro, upper Orinoco, and Casiquaire River basins, Venezuela, South America|
|Scientific Name||Hypancistrus inspector|
|Common Names||Snowball pleco, true inspector pleco|
|IUCN Red List Status||Not Evaluated|
|Appearance||Black-brown body with|
|Size||14-16 cm (5.5-6.3 in)|
|Lifespan||8-10 years in captivity; Up to 15 years in the wild|
|Temperament||Slightly aggressive, territorial towards conspecifics (similar species) Peaceful toward non-territorial ones|
|Tank Level||Bottom dweller|
|Water Temperature||72-86 °F (22-30 °C)|
|Water Hardness||6-15 dGH|
|Minimum Tank Size||55 gallons for 1|
|Tank Environment||Spacious tank with dim lights, soft substrate, branches, and lots of caves|
|Diet||Omnivorous with carnivorous preferences and scavenging habits|
|Tank Mates||Other similar-sized, peaceful, non-territorial, upper-dwelling 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.
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.
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.
The fish is bilaterally symmetrical and has many unique characteristics, including:
Irrespective of gender, the adult fish grows up to 14-16 cm (5.5-6.3 in) long.
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.
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.
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.
Behavior & Temperament
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.
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.
Snowball Pleco Care
To increase the life of your pleco, you must take care of its needs, and here’s how you can do that.
The fish thrives in spacious tanks, requiring a minimum tank size of 55 gallons.
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
Making your pet pleco feel as comfortable as its natural habitat would be best. So, here are the necessary measures for that.
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.
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.
Since the fish is nocturnal, it feels more comfortable in dark spaces. So, go for the dim light setting.
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.
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.
Water Flow Rate
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.
Food & Diet
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:
- 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:
- Mosquito larvae
- Bloodworm larvae
- Fresh mico-chopped fruits
- 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.
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:
- Small and peaceful tetras
- Celestial pearl danios
- Amano shrimps
- Different snails
- Freshwater angelfish
- Betta fish
Tank Mates to Avoid
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
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:
|Ich||Parasitic protozoa||White spots, inactivity, flashing, appetite loss||Elevate temperature, appropriate medicine|
|Fin rot||Bacterial infection||Frayed and/or disintegrated fins, red marks or discolored fins, appetite loss, inactivity||Water quality maintenance, removal of sources of physical injuries, appropriate medicine|
|Columnaris||Bacterial infection||Gray or white patches, inactivity, fin fraying, appetite loss||Water quality maintenance, stress reduction, appropriate medicine|
|Hole in the head||Parasitic protozoa||Color loss, red feces, hemorrhage around its head||Appropriate medication ASAP|
|Skin flukes||Parasitic infection||Red patches, excess mucus secretion, gasping for air, inactivity, appetite loss||Enhanced water quality, balanced diet and proper medication|
|Dropsy||Infection, stress, water quality issues,||Bloated belly, redness near fins, ulcers||Improved diet, water changes, appropriate medication|
|PopEye||Bacterial infection,||Swollen eyes||Perform 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.
Breeding & Reproduction
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:
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).
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.
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.
Quick Buying Tips
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 FIA
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!