Plecos are a great tankmate in lots of different tank environments, but how long do they live? Is there anything you can do to increase their lifespan?
Plecos live for 10-15 years, although the lifespan can vary from species to species. In the wild, plecos can live for longer than 15 years. In captivity, you can help your plecos live longer by providing healthful water conditions, adequate care, and a varied diet.
Caring for your plecos in the long-term is something you’ll need to be committed to, especially since they can live for so long!
Stay tuned, because I’m going to give you a breakdown of how long different pleco species live and how you can keep them alive for longer.
How Long Do Plecos Live?
Plecos are, in general, long-lived fish. In fact, most pleco species can live for 10-15 years, much longer than the 2-3-year lifespan of most freshwater aquarium fish.
Here’s a helpful breakdown of different beginner pleco species and how long they tend to live.
|Common Pleco||10-15 years|
|Bristlenose Pleco||15-20 years|
|Zebra Pleco||10-15 years|
|Clown Pleco||10-12 years|
|Gold Nugget Pleco||5-7 years|
|Albino Pleco||3-5 years|
|Royal Pleco||10-15 years|
|Sailfin Pleco||20-25 years|
|Snowball Pleco||8-10 years|
|Rubber Lip Pleco||10-12 years|
Keep in mind that some of these species of plecos grow to be huge (almost 2 feet in length) and aren’t suited for smaller tanks, since they can stunt their growth. As such, you always want to consider the mature adult size of your pleco before you choose a species.
There’s nothing wrong with you, as a beginner, opting for a larger tank to house bigger plecos, but bigger tanks are usually more difficult to maintain, if only in terms of time commitment needed to keep it up and running.
Of course, there are also a number of determinants that influence how long plecos will live. The goal in an aquarium should always be to cater to the inhabitants’ biology.
That means setting up a natural feeding schedule, creating ideal tank conditions, keeping the temperature stable, and warding off parasites, algae, and other diseases where possible.
What Helps Plecos Live Longer?
Remember, different species of plecos have different lifespans, so the amount of time you can enjoy watching your plecos will vary depending on which one you have. Of course, regardless of the species, your plecos will live longer if tank conditions are optimal.
That includes monitoring the following in your tank:
- Chemical Balance, such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.
- Water movement
- Feeding schedules
Now, let’s take a look at some things you should be doing to help your plecos live a long and happy life.
The first thing you should understand about plecos and about fish, in general, is that adding fish to any tank contributes to the amount of waste produced in the tank environment, a concept known as bioload. The ‘good’ bacteria colony must be robust to handle an increase in waste; if it’s not up to the task, then ammonia levels will spike, and your fish will suffer.
To this effect, it’s important to talk about bioload with regard to stocking your tank with plecos. Plecos will not, by themselves, handle algae blooms or clean up a tank; in fact, they’re more likely to contribute to the problem since even cleaner fish produce waste.
In general, the bigger a fish is, the more bioload it adds to the tank by producing more waste through its metabolism.
As such, it’s important to consider the right size tank for your plecos for several reasons. First, an overstocked tank will suffer from ammonia spikes and potentially diseases and algae blooms. That’s certainly no way to make sure your plecos live a long life.
Keep Plecos in a Larger Tank
Second, plecos can get pretty big. The common pleco, for example, can grow up to 2 feet in length–something that the pet store just isn’t going to tell you when they’re an adorable 2 inches in the display tank.
A common rule of thumb is that for every full-sized pleco, you need 40 gallons, although some species should only be kept in a 100+ gallon tank.
The plecos mentioned in the table above (aside from the common pleco) only grow to be a few inches in length, so you can keep them in a smaller tank, although I wouldn’t recommend anything less than 30 gallons.
Another important aspect of tending to your plecos to ensure they have a long, healthy life is food.
Just like other fish, plecos need food, and different plecos have different dietary requirements. It’s a total myth that plecos can survive on algae.
Yes, they do so in the wild where algae is abundant, but there’s just not enough in an enclosed environment, at least in the vast majority of places.
Some species of plecos feed almost exclusively on algae, while others prefer a carnivorous diet. Still others need to digest the lignin and cellulose in driftwood; in fact, it’s necessary to their survival.
It’s important to understand the dietary requirements of your particular pleco species to make sure they’re getting the nutrition they need and cater your feeding choices accordingly.
Here’s what I recommend you feed your plecos:
- Algae wafers
- Frozen foods
- Brine shrimp
- Raw vegetables like cucumber or zucchini
Of course, these food suggestions might look a little different depending on what your plecos prefer in their diet.
It’s also hard to issue a blanket statement of how often you should feed your plecos, since tank size and stocking are often on a case-by-case basis.
In general, you should feed your plecos twice a week–feed more often or in larger amounts if your plecos aren’t getting any food (remember, they feed from the bottom), and feed less if you find there’s still food remaining after an hour or so.
Finding the right balance of food can be a challenge, especially depending on how many other species of fish you have in your tank. The bottom line is that you need to be vigilant in monitoring your tank to make sure that your plecos are getting enough food.
On the other hand, you also need to be cautious that you don’t leave any food remaining on the bottom. These can serve as sources of ammonia and harm the tank’s chemical composition by adding more ammonia than the filter can keep up with.
Creating Proper Water Conditions
As with any aquarium, you want to create conditions that are comfortable and safe for your fish. Ammonia is highly toxic, as is nitrite. That’s where the nitrogen cycle comes in.
To put it briefly, when your tank is fully cycled, the ‘good’ bacteria consume the ‘bad’ bacteria, rendering it harmless.
This endstage chemical, nitrate, is also harmful in high concentrations (around 40 ppm or higher).
Do Regular Water Changes
To maintain a healthy chemical balance, you need to dilute the tank water from time to time.
Again, this is on a case-by-case basis, although the golden standard of good water conditions are 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite, and under 40 ppm nitrate.
Tanks with a heavier bioload and smaller tanks will need water changes more often. Once a week is ideal, although depending on the tank, you might only need to water change twice a month.
Another important aspect of water conditions is water movement. It’s important to aerate your tank, which is a fancy way of saying your tank needs air, specifically oxygen. Just like us, fish need to breathe oxygen; they just do it in a different way.
It’s best to have an air pump to create some water circulation. Doing so not only provides oxygen to the tank, but also surface movement. A lack of surface movement is the #2 cause (right behind overfeeding) for algae blooms, so it’s important to address this.
I’ve always used Aqueon’s Air Pump. It’s perfect, quiet, and provides plentiful surface movement for my aquarium.
Maintain the Ideal Temperature
Lastly, you need to maintain an ideal temperature in your tank, both for your plecos and other fish. Plecos can thrive in conditions from 60-80 F, but each has their preferences on the warmer or colder end of the spectrum.
There are two important things to note here about temperature. First, you need an appropriately-sized heater (I recommend the Via Aqua) to keep temperatures stable.
Stability is the most important aspect of temperature, since sudden changes in temperature (such as colder temps overnight) are extremely harmful for fish, causing them immense stress and thus a weakened immune system.
Secondly, you should pair fish with similar preferences. It’s not good to have fish who prefer colder water like Goldfish in the same tank as fish that prefer warmer water like Cichlids.
Finding Suitable Tankmates
It’s important to consider the right tankmates for your plecos, both ones that your plecos won’t pick on and ones that won’t pick on your plecos.
Plecos are armored catfish and can be aggressive in certain circumstances, such as when it comes to territory or breeding rights. As such, it’s a good general rule of thumb not to have too-small or too-big tankmates that sit on the bottom.
As an obvious example, plecos are not good with crayfish, since the latter will pick on and harass the plecos.
A less obvious example is plecos and shrimp. Carnivorous species of plecos (and even those that are just territorial) will pick on shrimp, even eating them given the opportunity.
Here are some suitable tankmates to consider:
- Betta fish
- Harlequin Rasboras
- Most Tetras
- Other peaceful bottomfeeders
Mimicking a Natural Environment
This topic ties into a broader concern with pleco health: stress. As with any other fish, being introduced to a new environment is a stressful experience, and the less conducive that environment is to survival, the more stressed your pleco will be.
Stress is not only unpleasant for your plecos, but it can also weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to diseases.
A natural environment is not just a way to make your tank look pretty; it’s a necessity. In general, an ideal environment for plecos should include lots of plants and plenty of places to hide.
Doing so gives the plecos a chance to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the tank whenever they need to and gives them a place to call home.
In fact, a natural environment benefits all fish by making the aquarium seem more like their home turf.
To this effect, I strongly recommend you include some plants in your freshwater aquarium. Not only do plants produce oxygen (refer to the water movement section above), but they also compete with algae for resources, reducing the risk of a nasty algae bloom.
Plants also provide shelter for fish and look great in a tank. I recommend Java Fern, Anubias, and Amazon Sword. I’ve had great success tending to them, and they look great in a tank environment!
It’s important to consider the dietary needs of wood-eating plecos. Nearly all plecos will rasp on wood, although some rely on it more than others. Driftwood contains lignin and cellulose, along with a whole bunch of other goodies that aid the pleco’s digestive system.
Of course, driftwood also accumulates a healthy layer of biofilm, which provides an additional nutrient-packed food source for plecos.
As such, driftwood is an absolute must. Plus, it looks absolutely gorgeous with plants and other hardscaping. Cholla wood, the Swiss Cheese of driftwood, is splendid and has become a staple in many of my tanks.
As an aquarium hobbyist, you should be keeping a close eye on your tank conditions for signs of parasites, disease, or algae.
While you can’t expect to be prepared for everything, here are some common aquarium diseases and their symptoms:
- Ich – A parasite usually introduced by new fish; noticeable by the white spots that appear on fish.
- Fin Rot – A disease that affects fish in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions; noticeable by the wearing away of the fins.
- Dropsy – A symptom of kidney disease in fish; evidenced by bloating.
- Flukes – A parasite in tanks that becomes harmful in poor water conditions; noticeable by fish scratching on the glass, redness, and rapid gill movement.
Treating these diseases and parasites usually involves a process of medication and addressing the underlying cause. Test your tank regularly to make sure tank conditions are healthy and, most importantly, monitor your tank at large for any signs of unusual behavior.
Always quarantine new fish, plants, and decorations before introducing them to your new tank so that you can weed out diseases and parasites before they affect the community at large.
How Long Do Bristlenose Plecos Live?
Bristlenose plecos live for about 5 years, although they can live for up to 7 years in the wild in ideal conditions. Generally, Bristlenose plecos have a shorter lifespan than other plecos in the wild due to their increased susceptibility to disease and predation.
Do Plecos Require a Certain Aquarium Size?
Most plecos require a minimum tank size of 30 gallons, although plecos that grow very big might require a tank size of 100 gallons or more. It’s important to do your research to see how big a species gets before including it in your tank to make sure it’s got enough room to grow!
Plecos can live for 10-15 years on average, depending on the species. In order to help your plecos live a long and happy life, monitor tank conditions carefully, pair them with excellent tankmates, and feed them a varied diet.
Make sure to take a look at the helpful information provided above to learn everything you need to know about helping your plecos live longer!