Clown Pleco 101: Complete Care Guide (2024)

Featured Image Clown Pleco
Featured Image Clown Pleco
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 9, 2024
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The clown pleco, known as one of the tiniest freshwater catfish species, is famous for its bright and striking colors. Its distinctive appearance and remarkable capacity to consume algae have made it a favorite in the aquarium industry. I recall when my 20-gallon tank was overrun by green algae; after introducing a clown pleco, all the algae were completely eradicated within a week. The tank’s appearance was so revitalized and clean, it seemed as if it had just been newly set up.

As you can see, clown plecos don’t just look gorgeous, they’re also practical. If you’re thinking of adding a clown pleco to your tank, read on. I’ll be covering everything you need to know about clown pleco care, including diet, tank requirements, health issues, and breeding. Let’s dive in!

Article Summary

  • Clown plecos, a small and attractive species of freshwater catfish, are known for their distinct appearance and algae-eating abilities, discovered in 1993 and native to South America, particularly in Columbia and Venezuela, where they live in fast-moving rivers with driftwood and vegetation.
  • A minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended, with a soft substrate, hiding spaces, and low lighting to mimic their natural habitat.
  • Proper tank maintenance is crucial as they are susceptible to common fish diseases; with good care, Clown plecos can live up to 10 to 12 years.


Clown dwarf plecos are native to South America, particularly in Columbia and Venezuela. They are commonly found in forested areas with tropical, tannic waters like the Caroni and Apure River basins.

Natural Habitat

Wild clown plecos live in fast-moving rivers with plenty of driftwood tangles, vegetation, and rocks. These fish inhabit the river bottom where it is dark to help disguise them from predators.

Do Plecos Sleep Upside Down?

Yes, it’s quite common for plecos to sleep upside down, usually hanging from a piece of driftwood. However, clown plecos are very timid fish, so they tend to spend most of their time out of view during the day.

I have a clown pleco in one of my 30-gallon tanks who rarely leaves its cave unless the fish tank lights are turned off. My bristlenose plecos, on the other hand, are much more active during the day – you’ll often spot them on the glass munching on algae.

What Do Clown Plecos Look Like?

Like many dwarf pleco species, the clown plecostomus has a large head with an elongated body. They are covered in bony plates rather than scales, which helps protect them from predators.

Plecos have large caudal, dorsal, and pectoral fins, as well as defensive spines (known as odontodes) on their gill covers and caudal fins.

Clown Pleco Color

The clown pleco has a dark brown or black base color with yellowish bands that wrap around their body in various patterns. This gives them a sort of rippled appearance.


Young clown pleco fish are usually brighter in color than adults. As this species matures, their coloration will begin to lighten.

Mimic Species

While panaqolus maccus are quite unique-looking fish, there are a couple of other pleco species that look extremely similar to them. These include the candy stripe pleco (Peckoltia vittata) and the mega clown or imperial tiger pleco (Hypancistrus sp.)

The former can reach up to 5.5 inches in length and can be territorial with catfish species and other fish that inhabit the bottom of the tank. The latter stays roughly the same size, but it isn’t a huge algae eater and doesn’t particularly consume driftwood.

Clown Pleco Size – How Big Does a Clown Pleco Get?

The average clown pleco size is 3 to 4 inches in length, making them one of the smallest species of plecostomus.

The mega clown pleco size is normally on the higher end of that scale, though some specimens can grow over 4 inches in the right tank conditions.

How Long Does It Take a Clown Pleco to Fully Grow?

It typically takes 2 to 3 until clown plecos are considered fully grown as they develop fairly slowly. Most plecos sold at pet stores are juveniles, so they are much smaller than their adult counterparts.

How to Sex a Clown Pleco

Panaqolus Maccus L104 Clown Pleco

Clown plecos can be hard to sex until they reach sexual maturity as females and males look almost identical.

However, females are normally a bit larger than male clown plecos, so they will be in the bigger range of the average size of this fish (which is normally 3 to 4 inches). They also have rounder bellies when viewed from above.

Clown pleco male fish also have elongated odontodes on their head and along his dorsal fin once they are ready to breed.

Why Is My Clown Pleco White?

If your clown pleco’s body has turned white, it’s likely due to stress or illness caused by improper nutrition, poor water quality, incorrect water parameters, or an undersized aquarium.

You will need to rectify the problem as soon as possible to give your fish the best chance of survival. Keeping on top of tank maintenance, feeding your pleco a well-balanced diet, and checking for signs of illness on a regular basis will help prevent stress and promote good health.

Are Clown Plecos Aggressive?

Clown plecos are shy, peaceful fish that can coexist with most other similarly natured species of fish. However, they can be territorial towards other plecos, especially if kept in a small aquarium.

How Many Clown Plecos Should I Keep?

The clown pleco isn’t a social fish and does best when housed alone. If you’d like to keep more than one clown pleco or another pleco species, you’ll need to make sure you have a big enough aquarium.

Keeping more than one pleco in an undersized tank can result in aggression and territorial issues.

Can I Have Two Clown Plecos?

You can have two clown plecos in the same tank, but these shy fish are best kept alone if possible. A minimum of 30 gallons is required for a pair of clown plecos, though bigger is always better. Make sure the tank has plenty of hiding spaces and live plants for both plecos to utilize.

Do Clown Plecos Like to Hide?

Freshwater Planted Tank
Freshwater Planted Tank

Clown plecos are skittish, quiet fish by nature, so they like to stay hidden most of the time, usually in a cave or behind vegetation. They are easily spooked and are very rarely active during the day.

Unfortunately, this means you’re unlikely to see much of your clown pleco unless they are particularly outgoing.

Can Clown Plecos Live With Bettas?

Yes, clown plecos can live with betta fish as long as the aquarium is large enough to accommodate both species. A minimum of 20 gallons is required for a single clown pleco and a couple of other species of small fish such as ember tetras, guppies, and neon tetras.


The “one inch of fish per gallon of water” rule is useful for calculating the number of fish you can house in your tank.

Ideal Tank Mates

Invertebrates like Anentome helena the and other fish species that are passive work well in a clown pleco aquarium. Large, boisterous and aggressive fish aren’t recommended as they could startle and stress out your clown pleco. Some may even view smaller fish as a snack.

To maintain harmony in your aquarium, avoid housing clown plecos with other pleco species like the Gold Nugget pleco, especially if you lack ample space. Opt for tank mates that have similar temperaments and space requirements for the well-being of your clown plecos.

Some of my personal favorite clown pleco tank mates are tetras (like the neon, diamond, or ember), rasboras, German blue rams, opaline gouramis, platies, guppies, and betta fish.

Although clown pleco fish are relatively easy to care for, they still require specific water parameters and a suitable aquarium to thrive. Poor husbandry can lead to illness and disease, or even death in severe cases.

But don’t worry, I’ll be going over the ideal tank setup for clown plecos below so you can keep your aquatic pet happy and healthy.

Minimum Tank Size

The minimum tank size for a single clown pleco fish is 20 gallons, but bigger is always better as these fish like to roam and produce a lot of mess.

Clown plecos spend most of their time at the bottom of the aquarium, so it’s best to house them in long tanks rather than tall, hexagonal, circular, aquariums.

Substrate and Decorations

White Sand
White Sand

As the striped clown pleco spends the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank, you should opt for a soft substrate like sand, aquatic soil, or fine gravel. Add plenty of hiding spaces and caves, such as aquarium/underwater plants, driftwood, ceramic pots/tunnels, coconut hideaways, and rocks.

This will mimic a natural habitat for your fish, facilitate biofilm and natural algae growth, and make your pet feel more at ease. It’s a good idea to use fast-growing plants as you pleco with graze on them.


The clown panaque is native to murky, low-light waters, so they don’t enjoy harsh aquarium lights in their tank. Bright lights will stress out your pet and make them less likely to come out of hiding.

Use floating plants to help shade your clown panaque from the lights and make sure you don’t leave them on for an extended period of time. A maximum of 8 hours of light is enough!

Water Parameters

Like all species of fish, the clown pleco needs specific water parameters in their aquarium to thrive. In this section of the article, I’ll be going over the ideal water requirements for these fish.

Water Temperature

Aquarium Water Bubbles
Aquarium Water Bubbles

As the clown plecostomus originates from tropical waters, they should be housed in a fish tank with a water temperature of between 73 to 82 degrees F. If you live in a cool climate, it’s best to use a fish tank heater to increase and maintain the water temperature of your aquarium.


The best pH range for panaqolus maccus is between 6.8 to 7.6. Plecos are relatively hardy fish, so as long as you keep the pH within this scale, they should be able to adapt.

Water Hardness

As the clown pleco originates from soft, fast-moving rivers, this should be replicated in captivity to simulate a natural habitat. That being said, this fish can survive in moderately hard water as long as water hardness doesn’t exceed 10 dGH.

How Much Driftwood for a Clown Pleco?

Driftwood is a crucial component of a clown pleco’s diet as it provides them with nutrients and fiber, the latter of which helps them digest.

You should make sure your clown pleco has at least one piece of driftwood in their aquarium. Ideally, the wood should be longer than the length of your fish so they can comfortably rest atop it.

Do Clown Plecos Clean Tanks?

Yes! Clown plecos are fantastic algae eaters, so they can help minimize algae in your tank and make it look tidier as a result.

They will also eat biofilm and decaying plant matter, which also helps keep your aquarium clean. That being said, you’ll still need to keep on top of your fish tank maintenance to prevent fouling of the tank water.

What to Feed a Clown Pleco

Clown plecos diet revolves mostly around algae, so they will happily devour any that is present in your tank. You can encourage the growth of algae by adding driftwood, plants, rocks, and decorations to your aquarium.

However, these freshwater fish can’t sustain on algae alone, so it’s important to provide them with other foods to ensure they get enough nutrients. Sinking algae wafers or spirulina pellets should be offered regularly, as well as fresh vegetables like zucchini, spinach, cucumber, and peas.

Driftwood is a crucial component of the clown pleco’s diet as it provides them with additional nutrients and fiber, which helps them digest. They also benefit from the occasional protein-rich food like live, freeze-dried, or frozen bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

When to Feed a Clown Pleco

Fish Food
Fish Food

The clown pleco is nocturnal, so they are most active during the night when the aquarium is dark. They will usually hide during the day, so it’s best to feed them in the evening around 20 minutes after switching off your aquarium lights.

How Much to Feed a Clown Pleco

Clown plecos should be fed once a day or every other day depending on the amount of biofilm, algae, and decaying plant matter present in your aquarium. If you have lots of live plants and algae in your tank, your pleco won’t need feeding as often.

Personally, I feed my clown pleco a few times a week, normally a couple of algae wafers for each meal or a slice of vegetable such as zucchini, cucumber, and spinach. Also, feeding bloodworm and daphnia once a week is an excellent way of adding protein to their diet.

Clown Pleco Health

Common Diseases

Although the clown pleco is a pretty hardy fish, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to illness or disease. Poor water quality in particular can make your plecostomus more susceptible to sickness, which is why it’s so important to adhere to a strict tank maintenance routine.

Ich, mouth fungus, fin rot, velvet, and hole in the head disease are some of the most common aquatic diseases in freshwater fish.

Clown Pleco Lifespan

Despite their relatively small size, clown plecos live a fairly long time! With good care, this fish can easily live for between 10 to 12 years, sometimes more.

Can You Breed Clown Plecos?

Yes, you can breed clown plecostomus! There are mixed opinions of whether clown panaque are easy to breed or not, but provided you have a breeding tank and it meets the spawning criteria for these fish, chances are you’ll see fry (baby clown pleco fish) at some point.

How to Breed Clown Plecos

  1. Before you go ahead with breeding your clown plecos, you’ll need to set up a separate breeding tank without other fish. It should have the same water parameters as your main tank, as well as plenty of hiding places, driftwood, and some plants. You can use a fine substrate or leave the aquarium bare bottom.
    • A ceramic pot or cave is recommended as this will provide the fish with a secluded area to lay and raise the eggs. Gradually lower the temperature of the water by a couple of degrees and marginally decrease the pH to replicate the rainy season, which is the time most plecos normally breed.
  2. Select a healthy, adult female and male clown pleco, then place them in a separate tank. Feed the pair well and increase their intake of protein-rich foods like live bloodworms to help trigger spawning.
  3. Once the pair have mated, the male clown fish will take on all parenting duties. He will force the female out of the cave, then aggressively guard the eggs for several weeks until they hatch. It’s best to remove the female at this stage as clown pleco fathers can be quite protective of their babies!
  4. Once the eggs have hatched, remove the male. Baby clown pleco care is similar to how you’d look after adults – feed the new clown pleco, fry a combination of algae, protein-rich foods like bloodworms and baby brine shrimp, and driftwood.

Is the Clown Pleco for You? 

If you’re after a fish with a striking appearance, gentle nature, and an appetite for algae, the clown pleco is the right candidate. Better yet, these fish are great for a community tank due to their passive temperament.

That being said, this species is extremely shy and easily spooked, so they spend a lot of the time hiding. They normally only venture out at night to scavenge, which means you’re unlikely to see much of them.

If you’re looking for an active, outgoing fish that you can interact with, then the clown pleco might not be the best fish for you.

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide helped you learn a little more about the clown pleco and how to correctly care for this popular freshwater fish.

Remember to provide your pleco with a nutritious diet of driftwood, algae, and bottom-dweller tablets, as well as a spacious aquarium (tank size should be at least 20 gallons!), plenty of hiding spaces and live plants, and regular water changes to their tank.

What do you like the most about the clown pleco? Be sure to let me know on our social media platforms, and share this post with your friends and family!

Feel free to explore the site for for more fish care tips and aquarium product recommendations.

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