Clown Pleco 101: Care, Size, Tank Size, Diet & More!

When you’ve only just entered the wide, wonderful world of aquarium keeping, you’ve probably come across the Clown pleco. It’s a popular aquarium fish known for being gentle, wood-eating, and adorably shy. You’re probably dying of curiosity, so here’s more info on the bottom-dweller that creeps its way right to your heart.

The table below gives a quick overview of the Clown Pleco profile:

Profile AttributeValue
Care DifficultyEasy
LifespanUp to 10 years
DietOmnivores (will eat wood and algae)
Color(s)Varying colors with stripes
Maximum Size4-5 inches
Minimum Tank Size20 gallons 
Tank SetupFreshwater/lots of driftwood
TemperamentGentle/shy
FamilyLoricariidae
CompatibilityCommunity fish

Below is our clown pleco care guide, continue reading to find out more about its Tank Mates, Breeding, Appearance and more.

Overview

Panaqolus maccus is a wood-eating fish more commonly known by the names clown pleco, clown panaque, and Ringlet pleco. The clown pleco is part of the catfish family Loricariidae, along with its other pleco relatives. The clown pleco is native to South America, particularly Columbia and Venezuela, where it resides in river basins packed with driftwood. These Loricariids are relatively small, compared to their relatives and have a dark colored body upon adulthood. This dark base color often has patterns on top, such as lighter-colored stripes or ring-like markings.

In terms of diet, this bottom-dweller has quite odd tastes. While technically an omnivore, clown plecos much prefer their plantlife, and scraping off algae wherever they can find some.

All in all this peaceful crawler is a low-maintenance fish, with a few tiny exceptions. They’re very popular,  and according to many testimonies, is the pleco that opened many fishkeepers to the species and started a raging obsession on plecos. 

Lifespan

The clown pleco has an astounding average lifespan of 10 years. In fact, there are many who report having their plecos for even longer than that, reaching around 12 years. All of this is dependent, of course, on your pleco’s health, genetics, and how well you care for them. If you stick around to the end of this guide, we have no doubts your pleco will be around for a long, long time to come. 

Appearance

The clown pleco is a striking sight to behold in any aquarium. They have broad-set heads and round, almost bulging eyes. Their mouths are flat as well as their abdomens. Clown pleco bodies start out large from their heads, which then slims down toward their tails. Another distinguishing characteristic is the large dorsal and pectoral fins of these fishes. The dorsal fin is so substantial as to be almost the same size as their caudal fins. Clown plecos are also categorized as ‘armored’ catfish. This is due to the defensive spines all along their fins, which allow them to be protected from larger fish. 

Clown plecos have a base body color of black, but this is overlaid with lighter-colored patterns. Genetic factors and the health of your clown pleco determine what their patterns will be. Typically, these patterns are stripes that are either wavy or straight all the way. But sometimes, the patterns can be  ring-like in design, which also explains one of these fishes’ names, ‘the Ringed pleco’. These designs are usually yellow or orange, and are brighter during their juvenile years. As clown plecos age, their patterns also change. Naturally, the main purpose of clown plecos’ markings and coloring is to avoid detection by their predators. 

Sexing clown plecos is incredibly difficult. At a cursory glance, you can’t differentiate the males from the females at all. This is made even more challenging when your plecos are still young, or it is not yet the breeding season. 

Average Size

This species of pleco is a relatively small loricariid, classified as one of the dwarf plecos. Clown plecos have an average size of only 3.5 inches, but can grow up to 4 inches in captivity. In the wild, they are known to go up to 5 inches. This is still considered small when compared to other aquarium fishes or even other catfishes of their family. It’s not all bad, however, because their cute size also means you don’t need impossibly huge tanks.

Clown Pleco Care

There’s no complex science to caring for the clown pleco. These fishes have fairly straightforward needs, and you won’t have any trouble accommodating them. There are only a few things  that really need your attention: their tank needs, diet, and their massive waste!

Potential Diseases

More good news for those who plan on owning clown plecos: they are tough and aren’t very sickly. Sure, they’re still susceptible to the more common aquatic ailments such as Ich or White spot disease. But before you get into a panic, remember that these common ailments are very much treatable, and more importantly, preventable. 

As long as you maintain optimal water parameters, perform regular cleanups, water changes, and supplement them with a nutritious diet, it’s all good.

Inside Tank Setup

In the wild, Clown plecos are found in river basins of South America. Many of these rivers are tannin-rich, and full to the brim with driftwood and vegetation. The goal is to try and emulate these conditions to make your clown plecos feel right at home. 

Starting with driftwood, clown plecos are notorious wood-chompers. They absolutely need a constant supply of wood in their environment. You may place some Manzanita driftwood, Malaysian driftwood, Bogwood, or Spider driftwood in your tank. Clown plecos tend to munch on softer wood more so keep that in mind as well. 

Apart from being wood-eaters, these plecos are also naturally shy. They prefer hiding out and staying where it’s dark. To make them more comfortable, set up dim lighting and plenty of cave-like structures in your tank. Providing plenty of driftwood in your tank can also have the added benefit of producing tannins. These tannins can actually help dim the lighting in your tank too. For their substrate, go with a sand substrate, since these plecos like digging around and skittering about  at the bottom. A softer substrate would therefore help avoid any injuries.

Last but definitely not the least, you need good biological filters in your pleco tank, and rigorous clean ups. This is non-negotiable. Clown plecos are notorious for their massive dumps (sorry!). They produce a lot of waste, so water changes and a fixed cleaning schedule is absolutely essential. It sounds disgusting, but if done religiously, you won’t mind it in the long run (maybe). 

Tank Size

Since clown plecos technically belong to the dwarf pleco category, they won’t be needing much space. These plecos are not intense swimmers either, so a minimum of around 20 gallons should be fine. They appreciate tanks with large surface areas however, with space for them to skuttle around the substrate whenever they please. 

Water Parameters

When it comes to water requirements, these fish are definitely not the type to fuss. In fact, clown plecos can still live to 12 long years despite the beginner mistakes you might make. Much like other species of their family Loricariidae, they are very forgiving and can handle a wide range of temperatures in your aquarium. Needless to say, this makes them ideal pets for newbies and experts alike.

Water Parameters:

  • Temperature: 72°F-82°F or 22°C-27°C (slightly cool)
  • pH levels: 6.5-7.5 (slightly acidic)
  • Hardness: 8-10 dGH (soft)

Diet & Food

The heavily used quote ‘food is life’ may be stale, but nevertheless true for the clown pleco. These fish are known for having near insatiable appetites. There is no existential crisis for the clown plecos. Food is the reason for their existence. 

Clown plecos are ravenous omnivores, however they are partial to vegetation. They are huge veggie fans, and that includes their favorite meals: wood and algae. They need to have wood available for them to munch on throughout the day. They’re also effective cleaners, since they suck on the algae build up all over (yum). Indeed, clown plecos scuttle about looking for more algae than your tank can provide them with. Aid them in their quest by providing some algae-based flakes. 

But because they’re so insatiable, these plecos are also at risk of being overfed. We advise a feeding schedule of once a day to keep them (and their weights) in check. In their native habitats, clown plecos are night feeders and so hunt for their food at night. Time your feedings during nighttime, or when the lights are off to make things easier for them.

Preferred Food for Clown Plecos include:

  • Algae wafers
  • Spirulina
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Shelled peas
  • Mashed potato or squash (sometimes)
  • Bloodworms 
  • Shrimp pellets 
  • Daphnia

Since they’re omnivores, clown plecos can also take in some proteinaceous food here and there. Give them the occasional meat around once a week, but never overfeed. Don’t forget to dispose of leftover food,  as well as their generous dump that may or may not contain bits of wood and sawdust. 

Tip: Clown plecos are incorrigible nibblers. They will probably snack on your live plants to death if you don’t watch out. If you want to avoid this, don’t choose soft broad-leaved plants and opt for sturdier plants instead.

Clown Pleco Breeding Behavior

Breeding clown plecos is one of those topics that can divide a community. Some insist that breeding them in a tank is very doable, while some find it almost like an urban legend. Whether you’re a believer or a true skeptic, we’re here to help.

First things first is to of course, sex your clown plecos. Sexually differentiating them is no easy task by any measure. The differences are very subtle and you’ll need to really focus on them once they become adults. What you can watch out for are that males develop bristle-like structures or spikes near its head. Meanwhile, females become big and slightly bulging during the breeding season. 

Once you’ve got your couple, try and emulate their environment in the wild. Start with setting up a spawning cave, with a narrow entrance. Since their breeding is triggered once the dry season turns into the rainy season, try to mimic these changes. 

You’ll need to set a much lower temperature, plus softer water in your tank. Get the pH to a more neutral level, and give your plecos a greater amount of food than usual. Food usually becomes more plentiful in the river during the rainy season, so give them abundant vegetables and meat. Typically, clown plecos spawn when the temperature of your water warms up again after being relatively cold. 

After this, the eggs will be deposited into the spawning cave, which will be guarded by the male clown plecos.This strenuous guarding can last for a couple of weeks, until their eggs hatch. Once they do, you can start separating the dads from their baby clown plecos. 

Temperament & Behavior

Clown plecos are very peaceful fishes. They usually just mill around the bottom of the tank in peace, content with their own company. They usually swish around the substrate in peace or play hide-and-seek among the plants and rocks. In fact, clown plecos can even be shy especially when they’re new to the environment. Many owners actually profess that their pets hardly ever come out of their caves, and only see them a few times a week. These rare sightings usually happen at night or when it’s time to eat. These shy fishes will poke their heads out only to see if you’ve got their treats ready for them. In time though, your clown pleco may get out more as they get more used to your presence.

While these guys are generally peaceful; they can have their episodes too. In the fishkeeping scene, it’s not really advised to keep more than one clown pleco in a tank. This is because for some reason, clown plecos can be hostile toward its own kind. Territory will be an issue, and ultimately these plecos will battle it out to see who comes out on top. It’s not even just the males who get like this; even female plecos become quite territorial with each other. 

Tip: To bring your clown plecos out from hiding, you can try giving them areas in the tank that they can come out of that are still shaded. Overhanging driftwood can do this really well, and will surely urge your pleco to come out into the outside world.

Clown Pleco Tank Mates

When it comes to tank mates, you’re in luck. Clown plecos are made for community tanks. They’re peaceful, and mostly just mind their own business. They pretty much get along with everybody while at the bottom, so mid and upper level swimmers are none of their concern. Ho+wever, don’t mix them in with more aggressive fishes like Mbuna, Flowerhorn Cichlids and Red Tail Black sharks. Much larger fish are also a definite no, since your clown pleco might end up being eaten. As previously mentioned, other clown plecos are also a bad idea, because this might cause unnecessary aggression among them. But if you insist on having more than one clown in your tank, make sure to give them their own territories in your aquarium. This will help avoid any underwater brawls. 

For ideal tank mates, consider choosing other peaceful or friendly fishes. 

Suitable Tank Mates for Clown Plecos:

To Finish

As a whole, you won’t ever regret owning a clown pleco. They’re beautiful, peaceful, and fun to bring out of their caves. They’ll forgive your most basic beginner mistakes and won’t die on you. As long as they’re cared for, they’ll probably be with you for a long, long time (12 years long)! 

They’re not fussy fishes in any way, and you only need to pay attention to their environment and cleanup. Truthfully, if you don’t mind the general cleaning that comes with these guys, they’re the absolute perfect fish for every sort of aquarist.

Note: Please consider the environment before printing this Clown Pleco care sheet.

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