5 Small Pleco Fish Breeds – Plecos that Stay Small

If you want to keep plecos, it is a good idea to determine which ones you will buy because they vary in size. Some can reach a mere two inches while others grow to over 15 inches.

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The common pleco is the most available one in pet stores. Other popular ones include sailfin pleco, Bristlenose pleco, and suckermouth pleco.

There are also small pleco fish breeds that will complement a small set up, and they include:

1. Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose pleco has an average size of 3-5 inches, and it is coveted since it keeps algal growth to a minimum.

It is shorter and fatter when compared to the common pleco, and its flat body is lined with bony plates for protection. Their bodies can be grey, olive, brown, or black with yellow or white spots.

The round mouth and elongated lips of the Bristlenose pleco make it a great algae-eater. They will consume much more algae than shrimps or snails, and their small size makes them ideal alternatives to the common pleco.

You will need at least 30 gallons to keep the Bristlenose pleco in a suitable setup. A 50-gallon aquarium will be ideal for the fish and several tankmates.

The most crucial element of a Bristlenose pleco tank is the filtration system. The fish will be on the constant lookout for food, and they are prolific poopers as a result.

The water quality in your tank can be quickly compromised if it has an ineffective filter.

You can use a sponge filter and a hang-on-back model, although canister filters work best in large aquariums.

The plecos will need additional foods even as they eat the algae in your aquarium. Give them sinking wafers and pellets and chopped vegetables like zucchini, spinach, and peas.

2. Clown Pleco

The clown pleco grows to 3-4 inches in the aquarium. Its black body features orange or yellow bands and pronounced dorsal and pectoral fins. When kept under appropriate conditions, the clown pleco can live for 10-12 years.

You will need at least 20 gallons to keep the clown pleco and an additional 10 gallons for any other clown pleco that you add. Clown plecos appreciate driftwood in their tank, as they snack and hide in it.

Driftwood will also provide some nutrients to the fish. You can keep this pleco with common plants like hornwort. Decorations will provide surfaces for algae to grow on, which will, in turn, provide food for your clown pleco.

Clown plecos are peaceful inhabitants of a community tank. They are a bottom-dwelling species, and they will not bother their tankmates.

Males clown plecos have however been shown to fight for territories. You can keep clown plecos with similarly-sized and peaceful fish like minnows, cory catfish, dwarf gourami, and ember tetra.

To ensure that your clown pleco is well-fed, keep many ornaments in your tank where algae can grow on. Give them algae wafers and vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, and peas.

3. Pitbull Pleco

Pitbull Pleco (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

The Pitbull pleco will only grow to 1.5-2 inches, but it will actively clean up your tank. Its color ranges between black to pale grey with greenish and golden shades.

The coloration on the fish can change depending on the substrate.

One Pitbull pleco can be kept in a 20-gallon, but they thrive best in community tanks. The fish are energetic foragers, so you should use a soft mud or fine gravel substrate.

The Pitbull pleco can sink underneath sand when threatened, only leaving their eyes above the surface. Use driftwood, stones, and other decorations to provide other hiding areas if your tank has gravel. A soft mud substrate is ideal because it will not injure their bodies.

The pleco can be seen resting under shaded areas during the day, and it, therefore, thrives in a planted tank. It will scavenge at night, and you should provide meaty foods as treats.

4. Rubber Lip Pleco

The rubber lip pleco is an ideal fish if you want an algae-eater that will not outgrow your aquarium. It is commonly confused with rubber plecos, and some pet stores even sell one as the other.

The rubber lip pleco is distinguishable by the spots on its head, and it will not grow past 4.5 inches. The rubber pleco, on the other hand, can grow to seven inches.

You can keep one rubber lip pleco in a 20-gallon tank and move them into a larger container once they grow bigger. They are generally slow-growers in captivity.

You can add rubber lip plecos to community tanks if you have an algae problem. They will feed off any algae on the glass, plants, and decorations. You can also give them algae wafers, flakes, spinach, spirulina, lettuce, and other veggies.

5. Zebra Pleco

Zebra Pleco (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

Wild populations of the zebra pleco live in Brazil’s river Xingu. At the bottom of this Amazon river Tributary are cracks, caves, and burrows where the fish likes to hide.

You will need to include a lot of shelters at the bottom of your tank in the form of caves, stones, snags, and roots.

Another thing to note with the zebra pleco is that it thrives in high temperatures of 86-88ºF. The fish likes oxygen-rich waters and pristine water conditions.

Change 20-25% of the tank’s water every week, and use a large tank to promote more stable water parameters.

The zebra pleco grows to 3-4 inches. It is quite timid, and it will retreat to caves during the day. You can keep one male and several females to avoid aggression between the males.

Keeping the zebra pleco in a community tank is challenging because of the kind of environment it demands. It thrives in warm waters that are saturated with oxygen. The discus fish is among the few aquarium fish that needs similar conditions.

Unlike other plecos, the zebra pleco takes protein-rich foods. They do not eat algae and will thrive on meaty meals like brine shrimp and bloodworms.


Plecos bring unique characteristics to an aquarium. Most people think of the common pleco when considering this species, but they are smaller fish that will also clean your tank.

You will need at least 20 gallons to keep one of these plecos, but you should invest in a larger aquarium to keep them comfortable. 

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