Hypostomus plecostomus are a part of the family Loricariidae. This is the largest family of catfish with close to 700 individual species and growing annually. The Greek translation of plecostomus, like most species names, can be broken down into two parts. Pleco means pleat as in a fold in fabric. Stoma is mouth. Combine the two and you have, folded mouth.
These fish are indigenous to Costa Rica, Panama, and South America. The plecostomus is actually a single of many species of armored catfish native to the tropical and subtropical zones of the western hemisphere. All of these fish are known as common algae eaters because of their dietary habits. Over the years, the species name plecostomus has become synonymous with these armor plated algae ingesting catfish. Aquarists around the world often use the nicknames plecos or plecs when referring to these creatures.
Plecos are one of the most easily recognizable and commonly owned aquarium fish on the planet. Their immense popularity is inarguably a result of their dietary habits. Their ease of recognition, however, should be only partially attributed to their near mandatory presence in a freshwater aquarium. Armored catfishes prehistoric origins set them apart from almost every other freshwater species in existence. Their appearance has remained virtually unchanged since they first swam the oceans long before dinosaurs roamed the face of the Earth. Owning a plecos is like having a living fossil in your aquarium.
One of the most readily distinguishable traits of algae eaters is their wide, suction-cup like mouths. This is a highly specialized feeding apparatus for what in essence is a bottom dwelling scavenger fish. In addition to its most obvious application, this suction mechanisms secondary function can best be demonstrated by watching a plecos cling seemingly effortlessly to the side of an aquarium. This same ability helps to keep these fish anchored securely in place in the most torrential floodwater run offs the rainy season has to offer. A plecos will emerge from even the most severe rainy season in the feeding grounds it has become accustomed to, where other less adaptable species have been swept countless miles downstream. Their distinctive and highly developed mouths have also won them the nickname, suckermouth.
If you go to buy any fish that is labeled Plecostomus, Plecos or Algae Eater make sure to take its estimated adult size into consideration. The actual species belonging to the name plecostomus can reach an excess of 2 feet in length. They routinely grow to a foot or more in the confines of an aquarium. The adult size of the various species sold under these blanket terms varies considerably. Some are as small as two inches when fully grown. Make sure to choose one that the size of your aquarium will accommodate.
Plecos make great community fish. A common trait among bottom feeding species is that they rarely pay any attention to the comings and goings of fish in the upper levels of an aquarium. This will remain true even when they are in the midst of cleaning the algae growth off the sides of your tank.
Younger plecos may be tolerant of each other but as they continue to grow in both age and size that tolerance usually proves short lived. There are very few bottom dwelling fish that will peacefully coexist with one another.
Loricariids are a nocturnal family. They are active at night and will instinctively seek out shelter to sleep in during the day. Providing your plecos with a place rest in during the day will help it acclimate to its new surroundings. While this is not strictly necessary, it is recommended. Plecos will rest on the substrate during the day in an unadorned aquarium.
Plecos are omnivores. In an aquarium, just as in nature, these catfish will consume just about anything. This is what scavenger fish do. Contrary to what you may believe, they derive the majority of their dietary intake from ingesting decomposing organic matter foraged off the aquarium substrate and not from the consumption of algae.
Plecos are one of the most self sufficient fish you can have in an aquarium. This is easy to take for granted. It is inadvisable to assume that foraging will provide your plecos with enough nutrients to keep it healthy and fit. This is especially true if you own a larger member of the plecos family.
Putting sinking wafers or pellets in your aquarium at night when the other fish are less active will help make sure your plecos dietary needs are being meant. Loricariids are not finicky eaters. They will eat the same vegetables humans do. They eat a wide variety of vegetables. Vegetables can be cooked or served raw, leafy like spinach or bulky like zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower. Having driftwood in your aquarium is also recommended. Plecos love to nibble on drift wood. This would seem to indicate that wood provides a needed source of fiber.
Plecos are not known to spawn in captivity. Most species that do not breed in captivity are captured to support the thriving aquarium industry. This is typically not the case when it comes to plecos. Central and South America natives have turned the harvesting of plecos eggs into an industry all its own. The eggs are collected from drying streams and riverbeds and then sold to fish farms where they are hatched and raised for eventual resale. Many plecos sold in fish stores were harvested just this way.