Clown Pleco: Care Guide, Tank Mates and Breeding…

There are many different kinds of Pleco Catfish.

One of the most popular and helpful is the Clown Pleco.

This gentle and peaceful fish is often used to clean up algae and detritus from the bottom of the tank. They are known for their bright yellow stripes that stand out against their drab brown body.

Although the Clown Pleco is not a very demanding fish there are still several special care requirements to take into account.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this Pleco Catfish…

Clown Pleco
Experience Required: Freshwater fishkeeping
Nicknames: Clown Panaque and Ringlet Pleco
Color Forms: Brown with yellow stripes
Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
Tank Temperature: 72-82°F

About Clown Plecos

The Clown Pleco (Panaqolus maccus) is a small armored Catfish endemic to Venezuela.

They are one of the smaller Plecos around and only reach 3-4 inches.

These Clowns are mainly kept as algae and detritus cleaners.

They are one of the best beginner Catfish and also one of the most community friendly. They get along very well with peaceful Nano fish and can fit in a tank as small as 20 gallons.

In a well kept tank you can expect them to live for 10-12 years.

There are many other Catfish species that look similar, such as the Tiger Peckoltia, Mega Clown, or Candy Stripe. Because of this, L-numbers are assigned to different Plecostomus species in order to tell them apart.

The Clown Pleco was given two different sets of L-numbers by two different fishkeeping magazines in the 1980s. This species’ L-number is L104, and its alternative is L162.

You should expect to pay about $10 per fish. Just be wary of lookalikes and cases of mistaken identity.

Pros

  • Cleans algae, rot, and other tank trash
  • Resistant to illness and infection
  • Compatible with other fish
  • Can live on their own or in a group
Cons

  • Can be territorial with their own kind
  • Very difficult to breed
  • Needs a high water temperature

Clown Pleco

Clown Pleco Appearance

Clown Plecos are identified by their bright yellow banded pattern, set against a brown base color.

Some specimens come in bright butter yellow, while others are neon yellow to light orange.

The intensity and shade of the color can vary depending on environmental conditions, age, and the fish’s health. The healthier your fish is, the brighter their color will be.

Clown Plecos have an arrow shaped body with a wide, almost triangular head. Their mouth is set underneath the snout, and is designed for sucking and rasping algae off of hard surfaces. Their body is wide towards the front end and thin towards the back, sloping downwards past the dorsal fin and ending in a rounded snout.

Their striped pattern extends to all 7 of their fins.

They have a sail shaped dorsal fin, a flared caudal fin, a pair of pectoral and pelvic fins, and a tiny adipose fin just before the caudal. The pectoral fins are on the underside of the fish’s body, rather than tucked near the gill slits. The pelvic fins are positioned directly behind them.

The fish must be sexually mature before you can tell the difference between the genders.

Mature males will have tiny, toothlike structures called odontodes on their head and near the gills. Females lack odontodes and have a wider and thicker body.

Size and Growth Rate

Juveniles can be anywhere from 1.5 to 2 inches long.

A fully grown adult can reach up to 4 inches long, but they will only reach their full size between 4 and 6 years of age.

Tank Mates

The Clown Pleco is a peaceful Catfish and poses no danger to other fish.

In the wild they live with Red Phantom Tetras, Salt and Pepper Corys, and several different Cichlid species.

You can keep them with any small to medium sized fish that share their gentle nature.

In addition to the Red Phantom, they can live with other South American Tetras such as Glowlights and Embers. They can also coexist with Julii, Bronze, and Salt and Pepper Corys. A school of Lambchop or Harlequin Rasboras will get along just fine with them too. You can also include a shoal of Celestial Pearl or Zebra Danios.

The Kuhli Loach is one of the best bottom dwellers you can add to this community.

Be careful when keeping this fish with other similar looking Plecos such as the Bristlenose. While it is possible if you have a lot of space in your tank, the two species may pick on one another at times.

Do not keep them with large and aggressive Plecostomus like the Common Pleco or the Sailfin Pleco. Other boisterous bottom dwellers such as the Clown Loach should be left out as well.

A well fed Clown Pleco should leave shrimp and snails alone, though it may eat their larvae if they breed. It is safe to keep this fish with other algae eaters like the Amano Shrimp and Nerite Snail.

Sharkminnows like the Red Tail Shark are generally a bad idea as they do not like to share the bottom of the tank with others. Venomous Catfish, like Sterba’s Cory and the Pictus Cat are also out.

With the exception of Apistogrammas and Rams there is no safe Cichlid species to keep with Clown Pleco.

Can You Keep Clown Plecos Together?

These fish can be kept in small groups of up to 4.

Clown Plecos will not interact with one other and prefer to stay out of each other’s way. Despite this, they will be much more efficient at algae and detritus cleaning in a group.

However, the males will behave aggressively to each other while defending their territory.

To reduce potential aggression you should make sure there are 10 gallons of water for every individual in the group. You will need at least 30 gallons for a pair and 50 gallons for a group of 4.

If possible keep an all female group.

Can You Keep Clown Pleco And Bristlenose Pleco Together?

Clown and Bristlenose Plecos can be kept together but they will not get along if there is not enough space.

To keep a Clown Pleco and Bristlenose Pleco together you will need at least 40 gallons. Then add 10 additional gallons for each new Pleco in the tank.

Provide lots of caves and hiding holes for the Clown and the Bristlenose and never keep too many males together in the same tank. An all female group is your safest option to keep the peace.

If you follow these simple rules your Clown and Bristlenose Plecos should get along swimmingly.

Clown Pleco Care

This fish has a very long lifespan when kept in the best conditions.

Clown Plecos can live for anywhere from 10-12 years.

They thrive in clean tanks and struggle in high ammonia and nitrate levels.

You will need to purchase a few test kits to check for waste products every week. Nitrate levels should fall below 20 ppm, while ammonia levels should be too small for the test kit to detect. Watch for turbidity, fouling, and a buildup of too much trash in the tank.

Each week you will need to perform a water change, clean the aquarium glass, and rinse the substrate as well.

Although they are largely disease resistant, it is still possible for this fish to come down with a case of ich. The telltale white spots are very easy to see against their yellow and brown colors.

Diet

Clown Plecos will clean up just about any kind of garbage that they find.

In the wild they eat up algae, rotted wood, biofilm, and decayed plants.

Although they are among the most efficient janitor fish they cannot survive on algae and detritus alone.

A balanced diet includes veggie-filled flakes and pellets mixed with live prey.

Ideally your tank should already have a fine layer of algae before you introduce your Pleco. They do best in an aquarium that has a thin coating of green over the rocks and substrate. In addition to that you should provide plenty of driftwood and bogwood for your fish to munch on when they start to rot.

Flake foods should sink to the bottom quickly and should be very high in vegetable content. You can supplement these with algae wafers, spirulina, or bottom feeder pellets. Live bloodworms, brine shrimp, and water fleas can be given once or twice a week but they should not make up the majority of your fish’s diet.

Garden vegetables such as lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, and spinach can be given as treats once per week.

Your fish will scavenge for food on their own most of the time. Outside food only needs to be provided once a day and should only include enough for your fish to finish in less than 2 minutes.

What Food Can They Eat?
Here is a list of the many things that a hungry Pleco can eat:

  • Algae
  • Detritus
  • Biofilm
  • Rotted wood
  • Flake foods
  • Algae wafers
  • Spirulina
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Moina
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini

Behavior

These bottom dwellers are very shy and they never leave the bottom levels of the tank.

You will hardly see them at all during the day as they will be hiding.

At night they will be hard at work scavenging for food in the substrate.

They prefer to be on their own unless they are mating and they will not socialize with their own kind or fish from other species.

While they are out you will see them eating the driftwood and bogwood in your tank. You might also catch them rasping on the algae that grows on your glass.

Clown Plecos are not aggressive and are among the least aggressive Plecostomus.

They may not be the most exciting pets around but they are extremely helpful for keeping the amount of rot and algae to a minimum.

Habitat and Tank Set Up

This fish is endemic to the Caroni and Apure Rivers in Venezuela.

They tend to lives in narrow areas of the channel where the currents pick up fast. The water here is enriched with tannins from rotting wood and leaf litter.

Clown Plecoes are active at night and avoid harsh sunlight during the day. To stay under cover they shelter in cavernous areas such as under shelves and inside hollow logs. These areas are always covered in plenty of algae and a fair amount of underwater plants as well. However, most important is the presence of rotting driftwood.

Water Conditions

You will need to keep the water temperature from 72 to 82°F, aiming for around 77°F if you can.

Ideally the pH should range from 6.5 to 7.5 although they can tolerate lower pH ranges if they need to. The water hardness should fall at about 10 dGH.

Because they spend all of their time cruising along the substrate they are susceptible to cuts and lacerations. You should use soft sand or mud for the substrate. Enrich your substrate with leaf litter and driftwood to add tannins to your water column and detritus for your Clown Pleco to snack on.

A strong filter is necessary to clean the large amounts of waste your Pleco will produce. You can use a high-flow internal filter or a canister.

Although it is not vital these fish do appreciate a bit of extra oxygen in their water. An air pump will add oxygen and increase the currents.

You can use PVC pipes, logs, arches, and driftwood shelves to create miniature caves for your fish to hide out in during the day. There should also be plenty of driftwood around for your fish to munch on. Dead wood is more important than live plants, but it will not hurt to place one or two low light plants around.

The best plants are those with large and shady leaves, such as Java Ferns, Crypts, and Anubias.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 20 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater
Temperature 72-82°F
pH 6.5-7.5
Hardness 10 dGH
Flow Medium
Substrate Soft sand or mud

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

You will need a 20 gallon aquarium for a single Clown Pleco.

For each additional specimen you will need to add 10 gallons.

Breeding Clown Plecos

Breeding Clown Pleco is possible but it is very difficult.

You should not attempt to breed them until you have a few years of experience caring for them.

To get them into breeding condition you will need to simulate their spawning season in the wild. Gradually lower the temperature from 82°F by 2 degrees per day until you reach between 72 and 74°F. The pH in your breeding tank should be around 7.0 and it must be furnished with caves for the female to lay her eggs in.

It is generally not recommended to feed this fish too much live prey. Instead give them plenty of bloodworms and brine shrimp.

A sexually mature male will have fully developed odontodes near his gills, and mature females will have very thick and round bodies.

Spawning occurs very quickly once the pair is ready.

The female will lay her eggs in any available cave.

Until the eggs hatch the male will remain close by the nest and defend it from any intruders. You should not disturb the nest or the male during this time.

It takes up to 2 weeks for the eggs to hatch.

After this time you can remove the male from the tank. The fry will lose their yolk sacs after about 3 days and will immediately begin munching on algae and wood rot.

You can give the fry larval brine shrimp and infusoria in addition to the foods that they will find on their own. Once they reach about 2 inches long they can be placed in the main tank.

History and First Sighting

The Clown Pleco was first discovered in Venezuela in 1993 by Scott Allen Schaefer and D.J. Stewart.

These Plecos can be found in the Apure and Caroni River systems and are part of Loricariidae, the largest family of Catfish.

They were immediately introduced to the aquarium hobby as Panaqolus maccus. They were given an L-number of 104 or 162.

Throughout the early 2000s they gained popularity but their similarity to other South American Catfish species caused a bit of confusion. For a while it was actually debated if there was really just one species of Clown Pleco.

Physiological conditions such as jaw shape, fin structure, and the number and thickness of the yellow bands eventually set this species apart from the other similar Catfish. They were reclassified under Panaqolus in 2001 due to genetic differences.

In 2010 this species became one of the most popular dwarf Catfish for freshwater tanks.

Their popularity is driven by their beautiful colors, peaceful nature, and easy care compared to other Plecos.

Summary

Clown Pleco
Other Common Names: Clown Panaque, Ringlet Pleco
Scientific Name: Panaqolus maccus
Family Name: Loricariidae
Distribution: Venezuela
Size: 3-4 inches
Color: Brown with yellow bands
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Minimum Tank Size: 20+ gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Peaceful community fish

Clown Plecos are among the best little janitor fish around.

Their lovely looks are just a part of what makes them so special.

These scavengers clean up algae, bacteria, and wood rot.

They are one of the easiest Plecos to care for and rank up there with the Bristlenose and the Cory as one of the best freshwater Catfish for beginners.

If you are looking for a bottom dweller that is both beneficial and beautiful, the Clown Pleco is certainly something to consider.

What does your Clown Pleco like to eat? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.