The 17 Best Types of Plecos For Beginners

Plecos are some of the most popular aquarium Catfish.

These helpful fish will take care of hard-to-manage algae before it becomes a problem.

Although most Catfish are known for their dull appearances, Plecos come in a variety of exciting colors and patterns, from stripes to spots to polka dots and many more.

There are so many different species to choose from.

To help you find the right one, in this article we share with you the 17 most popular types of plecos…

Species L Number Color Rank
Blue Eye Lemon Pleco L144 Yellow 16
Bristlenose Pleco N.A. Grey, brown, tan, albino 1
Butterfly Pleco L168 Tan with black stripes 13
Candy Striped Pleco L015 Orange with black stripes  17
Clown Pleco L104, L162 Orange with black stripes  2
Common Pleco N.A. Brown, tan, black, grey, yellow 4
Gold Nugget Pleco L018 Brown with yellow spots 9
Green Phantom Pleco L200 Green 8
Leopard Frog Pleco L134 Yellow with black stripes  12
Peppermint Pleco L031 Black with white spots  15
Royal Pleco L191 Brown, white, tan, grey, blue, black, orange  5
Rubber Lip Pleco L146 Grey, black, tan, brown  6
Sailfin Pleco L083 Brown, yellow, black, tan, albino 10
Snowball Pleco L102, L142, L033 Black with white spots  7
Sunshine Pleco L014 Yellow 14
Vampire Pleco L029 Black with white spots  11
Zebra Pleco L046 White with black stripes  3

1. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose is one of the most well known Plecos.

This beginner-friendly fish grows 3-5 inches long and will fit in a 25 gallon tank.

They are best known for the bristles which cover their snout. Males’ bristles can grow into interesting branchlike formations.

Although there are many species, Ancistrus cirrhosus and Ancistrus maracasae are the two most common.

Bristlenose Plecos are excellent algae eaters and they are also peaceful enough to be kept with many popular community fish. Zebra Danios, Tetras, Rasboras, and even Betta fish make great tank mates for this helpful Catfish.

  • Size: 3-5 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 25 gallons

2. Clown Pleco

Clown Pleco

The Clown Pleco looks similar to the Candy Stripe, but are identified by the L-number L104 or L162.

These Plecos like to eat algae and rotting wood.

You can keep them in a small 20 gallon tank but the bottom must be decorated with caves, driftwood, and twigs.

They are more effective at cleaning up algae then most other Plecos.

  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

3. Zebra Pleco

Zebra Pleco

The Zebra Pleco is endemic to just one area of Brazil’s Xingu River.

Because of this they are expensive and cost at least $150.

Zebra Plecos are most often kept as algae cleaners but their care requirements are quite demanding. This fish needs a lot of oxygen and requires an aerator and pump. The water must be heated to 80°F or above. You will need to decorate the aquarium with caves and shady underwater plants too.

Ram Cichlids, Harlequin Rasboras, and Phantom Tetras come from similar habitats, so they can safely live alongside Zebra Plecos. Because they are quite peaceful, they can also share the bottom of the tank with an Oto Catfish.

Although caring for this little fish can be difficult, it is very rewarding once you do master their care requirements. They will reward you by cleaning up the algae, rot, and detritus from the bottom of your tank.

  • Size: 3-4 inches
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

4. Common Pleco

Common Pleco

The Common Pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) is often the go-to for hobbyists looking for an algae cleaner.

Unfortunately, many keepers underestimate their size.

This fish starts out small, but can grow up to 24 inches long as an adult. Because of their size they need at least an 80 gallon tank. You can also keep this pleco in an outdoor heated pond.

If you are going to keep them in a community tank then you need to choose their tank mates carefully. Common Plecos will bully and harass other fish. They will eat anything that they can fit into their mouth. Consider middle and surface dwelling fish, such as Cichlids, Silver Dollars, and Arowanas.

Although the Common Pleco is a very popular pick, if you are a beginner you should consider smaller plecos like the Bristlenose Pleco.

  • Size: 10-24 inches
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Minimum Tank Size: 80 gallons

5. Royal Pleco

Royal Pleco

The Royal Pleco can reach 18 inches long when fully grown.

They can live in an outdoor pond or at least a 120 gallon tank.

This Catfish comes in many beautiful colors, from brown to gold to deep blue. They are loved for their appearance and algae cleaning abilities. They like to chew on wood to eat the detritus and algae that grows over it.

Because they are predatory and stay at the bottom of the tank, they can be kept with other fish of all shapes and sizes, just not other bottom dwellers.

  • Size: 15-18 inches
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Minimum Tank Size: 120 gallons

6. Rubber Lip Pleco

The Rubber Lip Pleco is an excellent beginner catfish.

This fish has a very unusual feature. Their sucker mouth is topped by a fleshy lip that extends all the way to their snout.

They are very docile and can be kept with all kinds of small to medium sized fish, including Tetras, Danios, Dwarf Gouramis, and Cory Catfish. They can even be kept in warmer Goldfish tanks.

Rubber Lips are shy and will spend most of their time hiding in caves and under plants. While they may not be the most exciting fish around, they are certainly one of the most useful. They will eat algae, detritus, and other garbage that makes its way to the bottom of the tank.

  • Size: 5-7 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

7. Snowball Pleco

Snowball Pleco

The Snowball Pleco is an excellent beginner alternative to the Peppermint or Vampire.

They come in the same polka dotted pattern but only grow up to 7 inches long.

Snowball Plecos tend to spend the daylight hours hiding out in rocky caves and only come out to scavenge once the sun goes down.

A Snowball can be kept in a nano tank full of small Danios, Tetras, and Dwarf Gouramis. They are also quite friendly to other bottom dwellers like the Kuhli Loach or Cory Cat.

  • Size: 5-7 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallons

8. Green Phantom Pleco

Green Phantom Pleco

The Green Phantom is one of the rarest and most expensive types of pleco.

They cost around $100 and come in an unusual pea green color.

This species is so elusive that they did not have an official name until 15 years after their discovery. Until then, they were only known by their L-number, L200.

Green Phantoms eat algae that grows over rocks, logs, and aquarium glass. They will also eat leaves that are dropped by your aquarium plants. They are not too difficult to care for but do need a high water temperature between 80-84°F, and extra oxygen provided by an aerator.

  • Size: 6-8 inches
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

9. Gold Nugget Pleco

Gold Nugget Pleco

This Pleco is one of the most attractive suckermouth species.

They are named after their beautiful yellow and brown polka dot pattern.

Gold Nugget Plecos are also very useful tank cleaners. They will nip algae, detritus, biofilm, and rot in the bud.

You can keep a Gold Nugget Pleco in a 50 gallon tank with a temperature of at least 74°F. The tank should be lined with soft sand and decorated with rocks, shelves, and underwater plants. So long as they are the only bottom dweller in the tank they will behave cordially in a community.

This is one of the better beginner species out there.

  • Size: 8-10 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

10. Sailfin Pleco

Sailfin Pleco

The Sailfin is a spectacular species that can grow up to 24 inches long. They have a tall, wide dorsal fin that is shaped like a ship’s sail.

They are mainly kept as decorative fish; however, they will eat problematic algae without harassing other fish in the tank. This fish can be kept in a tank or a heated pond, as long as they have at least 100 gallons of water. In a particularly large habitat, they will reach their maximum length of 24 inches.

Sailfin Plecos will not bully tank mates and even nano fish will not be threatened by this peaceful Pleco. However, they are quite difficult to keep in communities because of their incredible size. If you do decide to create a community, you will need at least a 120 gallon tank.

  • Size: 12-24 inches
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons

11. Vampire Pleco

Vampire Pleco

The Vampire Pleco looks similar to the Peppermint Pleco.

They have the same beautiful black and white star pattern.

This fish needs strong currents and a stream of freshly oxygenated water, making an aerator and water pump necessary. They will also need a canister filter, caves to hide in, and algae and driftwood to eat.

When there is not a lot of algae available in the tank, you can supplement their diet with bottom feeder pellets, algae wafers, bloodworms, and small shrimp.

  • Size: 10 inches
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons

12. Leopard Frog Pleco

The Leopard Frog is a bright yellow and black fish with a froglike head and large eyes.

Despite their name, they are actually striped rather than spotted. Their stripes start out pale yellow when they are young and get brighter as they get older.

They are not usually kept as a tank cleaner, but as a living decoration that livens up the bottom of the tank.

Leopard Frog Plecos are quite territorial so you need to pick their tank mates carefully. Avoid keeping them with other bottom dwelling fish or invertebrates. They will get along well with mid-dwelling fish like Cherry and Tiger Barbs, Rummy Nose Tetras, and Honey Gouramis.

  • Size: 3-5 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

13. Butterfly Pleco

Butterfly Pleco

The Butterfly Pleco is a great beginner friendly alternative to the Sailfin Pleco.

They need much less care and maintenance and only need a 40 gallon tank.

Butterfly Plecos are unusual fish and change their color to blend in with their surroundings.

If you keep them with light colored substrate, they will be bright beige with black stripes. Whereas with dark substrate they change to a muted brown. To bring out their best colors you should keep them with a light sand substrate.

  • Size: 6 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallons

14. Sunshine Pleco

The Sunshine Pleco is one of the most vibrantly colored Catfish of all.

They grow up to 12 inches long and have a bright yellow spotted pattern with yellow fins.

Sunshine Plecos are one of the easier large Catfish to care for, but they need a lot of equipment to maintain their habitat. They need a heater, canister filter, and a water pump that can create a fast current. Their tank will need a soft substrate and should be decorated with caves.

Although they will eat algae from time to time they are not prolific.

They prefer to eat live prey such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and zooplankton.

Even though they are not a very good tank cleaner, they are well loved for their bright colors and peaceful nature. The Sunshine is kept for their looks rather than their utility.

  • Size: 10-12 inches
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 120 gallons

15. Peppermint Pleco

Peppermint Plecos are black and white polka dotted Catfish.

You can tell the difference between a Peppermint and Vampire Pleco by looking at the size of the white polka dots. The Peppermint has a smaller dotted pattern and white borders along their fins.

Peppermints are also smaller than Vampires and only reach 8 inches long.

They are kept as either an algae cleaner or an ornamental fish. They will clean up any algae that grows on your rocks, logs, and other decorations. They do not need feeding often, only the occasional algae wafers and flake foods.

The species is not very well known outside of Catfish enthusiasts, and is quite difficult to buy. However, they are a good option for less experienced fishkeepers.

  • Size: 7-8 inches
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

16. Blue Eye Lemon Pleco

Blue Eye Lemon Pleco

The Blue Eye Lemon Pleco is a yellow variation of the Bristlenose Pleco. They are also known as the Blue Eye Lemon Bristlenose.

They have the same care requirements and uses as a typical Bristlenose.

While the typical Bristlenose is often very plain, the Lemon Pleco fish will add some brightness to the bottom levels of your tank. Their bright yellow color and unusual deep blue eyes are sure to draw attention to your tank.

  • Size: 3-5 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 25 gallons

17. Candy Striped Pleco

Candy Striped Pleco

The Candy Striped Pleco is also known as L015.

These fish like to eat wood that has started to rot and decay. This helps to keep the rot from fouling your aquarium. They also eat worms, shrimp, and other small live prey, so they should not be kept with aquarium shrimp or snails.

Candy Stripe Pleco can live in a small 20 gallon tank.

You should decorate the bottom with driftwood and logs for them to eat. Once they start to rot the Catfish will snack on them.

If algae is not a problem but you are having difficulty controlling rot, then this species is certainly one to consider.

  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

Which Pleco Should You Get? (Summary)

Pleco Catfish are among the most beneficial and well-loved fish in the hobby.

There are so many different types of plecos that are beneficial janitors and help keep your tank free from nuisance algae. Algae is not the only thing that these fish will help you manage. They are also extremely good at clearing up rot, detritus, and even small pests.

Their vibrant colors and patterns will help draw attention to the bottom levels of the tank.

Although they can be quite expensive and demanding, the benefits certainly outweigh the costs.

Do you prefer large or small Pleco Catfish?

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.