Freshwater Fish

Clown Pleco – Panaqolus maccus: Care Guide

Prehistoric looking plecostomus are some of the most popular choices for large freshwater tanks, but what if you only have a small to medium sized setup? If you’re looking for a dwarf algae eater suitable for tanks as small as 20 gallons, check out our detailed Care Guide for the colorful little Clown Pleco !


Scientific name Panaqolus Maccus
Common name (species) Plecostomus clown, Panaque clown, Ringlet pleco (Panaqolus maccus)
Family Loricariidae
Source Basins of the Apuré and Caroní rivers in Venezuela
Diet Omnivore, but feeds primarily on driftwood, biofilm, and algae.
Feeding Offer plenty of driftwood. Feed daily meals of sinking algae wafers, spirulina balls, and blanched greens with weekly protein treats.
level of care Easy
Exercise Night; more active at night or in low light/shadow conditions
Temper Peaceful, shy and gentle; Male fish can be territorial and may fight for space in small tanks.
tank level bottom dweller
Minimum tank size 20 gallons; allow 10 gallons per female and 20 per male
Temperature range 73 to 82°F
Hardness of water 10 dGH, but tolerates seasonal variations / hard and soft water
pH range 6.8 to 7.6
Filtration / Flow Rate Well-filtered water with a moderate flow rate
Breeding Egg layer; The male fish protects the eggs in caves until they hatch.
Compatible Tank Mates Ideal for keeping with small tetras, minnows, rasboras, blue rams, South American cichlids or in a driftwood tank with other Loricariidae catfish
OK, for planted tanks? Yes, but they can eat the vegetation, so provide a mix of fast and slow growing plants and supplement the diet with bleached greens and plenty of driftwood.

There are plenty of small algae-eating fish suitable for nano setups, but you are much more limited when it comes to keeping plecostomus in a small aquarium. Fortunately, one of the most colorful plecos in the trade is also a peaceful dwarf species, so consider adding a striped clown pleco to your next aquatic community!

The Clown pleco or panaque (Spanish for “pleco”) has become a very popular choice for community tanks over the last 20 years. They are easy to care for, relatively easy to breed, andworks well in tanks of 20 gallons or more. Let’s take a look at the care requirements of the vivid black and yellow patterned Panaque Clown!


The clown pleco (Panaqolus maccus) is a newer member of the armored catfish family or Loricariidae. Originating from tropical Venezuela, these fish were first described in 1993, but with their peaceful temperament and beautiful markings they quickly became a favorite in the aquarium trade:


  • Panaque Clown populations are found along the Caroní and Apuré river basins in the densely forested regions of Venezuela:
    • They live at the bottom of waterways in shallow streams densely packed with driftwood, sticks, and rocks.
    • They feed primarily on wood, algae, and plant materials, but also eat insects, larvae, and fry, especially in preparation for mating.
    • These fish are nocturnal, spending the daylight hours hidden in caves and under piles of driftwood, doing most of their foraging at night.
  • Wild clowns naturally experience and tolerate a wide range of seasonal variations in their water parameters, as winter weather is dry and cool until the onset of the warmer rainy season.
    • Changes in water temperature, pH, and hardness signal the start of the spring breeding season.

    Plecos clowns have only been identified in the last 30 years, so we are still in the early stages of scientifically describing them. However, this creates a problem for aquatic shops and hobbyists: how can we distinguish between several species when they share the same scientific and common name?

    While the clown pleco is currently classified as «Panaqolus maccus», aquarists believe there are at least two distinct species (with different size ranges) and several unrelated mimics with similar ranges and appearances. How can you know what kind of dwarf or clown pleco you are buying if you are not an expert?

    Pleco collectors, breeders, and sellers use a special code called the » L Number » to identify catfish varieties in addition to their generic species or common names. I’m not going to bore you with details, but the L-Number is a useful tool to make sure you get the right species and don’t end up with a fish that outgrows your tank.

    Common name clown pleco clown pleco clown pleco mega clown pleco candy stripe pleco
    Scientific name Panaqolus maccus Panaqolus sp. Panaqolus sp. hypancistrus sp. Peckoltia vittata
    Number(s) L L104, L162 L448 L206 L340 L015
    average length 3.5 inches 4.3 inches 3.1 inches 3.1 inches 5.5 inches


    Clown plecos are generally sold as 2-inch juveniles and are 3 to 4 inches long at maturity, although at least one variety (L448) regularly exceeds 4 inches from snout to tail. Most Clown varieties are around 3.5 inches and are suitable for smaller aquarium communities.

    Clowns have the standard pleco shape with a broad head that angles into a flat, narrow body with a side-facing sucker mouth, broad pectoral and abdominal fins, and a tall, upright dorsal fin with rays.

    However, its outstanding features are its vibrant colors and distinctive markings. Clown plecos have a dark brown to black base color overlaid by bright bands or stripes that vary from white to a vivid orange/yellow:

    • Young fish and those kept in outdoor ponds are often the brightest in color, and these markings tend to change and fade as the fish age.
    • Their habitat, diet, and water quality also influence their appearance, and plecos tend to lose color when stressed or sick.

    Clown pleco Male vs Female

    It’s not always easy for beginners to identify male and female fish outside of breeding season, but if you look closely, you should be able to tell their genders once your fish is about a year old:

    • Female clown plecos are usually larger, and look very plump and round when viewed from above as they prepare to produce eggs.
    • Male clown plecos have a slimmer, shorter body and have small spines called odontodes along their gill covers and tail fins.

    Clown Pleco Mimic Species

    There are two species of catfish that closely resemble the Clown pleco and are often mislabeled as clowns in pet stores. But these species have different size ranges and care requirements, so don’t get them by mistake! With the L-numbers provided above, you can be sure you’re buying the right pleco for your tank:

    • The Mega Clown or Imperial Tiger Pleco (Hypancistrus sp.) stays around 3 inches long, but is a much less effective algae eater than the true Clown Pleco, and they are not a big fan of consuming driftwood. They also need a higher amount of protein in their diets.
    • The Candy Striped Pleco (Peckoltia vittata) closely resembles the clown in terms of its markings, but they grow up to 5.5 inches long and can be territorial and aggressive toward other bottom dwellers.


    Clown plecos can survive 10-12 years in an aquarium, but the quality of their care has a direct impact on their lifespan. Poor water quality and improper diet will drastically shorten their longevity in captivity.


    Panaque clowns are mostly nocturnal and active at night, although you can train your algae eaters with food to go out into shaded areas of your tank during the day. They are peaceful, gentle, and rather shy fish, preferring to hide from bright lights and activity in driftwood caves.

    While not aggressive, the male fish can be territorial with each other, so make sure you have plenty of room if you keep a group. As a catfish, clownfish may opportunistically eat small invertebrates and fry, but will not actively hunt their fish community.


    Clown plecos are easy to care for and very undemanding aquatic pets as long as their few key requirements are met. The most important features of a Clown panaque tank are a robust filtration system and lots of driftwood and swamp decor !


    Let’s take a look at the ideal tank setup for these colorful dwarf catfish !

    aquarium size

    For a single Clown pleco, you’ll need at least a 20-gallon tank, but bigger is always better if you can swing it. If you have the option, buy a long standard tank or breeder rather than a tall style, as they provide more room for bottom-dwelling fish. If you want to have a group of clown plecos, you just need a bigger tank!

    I like to allow 20 gallons of capacity for each male and an additional 10 gallons for each female. So for a community tank with a group of four Clown plecos (3 female/1 male), you would need a 50 gallon aquarium !


    Since clown plecos are bottom dwellers that dig caves to spawn and hide, it is best to use a soft substrate that will not injure the fins or abdomen. Many aquarists opt for a bare-bottom setup for breeding, but using aquatic soil, sand, or fine gravel is ideal for community tanks, especially if you’re also growing live plants.

    Water and temperature parameters

    Clown catfish prefer water on the warmer side from 73 to 83°F. Using a heater makes it easier to mimic seasonal variations and raise and lower temperatures if you want your fish to spawn. Their ideal pH range is 6.8 to 7.6 and they tolerate both hard and soft water conditions (see Reproduction below).

    Filtration and aeration

    Panaque clowns, like most species of catfish, are eating machines and produce a large amount of waste for their size. Since they consume primarily fibrous materials, they require a robust filtration system with replaceable media that both mechanically and chemically removes debris and toxins from the water.

    Clowns prefer a moderate rate of flowing water along the bottom of their tank, which helps prevent the development of dangerous hypoxic areas. You can use a canister or HOB filter for your pleco tank, and it never hurts to use an air stone to improve circulation.

    Lighting, Plants and Decorations

    As nocturnal fish, clown plecos do not appreciate bright lights and will generally hide in caves or under rocks during the day unless the tank is shaded by floating plants or decorations. They often feed on plants, but are usually non-destructive, so it’s best to provide a mix of fast and slow growing options in your tank.

    >In terms of decoration, these fish need a lot of driftwood, swamp, sticks, and branches to be happy. They feed heavily on wood products, so providing them with a variety of options helps balance their diet. Adding rocks also helps encourage the development of edible algae and biofilm for your plecos.


    Since catfish produce so much waste, it is important to perform regular water changes in your Clown pleco tank to prevent a buildup of toxins in the water. Smaller aquariums may require weekly water changes, and doing a large volume change is a great way to encourage spawning !


    Like most catfish, clown plecos are omnivorous scavengers, and while they primarily consume driftwood, algae, and biofilm, they readily eat live, protein-rich foods, especially when preparing to breed. Since aquariums simply cannot provide fish with a naturally balanced and healthy diet, you will have to offer supplements.

    It is best to feed your Clown plecos every day at dusk or shortly after the lights go out for the night:

    • Offer them a rotating mix of sinking algae wafers and spirulina balls.
    • To discourage them from eating your live plants, you can give them freshly blanched vegetables like peas, carrots, cucumbers, and spinach.
    • Offer live treats of brine shrimp, bloodworms, or Daphnia eggs 1-2 times per week (or daily in the weeks leading up to spawning).


    The best tankmates to keep with Clown Pleco just depend on the size of their community. Some of the best options include peaceful mid-tier fish like tetras, rasboras, and minnows, but clowns also do well with other bottom dwellers like loaches and Corydoras species.

    You can also keep them in South American themed tanks with German Blue Rams or non-aggressive cichlids. Or fill your tank with driftwood and just keep a mixed variety of Clown, Candy Stripe, and Bristlenose Plecos!


    Clowns are one of the few pleco species known to spontaneously breed in captivity when kept in mixed groups. Their rearing requirements are similar to those of the Bristlenose Pleco, with the male clown providing protection and care for the eggs until the fry hatch. Rival females and males will eat these eggs if they can!

    If you provide plenty of PVC or driftwood caves and modify the water parameters to mimic the spring rainy season, you’ll soon find your male fish guarding the eggs!To prepare your clown community for spawning:

    1. Slowly increase the water temperature to 85°F over a two-week period while feeding a high-protein diet.
    2. Do a large water change, again adding very cold soft water around 70°F.
    3. In a few days, you should be watching your male jealousy guarding the eggs clinging to the inside of his cave!

    You can set up a breeding tank for your catfish, or you can let them breed inside your community tank and move the egg-laden cave to a safer setting before hatching. While the male will prevent other fish from eating the eggs, if he wishes to keep the fry safe from community predators, he will need a tank to raise them.


    Clown Catfish are susceptible to the same common aquatic diseases as other fish (such as White Spot or Ich), but they are generally a very healthy and hardy species if their water is kept clean and they are offered a balanced diet. If you quarantine new fish and plants before adding them to your tank, you will avoid a lot of problems.

    The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make with clown catfish is not providing them with enough edible driftwood decorations to eat. If these fish don’t get enough fiber in their diet, their gut bacteria can get out of control and cause digestive problems. A clown pleco can starve if its diet is deprived of driftwood for too long.


    To set up a planted community tank with a single Clown pleco and a small school of community fish, you will need:

    • 20 gallon or larger long style aquarium with lid
    • Canister or HOB Filtration System
    • aquarium heater
    • Aquatic soil, sand or fine gravel substrate
    • Decoration made of driftwood, bog, sticks and branches.
    • Live plants, rocks and other decorations.
    • water conditioner

    To feed your Clown Pleco, you will need:

    • Sinking algae wafers
    • Spirulina granules
    • Blanched vegetables
    • Live/Frozen/Dried Brine Shrimp, Bloodworms or Daphnia Eggs

    Optional equipment includes:

    • airstone and pump
    • Aquarium lights and/or moonlight for night viewing
    • Second tank and sponge filter to raise fingerlings


    Does the Clown pleco sound like a fun option for your next planted tank? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or join our largest community of fish breeders on social media. Show us your pleco tank and tell us all about your favorite species of catfish!

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