Freshwater Fish

Leopard Pleco – Pterygoplichthys Gibbiceps: Care Guide

If you have a large fish tank and are looking for a hardy and attractive community fish that can help prevent algae from taking over your aquarium, the Leopard Plecostomus or Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps could be exactly what you are looking for.

These bottom-dwelling fish from South America are easy to care for and are also long-lived. Mariposa plecos grow quite large, making a surprising addition to your tank.

This comprehensive guide tells you what you need to know about leopard pleco aftercare.

leopard pleco – OVERVIEW

Scientific name Pterygoplichthys Gibbiceps
Common name (species) Sailfin pleco, leopard pleco, clown pleco, clown fish sucker
Family Loricariidae
Source South America, Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, Pacaya River in Peru, Orinoco River.
Diet Omnivore: mainly green algae, bloodworms, brine shrimp, blanched vegetables
level of care Beginner / Easy
Exercise Active bottom-dwelling foragers
Life expectancy Between 10 and 15 years
Temper peaceful community fish
tank level bottom dweller
Minimum tank size 100 gallons
Temperature range Tropical 73° to 86° Fahrenheit
Hardness of water 4 – 18 dGH
pH range 6.5 to 8.0
Filtration / Flow Rate Likes well-filtered water and a moderate flow rate
type of water Sweet water
Breeding Egg layer, commercially bred
Compatibility Peaceful with most species of sociable fish. May be territorial towards own species unless bred together from juveniles.
OK, for planted tanks? insurance with plants


The Leopard pleco was first described in 1854 as Ancistrus gibbiceps by Kner and then again as Liposarcus altipinnis by Gunther. After that, the species was further described as Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps, although that name is now considered a synonym.

Plecos are also called largemouth catfish. There are more than 680 species of largemouth catfish; however, the Leopard Pleco is unique in that its dorsal fin has more rays than other varieties of Pleco. Most plecos have eight or fewer rays, while Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps has more than ten.


The Leopard Pleco can lock its pectoral spines at 90 degrees to its body. That makes the fish incredibly difficult for a predator to swallow, but it also makes it very difficult to catch. Therefore, when moving fish, always use a jar or tube. When pulled from the water, the Leopard Pleco emits a loud whistling sound, which is also designed to deter predators.

The Loricariidae family of fish is classified as armored catfish, their bodies and suction mouths are covered with protective bony plates. These fish also have a modified vascularized stomach, which allows the animal to breathe air.


Sailfin plecos come from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela.

The river waters here are slow and sluggish, and the fish migrate to flooded forested areas when the rainy season arrives and water levels drop. Plecos burrow into the muddy banks of the river where they spend much of the day hidden, venturing out at night to feed.


The Leopard Pleco has an elongated body and a very large head with small, high eyes. The upper part of the fish’s body is covered with protective bony plates.

The fish has an impressive dorsal fin that can reach several centimeters in height, similar to that of the marine sailfish. The fin has more than ten rays, compared to the eight rays of other species of plecos.

Leopard plecos are beautiful fish, dark brown in color with a creamy white pattern of condensed spots throughout the body and fins.


The Leopard Pleco typically grows to between 13 and 20 inches long in captivity.

These fish also grow quickly, so keep that in mind if you plan to purchase a small specimen in order to increase the size of your tank in the future.


Leopard plecos are very long-lived fish, surviving for more than 20 years in the wild and enjoying a life expectancy of between 10 and 15 years in captivity if given proper care and nutrition.


Leopard plecos are most active at night. During the day, the fish tend to hide and take shelter under logs, dense plants or caves.

These fish are confirmed bottom dwellers, and very rarely venture into the upper areas of the water column, unless grazing on algae on the sides of the tank.


The Leopard Pleco is a peaceful fish that makes a good addition to a community setting. These fish are not about to make a meal of small fish or invertebrate species, and their armored body keeps them protected from curious tank mates.

However, these plecos can be territorial with their own species as adults unless they are raised together, so I do not recommend keeping multiple Leopard plecos unless you buy two that have been raised in the same tank.

It is important to know that Leopard plecos eat the slime coating of other fish, and large slow-swimming fish such as angelfish and discus are particularly at risk in this regard.


As with any species of tropical fish, feeding your fish the correct diet is essential to their health and well-being. So while it may be tempting to buy cheaper feeds, I recommend that you feed your Leopard plecos the best quality feeds you can afford.

WHAT TO FEED YOUR Leopard Plecos

Leopard plecos are omnivorous, although most of the fish’s diet consists of algae. However, unless your tank has a lot of green algae growing in it, you’ll need to supplement the pleco’s diet with algae wafers, sinking pellets, and green foods. You can also offer blanched vegetables, such as lettuce, peas, zucchini, and spinach.

Plecos also eat live and frozen meaty foods, including bloodworms, tubifex, insect larvae, and small crustaceans.


When feeding your plecos, keep in mind that they are most active at night. Therefore, it is best to feed them just before you turn off the aquarium lights for the day.

If you have a lot of algae growing in the tank, be careful not to overfeed your fish by offering supplemental food that the plecos don’t need. Uneaten food will only end up in the substrate, where it will rot and contaminate the water.


Leopard Plecos are hardy creatures that are relatively easy to care for.


When stocking your tank, remember that these plecos can grow to between 13 and 20 inches in captivity, and they grow quite quickly too. So that cute little juvenile minnow that stole your heart at the fish store will quickly grow to a large size.

I recommend you have a tank of at least 100 gallons to accommodate a Sailfin pleco, larger if you plan to keep more.

Since these fish live on the bottom, a shallower rectangular tank is the best shape to choose, rather than a tall, deep one.



A soft, sandy substrate is the best choice for these plecos, as they are primarily bottom dwellers who like to burrow.


Your aquarium should have plenty of live plants to provide hiding places for your fish, as well as tangled roots, driftwood, caves, and smooth rocks. Choose hardy plant species, as plecos can damage delicate leaves as they scrape up algae.

You need to provide plenty of wood for the fish to «chew on» as they scrape off the algae that grows there. The cellulose contained in the wood is believed to act as a digestive aid for the fish.



Leopard Plecos are large fish that produce a lot of waste, so you need a powerful filtration system to deal with the bioload. We recommend using a canister or powerhead filter that provides an hourly flow rate of at least four times the volume of the aquarium, preferably more.


water temperature

Sailfin plecos are tropical fish that need a water temperature of 73° to 86° Fahrenheit.

pH range and water hardness

Tank water hardness should be between 4 and 18 dGH, and the pH range should be between 6.5 and 8.0.

Turning on

Leopard Plecos are happy in a tank with moderate to normal lighting levels, although you can provide additional shade by using floating plants.


Although the chemistry of the water in the tank is not critical to the Sailfin pleco, the quality of the water should be very good. To keep the water in pristine condition, you’ll need to do 10% to 15% water changes every two weeks to deal with the bioload.

You will also need to pay attention to cleaning the substrate with an aquarium vacuum to remove uneaten food, fish waste, and decaying plant matter from the tank. Be sure to thoroughly clean areas where debris collects, including deep in the substrate, around the base of plants, and under decorations.

Your filter sponges, cartridges or other filter media need to be cleaned and replaced regularly to keep the filtration system efficient.


I recommend that you do not introduce plecos into your aquarium until they have had time to mature and have some algae growing on the surfaces to provide the fish with a food source.

However, if you decide to add a Leopard Pleco to a newly established tank, you must remember to provide the fish with plenty of food until algae start to grow. You can grow algae by placing a few pieces of driftwood in a container of water on a window sill where there is plenty of sunlight. Once there is a decent growth of algae on the wood, place it in the tank so the plecos can graze.

So to set up your tank, start by gathering all the items you need:


  1. Start by rinsing the substrate under running water to remove any dust. Although you can buy substrate prepared and ready to rinse, it still contains a small amount of dirt, so always wash the substrate before putting it in your tank.
  2. Add the substrate to your tank to a depth of around three inches.
  3. Put the heater and filter unit in place, but do not turn them on yet.
  4. Now it is time to fill the aquarium with water. To avoid sending substrate all over the place when you pour water into the tank, place an upside-down container on top of the gravel and decant the water over it.
  5. Ammonia is required to start the nitrogen cycle in your biological filter. Therefore, add a water conditioner to your tap water to remove chlorine, and then add a few drops of pure ammonia to the water. Alternatively, you can add some fish food or substrate from an existing tank.
  1. Rinse your tank decorations to remove dust and then add them to your aquarium.
  2. Prepare live plants by trimming dead stem bits and removing any brown or dead leaves. When putting plants in your tank, remember that they will grow and spread, so check the supplier’s information before planting.
  3. Turn on the filter unit system and heater, and let the tank run for at least ten days before adding fish. You do not need to turn on the lights unless you have planted your tank.
  4. After ten days, test the water to make sure ammonia and nitrite levels are at zero and nitrates at a maximum of 20 ppm.


Leopard Plecos are generally very robust and healthy fish that do not suffer too much from disease.

However, a big problem for these fish is hunger. I cannot overstate the importance of supplementing the plecos diet, especially if there is not much green algae growing in the tank.


Leopard Plecos are not the most active fish, spending much of the day hidden. That makes it difficult to assess their health and monitor how much the fish are eating. For that reason, I suggest you choose a lighting unit that has a moonlight setting that allows you to watch the fish after the lights go out.


There are a few red flags to watch out for that could indicate health problems in your plecos, including:

  • not eat
  • Lethargy
  • Inflammations, reddened areas of the skin, ulcers.
  • Knocking against tank decorations and substrate


Health problem Symptoms or causes suggested action
Ich (white spot disease) Ich is an extremely common fish disease that is also known as white spot disease. It is caused by the protozoan parasite, which appears as a sprinkling of small white spots on the gills, body, and fins of the fish. Fish Ich flick against substrate and tank decor. Raise the water temperature to 82o F for several days and dose the water with an ice cure remedy.
skin and gill flukes Flukes are parasites that attach to the body and gills of fish. Fish with flukes rub against the tank’s substrate and décor and sometimes secrete excessive mucus. Dose the water with the appropriate antiparasitic medication.
fungal infections Cottony, fluffy, white growths. Quarantine all affected fish; dose of water with antifungal treatment
Bacterial infections Reddened skin, ulcers, sore patches. Fish affected by quarantine; Treat the entire tank with an antibacterial water treatment.


In the wild, Sailfin plecos spawn in deep burrows that the fish create in the muddy walls of the river banks where the fish live.

Breeding of these fish in home tanks is very rare, and most specimens found for sale online and in fish stores are commercially bred in large fishing ponds where spawning pits are created that replicate the habitat of natural reproduction of fish.


Leopard Plecos are available at fish stores and online. Prices vary widely, depending on the size and age of the fish.


  • aquarium thermometer
  • aquarium vacuum cleaner
  • Books on tropical fish farming
  • Filtration system
  • Fish tank (minimum size 100 gallons)
  • Heater
  • High quality algae wafers
  • lighting unit
  • Rocks, driftwood, twisted roots
  • Sandy or fine gravel substrate
  • Frozen food selection
  • water conditioner


I hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to caring for the beautiful Sailfin Pleco.

Do you have a Leopard Pleco or do you have any questions about the care of these impressive fish? Share with us in the comment box below.

And don’t forget to share our article with other fans if you liked it!

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