Freshwater Fish

Snowball Pleco – Hypancistrus inspector: the complete guide

Snowball Pleco is a beautiful freshwater fish that flies under the radar in the aquarium scene. They come from such a popular family that everyone seems to consider other plecos first!

But there is a lot to like when it comes to this species. They are beautiful, easy to care for, and a bit smaller than some of their relatives.

Personally, we think their pattern makes them one of the prettiest freshwater fish out there. There is something about the simplicity and contrast that makes them a joy to look at!

This guide will explain how to properly care for Snowball Plecos and provide them with a habitat where they can thrive.

Species Summary

If you’re looking for a quiet little pleco for your community fish tank, the Snowball Pleco (scientific name: inspector hypancistrus ) may be for you. Docile and undemanding, this freshwater fish is perfect for aquarists of all levels.

The Snowball Pleco comes from the Rio Negro in Venezuela, which is the largest blackwater river in the world. Due to the unique water conditions of its natural habitat, the Snowball Pleco has some unique care requirements.

Fortunately, the fish is quite tolerant and easily adapts to life in captivity. With proper care, they can thrive in your aquarium!

Average size of Pleco Hypancistrus inspector

The average size of the Snowball Pleco is around 5.5 to 6.3 inches long when fully grown. Compared to other popular types of plecos, snowballs are quite small.

Author’s Note: There have been rare instances where this species has reached 7 inches in length. However, that is extremely rare for this species.

Life expectancy

Generally, the lifespan of a healthy Snowball Pleco will be between 8-10 years. That’s actually a bit shorter than the Common Pleco.

These fish depend on stable water conditions and proper husbandry to thrive. Without good care, they can quickly succumb to disease, resulting in drastically shorter lifespans. This means that if you plan on keeping a Snowball Pleco, proper care is paramount.


Snowball Plecos are beautiful creatures with a familiar shape. They have the same iconic Pleco profile. This includes a flattened belly, a mouth without a turn, and a torpedo-shaped outline.

Like other Plecos, Snowballs have extended pectoral and pelvic fins. They also have a large triangular dorsal fin. Under the right conditions, you may see this fin at attention, giving the fish a unique look.

Snowball Pleco’s base coloration is black or dark gray. Males can also be dark brown with a slight red tint. For both men and women, the base color is accented with white or pale yellow polka dots!

These points cover the entire body. You can find them on the fins, on the head, and anywhere in between! They offer a nice contrast to the overall dark appearance of the fish.

The differences between males and females are quite easy to spot. Males usually have a subtle red hue. Also, females are plumper and rounder.

Author’s Note: Male fish also have more pronounced odontodes, which are external teeth on the side of their heads.

Snowball Pleco Care

Snowball Pleco care really isn’t too difficult. As we mentioned earlier, they adapt well to life in an aquarium.

However, there are still some bases you need to cover. Like any other fish, the Snowball Pleco has some unique needs that you must address if you want them to thrive. Doing so can help your fish reach their full potential and live a long and happy life!

tank size

Let’s start with the size of the tank! Thanks to their smaller stature, there is no need to plan ahead for massive growth like you would with other Plecos.

These fish do well in aquariums that can hold as little as 40 gallons.

However, it’s a good idea to expand it if you plan to create a community tank. The more space there is available for this fish, the better.

In fact, most of the Snowball Plecos that have lived the longest were kept in large tanks. There’s something about the extra space that makes a world of difference.

water parameters

The Plecos Hypancistrus inspector comes from an interesting natural environment. The Rio Negro is dark, mimicking tea-stained water. Decaying plant matter at the bottom of the river bed is what causes this distinctive color.

With the darker color comes a unique water composition. The water is relatively soft, but also more acidic than the waters you may be used to. These fish can tolerate water that is on the neutral side, but they do better if their environment has some acidity.

To keep your Snowball Pleco healthy, recreate these water conditions as closely as possible. Purchase an aquarium thermometer and water testing kit to ensure the following parameters are stable at all times.

  • Water temperature: 72°F to 86°F
  • pH levels: 5.0 to 7.6 (somewhere in the middle is ideal)
  • Water hardness: 6 to 10 dKH

When you first get these fish, it’s a good idea to test the water more often. This will help you determine if the parameters are consistent as your fish adjust.

What to put in your tank

You can set up your tank with simple decorations and artificial embellishments. However, the best way to keep your Snowball Pleco happy and healthy is to create a natural environment that mimics the Rio Negro.

Pay special attention to the bottom of the tank. These fish are bottom dwellers, so they will spend most of their time exploring the bottom of the water column.

Start with a substrate of fine sand. The sand is soft and safe for Snowball Pleco. It is also the perfect material for plants and natural decoration!

On the substrate, place various decorations in the form of a cave. You can make caves out of driftwood and rocks. Artificial caves also work well. Feel free to make your own caves out of overturned pots if you want!

A good series of tunnels and caves to explore is important. These fish need those hiding places to feel safe. Also, they will play an important role in the breeding process!

Next, add plants! You can use pretty much any species of freshwater plant, so feel free to mix things up and get creative! Snowball plecos are not known to uproot plants, so you can use anything that suits the biotope.

To keep the water in good shape, use a strong filtration system. In fast-moving rivers like the Rio Negro, water conditions remain good because waste is removed. Your filter must effectively cycle the water to prevent ammonia and nitrate levels from rising too high.

Author’s Note: Speaking of water flow, Snowball Plecos like stronger currents. It is not an absolute necessity, but these fish prefer it. You can implement some pumps or air bladders to keep things moving and increase oxygen levels.

Possible common diseases

There are no special diseases that specifically target Snowball Plecos. But, this species can suffer from common diseases that affect other freshwater fish.

The problem with this species is that they don’t have traditional scales like you see on other fish. Instead, they have tough plates like armor. This makes them a bit more sensitive to chemicals, salts, and antibiotics in the water. This can also often cause them to experience symptoms of contagious illnesses a little quicker.

The most common disease you need to worry about is Ich. This highly contagious disease causes white spots to form all over the fish’s body. You can usually use copper-based medications to fix the problem. However, this species is especially sensitive to copper.

Because of this, you will have to quarantine them and treat them naturally by manipulating the water conditions. The same goes for fungal infections, bacterial infections, and parasites. Fortunately, there are some Pleco-approved medications that you can use to treat illnesses.

As always, don’t hesitate to consult your veterinarian if you are unsure how to proceed.

Food and Diet of the Hypancistrus inspector

Snowball Pleco can eat a wide variety of foods. They are natural omnivores.

Outside of feeding time, you can probably find these fish eating biofilm. Contrary to popular belief, these fish are not the best algae eaters. They may enjoy algae from time to time, but will not consume it as quickly as other species in their family.

Instead, they prefer varied diets with protein and plant-based foods. You can give them standard sinking pellets or algae wafers as a base.

For snacks, try bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia. You can also provide vegetables such as:

  • blanched peas
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber (they really seem to like this one)

Only provide as much food as your fish can consume in a couple of minutes. Remove any leftovers to make sure the water doesn’t turn sour too quickly.

Author’s Note: Most of their potential health problems are directly caused by poor water conditions, and over-eating can cause this. Be sure to clean the tank regularly and change 30 to 50 percent of the water volume each week to keep things stable. This will help your fish stay healthy and prevent stress and disease.

behavior and temperament

The Snowball Pleco is not very social. Most will not pay attention to other fish in the tank. For the most part, this species will stay on its own and spend most of its time hiding in caves.

However, they can become more social during the breeding season. This is when there is an obvious incentive to get out there and interact with each other!

We do not recommend keeping males together. Males in the same tank tend to exhibit territorial aggression. Females do well with males, so make sure you have the right mix if you plan to keep more than one in the same tank.

Lastly, these fish are nocturnal, so don’t expect to see them much during the day! They will rest in dark caves until the sun goes down.

tank mates

Thanks to its peaceful nature, you have many options when it comes to creating a community tank. Try to choose other peaceful species that dwell in the upper parts of the tank just to be safe.

Snowball Plecos will largely ignore any tank mates, so you shouldn’t have to worry about trouble as long as all the fish in the tank are at peace.

Author’s Note: The only time you may have problems is when there are dwarf shrimp in the tank. Snowballs are often mistaken for food!

Here are some good tank mates for the Snowball pleco:

  • Different species of tetra (we recommend Ember and Rummy Nose)
  • Danio Celestial Pearl
  • Disk
  • Corydoras
  • Apistogramma
  • Large shrimp species (try the Amano)
  • Various types of snails


Breeding of the Snowball Pleco is unpredictable. These fish are willing to breed in captivity, but it takes a lot of effort to provide the right conditions.

Set up a separate breeding tank with pristine water conditions. Make sure the tank has large caves.

After placing a couple of Snowball Plecos in the tank, prepare the fish for breeding with food. Provide enough live or frozen food for best results. If the process is successful, you will notice that the female will be swollen with eggs. She will then lay the eggs in a cave (after doing some research).

The male will guard the eggs and may also periodically fan them. After about a week, the eggs will hatch!

After the newborn fish eat their egg sacs, provide brine shrimp and blanched vegetables as food. These foods will provide them with the necessary nutrients to facilitate their growth.


Snowball Pleco care is ideal for beginning aquarists or anyone who doesn’t want a high maintenance fish. The combination of its beauty and ease of care is really hard to beat!

We highly recommend this fish if you are still unsure about getting one. This species is definitely one of our favorites, and we know many other owners who say the same thing.

We are more than happy to connect if you have any other questions about these fish before you buy. Send us a message through our site and we will respond as soon as possible.

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