Clown plecos, also known by their scientific name “Panaqolus Maccus” are consistently popular fresh-water fish for aquariums. They are renowned for their small size, affordability, and usefulness for keeping algae in the tank under control. Clown plecos are also commonly called clown panaque or clown plecostomus.
Although they were only formally recognized as a species in 1993, they have been available to dedicated aquarists since long before then. First described in 1957 by German biologists. Clown plecos are a type of loricariidae, which is an armored catfish in the wild.
Clown plecos are found in the backwater steams of South America, mostly in Venezuela and a few parts of Columbia. They are particularly common in the Apure and Caroni river basins where they hide in driftwood tangles along the riverbanks.
Lately, the popularity of Clown plecos has only been increasing, in part due to being widely considered “low-maintenance.” They gained this reputation because of their ability to adapt to different environments, relatively basic needs, and overall hardiness.
That being said, there are still many important things to know before purchasing a Clown pleco to ensure the highest quality of life for your pet. Their toughness can only protect them so much. With subpar care, their lifespan will shorten, and their health will noticeably decrease.
Fortunately, quality conditions are easy to maintain once you know what to look for and their fun appearance and shyness. Helpful behaviors are well-worth the accommodations.
In this article, we hope to provide you with a full guide to caring for your Clown pleco, so that your Clown and any other fish in your tank can be as happy as possible.
With the right care, the average Clown pleco can live between ten and twelve years, with males frequently outliving females. Clown plecos have even been known to live up to fifteen or sixteen years with careful owners. This makes them a pet you can form a unique, lasting bond with and earning the investment of time and money for proper conditions and upkeep.
Clown plecos range from dark brown to blue-black as their base color, with distinctive stripes that can be any color from white to yellow to a vivid orange. This has earned them the names “Ringlet” or “Painted” as an alternative for Clown.
For the most vibrant colorings, proper habitat, diet, and hygiene are important, although genetics also play a role. These colors can also change with age, with the colors losing vibrancy as the Clown grows older.
As compared to the over thirteen inches other kinds of plecos can grow too. Clown plecos are relatively small and typically only grow from two and a half to three or four inches long. Some Clown plecos have even been observed to have grown up to five inches long, but that is primarily in the ideal conditions of their natural habitats, and it is very difficult to replicate that size in captivity.
Females tend to be larger than the males of this species, which can help with identification. Other ways to identify a male Clown pleco are by their darker stripes and rich color on the belly. By contrast, the female Clown pleco has vibrant fins, but duller stripes and less contrast on her larger, rounder belly. She has three dorsal fin spines instead of just two that the male has.
A male Clown pleco will have a more pronounced nose and bristles on its head. A male Clown pleco also will have a darker anal opening than the female, which can be checked by looking near the fish’s pelvic area. However, be aware that both genders may have some yellow coloring near where their genitals are located. In both genders, Clown plecos have an elongated body and a blunt nose.
Like other plecos, Clowns have a thick head and body from their dorsal fin up. They begin to slim from the top of their dorsal fin to their caudal peduncle, or the region right before their caudal fin.
Clowns also have a very large and pronounced dorsal fin that fans out quite a bit and looks like a sail. Similarly, their caudal fins are also large and spread out. Their oversized pectoral fins help them to stay adjacent to pieces of wood.
Two protruding barbels near their mouth help them feel for food on plants or substrate, and whiskers over their eyes help them sense movement in the water column.
Care and Habitat Requirements
Clown plecos prefer warmer water, between 73 degrees and 83 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal pH range is between 6.8 to 7.6, Water hardness can be from 3-10 dGH. Clown plecos require a nitrate level of less than 20. While a Clown pleco can survive in a low salt tank, a freshwater tank is advised to help your Clown thrive. Clown plecos produce a lot of waste for their size and need robust filtration systems.
A replaceable media that mechanically and chemically removes waste and toxins from the water is best. Regularly testing nitrate levels will help monitor that the waste is properly being removed.
Clown plecos also appreciate a moderate rate of water flow at the bottom of the tank. This does not only mimic the river current they are used to in their native habitats, but it also prevents hypotoxic areas from developing.
A canister or HOB filter can achieve this, and air stones can help improve circulation as well. It is still important to change you water in your tank regularly. A 10% water change every week or a 25% water change every two weeks is recommended. As a species of catfish, Clown plecos have evolved to handle low light levels. So avoid placing bright lights near the tank.
For a single adult Clown pleco, the tank must be at least twenty gallons but it is always better to get a little bigger than the bare minimum. For each additional female, add another ten gallons to the recommended size. For each additional male, add another twenty. If it is a community tank with other species of fish, the minimum recommended is forty gallons.
When choosing a tank, a longer rather than the taller tank is preferred, as it will provide more room for these bottom-dwelling fish.
Clown plecos like to dig caves in their substrate for spawning and hiding. Despite their armored back and sides, their underbelly is very sensitive. So, it is best to use a soft substrate that will not injure their tender fins or abdomens like aquatic soil, sand, large pebbles, or very fine gravel. These substrates are also good options if you are planning on growing live plants for your clown pleco.
They often snack on plants, but they are not destructive. So a healthy mix of fast and slow-growing plants is beneficial. Clown plecos are nocturnal fish and do not like bright lights, so another option is to add floating plants for shade. Some recommended plants are Hornwort, Java Moss, Water Wisteria, and Amazon Sword.
Clown plecos prefer to eat softer, more delicate leaves, so try java fern or willow segi instead of harder plants like hibiscus or anacharsis. Fake plants can also be added to the tank, but make sure they are not too harsh and spikey. Also, that they do not lose parts that your pleco might accidentally ingest while foraging for food.
Additionally, check to make sure the plant does not contain any toxic chemicals and wash it thoroughly before introducing it to the aquarium. To give your Clown pleco stimulation, try adjusting the temperature and lighting to mimic different seasons.
You can also rearrange the hides and logs, or add new ones, to prevent your pleco from experience the same layout every day.
Caves and broken pots are options when looking for hides for the Clown pleco that will still allow you to see them from the outside.
Driftwood, bogwood, sticks, and branches make good decorations for a clown pleco’s tank, as they feed heavily on wood products. A Clown pleco can starve if they are deprived of edible driftwood. Rocks can help encourage edible algae and biofilm growth for tasty snacks.
These algae are one of their primary food sources, especially as infants. In addition to these feed options, it is important to still supplement their diet with other foods.
You can offer them a rotating mix of sinking algae wafers and spirulina pellets. If you do not want them from chewing on the live plants, freshly blanched vegetables like shelled peas, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, squash, and spinach are good alternatives.
Once or twice a week, treat your pet with live brine shrimp bloodworms, tubifex worms, nauplii, or Daphnia. Three times a week, you can add pellets specifically designed for bottom feeders.
Clown plecos will enjoy most commercially available fish food pellets, flakes, and other prepared foods, but they can have health problems if they are exclusively fed these without the addition of fresh vegetables and small live organisms. It is best to feed clown plecos every day around dusk or when you turn off your lights for the night.
If your Clown pleco begins to feed on the driftwood more often for longer periods of time, behaves aggressively towards smaller fish, or its belly is pointing inwards, it needs more food. If you see a lot of pleco poop near the driftwood, the pleco does not need further feeding at that time. Be careful not to overfeed your pleco, as it can cause nitrate levels in your tank to rise.
Common Possible Diseases
Clown plecos are a generally healthy and hardy species with good care, a balanced diet, and a clean tank. There are no diseases that are specific to their species. However, like other fish, clown plecos are vulnerable to common aquatic diseases like White Spot, fin rot, fish fungus, pop-eye, hole in the dead, or Ich.
Quarantining new plants and fish before adding them to the tank will prevent many problems.
Regularly check your fish for signs of infection. Keep an eye out for white or red spots, or a swollen belly. It is important to provide driftwood so the Clown pleco can keep enough fiber in its diet. Otherwise, their gut bacteria can get disordered, leading to digestive issues and even death.
Another leading cause of illness in Clown plecos is poor water quality, so be sure to consistently change the water and monitor water parameters.
Behavior and Temperament
Clown plecos are nocturnal, meaning that they are mostly active at night, although they may come out into shaded areas of the tank during the day. Typically peaceful and shy, the males may be territorial and defensive, so proper tank space is important. As omnivores, Clown plecos may opportunistically eat small invertebrates or scavenge for dead fish, especially during their breeding period.
When they are in particular need of protein, but they do not purposefully hunt. Clown plecos are overall very community-friendly. In fact, they rarely show interest in other fish. They prefer to stay near the bottom of the tank and spent much of their time hiding. If Clown plecos feel safe, they will keep the glass of your fish tank clean for you, so avoid too many predatory fish or too bright of lights.
Plecos do well alone, but if you want to give them some friends, there are plenty of options to choose from. Common community fish like guppies, mollies, and bettas as well as peaceful, mid-level fish like some tetras, rasboras, and minnows can be good tank mates for a clown pleco. They also do well with other bottom feeders, like loaches and Corydoras.
If you want to keep them near other fish from their native South America, try non-aggressive cichlids like German Blue Rams, and peaceful Gouramis, like the Dwarf Gourami.
You can also add in other types of plecos, like Candy Stripes or Bristlenoses. Even Bettas are unbothered by the presence of a Clown pleco in their tank. It can be tricky, but Clown plecos are capable of living together, especially if it is a male-female pair.
If you have multiple males, make sure they have their own dwelling spaces, so they do not become defensive and have territorial conflicts.
Clown plecos have been known to eat shrimp, so only add them if the tank is large and heavily planted, so the shrimp are able to hide easily. Anything considered a “monster fish” such as a Peacock bass, Asian Arowana, or a Pacu fish, prey on Clown plecos and do not make good tank mates.
If you are hoping on breeding your Clown plecos, you are in luck! Clowns are one of the few species of plecos known to breed spontaneously when kept in mixed-gender environments. That being said, there are still things you can do to encourage this behavior. Be sure to increase the live and protein-rich treats for two weeks.
During that same two-week period, you can use a heater to gradually adjust water temperatures to 85°F, then do a large water change by adding back soft, cool water at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help mimic the spring rainy season – their breeding season in the wild.
Changes in pH and water hardness can also help to mimic the changing of the seasons. During the rainy season, the water tends to be harder and more alkaline.
Some breeders opt for no substrate in the tanks as opposed to the typical soft substrates. Provide plenty of hides and caves for spawning and later, for the males to guard the eggs in.
Wooden caves like driftwood or bogwood are recommended, as Clown plecos seem to prefer that even in the wild. However, a clean PVC pipe can also be used. It will take about a month for the fertilized eggs to hatch and the male to emerge with the juveniles.
A separate tank can be helpful for monitoring these careful conditions and to help the male protect the eggs from other hungry fish or even the female Clown pleco.
While Clown plecos still have their own unique needs, they are a comparatively easy fish to care for. With the right knowledge, it does not have to be a stressful experience.
The most important things to remember are that Clown plecos require a varied diet that includes sources of fiber like driftwood, and clean water is a must improper water conditions and poor feeding are some of the biggest threats to a Clown pleco.
Clown plecos are beautiful, peaceful fish that does well with most other species, but their shy nature can also lead to them getting bullied by more aggressive fish. Clown plecos need lots of space and plenty of places to hide from bright lights. With basic care and attention, your happy Clown will be around for many years to come.
Hopefully, this article has been full of guidance about how to accomplish that.
Learn something new? Still, have some questions? Just want to talk about how cool your Clown pleco is? Let us know in the comments!