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Sailfin Plec: Everything You Need To Know

The Sailfin Pleco, also known as the Leopard Pleco, is a fairly large catfish species that reside in freshwater. Caring for this specific pleco is relatively easy if you have the right guide or resources. Due to its size, most fish owners tend to gravitate toward other varieties of pleco, but if you have the proper tank for it, the Sailfin Pleco is a wonderful beginner option for fish owners.

It’s important to understand proper care, tank size, diet, behavior, and even breeding habits. This Sailfin Pleco Guide can teach new or curious aquarists the essentials for caring for this affordable, peaceful, and attractive catfish breed.

Species Summary

This species of pleco is a common catfish, distributed widely in the Amazon basins and South America, specifically within Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela. Despite their size, they’re considered one of the most easygoing fish for aquarists to own.

The Sailfin Pleco is also a primarily nocturnal fish, perfectly suited for slower-moving tank flows since they’re not very active swimmers. Their nature is that of floor dwelling in muddy rivers, even being known to bury themselves in mud when water levels fall very low. This fish could serve as a stress reliever for fish keepers, especially given its nature.

Let’s explore some of that!

Sailfin Pleco Appearance
Sailfin Pleco Appearance


True to their name, the Sailfin Pleco has a large dorsal fin, similar to a marine sailfish. One of the more unique attributes of this fin is that they have rays along the length of their dorsal fin, usually over 10 rays for an average Sailfin Pleco. The fin itself is very tall relative to its body size, the front protruding straight up before it opens behind in a fan-like display.

Their head tends to be larger in size relative to the rest of their body, while their eyes are very small, their small eyes are positioned at the top of their head allowing for better sight during nightfall. Their body length is elongated, tapered from large to small, head to tailfin. Their tops are covered in harder plates called ‘armor-clad scales’, but many of their scales are thinner and softer.

Their base color can vary from fish to fish, anywhere from faded orange, very dark brown, or close to black, making the spots throughout very pronounced, hence the alternate name Leopard Pleco. This gives the fish an interesting textured look that many enthusiasts enjoy.

Sailfin Pleco - Dark Color
Sailfin Pleco – Dark Color

What’s interesting about these spots is that they have consistency throughout the Sailfin Plecos’ body, including on their fins and underbelly, unlike other fish who might have pattern changes depending on various parts of their bodies.

Their colors do not deteriorate or change throughout their life, generally keeping the same vibrancy until death, especially if they’re healthy and well taken care of.

Life of a Sailfin Pleco

These bottom-dwelling catfish tend to live for quite a long time, whether in captivity or not. If left to their natural habitat, they live much longer, as well as growing much larger. Out in the wild, they can live 20 years or beyond, while their lifespan decreases to somewhere between 10 and 15 years when bred in captivity. This is still quite a large number for a fish!

To ensure your pleco has a long and happy life, it’s important to consider every factor to their quality of life, including their tank size. diet, and ecosystem.


The Sailfin Pleco is a very simple fish, not requiring a lot of specifics in terms of care. Unlike more complex fish with higher maintenance needs or complicated feeding needs, the Sailfin Pleco does not require an excessive amount of care.

They tend to only need special feeding if algae levels go down in the tank they’re kept in. and as a result, they excrete fairly often. This means cleaning the tank needs to be a regular occurrence, usually once a week. These plecos have an inclination to eat their excrement, which can cause more health problems in the long run, so it’s important to keep things clean.

With cleaning, a proper water filter should be in place. The most important thing to consider is their habitat dwelling, as a tank that is too small can significantly impact not only their quality of life but their ability to grow healthily.

Despite being very easygoing and not prone to issue, the owner should still be vigilant to the conditions of their environment or the status of their health.

Tank Size

Sailfin Plecos have an average size in captivity of 13 to 19 inches, these are not small fish! It’s highly recommended that a tank of 100 gallons or more is used for keeping these fish. It’s important for any fish, but especially larger fish, to have a sizeable tank; living in something too small can cause quite a lot of distress, shortening the lifespan of the fish or stunting its growth.

A proper tank reduces stress, mitigating any aggression or destructive tendencies they might develop. To many experts, tank size is the second most important factor when caring for these fish. It isn’t recommended to have them in smaller tanks even if they’re in the early cycle of their life, as Sailfin Pleco’stend to grow very rapidly.

Water Parameters

Despite being a relatively hardy species, it is very important to ensure the water parameters are right for the Sailfin Pleco. The benefit of having a large tank is that keeping up homeostasis in the environment is less difficult. The Sailfin Pleco can handle changes much better than most other fish species, but it’s still something to avoid if at all possible.

They thrive best in temperatures ranging from 73 F to 85 F, keeping it at the median is preferable, but these hardy catfish will do okay in most temperature climates. The pH levels of the water should stay within 6.5 to 7.4. Water hardness should only be between 6 to 10 KH. All of these can be kept up easily through regular water testing when first moving the fish into their tank.

What To Put In Their Tank

For starters, a piece of real wood at the bottom of the tank will very much benefit the pleco by generating algae as well as providing a place for the fish to hide under during daylight hours. A couple of pieces of driftwood can mitigate the need to continuously feed this particular fish since it’s a natural source of food, continuously producing something for the pleco to occupy itself with.

Other things to include in the tank are small lights, preferably ones that come on at night so the tank isn’t pitch black during the most active time of day for these catfish. Creating a lively and conducive environment will mean happy fish.

As far as substrate goes, Sailfin Pleco’s lean toward the less picky end of the spectrum. Regular gravel is okay, but sand is a better choice. These fish spend most of their lives grazing around the bottoms of their habitats, and if they enjoy their environment they might even do a little burrowing.

With plant life, the Sailfin Pleco does enjoy a little bit of munching on plants, but it’s important to not go overboard. Some experts recommend not putting too many artificial plants, as fish can occasionally mistake these for the real thing, and ingesting non-organic matter can be lethal in some cases.

All in all, filling the tank with decorations can create an ecosystem that feels more natural for the fish, but moderation is key.

Common Possible Diseases

As mentioned before, the Sailfin Pleco is a sturdy fish, not prone to many ailments. This does not mean they are immune, however. Keeping their environment stable is key to keeping them healthy, as distributing medicine to Sailfin Plecos is quite difficult.

Some of the more common illnesses that plague Sailfin Plecos (and any freshwater fish) include ich, infections, or parasites. If cuts, white spots, or changed behavior start to form, it’s critical to act fast, making treatment more effective and recovery more likely. Consulting with your vet the moment you think something might be amiss is essential.

Keeping your tank in good shape is the one surefire way to prevent problems before they happen, but a stroke of bad luck is never out of the question. Still, it’s always of good practice to monitor and maintain the little ecosystem within the tank you keep, preventative measures will always be the recommendation rather than neglect.

Medicines that are used to treat more common ailments in the Sailfin Pleco usually include premafix and melafix in their compounds. The ones to avoid are medications containing potassium permanganate and copper, as these concoctions tend to have lethal consequences for the health of these types of pleco.

Talking to your vet and doing research is important if you end up facing a health crisis with any of your fish.

Food & Diet

As an omnivorous fish species, the Sailfin Pleco feeds primarily on algae and plant life, but they’ve been known to snack on other creatures as well. They’ll scavenge various food sources in captivity, hence the mention previously of keeping live plants and driftwood as interactive decor.

These sources shouldn’t be their only sources, however, and one of the most effective dietary sources for this catfish is algae-wafers or other algae-based foods. Sailfin Plecos are one of the more ideal pets for the fact that their diet is very simple and easy to maintain, which is why many beginner aquarists go for keeping them.

Another thing that could be given to them is the occasional vegetable snack. The Sailfin Pleco is known for loving things like cucumbers or zucchini, providing variety and enrichment to their diets. Some aquarists also like to give freeze-dried or live food options, though it’s less common. However, having flake foods in their diet is not recommended.

As with everything else, balance is key. Over-feeding your fish can lead to uneaten food affecting the water quality or other health problems. It’s good to practice up to twice a day, but adjusting based on the needs of your particular fish is important as well.

Some experts say that after establishing a natural algae-producing environment, feeding can be reduced to once or twice a week, rather than every single day. Always keep an eye on the status of your fish’s health, no one wants their pet’s lives cut short through something preventable.

Behavior & Temperament

This spotted bottom-feeder is one of the most well-known non-aggressive fish that people keep. The only thing that tends to raise their aggression is an unpleasant ecosystem.

They also vary greatly in their activity levels, going from spritely and active to hiding under their favorite decor to relax. Assuming they aren’t paired with an aggressive species, this pleco will spend its time hanging out peacefully at the bottom of its tank. They’re cheerful fish and easily enjoy a little community of other fish in their tanks with them.

The only thing properly worth mentioning is that Sailfin Plecos can get territorial and very hostile when put in a tank with another of their same kind, especially in a tank that isn’t as spacious. The only way to mitigate this problem is by raising two together from a very young age, as they do not tend to become aggressive if they were brought in at the same time as younger fish.

Sailfin Pleco Tank Mates
Sailfin Pleco Tank Mates

Sailfin Pleco Tank Mates

Due to the peaceful and easygoing nature of this particular breed of fish, there’s an almost endless list of buddies they can have in their environment. They don’t tend to start fights, and their large size makes other fish think twice before picking on them. An added benefit is that Sailfin Plecos won’t accidentally eat any smaller fish you might include, since they don’t eat those.

Clown and Kuhli loaches, Black Skirt, Bloodfin, or Congo tetras, Honey Sparkling, or Pearl Gouramis, and Silver Dollar Fish are just a few on the list of good tank mates for the Sailfin Pleco. There’s plenty more out there, asking your local aquarist or doing research on your own can lead you to a nice variety in your aquarium. It is important to research every addition, as highly aggressive fish might make life unpleasant for the more peaceful Sailfin Pleco.


Raising these plecos might be an easy task, but breeding them is essentially impossible unless you know exactly what’s necessary. Identifying the gender of these fish is nigh impossible to start, but they require very specific conditions to breed successfully as it were.

Most of these fish are bred in commercial environments, as these fisheries can facilitate the muddy and murky ecosystems that Sailfin Plecos require for breeding. In their natural habitat, they enjoy burrowing into mud before mating or producing offspring.

Experts and keepers dissuade owners from attempting this, as creating a murky environment in a fish tank is generally not advisable for most species of fish. The cleanup is more trouble than it’s worth, and Sailfin Plecos tend to be aggressive toward their own kind if not introduced properly, as mentioned previously.

In Closing

Fishkeeping can be a rewarding and wonderful experience, especially if keeping higher maintenance pets like cats, dogs, reptiles, or rodents is unrealistic for your particular situation. Keeping your options open for any variety of fish can add enrichment to your living space or workplace.

It can be difficult to keep something that needs more constant attention, or if where you live doesn’t allow more common pets. With the right knowledge at your fingertips, keeping any fish can be as easy and stress-free as you need it to be. The Sailfin Pleco is a perfect option if you’re just starting as an aquarist.

If you’re still deciding whether you want to try out keeping a Sailfin Pleco or not many enthusiasts will recommend them. Their peaceful and personable nature within tank communities of other fish makes them an ideal addition, on top of just their beauty and size.

They have a unique look, as well as staying mostly on the tank floor, putting some life into the lower levels of the underwater ecosystem you’ve created. Keeping an eye on the water quality, the tank size, the other fish you have in the tank, what you feed them, and whether or not they develop any issues are the keys to keeping happy and healthy Sailfin Plecos.

Indeed, these practices are good for keeping most fish, creating a beneficial environment for more than just the pleco. As a hardy breed, not prone to disease, and easy to raise, they’re a wonderful option as a starter fish for someone looking into wanting a personal aquarium. Their long life can make them a nice constant within your tank, some even enjoy an occasional pet across their back scales.

If you have any questions about these easygoing catfish, never be afraid to ask!

About Rencel Leyran