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Are you thinking about adding a pleco to your Apistogramma tank? You might want to think twice.

Although plecos can be a great addition to many aquariums, they are primarily nocturnal and notoriously good at eating Apistogramma eggs and fry during the night. In the wild, these two species inhabit different areas and are never found in the same spot. If you want to give your Apistos ideal conditions, we’d advise against keeping them together.

But why in the world do fishkeepers want to add pleco to their Apistogramma aquariums? Are there any other similar species that make good co-inhabitants? Let’s find out.

The Myths About Keeping Plecos in Your Apistogramma Aquarium

Bristlenose Pleco

Plecostomus, or “pleco” for short, also known as suckermouth catfish, is the common name given to the species of armored catfish in the family Loricariidae. They are characterized by their sucker-shaped mouths located underneath their heads, hence the name.

Apistogramma keepers who want to add a pleco to their Apisto tank due to the following myths:

Myth #1: Origins

While it’s true that suckermouth catfish and Apistos are mainly native to South America, they prefer different natural environments. In fact, these two fish are rarely found together in nature unless they are trapped in the same body of water by flooding or a water pool during the dry season.

Plecos are typically found in fast-moving streams and rivers with pebbly riverbeds, where the water tends to be somewhat alkaline. In contrast, Apistogramma species thrive in slow-moving waters with densely packed vegetation and sandy areas. They prefer soft, acidic water.

Myth #2: Algae Eating

Plecos have gained a reputation for being excellent algae eaters and are often labeled as such in pet stores. This is probably the main reason why so many Apisto keepers consider adding plecos to their aquariums.

However, the reality is that plecos are less effective at eating algae in Apistogramma tanks than other clean-up crews, such as Otocinclus and snails. This is especially true for the most commonly marketed pleco species, the Common Pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus).

Myth #3: They’re “Peaceful” Fish

Plecos are considered “peaceful” and easy to get along with; however, it depends on the species. Some males, even of the smaller species like the Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus), can become quite territorial and aggressive towards their own kind or other bottom-dwellers, including Apistos.

Why You Should Keep Plecos and Apistogramma Separated

Besides these myths of plecos, there are several reasons why plecos and Apistogramma should generally not be kept together in the same tank. 

Plecos are Egg/Fry Eaters

Despite their reputation as algae eaters, plecos are actually opportunistic omnivores which means that they will feed on whatever is available. Keep in mind that plecos are primarily nocturnal and can easily sneak up on Apistogramma eggs and fry during the night.

This can be frustrating if you’re trying to breed your Apistogramma, as the plecos can undo all your hard work.

Plecos are Java Moss Killer

Java moss is a valuable, fantastic plant for Apistogramma dwarf cichlids. Not only does a bunch of java moss add a smash hit to your aquarium, but they also provide excellent cover and hiding spots for fry to escape being eaten by bigger fish.

However, plecos can easily consume them due to their dietary requirement for plant matter.

Water Conditions

Apistogramma species are virtually found in tropical South America; some plecos originate from subtropical South America. Although both prefer a heated aquarium above 72 °F (23°C) (may vary slightly by species), plecos can tolerate lower temperatures than Apistos.

As mentioned above, water should be soft and acidic for Apistogramma species, but plecos require alkaline water conditions. It can be difficult to find a middle ground that suits both Apistos and plecos.

Additionally, the water movement in your Apistogramma’s tank should be minimal to mimic their natural habitat, but plecos need much stronger water circulation to thrive.

Food Competition

Both are bottom feeders, which can occasionally prove to be a problem as they may compete for food. Apistogrammas tend to be much faster and more agile, so they usually get to the food first, while the shy pleco gets pushed around.

Considerations Before Keeping Apistogramma with Pleco


Of course, every fish is different, and some apistogramma and plecos may get along just fine. Some aquarists have had success keeping these two species together in a community tank.

Ultimately, the decision to keep them together will depend on your own experience and comfort level. If you do decide to give it a try, here are some factors to consider:

Species of Apistogramma

There are almost 100 described species of Apistogramma, each with its own temperament. Some species are peaceful, such as the “easiest” Apistogramma borellii. Other polygamous species, like A. panduro, A. agassizii, and A. trifasciata, can be quite aggressive when breeding.

Before keeping Apistogramma with pleco, it is essential to research the species of Apistogramma and understand their behavior.

Species of Pleco

Without a doubt, plecos is also a very diverse group of species, consisting of more than 150 species. Unlike Apistos that stay small, some plecos eventually grow up to be nearly two feet long!

Common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) is a well-known large species that is only recommended for tanks with 150 gallons or more. Other smaller plecos, such as Bristlenose (Ancistrus sp.), clown pleco (Panaque maccus), and rubber lip pleco (Chaetostoma milesi) are more suitable for the average aquarium.


If you decide to keep apistogramma and plecos together, never add them to a breeding tank for obvious reasons. Instead, create a spacious community tank with plenty of hiding spots, adequate filtration, and decoration. Monitor your fish closely and be prepared to separate them if necessary.


There’s no foolproof protection. Keeping a pleco with Apistogramma brings more risk than reward. Plecos are notorious for their eating habits, which can lead to both Apistogramma eggs and fry being devoured overnight.

The brooding females of Apistogramma are typically very protective; they may see the pleco as a threat and attack its eyeballs, potentially causing fatal injuries.

If you’re looking for a clean-up crew for your large Apistogramma tanks, consider algae eaters such as otos, ramshorn snails, or siamese algae eaters (SAE). Corys may also be an option, but they are known to be egg eaters, too.

Hopefully, this article can help you decide whether keeping apistogramma and plecos together is a good idea for you or not. Remember to research the species of both Apistos and plecos before making any decisions. 

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Ivan Yeoh
Ivan Yeoh

I’ve been working with fish for the past 12 years, and I can honestly say that it has never been a dull day. In my time, I’ve worked at the largest fish farm in Singapore – so you could say I know a thing or two about keeping things running smoothly in watery environments.

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