Gold Nugget Pleco 101: Everything you Need to Know

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The Golden Nugget Pleco is an incredible addition to any aquarium because of its unique colors and markings. They are relatively easy to care for, and they make great tank mates for your already established aquarium. For everything you need to know about the Golden Nugget Pleco, keep reading. 

Species Overview

The Golden Nugget Pleco, or Baryancistrus xanthellushails from South America, mainly found around Brazil and Venezuela. In their natural habitat, they have access to caves and driftwood in the Amazon River, which makes them prefer darker conditions.

They are used to an aquascape that is abundant in greenery and thriving natural elements that shade natural light, so you don’t need to splurge on special lighting to have them in your aquarium. 

The fish’s full name is Gold Nugget Plecostomus, which we refer to as Pleco for short. The suckermouth catfish is categorized as part of the Loricariidae family. They have been added to aquariums since the early 80s when they gained popularity in Britain when they started being exported in. 

They may also be referred to as Golden nugget Plecos. They are often identified by their letter and number L-18 or L018. Since freshwater catfish species are abundant, this number is an easy way to distinguish them.

There are two other numbers associated with this fish, including L085 for medium-sized dots and L081 for tiny dots. 

However, the Gold Nugget Pleco is a standout fish. The yellow-polka dotted markings make it immediately recognizable and visually pleasing to look at. You can spend plenty of time admiring the beauty of this fish.


Catfish are not always the best-looking fish, and the look of suckermouth fish can be an acquired taste, but the Gold Nugget Pleco is a striking fish.

It often has a dark green or black body and is covered in plenty of yellow polka-dots. They are typically uniform in size and evenly-spaced, and their dorsal and caudal fins are bordered with the same yellow.  

They are built like a traditional pleco fish with an angled head with a suckermouth, built for proper scavenging. You’ll find that they are slimmer near the caudal peduncle and wider from their eyes to pectoral fins. Their pectoral fins are larger in size and feature a backward point. The caudal fin is a bit larger than the fan-shaped dorsal fins.

Average Size

On average, these fish measure anywhere from six to nine inches when they are bred in captivity, depending on their tank conditions. If you have accurate water conditions, a proper diet, and excellent filtration, they will be in the optimal conditions for the best growth and overall health.

If you provide them with a larger tank, they will grow more prominent as well. When they are added into a smaller tank with plenty of other fish, their growth is discouraged. They can grow to be thirteen inches in the wild, so a big tank with supreme conditions can lead to a thriving and healthy fish. 

Genetic factors can play a role in their overall size, but tank size and a great diet as they are growing definitely influence their growth. 


On average, a Gold Nugget Pleco can live up to five years in captivity. It’s not entirely clear how long they can live in the wild, but it’s reported that it might be an additional two or three years. If you’re providing the best care to your fish, with the best equipment and an excellent diet, they can reach six or seven years old. 

There are no species-specific diseases that impact the Gold Nugget Pleco’s lifespan, which is a nice factor when comparing them to other freshwater fish. Some species have unique illnesses that can affect them. 

However, there are the typical diseases that affect freshwater fish that Gold Nugget Pleco’s are not immune to. They may be low maintenance and relatively healthy, but they can still become ill with various sicknesses. 

A common ailment that freshwater fish see are infections, including parasites and Ich. These can be caused by a variety of factors, and many of them have individual treatments.

The best way to reduce the risk of any illnesses or diseases to your Gold Nugget Pleco is to just keep up on the cleanliness of the tank, quality of water, and the quality of their diet. If you keep up on the maintenance, it’s the best defense against issues.

Keeping up with optimal care and being diligent about maintaining their environment will aid in living a long, healthy, and happy life in your home.

Behavior & Temperament

While you’ll often find your Gold Nugget Pleco keeping to themselves and being incredibly peaceful, there are moments where they can be not-so-nice to the other fish in your tank.

They are rather interesting. Usually, they are calm and peaceful, hiding under their favorite dark spots or sitting along with the algae growth. You won’t see them much during the day as they are much more active at night when it’s dark. They are often in their own little world, and they ignore most other fish.

However, if another catfish species happens to come into their space, they can definitely become reactive and territorial. Since catfish tend to want to occupy the same spaces, they can become angry when they are opposed upon.

If you happen to have a massive tank, you might be able to get away with having another catfish species in there, but a smaller tank can be a challenging environment for a Gold Nugget Pleco.

Caring for The Gold Nugget Pleco

As mentioned, the Golden Nugget Pleco is a relatively low-maintenance fish, and they don’t require much from their owners. They are an outstanding fish for those who are just starting to build their aquariums and seasoned pros. Caring for them is not a very complex process. 

They can become large fish, so you want to ensure you’re putting them into their ideal tank size. You need to provide them with enough room so they can thrive. Other than that, there’s nothing specific that they need in order to live a happy and healthy life. 

Tank Conditions

It’s recommended that the minimum tank size that you should have for a Gold Nugget Pleco is a 55-gallon tank. Since they are larger fish that thrive in bigger homes, it’s essential to provide them with the best habitat. Bigger is better when it comes to the tank size used to house them. 

It may seem like a smaller tank would be okay since they typically hang out in smaller spaces or near the bottom of the tank. Putting them in a small tank that’s not suitable for them and can impede their physical growth and overall happiness.

Fish who are bred in captivity still possess the instinctive desire for the natural environment they hail from, but since Gold Nugget Plecos are bred in the wild, their need for an environment that is as close to their natural habitat is critical. Typically, fish do much better in tanks that mimic their natural environments as closely as possible. 

They like to have hiding places, so if you can decorate your tank with plenty of plants, driftwood, caves, and other decorations that allow them to hide in, that’s ideal.


When building your aquarium, you want to ensure you’re purchasing a high-quality filter. Gold Nugget Pleco’s can be sensitive to dirty water, so having a clean tank is paramount. Like all freshwater fish, they are susceptible to infections caused by water conditions, so to keep them healthy, you must keep their water clean. 

Due to their size, they will produce a more considerable amount of waste than other freshwater fish. You will have to ensure you’re maintaining a regular cleaning schedule to keep up with the waste. 


A sandy substrate that soft is ideal for the Gold Nugget Pleco because it’s the closest thing to their natural environment. They love to scavenge, so they will be digging through the substrate. Opting for rocks or gravel may cause injury to them, leading to stress and infections if they get cut. 


There are plenty of reasons why Gold Nugget Pleco’s love plants. Lush greenery is an ideal addition for any tank because it’s not only beautiful to look at, but they offer plenty of benefits. Detritus that comes from plants is a source of nutrition, and they create healthier water.

The addition of plants simulates their natural environment, keeping them calm and minimizing stress. Plants are a great hiding place, which Gold Nugget Pleco’s love, and it creates a place for them to hang out where excess light is filtered out. 

You can opt for live plants. In this case, they don’t eat live plants, but they will take care of the dead droppings. Plastic plants don’t provide nearly as many benefits either.


Decorating your tank is one of the most exciting parts of building an aquarium that’s ideal for your fish. As mentioned, the Gold Nugget Pleco loves to hide and hang out at the bottom of the tank, so any decorations that will cater to that are perfect for them.

Caves, plants, and driftwood where they can hideout and escape the light are ideal for them. When choosing a cave, make sure you’re picking one on the larger side to cater to their growth.

Water Conditions

The water conditions for the Gold Nugget Pleco’s are pretty easy to maintain, even if you’re new to owning fish. The ideal temperature should be between 73°F to 79°F. The ideal pH levels should be around 6.5 to 7.5, but you should aim for 7. The ideal water hardness is 5 to 15 dH

The most crucial time to be very careful about water conditions is when you first introduce them to your tank. They can be susceptible to issues when they are initially introduced somewhere new, whether your tank is brand new or established.

During this period, you should be testing your water every day or every other day during the first two to three weeks once you’ve introduced your Gold Nugget Pleco to the tank. Once you’ve had stable conditions for a while, you can drop down to testing every few days. This is an excellent opportunity to get used to partial water changes as well. 

Once everything is normal, you should be in the habit of taking regular water tests. This will ensure your entire tank is in harmony and your fish are healthy. 

Food and Diet

While one of the most essential parts of the Gold Nugget Plecos’ overall health, feeding them the proper diet is one of the easiest aspects of caring for them. They are not very picky when it comes to food, and they will eat whatever you’re willing to feed them. 

With that being said, you should still carefully plan out their diet for optimal health. In their natural habitat, they eat plenty of algae. They spend a lot of their time at the bottom of their home scavenging for algae and plants that they like.

They do require a more well-rounded diet beyond algae and plants, so it’s important to include some protein-rich food for them as well. 

It can be easy to overfeed them because they constantly act like they are hungry, so you should have a planned-out system of how much food they get and when. Overfeeding is unhealthy for your fish, but it also wreaks havoc on your aquarium’s overall health and cleanliness.

With extra food breaking down in the water, it can significantly affect the quality of the water and the nutrient levels. Your fish will also be producing even more waste, requiring more time spent cleaning. 

Their primary source of food comes from the matter and algae in the tank substrate, but you can include some sinking pellets to round it out. It’s vital to ensure the supplemental food reaches the bottom of the tank where they will likely be. 

Beyond sinking pellets, you can add in bloodworms or tubifex every other day or so as a treat. This is a tremendous protein-rich addition that they will love.

Suitable Tank Mates

Having an aquarium full of a variety of colorful fish is something to admire. Luckily, there’s really only one rule when it comes to owning a Gold Nugget Pleco, and that’s to avoid catfish and other plecos. If you stick to that rule, your tank should be fine.

Just like how they react to catfish, they will become the same way around other Gold Nugget Plecos. They can become quite aggressive, and since they are such large fish, they will fight over space.

Unless you have a massive tank that has enough room for two plecos to claim enough territory, you may be able to get away with having two in a single tank. The more space they have to claim means there will be less aggression.

However, it’s really not recommended to do this. Err on the side of caution and have only one Pleco per tank for their stress levels and happiness. 

Since they have such a great temperament towards other fish and only get territorial around other catfish, they are a great tank mate for various other fish. Finding fish that prefer to spend their time close to the top of the aquarium is excellent because Pleco’s like to stay near the bottom, and they’ll likely rarely cross paths. 

Some of the ideal tank mates include Ember Tetra, Neon Tetra, Honey Gourami, Apistogramma, Pearl Gourami, Dwarf Gourami, Rummy Nose Tetra, Celestial Pearl Danio, Sparkling Gourami, and a variety of Goldfish. These are just a few honorable mentions, but plenty of other types of fish will thrive in the same environment as the Gold Nugget Pleco.

It’s not recommended to include snails in your aquarium as Gold Nugget Plecos. Sometimes they do become very hungry, and they will eat them, but that’s not a guarantee. 


You may hear about breeding Gold Nugget Plecos, and there are some guides out there that suggest there is a proper breeding process for this fish, but they are not accurate. Unfortunately, there are no proven or safe ways to breed Gold Nugget Plecos in captivity. It should not be attempted at home.

Since there are unclear guidelines and insufficient information for fish owners, it’s recommended just to avoid attempting breeding altogether. Until there is sufficient evidence, research, and a fully-fleshed-out process, it’s only suitable for the most experienced aquarists with the proper setup and resources. 

It’s important to the safety of your fish just to avoid it. 


The Gold Nugget Pleco is a beautiful fish that is relatively low-maintenance. If you’re looking to add an easy and stunning fish to your aquarium that gets along well with your other fish, the Gold Nugget Pleco is an excellent option.

With some love and care, they can be part of your family for up to seven years. While there are plenty of excellent options to add to your home aquarium, the Gold Nugget Pleco should be a top choice.

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

2 thoughts on “Gold Nugget Pleco 101: Everything you Need to Know”

    • Hi Jennifer

      Plecos will change color, lighten or darken, in response to stress from lack of hiding spaces, water quality, temperature, etc. I’ve seen plecos turn white when exposed to low temps. After raising the temp he became brown again. Have you tested your water parameter: nitrate, nitrite, ammonia? If your pleco’s behavior is normal and parameters are in range, don’t stress too much.

      Michele. T


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