Clown pleco are one of our favorite freshwater fish tropical fish species for beginners and pros alike.

They’re easy to care for, help clean up the algae in the fish tank, and they’re honestly just a little delightful species that aquarists can enjoy watching.

Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of these great little hobbyist aquarium fish.

Quick Intro to Clown Pleco

Family: Loriicaridae
Scientific Name:Panaque Maccus
Other Names:Pleco, Clown Plecostomus, Clown Panaque, Panaquemaccus and Ringlet Pleco
Care Level: Easy

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Clown Plecos, also known as panaque maccus, is an extremely popular aquarium species that is loved all around the world.

This South American species makes its home in Venezuela but has always been spotted in Colombia. Their population centers are in the Apure and Caroni river basins, and these basins cover large swaths of area in Venezuela.

The natural habitat for this Clown Plecos has a high concentration of vegetation and trees. This leads to a lot of wood falling into the water.

This species has become adept at swimming in and around the wood and using it to their advantage while looking for food and hiding from predators.

Due to their native waters being dirty from all the dead and decaying plant life, Clown Plecos are adept at being in water that is dirty.

Even though the cloudy water makes it hard to see the fish can still navigate it without suffering adverse health effects, they share this trait with certain aquarium catfish.

This fish is popular due to its aesthetic qualities. It has a series of patterns that help it stand out significantly from other fish. The base of this fish is black with colored bands that go across its whole body In a variety of patterns.

The typical band coloration is either orange or yellow mixed with white.

The vibrancy of their colors is affected by a variety of factors. While genes do play a role in this, the fish’s health and diet are of equal importance. If the fish doesn’t have adequate nutrition while it is developing from a fry, its colors will be dull.

This species of fish has the same body features that you would expect from all other plecos. They have a large thick head and body. Past their dorsal fin and to the caudal peduncle, their body starts to slim out.

Their dorsal fins fan out and their large pectoral fins will rest behind them when they resting on driftwood or the bottom of the tank. Their caudal fin is around the same size as their dorsal fin in terms of surface.

While trying to purchase Clown Plecos, you should be aware that there are two species of fish that look similar to this species.

Knowing the difference can help make sure that you do not accidentally purchase the wrong kind of fish because some stores have their fish mislabeled.

Mega Clown, also known as the Imperial Tiger Pleco, this fish only grows to be three inches long and is less effective at eating algae. They are known for needing a significant amount of protein in their diets.

Candy Striped Plecos look similar to Clown Plecos due to similar markings. Candy Striped will grow to be between five and five and a half inches long.

They are also very aggressive when it comes to their territory and will attack fish who get too close.

Optimal Water Conditions for Clown Pleco

Water Temperature: 73 to 82°F
Water Flow Rate: Moderate flow rate of well-filtered water
pH: 6.8 to 7.6
Water Hardness: 10 dGH

Learn about Bristlenose Plecos here.

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons per female, 20 gallons per male
Optimal Tank Size: Thirty gallons
Optimal Tank Shape: Square or rectangle
Recommended Filter Type: HOB or Canister Filers

The minimum tank size recommended for housing a single Clown Pleco is twenty gallons. This is a smaller fish that doesn’t do a lot of swimming. They do not require massive spaces to be comfortable.

If you are considering buying more than one Clown Pleco (and who doesn’t love friends?) then you will need a bigger tank. The formula is simple, for every additional Clown Plecos you wish to add to the tank just add ten gallons in size.

Clown Plecos are hardy fish that can handle pollutants in their water. However, you should strive to keep their environment as clean as possible so that the tank has stable water conditions.

Maintaining high-quality water isn’t difficult once you understand what you need to do.

Clown Panaque are like their catfish brethren in that they eat a lot and produce a significant amount of waste for a fish of their size.

Author note: Their main diet is fibrous materials, so the tank requires a very strong filtration system with replaceable media. The filter needs to be capable of both mechanically and chemically removing toxins and waste from the tank’s water.

When it comes to your tank’s water flow, the Clown Pleco is a species that has a preference for a moderate flow of water along the bottom of the tank.

This water flow will also help prevent hypoxic areas from developing. This can be accomplished with either a HOB or canister filter. Many fishkeepers recommend using an air stone to give additional circulation.

Creating the Landscape

Leopard Cactus Pleco aquarium fish	Pseudacanthicus leopardus

Putting together the tank for your Clown Pleco first involves picking the right substrate. As this is the foundation everything else will be built on, this is important.

Top tip: It is suggested that you choose a sand substrate. It is highly recommended you do not use gravel or rocks with sharp edges because this species may scratch and injure itself.

Driftwood is a must for your tank. These provide a place for the Clown Pleco to hide when it feels anxious. They require to have several hiding places spread throughout the tank.

If your fish doesn’t have enough places to hide it will be difficult for the fish to have the confidence to swim around and explore.

Author note: Another advantage of driftwood is that it offers the fish something to snack on if it gets hungry. The fish can get important nutrients from eating the driftwood.

If you can’t find driftwood another option is to purchase premade pleco caves. These ceramic caves can act as a place for the fish to hide as well as a place for them to breed and spawn.

Clown Plecos feel exposed and afraid if there is too much light in their tank. This can be mitigated by a few things. Placing a dark background on the back and side of the aquarium will remove extra light that would otherwise get in.

If you place floating plants in the tank it will create areas of shadow that will help replicate the fish’s natural environment.

As this fish likes to have caves, position the driftwood in the right way can give your fish plenty of places that can take shelter in.

Rocks are an important part of your tank. You can arrange these in such a way to make “natural” caves that your fish can swim into and through.

When choosing plants, there is a variety that works.

As mentioned above floating plants help give shade so that the fish can feel safe. Another great choice is hornwort, this can be planted in the soil at the bottom of your tank and offers places for your fish to hide in.

Best Plants: Floating plants and Hornwort
Best Lighting: Minimum
Best Decorations: Driftwood
Decorations to Avoid: Do not use gravel as the substrate

Learn about Blue Phantom Plecos here.

Physiological Considerations for Clown Pleco

Size: Juveniles 1.5 to 2-inches, Adults 3.5-inch on average Range 3 to 4.3-inches in length specieswide
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Temperament: Peaceful
Preferred Tank Region: bottom of the tank
Scale Thickness:Normal
Gill Considerations: None
Swimbladder Considerations: None
Fin Shape Considerations: None

Clown Plecos have a life expectancy of up to ten to twelve years. However, for your fish to live this long it needs to have quality care.

Author note: Factors such as consistent water quality and good food will directly impact how long your fish will live. The fish does not have enough places to hide and being in constant stress is enough to shorten its life.

This species of fish averages around three and a half to four inches in length. While genetics is a big factor in how big the fish is and how bright their colors are, having a high level of care is essential.

This fish is known to be hardy and capable of living in water with pollutants in nature. But just because this fish can survive in bad water doesn’t mean you should let its water quality drop.

The long-term health of your fish and your aquarium is based on consistency.


clown pleco
Image from Maine Aquarist Instragram

Clown Plecos are known for having a peaceful temperament. They are happy in their area on the bottom of the tank. They will rarely show any interest in other fish in the tank.

They spend most of their time either resting near their driftwood or navigating the bottom of the tank as they scavenge for food. They can spend all day in a corner of the tank happily eating any algae they find.

A unique characteristic that can confuse inexperienced fish keepers is that the Clown Pleco will eat the driftwood in their tank.

This isn’t something you should be alarmed about, it is normal that they will eat driftwood and they will expect you to replace what they eat.

The only time this fish changes its temperament is if you house two males in the same tank. It is common for them to fight over territory.

Author note: If the tank is large enough the two males may leave each other alone. However, if they both decide to eat the same piece of driftwood, there will be a fishy brawl.

There are many fish who make for good tank mates for Clown Plecos. The wide range of community fish you can include with this species is part of what makes them a great choice for people new to fishkeeping.

It is great to not have stress about trying to pair up fishes perfectly.

The key thing to avoid when choosing tank mates is to make sure they are not aggressive, prone to fighting, or significantly larger.

Aggressive fish will result in fighting and if you choose fish that are too big they may decide your Clown Pleco would make a great snack.

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

For those who are new to fishkeeping, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the male and female of this species. However, there are a few details that you can look for to distinguish between them.

The female Clown Pleco is typically larger and looks plump and round when they are ready to produce their eggs.

The male Clown Pleco tends to be leaner, shorter, and have tiny spines along with their gill covers and caudal fins. These spines are called odontodes.

As a whole, the Pleco species of fish are notorious for how difficult they are to breed. Clown Plecos are one of the few exceptions to this rule.

Breeders this is because the fish has been in captivity for decades and due to their small size and unlike their cousins, they are not as picky about their water conditions.

However, good water conditions are necessary for breeding to be successful.

While it is possible to breed Clown Pleco, it does require setup and preparation. If you are new to fish keeping it is important to follow all of the steps required or it won’t happen.

The first thing you need is a breeding tank. This tank’s water and setup are like the main tank that your Clown Plecos normally reside in.

Make sure you put a lot of driftwood and either create caves or buy premade caves. These are necessary for the breeding to happen.

There are suggestions to lower the water temperature by three to five degrees and raise the pH levels by a point. By doing this you are mimicking the rainy seasons when this species of fish typically spawns in their natural home.

The closer you can replicate their native waters the harder their season’s triggers will be hit and the more likely they are to breed.

The aquarium should be filled with distilled or reverse osmosis water. As none of these waters have dissolved minerals it will mimic the water after heavy rainfall.

Leading up to breeding the fish must be given a lot of protein. The best source of protein is live food like bloodworms. If you can’t find live food, frozen and freeze-dried worms can work as well.

Just bear in mind that frozen and freeze-dried foods do not offer the same benefits.

Clown Plecos are known for being cavity spawners. What this means is that they need a clap pot, pipe, or small cave for laying their eggs.

After the female lays the eggs in one of the caves, the male fish will aggressively guard the areas. It takes ten to fourteen days for the fish to be ready to be hatched.

After the eggs hatch the male fish will continue to guard them for the two to three days that it takes to absorb all of their yolk sacs and are strong enough to look for food on their own.

At this point, the male fish will leave the fish and this is a good time to remove him from the tank.

After the fry leaves their eggs you can separate them from any other adult fish. Feed the baby Clown Plecos a mix of algae, driftwood, and protein.

You should only have one mating pair per breeding tank, but if for some reason you want a major challenge it is possible to have multiple sets breed in the same tank.

It’s important to make sure you have a large tank with plenty of room for numerous good sites for spawning. If you do not provide enough adequate places for spawning then the males will attack one another for the best ones.

Nutritional Needs

Image by Jarne Colman on Wikipedia

This species of fish is willing to eat a wide variety of things. Two staples of its diet is drift wood and algae that grows inside its tank.

You should feed them a mix of various sinking plant-based food like algae wafers, zucchini, and lettuce.

They also need protein in their diet. Two of the most common choices are daphnia and bloodworms. These protein foods should only be given as snacks two to three times a week.

  • Store bought food: Sinking algae wafers, Spirulina pellets
  • Blanched veggies: Lettuce, spinach, zucchini,
  • Proteins: Brine Shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia eggs
Best Sustenance Food Type: Driftwood and Algae
Additional Food For Optimal Health:Bloodworms and Daphnia
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth: Driftwood is a vital part of their diet.
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle:Once a day

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Clown Plecos do not have any diseases which are specific to their species of fish. As mentioned before, this is a fish that is hardy and able to survive being in various types of waters and poor water conditions.

However, this species can get sick by some of the more common aquatic diseases that include ich, infections, and various parasites

Most of these diseases will never have a chance to attack your fish if you are consistent in how you maintain the water quality of the tank. The lower quality of water is the high the chance of your fish getting sick is.

Never put new fish or plants directly into your tank. Quarantine the new additions until you see they are healthy and clean of disease.

A common issue that affects Clown Plecos is digestive issues stemming from not providing them with enough driftwood.

If they are not given enough fiber in their diet their stomach bacteria can become unbalanced leading to sickness. If a Clown Pleco is not provided with driftwood they can starve to death.

Best Antibiotics: Standard antibiotics
Treatments to Avoid: None
Food Recommendations When Sick:Driftwood and protein
Hospital Tank or Isolation Withing the Community Tank: Hospital tank

3 Facts About Clown Pleco

  1. Clown Plecos are rated as one of the top algae eaters (along with Chinese Algae Eaters).
  2. Clown Plecos can get along with a large variety of fish and other species.
  3. Clown Plecos are a member of the Pleco family which has more than 150 varieties.

FAQs on Clown Pleco

Scenery of an aquarium that swims comfortably

Do Clown Pleco do well with tankmates?

Clown Pecos is known for having a mellow and peaceful temperament that is happiest when they swim around on the bottom of the tank doing their own thing.

While swimming at the bottom tank, they like to look around and sometimes scavenge for food. This fish likes to have places like driftwood or plants to swim into whenever they want privacy.

The one thing that will make a Clown Pleco upset is if they have to share a tank with a male pleco. It is not unusual for them to fight over territory or if there are possible mates.

Even if you give your male plecos enough space, there is still a good chance they may fight.

For example, plecos like to eat driftwood, and it’s not unusual for males to fight viciously over the same snack.

What fish make good roommates for Clown Plecos?

Due to how clown plecos have an easy-going personality, it is easy to find several fish who make compatible tank mates.

However, when selecting other fish, you need to keep in mind you will need to find fish that will not be super aggressive or have a significant size difference.

Aggressive fish will start a fight. A considerable size difference might result in your plecos looking at being dinner for another fish.

Some great choices for your tank include fish such as cory catfish, ember tetras, rasboras, and minnows.

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