I am Dana, a Veterinary Doctor who studied Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. For years, I have got common questions from friends and family about their pets. So, I decided to open up this website and answer all those frequently asked questions. Alongside, here I share my expert knowledge about pet care, pet health and the animal environment. Click Here to read more about me. Thanks for visiting aplaceforanimals.com

A Care Guide for Sucker Fish: Common Mistakes, Lifespan & Eating Habit

A Care Guide for Sucker Fish

Are you fond of aquariums? If you are, you definitely know about sucker fish. Their scientific name is Hypostomus plecostomus but maybe you know them by their cute name Pleco. Adorable, right!

Many people prefer keeping sucker fish in their tanks to keep them clean. How? Pleco helps clean the tanks by sucking up leftover food and algae. They stick to the aquarium glass wall sucking with their mouth. That’s how they actually got their name. It’s pretty fascinating to watch them sticking to the glass.

Besides being super-helpful fishies, plecos are also very sensitive to their environment and need proper care to live a long, healthy life. You have to know how to care for sucker fish before you get one. Otherwise, you may wind up with a dead fish.

Learning about sucker fish is the first step of care. Let’s dive (pun intended) into it!

Are Sucker Fish Freshwater Fish?

Sucker fish mainly live in the Northern American freshwaters. So, yeah! They’re freshwater fish. They’re a family of 80 to 100 fish species, but not all of them are suitable for aquariums. They’re trendy among aquarists for their flat bodies, large suction mouths, and ability to clean fish tanks. So, let’s have a look at some types of sucker fish suitable for freshwater aquariums.

Sucker Fish Types Suitable for Aquariums

We will go through five kinds of sucker fish that can be a perfect fit for your other aquarium fish but also have some downsides. So, keep that in mind while choosing a new fish for your fishy pals.

1. Chinese Algae Eaters

Description & Requirements:

Growth: 8 to 11 inches when adults

Diet: Algae, vegetables, and live, frozen or dried food

Required Temperature: 72℉ to 82℉

Required pH level: 6-8

Chinese Algae Eaters can grow up to become pretty aggressive towards other fish and will latch onto them to suck on their slime coating.

2. Siamese Algae Eaters

siamese algae eater
Image credit: Swapan Photography, Shutterstock
Description & Requirements:

Growth: 7 inches when adults

Diet: Algae, vegetables, and spirulina

Required Temperature: 68℉ to 79℉

Required pH level: 6-7.5

Siamese Algae Eaters are a delight for any aquarists. Unlike their other family, they’re not aggressive but peaceful; they feed on mainly black brush algae(BBA) in planted aquariums. So, they’re suitable for tanks with aquarium plants that need an extra fin for cleaning.

3. Otocinclus Catfish

Description & Requirements:

Growth: 1.5 to 2 inches when adults

Diet: Algae

Required Temperature: 70℉ to 79℉

Required pH level: 5.5-7.5

Otocinclus are one of the smallest sucker fish and also quite manageable. They have a peaceful temperament and are easy to care for. So if you have a smaller tank, they will do great, but who doesn’t love a large tank!

4. Bristle Nose Plecos

Description & Requirements:

Growth: 5 inches when adults

Diet: Spirulina, vegetables, and live or frozen food

Required Temperature: 73℉ to 81℉

Required pH level: 5.5-7.5

If you want to add a hint of color and weirdness to your aquarium, get yourself a Bristle Nose Pleco. They have an interesting-looking nose and a bright color to compliment it. But don’t be fooled; they can be pretty shy. So, don’t forget to keep a flowerpot or driftwood for them to hide in or drift on.

5. Spotted Sailfin Plecostomus

sailfin pleco
Image credit: weter 777, Shutterstock
Description & Requirements:

Growth: 12 to 16 inches when adults

Diet: Algae and vegetables

Required Temperature: 74℉ to 79℉

Required pH level: 6.5-7.4

Don’t be alarmed by the large size of Spotted Sailfin Plecostomus; they are actually very gentle and peaceful. Despite their large size, they love to live in harmony with other fish but may show slight aggression towards other plecos.

Moreover, make sure to put them in a 70+ gallon tank because they will get big over time and need all the space to swim around.

You may also like: How Do Fish Mate?

How Long Do Sucker Fish Live?

Sucker fish in the wild live as long as 20 years. But usually, the captive ones are not so lucky. They live only about 10 to 12 years in aquariums. We know it’s sad to see our beloved pleco leave us so fast, but different types have different life spans.

Sucker Fish Lifespan

Here, we have the lifespan of the five aquarium sucker fish we‘ve already mentioned and five of which we haven’t.

Sucker Fish TypeLifespan
Chinese Algae EaterMaximum 10 years
Siamese Algae EaterMaximum 10 years
Otocinclus CatfishMaximum 5 to 7 years
Bristlenose PlecoUp to 10 to 15 years
Spotted Sailfin PlecostomusUp to 15 to 20 years
Zebra PlecoUp to 10 to 15 years
Sailfin PlecostomusUp to 15 to 20 years
Trinidad PlecostomusUp to 10 to 15 years
Peppermint PlecostomusMaximum 10 years
Tiger PlecostomusUp to 10 to 15 years

What Do Sucker Fish Eat?

Sucker fish are known for their algae and plant diet. They live off small insects and fish in the wild along with algae. But do you think your aquarium tank produces enough algae to feed your sucker fish daily? If the answer is “no,” let us tell you why.

Sucker fish live off the leftover food from the other fish and nibble on plants. But their diet needs so much more nutrients that a small amount of leftover food can’t provide. So, if you decide to get a sucker fish, here are some feeding tips for you.

Sucker Fish Feeding Tips

If you want your sucker fish to have a balanced diet, try the following tips.

  1. Feed them twice daily.
  2. Give them frozen or fresh peas, cucumber, lettuce, and zucchini.
  3. Also, give them sweet potatoes, broccoli, and melon.
  4. Give them additional supplements like algae wafers and shrimp pellets in the evening.
  5. Remove any leftover food from the tank to avoid murky water.
  6. Seeing some leftover food in the morning is a good sign to know your sucker fish is well fed.
  7. If you see excess food left behind, you may be giving too much food; if you see no food, you may be providing less food. So keep track of your fish’s eating habits.

What Type of Tank is Necessary for a Pleco?

Plecos live a long and healthy life when kept in a large tank with a minimal crowd of other fish. More importantly, as they live in slow-flowing canals or freshwater rivers in the wild, they are accustomed to such an environment. So, there are some things needed to be maintained. (All the measurements are done on average, which can vary for different sucker fish.)

The water temperature shouldn’t be too warm or cold but between 72℉ and 80℉. The temperature can vary for different families of plecos. The water pH level needs to be between 6.5 to 7.5, and the hardness should be 5 to 19 dH.

Sucker fish can produce a lot of waste, so you need to get a good operating filter and carry out filtrations about four times every hour.

To keep your sucker fish happy, you need to get a 50– to 75-gallon aquarium tank that can accommodate your sucker fish. But, don’t use any gravel to decorate it because it may scratch their delicate undersides. Instead, use aquarium sand.

Plecos love to hunt and uproot plants to eat, so get some deep-rooted plants that are also quick growing for your little fishies. Almost forgot! Give your pleco a piece of wood to chew on because they love it, giving them extra nutrition. 

Why Did My Sucker Fish Die?

Fish are delicate animals. A slight environmental change can cause stressful situations and lead to death. They are also prone to many bacterial diseases that aren’t known when getting one.

Moreover, the shipping process of fish is very poor. The bagging to delivery process is pretty ruthless. If your fish has survived that, well, they’re a fighter. But, now you have to take care of them.

Most Common Mistakes People Make with Sucker Fish

  • Please don’t dump your new fish directly into the tank; it can cause death. Instead, leave the bag floating in the aquarium water to get used to the environment and slowly add the aquarium water to the bag to help them adjust.
  • You may think a sucker fish will grow depending on your tank. Then, you’re wrong! They can grow big and need at least a 50-gallon tank to survive.
  • Most people don’t measure the water’s pH balance or chlorine or nitrogen level. Sucker fish are susceptible to their surrounding, and a sudden change in pH can be the cause of their death.
  • Ok, your sucker fish is still alive after a month but for how long? You don’t clean or filter your tank correctly, which can lead to the death of your new fish friends.

Fish poop produces ammonia that’s toxic to them. And, what does sucker fish do? You must remember they produce a considerable amount of waste. So their tanks need cleaning every other day to balance alkaline, nitrogen, and other chemicals properly. 

Try to notice and remember closely if you have done anything like this. If you have, then your sucker fish is going to die eventually. But, if you didn’t do the things above, then maybe your pleco was suffering from a disease.

How to Check if a Fish is Sick

We have an easy method for you.

  • When buying from a pet shop, ask the employee to spread some food for the fish. If you see your choice of fish is eating well and moving fine, then your fish is healthy. But, if you see them avoid eating, they may be sick. Almost all sick fish don’t eat.
  • If you’re ordering online, try to find a trusted seller who won’t scam you. You have no way to check your fish then, so trust is the only key.

Sucker Fish as an Aquarium Pet

Sucker fish are great. They are cute, mischievous, and quite entertaining to look at. If you plan on getting one, it’s good that you stumbled upon this article and read about them first. Plecos or sucker fish need a lot of care; otherwise, you’ll lose a friend. If you’re ready for the responsibility, go for it!

Remember bringing a fish home and dumping them in the tank doesn’t end your responsibility. You must know how to care for them and help them stay healthy. We can assure you sucker fish are great aquarium pets. Be sure to choose the right one! Have a great day!

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