Clown Pleco 101: Care, Size, Diet, Lifespan, And More!

Clown plecos are a popular freshwater fish that can be found in aquariums all over the world. In fact, it seems like they might be getting even more sought after in recent years!

Here’s why:

Clown pleco care is something that any dedicated aquarist can manage as long as they’re aware of the proper conditions the fish needs. This makes them a relatively low-maintenance fish to keep, which is something a lot of people love.

They’re also a neat-looking fish that can spruce up the bottom of your tank. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t get too into aesthetics when it comes to fish, you’ll probably enjoy them!

And lastly, their behavior is something that any aquarist can appreciate. Not only are they fun to watch move around the bottom and nibble on driftwood (more on that below), but they get along well with a lot of other species.

This is why they’re one of our favorite bottom-feeder fish. We find ourselves recommending them quite often!

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In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of clown pleco care and everything else you need to know about this fish. If you’re interested in getting one for yourself you’ve come to the right place!

Species Summary

Clown plecos (scientific name: Panaque maccus) are naturally found primarily in Venezuela but have been documented in Columbia as well. The most heavily condensed areas where they live are in the Caroni and Apure River basins which cover a significant amount of ground across the country.

These river basins are packed full of driftwood and other pieces of wood due to the combination of trees and vegetation along the shore of the fast-moving water. Since clown plecos are so used to this natural habitat, they are quite adept at finding places to hide and eat among the woody bottom.

Due to the amount of decaying vegetation in their natural habitat these fish are quite good at dealing with low-visibility and slightly dirty water. This hardiness is something that many aquarium catfish species have, and the clown pleco is no exception.

In general, these are some of the most popular types of plecos in the aquarium scene. They’re found in tanks all over the world!


The typical clown pleco lifespan is between 10-12 years when properly taken care of. This is one of our favorite parts of owning this fish because you’ll have quite a long time to develop a bond.

Just like any other fish, you can drastically shorten the lifespan of your clown pleco if you don’t provide them with the proper living conditions. Poor diet, bad water quality, and a constant state of stress will quickly shave years off their life.

Don’t let their hardy nature trick you into thinking they can handle subpar care!


The appearance of the clown pleco is quite beautiful. These fish have a series of distinct patterns that make them stand out no matter who they’re sharing a tank with!

The primary base of this fish is black with brighter colored bands that stretch around their whole body in different patterns. These bright sections are usually either whiteish-yellow or orange. 

The vibrancy and patterns of their coloration can vary depending on a number of genetic factors in addition to the health of the fish (especially during development). It’s also very common for wild clown plecos to have brighter colors than ones in captivity.

Clown pleco on substrate

The bodies of these fish fit the standard pleco mold (compare them to the bristlenose pleco for an example). This means a large, thick head and body from the front of their dorsal fin up. Around the start of their dorsal fin you’ll see that they begin to slim out quite a bit all the way to the caudal peduncle.

They have a very tall and pronounced dorsal fin that fans out quite a bit. Their pectoral fins are also very large and will often rest behind them when they’re laying on the substrate or on top of some driftwood.

The caudal fin of a clown pleco is about the same size as their dorsal fin in terms of surface area. Sometimes you’ll see it fully splayed out and other times they will compress it a bit.

Clown Pleco Size

The average clown pleco size is roughly 3 and a half inches long. Their max size is somewhere in the 4-inch range but that’s very uncommon.

Clown pleco size can be influenced by a number of factors (both controllable and not). The primary two are genetics and the level of care you provide.

Clown Pleco Care

Clown pleco care is very low maintenance and straightforward. Aquarists of all experience levels successfully keep these fish without any problems.

As long as you provide them with the right environment and stay consistent with monitoring the water, you’ll be just fine.

Tank Size

The recommended tank size for clown plecos is 20 gallons at minimum. These are small fish and don’t do a ton of swimming around, so you won’t need to get a massive tank in order to make them comfortable.

If you plan on keeping multiple clown plecos in the same aquarium you’ll need to increase this. Simply tack on an additional 10 gallons for each new clown pleco you want to keep!

Water Parameters

Even though clown plecos are hardy fish, you should always work hard to maintain the recommended water parameters. Keeping levels consistent really isn’t that tricky once you get the hang of it, and it will go a long way in making sure they’re happy and healthy.

  • Water temperature: 73°F-82°F
  • pH levels: 6.8 to 7.6 is ideal
  • Water hardness: 10 dGH

What To Put In Their Tank

When it comes to setting up a habitat for clown plecos you want to mimic their natural environment as much as possible. In this case, that means a lot of driftwood!

Driftwood and clown plecos are like peanut butter and jelly. These fish love to hide in, explore and even snack on driftwood.

Author Note: Driftwood is actually an important part of their diet, so don’t view this as optional. They have adapted to get a significant amount of nutrients from using it as a food source.

You’ll also want to throw in some rocks and plants to mix things up. These will not only provide great hiding places for your clown pleco, but they’ll serve as effective algae growing surfaces as well.

A lot of the standard plant choices like hornwort will work with these fish. As long as they aren’t dominating the tank you should be fine.

Common Potential Diseases

Clown plecos do not have a particular disease that plagues their species. That is a major benefit to owning one!

With that being said, they can be affected by some of the other common aquatic diseases. Among them are ich and a variety of different infections or parasites.

Fortunately, these are all very preventable if you maintain the water quality in their habitat. Poor water quality drastically increases the chances of your clown pleco getting sick.

If you perform regular water changes, monitor parameters, and feed them a well-balanced diet they will likely be just fine!

Food & Diet

The ideal clown pleco diet will consist of many things they eat in the wild and supplement what isn’t convenient. The name of the game is to shoot for balance when it comes to nutrition and avoid overfeeding them.

One of the main pieces of their diet will be algae. While they can’t live off algae as their sole source of food, they will get a lot of nutritional value from it.

You can facilitate algae grown by including driftwood, rocks, and plants in their habitat. Anything you can rest on the substrate where algae can grow is good!

A good clown pleco diet will also consist of various sinking plant-based food. Algae wafers are a great option as well as vegetables like lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, and peas.

Lastly, there should be some meat in their diet to help provide them with enough protein. The two most common choices are bloodworm and daphnia. You want to make these the occasional snack (2-3 times per week), not a daily food.

Behavior & Temperament

The general temperament of clown plecos is very mellow and peaceful. They are quite happy doing their own thing at the bottom of the aquarium, and will rarely show interest in other fish.

A lot of the time you’ll observe this fish either hunkering down near their driftwood or slowly moving around the bottom as they scavenge.

Author Note: Clown plecos are often found laying on top of driftwood (either eating algae or resting). It’s just what they know!

Another thing that surprises a lot of new owners is the amount of driftwood that these fish will snack on. Since this is behavior that a lot of other fish don’t exhibit, it can look really strange until you get used to it!

The one situation where their kind temperament can change is when you have more than one male in the same tank. Two or more male plecos are definitely capable of showing aggression to each other over territory.

If you give them enough space it will reduce the chance of this happening, but it’s no guarantee. If two males like the same piece of driftwood there might be a rumble.

Tank Mates

Clown plecos have a large number of compatible tank mates. This is another reason why these fish are so easy to keep. It’s a luxury to not have to agonize over tank mate pairings and instead simply rely on some general guidelines.

Here are a handful of tank mates that aquarists tend to prefer. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but you can use it to get some ideas!

Author Note: The biggest rules to follow when it comes to clown pleco tank mates is to always avoid aggressiveness and large size differences. Fish that are prone to aggression and fighting (like the flowerhorn cichlid) need their own custom plan for compatibility. Also significantly larger fish might scarf down your clown pleco without malicious intent, they’re just hungry!

Clown Pleco Breeding

Clown pleco breeding is full of conflicting opinions among aquarists. While some people say they’re easy to breed, others say they’re too hard to even attempt!

So to set the record straight, it’s definitely possible to breed clown plecos. However, it requires a little bit of setup.

You’ll want to set up a breeding tank that follows a lot of the same rules as their normal aquarium. Lots of driftwood and places to hide is a must since this is where they will spawn. A common tactic is to place a simple wooden cave in the tank since they will usually make use of these.

It’s also recommended to lower the water temperature a little bit leading up to the breeding process. This will mimic the rainy time of year when they tend to spawn in the wild. You should also raise the pH levels just a tad during this period as well.

Another good trick that will help stimulate breeding is to increase the amount of protein-rich food in their diet. Bloodworms and other go-to options will do the trick.

Once the eggs are in the cave the male will guard the area quite seriously for a few weeks until they’ve hatched. When this happens you can separate them and begin feeding the newborn clown plecos with a mixture of proteins. algae, and driftwood.

Wrapping Up

Clown pleco care can be done by anyone, new or experienced. These fish are about as low maintenance as it can possibly get!

As long as you set up the proper tank habitat, stick to the recommended water parameters, and keep them with other non-aggressive species they will be just fine.

Despite the ease of care, the clown pleco is a very rewarding fish to keep. Their beauty and unique behavior make them stand out in any tank.

Their long lifespan means you’ll have them for quite a while too!

If you’re someone who’s on the fence about getting a clown pleco of your own, go for it. We really can’t recommend these fish enough.

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