Gold Nugget Pleco 101: Care, Size, Breeding & More

The Gold Nugget Pleco is a gorgeous freshwater fish that has been getting more and more interest lately, and it’s not hard to see why.

This species is not only quite striking visually, but keeping them is a breeze. They won’t cause trouble in your aquarium and have very straightforward care requirements.

There’s really a lot to like about them!

And that’s why we put together this guide for you. It will teach you everything you need to know about Gold Nugget Pleco care and get you completely ready for ownership.

Species Summary

The Gold Nugget Pleco (Baryancistrus xanthellus) is a fairly popular type of pleco that can only be found in Brazil. It’s common to hear this species referred to as the Golden Nugget Pleco as well, although the “gold” variation is used more often.

Author Note: It’s also common to hear this species called L018 or L-18. This is a more exact and accurate form of identification that’s used due to the large number of freshwater catfish types that are found in the aquarium community.

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The majority of this species can be found in northern Brazil in tributaries of the Amazon River. While they can be found in other areas of the country as well, the amount drops off significantly.

It’s actually a rather recent addition to the fishkeeping community. It’s commonly reported that this species was kept in captivity for the first time in the early 1980s. Fortunately, due to their similarities to the rest of their family, there was a good starting point when it came to care protocol.

Aquarists tend to be interested in Gold Nugget Plecos because of their interesting appearance and color pattern. This makes them quite the standout when you compare them to a lot of their relatives.


The average Gold Nugget Pleco lifespan is around 5 years when kept in captivity. In the wild, this number has been reported to be a few years longer.

This lifespan assumes these fish are getting optimal care. We know some owners who take unbelievably great care of their Golden Nuggets and have had them reach the 6 and even 7-year mark!


The appearance of the Gold Nugget Pleco is what draws aquarists in from the get-go. Unlike a lot of their relatives, this species stands out no matter what!

In fact, they’re one of the most colorful freshwater fish out there. While they’re only yellow and black, the contrast and pattern on their body are quite eye-catching.

Gold Nugget Plecos are pretty much entirely black with a multitude of small yellow spots that cover their whole body. These spots are evenly spaced and roughly the same size all around.

A Gold Nugget Pleco attached to a piece of wood

The only area where this pattern isn’t present is at the end of their dorsal and caudal fins. These areas are completely yellow (with the color being a little bit brighter than the spots on their body).

When it comes to their general shape and build, these fish are right from the standard pleco mold. They have the suckermouth and head that angles down to the substrate. The body is widest around the eyes and pectoral fins and gradually gets thinner to the caudal peduncle.

These fish have very large pectoral fins that point backward (especially when they’re resting on the substrate). They have a fan-like dorsal fin and a symmetrical caudal fin that’s slightly larder.

Average Size

The average Gold Nugget Pleco size is somewhere between 7 and 10 inches in length. These are rather large fish!

Author Note: Their max size is primarily influenced by how they were raised and the quality of their diet while young. Of course, genetic factors play a role in this as well.

Gold Nugget Pleco Care

Gold Nugget Pleco care is not very complex. We recommend these fish to aquarists of all experience levels!

They’re a peaceful species that keep to themselves (most of the time). They also don’t have a very complex diet, which makes things a bit easier on you as the owner.

The one area where caring for Golden Nugget Plecos isn’t a no-brainer is with their ideal tank size. These are large fish which means you’ll need to provide them enough room to thrive. What they need isn’t anything out of the ordinary though (you just need to make more space).

Tank Size

The recommended tank size for Gold Nugget Plecos is 50 gallons at least. While other aquarists and care guides out there throw around numbers a lot smaller (like 30 gallons), we think that’s a very bad idea for these fish.

Just think about it, these fish can reach up to ten inches in length! Even though they’re bottom-feeders who don’t move a lot, their size requires a little extra room.

While they could technically survive in a tank smaller than this, it’s clear that will impact their health. If you want to maximize their lifespan, size, and happiness, give them a larger tank.

Water Parameters

The water parameters required for Gold Nugget Plecos are very manageable. While they aren’t as hardy as some of the other species in their family, the numbers you’ll be aiming for can be maintained by aquarists of all experience levels.

  • Water temperature: 73°F to 79°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5 (aim for 7)
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dH

Taking some time to perform regular water tests is essential if you want to ensure that your fish stay healthy. This is especially true during the first few weeks of ownership.

These fish can be sensitive to suboptimal water conditions, and that’s definitely the case when they’re still adjusting to a new tank. Test often at first (we like every day or two at least), then move down to every few days once everything appears stable.

Author Note: Because of their semi-sensitive nature you should be paying attention to water quality as well. Your goal should be to provide the cleanest water possible to maximize their health.

Establish a schedule for partial water changes and stick to it. Your Gold Nugget Pleco will thank you!

What To Put In Their Tank

It’s important to set up the inside of their habitat properly if you want these fish to thrive. A suboptimal habitat will lead to suboptimal health.

When planning the tank setup of a Gold Nugget Pleco you’ll want to think about the kind of waters where they’re found in the wild, and how they interact with their environment.

To start, you’ll want a nice soft substrate. A normal sandy substrate is usually your best bet since it’s what these fish are used to.

The reason the substrate is so important is that this species will spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank. Anything rough or uncomfortable will not only raise their general stress levels but potentially lead to cuts and infections.

We tend to recommend an average amount of vegetation and plant life in the tank as well. This will help keep the light that reaches the bottom under control (they’re not a fan of bright tanks) as well as improve the overall health of the water.

Your Gold Nugget Pleco will also enjoy snacking on any small pieces that fall off these plants as well. But don’t worry, they won’t eat your living plants!

It’s also very important to make sure these fish have plenty of hiding places.

Because of their natural habitat and how they interact with their environment, Golden Nugget Plecos are constantly using various forms of shelter to stay safe.

This means items such as driftwood, rocks, and caves can all be considered. Feel free to experiment with different combinations (depending on the size of your tank of course).

Our favorites are driftwood and rocks because they’re natural, and also accumulate aquarium algae for these fish to snack on.

Author Note: It’s recommended to use a high-quality filter when keeping these fish. Their tanks can get a little dirty after a while, causing unwanted changes in parameters and general water health.

Common Possible Diseases

A nice thing about Gold Nugget Plecos is they don’t have any species-specific diseases you have to worry about. Other freshwater fish have their own unique diseases on top of the standard illnesses that can plague them (which makes things more challenging from an ownership perspective).

With that being said, it’s important to be mindful of the typical freshwater diseases that can affect these fish. While they’re low-maintenance, they’re definitely not invincible!

Infections like Ich and parasites are the issues that you’ll likely face. These can have a number of different causes, with their own treatments as well.

The easiest way to reduce the risk of your Gold Nugget Pleco being affected by one of these is to simply take great care of them. This applies primarily to the quality of their water and diet.

These two aspects of care can make or break the health of your fish, so it’s important to take them seriously. If you do, there’s a good chance this species will live a long and healthy life!

Food & Diet

Coming up with a feeding plan is one of the easiest parts of Gold Nugget Pleco care. These fish are not picky eaters and will happily munch on whatever you give them.

However, it’s still important to spend some time planning their diet.

In the wild, this species is one of the best algae eaters out there. They will spend a lot of time scouring the bottom area of the water looking for algae as well as various plant and organic matter to snack on.

However, they do need some protein-rich foods as well. This means you need to provide them with a well-rounded diet just like many other plecos.

Their primary source of food in the tank should be from algae and various organic matter that reaches the substrate. In order to supplement this, most owners drop in some sinking pellets to make sure their core dietary needs are being met.

After that, we recommend some tubifex or bloodworms periodically. Think of these as a treat every other day to help provide some enrichment as well as much-needed protein to their diet.

Author Note: It’s very important to make sure you’re not overfeeding your Golden Nugget Pleco. This is quite easy to do since these fish always seem like their hungry!

Overfeeding is not only bad for your fish, but it’s bad for your aquarium as well. The water quality and nutrient levels can rapidly deteriorate with all the extra food breaking down in the water.

Behavior & Temperament

Gold Nugget Plecos are very interesting creatures. For the most part, this species is very calm and will mind their own business.

They’ll spend their time at the bottom of the tank in hiding places or on surfaces that grow algae. You won’t see much movement from them, especially during the day (they’re far more active at night).

Almost all other species of freshwater fish will be ignored by your Gold Nugget. They’re pretty much entirely consumed with hanging out in their little zone of the tank.

But when another species of catfish wanders into their space, there can be some trouble. We would classify this species as peaceful overall, but this is a situation where they lose their cool.

The reason they can get pretty territorial with other catfish is they all tend to occupy the same space. You can sometimes get away with this if you have a massive tank, but that can be challenging considering the size of the Gold Nugget Pleco.

Tank Mates

Settling on tank mates for your Golden Nugget Pleco is very simple. In fact, there’s pretty much only one rule to follow:

Avoid other catfish and plecos.

As long as you do that you should be completely fine. These fish are quite peaceful and really don’t care what other species are up to in the tank.

This is especially true for fish that spend their time in the upper half of the aquarium. They’ll almost never cross paths!

To help get you started, here are some tank mate ideas for Gold Nugget Plecos:

But that’s really just the start! There are so many amazing freshwater fish you can pair with this species, the list would just be ridiculously long if we included them all.

Author Note: Many aquarists have had success keeping different types of snails in the same aquarium as this species. It’s not a guarantee though since these large plecos can sometimes get hungry!

Gold Nugget Pleco Breeding

While there are some care guides out there that claim to have information about the Gold Nugget Breeding process, they are unfortunately mistaken.

There are no well-documented reports or guidelines for breeding methods in captivity. Simply put, this is not a species you can breed at home.

Our policy when it comes to fish with unclear breeding guidelines is to recommend avoiding it until something changes. There are many experienced aquarists who have very complex setups (bordering on fishery-level resources) who might be able to crack the code.

In the meantime, do what’s right for the fish and avoid it!

Closing Thoughts

Gold Nugget Pleco care is fun, low-maintenance, and rewarding. These freshwater fish are a breeze to keep and will add an interesting splash of color to your tank!

While there are many great plecos to consider getting for your aquarium, this species deserves a serious look. They’re one of our all-time favorites and we don’t see that opinion changing anytime soon!

If you have any questions about this fish or feedback on ways we can improve our care guides, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can get in touch with us on Facebook or through the contact form on our website.

We always love hearing from our readers!

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