The rubber lip pleco is a freshwater fish that many aquarists don’t know much about. In fact, when you look around online there aren’t any comprehensive resources available on them!
One of the main reasons for this is that most fishkeepers flock to their relative, the bristlenose pleco. This is something we’ve never really understood because the rubber lip pleco is just as easy to care for and looks fairly similar.
Regardless, we thought it would be a good idea to create a resource on this fish to help any aquarist who might be considering getting one for themselves.
This guide covers everything you need to know about ribber lip pleco care. Water requirements, tank size, ideal diet, and more!
Table of Contents
Rubber lip plecos (Chaetostoma milesi) are a freshwater fish that come from South America. Other common names for this fish are the rubber lipped pleco and the rubbernose pleco.
This species can primarily be found in the Magdalena River in Columbia and the Apure River in Venezuela. However, they have been found in smaller rivers and streams that tie in with these larger rivers as well.
These rivers undergo a fair amount of change during the rainy season. Temperature, water levels, and various parameters all shift during this time. This means rubber lipped plecos are rather hardy and able to tolerate a decent range of water conditions.
In the wild, this species eats mostly algae and spends its time near the substrate since it is a bottom-feeder. This information is important to know since it will impact how you prepare their tank (more on that a bit later).
The average rubber lip pleco lifespan is around 10-12 years with good care. This assumes that you’re providing them with an optimal habitat and a great diet.
Author Note: It’s important to point out that elevated stress levels can have a negative impact on the lifespan of this fish. If you pair them with the wrong tank mate it can cause them to live in a constant nervous state, which will affect how long they live.
The rubber lip pleco has the classic “pleco” appearance. This has led to them being confused with other species of pleco by owners and breeders alike.
Their body is pretty much the exact pleco mold that you would expect. They have a large sucker mouth with a bit of a snout that slopes upward toward the top of their head. Near the eyes, their body begins to taper gradually all the way to the base of their caudal fin.
Their eyes are positioned near the top of their head and are slightly elevated. This allows them to keep a lookout for predators while they scavenge near the bottom. They’re pretty much always munching on (or suctioned to) something, so they only need to keep tabs on what’s above them!
Their fins are what you would expect from a pleco as well. Their dorsal fin begins roughly a third of the way back on their body and fans out like a large sail being pulled backward. Depending on the current or what they’re doing, this fin might lay very close to their body, or stick up a bit higher.
The same can be said for their caudal fin. It looks significantly smaller when they’re not using it to swim.
Their pectoral fins usually look quite useless until their actually swimming. This is because they tend to lay limp at their sides when they’re resting on a surface.
In terms of coloration, the rubber lip pleco can vary a bit within the spectrum of grey to pale gold. This is based on natural genetic factors, age, and gender.
These fish have an interesting pattern of dark lines that cover their bodies. The first line usually starts near the front of their pectoral fin and they get straighter and closer together the further back they go. They also have small dark dots that cover their face.
The average max size of the rubber lip pleco is around 7 inches in length. They aren’t very big fish unlike some of the other popular plecos out there, which makes them a great pet for home aquariums.
Their size will be impacted by diet, genetics, and general quality of care. However, it’s extremely uncommon for these fish to exceed 7 inches.
Rubber Lip Pleco Care
Rubber lip pleco care is not very challenging, and something that aquarists with minimal experience can handle. These fish are pretty hardy due to their varying conditions they come from which means you have a bit of a safety net when setting up their tank.
However, it’s always a good idea to have an understanding of what the ideal conditions are so you can provide the best care possible. A good owner always aims for perfection!
Our recommended tank size for one rubber lip pleco is 25-30 gallons. This is an area where you’ll probably hear some conflicting numbers, but we like to err on the safe side.
Some owners say that tanks as small as 15 gallons are fine for this species but we disagree. That might be ok when they’re not fully-grown, but once they reach their max size that’s simply not enough tank for them to be comfortable.
Fish that are crammed into small aquariums rarely reach their maximum lifespan. Not only that, but it’s simply unfair to the fish. If you’re not prepared to give a fish what they need to thrive, don’t get one at all.
The ideal water parameters for rubber lipped plecos are very owner-friendly. The recommended ranges are quite generous which gives you a bit of wiggle room.
- Water temperature: 72°F to 80°F
- pH levels: 6.5 to 8
- Water hardness: 8 to 12 KH
Even though these water parameters give you a bit of room to work, it’s important to perform regular water tests to monitor these levels. Get a high-quality testing kit so you can be sure that the readings you’re getting back are accurate.
Author Note: When performing water changes you should be very cautious. These fish can be sensitive to parameter shifts, so don’t do too much at a time.
What To Put In Their Tank
One of the most important things you can include in their tank is plants. Rubber lip plecos are used to a heavy amount of vegetation in their natural habitats, so they will go a long way in making sure they feel comfortable.
Any of the best floating plants can work, but feel free to experiment if you want. Plants of any kind provide a lot of benefits to your tank by filtering and oxygenating the water. They’ll also be a welcome snack for your rubber lipped pleco to nibble on!
Driftwood and rocks are also smart things to include. This species loves to scavenge and investigate various surfaces, and including these will provide exactly that.
These will also be used as places to hide if your fish wants to get some privacy. Rubber lipped plecos don’t do well in a bare tank, so it’s crucial that you provide them with things that help them feel safe.
The rubber lip pleco doesn’t have a disease that attacks the species specifically. This is obviously good news but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing for you to worry about.
Ich and other kinds of bacterial infections are all things to be wary of. This species is not very fragile, but they’re not invincible.
Preventative care is the most important course of action you can take. Be diligent about maintaining top-notch water quality and not introducing poor food into their diet.
Take some time each day to inspect your fish. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just spend a few minutes watching them. Look for anything out of the ordinary on their body or in their behavior.
White spots, damaged fins, a lack of appetite, or general lethargy are all signs that there’s a problem. From there you can start to address the issue directly.
Rubber Lip Pleco Diet & Food
This is where some people get a little bit mixed up. In the wild, rubber lip pleco diets consist almost entirely of algae. This is sustainable because of the combination of their behavior and the nutritional makeup of the algae they eat.
But in captivity, you can’t rely on aquarium algae alone. Here’s why:
It’s pretty much impossible to create enough naturally occurring algae in an aquarium without compromising the general water quality (some aquarists pull it off but it’s very tricky). You’ll end up spending way more time than you want on this, and for little benefit.
The other reason why naturally-growing algae isn’t a good option is due to their behavior. In captivity, the rubber lipped pleco will be totally fine eating veggies and algae-based foods that you give them. These give them everything they need, which means they don’t feel the need to scavenge as aggressively.
Some of our favorite food and diet options for these fish are algae flakes or wafers, leafy greens, cucumbers, and peas. As you can see, sticking to a plant-based diet is highly recommended.
Author Note: In order to avoid overfeeding these fish it’s important to monitor them during feeding time (especially early on in your ownership). Feed them twice a day and don’t give them more food than they can eat in a couple of minutes. Always watch for any uneaten food that might fall to the substrate as well.
Behavior & Temperament
This is one of the easiest parts of rubber lip pleco care. These fish are extremely peaceful and don’t want to cause any problems with others. They’re one of the most peaceful freshwater species we know of!
Their general activity level is very mellow. You’ll often see them parked in one place or slowly working their way around a protected hiding spot.
When they’re out in the open they’ll usually be using their sucker mouth to latch onto a surface they’re interested in. This can be particularly entertaining if it’s the glass of your aquarium!
If you’re an owner that wants a highly active fish then it’s a good idea to pass on the rubber lip pleco. We don’t think they’re boring by any means, but you shouldn’t expect a regular swimming display from them either.
Now that you understand their behavior, it’s time to go over some viable rubber lip pleco tank mates.
The general rules you should follow when picking a tank mate is temperament. Never pair these fish with an aggressive species, because they’re too peaceful to fight back.
You want to match them up with other peaceful fish that want to mind their own business. As long as they’re not massive or feisty, you’ll probably be just fine.
Here are some example tank mates that will work well:
This list is just a sample of the tank mate options you have. As long as you stick to the guidelines we mentioned above you should be just fine.
Author Note: It’s worth noting that rubber lip plecos have been known to get territorial with other plecos from time to time. This means if you’re considering having them share a tank with a bristlenose or clown pleco you’ll need to ensure that they have plenty of space and an area to call their own.
Breeding rubber lipped plecos is something of a mystery in the aquarist community. There haven’t been any verified reports or case studies of owners pulling this off successfully in a home aquarium.
Because of this, we don’t want to give broad advice since that won’t be very useful. The breeding process can be taxing on your fish no matter if it’s successful or not. We believe that you shouldn’t attempt breeding unless you’re confident in the outcome.
If you know of anyone who has successfully bred rubber lip plecos we would love to hear from them and feature their tips in this guide.
Now that you have an understanding of what it takes to care for a rubber lip pleco, it’s time to decide if it’s right for you. These are interesting creatures that are a great fit for the right kind of aquarist.
If you’re looking for a unique and easy to care for fish that isn’t super popular, this could be the species for you. We’ve always found the rubber nose pleco to be quite enjoyable to observe no matter what it’s doing!
As always, we welcome any feedback or suggestions on how to improve this guide. We’re dedicated to providing the best fish care guides online and need your help to do it!