Snowball Plecos are a beautiful freshwater fish that fly under the radar in the aquarium scene. They come from such a popular family that everyone seems to consider other plecos first!
But there’s a lot to like when it comes to this species. They’re beautiful, easy to care for, and are a bit smaller than some of their relatives.
Personally, we think their pattern makes them one of the prettiest freshwater fish out there. There’s something to the simplicity and contrast that makes them a joy to watch!
This guide will go over how to care for Snowball Plecos properly and provide them with a habitat where they can thrive.
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If you’re looking for a small and peaceful Pleco for your community fish tank, the Snowball Pleco (scientific name: Hypancistrus inspector) may be for you. Docile and undemanding, this freshwater fish is perfect for aquarists of all skill levels.
The Snowball Pleco comes from the Rio Negro in Venezuela, which is the largest blackwater river on the globe. Thanks to the unique water conditions of its natural habitat, the Snowball Pleco has some unique care requirements.
Luckily, the fish is quite tolerant and readily adapts to life in captivity. With the right care, they can thrive in your aquarium!
Average Snowball Pleco Size
The average Snowball Pleco size is around 5.5 and 6.3 inches in length when fully grown. Compared to other popular types of plecos, Snowballs are actually quite small.
Author Note: There have been rare instances where this species has reached 7 inches in length. However, that is extremely rare for this species.
Generally, the lifespan of a healthy Snowball Pleco will be between 8 and 10 years. That’s actually a bit shorter than the Common Pleco.
These fish depend on stable water conditions and proper husbandry in order to thrive. Without good care, they can quickly succumb to diseases, resulting in a dramatically shortened lifespan. This means if you plan on owning a Snowball Pleco, proper care is paramount.
Snowball Plecos are beautiful creatures with a familiar shape. They have that same iconic Pleco profile. This includes a flattened belly, underturned mouth, and torpedo-shaped outline.
Like other Plecos, Snowballs have splayed-out pectoral and pelvic fins. They also have a large triangular dorsal fin. In the right conditions, you might see this fin standing at attention, giving the fish a unique look.
The base coloration for Snowball Plecos is black or dark gray. Males may also have a dark brown color with a slight tinge of red. For both males and females, the base color is accented with white or pale yellow polka dots!
These dots cover the entire body. You can find them on the fins, on the head, and everywhere in between! They offer a nice contrast to the fish’s overall dark look.
Differences between males and females are pretty easy to spot. Males usually have a subtle red tone to them. Also, females are plumper and more rounded.
Author Note: Male fish also have more pronounced odontodes, which are external teeth on the side of the head.
Snowball Pleco Care
Snowball Pleco care really isn’t too difficult. As we mentioned earlier, they adapt well to life in an aquarium.
However, there are still some bases you need to cover. Like any other fish, Snowball Plecos have some unique needs you have to address if you want them to thrive. Doing so can help your fish reach its full potential and live a long, happy life!
Let’s start with tank size! Thanks to their smaller stature, you don’t need to plan ahead for massive growth like you would with other Plecos.
These fish do fine in aquariums that can hold as little as 40 gallons.
However, it’s a good idea to go larger if you plan on creating a community tank. The more space available to this fish, the better.
In fact, most of the Snowball Plecos that have lived the longest were kept in large tanks. There’s something about the extra room that makes a big difference.
Snowball Plecos come from an interesting natural environment. The Rio Negro is dark, mimicking tea-stained water. Decaying plant matter at the bottom of the river bed is what causes this distinct color.
With the darker color comes unique water composition. The water is relatively soft, but it’s also more acidic than waters you may be used to. These fish can tolerate water that’s on the neutral side, but they do best if their environment has some acidity.
To keep your Snowball Pleco healthy, recreate these water conditions as closely as possible. Purchase an aquarium thermometer and water test kit to ensure that the following parameters are stable at all times.
- Water temperature: 72°F to 86°F
- pH levels: 5.0 to 7.6 (somewhere in the middle is ideal)
- Water hardness: 6 to 10 dKH
When you initially get these fish it’s a good idea to test the water more frequently. That will help you determine if the parameters are consistent while your fish adjust.
What To Put In Their Tank
You can set up your tank with simple decorations and artificial ornaments. However, the best way to keep your Snowball Pleco happy and healthy is to create a natural environment that mimics the Rio Negro!
Pay special attention to the bottom of the tank. These fish are bottom dwellers, so they’ll spend most of their time exploring the lower part of the water column.
Start with a fine sand substrate. Sand is soft and safe for Snowball Plecos. It’s also the perfect material for plants and natural decor!
On top of the substrate, place several cave-like decorations. You can make caves out of driftwood and rocks. Artificial caves work well, too. Feel free to make your own caves with overturned plant pots if you want!
A nice series of tunnels and caves to explore is important. These fish need those hiding spots to feel secure. Plus, they will play an important role in the breeding process!
Next, add plants! You can use pretty much any freshwater plant species, so feel free to mix things up and get creative! Snowball Plecos aren’t known to uproot plants, so you can use anything that suits the biotope.
To keep the water in good shape, use a strong filtration system. In fast-moving rivers like the Rio Negro, water conditions stay good because waste is washed away. Your filter must cycle the water effectively to prevent ammonia and nitrate levels from getting too high.
Author Note: Speaking of water flow, Snowball Plecos like stronger currents. It isn’t an absolute necessity, but these fish do prefer it. You can implement some pumps or air bladders to keep things moving and increase oxygen levels.
Common Possible Diseases
There are no special diseases that target Snowball Plecos specifically. But, this species can suffer from common diseases that affect other freshwater fish.
The problem with this species is that they don’t have traditional scales like you see on other fish. Instead, they have tough armor-like plates. This makes them a bit more sensitive to chemicals, salts, and antibiotics in the water. Oftentimes, this can cause them to experience symptoms from contagious diseases a bit faster, too.
The most common disease you have to worry about is Ich. This highly contagious disease causes white spots to form all over the fish’s body. Usually, you can just use copper-based medicines to take care of the problem. However, this species is especially sensitive to copper.
Because of this, you’ll have to quarantine them and treat them naturally by manipulating water conditions. The same goes for fungal infections, bacterial infections, and parasites. Luckily, there are some Pleco-approved medications you can use to treat diseases.
As always, don’t hesitate to consult your vet if you’re unsure how to proceed.
Food & Diet
Snowball Plecos can eat a wide variety of foods. They are natural omnivores.
Outside of feeding time, you can probably find these fish chowing down on biofilm. Contrary to popular belief, these fish aren’t the best algae eaters. They may enjoy algae every once in a while, but they won’t consume it rapidly like other species in their family.
Instead, they prefer varied diets with both proteins and plant-based foods. You can give them standard sinking pellets or algae wafers as a base.
For snacks, try bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia. You can also provide vegetables such as:
- Blanched peas
- Cucumber (they really seem to like this one)
Only provide as much food that your fish can consume in a couple of minutes. Remove any leftovers to ensure that the water doesn’t sour too quickly.
Author Note: Most of their potential health issues are directly caused by poor water conditions, and excess food can lead to this. Make sure you clean the tank regularly and change between 30 and 50 percent of the water volume every week to keep things stable. This will help your fish stay healthy and avoid stress and disease.
Behavior & Temperament
Snowball Plecos aren’t very social. Most will not pay any attention to other fish in the tank. For the most part, this species will stick to themselves and spend most of their time hiding out in caves.
However, they can become more social around the breeding season. This is when there’s an obvious incentive to get out and interact with one another!
We don’t recommend keeping males together. Males in the same tank tend to exhibit territorial aggression. Females do fine with males, so make sure you have the right combination if you plan on keeping more than one in the same aquarium.
Lastly, these fish are nocturnal so don’t expect to see them much during the day! They will rest in dark caves until the sun goes down.
Thanks to their peaceful nature, you have a lot of options when creating a community tank. Try to choose other peaceful species that dwell in the upper parts of the aquarium just to be safe.
Snowball Plecos will largely ignore any tank mates, so you shouldn’t have to worry about issues as long as every fish in the tank is peaceful.
Author Note: The only time you might run into trouble is when dwarf shrimp are in the tank. Snowballs often mistake them for food!
Here are some good tank mates for the Snowball Pleco:
- Different tetra species (we recommend the Ember and Rummy Nose)
- Celestial Pearl Danio
- Large shrimp species (try the Amano)
- Various types of snails
Breeding Snowball Plecos is hit or miss. These fish are willing to breed in captivity, but you have to put a lot of effort into providing the right conditions.
Set up a separate breeding tank with pristine water conditions. Make sure that the tank has large caves.
After placing a pair of Snowball Plecos into the tank, prime the fish for breeding with food. Provide plenty of live or frozen food for the best results. If the process is successful, you’ll notice that the female will swell up with eggs. Then, she’ll lay the eggs in a cave (after investigating them for a bit).
The male will protect the eggs and may also fan them periodically. After about a week, the eggs will hatch!
After the newly-hatched fish eat their egg sacs, provide baby brine shrimp and blanched vegetables for food. These foods will provide them with the necessary nutrients to facilitate growth.
Snowball Pleco care is great for beginning aquarists or anyone who doesn’t want a high-maintenance fish. The combination of their beauty and ease of care is really hard to beat!
We highly recommend this fish if you’re still on the fence about getting one. This species is definitely one of our favorites, and we know plenty of other owners who say the same thing.
We’re more than happy to connect if you have any other questions about these fish before you buy. Just send us a message through our site and we’ll respond as soon as we can.