Clown Plecostomus: Complete Care Profile

The clown pleco (Panaqolus maccus) is a gentle-tempered, South American freshwater fish.

Panaqolus maccus also known as clown pleco dwelling the dark aquarium substrate in a search for algae

This bottom-dweller sometimes referred to as the ringlet pleco, has beautifully banded coloration and is well-loved for home aquariums as low maintenance, easy to care for algae eater.

At a Glance

Tank Size: 20 gallons, minimum tank size
Group Size: Single or in groups
Water Temperature: 73 to 82°F (23 to 28°C)
pH: 6.8 to 7.6
Hardness: 10 dGH
Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
Breeding: Egg layer
Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm)
Usual Place in the Tank: Bottom

Natural Habitat

The clown pleco’s natural habitat is the waters of Venezuela. These waters are soft, with a neutral pH, a swift current, and heavy vegetation.

Clown plecos live primarily in the Caroni and Apure River basins – two major river systems that cover a good amount of territory.

These rivers’ bottoms are littered with plant matter, rocks, and most importantly, sticks and driftwood due to the heavily forested regions through which these rivers flow.Decaying vegetation often results in less clear and low light water conditions.

Seasonal variations impact the habitat’s water parameters.The clown pleco is accustomed to the changes in water temperature, pH, and hardness brought on during dry, cool winters and warm, rainy summers.

In an aquarium setting, this is important to remember as these triggers are associated with the fish’s breeding cycle.

Appearance and Biology

Clown pleco hiding in a grotto with algae in a freshwater aquarium

Like most plecos species, clown plecos have a larger head and body that slims and tapers toward the tail.

Their pectoral, dorsal, and caudal fins are large and can be expanded or folded down when the fish is at rest. Their underside is flat, and they have a suckermouth.

The color patterns on the clown pleco are especially beautiful. The fish’s body is black or dark brown with white-yellow bands that traverse the circumference.

The pattern varies from fish to fish, but the overall result is a rippled effect. The vibrancy of the colors depends on genetics, age, and the overall health of the fish.

Gender Differences

Determining the gender of your clown pleco can be a challenge, especially when the fish are young.Once they reach breeding age or about one year old, you may notice differences in the body sizes and shapes.

Females can be larger and more rounded when they are carrying eggs.

Males tend to be slimmer. Also, males may have more whiskers around the mouth as well as long odontodes on the head and dorsal fin.


When you purchase a clown pleco, it will typically be a juvenile, around 1.5 to two inches (4 to 5 cm).

As they grow to maturity, the fish will reach a length between three to four inches (8 to 10 cm). Due to their small size, clown plecos are considered “dwarf pleco”.

Genetics, environmental aspects, such as water quality, or the quality of their diet can impact the adult size of your fish.


You will have plenty of time to bond with your clown pleco. This long-lived species can grace your tank anywhere from 10 to 12 years.

Naturally, your fish’s lifespan depends heavily on the care you provide, so if you plan to invest in this fish, make sure you provide good care.


The clown pleco is a naturally gentle species. They prefer scooting around the bottom or sides of the tank, feeding off driftwood and algae.

They get along well with other species. Occasionally, male clown plecos can show a territorial behavior.

Ensuring that the tank size is adequate to allow each male to establish a territory can help to alleviate any aggression.

These fish are nocturnal. They tend to hide in shaded areas, such as caves or driftwood, during the day and roam around feeding at night.

How many per gallon?

Plan on a 20-gallon tank to accommodate a single clown pleco.Add on 20 gallons for each additional male and 10 gallons for each female.

These tank sizes will allow the fish to establish their own territories and should reduce incidents of aggression.

Tank setup

Once you have determined the tank size you need, consider a tank that is longer than it is tall. As your clown pleco spends most of its time along the bottom of the tank, this will allow more territory.

Other things to consider are décor that mimics the clown pleco’s natural habitat and appropriate filtration for the waste the fish will produce.


Because the clown pleco is a bottom dweller, start with a fine, soft substrate. Live plants, such as hornwort or floating plants, will provide nice, shaded areas for your fish.

Because your fish may snack on any plants you include, consider both fast and slow-growing options.

Adding rocks and caves will give your clown pleco places to shelter during the day as well as surfaces on which algae and biofilm can grow. Your clown pleco will snack on these growths.

Most importantly, place plenty of driftwood. This “decoration” is essential for the overall health of your clown pleco. In the wild, these fish get most of their nutrients from feeding off driftwood.

Water Conditions

The clown pleco’s natural habitat includes significant seasonal variations in water parameters, including temperature and water hardness.These changes signal the breeding season, among other things.

Do not take the clown pleco’s tolerance to mean that it is acceptable to ignore water quality. As with any fish, stable water and tank conditions mean healthier fish.

Keep the water temperature in the range of 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 28 degrees C).

The pH range should be between 6.8 to 7.6 and the hardness around 10 dGH. Perform regular partial water changes to keep the chemical levels and buildup of wastes in check.


Install a heater to keep the tank on the warmer side of the temperature range. In addition to maintaining a stable temperature, a heater will also allow you to lower the water temperature when you are ready for your fish to breed.

Because the clown pleco produces a higher amount of waste, plan on a quality filtration system. A good-sized HOB or canister filter or one with replaceable filters will do well.

Your filtration system should produce a moderate water flow. Add an air stone to ensure the bottom area of the tank is well oxygenated.

Tank Mates

We have already mentioned the clown pleco’s peaceful nature. As such, they are a great tank mate for similarly-sized, non-aggressive fish.

The key is to avoid any aggressive fish or any larger species that would consider the slower clown pleco a snack.

Consider the following to pair with your clown pleco:

Avoid the following:

Food and Diet

This bottom-feeding species can scavenge many types of foods, but the most important to include in the clown pleco’s diet is driftwood.

They will also feed off any algae or biofilm growing on rocks or decorations in the tank.

Round out your pleco’s diet with other vegetable sources.

They will eat yams, cucumbers, lettuce, zucchini, peas, or blanched vegetables. Adding in these vegetables may keep your plecos from eating your aquatic plants.

In addition, toss in some sinking algae wafers or spirulina pellets daily.

Finally, offer weekly protein meals of bloodworm, brine shrimp, or daphnia. These protein sources are essential when preparing to breed your clown plecos.

Feed your fish in the evening as they are nocturnal.


Breeding your clown plecos can be challenging in a home setting as certain criteria trigger the species to spawn.

Set up a separate breeding tank with plenty of driftwood and a PVC or wooden cave.

Feeding Prior to Spawning

In the weeks prior to spawning, offer live foods, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia, once or twice per week.

Water Conditions

In the wild, spawning is triggered by water parameter changes during the rainy season.

In the two weeks before spawning, slowly raise the water temperature to the higher end of the spectrum (closer to 82 degrees F (28 degrees C).

Then, do a large-volume water replacement (up to half of the water in the tank) with filtered, soft, cool water (around 70 degrees F, or 21 degrees C). Slightly raise the water pH.

Eggs and Fry

The female will then lay her eggs, usually in the cave if you have provided one.

The male will guard and care for the eggs until they hatch, typically within a few weeks. Once the eggs hatch, you can remove the male.

The newborn fry will eat algae and driftwood.


Clown plecos are very hardy and tolerate a range of tank conditions.Also, they are not prone to any specific diseases other than common tank ailments.

In particular, be on the lookout for ich. This disease is more common in poor water or tank conditions, so keep on top of these to ensure your fish is as healthy as possible.

If your fish does become infected, separate it as soon as possible and treat it with a medication you can purchase from your local provider.

In addition, make sure that your clown pleco has plenty of driftwood as part of its diet. The fish can be prone to more infections if its diet does not include enough of the fibrous nutrients the wood provides.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do clown plecos need to be in groups?

Clown plecos do not need to be in groups. They are perfectly happy on their own.

If you plan to keep a group of plecos, make sure you have a large enough tank so that each fish can establish its own territory.

2. How big does a clown pleco get?

Clown plecos are considered “dwarf plecos.” When you first purchase them, they may be in the 1.5- to two-inch size range (4 to 5 cm).

They will grow to a maximum of three to four inches (8 to 10 cm). Your adult females may be slightly larger than the males.

3. Are clown plecos aggressive?

No. If you are looking for a peaceful addition to your home aquarium, the clown pleco is a great choice.

Some aggression can occur if you keep multiple plecos in too small of a tank.

4. Do clown plecos need driftwood?

Yes! Driftwood is a vital part of a clown pleco’s diet. It provides most of their nutrients, and the fiber keeps their digestive system functioning properly.

For any tank, including a clown pleco, driftwood is not an option – it is a requirement.

5. How many clown plecos can I put in a 55-gallon tank?

A single clown pleco requires a 20-gallon tank. For each additional male pleco, add 20 gallons.For each additional female, add 10 gallons.

So for a 55-gallon tank, the maximum number of clown plecos would be four.

Final Recommendations

A gentle addition to your community tank, the clown pleco is easy to care for and long-lived.

You can find them online in the $5 to $8 price range. Remember that driftwood and an adequate filtration system are required to feed your fish and keep the water quality high.

Have you kept clown plecos?

What is your preferred filtration system to keep the water quality high?

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