Sailfin Pleco aka Gibbiceps – Leopard Pleco – Care, Diet, Breeding, and Tank Mates

10inch Sailfin Pleco in my tank


Sailfin pleco (Sometimes also called Gibbiceps, Leopard Pleco or Sailfin Pleco) is found naturally in the freshwaters of Amazon basins in tropical South and Central America. It is mostly active in the night and behaves in a rather friendly manner with other tank mates.

Sailfin pleco usually grows into a large size and stays very comfortable in a moderate water flow tank. The bigger the size of the tank, the better as it will enhance its ease of survival and movements.

The sailfin pleco has an excellent ability to keep the water environment clean, which makes it quite different from other species. It is very difficult to breed while in the tank, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the happiest fishes to raise in the aquarium.

This article will take you through everything you’ll need to know about the sailfin pleco. After reading this, you’ll develop enough confidence to start building your own Gibbiceps aquarium.

Profile: Sailfin Pleco
Latin Name Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps
Native Habitat Central to South America
Family Loricariidae
Care Difficulty Moderate to hard
Lifespan 10 – 15 years
Behavior Peaceful
Size At most 24 inches


Just as the name implies, the sailfin pleco features a fin with the shape of a yacht’s sail. The fins are specially contoured, which makes it very attractive and beautiful. This fish was first brought to limelight by the famous explorer named Kner.

It is a member of the Loricariidae family, and its Latin name is Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps. The sailfin pleco can be bought in most of the fishes stores online at an affordable price. Caring for this fish is not as expensive as you may think which you’ll find out as we progress.

In terms of feeding, sailfin pleco is a lover of algae. Since they can source for dead foods; it’ll be out of place to categorize it among herbivores. Thus, we say with confidence that they are omnivorous, just like humans.

Their natural habitat is the fresh waters of Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. Their main place of origin is the Amazon river. If you’re not comfortable to address it as sailfin pleco, you can call it Gibby or leopard pleco.

The spots on the skin of the sailfin pleco are responsible for its unique looks which makes them very catchy to the eye. However, sailfin plecos are inactive during daytime but will always stay awake and active in the night only.

They tend to grow very fast into a large size. It is a big fish and can grow to 19.7 inches long in an adult. With this in mind, you’ll start considering building a bigger tank for its sustenance.

They’re among the most peaceful fishes to be kept in the aquarium as pets. They’re easy going with other tank mates without signs of aggression or territoriality.


It is important that we reiterate that the sailfin pleco is nocturnal. This implies that its level of activity in the daytime will be very minimal. In most cases, you’ll think that they’re naturally timid if you’re judging by their daytime activity only.

When they come out of their hiding in the night, you’ll notice that they’re very active and happy. They like dwelling in the bottom of the aquarium as they navigate their way through the waters.

One of the most spectacular things about the sailfin pleco is their ability to clean the bottom of the water from being infested with algae as they continue to move around.

While they may eat algae in the process, it is important to note that their diet should be mixed to enhance its growth and development. As omnivores, they require a variety of foods to stay healthy.

In as much as they’re very friendly to other tank mates, it’s rather ideal to keep it alone in the tank because of space constraints as it grows bigger.


The sailfin pleco has an elongated body which is covered by scales. Their head is big with tiny eyes which tend to glow in the dark. Their ability to see clearly in the dark is further enhanced by the location of their eyes which is high on the head.

When they’re raised in their natural environments, they grow big and lead longer lives. However, their lifespan is shortened if they’re kept in captivity and they may not reach its full size as well.

You’ll notice that their body is brownish in color with some spots that enhances its attractiveness in the dark. Their skins can be likened to that of a leopard because of its brown coloring with spots. Thus, the name leopard pleco.

The color of the juvenile pleco is not very different from the adult as the color does not change in the course of its lifetime.

Another attractive feature of the sailfin pleco is the fin which is very beautiful with looks more like the marine sailfish.

The dorsal fins of the sailfin pleco are made of rays which sets them apart from other species. Interestingly, you’ll notice that there are over ten rays on its dorsal fin.


As we said earlier, the sailfin pleco has a unique lifespan. It thrives more in its natural environment, but it does not live long if kept in captivity.

Fortunately, most plecos live up to 20 years if they’re bred in the wild. They can hardly live for more than 15 years if they’re kept in the aquarium.

Distinguishing between male and female

If you don’t have the required experiences, it’ll be difficult to differentiate its sexes. However, if you’re familiar with this species of fish, you can easily separate the females from the males by taking a closer look at their genital papilla.

For the males, the genital papilla is small with a thick pointy stub; while the females are flat as the rest of the body.

Types of plecos

There are many types of plecos out there. Each of them has its unique characteristics. Here are a few of the most favorite plecos out there.

Common pleco

The common pleco is known as Hypostomus Plecostomus. Just as the name implies, it is the most common type of pleco among tank owners.

It is one of the largest among its kind and can grow to an average length of 24 inches. Their original habitat is the freshwaters in North-Eastern South America. Nevertheless, they can thrive in any river or lake in the world.

They’re mostly herbivores but can eat anything that it feels like. Based on its size, it’ll be wise to keep it in a tank of 120 gallons and above.

Candy Striped Pleco

The candy striped pleco is renowned for its friendly temperament and beauty. Its Latin name is Peckoltia vittata. The body of this fish is marked by vertical stripes making it one of the most attractive plecos you’ll ever find.

Its size contributes to its amusing behavior as the adult grows to a maximum length of 4 inches. Naturally, they are found in the tributaries of the great Amazon river.

Snowball Pleco

The scientific name for Snowball pleco is Hypancistrus inspector. One of the reasons for its name (hypancistrus) is the fewer number of teeth it has compared to other plecos. The other name ‘inspector’ which means observer in English is to depict its bulky eyes.

They have black and dark red colors with a few white spots. They grow to a maximum length of 8 inches. And the males have a more reddish look compared to the females making it easier to differentiate the sexes.

To complement their beauty, the tips of the caudal fin and dorsal fins are pure white.

Their natural environment is the Rio Negro river. Its tank must be at least 55 gallons. It should be fed with a mixture of fresh leaves and frozen foods. Mostly, the diet should contain a little protein.

Butterfly Pleco

The butterfly pleco is also known as Dekeyseria brachyura. They’re mostly found in the Rio Negro river which empties into the Amazon river. They have special stripes on the body. Moreover, they appear in diverse colors but the most common are tan and chocolate brown.

Interestingly, they have an exceptional ability to camouflage. They can take up the color on the background to hide from predators. The adult can reach a length of 5 inches.

Royal Pleco

The royal pleco has some horizontal stripes and grayish brown color on the body. The eyes are red and have been known to consume all manner of wood. They are often called Royal catfish with a scientific name of Panaque nigrolineatus.

It is among the most armored catfish with a soft underside. This body structure is responsible for its slow movement in the water.

Royal plecos have their natural habitat in the freshwater basins of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Their main abode is in caves, driftwoods, and rocks at the bottom of the river.

Vampire Pleco

Its scientific name is Leporacanthicus galaxias. Their main dwelling place is the cave at the bottom of the water. Nevertheless, they prefer a fast moving water body with much supply of oxygen.

The vampire pleco species are beautiful and attractive. It has a dark gray color with white spots. The adults grow to a length of 10 inches. It is very difficult to differentiate the males from the females except by venting.

They can be found in the rivers of Venezuela and Brazil. Vampire plecos can live peaceably with any other species.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose pleco can be called different names such as bushy nose plecos or bristlenose catfish. Their scientific name is the Ancistrus Temminckii. They have tentacles or whiskers on their heads which is responsible for its association with the cat.

Their small size makes it one of the most popular fishes among fishkeepers. Since they can only grow to a maximum size of 4 inches, they can be bred in smaller tanks.

Fortunately, they’re very easy to breed as long as you can keep two adults together then reproduction will begin automatically. They’re herbivores and can always take the usually served fish foods.

Their natural habitat is the Suriname and Maroni river. They thrive well in water environments with moderate water currents, rocks, and plants.

Sunshine Pleco

Sunshine pleco is popularly known as golden plecos among fishkeeping enthusiasts. Their scientific name is Scobinancistrus aureatus. Thus, the word ‘aureatu’ which is Greek means ‘golden’ in English.

Their unique appearance which is aided by a yellow/gold color makes it one of the most popular species for many aquarium owners.

It is very easy to differentiate the males from the females. The bodies of the males are larger and tend to reflect more light than the females.

They are available in the slow-flowing rivers in South America. They thrive in a water temperature range of 77° – 84°F.

Blue Eyed Pleco

Its scientific name is Orectolobus wardi. It belongs to the catfish family of the Panaque genus. The most distinguishing feature of this fish is their spoon-shaped teeth.

The adults can grow to a maximum length of 14 inches. The origin of the common name is derived from the color of their eyes which is blue and turquoise.

Separating the male from the female is very difficult except by venting. They are not easy to be found even though they’re most sought after by fish keepers.

One of the reasons for its paucity is the difficulty in its breeding. They can only survive in the wild or in controlled river waters.

Blue eyed plecos can be found in the river basins of Columbia. When kept in the tank, they tend to swim slowly which indicates their penchant for slow waters.


Sailfin pleco can feed on almost anything which includes plants and animals. When in the wild, it can feed on decaying fishes and algae. However, its major diet is algae and this versatility in feeding makes it be placed among omnivorous.

When they’re kept in the aquarium, their food shouldn’t be devoid of algae. If you’re to compare the feeding pattern of the sailfin pleco with other species, you’ll discover that they’re easier to feed. With this, they’re easier to be kept as a pet.

You can place short wood in the tank to serve some purposes which include decoration and special abode for the fish. Another reason for adding the wood is to induce the growth of algae which will serve as food for the fish. Moreover, the woods produce cellulose which helps in the fish’s metabolism.

You can feed pleco with fish pellets, algae foods, and dead meat. You shouldn’t feed them with flakes since it’s not part of their diets.


It might be easier to keep pleco in the aquarium as a pet, but breeding it is rather difficult. One of the reasons for the difficulty in breeding is the inability to differentiate between the male and the female with ease.

It’ll require experience and training to observe the protruding genital papilla of the males in contrast with that of the females.

Sailfin plecos can only be bred in commercial quantities. This is done by keeping them in a large fish pond and then a spawning bed will be created to serve as their mating ground.

They mate only in the mud at the bottom of the water. They have adapted to the muddy water since they live only by the side of the river which is often filled with mud.

It is even difficult in some cases for sailfin plecos to mate in their natural habitat which is why their mating has to be induced artificially by placing them in commercial fish ponds.

The females lay the eggs in caves. It is the responsibility of the male to protect the eggs until they hatch.

Tank setup

The adult sailfin pleco is big in size which means they’ll require a large tank to accommodate them conveniently. In most cases, they grow to a length of 19 to 20 inches. We recommend a tank with a minimum capacity of 100 gallons to allow them to swim comfortably in the environment.

You’ll not have regrets if the size of the tank is bigger than 100 gallons as the more the moving space the better. Meanwhile, the walls of the tanks should be made of thick glasses to keep the fish locked inside.

Filling the tank with various decorations will make the fish have a similar experience as it would in if it were to be in its natural habitat. As we had mentioned earlier, you can introduce a log of wood to the tank to generate algae food.

Since the main food of the sailfin pleco is the algae, the wood will ensure that there is a regular supply of algae for the fish to eat. With this, you’ll not have to bother to purchase fish food from the stores more often.

Sailfin plecos are mostly active in the night, so, you can install some lightings in the tank to keep the darkness a little off to enhance your view of the lively fish. They are not affected by the temperature of the water. However, to ensure that your fish lead a healthy life, the pH level of the water must be about 6.4 to 8.

Tank mates

The sailfin plecos tend to live peacefully with other fishes in the tank. They’re loving and friendly such that you’ll not have to worry about placing small sized fishes along with it as they do not feed on live fishes.

It is important to note that they are a little aggressive with other plecos in the tank since their presence could threaten their existence and personality.  Generally, plecos are not aggressive and can cohabitate peacefully with other smaller fishes.

To minimize the level of threat and distress that your sailfin pleco fish will experience once another pleco is introduced in the tank, we recommend that they are kept as juveniles so that they can establish a relationship as they grow together.

This is very important if you intend to grow more than a single sailfin pleco at a time. In most cases, plecos might resent the slime coating of some of the fishes in the tank and will become hostile towards them. Some of these fishes include discus and angelfish.

In order to keep these fishes from being harmed, it is not advisable to keep them in the same tank with plecos.

The sailfin pleco is known for its versatility and can be kept in large aquariums along with large and aggressive cichlids.


The sailfin pleco is mostly healthy in their natural environment only. However, once they’re out of their natural habitat, they become prone to numerous diseases.

Nevertheless, they’re not easily affected by diseases thanks to its strong immune system. Their frequency of sickness is often very low. This is one of the reasons they’re easy to raise especially for the new fish keepers. 

The most common disease of the sailfin pleco is ich. This ailment affects almost all species of fish in the world. The major symptom of this disease is the appearance of white spots on the scales of the fish. However, the best way to control the spread or occurrence of this disease is to maintain a healthy tank by cleaning it regularly.

Giving medications to plecos can be very difficult because of their thin skins. You’ll have to take extra care while giving them the medication so that you don’t harm them. So, you can give them premafix and melafix as treatments to the ich disease.

It is important to know that sailfin plecos are allergic to medicines that contain extracts of copper and potassium.

The best way to prevent your fish from falling sick is to give them the necessary care by providing a balanced diet on time, clean the environment, and maintaining the recommended tank conditions. In addition, they should only be given a suitable tank mate.

You should avoid putting your sailfin pleco in the same tank with a highly aggressive mate which might cause it to live in fear and distress.

Tank Maintenance and care

The water in the tank must be of good quality. Since they often produce a large chunk of waste, it is important to put a good filtration system in place as well as change the water regularly. Possibly, 10 to 15% of the water should be changed every two weeks to maintain its quality. 

The conditions of the water in the tank should be such that is similar to the Sailfin’s natural environment. The should contain sands, logs of wood, rocks, and green plants. These decorations should be placed strategically to provide shade against the lights in the tank.

It is important to consider the large size of the fish when designing the tank. Their relationship with other species in the aquarium will be influenced by the space available. Sometimes, they may not be aggressive towards other species, but they’ll struggle for territory and feeding spots.

Sailfin plecos are harmless to live plants but the adult size can uproot some of the plants in the tank as they swim around.


What is a Plecostomus?

The term Plecostomus or pleco or plec is often referred to a variety of catfish that are members of the Loricariidae family. Their natural habitat is located in Central and South America. All the members of this family can be identified from their suction cup-like mouth. They thrive in slow to fast-moving rivers.

How long do common plecos live?

The lifespan of plecos is mostly influenced by its water condition. Plecos that live in the wild tend to live much longer than those that are kept in captivity. While pet plecos can live at most 15 years those in their natural habitat can live beyond 15 years.

How big do Plecos get?

If kept in the wild, some plecos can grow to a length of 24 inches while those in the tank will stop growing once it is 15 inches long.

What other fish can live with plecos?

Plecos are very friendly and can be kept with other small fishes. Mostly, they can pair safely with angelfish, bettas, cichlids, barbs, guppies, loaches, gouramis and platies.

Where can sailfin pleco fish be found?

The natural habitat of the sailfin is the tropical rivers of Central and South America.

What is the ideal number if they’re to be kept together?

It is best to keep them in groups or just one in the tank.

What is the best food for the sailfin pleco fish?

They feed on woods in the tank. Any food that sinks to the bottom of the water will be taken by it. However, it survives mostly with algae.

Are plecos aggressive?

Plecos can only show signs of aggression to other plecos. As they grow larger, they tend to resent the presence of other fishes in their territory.

Do plecos clean the tank?

Plecos are excellent cleaners. In fact, they eat whatever is left as food in the tank. They clean the woods and rocks even as you’ll clean the waste they leave behind.

How long does it take for a pleco fish to grow?

Sailfin plecos can grow up to 24 inches long in just about 15 to 20 years of its existence. If your tank is small, there’s the likelihood that your pleco will soon outgrow the tank. While some of them will not grow beyond the size, their growth in the tank is a little slow.

How can you tell if a pleco is male or female?

The body structure of female plecos is round while the males are skinnier. If you’re looking closely from the side, you’ll observe that females have a rounded abdomen which is a little longer than the overall body. This will be seen much clearly during the breeding season.

Can plecos live in a 10-gallon tank?

Smaller plecos such as the Otocinclus catfish can live comfortably in a 10-gallon tank. Species like the Bristlenose will require a minimum tank size of 25 gallons. Some of the largest plecos like the sailfin will require a minimum tank size of 150-gallon.

Can plecos eat flakes?

Plecos can be fed with fish foods from pet stores. If flakes happen to fall to the bottom of the tank, then it’ll become food for the fish. Plecos often swim to capture flakes even before it reaches the bed of the tank.

Do I need to feed my Plecostomus?

Naturally, plecos survive by eating algae. Your aquarium may not have the capacity to generate enough algae that can sustain the fish. Thus, you’ll need to give it algae-based foods from the stores. Meanwhile, plecos can eat almost anything including shrimp, meat, bloodworm, and vegetables.

How long can a pleco live without food?

Pleco can live for about 7 days without food. Male plecos can survive for 3 weeks without food but we recommend a maximum of 4 days before the next food.

Can a pleco live with a Batta?

While some plecos can have betta as tank mates, others wouldn’t because of their size. As the two fishes grow in size you’ll need to set up a bigger tank.

Does pleco eat poop?

Plecos can survive even in the harshest conditions. The best food for plecos is algae pellets. But when the needed food is unavailable, plecos can make do with fish poo.

How well do plecos like to hide?

Plecos resort to corners of rocks, caves, and woods as their hiding place in the daytime. They come out of their hiding in the night where they become active and explore the tank for food and other things.

Does a pleco need a heater?

Plecos tend to be at their best in moderate temperatures. It is advisable to attach a thermometer to the tank to measure the temperature periodically. This will help you to know if the temperature is suitable for its survival at all times.

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