Pleco catfish are one of the most popular fish in the aquarium hobby. They are often praised because most plecos eat algae, and are relatively peaceful fish. 

Unfortunately, plecos are often mistreated in the hobby, due to pet stores that claim they are easier to care for than they really are. In this article, you’ll learn the real lifespan of plecos, and it might surprise you.

Pleco lifespan

Plecos are one of the longest living commonly available fish species. In the optimal conditions, they may even get older than a dog or cat. But how old do most plecos get on average?

The average lifespan of a pleco is 10 to 20 years. On average, big pleco species live longer than small species. How old a pleco gets highly depends on its living conditions such as tank size, water parameters, stress and diet. In bad conditions, they may only live 5 years.

One of the reasons that plecos have a rather long lifespan is because the grow very slowly and only mature after a few years of age. Many pleco species take 2 to 3 years to fully mature and start breeding.

As stated above, there are many species of plecos. Not all species have the same average lifespan. Here are four of the most common pleco species listed, with their lifespan.

Bristlenose pleco lifespan

Bristlenose plecos are the most popular type of catfish. They are often sold as the ideal algae-eating fish. Yet, when you buy them, they’re probably only a few months old. So how long can you expect your pleco to live?

On average, bristlenose plecos or Ancistrus plecos live around 10 to 15 years. In optimal conditions, they may even get more than 20 years old. How old they get depends on their tank, water parameters, and nutrition.

Bristlenose plecos are less mistreated than the common pleco, but still many people seem to be misinformed. 

Common mistakes are keeping them in a tank too small, wrong tankmates, or feeding an unbalanced diet. The bristlenose pleco can also become way bigger than often claimed. Sometimes it can reach over 7 inches in length, and 8 inches is possible. If you want to learn more about how big Bristlenose plecos get, make sure to read our post about it.

If you want to learn how to make sure your pleco can live more than 15 years, make sure to keep reading.

Common Plecostomus lifespan

The common pleco is along with the bristlenose pleco one of the most popular pleco species in the aquarium hobby. Unfortunately, this fish is one of the most mistreated fish in the aquarium hobby. Many people also don’t know how old they can get…

Common plecos get around 20 to 25 years old in captivity. In optimal conditions, they can even get over 30 years old. Since they are often mistreated, their lifespan in captivity is often lower than in the wild. In the wild, they easily get over 30 years in age. 

In reality, common plecos can get over 15 inches (!) in size. They will grow too big if your tank is not a huge tank, which drastically diminishes its quality of life and lifespan.

Clown Pleco lifespan

The clown pleco is a fun and peaceful fish that’s on the smaller hand. This makes them a good choice for many people who have a smaller tank. This also results in a little shorter lifespan.

The average Clown Pleco Lifespan is 12 to 15 years, depending on conditions such as tank size, water parameters, and diet. In ideal conditions, Clown Plecos can live well over 20 years. 

One of the most common mistakes with clown plecos is not providing them with the right diet. In the wild, this pleco is a wood eater, so their diet only consists out of wood and the biofilm growing on it. If you feed clown plecos a meat-based diet without wood, it will not live as long as it could.

Zebra Pleco lifespan

If you have been looking into plecos, there’s a big chance you came across the zebra pleco. It’s one of the most noticeable species, yet it’s very expensive and more suited for advanced fish keepers. Luckily these plecos can also reach a fine age.

Zebra plecos reach an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Due to their slow growth and maturity, their average lifespan is quite long. In optimal conditions, Zebra plecos can get over 20 years old. How old zebra plecos get depends on their diet, water parameters, and tank size.

Because this pleco is so expensive and not commonly available, this species is mostly kept by advanced fish keepers. This makes them often well cared for, and certainly not as often mistreated as the former three.

How to make your pleco live longer

One of the things that make plecos so popular is how hardy they are. The most common species can often live in a wide range of water parameters and aren’t picky with their food. 

Yet, if not cared well for, it will certainly not reach the age it should. Here are some tips to ensure your pleco can reach its full lifespan.

1. The Ideal Tank Conditions for Pleco Catfish

Your tank is one of the most important things for the life of your pleco. If a tank is too small or not looked after, your pleco will be stressed and live shorter.

  • Choosing The Proper Tank Size
  • Most pleco species need a tank of at least 25 gallons. If your tank is too small, your plecos growth will stagnate and it will not have the place it needs.

    A pleco often stays still, hiding in its favorite place. So you might think it doesn’t need a big tank. A pleco does need a big tank. This is mostly because the plecos can get quite big. Certainly when talking about the common pleco or bristlenose pleco, choosing a tank ‘too big’ isn’t a luxury. 

    Obviously, every pleco needs a different tank size. They all differ in size and needs. Here are the four species pointed out above and their minimum tank size:

    • Bristlenose pleco: 25 gallons
    • Common pleco: 150 gallons
    • Clown Pleco: 20 gallons
    • Zebra pleco: 25 gallons

  • A Strong Filter
  • Pleco catfish are one of the biggest waste producers. Yes, they poo a lot. In order to keep the tank from becoming dirty and water parameters crashing, a good filter is necessary. Even if you perform regular water changes.

    In their wild habitat, plecos live in streams and rivers where there often is a lot of oxygen in the water. Another thing a filter does is is imitating this wild habitat by creating flow through the aquarium and thus adding extra oxygen to the water.

    A good rule of thumb is choosing a filter that at least filters 5x the tank volume per hour. In a 25 gallon tank, this would mean a filter that filter 125 gallons an hour.

  • Providing hiding places
  • Hiding places such as wood, plants or stones are crucial in every pleco tank. Plecos are mostly nocturnal and like to have the ability to hide. This means that when not given hiding places, a pleco will be stressed and possibly show signs of aggression.

    It might seem that by adding hiding places a pleco will hide more. Actually, it’s the quite opposite. The more hiding places are offered to a pleco, the more it will feel comfortable coming out of its shelter.

    2. The Right Water Parameters

    Plecos are hardy fish, but if you want to keep them in the ideal conditions you have to pay attention to the water parameters in your tank.

  • Performing regular water changes
  • Water changes are a must in every aquarium. In order to keep your tank clean, you have to do at least once a week a water change of 30%.

    Many people think that because they have a filter, water changes are unnecessary. Nonetheless, these things are quite different and to both should go attention.

  • The right temperature for plecos
  • All pleco catfish need a tank heater to feel comfortable. Depending on the species, water temperature should be between 72 and 86°F (23-30°C). 

    Read everything about pleco water temperature

    3. Nutrition

    If you have a pleco yourself, you know that they’ll eat almost anything. However, plecos need a well-balanced and specialized diet to thrive and be healthy.

    Many catfish are often sold as the ideal algae eat and clean fish. As a result, it’s often thought that they need no additional food and can live entirely off algae. Plecos always need extra food apart from possible algae. Otherwise, they will starve from hunger.

  • The diet of pleco catfish
  • Plecos are often sold as algae eaters, that don’t need much additional food. This causes the common misconception that plecos don’t have any special needs in terms of food.

    In the wild, there are three main types of pleco catfish: the carnivorous plecos, the omnivorous pleco catfish, and the herbivore species. Most species are omnivore species, meaning their diet should consist of both plant-based food and meat-based food.

    As a result, only algae are not enough for plecos to survive on. They simply won’t get enough nutrition from it. Additional food should be given, such as algae wafers, vegetables, and other sinking pellets.

    Vegetables are a great way to provide your pleco with extra nutrition. Learn more about it in Feeding Plecos Zucchini, Cucumber, and other vegetables.

    Read our full guide on what plecos eat by clicking the link.

  • Placing wood in your tank
  • The diet of many pleco species consists out of driftwood and the biofilm growing on it. Bristlenose plecos, clown plecos, and common plecos all like scraping on wood because i’s beneficial for their digestion system.

    Apart from providing an extra food source, driftwood is also the perfect natural hiding place by imitating their natural habitat, and it lowers the pH of your tank. 

    Why Plecos Need driftwood →


    Most plecos reach an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years if cared for properly. In the ideal conditions, plecos may get way older than 20 years old. 

    Common pleco: 20 to 30 years

    Bristlenose pleco: 15 to 20 years

    Clown pleco: 12 to 15 years

    Zebra pleco: 15 to 20 years

    Here are 7 tips for making your pleco live longer:

    1. Choose a sizeable tank (>25 gallons).
    2. Install a strong filter (5x tank volume).
    3. Provide (natural) hiding places.
    4. Perform at least once a week a 30% water change
    5. Pay attention to the water temperature. Different species want to live in different water temps.
    6. Feed a varied diet, only algae are not enough.
    7. Provide drift6wood since it helps the digestive system.