Breeding pleco catfish is a very exciting part of keeping plecos. If you have been thinking of spawning your fish, you might be thinking about what their eggs look like, or how to care for them.

In this post, you’ll learn everything about pleco eggs and how to care for them. 

What do pleco eggs look like?

Sometimes, male pleco fish kick the eggs accidentally out of the cave, causing them to wander throughout the tank. But how can you recognize pleco eggs?

Pleco eggs are rather big, 2-4mm small round balls colored orange. They are laid in clutches of between 10 and 300 eggs, depending on the species.

In contrast to for example cory catfish eggs, pleco eggs are stuck together in a clutch, in a cave. This is why you’ll never see them in your tank (or else, there’s something wrong!).

Bristlenose pleco eggs are more orange-colored, while zebra pleco or Hypancistrus sp. eggs are rather pale, more gray-yellow colored.

Pleco spawning explained

Plecos are unlike most other fish, in the sense that they are pretty unique in terms of how they spawn. It is quite easy for us to fish keepers though since the male does all the work.

If your plecos are ready for mating, the female will try and enter the cave of the male. This cave should be big enough for the male to have some room left, but small enough for the male to block the entrance. When the female enters the cave, the male will trap the female, and the mating procedure begins.

This process usually takes a few hours, but sometimes the male traps a female for days. This isn’t very common with bristlenose plecos though. 

When the eggs have been laid, the male will scare off the female and fertilize them. He will then guard and care for the eggs for 10-14 days until the fry is ready to leave the cave.

Males will care for the eggs by providing fresh oxygenated water by moving their fins. They also eat bad/unfertilized eggs.

If the male is stressed or inexperienced, he might eat the eggs or accidentally kick them out. This is why it’s important to not shine with your flashlight too much, move the cave, re-scape the tank, etc. Read further to know more about this.

How many eggs do plecos lay?

The average amount of eggs that plecos lay is 10 to 100 eggs per spawn. Hypancistrus species tend to lay less eggs, between 5 and 30, Ancistrus (bristlenose pleco) species tend to lay more eggs, between 50 and 200. How many eggs a fish lays depends on size, experience and conditioning before spawning.

Size/experience of the fish

It’s quite logical that smaller fish will lay fewer eggs. This also applies to the age of females. Younger females will lay fewer eggs than more mature specimens. Plecos will breed until their death, but very old fish will be less fertile. 

If your fish have spawned for the first time, the batches will be smaller than with experienced males or pairs. 

Conditioning

Conditioning is a big part of breeding any fish species. You prepare the fish to breed and stimulate the egg production of females.

This last one is very important. By feeding live foods and stimulating what happens in the wild, females will start producing more eggs. With some species like Bristlenose plecos conditioning isn’t necessary. They will breed like rabbits. Other hard-to-breed species do need heavy conditioning to spawn.

Pleco eggs hatching time

After the eggs have been laid, the male will take on full care over the offspring. But how long will the male care for the eggs before you can expect to see fry?

On average, pleco eggs take 3-10 days to hatch, depending on the species and water temperature. In higher temperatures, eggs will hatch faster. After the eggs have hatched, the fry will live off of their yolk sack for another 5-10 days.

Pleco water temperature →

Caring for the eggs

In most cases, the male will care for the eggs. In this regard, pleco fish are very easy. If the male however does not do a good job or if he kicked out the eggs, you will have to care for the eggs yourself.

How to tell if the eggs are fertilized

As stated above, males usually eat unfertilized eggs. If you however choose to pull the eggs or if the male kicked them out, you will need to take on the job of removing the bad eggs. If you don’t do this, other eggs might turn bad or develop mold too. But how do you know whether the eggs are fertilized or not?

Fertilized pleco eggs will stay yellow/orange, while unfertilized pleco eggs turn white and grow a mold-like layer over them. After a couple of days you might also begin to see a small embryo in a fertilized egg.

There can be anywhere from 5-50% of the batch be unfertilized. This mostly depends on the experience of the male. Unexperienced males will have a lower success rate and tend to be more stressed. They might also eat the eggs or kick them out.

How to pull the eggs

Many people choose to pull the eggs of the plecos to hatch them themselves. It might not be as hard as you think.

The first step is to take the pleco cave out of the tank. Try to scare off the male, back in the tank. He will most likely leave the cave. If the male doesn’t leave the cave, try gently pulling him out. 

It’s important to first set up a good box/ egg tumbler where you can hatch the eggs in, before pulling the eggs. This way you minimize both your and the fish’s stress. You can read the next section to learn more about that.

After you have removed the male, you can gently turn over the cave so that the eggs can fall out. In some cases, the eggs won’t. You can then try removing them with a knife.

When to pull eggs

Pulling eggs is only a good idea when the male has been eating the eggs on a regular basis. If he stays ‘screwing up’ after let’s say three spawns, you can start to think about caring for the eggs yourself.

If your male does a good job, there’s really no need to pull eggs. It will only give extra stress and you possibly lose more fry.

Many people choose to pull the fry instead of the eggs. 3-5 days after hatching you can try pulling out the fry using the same technique as pulling eggs. This proves to be very effective and especially when you plan to raise the fry in a separate tank, this is a good idea. 

The fry should be raised in a breeder box and only be fed after they consumed their yolk sack.

Setting up an egg tumbler or breeder box.

The first thing you have to do is set up a dedicated environment for hatching your eggs. It’s very important to protect the eggs from predators and this way you can monitor them easily.

There are two common ways of hatching the eggs: in a breeder box or in an egg tumbler. Egg tumblers are most often used with cichlids but have proven to be great for hatching pleco eggs, too. 5

Another proven method is setting up a tub or breeder box. You simply add an airstone to provide some flow, and it’s done. Poke some holes if you’re making it yourself to ensure fresh water is getting to the eggs.

I’ve always used a Ziss Egg Tumbler for this Unfortunately, they come in quite expensive on Amazon if you want to get them shipped to the US ($63). I came across a less expensive model that’s very similar and works great (you can find it here on Amazon).

Avoiding eggs molding

The biggest challenge in hatching pleco eggs is preventing the eggs turn bad and developing bacterial infections.

First and foremost, it’s important to remove all bad eggs (white eggs or eggs colored differently). If this isn’t done, these eggs will infect other eggs. You can do this by using tweezers.

This is why it’s recommended to either use an egg tumbler or a breeder box with an air stone. This way there’s always enough oxygen accessing the eggs preventing possible fungal growth.

Another method some people swear by is adding shrimp to the breeder box. Shrimp are known to eat dead material and will eat bad eggs while leaving the healthy fertilized eggs alone.  

Unfertilised eggs turn white. It's often thought that this is mold developing. This is however most likely a bacterial infection. The bactia cause the with-slime moldy like strucutre.

The last tip I can give you is adding Catappa or Indian Almond leaves. These leaves are often used for hatching Cory Catfish eggs but works great for hatching pleco eggs as well. In fact, I’ve stopped using chemicals altogether and switched to IAL completely. You can check out the leaves I get here.

Caring for the fry

After the eggs have hatched, the fry doesn’t need much care. They will live off their yolk sack for 5-10 days. It is very important to leave the fry in the breeding box for this time because they’re still vulnerable.

Only after this time, you will need to start feeding the fry with vegetables or small pellets.

Summary: pleco eggs

Pleco eggs are fairly easy to recognize. They are small, 2-4mm balls colored yellow-orange. The male will care for them in the caved the pair has spawned.

If the males have kicked out the eggs or you prefer to pull the eggs, set up a separate container or use an egg tumbler. The eggs will hatch after 3-10 days.

To prevent mold from developing, use an egg tumbler or add an air stone. You can also add shrimp or Indian Almond leaves.