Plecos are cave-breeders, and they spawn exclusively in small closed spaces. The spawning process will go something like this:
- The male will invite the female and the female enters the cave.
- The male will enter the cave and trap the female, closing off the entrance.
- This spawning process can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of days. Eventually, the female lays her eggs and the male fertilizes them.
- The female leaves the cave and the male takes over full care of the offspring.
Hatching the eggs
Unlike some species like cory catfish, which eat their own eggs if not taken out, pleco males have a strong parenting sense. In most circumstances, you will not need to do any special things for the eggs to hatch. Since the male will guard the eggs and provide the eggs with the needed care.
However, if you notice the pleco male keeps eating his eggs or the eggs are kicked out, you should hatch the eggs yourself
Setting up an egg tumbler
It’s very important to put the eggs in a monitored environment away from possible predators. In essence, you will need to take over the care the father would normally give.
Egg tumblers are a tool made just for this. You hang the egg tumbler in your aquarium, against the glass, connect air tubing and that’s it! This will make sure the eggs are tumbled around and get the necessary oxygen.
If you want to get your own pleco egg tumbler, you can get one here on Amazon. There are some cheap variants, but I’ve found them to be far less good resulting in loss of eggs.
Setting up a tub
Alternatively, you can set up your own tub to hatch the eggs. This will be a cheaper option than the egg tumbler, but is somewhat less convenient.
Pleco species and their fry
Did you know there are over 150 different pleco species? They grow from a couple of centimeters to sometimes half a meter in length! Of course, this makes the fry look quite different.
The bristlenose pleco is one of the most popular aquarium catfishes. It’s also known to be easy to breed and it lays a lot of eggs.
The fry is also quite hardy. Their yolk sack is quite dark, if compared to the yolk sack of f.e. zebra plecos. The fry is around 7mm in size. Bristlenose pleco grows quite fast, and can grow sexually mature in a year. After 2-3 years it will have most likely reached its full size. Read our article on bristlenose pleco size.
Zebra plecos are by many considered the holy grail of aquarium catfishes, and it’s easy to see why.
The fry is very similar to older specimens and develops adult coloration after a couple weeks of age. In contrast to bristlenose plecos, this is a species that grows at a very slow pace. It gets sexually mature at 2-3 years of age.
Just hatched fry is lighter in color than bristlenose pleco fry, with a more pale-yellow yolk sack. Batches consist of 5-20 youngsters.
Clown plecos are one of the wood-eating pleco species that lay around 10-30 eggs. As you can see in the video, the fry has a beautiful striped pattern.
If you plan to raise the newly hatched fry, it’s recommended to put a small piece of driftwood or catappa leaves in the tank, which is beneficial for their digestive system.
What do pleco babies look like?
Pleco babies are mostly pretty distinguishable, but can be hard to spot.
Young pleco babies are usuallay around 5-10mm in size with a clearly visible yolk sack off which they feed. Their body looks transparant without much coloration. After 5-10 days, the will have consumed their yolck sack and will start to color darker. After 2-3 weeks of age they start to look small like adult specimens.
As we’ve discussed above, the first days of their life, the pleco fry will sit in the cave where the pleco male will protect them. Only after they have consumed their yolk sack and they can live on their own, they will leave the cave. In this stage they will have already developed adult coloration.
How much fry do plecos have?
How much fry plecos have depends on the species: bristlenose plecos have an average batch size of 50-100 youngsters, but most other species like clown plecos have 20-30 babies and some species like zebra plecos only have 5-20 babies.
Do plecos eat their babies?
Plecos are known to eat dead or sick fish laying in the aquarium. They also love other protein rich foods such as egg or worms (Although this depends on whether your pleco is a herbivore or carnivore).
Plecos rarely eat their babies. In fact, the father is very protective and will guard the eggs and fry for days to weeks, until the fry is ready to live by themselves. Only if the male is exposed to extreme stress it might eat its babies. If you do notice this behavior, you might want to pull the eggs and put them in an egg tumbler.
Caring for pleco babies (pleco fry)
During the time that the pleco babies live off their yolk sack, you can leave them in their hatching container. At this moment they’re still very fragile so it’s best to not put them in a big tank.
After the fry starts eating by themselves, you can either decide to det up a separate breeding tank or to put them in the parent’s tank. Pleco babies are overall quite good at finding food, so that should’t be a problem.
If you have big predatory fish in your tank that could eat the fry, it’s best to make them grow to a decent size at which they are safe.
Another advantage of setting up a dedicated grow-out tank is that you can monitor the fry far more easily. In a community tank, you will inevitably lose a part of the fry and it will be impossible to keep track of all the fry.
In a grow-out tank however, you can monitor the growth of the fry easily and feed much more precisely to the fry.
For most pleco species, a 20 gallon grow out tank is the minimum. For smaller fish, this size is perfect because it’s easy for the fry to find food.
Plecos are big polluters. Especially pleco babies, because they eat a lot! This means that a strong filter is necessary to keep the water as clean as possible for the fry to grow fast.
I recommend to pick an external filter for this that does 4-8x the volume per hour. You can also pick an internal filter, but those are overall less powerful. Just remind that a little overkill isn’t that bad :).
I’ve always used Eheim cannister filters for this. These external filters are surely an investment, but I’ve always been very happy of Eheim filters. And when your fry has grown up, you can always use it for another tank! Check out the filter I use on Amazon.
Plecos do well on many kinds of substrate (except for flashy colored substrates), but I always recommend to set up a bare bottom tank. It’s not as beautiful but it’s way easier to keep clean and the dirt gets sucked up more easily.
Putting live plants in your tank is optional. They are a great way to provide extra shelter and improve water quality. Great plants for pleco babies are java moss, Anubias and Java fern.
After the eggs have hatched, it’s time for the fry to grow! the pleco fry usually doesn’t need food the first 5-10 days of their lives, because of the yolk sack. When the yolk sack has disappeared, you can start feeding the pleco babies.
The first five to ten days of their lives, the pleco fry will live off their yolk sack. This means that they will not need any food. The yolk sack will shrink visibly and at the end of this period, it’s recommended to put in small amount of food so that the fry can eat whenever ready.
Catappa or Indian almond leaves are a great first food source for pleco fry. These leaves provide a lot of useful nutrients and even has antibacterial workings. These leaves have a lot of positive effects for the digestive system of newly hatched fry.
Apart from this, the leaves also attract small infusoria which are also a food source for very small fry. So, if you don’t already have catappa leaves, I’d certainly recommend to get them!
Dried foods provide a great food for pleco babies, although there are big differences in quality between food brands. The advantage dried foods have over live or frozen foods is that they’re more balanced in terms of nutrients and they’re
It’s important to vary in the different types of dried foods you feed the fry, so that they get the necessary nutrients to grow. Even fully carnivorous fry can benefit from f.e. spirulina tablets. The same goes for mostly herbivore species such as the clown pleco.
For tiny pleco fry, small sized pellets are ideal. You can also feed powder foods but I’ve found those to pollute the water too much. However, pleco fry can also eat bigger food since they can perfectly scrape off pieces using their mouth.
If you want your pleco babies to grow super fast, it’s important to stay away from cheap options. These contain a lot of fillers (which are low in vitamins and nutrients) and can cause constipation.
I prefer to use a mix of the following foods:
- Hikari carnivore pellets – Best for carnivore species such as Hypancistrus sp.
- Hikari algae wafers – Best for herbivore and omnivore pleco species.
- Hikari sinking wafers – An all-round food for plecos.
- Spirulina tabs – Beneficial for the digestive system of pleco babies.
Vegetables are a very popular food to feed to plecos. Pleco fry also loves eating different types of vegetables, and they contain a lot of nutrients.
If you can feed vegetables, it’s certainly a good idea. You can choose to blanch it or feed it raw.
There are many types of vegetables you can feed to pleco catfish, some of my favorites are zucchini, pumpkin and beans. I don’t like vegetables like salad or cucumber, because they tend to fall apart really quickly causing a big mess in the tank.
If you want to know more about feeding plecos vegetables you can read the full guide on it.
Repashy has established itself as a renown and high-quality food in the aquarium world. It’s a perfect food for plecos, because it’s basically a gel that sinks to the bottom, making it ideal for the pleco to scrape off.
I’ve used a couple different types of Repashy, but Repashy has designed a special food for fry, too.
You can either choose to prepare the gel and cut it into pieces, or you can make it harden out on a hard structure. One of the benefits of Repashy is that it stays intact for up to 24h, causing the pleco fry to eat whenever they want (= faster growth).
Chopped up frozen/live foods
Live foods and frozen foods can be a great food source, primarily for carnivorous species. If your pleco fry is still relatively small, it’s useful to cut it into smaller pieces.
If you plan on feeding frozen foods to pleco fry, it’s important to vary a lot between different types and other foods. Otherwise the pleco fry will not have enough nutrients which causes malnutrition and constipation.
Pro tip: use an automatic feeder
The trick with raising pleco fry fast is feeding as often as possible, without the water quality dropping. This is beneficial because this way the pleco fry will actually take on much more of the nutrients. For example, feeding 4 small portions 4 times a day is much more beneficial than feeding one big portion once a day. The latter will also cause more waste.
If you really want to go the extra mile about raising your cory catfish fry, you can install an automatic feeder. Such feeder can feed up to four times a day, f.e. when you’re at work, so that your plecos always have something to eat.
Attention: feeding too much protein?
In the case of herbivore and omnivore species such as the bristlenose pleco, feeding too much meaty high-protein foods to fry is a problem. Fry of bristlenose plecos do best on aplant-based diet, with around 90% of their diet being plant-based foods. If this isn’t the case, the pleco fry will have trouble digesting the food. It will also cause constipation.
Doing water changes is a crucial part of raising pleco fry fast and successfully, even if you have a filter
Stage 1: hatching the eggs and newborn fry
(0-2 weeks of age) In this stage, water changes should be done with a lot of caution. When the fry is this small, you should do small, 20% water changes hovering over the bottom of the tank to remove as much waste as possible.
If you hatch the eggs in an egg tumbler or in the main tank, water changes of course can’t be done. If you keep the eggs and fry in a separated tank, it’s recommended to do this daily.
Apart from changing the water daily you should pick out the bad unfertilized eggs. These eggs will be noticeable by there white color and if not removed, they will infect the other eggs. You can do this using tweezers.
Stage 2: raising the fry in the growout tank
At this stage, the recommended water change frequency depends on how much you feed, the size of your tank and how strong the filter is.
I do recommend to change 50% weekly, but a higher frequency is most likely better! Make sure to suck out as much waste as possible during the water changes!
Conclusion: how to raise pleco babies
In comparison to many other fish species, raising pleco babies is quite easy. The fry doesn’t need that much of a different treatment from adult fish and are quite hardy.
However, it is recommended to provide them with some extra care to make them grow fast.
After hatching the fry will live for around a week off of their yolk sack. After this, they can start eating normal foods. This can be dried foods, pellets or even vegetables. A variety of foods is always the best choice, to make sure the fry gets all the nutrients they need.
If you want to have the highest success rate, setting up a dedicated grow-out tank is the way to go. This will make sure the pleco fry has enough food and you can perform more water changes this way. Overall, it’s easier to monitor the pleco offspring.
With this dedicated grow-out (ideally 20-30 gallons in size) comes the necessary filtration, which should be strong (>5x tank volume/hour).
Lastly, changing water on a regular basis is very important in order to keep the water clean. Do this at least once a week (50% of the water). You will need to do more if you feed heavily or if your filter is not that strong.