Can Plecos And Loaches Live Together? (Mistakes To Avoid)

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Plecos and Loaches are both favorites in freshwater aquariums. But can they coexist in the same environment?

What should you think about when housing them together? And how about the tank design, water needs, and diet of both?

Which Pleco varieties work well in this combo, and which ones are best left out? And how about other tank mates?

In this article, I’ll dive into all these topics and more, ensuring you walk away with all the information you need. Let’s get started.

Clown loach and Pleco fish

Can I Keep Plecos and Loaches Together in the Same Tank?

Yes, Plecos and loaches can generally coexist peacefully in the same aquarium. However, there are specific reasons to support their compatibility:

  • Temperament Alignment: Plecos are peaceful bottom dwellers, and many loach species possess a non-aggressive nature. Their similar dispositions reduce the chance of conflicts.
  • Dietary Distinctions: While Plecos focus on algae and plant matter, loaches typically consume worms and small crustaceans. Their varied diets minimize competition for resources.
  • Space Usage: Plecos tend to claim territories, while many loaches are more communal, often forming schools or groups. This behavior reduces territorial disputes.
  • Environmental Needs: Both Plecos and loaches appreciate similar water parameters such as temperature, pH, and hardness. This commonality simplifies tank maintenance.
  • Hiding Places: Plecos love caves or nooks, and loaches often enjoy burrowing. Given appropriate substrates and decor, both find comfort within the same habitat.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Tank Mates

Plecos vs. Loaches: Behavior

The first factor worth considering is the Plecos’ and Loaches’ natural behavior. Here is what you should know:

Pleco Fish: Natural Behavior

Plecos, known as armored catfish, originate from the freshwater habitats of Central and South America.

Their natural behavior leans toward being reclusive, preferring to hide during the day and feed primarily at night.

  • Territorial Nature: Mature Plecos can become territorial, especially males. They may claim a certain spot, like a cave or a piece of driftwood, as their own.
  • Nocturnal Habits: Plecos are mainly nocturnal, which means they’re more active during the nighttime. This behavior helps them avoid many diurnal predators.
  • Algae Consumption: A significant part of Plecos’ diet is algae. They’ll constantly graze on it, helping to keep the aquarium clean.
  • Bottom-Dwelling: Plecos predominantly stay at the bottom of the tank. Their sucker-mouths allow them to cling to surfaces and feed.

Loaches: Natural Behavior

Loaches, found in various regions in Asia, showcase distinct behaviors depending on the species. However, many of them are social creatures, preferring to stay in groups.

  • Schooling Tendency: Some loach species, like the clown loach, tend to school. They enjoy the company of their own kind and feel safer in numbers.
  • Burrowing Instinct: Certain loaches, especially the Kuhli loach, have a burrowing instinct. They dig into the substrate, partially burying themselves.
  • Active Behavior: Many loaches are diurnal, active during daylight hours. They can be seen scavenging the tank bottom for food.
  • Playful Antics: Loaches often exhibit playful behaviors, darting around and even playing “dead” at times. This is a natural act and not a sign of stress.
Kuhli loach

Ideal Parameters for Plecos and Loaches

Aquatic environments for Plecos and Loaches have some similarities and some specific needs.

This table outlines the ideal parameters for each and offers a combined recommendation for a tank with both fish types.

ParametersPlecosLoachesBoth Types
pH Level6.5-7.56.0-7.56.5-7.5
Water Hardness4-15 dGH3-12 dGH4-12 dGH

Pleco Fish: Ideal Parameters

Plecos thrive in specific water conditions that mimic their natural habitat. These parameters play a pivotal role in ensuring their health and well-being.

  • Temperature: Plecos prefer warmer waters, with temperatures ranging between 74°F to 80°F (23°C to 27°C). It’s vital to maintain this range for their comfort.
  • pH Level: The ideal pH for Plecos lies between 6.5 to 7.5. This slightly acidic to neutral range is optimal for their health.
  • Water Hardness: Plecos adapt to a variety of hardness levels, but they generally prefer soft to moderately hard water, around 4-15 dH.

Loaches: Ideal Parameters

Loaches, originating from diverse Asian regions, require specific water parameters based on their species. Nonetheless, many share common preferences that help them thrive.

  • Temperature: Loaches, especially species like the clown loach, thrive in temperatures between 75°F to 86°F (24°C to 30°C), although this can vary slightly depending on the species.
  • pH Level: The optimal pH range for most loaches lies between 6.0 to 7.5, ensuring they live in slightly acidic to neutral water conditions.
  • Water Hardness: Loaches tend to prefer soft to moderately hard water. Ideal hardness levels generally range from 3-12 dH, although specific needs can vary by species.
Yoyo loach

Plecos vs. Loaches: Tank Setup

Setting up a tank suitable for Plecos and Loaches requires careful planning.

Here’s a comparison of their tank setup needs, along with guidelines for a tank housing both fish types.

Setup AspectPlecosLoachesBoth Types
Ammonia0 ppm0 ppm0 ppm
Nitrite0 ppm0 ppm0 ppm
Nitrate<20 ppm<20 ppm<20 ppm
Tank SizeMinimum 55 gallons30-55 gallons (species-dependent)Minimum 75 gallons
FoliageLoves plants & broad leavesRequires dense vegetationDense vegetation & broad leaves
DecorationsRequires caves & driftwoodPrefers rocks & cavesCaves, driftwood, and rocks
FilterStrong filtration systemModerate to strong filterStrong filtration system
SubstrateFine-grainedSoft, sandy substrateSoft, fine-grained substrate

Pleco Fish: Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for Plecos involves paying close attention to their natural habitat to ensure their wellbeing.

Plecos are powerful swimmers and grow quite large, which dictates the size and structure of their environment.

  • Ammonia Nitrite Nitrate: For Plecos, the ammonia and nitrite levels should always be 0 ppm, and nitrates should be kept under 40 ppm for optimal health.
  • Tank Size: Plecos require a spacious tank; a common Pleco, for instance, needs at least a 75-gallon tank due to its potential size of 24 inches.
  • Foliage: Live plants can offer Plecos additional grazing opportunities. However, sturdy plants like Anubias or Java Fern are preferred as Plecos can uproot delicate ones.
  • Decorations: Plecos love hiding spots. Providing caves, driftwood, and rocks will make them feel secure and reduce stress.
  • Filter: A powerful filter, preferably an external canister filter, is needed due to Plecos’ waste production and their size.
  • Heater: Maintain a stable temperature between 74°F to 80°F using a reliable aquarium heater.
  • Substrate: Sand or fine gravel is suitable for Plecos, ensuring they don’t damage their barbels while scouring the bottom.
  • Pump: Good water circulation is beneficial, mimicking the flowing rivers Plecos are accustomed to.
  • Lighting: Plecos are nocturnal, so subdued lighting or using floating plants to diffuse light is recommended.

Loaches: Tank Setup

Loaches come from a variety of habitats, but many share preferences for densely decorated tanks that offer hiding spots and burrowing opportunities.

  • Ammonia Nitrite Nitrate: Like Plecos, loaches also need ammonia and nitrite levels at 0 ppm and nitrates ideally under 40 ppm.
  • Tank Size: Depending on species, loaches need varying tank sizes. For example, a clown loach prefers at least a 55-gallon tank given their potential size.
  • Foliage: Loaches enjoy densely planted tanks. Plants like Java Fern or Cryptocoryne provide natural hiding spots.
  • Decorations: Smooth rocks, caves, and driftwood give loaches a sense of security and exploration.
  • Filter: Good filtration, like a canister filter, helps in keeping their environment clean, given their active nature.
  • Heater: Ensure a stable temperature, typically between 75°F to 86°F, depending on the loach species.
  • Substrate: Fine sand is ideal, especially for burrowing loaches like the Kuhli loach.
  • Pump: Adequate water circulation, mimicking streams or riverbeds, is beneficial for most loach species.
  • Lighting: Loaches are generally not as light-sensitive as Plecos, but a natural day-night cycle is advised.
Zebra loach

The Dietary Requirements of Plecos and Loaches

Both Plecos and Loaches have unique dietary needs.

This table highlights their specific requirements and provides a combined recommendation for those looking to feed both fish in the same tank.

Diet AspectPlecosLoachesBoth Types
Food TypesAlgae wafers, vegetables, driftwoodBloodworms, brine shrimp, snailsAlgae wafers, bloodworms, vegetables
Quantity2-3 wafers/day (size-dependent)Small portions dailyAdjust based on fish count & size
Feeding ScheduleOnce or twice dailyOnce or twice dailyTwice daily with varied food types

Pleco Fish: Ideal Dietary Requirements

Plecos are primarily herbivores but require a varied diet for optimal health. It’s essential to offer them a mix of both plant-based and protein-rich foods.

  • Food Types: Offer Plecos algae wafers, vegetables (like zucchini), and occasional protein sources like brine shrimp.
  • Quantity: The amount depends on the Pleco’s size. As a rule, offer an amount they can consume within 20-30 minutes.
  • Feeding Schedule: Feed Plecos once daily during the evening, in alignment with their nocturnal habits.

Loaches: Ideal Dietary Requirements

Loaches are omnivores and need a balanced diet that includes both plant matter and protein sources. Their active nature dictates their dietary needs.

  • Food Types: Loaches enjoy sinking pellets, live or frozen foods (like bloodworms), and occasional veggies.
  • Quantity: Provide an amount they can consume in about 15-20 minutes, adjusting as necessary.
  • Feeding Schedule: It’s best to feed loaches once or twice daily, ensuring they receive a varied diet throughout the week.
Clown loach

Pleco Species Most Suitable for a Tank With Loaches

While many Pleco species can coexist with loaches, certain ones are more adaptable due to their size and temperament.

Choosing the right Pleco species can enhance the tank’s harmony and ensure both fish types thrive.

  • Bristlenose Pleco: A smaller species, Bristlenose Plecos grow to only about 4-6 inches and are known for their peaceful temperament, making them ideal tankmates for loaches.
  • Clown Pleco: Not to be confused with Clown Loaches, these Plecos remain small at 3-4 inches. Their calm nature and driftwood-grazing habits make them compatible with many loach species.
  • Rubber Lip Pleco: Reaching about 7 inches when mature, Rubber Lip Plecos are both calm and efficient algae eaters, ensuring a harmonious tank environment.
  • Zebra Pleco: With a striking pattern and a size of around 3-4 inches, Zebra Plecos are peaceful and can cohabit well with loaches in well-structured tanks.
  • Whiptail Pleco: Characterized by their long, slender body, Whiptail Plecos grow up to 6 inches. Their docile behavior complements the active nature of loaches.

Also Read: Can Plecos And Dwarf Gouramis Live Together?

Rubber Lip Pleco

Loach Species Most Suitable for a Tank With Plecos

Many loach species can harmoniously share a tank with Plecos, but some are especially ideal due to their non-aggressive nature and adaptability to diverse environments.

  • Clown Loach: A popular choice, Clown Loaches grow up to 12 inches but are known for their playful behavior and peaceful nature, making them great companions for Plecos.
  • Kuhli Loach: Resembling little eels, Kuhli Loaches are small at 4 inches and are burrowers. Their gentle demeanor makes them perfect tankmates for Plecos.
  • Yoyo Loach: Named after the pattern on their sides, Yoyo Loaches can grow up to 6 inches. They’re social and tend to get along well with Plecos.
  • Dwarf Chain Loach: Growing up to 2.5 inches, these loaches are peaceful and work well in community tanks, especially with smaller Pleco species.
  • Horseface Loach: With their unique elongated shape, Horseface Loaches can grow to 8 inches. They are bottom-dwellers like Plecos and maintain a peaceful coexistence.
Yoyo loach

Which Pleco Types Shouldn’t Be Kept with Loaches?

While many Plecos coexist well with loaches, some species can pose challenges due to their size, territorial behavior, or specific requirements.

For the best tank harmony, it’s wise to avoid placing these specific Pleco species with loaches.

  • Common Pleco: Often reaching over 24 inches in length, Common Plecos can outgrow most home aquariums and can become territorial, potentially causing issues with loaches.
  • Sailfin Pleco: Growing up to 20 inches, Sailfin Plecos can be aggressive when mature. Their size and demeanor can pose threats to smaller or equally sized loaches.
  • Pictus Pleco: While they have a striking appearance, Pictus Plecos are known for their aggressive tendencies, especially during feeding, which may lead to conflicts with loaches.
  • Royal Pleco: A larger species, Royal Plecos can grow up to 17 inches. Their need for specific water parameters and territorial behavior can make them less compatible with loaches.
  • Vampire Pleco: This species can become quite territorial with age, reaching sizes up to 10 inches. Their penchant for defined territories might result in disputes with curious loaches.

How to Introduce Your Pleco to a Tank with Loaches

Introducing a Pleco to a tank with loaches demands a methodical approach to minimize stress. Carefully following each step ensures a calm integration process for both fish types.

  • Acclimatization: Float the Pleco’s bag in the tank for 60 minutes, adding 50ml of tank water every 10 minutes to slowly match temperatures.
  • Nighttime Introduction: Since Plecos are nocturnal, release them post-sunset, allowing them a quiet environment to explore and settle.
  • Feeding First: Feed the loaches a hearty meal 1 hour prior to the Pleco’s introduction, reducing their potential territorial behavior.
  • Supervised Watching: Keep an eye on the fish interactions for the first 3 hours, making sure there are no chases or hostile nips among them.
  • Offer Hideaways: Establish a minimum of 3 caves or hiding places, letting the Pleco find safe zones as it gets used to its new home.

Guidelines for Housing Plecos and Loaches Together

For a harmonious relationship between Plecos and loaches, specific care and thought are key.

By being alert and ahead of the game, you can achieve a serene and lively underwater setting.

  • Choose the Right Tank: Opt for at least a 55-gallon tank since Plecos can grow up to 24 inches and loaches up to 12 inches, so they need plenty of room.
  • Stay Observant: Spend about 10 minutes each day, particularly after meals, to observe any territorial behaviors or signs of distress.
  • Diverse Feeding: Offer Plecos veggies and algae wafers, whereas loaches are fans of bloodworms and brine shrimp, ensuring a balanced diet.
  • Prioritize Cleanliness: Carry out 25% water replacements every two weeks to make sure the waste from both fish types doesn’t degrade the water quality.
  • Prevent Overpopulation: Stick to 1 Pleco and 3-5 loaches in the tank so that each fish has enough room to move and find shelter.
  • Steady Water Conditions: Aim for a consistent pH level of 6.5-7.5 and water temperatures of 75-80°F, addressing the needs of both fish species.
  • Enhance Their Space: Add elements like driftwood and plants, which assist Plecos with their feeding routines and give loaches additional spots to explore. My recommendation: Dr. Moss Malaysian Driftwood (link to Amazon).

Ideal Tank Companions for Plecos and Loaches

Both Plecos and loaches can live harmoniously with many other species if their habitat is well-prepared.

Selecting the right tank buddies is vital for fostering a calm and well-balanced water community.

  • Corydoras Catfish: Peaceful bottom-dwellers like Plecos, they scavenge for food remnants and can easily coexist without competing for resources.
  • Tetras: Small, active swimmers like neon or cardinal tetras stay primarily mid-water, avoiding territory disputes with bottom-dwelling Plecos and loaches.
  • Gouramis: These gentle, surface-dwelling fish seldom venture to the bottom, making them less likely to disturb Plecos or loaches.
  • Angelfish: Their majestic fins and slower pace make them non-threatening companions for Plecos, and their vertical swimming style avoids clashing with loaches.
  • Rasboras: Schools of these colorful, mid-level swimmers like the harlequin rasbora complement both Plecos and loaches without territory overlaps.
  • Barbs: Species like cherry or gold barbs are active but peaceful, and they rarely interfere with Plecos or loaches as they frequent different water layers.

Also Read: Can Plecos And Angelfish Live Together?


For those of you who are just skimming through, here’s a short recap:

  • Plecos and loaches coexist well due to their similar temperaments, dietary differences, space preferences, shared environmental needs, and love for hiding places.
  • Understanding their natural behavior is vital – Plecos are nocturnal bottom-dwellers, while loaches are diurnal, social, and often playful.
  • Both have specific water parameter requirements for tank setup.
  • A balanced diet with algae wafers, vegetables, and protein sources is crucial for their health.
  • Choose compatible Pleco and loach species – smaller, non-aggressive ones are ideal tank mates, avoiding larger or territorial species for harmony.