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Are Plecos Livebearers Or Egg Layers? (3 Must-Know Facts)

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Pleco fish are among my favorite kinds of fish, mainly because of their amazing appearance and robust nature.

However, there are many questions surrounding their breeding process. Do they actually lay eggs or simply give birth to live fry? What does their breeding procedure involve?

In this article, I’ll explore this topic and cover all the questions around it, so you leave like an expert in the field. Let’s get started.

Do Plecos Lay Eggs?

Plecos are not livebearers; they are egg layers, laying their eggs in hidden areas within the tank.

The male Pleco then guards the eggs until they hatch, ensuring their safety and protection during this vulnerable time.

  • Egg-Laying Behavior: Plecos display classic egg-laying behavior by choosing secluded and safe areas to lay their eggs, such as caves or crevices in the tank.
  • Male Guarding: The male Pleco takes responsibility for guarding the eggs, highlighting their role in the egg-laying reproductive process.
  • Absence of Live Birth: Unlike livebearers, Plecos do not give birth to fully formed young; instead, the eggs hatch into fry which continue to develop post-hatching.
  • Specialized Equipment: Breeders often use specific equipment like breeding caves to support and protect the egg-laying and hatching process for Plecos.
  • Time Frame: The Pleco eggs typically take about 7 to 10 days to hatch, further distinguishing their reproductive style from livebearers, whose offspring are born alive and fully formed.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Eggs

Understanding the Breeding Process in Plecos

Understanding the breeding process in Plecos is essential for successful breeding.

It begins with distinguishing between male and female Plecos, recognizing signs of egg-carrying, and observing their behavior during mating.

1. Distinguishing Male and Female Plecos

Males and females exhibit slight differences in their physical characteristics. Understanding these differences is fundamental in identifying the sexes for breeding purposes.

  • Size and Shape: Generally, male Plecos tend to be slightly larger and have more pronounced pectoral fins compared to females.
  • Bristles: Male Plecos often exhibit more bristles on their heads and bodies, which are not as prominent in females.
  • Ventral Fins: The ventral fins of male Plecos are broader and more robust, aiding in the identification process.

2. Behavior During Mating

Understanding Pleco mating behavior aids in ensuring a conducive environment for successful breeding. Observing changes in their interaction is vital.

  • Increased Aggression: Male Plecos may show increased aggression or territorial behavior during mating, ensuring the safety of the breeding ground.
  • Nest Guarding: Post-mating, male Plecos take up the role of guarding the nest, highlighting their involvement in the breeding process.
  • Pairing Off: Plecos will often pair off during the mating process, with the male staying close to the egg-carrying female to protect her and the future offspring.

3. Recognizing Signs of Egg-Carrying Plecos

Identifying a female Pleco carrying eggs is crucial for providing appropriate care and environment. You may notice a change in her body shape and behavior.

  • Abdominal Swelling: Female Plecos will show noticeable abdominal swelling when carrying eggs, making their gravid condition visible.
  • Seeking Shelter: Egg-carrying Plecos often seek secluded and secure spaces within the aquarium for laying eggs.
  • Decreased Activity: Egg-laden female Plecos may display decreased activity as they prepare for the egg-laying process.

Also Read: How To Tell If Your Pleco Is Pregnant?

Pleco Nutrition During Egg-Carrying

Proper nutrition is crucial for egg-carrying Plecos to ensure the health of both the mother and the eggs.

Providing a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients supports the egg-laying process and the development of healthy offspring.

  • High-Protein Diet: Egg-carrying Plecos require a high-protein diet to support the development and health of the eggs, ensuring robust and viable offspring.
  • Varied Diet: Offering a varied diet including algae wafers, vegetables, and high-quality pellets provides essential nutrients to egg-carrying Plecos. I personally used the Invert Aquatics Mini Algae Discs (link to Amazon).
  • Calcium Supplement: Adequate calcium is vital for egg formation; hence, supplements or calcium-rich foods enhance the health of Plecos and their eggs. My recommendation: Seachem Nourish (link to Amazon).
  • Regular Feeding: Consistent and regular feeding schedules help in maintaining the health and energy levels of egg-carrying Plecos, aiding in a successful egg-laying process.

The Pleco’s Spawning Ritual

Understanding the Pleco’s spawning ritual is essential for successful breeding. The ritual involves specific behaviors and environmental conditions that facilitate the breeding process.

  • Secluded Spaces: Plecos prefer laying their eggs in dark, secluded spaces, ensuring the eggs’ safety from potential predators in the tank.
  • Temperature Regulation: Ensuring the water temperature is within the optimal range is crucial as Plecos are sensitive to temperature changes during spawning.
  • Male Guarding: Male Plecos play a significant role in guarding the eggs post-spawning, ensuring their protection until they hatch.
  • Proper pH Levels: Maintaining proper water pH levels is essential for the successful spawning of Plecos, providing a conducive environment for egg laying.

The Hatching Phase

The hatching phase in Plecos is a delicate period requiring careful monitoring and appropriate environmental conditions.

The male continues to guard the eggs, and optimal water conditions are maintained to ensure successful hatching.

  • Duration: The hatching phase for Plecos typically takes about 7 to 10 days, necessitating patience and consistent observation.
  • Male’s Role: The male Pleco continues to guard the eggs diligently, ensuring their safety and protection from potential threats.
  • Water Quality: Maintaining high water quality with appropriate temperature and pH levels is paramount for the successful hatching of Pleco eggs.
  • Gentle Water Flow: Ensuring a gentle water flow within the tank supports the hatching process by preventing the eggs from being disturbed.

Feeding Pleco Fry

Feeding Pleco fry correctly is essential for their optimal growth and health. It’s imperative to offer a diverse, nutrition-rich diet in suitable quantities and frequencies.

  • Algae Wafers: Offer Pleco fry algae wafers broken into tiny pieces, ensuring easy consumption and providing essential nutrients for healthy growth.
  • High-Quality Pellets: Feed Pleco fry small, high-protein pellets daily to promote robust development and meet their dietary needs. I personally like the Hikari Cichlid Excel Pellets (link to Amazon).
  • Varied Diet: Introduce vegetables and spirulina in small amounts, enriching the Pleco fry’s diet and ensuring balanced nutrition.
  • Small, Frequent Feedings: Feed Pleco fry 3-4 times daily in small portions to ensure a consistent supply of essential nutrients.
  • Moderation: Give Pleco fry enough food to eat in 2 minutes to avoid overfeeding and maintain optimal water quality.

Setting Up a Breeding Tank for Plecos

Before you begin breeding, it’s crucial to prepare the breeding tank correctly. Let’s concentrate on making sure the water is just right and getting the necessary equipment.

1. Ideal Water Conditions

Ensuring optimal water conditions in the breeding tank is fundamental for successful Pleco breeding. A suitable environment enhances the Plecos’ health and breeding potential.

  • Optimal Temperature: Keep the tank’s water temperature consistently between 78-82°F (25.5-27.8°C) for ideal Pleco breeding conditions.
  • Proper pH Level: Maintain the tank water’s pH level consistently between 6.5 and 7.5, ensuring an optimal breeding environment for Plecos.
  • Stable Water Conditions: Use a reliable water conditioner and monitor the water parameters closely to maintain stable conditions for Pleco breeding.
  • Regular Water Changes: Perform 20-25% water changes weekly to sustain optimal water quality and encourage successful Pleco breeding.

2. Necessary Equipment

Setting up the necessary equipment ensures a conducive breeding environment for Plecos. Proper tools and space play a crucial role in breeding success.

  • Spacious Tank: Use a minimum 20-gallon tank for smaller Pleco species, ensuring sufficient space for comfortable breeding activities.
  • Breeding Caves: Install breeding caves to provide secure and private spaces for Pleco egg-laying and protection. My recommendation: Jabukosu Aquarium Cave (link to Amazon).
  • Proper Filtration: Employ a high-capacity filter to keep the water clean and maintain a healthy environment for Pleco breeding.
  • Adequate Lighting: Ensure a 12-hour light cycle using LED or fluorescent lighting to simulate natural conditions for Plecos.

What Do Pleco Eggs Look Like?

Pleco eggs, when healthy and fertilized, exhibit a clear to slightly yellowish hue and are generally found clumped together.

They are small, round, and adhere to surfaces inside secluded spaces within the tank.

  • Healthy Eggs: Healthy, fertilized Pleco eggs are clear or slightly yellow, with visible embryos inside, indicating successful fertilization.
  • Unfertilized Eggs: Unfertilized Pleco eggs may appear opaque or white, lacking the visible embryo, and often do not adhere well to surfaces.
  • Infected Eggs: Infected Pleco eggs can have a fuzzy or cloudy appearance due to fungal or bacterial growth, signaling the need for immediate attention.
  • Location: Pleco eggs are typically found in hidden areas such as breeding caves or behind tank decorations, providing a protected environment for development.
Unfertilized pleco fish eggs surrounding a cluster of fertilized eggs in the middle

What Do I Do If My Pleco Lays Eggs?

If your Pleco lays eggs, ensure a peaceful, stable environment to optimize successful hatching and fry development.

Keep disturbances low, regulate water conditions, and prepare to nourish the forthcoming Pleco fry.

  • Minimize Disturbance: Reduce light and movement around the tank, ensuring a calm environment for the Plecos and their eggs to promote successful hatching.
  • Optimal Water Conditions: Keep water at 78-82°F (25.5-27.8°C) and pH between 6.5-7.5, utilizing heaters and pH stabilizers for optimal Pleco egg health.
  • Separate Tank: If possible, transfer the eggs gently to a separate 10-gallon breeding tank, ensuring a safe, controlled environment for Pleco egg development.
  • Observe the Eggs: Examine the Pleco eggs daily for signs of fungus or unfertilization, and remove affected eggs using a turkey baster for overall egg health.
  • Prepare for Fry: Ensure a fry-friendly tank setup and prepare a diet of micro-worms and crushed algae wafers for nourishing emerging Pleco fry.
  • Monitor Water Quality: Conduct regular water tests and 20% weekly water changes to maintain the high water quality essential for the hatching Pleco eggs.

Pleco Offspring Quantity: What to Expect?

Pleco offspring quantity can vary widely, largely dependent on the specific species of the Pleco. Generally, Plecos can lay anywhere from a few to hundreds of eggs at a time.

  • Common Pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus): Common Plecos can lay hundreds of eggs, usually producing large broods in suitable breeding conditions.
  • Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus spp.): Bristlenose Plecos typically lay around 20-200 eggs, depending on age and size, in a single breeding cycle.
  • Rubber Lip Pleco (Chaetostoma formosae): Rubber Lip Plecos generally have smaller clutches, with egg numbers averaging around 30-80 per spawn.
  • Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra): Zebra Plecos have smaller spawns, typically laying around 15-30 eggs at a time, depending on various factors.
  • Clown Pleco (Panaqolus maccus): Clown Plecos generally lay around 20-50 eggs, contributing to manageable offspring numbers for breeders.

Do Plecos Eat Their Own Fry?

No, generally, Plecos do not eat their own fry. However, various factors like stress or unsuitable tank conditions may lead to unpredictable behavior.

  • Parental Behavior: Plecos, especially males, commonly guard the eggs and fry, showing protective behavior rather than predatorial towards their offspring.
  • Tank Conditions: Ensure optimal tank conditions to minimize stress, reducing the likelihood of Plecos displaying unexpected behavior towards their fry.
  • Provide Adequate Food: Ensure Plecos have ample food supply, as hunger could potentially drive them to undesirable actions, including harming the fry.


For quick readers, here’s a short recap:

  • Plecos are egg layers and not livebearers, with males guarding the eggs in hidden areas.
  • Distinguishing male and female Plecos is crucial for successful breeding.
  • Proper nutrition, including a high-protein diet, is essential for egg-carrying Plecos.
  • Understanding Pleco spawning rituals, water conditions, and equipment is key to breeding success.
  • Pleco offspring quantity varies by species, with some laying hundreds of eggs at a time, and generally, Plecos do not eat their own fry.