Do Plecos Need A Bubbler? (And Which One To Get)

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A few years back, one of my fellow aquarists told me that Plecos can get pretty large, and therefore, require a lot of oxygen.

But do they actually need an airstone in their tank? Can’t they just go with a simple filter? And what can you use if you don’t have a bubbler at the moment?

Here, I’ll address all these questions and many more, so you leave with nothing hanging. Let’s get started.

Do Plecos Need A Bubbler?

No, Plecos do not specifically need a bubbler. However, they do benefit from a well-oxygenated environment like other fish.

  • Oxygen Levels: Plecos, like other fish, rely on dissolved oxygen in the water. While they can survive in various conditions, better oxygenation ensures healthier fish and may reduce stress.
  • Natural Habitat: In their natural habitat, Plecos are often found in fast-flowing streams. These environments naturally have high levels of oxygenation, hinting at their preference.
  • Tank Mates: If Plecos share a tank with other fish, especially those requiring higher oxygen levels, a bubbler can be beneficial. It ensures all inhabitants receive adequate oxygen.
  • Tank Size: Plecos, especially common varieties, can grow quite large. In larger tanks, water circulation can become an issue; a bubbler can help distribute oxygen more evenly.
  • Alternative Methods: While Plecos don’t require a bubbler, using powerful filters or powerheads can achieve similar oxygenation and circulation results. It’s about keeping the environment optimal for the Plecos and any other tank inhabitants.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Tank Setup

Selecting the Right Air Bubbler for Your Pleco

Before you start your search for a bubbler online, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Think About Your Aquarium’s Size

Your aquarium’s size directly determines the efficiency and suitability of the bubbler you choose.

Picking the right size ensures that your Plecos have a consistently oxygenated environment to thrive in.

  • Capacity Matching: For a 100-gallon tank housing Plecos, it’s pivotal to select a bubbler designed to handle such volumes, ensuring proper oxygen distribution.
  • Uneven Oxygenation: Opting for a small bubbler in expansive tanks can inadvertently lead to oxygen-deprived zones, detrimental to the health and well-being of your fish.
  • Aesthetic Considerations: A bubbler that’s disproportionately large for smaller tanks disrupts the visual harmony, potentially overshadowing your Plecos.
  • Water Circulation: Especially in voluminous tanks, ensuring there are no stagnant, low-oxygen pockets is crucial for the comfort of roaming Plecos.

2. Go for Bubblers with Adjustable Airflow

The ability to adjust airflow can be a significant asset, offering flexibility to accommodate changes in your Pleco’s habitat.

  • Growth Considerations: Plecos, as they mature and grow, may necessitate different oxygen concentrations; adjustable bubblers are a future-proof choice.
  • Tank Mates Accommodation: Introducing diverse fish species? An adjustable bubbler ensures harmony, catering to Plecos and their tank mates.
  • Maintenance Periods: During tank clean-ups or redesigns, having the capability to reduce airflow can minimize disturbance to the fish.
  • Energy-conscious: Running a bubbler continuously at maximum may not always be warranted; adjustability can translate to energy savings.

3. Check for Noise Levels

An undisturbed, tranquil environment is both beneficial for your Plecos and pleasant for the household.

  • Stress Avoidance: Plecos, like most aquatic creatures, flourish in calm, predictable settings; a hushed bubbler ensures such tranquility.
  • Household Serenity: Particularly during the quiet nighttime hours, a noisy bubbler can become a significant disturbance.
  • Vibration Alerts: A bubbler emitting excessive noise might also be producing disruptive vibrations, potentially unsettling for Plecos.
  • Informed Decisions: Leveraging user reviews can provide insights into a bubbler’s noise output, guiding a more informed purchase.

4. Make Quality and Durability a Priority

Consistently replacing malfunctioning bubblers can be tedious; investing in quality safeguards your Plecos and offers peace of mind.

  • Long-term Savings: Although premium bubblers might command a higher initial cost, their extended lifespan often means fewer replacements, benefitting both your pocket and fish.
  • Reliability: A durable bubbler ensures a consistent oxygen supply, crucial for the well-being of your Plecos.
  • Material Matters: Premium bubblers often employ superior materials, resisting wear and tear, and ensuring a long service life.
  • Brand Reputation: Established brands with positive reviews are often synonymous with quality, ensuring your Plecos receive the best care.

Taking all these aspects into account, I personally suggest the Hygger Aquarium Air Stone (link to Amazon), which is the one currently in use in my own tank.

Other Ways to Aerate Your Pleco’s Tank

While bubblers do a good job of oxygenating aquarium water, there are alternative methods to aerate your tank:

1. Manual Aeration

Manually aerating the water can serve as a quick fix in emergencies. This involves using simple tools at hand to create surface agitation, introducing much-needed oxygen.

  • Immediate Solution: If a power outage lasts 2-3 hours, manual aeration every 30 minutes can maintain sufficient oxygen for Plecos.
  • Simple Approach: By using a clean pitcher or cup, scoop up about a liter of tank water and pour it back from a height of 12-18 inches, creating beneficial surface agitation.
  • Limited Duration: While effective in the short term, manually aerating for longer than 4 hours becomes impractical; Plecos would need a more consistent solution.
  • Gentle Stirring: Using a long rod or spoon, gently stir the water, especially near the bottom, ensuring areas Plecos frequent are adequately aerated.

2. HOB Filters (Hang-On-Back Filters)

HOB filters not only clean the water but also aid in aeration. Their design ensures that returning water creates surface movement, facilitating oxygen exchange.

  • Efficiency: HOB filters, when sized appropriately for a 50-gallon tank, can process and aerate the water 4-5 times per hour.
  • Surface Agitation: The cascading water effect from a HOB filter breaks the surface tension, promoting increased oxygen intake beneficial for Plecos.
  • Maintenance: Cleaning the filter media every 3-4 weeks ensures optimal performance, benefiting the water quality for Plecos.
  • Placement Matters: For tanks housing multiple Plecos, placing the HOB filter in areas they frequent ensures better oxygen distribution.

Also Read: Do Plecos Need A Filter?

3. Air Pumps

My recommendation: Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump (link to Amazon).

Air pumps, when combined with air stones or decorations, produce bubbles that increase the tank’s oxygen levels, offering a visually appealing way to aerate.

  • Bubbling Decor: Attach the pump to a bubbling ornament; as it releases bubbles, it increases oxygen, creating a lively environment for Plecos.
  • Adjustability: Many modern air pumps have adjustable flow rates, allowing aquarists to fine-tune the oxygen levels for their fish.
  • Regular Maintenance: Cleaning or replacing the air stone every 6-8 weeks ensures a steady flow of bubbles, optimizing aeration for Plecos.
  • Placement Tips: Positioning the air stone near the tank’s center provides uniform aeration, benefiting all areas your fish inhabit.

Also Read: Do Plecos Need An Air Pump?

4. Introduce Live Plants

Live aquatic plants photosynthesize, releasing oxygen into the water, which can naturally support the oxygen requirements of Plecos.

  • Natural Process: Plants like Anubias or Java Fern, when adequately lit for 8-10 hours, can produce a substantial oxygen amount, supporting Plecos’ needs.
  • Carbon Dioxide Utilization: As plants consume CO2 during the day, they help maintain a balanced environment.
  • Aesthetic and Functional: Aside from aeration, live plants offer hiding and grazing spots, enhancing the natural habitat for Plecos.
  • Diverse Choices: Incorporating a mix of fast and slow-growing plants offers varied oxygen output levels throughout the day, benefiting the Plecos’ environment.

Do Plecos Need Flow?

Yes, Plecos do benefit from some water flow in their tank. However, the intensity of the flow should be tailored to the species and their natural habitat conditions.

  • Natural Habitat Mimicry: Plecos originate from flowing river habitats in South America, where moving water provides them with vital oxygen and food sources.
  • Oxygenation: A gentle flow ensures better distribution of oxygen throughout the tank, enabling Plecos to breathe more comfortably and reducing stagnant areas.
  • Stimulation: Flow can stimulate natural behaviors in Plecos, encouraging them to explore, forage, and display more dynamic interactions within their environment.
  • Waste Management: Proper flow helps in evenly distributing and subsequently filtering waste products, ensuring that the environment remains clean and conducive for Plecos.


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

  • Plecos do not specifically need a bubbler, but well-oxygenated water benefits their health and reduces stress.
  • Bubblers are helpful in tanks with other fish needing higher oxygen levels and larger tanks to distribute oxygen evenly.
  • When selecting a bubbler, consider tank size, adjustable airflow, noise levels, quality, and durability.
  • Alternative methods like manual aeration, HOB filters, air pumps, and live plants can also provide oxygen for Plecos.
  • Water flow is beneficial for Plecos, mimicking their natural habitat and promoting oxygen distribution, stimulation, waste management, and species-specific needs.