What Do Plecos Eat? (With Over 20 Examples)

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Plecos are a popular pick for freshwater aquarium fans, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re famous for being friendly and not needing much care.

Now, let’s tackle some key questions: What’s the ideal food for their nutrition? How can you choose the right diet? And how frequently should you feed them?

This article will delve into these issues, helping you pick and perfect the pleco’s ideal diet. Let’s get started.

Also Read: How To Feed Plecos

Classifying the Feeding Habits of Pleco Species

Different Pleco species have different feeding habits. Broadly, you can classify them as herbivorous, carnivorous, and wood-eating Plecos.

Here’s what you should know:

1. Herbivorous Plecos

These plecos primarily feed on plant material, including algae, and often benefit from a diet supplemented with vegetables and specialty herbivore foods.

Here are some common examples of herbivorous Plecos:

  • Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.)
  • Clown Pleco (Panaqolus maccus)
  • Rubber Lip Pleco (Chaetostoma formosae)
  • Bulldog Pleco (Chaetostoma milesi)
  • Snowball Pleco (Hypancistrus inspector)
  • Sultan Pleco (Leporacanthicus joselimai)
Bulldog Pleco

2. Carnivorous Plecos

These plecos mainly consume meat-based foods, including small invertebrates, worms, and specialty carnivore foods, and typically need higher protein content in their diet.

Here are some carnivorous Plecos:

  • Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra)
  • Vampire Pleco (Leporacanthicus galaxias)
  • Peckoltia Pleco (Peckoltia sp.)
  • Panaque Pleco (Panaque sp.)
  • Adonis Pleco (Acanthicus adonis)
  • King Tiger Pleco (Hypancistrus species)
  • Golden Nugget Pleco (Baryancistrus xanthellus)
Zebra Pleco

3. Wood-Eating Plecos

These plecos naturally graze on submerged wood, ingesting the wood’s biofilm and detritus; while they don’t completely digest the wood, it plays a crucial role in their dietary intake and digestive processes.

Here’s a short list of wood-eating Plecos:

  • Royal Pleco (Panaque nigrolineatus)
  • Spotted Panaque (Panaque cochliodon)
  • Green Phantom Pleco (Baryancistrus demantoides)
  • Blue Phantom Pleco (Hemiancistrus sp.)
Blue Phantom Pleco

What Do Plecos Eat?

Now that you know whether your Pleco is herbivorous, carnivorous, or enjoys eating wood, you can consider feeding it the following:

1. Algae Wafers

Algae wafers are a staple in the diet of most plecos. Being commercially available and specially formulated, they offer a convenient and nutritious option.

  • Easily Digestible: These wafers are crafted with the nutritional needs of plecos in mind, ensuring optimal digestion.
  • Encourages Natural Behavior: Plecos can graze on these wafers throughout the day, mirroring their wild behavior.
  • Available in Multiple Sizes: From tiny to jumbo, there’s a wafer size suited for every pleco out there.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Size Matters: Choose wafer size according to your pleco’s size. For example, a juvenile pleco might require mini wafers while an adult could need large ones.
  • Feeding Frequency: Typically, offer 1 wafer every 1-2 days, ensuring the wafer gets consumed and doesn’t just decay in the tank.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: If you find uneaten portions after 24 hours, remove them and adjust the quantity you’re feeding.

2. Aquarium Algae

Natural algae growth in your tank isn’t just unsightly; it’s a pleco delicacy. They’ll happily munch on it, turning a problem into a meal.

  • Natural Food Source: Plecos evolved to feed on algae, giving them essential nutrients from a familiar source.
  • Tank Cleaners: By eating away unwanted algae, plecos act as natural janitors, keeping your tank tidy.
  • Varying Preference: Some plecos, like the Bristlenose, are particularly keen on algae, while others might be more selective.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Encourage Growth: Allow natural light to hit the tank occasionally, promoting algae growth. But be careful – too much can lead to overgrowth.
  • Monitor Consumption: Ensure your plecos are eating the algae. If algae cover becomes excessive, you may need to manually remove some.
  • Balance: While algae are good, ensure it doesn’t crowd out other plants or decrease oxygen levels in the tank.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Algae?

3. Pellets

Pellets are another go-to for many pleco enthusiasts. They sink, they’re packed with nutrients, and plecos generally enjoy them.

  • Complete Nutrition: Specialized bottom-feeder pellets are balanced to meet the nutritional needs of plecos.
  • Sinking Nature: Plecos prefer food that comes to them; sinking pellets fit the bill perfectly.
  • Different Types: While many plecos enjoy standard aquarium pellets, some, like the Zebra Pleco, have specific dietary needs and prefer protein-rich pellets.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Check Ingredients: Ensure the pellets are high in vegetable content, with about 30-40% of the total ingredients.
  • Feeding Routine: Offer pellets once a day, preferably in the evening when plecos are more active.
  • Quantity: Start with a small handful and adjust based on consumption. Uneaten pellets after 24 hours should be a sign to reduce the amount.

My recommendation: Hikari Sinking Pellets (link to Amazon).

4. Flakes

Flakes might not be the first choice for your plecos, but they can serve as an occasional supplement, especially if they sink to the tank’s bottom.

  • Occasional Snack: Sinking flakes can be an unexpected treat for your pleco, adding variety to their diet.
  • Nutritional Content: Not all flakes are created equal; it’s crucial to ensure they provide the nutrients plecos require.
  • Preference Variance: Juvenile plecos might be more inclined to nibble on flakes than their mature counterparts.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Allow Sinking: Wait for flakes to sink to the bottom; plecos aren’t surface feeders.
  • Occasional Offering: Given their nutritional limitations, offer flakes no more than 1-2 times a week.
  • Monitor Water Quality: Flakes can quickly pollute water if not consumed. Remove uneaten portions promptly.

5. Bloodworms

Bloodworms are like the candy of the fish world: a delightful treat but not an everyday meal. They offer a boost of protein and are generally well-received.

  • Protein Boost: Bloodworms serve as an excellent protein source, especially for protein-loving plecos like the Zebra Pleco.
  • Live or Frozen: Whether you opt for wriggling live worms or the frozen variety, plecos will appreciate the treat.
  • Occasional Treat: Given their rich nature, it’s best to offer bloodworms to plecos only occasionally to avoid overfeeding.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Thawing: If using frozen, ensure they’re thoroughly thawed before feeding.
  • Amount: For an average-sized pleco, 2-3 bloodworms once or twice a week should suffice.
  • Storing: If you’re buying live, ensure they’re stored in cool conditions to prolong their lifespan.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Bloodworms?

6. Brine Shrimp

These tiny critters are a tasty snack for many fish, and plecos are no exception.

They’re particularly useful for juvenile plecos and smaller pleco species, offering both entertainment and nutrition.

  • High in Protein: Brine shrimp serve as an excellent protein source, aiding in growth and overall health.
  • Live or Frozen: Like bloodworms, you can introduce them to your plecos either live or frozen. Live brine shrimp can also stimulate plecos’ natural hunting instincts.
  • Suitable for Many Plecos: While especially loved by smaller and juvenile plecos, even larger species can enjoy them as part of a varied diet.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Live vs. Frozen: Freshly hatched live brine shrimp can be more nutritious than frozen. However, if using frozen, ensure they’re thawed before feeding.
  • Amount: Offer a small pinch, ensuring your plecos can consume them within 10-15 minutes.
  • Feeding Frequency: Given their high protein content, 2-3 times a week is optimal.

7. Daphnia

Often referred to as “water fleas,” daphnia is a freshwater invertebrate that’s quite nutritious. It’s a wonderful supplement, especially if you want to add variety to your pleco’s meals.

  • Natural and Nutritious: Daphnia are packed with essential nutrients, offering plecos a balanced and wholesome snack.
  • Aids in Digestion: Due to their fibrous body, they can help with the digestion process, making them an excellent occasional treat.
  • Great for Variety: While not a primary food, daphnia can break the monotony of pellets and wafers, giving plecos something different to munch on.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Rinsing: If you’re sourcing them from natural water bodies, rinse them in fresh water to remove potential contaminants.
  • Portion: A small pinch is generally enough, ensuring it’s consumed within 15 minutes.
  • Storage: Live daphnia should be kept in cool, oxygenated water and fed to your plecos within a few days of purchase.

8. Driftwood

This might surprise you, but driftwood isn’t just for decoration! Certain pleco species, notably the Bristlenose and Clown Plecos, derive nutritional value from gnawing on driftwood.

  • Fiber Source: Driftwood offers a source of fiber, assisting in the digestion process for plecos.
  • Encourages Natural Behavior: In the wild, many plecos graze on submerged wood, extracting nutrients and keeping their teeth in check.
  • Essential for Some: While all plecos might nibble on driftwood occasionally, for species like the Bristlenose, it’s a crucial part of their diet and well-being.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Preparation: Before introducing driftwood into the tank, boil it to eliminate potential pathogens and make it sink more easily.
  • Position: Ensure the driftwood is anchored securely, so it remains accessible to plecos.
  • Maintenance: Over time, as plecos feed on it, check the wood for sharp edges or splinters and sand them down to prevent injuries.

My recommendation: Dr. Moss Aquarium Bogwood (link to Amazon).

What Vegetables Can Plecos Eat?

Plecos come in many varieties, and lots of them really enjoy eating vegetables. Here are some typical choices along with specific feeding guidelines:

1. Zucchini

Plecos have a particular fondness for zucchini. Soft and easy to digest, it’s a go-to vegetable for many aquarists.

  • Preparation: Slice the zucchini into thin discs, and blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serving: Using a veggie clip or a fork, anchor the zucchini to the bottom of the tank, ensuring plecos can easily access it.
  • Cleanup: If there’s any uneaten zucchini left after 24 hours, remove it to maintain water quality.

2. Cucumbers

Much like zucchini, cucumbers are a pleco favorite. They provide both nutrition and a bit of fun as plecos love to rasp at them.

  • Preparation: Slice cucumbers into discs. Blanching is optional but can help make them sink.
  • Serving: Secure the cucumber slices at the bottom of the tank with a fork or a veggie clip.
  • Duration: Plecos might take a while with cucumbers; remove any leftovers after 24-36 hours to prevent water fouling.

3. Spinach

Spinach provides essential vitamins and minerals. When prepared correctly, plecos will appreciate this leafy addition.

  • Preparation: Blanch fresh spinach leaves in boiling water for a minute or so, ensuring they’re soft but not mushy.
  • Serving: Attach the spinach to a weighted clip or stone, making it easily accessible for your plecos.
  • Frequency: Given its richness, feed spinach to plecos once or twice a week, and always remove uneaten portions after 24 hours.

4. Peas

Peas are not just nutritious but can aid in digestion for plecos. They’re particularly useful if you feel your pleco might be constipated.

  • Preparation: Boil peas for 3-4 minutes, then remove their shells to expose the soft inner part.
  • Serving: Crush the inner pea slightly and drop it into the tank. Plecos will gladly munch on these bite-sized treats.
  • Quantity: A couple of peas once a week should suffice. Don’t forget to remove any remnants after 24 hours.

5. Kale

Kale is a hardy leafy vegetable, rich in nutrients, making it a great occasional treat for plecos.

  • Preparation: Like spinach, blanch the kale leaves briefly in boiling water to soften them up.
  • Serving: Weigh the kale down with a suitable clip or stone so that plecos can graze on it effortlessly.
  • Consideration: Being tougher than spinach, plecos might take longer with kale. Check after 24 hours and remove any uneaten portions.

6. Lettuce

Many aquarists overlook lettuce, but it can be a low-calorie snack for your plecos. However, it’s essential to choose the right type of lettuce, as iceberg has minimal nutritional value.

  • Preparation: Opt for Romaine or other nutrient-dense lettuces. Lightly blanch the leaves to make them more palatable for the plecos.
  • Serving: Anchor the lettuce down using a clip or a weighted stone, allowing the plecos to graze comfortably.
  • Duration: While plecos enjoy lettuce, it’s best offered occasionally, and like other veggies, any leftovers should be removed after 24 hours.

7. Sweet Potatoes

A bit unconventional, but sweet potatoes are starchy and nutritious, offering a different texture and taste for adventurous plecos.

  • Preparation: Slice the sweet potato thinly and blanch for 5-6 minutes, ensuring they’re soft but still holding their shape.
  • Serving: Weight down the slices at the bottom of the tank using forks or specialized clips, making sure plecos can access them easily.
  • Nutritional Value: Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins, particularly vitamin A, which is beneficial for plecos’ overall health. However, due to their starchy nature, they should be an occasional treat.

What Fruits Can Plecos Eat?

Including fruits in your Pleco’s meals can be really good for them. Here are a few popular choices:

1. Melons

Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew are some melons your plecos might enjoy. They’re mostly water, offering a different texture and hydration.

  • Preparation: Slice into thin pieces, removing any seeds. There’s no need to blanch as they’re already soft.
  • Serving: Weight them down with a fork or a clip to allow plecos easy access.
  • Duration: Due to their water content, they can affect water quality quickly, so remove any uneaten portions within 12-18 hours.

2. Bananas

A soft and creamy delight, bananas can be a treat for your plecos, offering essential minerals like potassium.

  • Preparation: Peel and slice them into thin discs. No blanching required.
  • Serving: As with other soft fruits, weigh them down to make them pleco-accessible.
  • Frequency: Due to their sugar content, bananas should be an occasional treat, maybe once every couple of weeks.

3. Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries can be a juicy treat, packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

  • Preparation: Rinse thoroughly and, for larger berries like strawberries, slice into suitable pieces.
  • Serving: These can be offered as is; they’ll sink and your plecos can munch on them.
  • Consideration: Berries can be quite sweet; offer them sparingly, perhaps once a fortnight, and always in moderation.

4. Papaya

Papayas are rich in enzymes that can aid in digestion, making them an intriguing option for plecos.

  • Preparation: Remove the seeds and skin, then slice into thin pieces.
  • Serving: Secure the slices at the tank bottom for plecos to enjoy.
  • Benefit: Besides aiding in digestion, papayas are a good vitamin C source, promoting healthy immune systems for your plecos.

5. Mango

Sweet and juicy, mangos can be an occasional tropical treat for your plecos.

  • Preparation: Peel and pit the mango, slicing the flesh into thin portions.
  • Serving: As with other fruits, use a clip or a fork to keep the slices accessible for the plecos.
  • Duration: Mango can be a tad sugary. Offer it occasionally and remove any remnants within 12-18 hours to maintain water quality.

6. Grapes

Grapes are juicy and can be a hydrating treat, but they’re also high in sugars, so they should be given in moderation to plecos.

  • Preparation: Rinse thoroughly and cut them in half or quarters, making sure to remove any seeds.
  • Serving: You can place the grape pieces directly into the tank; their weight usually causes them to sink.
  • Consideration: Given their sugar content, grapes should be an occasional treat. Make sure to check and remove any uneaten bits after 12 hours to avoid water contamination.

7. Kiwi

This tangy fruit is packed with vitamin C and can provide an interesting taste experience for your plecos.

  • Preparation: Peel the kiwi and slice into thin discs or small pieces.
  • Serving: Kiwi slices might float initially, so using a clip or fork to weigh them down is a good idea.
  • Benefit: Kiwis not only bring in variety but also offer a decent amount of fiber, beneficial for the digestive health of your plecos.

What Do Plecos Eat in the Wild?

In their natural habitats, plecos are primarily herbivorous, feasting on algae and decaying plant matter.

However, they’re opportunistic and might consume small invertebrates occasionally.

  • Algae Grazers: Plecos have specialized mouths that allow them to rasp algae off rocks, wood, and other submerged surfaces.
  • Detritivores: Plecos often sift through the substrate consuming detritus, which consists of decaying plant matter and organic debris.
  • Occasional Protein: While plants dominate their diet, plecos won’t pass up the chance to eat tiny invertebrates or larvae if they come across them.

Commercially Prepared Food for Plecos

Plecos have a diverse palate, and commercially prepared foods are designed to mimic their natural diet, ensuring balanced nutrition.

How Much Food Should You Give Plecos?

Determining the right amount of food for plecos largely depends on their size and age.

In general, provide enough that they can consume within 2-3 hours, observing them to ensure they get their share without overfeeding.

  • Size Matters: For a smaller pleco (up to 4 inches), one or two algae wafers per day might suffice, but larger ones may require more.
  • Monitor Consumption: If food remains after a few hours, it’s likely an excess. Adjust the portion accordingly in subsequent feedings.
  • Diversify Diet: Don’t rely solely on wafers. Introduce veggies and fruits occasionally, making up about 20-25% of their weekly intake.

Also Read: How Much To Feed Plecos

How Often Should You Feed Plecos?

Plecos benefit from a consistent feeding routine. For most adult plecos, once a day feeding is sufficient, but juveniles or growing plecos might require more frequent meals.

  • Daily Routine: Feed adult plecos once a day to provide the right amount of nutrition without overcrowding the tank.
  • Juvenile Needs: Since young plecos have more energy demands, think about feeding them twice daily and adjust the amount accordingly.
  • Nighttime Feeders: Since plecos are night creatures, feeding them in the evening might match their natural eating patterns, ensuring they consume fresh food.

Also Read: How Often To Feed Plecos

What Should You Do if Your Pleco Isn’t Eating?

If you notice your pleco not eating, it could indicate various problems, like stress, illness, or environmental factors.

It’s crucial to promptly check what’s wrong and make necessary changes.

  • Inspect Water Conditions: Factors such as elevated ammonia levels or incorrect pH might reduce a pleco’s desire to eat. Make sure to test the water regularly to keep it ideal.
  • Look for Signs of Sickness: If your pleco is unwell, it may not want to eat. Keep an eye out for indications like unusual spots, color fading, or strange behaviors.
  • Review Their Food: Maybe your pleco wants a change in its menu. Consider offering a new type of food to pique its curiosity.
  • Check on Tank Mates: If there are aggressive fish in the tank, they might stress your pleco, causing it to hide and not eat. Make sure your pleco feels safe.

How Long Can Plecos Go Without Eating?

Plecos, like many fish, can survive without food for a surprisingly long time.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Generally, a healthy adult pleco can go without food for up to 10-14 days, but it’s not recommended.

  • Stored Energy: Plecos have the ability to utilize stored fats and energy, allowing them to endure short food shortages.
  • Environment Matters: If there’s algae and edible matter in the tank, a pleco can graze on it, extending its survival without conventional food.
  • Not Ideal: While they can survive, prolonged starvation can lead to health issues and stress. Always ensure consistent feeding.


Do Plecos Eat Plants?

No, Plecos primarily feed on algae in the wild. However, some species might occasionally nibble on soft plants when hungry.

  • Natural Diet: Plecos are primarily herbivores, with algae being a staple in their diet. This doesn’t mean they target aquarium plants directly.
  • Soft Plants Risk: Some Plecos, especially when not fed adequately, may graze on soft aquatic plants like Cabomba or Anacharis.
  • Plant-safe Species: There are numerous Pleco species, and while most avoid plants, research your specific species to ensure a plant-safe environment.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Plants?

Do Plecos Eat Snails?

No, Plecos typically don’t target snails as a primary food source. That being said, they might eat small, young snails unintentionally.

  • Algae Preference: Plecos primarily graze on algae and biofilm. Snails aren’t on their usual menu, making your snail population generally safe.
  • Unintentional Consumption: If a snail happens to be in the path of a Pleco, particularly small ones, it might be consumed, but it’s incidental.
  • Specific Species Behavior: As always with Plecos, the behavior might vary across species. It’s a good idea to be familiar with your Pleco’s tendencies.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Snails?

Do Plecos Eat Dead Fish?

Yes, Plecos might eat dead fish, particularly if they stumble upon the carcass. It’s not their primary food preference, but in an aquarium setting, they can act as scavengers.

  • Opportunistic Feeders: While Plecos mainly graze on algae, they can become opportunistic and consume protein sources when available.
  • Scavenger Behavior: In the wild, Plecos might come across various food sources, and a dead fish could be part of their incidental diet.
  • Healthy Feeding Habits: Regularly feeding your Plecos a balanced diet will minimize their need to resort to scavenging on carcasses.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Dead Fish?

Do Plecos Eat Fish Poop?

No, Plecos don’t specifically seek out and eat fish poop. They are primarily algae eaters, and while they do scavenge, excrement isn’t a primary part of their diet.

  • Preference for Algae: Plecos, with their specialized mouthparts, are perfectly adapted to scraping algae and not for ingesting fish waste.
  • Misunderstandings: Sometimes aquarists might mistake the Plecos’ cleaning activity as consuming poop, but they are more interested in the algae or biofilm.
  • Clean Tanks: While Plecos help in keeping tanks clean by eating algae, it’s vital to maintain water quality and not rely on them to consume waste.

Also Read: Do Plecos Eat Fish Poop?


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

  • Algae wafers offer a convenient and nutritious staple in a pleco’s diet, mirroring their natural behavior and catering to different pleco sizes.
  • Aquarium algae provides a dual benefit, serving as both a natural food source and a means of tank cleanliness, with some plecos showing a preference for this diet.
  • Pellets provide complete nutrition for plecos, with consideration for their vegetable content and feeding frequency based on consumption.
  • Plecos can enjoy occasional supplements like flakes, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia, but these treats should be given sparingly and with attention to live or frozen options.
  • A diverse diet of vegetables and fruits, such as zucchini, cucumbers, and melons, contributes to plecos’ nutritional needs while adding variety to their meals.