Gold Nugget Pleco 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

The gold nugget pleco (scientifically known as Baryancistrus xanthellus) is one of the most popular pleco species found in Brazil. Technically, the proper identification for this species is L018 or L-18 – but this doesn’t have the same ring as gold nugget pleco. 

Distinctive for its unique appearance and easy maintenance, this species is one of the best for hobbyists of all skill levels. Interestingly, this is a relatively new species to captivity, with the first gold nugget pleco in captivity documented in the early 1980s.

Pleco belong to the catfish family, which is one of the most popular species among hobbyists and aquarium owners. 

Known mostly for its black coloring with yellow polka dots, the gold nugget pleco is certainly one of the most interesting fish to own in a tank. 

Care Guide

Tank Size

While the gold nugget pleco is one of the easiest fish species to own, the one downside is the size of the tank they require. These are fairly large fish growing to lengths between 7-10”, meaning they will need a sufficient amount of space in a tank to both survive and enjoy its life. 

The recommended tank size for a gold nugget pleco is at least 50 gallons. The bigger, the better, especially if you plan on having more than one gold nugget pleco. Some owners will keep their gold nugget pleco in a 30-gallon tank, but this just isn’t enough room for them to comfortably live. They can get big, after all, and as they are bottom-feeders they aren’t likely to swim around the whole tank. 

Tank Mates

The gold nugget pleco is compatible with most tank mates as long as you follow this simple rule: don’t allow it to mingle with other plecos or catfish species. 

In the majority of tanks, the gold nugget pleco is a tolerant and peaceful species. The best tank mates would be fish that don’t go near the bottom of the tank, so they hardly ever have to cross paths!

Here are some ideal tank mates for the gold nugget pleco:

  • Sparkling gourami
  • Honey gourami
  • Pearl gourami
  • Dwarf gourami
  • Rummy nose tetra
  • Neon tetra
  • Ember tetra
  • Apistogramma
  • Celestial pearl danio
  • All goldfish types

Same Species Tanks

The golden rule when caring for a gold nugget pleco is to avoid putting it in a tank with other catfish or plecos, which means that same species tanks aren’t recommended for this species.

This is because gold nugget plecos can be territorial and potentially aggressive to fish of a similar size. These fish are quite large, after all, so they will fight for their space in a tank. 

Water Parameters

While the gold nugget pleco isn’t a hardy or adaptable species, their water parameter requirements are easily attainable and maintainable for all tank owners.

You just need to make sure to keep the water clean and tested, especially in the first few weeks of owning a gold nugget pleco, to ensure your fish is happy and healthy. The gold nugget pleco has a semi-sensitive nature, so the quality of the water is imperative to its health. 

Here are the key water parameters to follow:

  • Water Temperature: 73-79 °F
  • Water Hardness: 5-15 dH
  • Acidity: 6.5-7.5 pH

What To Put In Their Tank

As with any fish species, the tank should aim to replicate the species’ natural habitat as much as possible. As the gold nugget pleco is a bottom-feeder who will spend most of its time at the bottom of the tank, the first step is to find the right substrate.

Soft substrates like sand are the best for this, as sand is non-harmful to the fish and is what the species is used to. Anything too rough will cause cuts (and infections) as well as increase stress levels. 

Gold nugget plecos aren’t a fan of bright light, so make sure the bottom of the tank is slightly darker by filling the tank with aquatic plants (which also help to maintain the quality of the water). Anything that falls from these plants then becomes food to the gold nugget pleco, though they aren’t inclined to eat the entire plant thankfully. 

Aside from the substrate, the most important thing to put in their tank is something they can hide behind. Hiding places like rocks, driftwood, and caves are excellent for the gold nugget pleco who will use the shelters as hiding spots. Just make sure there are no sharp edges that could accidentally cut your fish!

Common Diseases

Not only is the gold nugget pleco a low-maintenance fish, but they also aren’t prone to any species-specific diseases! Still, this doesn’t make them invincible to other common diseases. 

Infections are the most common disease in any tank, such as ich and parasites. Thankfully, these can be solved and prevented quite easily as long as you maintain the quality of the water. Keeping them on the right diet will also contribute to maintaining their health. 

Food & Diet

The gold nugget pleco will eat just about anything, which has its pros and cons. The pro to this omnivorous diet is that coming up with a diet plan is really easy, but the con is that you can’t just chuck in whatever you think they would like. 

This species loves algae and protein-rich foods. In the wild, the gold nugget pleco will scour the bottom of the water to munch on algae and organic waste. They will also feast on yummy bloodworms. 

This means that you should give your gold nugget pleco a range of algae, trimmings from aquatic plants, bloodworms, tubifex, and flakes or pellets. Make sure the pellets are sinking ones, as the species is a bottom-feeder who won’t swim to the surface!

Just remember to not overfeed your gold nugget pleco too much, as not only can this be detrimental to their health, but excessive food can impact the quality of the water. 


The average lifespan of a gold nugget pleco is 5 years in captivity, though some have been recorded to live up to 6 or 7 with immaculate care. The short lifespan of this species is one of the reasons why beginner hobbyists like the fish so much. 

Interestingly, the lifespan of the gold nugget pleco in the wild is said to be a few years longer. 


The gold nugget pleco stands out for its unique appearance above all else. This species is very clearly in the catfish family, but it’s the coloration that stands out most.

The most prominent color of this fish is the completely black body, which contrasts with (as the name suggests) yellow polka dots placed somewhat evenly throughout the whole body. The only part of their body that isn’t black are the ends of the dorsal and caudal fins, which are a bright yellow. 

The shape of the gold nugget pleco is very standard for most pleco species – they have flat heads with a sucker mouth designed to easily eat the food at the bottom of the tank.

Their bodies are wide towards their heads, gradually narrowing to the caudal fin. The pectoral fins are large and point backwards to rest on the substrate.  


The gold nugget pleco is a fairly large pleco, with an average length of between 7-10”. The size is almost directly linked to the health of the fish – the longer, the happier!

Behavior & Temperament

Gold nugget plecos have a generally tolerant and laid-back temperament. They don’t have a tendency to be aggressive, unless they are put in a tank with the same or closely related species, as this is when they can become territorial.

In most cases, however, they just hang around at the bottom of the tank or in their hiding places minding their own business. 

Owners are most likely to see activity from the gold nugget pleco at night, as they’re not fans of bright daylight. 


As the gold nugget pleco shouldn’t be in a same species tank, breeding them in captivity isn’t a good idea.

There is very little information on how to breed this species at home, so we recommend avoiding doing this. Only experienced hobbyists and aquarists with the right equipment and resources should attempt to breed a gold nugget pleco. 

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

The gold nugget pleco is a bit of a sexually monomorphic fish, which means that there are few physical differences between the males and females. However, male gold nugget plecos tend to be wider than the females, with a slightly flatter slope to their foreheads. The females have a rounder forehead. 

Fun Facts

  • The gold nugget pleco is found in Brazil and Venezuela. Their favorite habitat is the darkened parts of the Amazon River underneath rocks and in caves. 
  • It wasn’t until 1981 when the gold nugget pleco was introduced to captivity in the United Kingdom. 
  • This species loves vegetables like cucumber and cabbage – just make sure to steam the veggies beforehand to kill off any bacteria that could affect the quality of the water!