Zebra Pleco 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

The Zebra Pleco is an attractive freshwater fish. Their distinctive stripy appearance makes them very popular with all types of aquarists and they are considered very easy to look after. 

If you want to know more about this fish or you are considering getting some of your own, read on to find out all about their behaviour, tank requirements, diet and much more. 

Species Summary 

Zebra Plecos are not as common as other types of Pleco, and therefore are more expensive to buy. They are endemic to Rio Xingu in Brazil, but the construction of dams in this area has made them an endangered species in the wild.

However, they are successfully bred in captivity so are still available to purchase for home aquariums. They are nocturnal, and despite their fancy coloring they are shy fish rather than gregarious show offs. 

Care Guide

Tank Size

20 gallons is the minimum requirement for Zebra Plecos, but the more space they have the better! 30 gallons recommended to give them plenty of room to swim around and explore.

Providing your Zebra Plecos with plenty of space is especially important if you are keeping them in a group as having more space will reduce disagreements over territory, 

Tank Mates

Zebra Plecos can be housed with freshwater fish of a similar size that also have a peaceful temperament. They should be preferably placed with fish that stick to the upper part of the aquarium.

Avoid placing them with other bottom dwellers of different species, especially ones that are larger in size, as Zebra Plecos are too timid to compete for food.

Suitable tank mates include cherry shrimp, phantom tetra and harlequin rasbora. Zebra Plecos can also successfully live alongside freshwater aquarium snails, as long there aren’t too many of them. 

Same Species Tanks

The most optimal tank mates for Zebra Plecos are more Zebra Plecos! A small community of Zebra Plecos will function best when one male is housed with several females, as this reduces aggression within the group. 

Water Parameters

Zebra Plecos are more straightforward to look after than many other species of freshwater fish as the required water parameters are fairly wide. This is because the waters in their natural habitat are quite neutral.

The ideal water temperature is somewhere between 79 and 88 degrees fahrenheit. The PH level should be within 6.5 and 7.0, and the water hardness within 2 to 6KH. Perform regular water tests to monitor and maintain these conditions. 

What To Put In Their Tank

The Zebra Pleco’s natural habitat is one of the clearest river basins of the Amazon with a wide variety of plant life. This provides an exciting environment with lots of places to explore and hide. 

To recreate this fun habitat in your tank you will need to start with a sand substrate layer. You can also use gravel as long as the pieces are too big to be swallowed.

Add plenty of smooth rocks, driftwood and caves to create spaces to explore and hide in. The surfaces need to be smooth as Zebra Plecos have sucker mouths and will attach themselves to various surfaces in the tank. 

Choose a wide variety of plant life to keep your fish happy. They are nocturnal fish so low lighting conditions are preferable. They like strong current, so ensure you have a strong water filter. 

Common Diseases

If the water parameters are wrong, the tank is poorly maintained, or their diet lacks nutrients, then Zebra Plecos are vulnerable to the same parasites and bacterial infections as other freshwater fish in domestic aquariums. These include the Ich parasite and fin rot. 

You may want to consider regular anti-fungal/anti-bacterial treatments to prevent diseases. A strong filter will help to keep the water clean, and you should change 20% of the water every week. 

If some of your fish do become ill, you will need to move them to a quarantine tank to stop the spread of disease. Be sure to avoid all copper-based medication as they have an intolerance to copper. 

Food & Diet

Whilst these omnivorous bottom-dwellers do eat algae from smooth surfaces, this isn’t their  favourite kind of food. Zebra Plecos need a diet high in protein. You can feed them on sinking pellets that will reach the bottom section of the tank , as well as live or freeze dried shrimp and bloodworms.

To add some vegetables into their diet for variety and nutrients, try feeding them crushed peas, chopped zucchini or other green vegetables. 

When feeding your Zebra Plecos, it is important to remember that they are smaller than other plecos which includes their mouths. They can only eat small pieces of food.  


Zebra Plecos can live 10 to 15 years in a well maintained tank. However, this lifespan will reduce dramatically if the fish are not well cared for. They need plenty of space to reduce stress and a fun environment to explore.

The water parameters must be maintained correctly, and the tank should be clean. Their diet needs to be rich in protein and nutrients. If you can stick to those guidelines, your fish should live a long and happy life.  


Zebra Plecos get their name from the alternating vibrant black and white stripes across their body. They have the typical pleco shape of a flat body and a sucker mouth with four whiskers.

Their eyes are large and bulbous, which is quite endearing to look at. They have a triangular dorsal fin, and the other fins are large and rayed. Zebra Plecos can become more streamlined and lie completely flat when necessary. 


Zebra Plecos are smaller than most other types of Pleco. When they are fully grown they are around 3 to 4 inches long. 

Behaviour & Temperament

Zebra Plecos may have a flamboyant appearance, but they are shy fish with a passive personality. If placed with unsuitable tank mates they can often be bullied. 

It is important to feed Zebra Plecos in a quiet area of the tank as they are not confident to fight for their food. They will avoid a frenzy of feeding fish and go hungry.

Zebra Plecos are nocturnal and will spend most of the day hiding in caves. At night they become more active, swimming around quite a lot and exploring the tank. 

Whilst these fish are placid and peaceful, they can be territorial with members of their own species, especially males. To avoid fighting amongst your group of Zebra Plecos, make sure they have plenty of space and avoid having too many males. 


In the wild, Zebra Plecos breed in the rainy season, which is the beginning of July through to the end of September.

To replicate this environment in your tank to encourage breeding, there are a few simple steps you can take. Raise the temperature of the water to 82 degrees fahrenheit and the increase oxygen levels in the water. 

When the female is ready to lay eggs, the male will chase her into a cave.The female will lay around 15 eggs, then the male will go into the cave after her and fertilize them. The male will then watch over the eggs until they hatch, sometimes for a little while afterwards.

The eggs should hatch within 3 to 7 days. The smallfry will eat the egg sac, as there is plenty of nutrients in it. Once they have eaten the sac, you can feed them powdered food. When they have grown big enough, move onto feeding them baby shrimp. The smallfry will grow up to 1cm every 6 to 8 weeks. 

You can start breeding once the females are 3 years old. Don’t be alarmed if the first spawn of eggs is unfertile, this is very common. The eggs will be yellow or orange in colour. If this happens, the second spawn of eggs should be successful.  

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

It can be quite challenging to tell the difference between male and female Zebra Plecos. Both males and females have small hairs on pectoral fins, but these hairs are more prominent on males. The males tend to have wider heads than the females.

Sometimes males have some additional orange coloring on their fins, but not all males have this feature. There are no other significant differences to help tell the sexes apart. 

Fun Facts 

  • It is Illegal to export Zebra Plecos from Brazil due to their status as an endangered species. However, they are sometimes smuggled out of the country and sold as pets.