Butterfly Pleco: The Ultimate Guide

image of Butterfly Pleco

If you’re looking for an exciting fish to add to your aquarium tank, look no further than the butterfly pleco. It is one of the smaller species of the popular plecos, and this has a particularly striking pattern that sets it apart from others.

You might be confused about how to care for this fish if you add it to your aquarium or any special requirements it might have. This guide will tell you all you need to know about butterfly pleco.

Check out this guide for everything you need to know about butterfly pleco. It covers their care, feeding, breeding, and tank mates.

We also included an FAQ section for any questions that you may have about the fish.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Butterfly Pleco: Overview 

Butterfly pleco’s natural habitat is in Rio Negro, one of the most significant left tributaries of the Amazon region in South America. It previously had the scientific name of Ancistrus brachyurus, but more recently, other terms associated with this fish include Zonancistrus brachyurus and Dekeyseria Brachyura. 

Bottom line:

Today, if you are referring to a butterfly pleco from South America, dekeyseria Brachyura is the ideal scientific name.

This fish can camouflage depending on its surroundings, and when you put it on a light-colored substrate, you will see a bright pattern. If you place the fish on a dark-colored substrate, on the other hand, you will see a much darker pattern. (*)

Butterfly pleco uses this skill to protect itself and hide from predators. Don’t use a dark-colored substrate if you want your fish to retain its bright, beautiful stripes.

Caring For Butterfly Pleco 

Butterfly pleco is hardy fish, making them suitable for beginners to the aquarium trade. Even with that, they still need adequate care and attention to get the best results. 

Unlike some other suckerfish, butterfly plecos will need more than waste and tank overgrowth for survival.

Even though they will also feed on algae, you should supplement their diet with fish food and other vegetables. Some like to rasp on driftwood too.

Ensure your fish has clean, properly aerated water with an excellent filtration system. It is crucial to change the water in the tank frequently as well to keep your fish comfortable.


It would help if you strived to recreate the natural habitat of your tank inhabitants when planning your aquarium. For a rubber lip pleco, that means the water parameters in the tank should range from acidic to neutral on a scale of 5.6 – 7.0. (*)

During rainy seasons, their natural habitat in Rio Negro gets more acidic than usual. So, make sure to test your water regularly so the pH does not exceed seven as they prefer to stay in acidic water. Also, keep the water parameters of the hardness in the range of 2 – 18 dGH. Keep the temperature between 77 and 82OF just like their natural habitat.

These fishes also appreciate strong water currents and ensure high oxygen levels in the tank at all times. Sometimes, you will see them grazing for food on the bottom of fast-flowing waters. Keep decorations, plants, and other objects in the tank as hiding areas for the fishes in the tank, so they can play around.

Bottom line:

This fish thrive when the water is clean, well-aerated, and conditioned adequately with lots of hiding places.

Tank size

It would help if you didn’t go lower than a 40-gallon tank for keeping your butterfly pleco. When deciding the tank size to purchase, consider the tank mates and the decorations you plan to keep in the tank.

If you have juvenile rubber pleco specimens under 3 inches, you can opt for a smaller tank of about 20 gallons.


You can keep more than one specimen of this fish together. Even though the males might get in fights sometimes, it is nothing to worry about. They will flare at each other and move on to whatever else catches their attention.

If you’re choosing other fishes as tank mates for rubber plecos, look for fishes with the same or similar attributes and disposition as the butterfly pleco. If you can find small peaceful fish, you can put them in the same tank without issues. 

These fish mostly keep to themselves and will not bother harassing their tankmates.

The fish also do not eat live plants if you give them enough vegetables that they can nibble on. These fishes are algae eaters that will help you fight any algae infestation in your tank. So, you shouldn’t have any challenges keeping this fish with live plants if you want to beautify your aquarium more.

Feeding a Butterfly Pleco 

Plecos are primarily plant-matter eaters because of their herbivorous nature. Some people even keep them in their aquarium as a cleanup crew to consume algae and leftovers from other fishes. 

Butterfly pleco fish are most active after nights out, so they are ideal for feeding them. Pour just enough food that they can consume in 5 minutes for the appropriate diet. Don’t pour too much food as it will decay and contaminate the water.

What Should I Feed My Butterfly pleco?

You can give the fish vegetables like:

  • Blanched spinach
  • Cucumbers
  • Blanched romaine lettuce
  • Zucchini

You should also give them meaty foods to balance their diet out and make them healthy. You can also give them bloodworms but be careful not to overfeed them because it could block their digestive systems. 

Adding driftwood to their diet allows them to rasp on it and gives them essential fiber to help digestion and prevent bloating.

Breeding Butterfly Pleco 

You can breed this species in your aquarium successfully compared to other fish, where you’ll see less than stellar results. Decorate your aquarium with enough driftwood and create adequate spawning caves in the wood.

Butterfly pleco is a cave spawning species, so you must make crevices or caves for them. They like to keep themselves inside tight-fitting openings to breed. 

Performing significant water changes of 50-75% encourages the fishes to spawn. Water changes mimic the rainy season, which is the period they usually breed in the wild.

While you’re breeding them, make the water acidic and slightly cooler as it encourages them. The male species typically stand around to protect and fan the eggs the female has produced. 

Once the fry starts to form in about 5-7 days, the male will force them to stay inside the cave until they have formed fully.


How big do butterfly plecos get?

A butterfly pleco will grow to reach a maximum of nearly size 6 inches. They sit among the smaller species of pleco fishes as other species can grow two times their size.

How big do snowball plecos get?

Snowball pleco fish grow to sizes of 5.5 -6.3 inches in their whole adult life. So, you don’t need to get a huge tank to accommodate them. Averagely, their size is smaller than other fish and will not grow much through their fish cycles. (*)

What is the smallest pleco?

The smallest pleco fish is the Gold Spot Dwarf pleco that stays small throughout its entire life. It reaches a maximum of 2 inches and stays that way for the rest of its life. You would typically keep a minimum of 3 specimens of these species in your aquarium.

They also need plenty of driftwood and large plants with large leaves for hiding spots.

How fast do common plecos grow?

Plecos have a long lifespan of up to 12 years, but they reach their full size in their first five years. Common pleco grows very fast in their first year, and it slows down in subsequent years.

They can grow as much as 3-5 inches in their first year, and after that, their growth is usually unnoticeable for the next couple of years until they reach their full size. Averagely, common species of this fish get to 20-25 inches when they’re fully grown.

Are plecos dangerous?

This typically depends on the species of fish you have. Some become aggressive and can kill in some instances when they’re in inappropriate environments. However, you don’t have to worry about any of that when dealing with a butterfly pleco.


You should be confident enough to decide if you want butterfly plecos in your aquarium by now. Check the tank requirements properly before purchasing them and provide the best possible care you can.

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