Care of Sucker Fish

By Kimberley Jace

The sucker fish, also known as a plecostomus (pleh-KOS-toe-muss) or "common pleco," is a valuable resident in any fish tank. Sucker fish eat discarded food from the bottom of the tank and clean algae off tank surfaces. Their low-profile personalities make them compatible with all but the most aggressive tank mates.

A Suitable Home

Sucker fish like a well-decorated tank. Although they may interact with other fish in the tank, a pleco is most comfortable with plenty of places to hide. Intricate ceramic aquarium decorations that tend to collect algae are practical if you have a sucker fish in the tank; he'll keep them polished. A tank that receives natural sunlight through a window for part of the day and consequently grows algae will supply the sucker fish's need for fresh greenery and also give him a chance to bask for short periods of time. Add at least one piece of driftwood to the tank; sucker fish like to chew on wood with the rasp-like teeth that surround their mouths. Keep water temperature in the same range as for other tropical fish (68 to 82 degrees F) and be sure the water is moving and aerated by using filters.

The Right Food

While a sucker fish will eat green algae from the tank as well as flakes of food you add for his tank mates, he will be healthiest with regular treats of fresh food. A clean romaine lettuce leaf planted in the gravel will attract all the fish; plecos also like fresh or frozen (thawed) peas, bits of cucumber and partially cooked zucchini. Drop in an occasional commercial algae disk at night, when the other fish aren't feeding, to be sure the nocturnal pleco gets enough greens.

Special Considerations

Purchase an active sucker fish that has a level or plump (not hollow-looking) belly. Leave an inch or two of air space at the top of the tank; sucker fish will occasionally swallow air to control their buoyancy. But leave the lid on the tank; they can leap short distances. If you find your sucker fish has jumped the tank, place him back in the water to recover; they can live short periods of time without water. Plecos are often ignored by their tank mates, but occasionally an aggressive fish will bully a sucker fish. If this happens, relocate the sucker to a more peaceful tank. A healthy sucker fish may live 10 years or more and eventually grow 12 to 18 inches. A full-sized sucker fish will be happiest in a 55-gallon tank.