Clown Pleco | Panaqolus maccus care & info

Looking for an interesting bottom dweller for your South America style aquarium? The popular bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.) is nice and all, but did you know there are more small Plecos out there? The wood-eating Panaqolus maccus, also known as the clown Pleco, is a dwarf Pleco appreciated for its striped pattern.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping a clown Pleco in your own aquarium!

Minimum tank size 20 gallons (76 liters)
Temperament Peaceful
Diet Omnivore (mainly wood and greens)
Temperature 73-82 °F (22.5-27.6 °C) 
pH 6.6-7.8


Clown Pleco or ringlet Pleco (scientifically: Panaqolus maccus). In the numbering systems meant to identify the many species of similar catfish out there this species is known as L104, L162 or LDA022.

Clown Pleco natural habitat

Wild clown Plecos originate from Venezuela and Colombia where they are captured from the Orinoco River. They are typically found near riverbanks among tangles of driftwood and plants where their dark colors help them camouflage and there is plenty of food to sustain their wood-based diet.

Clown Pleco appearance

The clown Pleco is a pretty striking fish with a dark body and multiple bands of color. The bands range from tan to bright orange naturally, although age, mood, and diet can impact the contrast as well. The color patterns may also vary between regions, with some clown Plecos featuring straight bars and others showing a more wavy pattern.

Clown Plecos are a dwarf Pleco (Loricariid) species, typically only growing 3.5 to 4 inches (9-10 cm) in length. This being said, there are exceptions to the rule since some clown Plecos have been reported to grow larger. Fortunately, these guys as a whole are still much smaller than other common Loricariids, such as the “tank-busting” common Pleco which is on the list of worst beginner fish.

Clown Pleco requirements

Despite their small size, the most common recommendation for keeping clown Plecos successfully is 20 gallons (76 liter). This has to do with their diet, which largely consists of wood. Wood cannot be digested very efficiently, which causes the clown Pleco to produce large amounts of waste that can quickly foul a smaller tank to the point of causing water quality issues.

Even 20 gallons is considered too small by some Pleco enthusiasts and, as always, bigger is better. For most dwarf catfish varieties, you should aim for at least 30 gallons (114 liters). This will give you a lot more options when it comes to building up a community with different tankmates as well.

  • Substrate. When setting up the aquarium for your clown Pleco, it’s best to have a sand substrate.
  • Hides. Lots of driftwood for foraging and hiding are a must. If clown Plecos don’t have enough hiding places, they won’t have the confidence to come out and explore. Thus, as paradoxical as it sounds, you will actually see your fish more if you give it more places to retreat to when it feels threatened! You can get special ceramic Pleco caves to use as hides; these come with the added advantage of doubling as spawning locations.
  • Lighting. It’s handy to make the fish feel less exposed by placing dark backgrounds against the back and sides of the aquarium. Additionally, you may want to consider having lots of floating plants to help dim harsh aquarium lights: anything that helps your aquarium approach the look of the dark Orinoco river.
  • Temperature & parameters. Clown Plecos can tolerate a range of water parameters but do best with a pH of 6.6 to 7.8 and temperatures of 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (22.5-27.6 °C). 
Clown Pleco

Clown Pleco tankmates

Since clown Plecos are bottom dwellers, they tend to do well in standard peaceful communities, as they stay in areas of the tank that their tankmates don’t frequent. However, it’s still important to make sure that the dwarf Plecos have enough hides and space to themselves. They may sometimes be hostile towards other community fish if food or territory is scarce, although this is only realy to be expected when resources are limited.

If you’d like to keep things somewhat biotope correct and go for tankmates from similar areas, a few species to consider would be Corydoras habrosus, cardinal tetras and German blue rams.

If you plan to have more than one clown Pleco, you’ll want to have at least an extra 10 gallons (38 liters) of space since they can become territorial towards their own kind. They may even become territorial towards other similar Pleco species, so it’s generally recommended to only have one of these fish unless you have ample space or plan to breed.

Did you know? Clown Plecos can live to be up to 10 years old! If you’re not prepared to commit yourself to the aquarium hobby for that long, then catfish in general may not be for you.

Clown Pleco diet

Like many other Pleco species, clown Plecos are often used in aquariums to combat algae on glass and rocks. Since clown Plecos actually primarily eat the outer layer of decaying driftwood instead, you’ll need to have plenty of pieces of aquarium-safe wood hand to keep these guys happy. Cholla wood is an affordable option that your clown Plecos will appreciate. Ff you have beautiful wood for your hardscape that you’re in love with, you should avoid these fish!

You also have to be careful with what plants you use in your aquascape. Since clown Plecos are used to scraping away wood, if they try to munch algae off sensitive plants with thin leaves, they can cause major damage. To avoid this issue, you should opt for hardier plants with large, thick leaves, such as Amazon swords.

Just like with all animals, the key to keeping these Plecos healthy is to vary their diet. Clown Plecos are omnivores that will readily snack on most things that are given to them. Algae-based catfish wafers and frozen foods, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia make good choices. They’ll also eat your typical bottom-dweller blanched vegetables, such as zuccini, cucumber, lettuce, and whole peas. They’re reported to be huge fans of yams!

Note: As has been briefly touched upon earlier, it’s important to keep in mind that clown Plecos, like a lot of wood eaters, produce a lot of solid waste. To keep your water chemistry in check, be sure to make siphoning the substrate a regular part of your cleaning routine. You’ll also want to have strong filtration to help deal with the excess debris and ammonia.

Clown Pleco behavior

Clown Plecos are shy fish that tend to do their own thing in the background. Even if you have plenty of appropriate hides, you may not see them as often as you’d like. If you want an active centerpiece fish, this species of dwarf Pleco may not be for you.

Clown Pleco breeding

When it comes to finding clown Plecos in the hobby, it should be noted that a lot of specimens are wild caught. Even so, these fish are bred in captivity as well with varying degrees of success. With a good diet alone, these fish can be prompted to spawn, although hobbyists have more success when properly conditioning breeding pairs.

In order to condition their clown Plecos, hobbyists have to replicate the dry season followed by the rainy season in the home aquarium. There are multiple ways of doing this. Everyone has a slightly different method, but the gist of it is that the fish are first fed a high-protein diet for several weeks while gradually raising the water temperature, which is meant to simulate the dry season. Then the rainy season is simulated by doing a large water change with cooler, softer water, which triggers the fish to spawn.

Once they are in the mood for some lovin’, the fish seek out and spawn inside of caves, although they prefer doing so in wood caves over rock. The caves should have a narrow opening, only wide enough for the fish to fit through, and be at least as long as the length of the fish.

After the eggs are fertilized, the male will stay with and guard the eggs and juveniles for up to a month before finally emerging with his new family. Because of this parental behavior, the disappearance of a male is often a sign that a spawn has been successful. Quite fascinating to see and breeding your clown Plecos is definitely worth a try.

If you have any more questions about clown Pleco care or if you want to share your own experiences with this tiny Plecostomus, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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