The Sailfin Pleco is a Pleco species that is extremely popular in aquariums for its intriguing colors, and peaceful behavior. Named so after its large dorsal fin, the sailfin Pleco is often referred to as a “Leopard” Pleco, depending on its color which is rather unique.
If you are looking for a large, peaceful, and nocturnal algae eater for your communal tank, or as a single species, the Sailfin Pleco can make a fascinating, and captivating addition, or initial pet for your aquarium.
Two main considerations for Sailfin Plecos are that they have ample tank space, and consistent clean water conditions, other than that they are fairly easy to keep.
|Origin||The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers|
|Lifespan||15 – 20 years|
|Size||38 – 51cm, (15 – 20 Inches)|
|Colors||Orange, brown, tan, albino|
|Food||Algae Eater (with some supplementation)|
|Tank Size||100 Gallons|
|Temperament||Peaceful bottom feeder, mostly nocturnal|
|Water Temperature||73–85°F (23–35°C)|
|Water pH||5 – 7.5|
|Difficulty Level||Easy, beginner-friendly, but hard to breed|
Sailfin Pleco Species Summary
Also known as Gibbys, Clown Plecos, or the Leopard Sailfin Pleco, Sailfin Pleco, Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps is a species native to the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. It forms part of the armored catfish species known as Loricariidae and is one of several species mainly known as the Common Pleco. The Sailfin Pleco is known for its characteristic large dorsal fin that resembles the sail of a boat.
A bottom feeder mostly in the aquarium that can reach considerably large sizes, with a long lifespan so care needs to be taken when considering the size of your tank.
Color In Sailfin Plecos
The Sailfin Pleco shows characteristics in body shape similar to that of most Pleco species, except for the very prominent dorsal fin with over 9 rays.
The Sailfin Pleco, many times referred to as the Leopard Pleco will have a brown, orange, or tan/yellow colored body with larger brown/black spots that may resemble a honeycomb, or leopard skin from the head up to the tail.
The Sailfin Pleco will develop its colors as it matures, however when stressed, and with age, its colors may fade becoming more saturated.
Male And Female Differences
Luckily, the Sailfin Pleco is one of the few Pleco species in which it is easier to differentiate between males and females. The Mature male will have a single genital organ with a thick stump-like shape, the female possesses a similar organ that is much smaller than that of the male.
- Leopard Sailfin Pleco – The Sailfin Pleco comes in different color bases as mentioned, brown, tan, or orange. I have added the Leopard Sailfin Pleco which is not another color variation, but rather another name used for the species. Most Leopard Plecos have more of a tan-colored beige body, with prominent dark brown spots covering the entire body and fins.
- Spotted Sailfin Pleco – The Spotted Sailfin Pleco not to be confused with the Leopard Pleco has a Dark brown body with irregular patterned gold spots covering the body and fins.
- Albino Sailfin Pleco – A separate color variation of the Sailfin, and Leopard Pleco is the Albino Sailfin Pleco. It is characterized by a white body with pink or yellow color patterns and red eyes. An albino variation of sailfin plecos also exists. These fish have white bodies with pink and yellow coloration and red eyes.
Size And Lifespan
A Sailfin Pleco can grow up to an enormous size of 61cm, or 24 Inches, with the regular mature sizes being between 38- 51 cm and 15 – 20 inches. They have a long lifespan of between 15 and 20 years and grow slowly, though it is a myth that they will not grow larger than their tank allows. Thus, you will need a very large tank, as the Sailfin Pleco matures.
Sailfin Pleco Temperament
Relatively popular in aquariums for its unique appearance and ability to eat algae, the Sailfin Pleco is peaceful towards other fish species, though similarly territorial towards its species. Sailfin Plecos, on the contrary, are not nocturnal, are more active at night, and are secluded and shy during the day.
They have contradictory behavior being extremely active and lively, and then returning to the exact opposite, hiding out on their favorite log, or hiding area.
As with most Pleco Species, the Sailfin Pleco is a bottom dweller that will spend most of its time at the bottom of the tank, or on a piece of driftwood.
The Sailfin Pleco is relatively easy to care for, though they need a large tank, especially when they are mature and full-sized.
Though they are algae eaters, they cannot live solely off algae in the tank and need to be properly fed a diet of both plant and meat-based foods.
Sailfin Plecos will need driftwood to help with digestion, and a hiding spot, which they will utilize during the day. They are resistant to most water conditions, though not comfortable, so most professional aquarists recommend sticking to consistent and proper water parameters.
In their natural habitat, Sailfin Plecos are found in rivers and flooded areas during the rainy season. As they are large fish they will need plenty of space and a good filtration system. Generally, Sailfin the Pleco is relatively tolerant to most freshwater conditions, though they prefer a more neutral pH range and warmer tropical water temperatures.
An interesting fact; the Sailfin Pleco is known as a ‘facultative air breather’, meaning it can breathe air from the surface of the water when oxygen levels are low, even though it is a bottom-dwelling species.
- Tank Size – When starting with a young Sailfin Pleco, a 20 to 30-gallon tank is suitable, however, you will need to upgrade to a 100-gallon tank at least as your Pleco matures. A larger tank is necessary to reduce stress in your Plecos and to accommodate their growth. After water quality, the size of your tank is the second most important factor in caring for a Sailfin Pleco.
- Water Conditions – Ensuring the proper water parameters for Sailfin Plecos is essential, even though they are more tolerant, they still need to be comfortable, rather than just surviving. Water temperatures of 73-85 °F (23-30 °C) are ideal, with the mid-range being the best option. They prefer a more neutral pH of around 6.5 to 7.5 and a water hardness of between 6 to 10 KH.
- Filtration – Plecos need a strong Canister Filter for good-quality water conditions. Robust filtration is needed as these fish are large and produce substantial waste. Many aquarists also include a small water flow in their tank, which you can set up whichever way you choose.
- Light – With most Pleco species Sailfin Plecos prefer moderate to low lighting and shaded areas. You can use a dim tank light or indirect sunlight, and some plants or rocks to create hiding spots and shade.
- Heat – Though tolerant to colder water, they flourish in warm water conditions, being of Tropical origin. Thus a good heater and thermometer are crucial.
Decorating Your Tank
Most Pleco species, such as Sailfin Plecos are bottom-dwellers that do not need much decoration or plants, though hiding spots and resting areas are necessary.
- Substrate – Because of their softer bellies, it is recommended that softer sand or fine gravel be used as a substrate, with small pebbles or larger rocks that have a smooth surface.
- Ornaments and Toys – Ideally a good piece of driftwood is essential for most Pleco species, and some rocks or caves to hide in. Other than that, they do not need much more.
- Live Plants – Though not entirely necessary live plants can be used for Sailfin Pleco. You may find them camping out on larger leaves, or even enjoying the shade of floating plants.
These are some of the best choices in live plants for Plecos:
- Java fern
- Amazon Frogbit and other Floating Plants
- Amazon Sword
- Java Moss
- Water Wisteria
- Cryptocoryne wendtii
Introducing A New Pleco
When you have fully cycled and decorated your new aquarium, and ensured that water parameters and temperatures have been tested and settled, you can now add your new Sailfin Pleco to its home.
On the other hand, when you have a settled community tank, it would be advisable to feed the tank mates first and dim the lights when introducing your Sailfin Pleco.
Then again, it’s best to follow a few guidelines when choosing a Sailfin Pleco:
Choosing A Healthy Sailfin Pleco
By now hopefully, you have a recommended bred or trusted pet store from which you can source your Sailfin Pleco.
To ensure the fish is healthy and in good condition, you can look at the following features;
- The belly of the fish must be rounded and not dented or bloated
- Look for clear normal eyes that are not cloudy or bulging out
- The skin should be clear with no patches, white spots, or abnormal growths
- The Pleco should have a healthy appetite
Acclimating Your Pleco
Arriving home with your Pleco it is important to reduce stress as much as possible and acclimate it in the new tank. You can achieve this by allowing your Sailfin to float on the surface of the water for around 20 to 30 minutes, and then by replacing water from the bag with water from the tank cup by cup, every 15 minutes. When you have replaced most of the water you can allow your Pleco in its new home. Keep in mind most Pleco species are very sensitive to changes in water conditions and water temperatures, thus this process should be followed accurately.
Suitable Tank Mates For Sailfin Plecos
The Sailfin Pleco is Mellow and Peaceful, especially towards other species of fish. They will not pick on tank mates and are ideally too big to be picked on by other fish species.
Another advantage with them is that they will not eat smaller fish or fry, which is not always the case with most other Freshwater fish species.
So, if you are getting started with tank mates, or wondering about the fish species in your settled community tank, here are a few great options for tank mates:
- Kuhli or Clown Loaches – Also a Bottom feeding species
- Tetras – Especially the Black Skirt, Congo, or Bloodfin Tetra
- Gouramis – The Pearl and Sparkling Gouramis make an interesting addition
- Silver Dollar Fish – Similarly peaceful
- Green Terror Cichlids – They are similar large fish and will need plenty of space
- Barbs – Most Barb Species are suitable tank mates for Plecos. Just be careful with Tiger Barbs; they are more aggressive fish
Feeding Your Sailfin Pleco
There is some contradiction around whether the Sailfin Pleco is a Herbivore or Omnivore. It is listed as an Omnivore because it will feed dead animals and insects, though the Sailfin Pleco mostly prefers a Herbivorous diet.
What To Feed
Sailfin Plecos enjoy feeding off algae in your tank, additionally, you should feed them algae wafers. They will similarly enjoy snacking on vegetables such as cucumbers, zucchini, and spinach or lettuce, and likewise enjoy insect larvae or bloodworms as meat-based food.
How To Feed
You can feed your Sailfin Pleco once or twice a day, as much as they can consume within two to three hours. Any uneaten food after this amount of time may indicate that you are overfeeding your Pleco.
Sailfin Plecos are more active at night; thus, it is recommended that you feed them in the evenings.
Because of the enormous size of a Sailfin Pleco, and the large amount of waste it produces, regular tank maintenance is essential.
- Water Changes – A weekly water change of between 25% to 30% of the tank water is highly recommended.
- Decoration Care – Sailfin Plecos will feast on Algae, however, sometimes there may be an excess build-up that can affect water quality. Thus it is vital to keep tank decorations and tank walls clean with an algae pad or scraper.
- Filter Maintenance – Your tank filter plays an important role in cleaning the water due to the high waste production from the Sailfin Pleco. Thus, cleaning and maintaining your tank filter regularly will ensure that it functions properly.
Common Pests And Diseases In Plecos
Sailfin Plecos are generally quite disease resistant but there is a likelihood that they may develop common freshwater fish health issues if not cared for properly.
- Ich – A parasite that causes white spots on the fins and body of the fish. It can be treated with commercial medications and you will need to quarantine the affected fish.
- Fin Rot – You may notice ragged or blotched fins or tails which indicate a fungal infection. For treatment, anti-fungal medication can be used, and water conditions can be improved.
- Swim Bladder Issues – Bacterial or fungal infections in the swim bladder such as Dropsy can cause your Pleco to have a swollen abdomen, bulging eyes, and loss of color in their fins. A broad-spectrum antibiotic and quarantine will be needed to treat the condition.
- Starvation – A common mistake many beginner aquarists make is to assume that Plecos solely feed off algae in your tank. However, this is a myth and can cause starvation in Plecos. They need proper nutrition, especially for their size.
For the most part disease in Sailfin Plecos can easily be prevented by ensuring consistent proper water parameters, maintaining your tank, and with proper feeding habits.
Similarly, take care when introducing new plants or tank mates as they may carry parasites such as Ich that can infect other fish.
As with most Pleco species, trying to breed Sailfin Plecos at home is extremely difficult as they need very specific conditions for breeding.
Sailfin Plecos are mostly bred in commercial facilities that have large enough tanks or ponds, and the right equipment to recreate natural environmental factors that induce spawning.
So finally, if you are interested in the Sailfin Pleco, and can provide them with the care and space they need to flourish, you should give them a try. I would like to end off by pointing out again, a few main factors that are essential to the care of Sailfin Plecos.
- They are generally nocturnal and will hide during the day.
- They cannot survive on algae alone and need a varied diet of quality algae wafers, plant, and meat matter.
- Sailfin Plecos grow to enormous sizes, they produce much waste and therefore need a large tank and strong filter.
- They are sensitive to water changes, but quite resistant to their consistent water parameters.
- Sailfin Plecos need warmer water temperatures.
- Just because they are hardy and resistant does not mean they are comfortable, and they can get ill if not cared for properly.