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Zebra Plecostomus

Scientific Name: Hypancistrus zebra
Family: Loricariidae, Sub-Family Ancistrinae

About the Zebra Plecostomus

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Catfish

Care Level: Moderate. May tolerate only a narrow range of water parameters, have specific dietary requirements including frozen or even live foods, may have behaviors that severely limit potential tankmates or may require a specialized aquarium setup.

Origin: Endemic to the Rio Zingu basin, a southern tributary of the Amazon in south-eastern Brazil. The substrate is sandy with many rocks, and fast flowing. This fish is found in deeper water among rock crevices.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful with other fish, but territorial with similar species including its own; plenty of hiding places are required. Shy by nature, should not be kept with boisterous tankmates as it will not eat.


This is probably the most beautiful and stunning freshwater catfish. In 2004, the Brazilian government banned the capture and exportation of this fish on the pretext that it was endangered and near-extinction, although this lacks scientific proof. The species turned out to be remarkably easy to breed, and all available fish are likely to be tank-raised, though they still command a very high price.

Observed from above, the male has a slightly broader head than the female. The first pectoral fin ray of the male is somewhat thicker than that of the female, and in breeding condition the males further develop their spine-like ''odontodes'' on this ray. More success at spawning will be achieved if the male can select his mate from 2-3 females.

Given their natural habitat, this fish requires more water movement that most of the forest fish, though the writer successfully maintained it for several years in a 5-foot tank with an average canister filter. The fish spent much of the day in its chosen tunnel in wood, and quickly learned to come out at feeding time. Needs a rock cave or tunneled wood.

When purchasing specimens, look for a rounded (as opposed to sunken) belly, indicative of a healthy specimen. As noted under dietary needs, this fish is carnivorous and will very rarely eat algae or vegetable matter.

When imported following its discovery, this fish was usually referred to as Peckoltia zebra, a name with no scientific standing, and received the number L046. All new loricariids are numbered awaiting description, similar to the C numbers for new Corydoras. The genus Hypancistrus was erected in 1991 by I.J.H. Isbrucker and H. Nijssen upon describing this fish which was the type specimen for this new genus in the Loricariidae family. Since then, five new species have been assigned to the genus, all by J.W. Armbruster and his colleagues, and Dr. Armbruster indicates that many additional species from Brazil await describing [at the time of this writing, Planet Catfish lists 31 undescribed "L" species]. All species within this genus are small- to medium-sized fishes that can be recognized from the very similar Peckoltia and Hemiancistrus by having larger dentary teeth than premaxillary teeth. Color is typically some combination of dark brown to black with white, ranging from stripes to spots to squiggles [Armbruster, 2007].

The genus name comes from the Greek hypo and ancistrus, referring to the reduced number of teeth in the lower jaw. The species name refers to the black and white stripe pattern of the African equine, the Zebra.

Zebra Plecostomus Diet

Juveniles take a variety of foods, meaty and vegetable, but mature fish are carnivorous and require worms, frozen bloodworms and similar fare. Not an algae eater.


Attains just over 3 inches at maturity.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

36 inches in length.

Ideal water parameters for Zebra Plecostomus

Soft to moderately hard (up to 15 dGH), acidic to basic (pH 6.0 to 7.5) water, temperature 26-30C/79-86F. Good oxygenation from the water flow is important at higher temperatures.

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