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Family: Loricariidae, Subfamily Hypostominae

Common Name: Sailfin Pleco, Leopard Pleco, sometimes Clown Pleco

Origin and Habitat: Widespread throughout the middle and upper basins of the Amazon and Rio Orinoco (Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia). Found in sluggish rivers and flooded forest.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful, though males will be territorial with each other and need plenty of room if more than one is kept. Can be kept with large upper fish that are not overly aggressive. Should not be combined with other species of plecostomus as this one will be more likely to get the food first.

Sailfin Pleco Diet

Omnivore, naturally feeding on algae, worms, crustaceans, decaying matter. In the aquarium it should be give a substantially vegetarian diet including algae/kelp based sinking foods, blanched lettuce, kale, spinach and green peas; about a third of the diet can be meaty foods such as frozen or live bloodworms, small earthworms, shrimp, prawns. Wood (real) must be available for rasping and grazing. Will not eat plants but due to its size and habits will likely uproot them.


Attains close to 50cm/18 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length; immature fish can temporarily be housed in a 36-inch tank.

Water parameters for Sailfin Pleco

Soft to medium hard (< 19 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH 6 to 8), temperature 23-27C/73-80F.


The common name "Sailfin" refers to the large dorsal fin of this species. It is also seen under the common names of Leopard Pleco, Leopard Sailfin Pleco and Clown Pleco.

This fish requires a large aquarium which may be furnished with a fine smooth gravel substrate, rounded river rock replicating boulders, and chunks of bogwood; the latter is essential for digestion, although not for nutritive value. Plenty of suitable hiding spots should be formed from the wood and rock. Nocturnal by nature, this fish is active at night and in its habitat prefers dark shady areas. Floating plants will help to shade the overhead light.

The flow from the filter should not be excessive [note this species' natural habitat information above] but must still be adequate to handle the vast amount of waste this fish produces. Organics and nitrates must be kept low; an excess can cause holes to form in the fins of this fish.

In its habitat, seasonal dry periods occur, during which this fish will bury itself in the mudbank of the stream and aestivate (remain dormant) until the water returns. This fish can live up to 15 years.

This fish, like many loricariids, can lock its pectoral fin spines at 90 degrees from the body, making it difficult to swallow by a predator; this can also entangle the fish in a net. Moving the fish should be done with a tube or jar rather than a fish net. When removed from the water, it frequently makes a hissing sound, probably also meant to frighten a predator.

The species in Pterygoplichthys can easily be identified from other plecos by the number of rays in the dorsal fin; there are 9 or more, compared to 8 or fewer in other genera species. They also have a modified vascularized stomach that allows them to breathe air.

This fish was originally described in 1854 by R. Kner as Ancistrus gibbiceps. Isbrucker (1980) moved it to the present genus Pterygoplichthys that had been erected by Gill in 1858. A revision by Weber (1991) reintroduced Glyptoperichthys as a distinct genus. Armbruster (2004) recognized that the differences between these genera was not sufficient to warrant distinct status, and further that Glyptoperichthys would not be monophyletic. He erected the tribe Pterygoplichthyini in the subfamily, and in it placed the 15 Pterygoplichthys species along with the Hemiancistrus annectens group.

The genus name is derived from the Greek pterygion [diminutive of pteryx, = wing, fin] and hoplon [= weapon] and ichthys [= fish]. The species epithet derives from the Latin gibbus [= hump] and the Greek cep [from kephale, = head] and refers to the slight hump on the fish's head.


Armbruster, J.W. (2004), "Phylogenetic relationships of the suckermouth armoured catfishes (Loricariidae) with emphasis on the Hypostominae and the Ancistrinae," Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 141, pp.1-80.

Isbrucker, I.J.H. (1980), "Classification and catalogue of the mailed Loricariidae (Pisces, Siluriformes)," Verslagen en Technische Gegevens, Instituut voor Taxonomische Zooogie, Universiteit van Amsterdam No. 22, pp. 1-181.

Weber, C. (1991) "Nouveaux taxa dans Pterygoplichthys sensu lato (Pisces, Siluriformes, Loricariidae)," Revue Suisse de Zoologie v. 98 (no. 3), pp. 637-643.

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