If you’re looking for an attractive, unusual fish that can be kept in a community tank environment, you might want to consider taking a closer look at the Royal Pleco.
In this article, we introduce you to royalty! We also explain how to care for these beautiful fish in your home aquarium.
Introducing the Royal Pleco
The Royal Panaque catfish is commonly known as the Royal pleco and has the scientific name, Panaque nigrolineatus. Royal Plecos are freshwater fish that originate from Columbia, Venezuela, and Brazil living in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins.
Plecos belong to the catfish family and are one of only a few species that can eat and digest wood. There are many different subspecies of Royal Plecos. So, when you come to search for a suitable fish for your tank, you’ll need to understand more about each type:
L27a or L190 Panaque nigrolineatus
The Panaque nigrolineatus is the species of Royal Pleco that is the most easily obtainable, so it’s that one that we’re going to talk about in this article.
L27 is known as the Panaque ambrusteri is native to the Rio Tocantins and Rio Xingu and is the regional counterpart of the L27a and L190 pleco.
L27c species of Royal Pleco is known as the Thunder Line and is considered to be one of the most attractive varieties.
L191 hails from Columbia and is known as the White-tailed Royal Pleco. That’s because juveniles of the species have white-banded caudal fins. This fish is also called the full-eyed pleco.
This Royal Pleco comes from Columbia and is called the Spotted Royal Pleco or Watermelon Royal Pleco.
L418 is a species of Royal Pleco that comes from Peru. The species is also known as the Peruvian Green Royal Pleco or Shampupa Pleco.
The Papa Royal Pleco comes from Peru, having attractive and unique long top and bottom extensions to its caudal fins.
Also from Peru, the L203 Peruvian Black Royal Pleco’s juveniles have white patches on their caudal fins. These are the largest fish in the family, earning them the common name, Volkswagon Pleco.
Essentially, all members of the Royal Pleco family look physically very similar. The main, striking difference being that the Black Royal Pleco may grow to a huge 24 inches in length, compared with the 16-inch size of the other types.
Royal Pleco appearance
Royal Plecos are attractive creatures, having bright red eyes, and light grey bodies that are covered with dark gray to black patterns. Golden dorsal fins complete the regal look. The Pleco’s skin is covered with heavy armor that protects the fish from attack from above by predators and other fish.
Plecos are bottom-dwellers, primarily inhabiting the floor of the tank or negotiating driftwood in search of the foods that it prefers. All species of tank-kept Royal Plecos are large, reaching around 16 inches in length.
The fish have sharp, spoon-shaped teeth that are designed to enable them to scrape algae, fungi, and other organisms from the surface of driftwood that the Royal Pleco uses a food source.
Check out this YouTube video to get a closer look at the beautiful Panaque nigrolineatus.
Caring for the Royal Pleco
In this section of our guide, we explain how to care for your Royal Pleco to ensure that your fish will grow and thrive.
As previously mentioned, these are very large fish, and they need an aquarium that holds at least 120 gallons to accommodate them comfortably.
The best shape of the tank to choose is long rather than tall, as Plecos are not the most agile of swimmers. Make sure that there is at least 24 inches from the tank back to the front so that the fish have plenty of space to turn around.
The primary focus of decoration in an aquarium that houses a Royal Pleco should be driftwood. As well as feeding on the wood, the fish love to spend time on or underneath it, so lots of driftwood in the tank is beneficial for them, as well as looking natural and being aesthetically pleasing.
Wild Royal Plecos tend to hang out underneath tangles of driftwood, rather than in caves, so you don’t need to include any cave decorations in the aquascape. As regards plants, Royal Plecos have a tendency to rasp large holes in the leaves of plants, including silk and plastic ones. Fragments of silk and plastic can cause intestinal blockages and other health problems if ingested, so it’s best to leave these out of the tank altogether.
Because there are no plants in the tank, the lighting can be kept low, which helps to replicate the Plecos natural riverbed habitat.
One notable drawback to creating a habitat that has lots of wood is that you will create dead zones in the aquarium where the water flow is minimal. Plecos are very large fish that produce a lot of waste, so an efficient filtration system is essential. A high-flow, efficient power filter is the best setup, and you may need to supplement that with one or more powerheads to keep waste and other detritus suspended in the water long enough for the filters to remove it.
Royal Plecos need a water pH level of between 6.6 to 7.5. Water harness should be in the range of 5 to 150 dH. Water temperature should be maintained at a constant level of between 720 and 780 Fahrenheit.
If your tap water is acidic and soft, you can create a buffer and add to the hardness by including a mesh bag that’s filled with aragonite in one of the filters. Alternatively, fill a box filter with aragonite and conceal it behind some of the driftwood in the tank. You may find that certain forms of driftwood release copious amounts of tannins that can cause the tank water pH to fall dramatically, especially when lots of wood is used. Unfortunately, the tannin level usually rises over time because of the Plecos constant scraping of the wood surface.
Because the species is so dirty, you will need to be very diligent in carrying out weekly water changes of up to 25 percent, as well as vacuuming the substrate. Also, you should siphon out any debris that’s accumulated on the wood.
Diet and feeding
Royal plecos are herbivores, feeding on submerged wood and the various detritus and organisms that live on the wood. These fish have specially adapted teeth and strong jaw muscles that have evolved to scrape wood.
The fish feed on the wood, the fungi and bacteria that work to break it down, algae and other plant matter, all of which play a key role in the species’ diet and should be included in a captive setting too.
When setting up the aquarium, be sure to include several different kinds of driftwood as some varieties are more easily digested than others. You should also offer your Royal Pleco a broad range of specially prepared foods, including flakes, tablets, pellets, wafers, and frozen food.
Royal Plecos are night-feeders, so add their food to the tank after lights-out to make sure that they get their fair share and are not competing with their tankmates.
Royal Plecos are fairly inactive during the daytime, so adding a few tankmates will help to create more interest for the onlooker. However, it should be noted that Royal Plecos do not take kindly to sharing their environment with their own species and can be aggressively territorial.
Tankmates should be matched carefully so that harmony in the tank is maintained. One thing to bear in mind is the area of the water column that all members of the community inhabit. Plecos are bottom-dwellers, spending most of their time on the substrate or the driftwood. So, to avoid territorial disputes, it’s a good idea to choose species that inhabit the upper areas of the tank.
Plecos are slow-moving, so avoid fin-nippers and aggressive species. Also, the environment is likely to be quite dimly lit, so don’t choose fish that need a bright, heavily planted habitat to thrive.
Large to medium-sized tetras that originate from the same geographical areas as the Plecos are probably the bests choice, such as Chalceus and Hemiodus. These peaceful fish grow to between three and eight inches long, making them ideally suited to a large tank. You’ll need to choose a tank with a tightly fitting lid though, as both these species are accomplished jumpers.
Headstanders are also a good choice of tankmate. Silver dollars also do well but be sure to add plenty of food, as these fish share the same diet that you feed to your Plecos.
Some species of cichlids can make good tankmates, so long as you don’t choose aggressive species. Festivum Mesonauta Festivus can make a good choice, as it’s a peaceful fish that lives toward the top of the water column. Wild Angelfish can also work well, and their complex behavior can make a fascinating display.
Health and lifespan
Royal Plecos are typically quite long-lived, often reaching 10 years or even more when kept in an aquarium with the correct water parameters and fed the right diet.
Plecos are generally very hardy, robust catfish and disease is not usually an issue in a tank that’s the right size and is well-maintained. Fish that receive a nutritious, high-quality diet are less likely to succumb to disease than those that are underfed or offered an unbalanced diet.
Plecos are a scaleless fish, which means that you shouldn’t treat them with copper-based medications or potassium permanganate.
One common freshwater fish disease is Ich, also known as white spot disease. Ich is caused by a tiny ectoparasite that exists in most aquariums, although it only affects fish that are weakened or stressed by poor water conditions.
Ich presents as tiny white spots on the fish’s body, gills, fins, and tail. Affected fish flick the bodies against tank decorations or the substrate in an effort to get rid of the irritating parasites. Luckily, Ich is easily treated with a proprietary medication that you add to your tank water but you must remember to check that the product you choose is suitable for use with catfish species.
Breeding Royal Plecos
Unfortunately, breeding Royal Plecos in the aquarium is not common. That’s a shame because the fish is extremely sensitive to the harvesting in the wild that takes place to provide fish for the aquarium trade. It’s estimated that the population doubling time is in excess of 14 years, so you can see how difficult it is for populations to recover.
You can try to induce spawning in Royal Plecos by mimicking the conditions of a dry season followed by a rainy season in the Pleco’s wild environment but in your aquarium. The rainy season brings cooler, more acidic, softer water together with lots of green and meaty foods, and you can try using rainwater for your water changes to replicate that.
Determining the sex of a Panaque nigrolineatus is difficult. In most pleco types, the papilla can be a good indicator of the fish’s gender. A round, blunt papilla indicates that the fish is female. If the papilla is short and pointed, the fish is male. However, it’s not clear if that method of sexing works for Royal Plecos.
You will most likely have to order your Royal Pleco, as these fish are not generally stocked in fish stores. Small size specimens are generally cheaper than larger ones and most are wild-caught.
You can expect to pay from around $40 right up to a few hundred dollars for a more mature fish.
In this section of the guide, we give you the answers to a few of the questions that are most commonly asked by would-be Royal pleco owners.
Q: How big do Royal Plecos get?
A: Royal Plecos can grow to between 16 and 36 inches in length, depending on the species.
Q: Are Royal Plecos aggressive?
A: Royal Plecos are generally peaceful fish but they can be territorial, which may trigger aggression, especially if the aquarium is too small. For that reason, it’s not recommended that you keep groups of Royal Plecos.
Q: Do Royal Plecos eat algae?
A: Royal Plecos are herbivorous fish. These fish also consume driftwood and its incumbent, surface-dwelling fungi and other organisms, which the fish do by rasping their specially evolved teeth along the wood surface. During this process, the fish ingest algae. Like most catfish, the Pleco will eat algae wafers and other plant-based foods, including granules and flakes.
Q: How do you breed a royal pleco?
A: Panaque nigrolineatus are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. For that reason, most of the specimens that you buy are wild-caught, which is having a detrimental effect on the species, largely due to its slow growth and reproduction rates.
The Royal Pleco, scientific name Panaque nigrolineatus, is a species of catfish that may do well in a community tank setup that’s aquascaped to resemble the species’ riverbed habitat.
The Pleco needs a large aquarium, as these are not small fish, and your four-inch juvenile purchase may quickly grow to reach a size of around 17 inches. So, if you’re looking for a spectacular fish to provide an impressive focal point in your display tank, one of these bottom-dwelling giants may be a great choice for you.