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Complete profile, diet and breeding habits of Butterfly pleco

Butterfly pleco, picture 1 Butterfly pleco, picture 2 Butterfly pleco, picture 3 Butterfly pleco, picture 4 Butterfly pleco, picture 5 Butterfly pleco, picture 6

Short Introduction

Butterfly pleco have been around for many years and are one the most colourful pleco that are kept in the aquarium as compared to the common pleco which many keepers find drab in comparison. Their body is covered in clearly defined black and white stripes making them very appealing to owners. This species of fish has been re-classified over the years quite a few times which can lead to some confusion when identifying which species of fish you actually have as there are other similar marked plecos available.


Originally the Butterfly pleco was classified with the Latin name of Ancistrus brachyurus and more recently other names associated with this fish have been Zonancistrus brachyurus but nowadays it is known with the recognised name of Dekeyseria brachyura and this name still holds. Another appealing element of this fish apart from the wonderful markings is that the adult size only reaches 5 - 7 inches (12 - 18 cm) making it more able to live in the smaller aquariums compared to other plecos.

The Butterfly pleco originates from South America namely on of the largest tributaries of the Amazon, the Rio Negro which is classed as a black water tributary. In darker waters and under certain conditions in the aquarium the Butterfly pleco also has the ability to change its colouration, in darker conditions it will darken up to blend in with the surroundings.

Caring for the Butterfly pleco in the aquarium

As mentioned above, the Butterfly pleco does not require a really large aquarium the same as if you were keeping a common pleco, they are quite at home in an aquarium that can hold 30-50 Imperial gallons (140 - 230 liters, 36 - 60 US gallons) of water. They do gnaw on bogwood to aid their digestion so the addition of this to the aquarium is a must. Other hiding places should also be included by adding décor such as upturned plant pots so that the Butterfly pleco can hide away if it wishes to.

Although the Butterfly pleco is classed as a hardy species of fish they do require the aquarium to be fully cycled before adding them, unstable water parameters will be harmful to most species of fish in the long term. Like most catfish they are also classed as high waste producers so the filtration must be able to cope with this.

More than one specimen can be kept in the aquarium together, males may squabble occasionally but any physical harm should not occur, they tend to flare at each other and leave it at that. The water temperature should be set between 25 - 28 °C (77 - 82 °F) and try to keep the pH slightly acidic although they will tolerate a neutral pH, 6.0-7.0 is ideal.

Tank mates should be of a similar disposition as the Butterfly pleco, smaller peaceful species can be housed with this fish as they tend to keep themselves to themselves and will not harass their tank mates.

Regular water changes should be performed, at least 10% weekly and as they are high waste producer vacuuming the substrate will prevent any build up of detritus. If the nitrates in the aquarium start to rise then larger water changes will be required.

Always observe the Butterfly pleco in the aquarium, you soon get used to its swimming behaviour so any change may mean that something is wrong, a sunken belly is a sure sign of either digestive problems or that the Butterfly pleco is not getting its share of the food added to the aquarium, spotting the signs early makes correcting any problems much easier. Always test your water at least once a week to make sure that the quality is kept high and the Butterfly pleco should live for an average lifespan that ranges between 5 - 8 years.

Feeding the Butterfly pleco

Often these fish are kept in the aquarium as part of a “clean up crew” i.e. they will consume the algae from the aquarium leaving the glass perfectly clean, however they do require other foods to keep them healthy so make sure that their diet is supplemented with regular meals. They do require a high vegetable diet so the addition of cucumber, broccoli or zucchini will be beneficial to the Butterfly pleco but they should also be supplied with occasional meals of meaty foods. Bloodworms are readily accepted but do not overfeed with these as they can lead to blocked digestive systems. Like most plecos they are most active after lights out so this is the best time to feed these fish or in the evening, make sure that you only add enough food that they can handle in 5 minutes as uneaten food will soon decay and spoil the water.

Sexing and breeding the Butterfly pleco

The Butterfly pleco is one species that has been bred in the aquarium, it is not the easiest fish to breed but it is definitely possible. If you have had any experience breeding Bristlenose pleco then you will soon realise that breeding the Butterfly pleco takes a very similar guise. It is best to purchase a small group of juvenile fish to guarantee that you will finish up with at least one breeding pair. As these juveniles mature the males will develop odontodes on its snout and when viewed from above you will notice that the female has a larger belly compared to the male.

In their natural habitat the Butterfly pleco is a cave spawner, to create ideal places for the female to lay her eggs it is wise to add lengths of piping that the fish can swim into to replicate the caves. It is best to make sure that the diameter of the piping is only slightly larger than the pleco as they like to feel snug in their hiding place, if it is too large they may not choose to use it. The male will invite the female into the nest and if she is willing then spawning should take place, once this has occurred, the female will no longer take any part in caring for the eggs or the fry once thy hatch. The male will remain in the nest and fan the eggs constantly to keep a water flow over them. It may take up to 7 days before the eggs hatch and you may not even realise that they have to start with as the male will not allow the fry out of the cave until he is sure that they are safe and that they can also swim enough to protect themselves.

The fry are very delicate and require the highest of water quality so make sure that you do a water change at least once every day and test the water on a more regular basis just in case. They can be fed on newly hatched brine shrimp or even white worms but also drop in some algae tablets or similar and growth should be quite fast as long as they are kept healthy.

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