The Sailfin pleco, also known as Sailfin plecostomus, is perfect for anyone who wishes to try something a little more exotic. You will have a stunning fish with the added benefit of simple maintenance. The best part? Even those who have little to no experience in handling aquatic pets will find the Sailfin pleco a joy to have.

Before you head to your local pet store, we urge you to read this article and get to know the Sailfin pleco first.

Sailfin Pleco Stats

Scientific Name Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps
Max. Size of Fish 13 – 19 inches
Colors and Patterns Brown and black (leopard-like)
Diet Omnivore
Min. Tank Size 100 gallons
Temperature 73 to 86 °F
pH 6.5 – 8
Hardness 4 – 18 dGH
Lifespan 15 years
Temperament Territorial and aggressive to other plecos

Sailfin Plecostomus Background

There are over 600 species of plecos, and the Sailfin plecostomus ranks among the most popular ones. Classified as an armored catfish, its body is covered with protective bony plates. This species is a bit different from the Common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus). It is smaller in size and lives a lot longer.

Regardless of these differences, the Sailfin pleco is still an enormous fish. Due to its size, many hobbyists tend to gravitate toward other pleco species instead. If tank size is not a problem, you should give Sailfin plecos a shot.

– Where Do Sailfin Plecos Come From?

These ray-finned freshwater catfish hail from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. A few specimens have managed to make their way further south. These South American beauties prefer calm, shallow waters.

But, as the water levels drop, they migrate to flooded forested areas nearby. Plecos of this species form rather large groups. As Sailfin plecos are nocturnal, they burrow into moist sludge to hide during the daytime and step out at night to feed.

Leopard Pleco Appearance

Sailfin plecos might not be the most colorful fish in the hobby, but they are gorgeous and enchanting in their own way. As with other members of the Loricariidae family, these plecos flaunt an armored body that helps them protect themselves from curious and more aggressive tankmates.

– Distinct Features

The Sailfin Plecostomus has an elongated body and a large head with tiny, high-set eyes. This species has a lot in common with other popular plecos, such as the Bristlenose, Clown, and Rubber Lip. There is one big exception: its dorsal fin.

True to its name, the Sailfin pleco boasts of a stunning dorsal fin resembling that of a marine Sailfish. The dorsal fin can grow to measure a few centimeters and it has a large surface area. Additionally, the dorsal fin extends straight up before it fans back almost to the start of its caudal peduncle.  The fin has more than 10 rays, a lot more than other pleco species.

– Colors and Patterns

The Sailfin pleco, also known as Leopard pleco, is dark brown with a beige pattern of highly condensed spots that cover its whole body and finnage. The pattern resembles a leopard’s skin, hence the name.

While other species tend to have a change in pattern on their head, underbelly, and fins, the Sailfin pleco’s leopard-like pattern remains consistent on all areas of its body. This gives this species a unique, textured look that many people like. The contrast between the fish’s base color and spots may vary to a small degree depending on the quality of the initial breed.

Juvenile Sailfin plecos sport the same coloration as their adult counterparts. They do not change their colors, unlike other catfish species. However, the colors may lose their saturation as the fish grow old. You should ensure the diet and water conditions are always at the required levels to prevent premature fading.

While some aquarists love the Sailfin pleco for its leopard print, there is also another variant called the Albino Sailfin pleco that others find more attractive. However, the albino form is rare.

– How Big Do Sailfin Plecos Get?

On average, the Sailfin Pleco size is between 13 to 19 inches in length, the size of a bowling pin. Wild specimens tend to be a lot larger than pets, but those kept in humongous aquariums may also grow quite as big.

Take note: This species has a rapid growth rate, which you can further accelerate with a high-quality diet. Juveniles can reach a foot in length within a few months. As such, we recommend you start with a large tank instead of slowly upsizing your tank.

Sailfin Pleco Behavior and Temperament

As with other plecos, Sailfins are bottom dwellers. You will find these fish swimming around the bottom part of the tank, searching for a snack. Sometimes they venture to the upper water columns to graze on algae from tank walls and decorations.

– Are Sailfin Plecos Territorial?

Sailfins are a peaceful species of plecos that you can add to a community setup. While these fish do not harass their tank mates or make a meal out of smaller species, they can be territorial with their kind. Unless the Sailfin plecos have been raised in the same tank and grew up together, there will likely be aggressive encounters from time to time.

– Do Sailfin Plecos Eat Other Fish?

No, they do not. The Sailfin pleco does not have a carnivorous appetite. Your fish will most likely choose a dead piece of shrimp over a live fish. On the other hand, they do have a natural tendency to eat the slime coating of other fish. Large and slow-swimming species, such as Angelfish and Discus, are more at risk in this regard.

– Are Sailfin Plecos Nocturnal?

Yes, they are. Sailfin plecos are nocturnal, so we advise owners to feed their fish just before they hit the sack. Additionally, you will want to install night lights in the tank, so your night-loving plecos can swim around with fewer hassles. During the day, the fish would either burrow themselves into the substrate or take shelter underneath decorations, dense planting, and logs.

– How Do Sailfin Plecos Defend Themselves?

To protect themselves from getting eaten, Sailfin plecos would lock their pectoral spines at 90 degrees. This tactic makes it nearly impossible for any predator to swallow them. And, as mentioned earlier, these fish also have the signature armored body of the Loricariidae family.

Sailfin Pleco Tank Mates

We have already established that the Sailfin pleco is non-aggressive, calm, and not easily disturbed. Thanks to this mellow nature, you can add this species to a flourishing community aquarium. You have plenty of options should you wish to add more fish in the future.

Sailfin plecos do not pursue smaller fish, nor do they get skittish around larger, more boisterous fish. This is a character you often don’t get with most large freshwater species.

But if you are to start from scratch, then we recommend you choose among this bunch:

  • Black Skirt Tetra
  • Bloodfin Tetra
  • Clown Loach
  • Congo Tetra
  • Green Terror Cichlid
  • Honey Gourami
  • Kuhli Loach
  • Pearl Gourami
  • Silver Dollar Fish
  • Sparkling Gourami

We can add more fishes to this list, but these species tend to work best.

Sailfin Pleco Care

The Leopard Sailfin pleco is perfect for beginners who wish to keep an exotic-looking fish. For this spotted sailfin pleco to thrive and live long, you will need to provide it with adequate food at regular intervals. A clean and well-balanced environment is also paramount.

– Sailfin Pleco Diet

In the wild, Sailfins will chow down on anything edible. While they can eat any type of food, their diet consists mainly of biofilm that grows on rocks and wood. Although they may subsist on algae, your pet plecos should also have their fair share of food. You should not rely on algae alone to satisfy your fish.

Leopard plecos are easy to feed in captivity. As true omnivores, they will eat anything from blanched vegetables, meaty worms, and whatever their tank mates don’t eat.

Algae wafers are the best food choice when it comes to the Sailfin pleco. Many aquarists have had great success with it. You can also mix things up by dropping in some frozen or live food as well. An occasional serving of mixed veggies is also welcome. Cucumbers and zucchini are amazing options.

– Can You Overfeed Your Fish?

Yes, you can. That is why you will always need to exercise sound judgment when it comes to feeding your fish. For instance, if your plecos are helping you out with an ongoing algae problem, then it would be wise to reduce their food servings.

On normal occasions, you will want to feed your fish twice a day. Don’t give them more than they can consume within five minutes. Overfeeding can cause a set of problems. For example, uneaten food lying on the bottom can greatly affect the water quality.

– Water Parameters

Providing Sailfin plecos with the recommended parameters is a sure way to keep them healthy and comfortable. A nice thing about this species is that they can tolerate a certain degree of change. Still, it is wise to avoid fluctuations, especially if your plecos are co-existing with fragile species.

As they are tropical fish, you will want to keep the water temperature between 73 to 86 °F. The water hardness should be anywhere between 4 and 18 dGH. Additionally, aim for a pH between 6.5 to 8. You will want to run tests every few days to ensure the parameters are stable.

– Common Possible Diseases

The Sailfin pleco is a robust species of catfish. Unlike most freshwater fish, they don’t succumb easily to disease.

Signs of Good Health:

  • rounded belly, not sucked in or bloated
  • vivid coloration
  • active during nighttime
  • good appetite

While they are rather resilient, they may still fall ill. These fish can fall prey to the usual freshwater culprits, such as the following:

  • Ich

This disease is caused by the protozoan parasite, Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Also known as White Spot disease, it is characterized by a sprinkling of tiny, white spots. The affected fish may also have scars as they would often flick against decorations and substrate.

If one of your fish is infected with ich, it is wise to treat the entire aquarium instead of isolating the ailing fish. The earlier you recognize the problem and begin treatment, the higher the chance your fish will recover.

Suggested Actions

  1. Keep the water temperature at 82 °F for several days
  2. Before you decide to use temperature to manage ich, you need to be sure all fish species in your aquarium can tolerate a higher temperature.
  3. Use an over-the-counter ich remedy suggested by your veterinarian
  4. Ich remedies either come in liquid or powder form. You must treat the tank water according to the instructions provided on the packaging.

Steer clear from medicines containing copper and permanganate as they might cause lethal problems. Sailfin plecos have nearly non-existent scales, which makes them more sensitive to chemicals. You have to be extra careful when giving out medications.

  • Starvation and Stress

Did you know starving your Sailfish plecos is as easy a mistake as overfeeding them? Many new hobbyists are guilty of doing this, especially those who are getting a pleco for the main purpose of cleaning their tanks.

While it is true that they can survive with algae and detritus in the wild, there aren’t enough biofilms in an aquarium setting to satisfy your fish. You will have to make sure your Sailfins eat a healthy mix of food.

While these plecos can coexist with several fish, a lack of food can drive them cranky. Make sure there is ample food to go around.

Sailfin Pleco Tank Setup

How you set up the interior of an aquarium has a significant effect on the health and overall wellbeing of its residents. Any fish that doesn’t feel comfortable and safe inside will experience elevated stress levels.

– Tank Size

One hundred gallons is the recommended capacity for the Leopard Sailfin pleco. Some hobbyists keep these fish in tanks that are nearly half the suggested size, which is not the best approach for a fish that can grow quite large. If you wish to have a lively community of fish, you will need to add some extra space to accommodate the others.

– Substrate

You may use standard gravel for the substrate, but we prefer fine sand for these bottom dwellers as they like to burrow.

– Plants and Decorations

Decent-sized driftwood is one thing you should never forget when decorating your tank. This piece of decor will help facilitate algae growth for your Sailfin pleco to rasp at. No less important, the cellulose contained in the wood serves as a digestive aid for your fish.

Since Sailfin plecos are immobile during the day, you will want to provide them plenty of cover in the form of rock formations, ceramic caves, pots, and the like.

Lastly, consider adding live plants to your aquarium. Plants offer hiding places for your pleco during the day. However, you will need to choose hardy plant species, such as:

  • Amazon sword
  • Anubias
  • Java fern
  • Jungle Vallisneria, and
  • Java Moss.

Sailfin plecos can damage the leaves of softer plants while they graze algae away.

– Equipment

There are many gizmos and gadgets you can add to your tank, but for beginners, you will want to make sure you have all of the following:

  • Filtration System

Sailfin plecos have ravenous appetites to match their humongous size. It is a given that these fish produce waste just as much. Therefore, you will want to install a powerful filtration system to keep up with the bioload.

Many types of filters are readily available in the market. The canister filter is one of the most popular choices for large aquariums. You may also build and customize your sump filter if you have the experience.

Whatever filter type you choose, its flow rate should always remain the most important deciding factor. For a 100-gallon tank, you will need a filter that can cycle at least 400 gallons of water per hour.

  • Lighting

Since Sailfin plecos are nocturnal, it can be rather difficult to evaluate their health and monitor their eating habits. Because of this, we suggest you install a lighting unit with a moonlight setting so that you watch your fish during the night.

  • Thermometer

The Sailfin pleco prefers warm waters, so an aquarium thermometer is a small but essential item to have. Know that there are three types of aquarium thermometers and each type has its own set of pros and cons.

Sailfin Pleco Breeding

Some hobbyists claim to have achieved success in breeding Sailfin plecos in captivity, but there are no verified reports of this happening. Determining the gender of the fish is already an impossible task, let alone replicating certain breeding conditions in a limited space. On the other hand, this species has been bred in commercial facilities in Asia. Sailfin pleco eggs are tended by males.


If you aspire to become an aquarist, you can start with the Sailfin pleco or Leopard Sailfin pleco. Albeit easy to care for, you still need to take note of the following:

  • A 100-gallon tank or more is recommended as Sailfin plecos can grow up to 19 inches in length. Add hardy plants and decorations to provide them shade during the day.
  • Install a filtration system that provides an hourly flow rate of four times the volume of your tank.
  • This species makes excellent tank mates for many kinds of fish: small dither fish, aquatic turtles, large aggressive cichlids, etc.
  • Sailfin plecos are territorial and aggressive toward other types of catfish. Each community should only have one species of pleco. If you are to keep two or more Sailfin plecos, you need to make sure they were raised together.
  • Keeping the water parameters stable is just as important as providing the right diet.
  • Sailfin plecos may still get sick, but it doesn’t happen too frequently. This species is blessed with strong immunity, which makes them easy to handle among beginners.

Hopefully, this care guide makes your next fishkeeping venture smooth sailing!

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