» Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Blog, Conservation, Dibyarka, Education, Freshwater Fish | Comments Off on Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos

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Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos


By Dibyarka Chatterjee


If you are an aquarium hobbyist, chances are you started with a freshwater tank, and in that tank you had a pleco. There's a reason that the common varieties of this fish are found in every local aquarium store across the country. They are generally inexpensive, unique looking, and serve a valuable purpose: eating unwanted algae. But those of us who stay faithful to our freshwater tanks (resisting the lure of saltwater), even as our knowledge and experience grows, are bound to discover there are many varieties of plecos which are anything but common. In fact, new exotic species are constantly being discovered and their demand and popularity is clearly evident in the world of advanced freshwater aquaria.

The main challenge in acquiring one of these exotic varieties is of course availability. The species listed below cannot be found at your average local fish store, but here at Absolutely Fish they are so regularly available that you may have walked past them without even realizing their unique identity and significance. I hope that will change after you've read more about them.

The ‘fancy’ varieties of plecos are classified using ‘L’ number system. This came into existence at the beginning of the ‘pleco boom’ when the demand for the rarer varieties first skyrocketed. Exporters were constantly discovering, catching, and shipping new species, and scientific taxonomy simply could not keep up with the volume. Eventually the L–number system was devised (‘L’ standing for Loricariidae, the family of armored catfish that plecos belong to) to avoid confusion as best as possible. The numbers started from 001; more than 400 have been classified so far with new species being discovered constantly.

The adult size for most species listed below is 4–6″ which would seem to make them ideal for small aquariums. But in reality they require good amount of experience and care; many require high waterflow, driftwood, rocky hiding places, and generally thrive in bigger aquariums with stable ecosystems. Many are territorial, and to house more than one requires enough space for them establish individual territories. Most of them are omnivores (some are actually purely carnivorous) unlike their common variety cousins, so a specialized diet is needed depending on species.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Candy Striped Pleco L015
Candy Striped; also known as Xingu or Peckoltia vittata

As the number suggests, this is one of the first fancy plecos to be classified, and it has remained popular ever since because of its striking pattern. It originates from Rio (river) Xingu in Brazil near the town of Altamira. Vittata means ‘decorated with a ribbon’ referring to the bands of color on its body. It is not to be confused (as it has been in the past) with the Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus).

L–018 / L–085
Yellow Seamed or Gold Nugget

This is one of the most popular and frequently imported species. It also originates from Rio Xingu near Altamira. A second variety of the pleco L–081 was later discovered, and is found a little further south, while a third variety L–177 is found even further south. All three are fairly similar in appearance with some differences in the size of their ‘gold’ spots. Certain sections of the river Xingu have a rocky bed covered with an algae biofilm which these fish feed on. They are nocturnal feeders (like most fancy plecos) and are hard to spot during the day when they hid in the rock crevices. Surprisingly this fish thrives in whitewater rapids.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Blue Phantom L128
King Tiger

It originates from whitewater sections of the Rio Xingu near the town of Belo Monte. In captivity it requires a good amount of well–oxygenated waterflow. Unfortunately due to the ongoing construction of the Belo Monte Dam this fish is likely to experience habitat degradation in the near future. The King Tiger has paler base coloration than L–133 the Yellow King Tiger; both are carnivorous.

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Triactis or Three Beacon

This is a stunningly beautiful species which gets its common name ‘Three Beacon’ from the bright orange coloration on the first rays of its dorsal, caudal and adipose fins. It originates from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela, specifically sections with whitewater or rapids. Well–oxygenated and high waterflow is required, and the pH should definitely be on the softer (acidic) side. It is not purely vegetarian and requires a mix diet.

Flametail Gibbiceps or Leopard Cactus

This fish originates from Rio Demini (Brazil) which drains into Rio Negro. The tomato red coloration on the dorsal and caudal fins is the reason behind its popularity. In fact it is sometimes called the Redtail Leopardus or the Redtail Sternella pleco for this reason. This is a purely carnivorous pleco which produces quite a bit of waste; a good filtration is definitely required.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Blue Phantom L128
Blue Phantom

This strikingly beautiful fish originates from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela, specifically near the town of Puerto Ayacucho. It can range in base coloration from light blue to black with blue spots. In the wild they live amongst rocky substrates in the fast flowing sections of the river, therefore well–oxygenated water with good waterflow as well as good hiding places is needed.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Leopard Frog L134
Leopard Frog

This fish originates from the Rio Tapajós near the village of Pimental, Brazil. The beautiful leopard–like pattern can vary from specimen to specimen. Males develop small teeth–like odontodes which cover the back half of the fish. Unlike many of the other varieties listed above, this fish comes from calmer waters and therefore it’s easier to recreate its habitat in captivity.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Green Phantom
Green Phantom

Those who are familiar with freshwater aquaria are aware of how rare it is to find a fish with green coloration. Perhaps that is one of the reason why this fish is so popular. Like the Blue Phantom (L-128) it originates from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela, and requires similar conditions. There is a Hi Fin variety is as well, though they are generally not numbered separately. The key to telling them apart is that the dorsal and adipose fins are connected in the Hi Fin variety while they are separate in the main form.

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Queen Arabesque or Scribble

Like the Leopard Frog this fish originates from the Rio Tapajós in Brazil, and is considered a ‘dwarf’ variety. They are extremely peaceful (should not be mixed with aggressive cichlids) and require a mostly carnivorous diet. This fish could be facing potential loss of habitat as a hydroelectric plant is being planned for that region.

Exotic Loricariids: Otherwise Knows As Fancy Plecos - Yellow Tiger Pleco L333
Yellow King Tiger

This fish is similar in appearance to the King Tiger Pleco (L–066), but the base coloration is much more yellow in this species, and the darker markings are sharper as well. It originates from Rio Xingu in Brazil. Most specimen found in the aquaria trade are actually aquaculture and therefore much hardier than their wild cousins.

I hope I have piqued your curiosity sufficiently to warrant a trip to see these beautiful fish for yourself at our store. These are just a few of the many varieties of fancy plecos we regularly carry. Irrespective of how big your tank is our staff can help you create a good aquatic environment for these prized fish. We also take requests for varieties we may not have in stock on any given day. We deal with many different distributors, so if there’s particular variety you’re looking for, there’s a very good chance we’ll be able to get it for you…  

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