Here’s a scenario for you: You would love to keep a cool suckermouth catfish but the limited space in your home doesn’t justify keeping a large aquarium.
Luckily, I’ve done some research to provide you with more than one idea for small pleco species that could fulfill the job of a tiny, bottom-dwelling fish.
Usually, a Common Plecostomus grows to between 15 and 24 inches and requires a tank that holds upwards of 100 gallons.
However, the dwarf plecos that I’m about to list below, will all stay small in size, even in their adult years.
That being said, let me show you the 10 small pleco fish that you could keep in your compact aquarium at home.
10 Small Pleco Species That Also STAY That Way
During my research for this list, I made sure to only cherry-pick plecos that grow no more than 4.5 inches, with the smallest one reaching just 2 inches.
While this doesn’t sound like a lot, you should remember that these fish are bottom dwellers. Each of them will mostly occupy the bottom footprint of your fish tank, though some would also hang out on the glass.
A standard 10-gallon tank has roughly 20 inches of length and 10 inches of width. This equals a little over 1.6 feet in vertical length that a single pleco could explore.
However, I would avoid housing Plecostomus breeds in 5-gallon tanks or anything smaller than that. If you’re looking for interesting fish that will fit a 5-gallon tank then click here to see some options.
That being said, have a look at the small pleco species that could go in your aquarium:
1. Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco – Parotocinclus spilosoma
|Maximum Body Size:||2 inches or approximately 5 cm|
|Minimum Tank Size:||10-gallon tank for a school of 3 specimens|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||71.5 to 82.5 °F (between 22 and 28 °C)|
|Key Traits:||Very peaceful; may bury itself in the substrate; will eat algae and biofilm|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Yes, as long as the beginner is familiar with the basics of fish keeping|
The Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco remains small throughout its life and only reaches 2 inches of maximum body size. Such body measurements make this fish one of, if not, the smallest pleco species kept in home aquariums.
Anyway, these tiny plecos come from the Parotocinclus genus and as such, prefer to live in groups. The absolute minimum of Gold Spot Dwarf Plecos in your tank should be 3 specimens, but a preferable number would be 6.
Having that and their small size in mind, you could keep a school of 6 of these plecos in a 20-gallon Long tank (30 inches of vertical length).
If you’re planning to keep Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco fish in a 10-gallon tank, make sure there is plenty of driftwood and live plants with larger leaves, such as Java Fern or Vallisneria, to act as hiding places.
A 10-gallon tank could accommodate no more than 3 Gold Spot Dwarf Plecos.
Anyhow, fine gravel or sand would be the ideal aquarium substrate for these fish as they sometimes bury themselves in it when frightened.
This type of dwarf pleco is also really timid and does not like to be around fish who constantly dash back and forth.
Ideally, its tank mates should be some of the smallest and most calm fish you could find.
Anyway, when still young, these fish feed very aggressively on biofilm and algae.
Nevertheless, this is not to say that the Gold Spot Dwarf Pleco is not a great algae-eating fish.
Author’s note: The Gold Spot Dwarf Plecos are often mislabeled as a Pitbull Pleco in fish stores, so keep that in mind when looking for the former.
2. Bristlenose plecos – Ancistrus spp.
|Maximum Body Size:||overall species size is between 3 and 6 inches (7.6 to 15.25 cm) but there are many sub-species that don’t grow more than 4 inches or around 10 cm|
|Minimum Tank Size:||30 gallons for the largest Bristlenose species|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||65 to 79 °F (between 18 and 26 °C)|
|Key Traits:||Unique-looking tentacles on its mouth; eats a lot and makes more mess; relatively peaceful; prefers well-oxygenated water|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Depends on the species, as there are more than 60|
The common Bristlenose pleco – Ancistrus cirrhosus – grows to between 4 and 5 inches, but there are cases where a well-kept specimen has reached almost 6 inches.
However, in this section, I’d like to point the spotlight at two somewhat exotic fish species of the Ancistrus genus.
The first one is called the Gold Marble Bristlenose Catfish, also known as Ancistrus claro.
An adult Gold Marble Bristlenose Catfish reaches no more than 2.7 inches in full body length. This type of dwarf fish is one of the smallest known Bristlenose pleco species.
The Gold Marble Bristlenose pleco can be kept in a standard 15-gallon tank with a bottom footprint of 24.5 x 12.5 inches, but a 10-gallon tank is not out of the question.
This fish prefers waters with a strong stream, which makes it an ideal choice for a river biotope aquarium.
The Gold Marble Bristlenose catfish is not that territorial with similar-looking fish and will tolerate other peaceful bottom dwellers in larger tanks.
Having hiding spaces in the tank is essential for these fish as they sometimes like a little privacy.
Anyway, there’s one other type of Bristlenose pleco from the Ancistrus genus that stays relatively small in its adult years.
The Starlight Bristlenose pleco, also recognized as Ancistrus dolichopterus or L183, is an exotic-looking suckerfish that has a maximum size of 4.5 inches.
The minimum tank size for a single Starlight Bristlenose pleco is a 20-gallon tank, but 30 or 40-gallon Breeder tanks are preferred since they have the same bottom footprint.
Anyhow, aside from looking super cool, this fish is also fairly expensive and can be sold for up to 40 dollars in some online fish stores.
However, it’s not the price that you should pay attention to, but rather the water requirements of this pleco species.
Starlight Bristlenose plecos prefer to live in “blackwater” aquariums.
This means that the tank should have soft, acidic water with high levels of dissolved tannins. Tannins are usually released in the water by organic sources such as peat, degrading leaves, or driftwood.
The tank mates of this type of pleco should also be fish that thrive in blackwater, such as the Chili Rasbora.
Maintaining this type of fish tank can be a challenge for a beginner, so keep that in mind if you want a Starlight Bristlenose pleco but you’re new to the hobby.
3. Dwarf snowball pleco – Hypancistrus sp. L471
|Maximum Body Size:||2.4 inches or just about 6 cm|
|Minimum Tank Size:||10 gallons|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||77 to 84 °F which equals 25 to 28.8 °C|
|Key Traits:||Is mostly carnivore; will actively scavenge the bottom at night; ideal for a small planted tank thanks to its diet; peaceful|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Not for complete beginners, but aquarists with general knowledge in the hobby can manage it|
The Dwarf Snowball Pleco remains small in its adult life, reaching no more than 2.4 inches of full body length.
Being so tiny classifies this fish as one of the smallest plecos in the aquarium trade to date.
For this reason, if it is the only bottom dweller in the aquarium, a Dwarf Snowball Pleco could live in a 10-gallon tank that has a good amount of plants, rocks, and some wood.
Of course, 10 gallons is the bare minimum and I’d usually recommend going with a 15-gallon for this pleco breed.
Anyway, this pleco breed is so unusual because it prefers warmer waters, and also, though still an omnivore, leans on the carnivorous side.
Both of these traits are rare among the smaller suckermouth catfish found in home aquariums.
On the other hand, these qualities make the Dwarf Snowball Pleco a worthy candidate for a heavily planted tank with peaceful, community fish that enjoy tropical waters.
Also, the L471 likes moderate water flow, so do keep that in mind when choosing your aquarium filter.
Anyhow, another thing to remember when looking after these dwarf fish is that they WILL go after shrimplets and smaller shrimp if given the opportunity.
4. Rubber Lipped Pleco – Chaetostoma formosae
|Maximum Body Size:||4.2 inches (10.6 cm). Some specimens can reach 4.5″ (11.4 cm) but that is very rare|
|Minimum Tank Size:||20 gallons|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||between 71 and 78 °F (between 21.6 and 25.5 °C)|
|Key Traits:||Very peaceful; efficient algae eater; eats even Black Beard Algae|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Yes|
With its maximum body size of just over 4 inches, the Rubber Lipped pleco can be comfortably kept in a 20-gallon Long tank. That’s 30.25 x 12.5 inches of bottom footprint for a single specimen.
The Rubber Lipped Pleco is very active when it forages for food and so needs more vertical swimming space.
They also hang out on the glass and other surfaces when they settle and accept the tank as their own.
One cool thing about this pleco is that it is one of the best freshwater algae eaters in the aquarium hobby.
Rubber Lipped Plecos eat all types of hair algae at astonishing rates, and can even get your tank rid of the dreaded Black Beard Algae.
Anyway, this tiny pleco is also quite peaceful and the only time you may see it get aggressive is in territory disputes with similar-looking catfish.
Other than that, it will not bother its tank mates.
Taking care of a Rubber Lipped Pleco can be very easy which makes this fish a beginner-friendly option.
5. Angelicus Pleco – Hypancistrus sp. L136
|Maximum Body Size:||3.1 inches or 7.9 cm|
|Minimum Tank Size:||20-gallon tank|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||73 to 82 °F which equals 22.7 to 27.7 °C|
|Key Traits:||May become aggressive towards other Hypancistrus species; prefers meat as a staple diet; likes moving water with high oxygen levels|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Yes, as long as the aquarist is ready to provide the needed conditions and stays on top of water maintenance|
The Angelicus Pleco is a beautiful species, from the Armored catfish family, that grows to no more than 3.1 inches.
Thanks to its rather small size, this fish can be kept in a tank that has at least 24 inches of vertical length and 12 inches of width.
The smallest tanks that correspond to these measurements are the standard 15-gallon and the 20-gallon Tall tank.
The Angelicus Pleco will appreciate a fish tank with medium to high water current, driftwood decorations, and round stones.
The water in your freshwater aquarium should have minimal pollution, and even higher levels of Nitrate will not be tolerated well.
Also, when keeping these plecos in your tank, make sure to have at least one air stone for good water oxygenation.
Anyway, make sure that you’re feeding your Angelicus Pleco mostly meat like Daphnia and Bloodworm, whereas vegetables should only be offered occasionally.
6. Pitbull Pleco – Parotocinclus jumbo
|Maximum Body Size:||2.4 inches, but usually stay around 2 (5 to 6 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||30-gallon Breeder for a group of 6|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||68 to 79 °F (20 to 26.1 °C)|
|Key Traits:||prefers staying in groups; eats algae, but you should not rely on them to clean your tank; peaceful; is pretty active when settled; peaceful|
|Suitable for Beginners:||No, these fish are a little more fragile during acclimatization, in which stable water parameters are required|
If you’re looking for a pleco that stays very small then consider getting a Pitbull Pleco. This fish reaches no more than 2.4 inches upon maturity and is usually a slow grower.
What you should know about the Pitbull Plecos is that they are social and need to be in groups of at least 3, but if you have the needed space – go with 6 or more.
A standard 15-gallon tank should be the minimum if you want to keep 3 Pitbull Plecos, in case the unlikely happens and each of them grows to 2.4 inches.
A standard 30-gallon Breeder tank is recommended if you’d like to keep 6 of these small fish.
The substrate in the tank should not be anything sharp, and preferably sand.
The Pitbull Pleco will try to bury itself in the substrate if it feels that something is not right.
Aside from that, these small plecos are very active once settled, but prefer to stay on the bottom of the fish tank.
Anyway, they enjoy a vegetarian diet, accepting the occasional animal protein.
Though a Pitbull Pleco will eat surface algae, it will not be a very efficient algae eater overall.
The live plants in a planted tank will not be eaten.
Author’s note: Due to obvious differences to other Parotocinclus species, the discoverers of the Pitbull Pleco believe that it should be moved to a different genus.
7. Queen Arabesque Pleco – Hypancistrus sp. L260
|Maximum Body Size:||3.5 inches (8.9 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||Any tank with a vertical length of 24 inches (e.g. a 15-gallon tank)|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||between 73 and 84 °F (22.7 to 29 °C)|
|Key Traits:||Doesn’t like the company of fast swimmers or aggressive fish; 100% carnivorous and won’t touch algae with a stick; loves caves more than other plecos; minds its own business|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Yes, as long as the aquarist chooses tank mates carefully and is willing to provide quality food to the fish|
The Queen Arabesque Pleco is a small, exotic fish that grows to just about 3.5 inches upon good care. As a rule of thumb for minimum tank size, you can keep a single specimen in a standard 15-gallon tank, or any of the 20-gallon varieties.
Anyway, this fish doesn’t need the company of its own kind and it will not bother its tank mates.
The Queen Arabesque Pleco is, in fact, so peaceful that it may be outcompeted for food if the other fish in the tank are more aggressive feeders.
What’s interesting about this breed is that they do not accept veggies at all.
Their diet should be 100% composed of small invertebrates.
As with all other plecos on this list, the Queen Arabesque Pleco likes some driftwood in its aquarium, but more importantly – it LOVES having its own cave.
Given how beautiful this pleco is and its carnivorous nature, it’s the perfect candidate for a planted aquarium with a medium water current.
8. Clown Pleco – Panaqolus sp. L206
|Maximum Body Size:||3.1 inches (7.9 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||The fish is not very active, so a 10-gallon tank is appropriate|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||77 to 85 °F or 25 to 29.4 °C|
|Key Traits:||Eats and constantly chews on wood; won’t really clean algae; quite peaceful; destroys live plants|
|Suitable for Beginners:||Yes, this species is easily manageable as long as research on the lifestyle of the fish has been done|
Note that this is not Panaqolus maccus, but another small species recognized under the same nickname.
The only serious difference between the two is that the P. maccus reaches 3.5 inches in maximum size, whereas the L206 Clown Pleco grows to no more than 3.1 inches.
Anyway, this type of pleco does not require a lot of personal space, and given that you structure the tank with a lot of hiding places, you can safely keep 2 specimens in a 20-gallon Long tank.
The Clown Pleco L206 feeds on wood and vegetables and does not need animal protein in its diet.
Having at least 2 types of driftwood in the aquarium is a must if you are to keep this species healthy.
The tangles and branches will be eaten with time and need occasional replacement.
Also, because of the wood in their diet, Clown Plecos will produce huge amounts of sawdust poop.
The sawdust won’t spike the Ammonia or Nitrite levels in the water, but a decent mechanical filtration should be in place to take care of the particles.
Author’s note: A common misconception about the Clown Pleco is that it should eat algae since it’s a vegetarian. However, practice shows that this is not really the case. Therefore, if you’re looking for a small pleco that cleans algae you should look at the other entries on this list.
9. Zebra Pleco – Hypancistrus zebra
|Maximum Body Size:||up to 3.2 inches, but usually they stay around 3 (7.6 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||A single specimen will do well in a 10-gallon tank with lots of crevices for hiding, but a 15-gallon one is likely better|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||between 78.8 and 86 °F (between 26 and 30 °C)|
|Key Traits:||requires high water temperature and good oxygenation; is not competitive when feeding, so avoid housing it with aggressive feeders; one of the most expensive freshwater fish|
|Suitable for Beginners:||No|
The exceptional Zebra Pleco reaches a body size of around 3 inches in its adult years. These fish like to hang out in crevices and are not active foragers, so a tank with a smaller bottom footprint, such as the 10-gallon one, will do.
Nevertheless, a 15-gallon tank should provide you (not the fish) with more freedom to build multiple caves in the rocks and driftwood.
This beautiful pleco prefers aquariums that simulate their natural biotope.
This would mean that a happy Zebra Pleco will live in a tank that has strong water movement, a sandy substrate, some driftwood, round stones, and high levels of dissolved oxygen.
There should be a lot of caves in between the rocks where the fish will spend their time.
Another water parameter that should be strictly maintained is the rather high temperature.
Unlike other types of plecos, the Zebra Pleco needs exceptionally high water temperatures in order to stay healthy and live a long and fulfilling life.
Aside from that, Zebra Plecos are not picky about other water parameters.
This species is also predominantly carnivorous and vegetables will rarely be taken by the fish.
Anyhow, before rushing to your local fish store in search of this gorgeous fish, know that the Zebra Pleco can get pretty expensive. Don’t say I did not warn you!
10. Leopard Frog Pleco – Peckoltia compta
|Maximum Body Size:||up to 4.3 inches (nearing 11 cm)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||10-gallon tank because this pleco is not very active|
|Suggested Water Temperature:||75 to 82 °F or around 24 to 28 °C|
|Key Traits:||thrives in tropical water temperatures; peaceful to tank mates that do not look similar; expensive; is not a reliable algae eater|
|Suitable for Beginners:||No|
Aside from its stunning appearance, the Leopard Frog Pleco is cherished by many fish keepers for retaining a small size throughout its lifespan. It grows to a maximum of 4.3 inches but most specimens will remain at three and a half.
Leopard Frog plecos are not very active but are rather territorial among each other, and some species of shark-like fish.
For this reason, a suitable tank size for a single specimen would be the 20-gallon tank, but a 10-gallon one with good decoration would also be acceptable (and not pushing it).
Anyway, the Leopard Frog Pleco thrives in waters with a pH of between 5 and 7, which means that aquariums with softer water will be preferred.
Another important water parameter for this pleco species is temperature.
Leopard Frog Plecos enjoy tropical waters and, in colder environments will be prone to disease and parasites such as Ich which can be difficult to treat.
For this reason, if kept in smaller fish tanks, having a powerful but small water heater is a must for this species.
Anyhow, note that the Leopard Frog Pleco may not be as expensive as the Zebra Pleco but it may still reach more than a hundred dollars in some aquarium fish stores.
Are there even smaller pleco fish?
The smallest pleco known to date is the Soromon Pleco (Soromonichthys stearleyi), reaching a total body size of just 1.2 inches.
However, there’s almost no information on this species, which means that it’s likely very rare and you won’t have a realistic chance of ever keeping one.
by Nathan Lujan
Even over at Planet Catfish, the information on this dwarf fish was scarce. For this reason, in my list above, I only mention pleco fish that, aside from staying small, are also available in the aquarium trade.