Butterfly Pleco: Lifespan, Behavior, Care, & Breeding

From the areas of river Rio Negro, Brazil comes one unique and beautiful subspecies of the famous catfish – Butterfly Pleco. Pleco is a freshwater fish that enjoys a tad bit cooler waters to thrive. Perhaps one of the most unique features of this fish is their ability to camouflage almost instantly and change their colors to avoid any danger. The great thing about having Butterfly Plecos in your aquarium is their ability to adapt their color based on the surroundings, from entirely dark to bright yellow. Let’s dive in a bit deeper to show you everything that makes Butterfly’s indeed in a league of their own.

Butterfly Pleco Lifespan & Size

Compared to most other Plecos, Butterfly Pleco is relatively small and will fit into smaller communities. They grow up to about 5-6 inches, which is more than enough for a small-medium aquarium. If they’re properly taken care of, they are known to live up to 8-10 years.

Behavior & Characteristics

Butterfly Pleco is a relatively peaceful fish that enjoys it’s own solitude and doesn’t like to be bothered all too much. It won’t start problems and will stick to itself. With that being said, Butterfly Pleco is an ideal fish for small, peaceful communities. One thing to note is that they don’t like to be exposed to overcrowded environments – this can make them feel very stressed and thus weak, leading to sickness. To counteract this, give them enough space in the aquarium (75+ gallon) and don’t introduce too many other fish into it.

Master of Camouflage

Butterfly Pleco is known to be a master of camouflage; it only takes them a moment to change their color completely. This is what makes them unique – due to this ability, they will change colors based on their environment and light exposure. If you want them to be completely black, make sure you use darker substrate and dense decorations. On the other hand, if you want them to reveal their vivid colors and patterns fully, make sure to use lighter substrate and a lot of bright plants for the background – this will make them glow and radiate in full light. One thing to note is that when exposed to direct sunlight and bright lights – Pleco tends to hide and camouflage itself so make sure to avoid that by using low light, darker settings.

Butterfly Plecos have amazing stripe patterns all over their body, with natural yellow color added to the mix. It will stand out compared to your other fish.


Even though they’re peaceful creatures and won’t be bothered with other fish, Butterfly Plecos like to compete with each other over territory to show off their dominance. You can expect males to guard their area. One thing to note is that females are usually broader than males, so you can recognize in that way (male is more slender).

In order for them to thrive, Butterfly Plecos require colder temperatures (around 75°F) and well-oxygenated water to grow and display their awesome colors and patterns fully. And despite being smaller, they still belong to a group of catfish and will require higher filtration levels and clean water because they produce more waste. Because of all this, they require some experience in order to be handled appropriately and bred.


Butterfly Pleco mostly sticks to the bottom of the tank, feeding on algae and weeds but it still requires to be fed regularly with vegetables and even some meats. Here are some foods you can use:

  • Cucumber
  • Blanched Zucchini
  • Worms
  • Small Insects
  • Bloodworms
  • Daphnia
  • They also eat wood occasionally

Make sure you feed your Pleco twice per day as they love to eat quite a lot.

Butterfly Pleco Care & Housing

As mentioned earlier, Butterfly Plecos compared to others of their species don’t require big aquariums to thrive. Tanks ranging from 60-80 gallon can do just fine, but it’s suggested to keep it 75+ because of the stress issue when the place is overcrowded. Make sure you clean the water often because of additional waste they produce, this also comes to play when you’re trying to breed them. As for the tank settings, you want to use something like this:

  • pH (5.5 – 7)
  • Temperature 77-82 °F (25-28 °C)
  • 75 + gallon
  • Low-Medium lighting to avoid darker camouflages
  • Brighter substrate/background to highlight their colors as much as possible

As for the decorations…

Provide them with a lot of rocks, driftwood, logs, caverns and other hiding spaces, preferably gravel substrate. Overall they excel in brighter and denser environments under lower lights.


Breeding & Reproduction

The Butterfly Pleco is known to be a cave spawning species – this means they’re very choosy when it comes to their spawning place and the most ideal environment you can provide them is a bunch of driftwood, rocks, caves, and caverns. They love to hide in these tense and unreachable places, calling the females to join them. Once there, females will deposit their eggs which then will be fertilized by males – after this process is over, the female will leave, and the male will be the one making sure these eggs hatch properly.

The reason they pick these tense caverns is that they love to keep their fry inside until they’re fully developed and ready to go on their own. Butterfly Pleco will heavily protect their eggs and often keep their fry inside for ten days and will not let them leave the cavern until they are a bit older.

If you’re having troubles with getting them to spawn…

In this case, try to stimulate their natural environment as much as possible – change your water constantly and add cold water up to 30% of the tank. Keep the temperature somewhere at 75 °F (24 °C) and soon enough you should be able to see egg spawns inside the caves with the male guarding it.


If you’re looking for some unique and fun additions for your peaceful aquariums, then you should definitely consider bringing in The Butterfly Pleco into the mix. If you follow these steps correctly, then you should have no problems growing your Plecos properly and enjoying them at their best display.