Butterfly Pleco: Care, Size, Breeding & More

Butterfly Plecostomus (L168) is one of the smaller species of pleco with a striking pattern. It has the unique ability to camouflage based on their surroundings. When placed on a light colored substrate, they will display a bright pattern. When placed on a dark colored substrate or low light environment, they will display a much darker pattern. In fact, when the butterfly pleco was first discovered in the wild, they were discovered at night when they were displaying a darker pattern. When the fish changed its color later on, the people that caught the fish were confused since it looked like a different fish.

Common Name(s)Butterfly Pleco, Chameleon Pleco, L168
Scientific NameDekeyseria brachyuran, Ancistrus brachyurus, Peckoltia pulcher
OriginSouth America
Temperature Range77-82°F
Water ParameterspH 5.6-7
Adult Size6 inches
DietPrimarily herbivorous
Butterfly Pleco (L168)
Butterfly Pleco (L168)

Butterfly Pleco Facts

  • The Butterfly Pleco has the ability to camouflage itself for protection by changing color. If you wish to see your Butterfly pleco display their gorgeous stripes, dark colored substrate should be avoided.
  • They are shy fish and may display more activity at nighttime. They are not the most active fish during the day, unless there is food to be eaten.
  • Butterfly plecos are generally peaceful fish. While they may attempt to guard the territory that they’ve established, they are less aggressive compared to other pleco species.

Butterfly Pleco Care

Butterfly plecos are hardy, but they do require proper care and attention.

Unlike some sucker fish, Butterly plecs can not exist on tank overgrowth and waste alone. They will certainly feed on algae, but their diet should be supplemented with other vegetables and fish food. They like to rasp on driftwood as well.

They need clean, highly aerated water, with a good aquarium filtration system. Frequent water changes are important as well.

Butterfly Pleco Size

Butterfly pleco will grow to a maximum size of approximately 6 inches. They are one of the smaller pleco species. Other species of plecos are known to grow more than twice this size.


Butterfly plecos thrive in a habit with clean highly aerated water. They are often observed grazing for food on the bottom of fast flowing waters.

Plenty of hiding places should be provided by plants, caves, and driftwood.

Tank Size

The minimum aquarium tank size for an adult butterfly pleco is 40 gallons. Juvenile specimen under 3 inches can be grown in a 20 gallon tank.

Tank Mates

Tank mates for Butterfly plecos should be other similar-sized peaceful community fish. They should not be kept with aggressive fish that may harass them.

Butterfly pleco are not very aggressive fish. Many pleco species display territorial behavior, but butterfly plecos are known to be less aggressive towards each other.

Food and Diet

Butterfly pleco will feed on a variety of plant matter. They are primarily herbivorous, and they feed on algae, algae wafers, spirulina tablets, and other vegetable matters. Some vegetables that can be fed to Butterfly plecs include:

  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Blanched spinach
  • Blanched romaine lettuce

While they primarily feed on plant matter, they will accept other protein based feed as well. They will also eat live food such as bloodworms.

Adding driftwood to the tank is important to allow the fish to rasp on it. This will provide the necessary fiber to aid in their digestion and prevent bloating.


The expected lifespan for Butterfly plecos is 5 years. Some will live longer than 7 years if kept in a clean environment with a good diet.

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the average lifespan for plecostomus is 10 to 15 years. This means that Butterfly plecos has a shorter lifespan than other other plecos.


Males and females are similar, but it is possible to distinguish them. The males will have a slightly broader head. The males will also have larger pectoral spines and odontodes. The females will have a slightly fuller body.

Butterfly Pleco Breeding

Butterfly plecos breed in caves or cave-like structures. This breeding behavior can be observed in many other pleco species, and they are known as cave-spawners. Large water changes of up to 50-75% can encourage breeding behavior. The water change can mimic the rainy season, which is when they breed in the wild. They prefer soft acidic water as well. Slightly cooler water can stimulate breeding behavior as well. After the male finds a suitable spot, he will get the female to lay her eggs there. Afterwards, the male will fan the eggs and protect them against predators. It will take 5-7 days for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched, the fry will have a yolk sac, which will be used up very quickly. They will start eating other food such as algae soon afterwards. During the initial period, the water parameters must be monitored closely since the fry are sensitive to water quality.