Butterfly Pleco: An Expert Care Guide To This Eccentric Camouflaging Beauty

Butterfly Pleco resting at the bottom of a Freshwater Aquarium

Butterfly Pleco, which was initially scientifically known as Ancistrus brachyurus, is a popular choice of pet fish among many aquarists. They belong to the Actinopterygii class and Siluriformes order. They have a striking appearance and quite amazingly, can even change their colours to attune to a secure environment. 

So, if you are thinking about introducing this fish to your family, rest assured that we are here to help you out. In this article, we will discuss their care guide, diet, behaviour, breeding and other fascinating facts.

So, follow through, to know it all!

Key Specifications 

If you are interested in Butterfly Plecos, then this table below will give you an outline of some of their chief characteristic traits. So, let’s have a look! 

Scientific Name Dekeyseria brachyuran, Peckoltia pulcher, Ancistrus brachyurus
OriginSouth America
Lifespan5-7 years
ColourBlack and white stripes
Size5-7 inches
DietOmnivore in an aquarium environment
CompatibilityPeaceful and friendly, similarly-sized fishes 
Tank Size20 Gallon for a juvenile; 40 gallons for single adult
Care Level Easy
Water Temperature 25-28 Degrees Celsius
Water ConditionspH 5.6-7


Butterfly Plecos (Dekeyseria brachyuran) are one of the smallest species of Pleco. They are also commonly known as Chameleon Pleco and Flunder Pleco. They are extremely beautiful and they have this unique camouflaging ability that aids them in defending themselves from potential danger. These fishes are bottom-dwellers and thrive in the freshwater habitat. Although they are quite hardy, these fishes still require adequate care and maintenance. 

These species of Plecos are an interesting choice and you would love to accept the challenge of keeping them as your pet. However, you must pay heed to their lifestyle and necessities. 

Origin and Habitat of Butterfly Pleco 

Butterfly Plecos were first found in Rio Negro, the largest blackwater river, in South America. They inhabit the freshwater streams of West Africa as well. 

These fishes thrive the best in murky waters which have a slightly acidic to a neutral environment. They require a strong water current and a good concentration of dissolved oxygen to survive. 

Appearance of Butterfly Pleco

Butterfly Plecos have a slender body shape which makes them look even more graceful. They have mighty and gorgeous fins and as the name “butterfly” suggests, they look splendidly enchanting. They have alternate brightly coloured stripes lining their coat. 

These fishes can disguise themselves pretty well depending on their surroundings and how they feel. They have this expert chameleon-like propensity to change colours when required. We will talk about it in detail in the ‘Colour’ section. So, keep an eye out. 

The male Butterfly Plecos have a broader head with distinguishable and prominent pectoral spines.  They will also develop odontodes on their snouts. Also, the males are leaner than the females. The female Butterfly Plecos have a broader midsection area as they bear the eggs. 

Size of Butterfly Pleco 

Butterfly Plecos can grow up to a maximum size of 6-7 inches. Their small size is one of the reasons why aquarists prefer this particular Pleco species. They can easily fit in any normal-sized tank. 


Butterfly Plecos have a captivating pattern on their skins. They are adorned with alternate brownish-black and golden-white stripes. Their camouflaging ability is one of the most fascinating features. When they are not stressed, they will switch to a bright and conspicuously patterned coat design against lightly coloured substrate. In lower light regions or against darkly-hued substrates, you’ll notice that the fish will develop a pitch-black colouration. 

Behaviour of Butterfly Pleco 

Butterfly Plecos are typically very calm and shy. Their presence in your tank will certainly tranquillize your mind. However, since they are territorial in nature, they might start a fight and chase other fishes whom they see as a competition. In a general sense, they do not exhibit aggressive behaviour and prefer keeping silent. 

Moreover, you will also notice that these fishes are the most active during nighttime. They are not very active during the daytime. They come out rarely in the search of food if there is any.


The average lifespan of a Butterfly Pleco is 5 years. However, if provided with the proper care and tank conditions, they may survive up to 7 years. They have a comparatively shorter lifespan than other Pleco species. 


Butterfly Plecos are primarily herbivores. However, in an aquarium, they may switch to an omnivorous diet. They are also considered the “tank clean-up crew” since they keep the tank clean by feeding on algae. Algaes are their favourite food.  

Vegetarian Diet Include: 

  • Algae
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Canned beans
  • Broccoli

Commercially Available Food:

  • Algae Wafers
  • Spirulina Tablets 
  • Fish food with high protein content

They Also Feed on Macroinvertebrates:


You should consider adding driftwood inside your tank for your Butterfly Pleco. It provides them with the right amount of fibre and also helps with digestion issues.

Tank Requirements 

If you are considering having Butterfly Plecos as your pet then, you must assiduously take care of their needs and properly maintain the aquarium. Here we will help you out with an easy yet expert care guide for these beautiful species of fishes. Get detailed guidance on setting up a fish tank. 

Tank Size

You should avoid keeping your Butterfly Pleco in an over-crowded tank as it may stress them out and eventually lower their immunity. So, do keep in mind to provide the appropriate tank size for them based on their growth. 

Since they are comparatively smaller in size, you can easily avail a 20 gallons tank for a baby Butterfly Pleco. For an adult fish, you should consider getting a 40 Gallons tank. You should choose the perfect fish tank for your pet fish. 

Tank Shape

It’s always healthy to put your fish in a rectangular shaped tank. This will provide them with enough space to swim around and explore. Also, a rectangular-shaped tank will help them breathe more air. 

You should avoid keeping your Pleco in a fishbowl. These sphere-shaped bowls will affect your fish both physically and psychologically. 

Tank Lid

Tank lids are always an important addition to your aquarium. You should ensure that your fish is protected from dust particles and other harmful foreign substances. Also, if you have a pet like a dog or a cat at your home, then you should really consider covering the tank to prevent any sort of attack. 

You need to make sure that the tank lid is tightly closed. 


Your Butterfly Pleco may jump rapidly to the top of the tank when the dissolved oxygen concentration goes down. So to prevent any sort of accident, it’s always wise that you go for a tank lid.


For a Butterfly Pleco, you should really go for fine gravel. Even soft sand will serve the purpose. Since gravels are soft substrate materials, they help the fishes to forage through for food. Additionally, make sure that your aquarium has a gravel depth of about 2 inches. 


Butterfly Pleco require adequate ventilation to survive. You must consider getting some best aquarium filtration techniques for your Pleco. These filters will help purify the air within the tank and freshly oxygenate the tank. 


As we have already discussed before, Butterfly Plecos show their optimum beauty against a light background. Since they have this unique ability to camouflage, you will see them show off their colours the most when the aquarium consists of lightly coloured substrate materials and decoration. 

You should ensure that your Pleco has enough hide-out spaces within the aquarium. You can add soft rocks, caves and tunnels for that purpose. Additionally, never keep your Pleco in a tank without driftwood. They love to nibble on these woods as it provides them with nutrition and acts as a stress buster. 


One important fact that you must pay heed to is, Butterfly Plecos love to live in an environment that imitates their natural habitat. Butterfly Plecos generally thrive in regions with adequate sunlight. So, to make them feel at home, you should keep the aquarium light on for at least 6-7 hours a day. 

If your room receives plenty of sunlight during the day, then 2-3 hours of artificial lighting is just enough for them.

Presence of Flora

Butterfly Plecos actually prefer to stay in aquariums that are decorated with plants. Do make sure that the plants you chose are capable of surviving in an acidic environment. 

Additionally, as we have seen before, these Plecos primarily feed on algae. So, if you add plants like Java Fern and Anubias, then the plecos can munch on the algal growth which takes place on the broad surface area of these leaves. 

Cleaning Methods

Installing a strong filtration system within the tank is of immense importance. Not only will the filters purify the air inside your tank, but they will also maintain a stable concentration of chemicals like ammonia, nitrates and nitrites. 

Make sure that you change at least 10% of the tank water once a week. Additionally, before changing the water, you should clean the inside of the glass tank to remove any dirt. 

Butterfly Plecos also produce a high amount of waste. So, you should use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to clean through the substrate and prevent the buildup of any toxin and decomposing matter.

Make sure that you are taking the right measures for cleaning your fish tank. 

Water Types for Butterfly Pleco

Maintaining proper water quality is an essential measure. Butterfly Plecos are very sensitive to even a small alteration in the water parameters. You should ensure that you fully cycle the aquarium before introducing your pleco to the tank. 

Additionally, you should pay special heed to the ammonia, nitrate and nitrite concentration in the tank water. These inorganic chemicals are produced from fish waste. If you don’t pay attention to their levels in the water, then the toxin buildup will seriously harm your Butterfly Pleco. So, confirm that your tank has 0-0.2 mg/L of Ammonia, 0-0.2 mg/L of Nitrite and 0-20 mg/L of Nitrate. 

You must make sure that you keep a keen eye on the below-mentioned parameters to provide your Pleco with a healthy lifestyle. 

Water Temperature 

For Butterfly Plecos, you should maintain the tank water temperature between 25-28 Degree Celsius. 

Use the best heater and aquarium thermometer to maintain, regulate and check your aquarium temperature. 

pH Level

You should keep the pH of the water between 5.6-and 7. Butterfly Plecos survive the best in slightly acidic to neutral pH. So, you must maintain the proper pH level inside the tank. 


For a Butterfly Pleco, you need to make sure that the water hardness lies anywhere between 2 to 18 dGH.

Water Flow Rate 

Butterfly Plecos require a high water flow rate. So, you can install a pump inside your tank to maintain a fast flow rate of the water. 


Butterfly Plecos have a very peaceful nature and so, they won’t bother any other fishes. However, to ensure security and prevent any sort of attack, you should choose other fishes of similar size. They should also be calm and communal.

Do keep in mind that, since Butterfly Plecos are territorial in nature they might be intimidated by fishes who are larger in size and also exhibit territorial behaviour. So, you should avoid those types of fishes. 

Suitable Tank Mates 

Unsuitable Tank Mates 

Any fish that is larger in size and exhibits aggressive behavioural traits. 

Breeding of Butterfly Pleco

When it comes to breeding, butterfly Plecos find comfort in hideouts and caves. Therefore, they are also known as cave-spawners. They can breed in the rainy season. During this time, the water changes from around 50 to 75%. They also prefer soft and acidic water for reproduction. 

During the breeding season, the male Butterfly Plecos search for an appropriate cave for spawning. He then cleans and makes sure that the site is safe. The males attract the female by developing a dark and intense colouration. They also flaunt their blazing fins in front of the female Pecos. 

This is followed by the female going after the male into the cave. There she lays her eggs on the walls of the cave. After that, the male Pleco fish takes care of the fertilization of the eggs. The males protect and take care of the eggs till they hatch. The eggs hatch within 5-7 days. The fries feed primarily on algae during that time. 

How to Breed Butterfly Pleco in Captivity 

In captivity, the breeding process of Butterfly Plecos becomes a bit complicated. Since they prefer giving birth in their own earthly habitat, that too during the rainy season, you can emulate a natural ambience inside your tank with the help of certain equipment. For instance, Butterfly Plecos love to hide in caves. 

So, add lots of caves and driftwoods inside the tank. For breeding, you should also opt for a larger tank size. To replicate the rain, you can frequently change the water and maintain a relatively cooler temperature. Also, reduce the pH to around 6. Add one male and 2 to 3 female Butterfly plecos inside the tank. The males are very picky about their mating partners. 

This imitation of their natural habitat will motivate them to go for breeding. After the eggs have hatched, relocate the baby fishes to a different tank and properly take care of them. 

Disease and Treatment of Butterfly Pleco

Butterfly Plecos are prone to some of these common Plecsostomus diseases:


This is a common occurrence among many freshwater fishes. The most noticeable symptoms are little white dots on the fins and the body of the fish, lethargy and loss of appetite.

The parasites which cause this disease mainly flourish in tank water of poor quality. 

To treat this disease, you need to first isolate the fish in a different tank. Then, you must clean the tank and change the water. Install proper filtration system. Contact a vet for treating your already affected Butterfly Pleco. 

Pop-Eye and Head Holes

Pop-eye is a bacterial disease where the eyes of the fish protrude out. Holes in the head are characterized by numerous, small cavities in the head of the fish.

You can treat pop-eye syndrome by cleaning the tank and changing the water and administering vitamin-rich food. Tetracycline also helps treat the disease. Similarly, for holes in the head, make sure that you maintain proper hygiene inside the aquarium. 

Dropsy, Fin and Tail Rot

These are bacterial diseases as well. The fish loses the colouration on its body snd tail. This type of bacterial disease is mainly caused by poor quality food. Other symptoms also include lethargy, loss of appetite and bloating.

For treatment, you should better quality food for your fish. Also, change 25% of the tank water on alternate days. Keep your tank clean. Most importantly, get in touch with your vet if the problem persists. 

You must pay special attention to your Butterfly Pleco’s diet. Over-feeding or starving may severely affect them and you can even notice the change in their behaviours and movements. A sunken belly is one sure indication that your fish is facing some digestive issues. 


On a closing note, Butterfly Pleco is an amazing choice if you are really thinking about it. They have an extraordinary and remarkable appearance. Their unique ability to easily mask themselves from any potential harm makes them even more of a fascinating species. The distinctive striped pattern on their body makes them look even more graceful and lovely. 

If you are really looking forward to having a Butterfly Pleco as your pet fish then, rest assured you are doing a great job. These fishes are extremely restful and soothing. Moreover, due to their comparatively smaller size, they can easily survive in a standard sized tank. 

So, even if you are new to the fish-keeping world, this fish would make a great company. Do make sure that you are taking proper care of them and looking after their needs. 

All the best as you go ahead with your decision. The experience of having a Butterfly Pleco as your pet will entirely enthral you. 

Interesting Fact

Did you know that due to their camouflaging behaviour, Plecos were a creature of confusion and discussion among many scientists? As we have seen earlier, they entirely switch to a jet-black colouration when they rest on a dark surface. People first discovered these fishes in this particular state. However, later on, when the fish changed its colour, the locals were absolutely bewildered and thought that it was an entirely different fish. Hence, the different scientific names.

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