Maximum size : 50 cm

Leopard Sailfin Plecostomus - Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps : Complete Fish Profile & Care Guide

Table of contents


The Leopard Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps) is a highly resilient and sought-after species of catfish known for its unparalleled ability to control difficult algae growth in aquariums. These captivating creatures are known to perform miracles when it comes to maintaining a healthy and well-balanced aquatic environment. Leopard Sailfin Plecos make excellent community fish and are known for their peaceful temperament and compatibility with other tank mates. However, they can become territorial and aggressive towards other plecos if not raised together.

As adult Plecos require a spacious environment, it is essential to provide them with a large aquarium, complete with wood, to facilitate their digestion process and provide a suitable environment for algae growth. These creatures are nocturnal, so it is advisable to feed them supplement foods in the evening, just before turning off the tank lights.

One of the Leopard Sailfin Pleco's most striking features is its impressive dorsal fin, which can grow several inches high and develop straight up before fanning back to the onset of the caudal peduncle. These Plecos can be distinguished by their dorsal fin ray count, which is usually more than ten rays, as well as the dense series of spots that cover their entire bodies, varying in contrast based on the individual.

Leopard Sailfin Plecos are typically pale orange with dark brown spots, but the contrast between the spots and their base colour may vary slightly, adding to their unique and striking appearance. Overall, these captivating creatures are a fascinating addition to any aquarium and are sure to captivate the attention of aquatic enthusiasts.

Leopard Sailfin Plecostomus Photos

Sexual Dimorphism

The task of determining the gender of the Leopard Sailfin Pleco may prove challenging to the untrained eye. However, experienced aquarists may compare the genital papillae of both sexes to differentiate between them. In males, this structure appears as a small but thick protrusion from the undercarriage. In contrast, females tend to lie flat or remain recessed, making them readily distinguishable from their male counterparts.

In a group setting, males may exhibit territorial behaviour, providing further indications of their gender. By paying close attention to their behaviours and physical characteristics, aquarium enthusiasts can ensure the proper gender identification of their Leopard Sailfin Plecos. It is worth noting that accurate gender identification is crucial to maintaining the overall health and vitality of this species.

By ensuring that males and females are kept separate, aquarium enthusiasts can avoid any territorial conflicts, fostering a peaceful and harmonious environment in their aquarium.

Quick Facts

Scientific NamePterygoplichthys gibbiceps
Year Described1858
Other NamesSailfin Catfish, Clown Pleco, Sailfin Pleco, Leopard Plecostomus, Gibby, Spotted Sailfin Pleco, Clown Sucker Catfish, Clown plecostomus
OriginsPeru , Brazil
Max Size50 cm
Aquarium LevelBottom
DifficultyBeginner - Intermediate
Best kept asLoners
Diet & FeedingOmnivore
ReproductionEgg Depositor
LifespanUp to 10 Years

Water Parameters

Water TypeFreshwater
pH 6.5 - 8.0
GH 4 - 18
Ideal Temperature
73 - 86
22 - 30

Natural Habitat

The Leopard Sailfin Pleco is a fascinating species of Catfish with a natural habitat spanning the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, including the Rio Pacaya and Rio Orinoco in South America. These plecos are well adapted to life in inland sluggish river systems, as well as flooded lands during the wet season.

As the dry season approaches, Leopard Sailfin Plecos exhibit an incredible ability to adapt and survive, remaining dormant in burrows dug into mud banks that stretch along the length of the river. This remarkable survival strategy allows them to endure the harsh conditions of the dry season and emerge unscathed when the rains return. 

 Orinoco - Venezuela
Venezuela Flag


While commercial farming of the Leopard Sailfin Pleco is relatively common, breeding this species in a home aquarium setting remains a rare occurrence. The lack of defined breeding methods is the primary reason for this trend. Gender identification poses a particular challenge, and ensuring optimal conditions and maintaining good health for the fish is crucial for successful breeding.

Prospective breeders should carefully evaluate the practicality of breeding such a large fish and the amount of space required before attempting to do so. It is worth noting that breeding the Leopard Sailfin Pleco requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources and may not be suitable for everyone.

Overall, due to the unique challenges involved, breeding Leopard Sailfin Plecos requires careful consideration and preparation. Aquarists should exercise caution and consult with experts before attempting to undertake such an endeavour to ensure the best possible outcomes for both the fish and the breeder.

Diet & feeding

While Plecos have an omnivorous diet, algae make up the bulk of their food intake. The Leopard Sailfin Pleco, in particular, is known for its ability to consume troublesome algae without causing any harm to plants. However, it is crucial to ensure that the aquarium is well-established and that supplementary feeding, such as algae wafers, sinking pellets, and green foods, is provided to prevent starvation.

In addition to algae, Leopard Sailfin Plecos can also benefit from a diet rich in vegetables, including blanched spinach, peas, lettuce, and zucchini. Live foods, such as brine shrimp, live worms, insect larvae, and small crustaceans, can also be offered to provide additional nutrition and variety to their diet.

By offering a diverse range of foods, aquarium enthusiasts can ensure that their Leopard Sailfin Plecos receive the necessary nutrients to maintain optimal health and vitality, ultimately enabling these fascinating creatures to thrive and flourish in captivity.

Other Plecostomus of interest