8 Smallest Pleco Fish

Written by Rebecca Bales
Updated: June 24, 2023
© otsphoto/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Many of the smallest pleco fish on this list measure only 3 and a half inches in length.
  • Some of the smallest pleco fish species are Bristlenose Pleco, Blue Panaque Pleco, and Angelicus Pleco.
  • The smallest pleco fish on this list is the Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco measuring under 2 inches in length.

The Plecostomus is often known as the “janitor fish” thanks to its sucker-like mouth that will eagerly hoover up algae and practically anything else that gets within its reach. Whereas they might be smaller than the average five-foot catfish, some pleco species can reach a size of a foot and a half. That — along with a tendency to be easy to care for — means that plecos are great fish for people new to creating an aquarium.

There are over 150 species of pleco on the planet, and it’s rare for them to get along with one another. Almost all of those species originate in South America, though a few can be found in Central American countries like Costa Rica and Panama. Though the species on display are diverse, they all share a need for faster currents and warmer-than-average waters.

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If you’re looking for a pleco that can fit comfortably into your aquarium, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve identified eight of the smallest pleco fish available. All of them average a length of under half a foot, and they each have some quality that can make them a unique addition to your aquarium.

#8: Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus Cirrhosus)

Average Size: 3.5 Inches

The bristlenose pleco is popular among the smallest pleco fish.

©iStock.com/Mirko_Rosenau

The popularity of the bristlenose pleco is so great that most of them are now bred in captivity. The bristles that protrude from their face offer them an aesthetic far different from any of their counterparts, but there are dozens of different variants of the bristlenose in the wild. As a result, coloration and size can vary a bit more than with other pleco species.

They’re also some of the easiest plecos to care for, though you need to be careful about keeping multiple males in a tank together. Territoriality is a common issue in most pleco species, and bristlenoses are no exception to the rule. If you’re looking to expand your collection, bristlenoses are rather easy to breed as well.

#7: Clown Pleco (Panaqolus Maccus)

Average Size: 3.5 Inches

This small pleco fish prefers driftwood to eat.

©iStock.com/MIKITO SHIRAI

The clown pleco is one of the most popular small catfish for aquariums — but while they’re chosen for how efficiently they can dispose of algae, they actually prefer a diet of driftwood. As long as you stay cognizant of their feeding needs and keep them separated from one another, they’re very low-maintenance additions to practically any aquarium.

Their popularity probably has something to do with their stunning black and brown stripes as well. These fish can be occasionally territorial and pushy to other species where food is concerned, but they generally get along fine with most species.

Just try and keep them away from more dominant fish, as the clown pleco can be prone to anxiety under pressure.

#6: Blue Panaque Pleco (Baryancistrus Beggini)

Average Size: 3.4 Inches

Head shot of a blue-eyed pleco on the bottom of an aquarium
Blue-eyed plecos have blue eyes and gray or black bodies.

©Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Perhaps the most inaccurately named pleco found in the water, this species is primarily dark brown in color and only bears a passing resemblance to the armored catfish known as panaques. However, many of these fish are a royal blue hue.

They’re territorial even by the notable standards of other plecos, so you should be especially careful about providing them with space at the bottom of the tank to establish dens.

They can also be noticeably more difficult to keep healthy. The risk of mortality is especially high during their first few weeks in a new home, and it’s highly advised that they be placed into a quarantine tank before being transitioned to their more permanent home in a shared tank.

Their dietary habits should also be watched closely, as they have a reputation for being picky eaters and require a bit of meat to supplement their primarily vegetarian diets.

The Blue Panaque Pleco is native to the streams and rivers of Orinoco. They are usually around 3.4 inches long, however, they can measure a maximum size of 4 inches in length. They are considered one of the most stunning-looking pleco fish mentioned on this list.

#5: Angelicus Pleco (Hypancistrus sp. L004)

Average Size: 3.3 Inches

The Angelicus pleco bucks the typical expectation of South American pleco species by being primarily carnivorous rather than scavenging from algae and other vegetable matter. That makes them a sensible choice if you’re worried about fish eating your ornamental plants.

The Angelicus has a voracious appetite, and they can help keep your aquarium clean by feeding on fish food that’s been left behind by their tank mates. Water with strong currents is preferred, and they can peacefully coexist with most other fish species by just ignoring them entirely.

The Angelicus keeps to itself, though males can be territorial if put in too small of a tank together. They can be hesitant at first but express bolder personalities than many other plecos. The splash of white or yellow dots that cover the body of this pleco provides it with a distinct sense of elegance. It’s also a relatively rare species and understandably carries a higher price tag as a result.

#4: Queen Arabesque Pleco (Hypancistrus sp L260)

Average Size: 3.3 Inches

queen arabesque on aquarium floor
The small pleco fish knowns as Queen Arabesque stands out because of its frenetic lines.

©iStock.com/Mirko_Rosenau

The pattern of frenetic lines that cover the queen arabesque’s skin helps them stand apart from practically every other fish species out there, but they resemble the angelus in their clear preference for meat. Earthworms, shrimp, and bloodworms should be a regular part of their diet, and that also means that you shouldn’t rely on these diminutive catfish to keep the algae and biofilm off of the surface of your tank.

Customarily solitary, they much prefer tanks without other pleco species and with a private shelter, they can call home at the bottom. Just be vigilant about feeding time, as members of this species often have their share of dinner taken by more proactive and aggressive fish.

#3: Dwarf Snowball Pleco (Hypancistrus Inspector)

Average Size: 2.4 Inches

One of the smallest pleco fish, the dwarf snowball, has white polka dots all over its body.

©otsphoto/Shutterstock.com

The bright white polka dots of the dwarf snowball pleco really help it stand out from the rest of the fish in a tank — and that’s a necessity for a breed that ranks so low on the size chart. Typically found to have a calm temperament with species like tetra, they do need relatively warm tanks with high pH levels. This is thanks to the fact that they’re natively found in the world’s largest blackwater river — a tributary of the Amazon found in Venezuela.

Though they generally get along well with other fish species, you should limit the number of dwarf snowball plecos in a tank and avoid keeping multiple males of this species in the same tank entirely. They should particularly be kept away from other Hypancistrus breeds, as these catfish with origins in South America’s Amazon River Basin are especially aggressive and territorial with one another.

#2: Pitbull Pleco (Parotocinclus Jumbo)

Average Size: 2.3 Inches

These fish will spend most of their day lingering near the bottom of the tank or hiding in the substrate at the bottom.

©Haplochromis, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

This catfish might have jumbo in its scientific name, but it’s the second smallest pleco on the size chart. Despite that, their lively and sociable personalities make them a great breed for a wide range of tanks. They should be kept at least in pairs and preferably in larger numbers, as they thrive when they can keep company with others of their kind.

Primarily nocturnal, these fish will spend most of their day lingering near the bottom of the tank or hiding in the substrate at the bottom. Due to this tendency to hide, the coloring of a pitbull pleco can change depending on the substrate used in the tank.

Since they primarily spend their days lurking near the bottom, they’ll feel safest in a tank that offers a decent variety of shade in the form of plants and rocks.

#1: Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco (Parotocinclus Spilosoma)

Average Size: Under 2 Inches

Found in the waters of Brazil, the gold spotted pleco often doesn’t even reach a full length of two inches as an adult.

Though relatively rare when compared to the other smallest pleco species, the gold-spotted dwarf pleco is actually one of the easiest species to take care of.

That said, you do need to exercise some consideration when determining what other fish species will share the aquarium with them. These catfish can be skittish and will be at their calmest and happiest when kept in an aquarium with similarly sized fish with mild temperaments.

And rather than being kept alone, you should always be sure to keep at least three and preferably as many as six gold spotted plecos in the same aquarium.

They can be skittish, but that can be remedied by offering plenty of large leaves for hiding spots. The gold spotted pleco is commonly misidentified as a pitbull pleco, so you’ll also want to perform due diligence when shopping for one.

List Of The Smallest Pleco Fish

To make things easier, here are the smallest pleco species ranked by their standing in the size chart:

RankSmallest Pleco
8.Bristlenose pleco
7.Clown pleco
6.Blue panaque
5.Angelicus pleco
4.Queen arabesque pleco
3.Dwarf snowball pleco
2.Pitbull pleco
1.Gold spotted dwarf pleco


The Featured Image

dwarf snowball pleco swimming
One of the smallest pleco fish, the dwarf snowball, has white polka dots all over its body.
© otsphoto/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures alongside her supportive partner. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

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