12 Smallest Pleco Species: Ranked by Size

Smallest Pleco up close

Small plecos are crowd-favorite for their miniature size, unique looks, and nifty tank-cleaning abilities. Many fish enthusiasts love having them in their aquariums. But which among the small plecos species should you get?

This article introduces 12 of the smallest pleco species that are suitable for smaller tanks. Each species is ranked according to its size, and there are also pictures to help you choose the right one. 

These tiny fish are not just adorable but also useful in any tank. Read along to find out more about the smallest species of pleco. You’ll also come across some interesting facts here!

Top 12 Smallest Pleco Species

1. Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco

Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco
Image credit: hypoptomania / Instagram
Scientific Name:Parotocinclus spilosoma
Adult Size:1.5 inches or 3.8 cm (more common size is 2 inches or 5 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 10 gallons
Temperature:71.6–82.4°F (22–28°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, but can be territorial, especially with other bottom-dwelling fish
Good for Beginners:Yes, but better for fishkeepers with some experience.

The Gold Spotted Dwarf Pleco is a tiny fish perfect for adding a dash of sparkle to your aquarium. These small creatures grow to around 2 inches long, but some are exceptionally small, only reaching about 1.5 inches.

They boast a beautiful pattern of brown and gold spots across their bodies, adding a touch of elegance to their appeal. 

Gold Spotted Dwarf Plecos are known for their peaceful nature, yet they can be quite territorial towards other bottom-dwellers. 

When it comes to tank requirements, they do best in warm water with temperatures between 71.6°F and 82.4°F and a pH range of 6.6 to 7.6

Due to their size, these small plecos are highly sensitive to water changes. This is why, despite being suitable for beginners, they’re better off with those with some experience in fishkeeping.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the word “pleco” is actually shorthand for “Plecostomus” which refers not to a specific family but to a common name used for many species within the family Loricariidae.

2. Pitbull Pleco

Pitbull Pleco
Image credit: hypoptomania / Instagram
Scientific Name:Parotocinclus Jumbo
Adult Size:2.3 inches (5.8 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 15 gallons
Temperature:68–78.8°F (20–26°C) 
Behavior:Peaceful, bottom-dwelling fish; can be kept in groups
Good for Beginners:Yes, relatively easy to care for.

The Pitbull Pleco is another small species, reaching up to a mere 2.3 inches in length. These fish do well in tanks of at least 15 gallons with temperatures ranging from 68°F to 78.8°F and a pH between 6.4 and 7.6

Pitbull Plecos thrive in environments that mimic their natural habitat, featuring plenty of hiding spots and a sandy substrate. Their diet mainly consists of algae, but they can also eat vegetables and algae tablets. 

These fish are peaceful and bottom-dwelling, making them excellent for community tanks. Being social creatures, they can also thrive well in groups of other similar fish.

All things considered, Pitbull Plecos are a great choice for those new to fishkeeping, thanks to their hardy nature and beneficial algae-eating habits.

Fun Fact: Some aquarists think the flat, slightly rounded heads and underslung mouths of Pitbull plecos make them look like Pitbull dogs, hence their name. Meanwhile, others refer to them as “Goby Plecos” due to their shape.

3. Dwarf Snowball Pleco

Dwarf Snowball Pleco
Scientific Name:Hypancistrus sp. (L471)
Adult Size:2.4 inches (6.1 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons, but larger is better for groups
Temperature:77–84.2°F (25–29°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, bottom-dwelling, somewhat reclusive; enjoy hiding spots
Good for Beginners:Moderately suitable

Growing to an average length of 2.4 inches, the Dwarf Snowball Pleco is another small fish to consider. 

If you decide to pick up this kind of pleco, prepare a tank of at least 20 gallons for a single Dwarf Snowball Pleco or an even larger one if you plan to keep them in groups. 

When it comes to diet, they prefer to eat algae and other small organisms found at the bottom of the tank. These plecos may exhibit slight territorial behavior, especially when housed in smaller tanks. 

Their unique appearance, characterized by a dark body speckled with white dots, makes them a favorite among fishkeepers. Some alternate names for this species are “Mini Snowball Pleco” and “L471.”

Interestingly, L471s form monogamous pairs and breed in caves. Males usually guard the eggs until free swimming fry emerge. 

Note: If you’re new to plecos, you might be wondering what the “L number” is. This is actually an identification code that helps aquarists track species that haven’t been fully scientifically classified yet.

4. Gold Marble Bristlenose Catfish

Gold Marble Bristlenose Catfish
Scientific Name:Ancistrus claro
Adult Size:2.6 inches (6.6 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 10 gallons
Temperature:75.2–82.4°F (24–28°C) 
Behavior:Peaceful, bottom-dwelling; males can be slightly territorial
Good for Beginners:Yes, but it requires research and proper tank setup.

Next up on our list of tiny pleco species is the Gold Marble Bristlenose. They are eye-catching creatures that sport a distinct gold and black marbling pattern across their bodies.

They are small, reaching up to 2.6 inches in length, which makes them suitable for tanks as small as 10 gallons. 

Their peaceful nature allows them to coexist harmoniously with other fish, although males can be a bit territorial around breeding times. 

In true catfish nature, these plecos are often seen sucking on the glass or decorations to clean algae. In terms of diet, they require a varied diet, including both plant-based foods and protein-like bloodworms. 

Interestingly, Gold Marble Bristlenoses are believed to be a selectively bred color morph of the regular Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.) and not a distinct species in their own right.

Overall, this species of pleco is an excellent choice for beginners who are willing to learn about their specific care needs.

5. Zebra Pleco

Zebra Pleco
Scientific Name:Hypancistrus zebra
Adult Size:3 inches (7.5 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons
Temperature:78.8–86°F (26–30°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, but can be territorial with other bottom-dwelling fish, especially other plecos
Good for Beginners:Yes, but it requires research and proper tank setup.

The Zebra Pleco, from the name itself, is a Zebra-looking catfish. Aside from their small size, they are best known for their distinct black and white stripes.

These fish thrive best in environments that mimic their natural habitat. In other words, they love tanks with plenty of rocks, caves, and crevices for hiding. 

Although they are peaceful in nature, Zebra Plecos can be territorial towards other bottom-dwellers, even their own kind. 

Despite their hardy nature, keeping them healthy requires a well-researched tank setup, including specific water conditions and diet. They are best for beginners who are willing to invest time into learning about their care. 

Sadly, the Zebra Pleco is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, largely due to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, which altered their native habitat.

Brazil once banned the export of Zebra Plecos to protect wild populations. There were also limits for a time after exports resumed. These regulations aimed to safeguard the species while managing trade.

Unfortunately, due to their value and high demand, instances of illegal smuggling of Zebra Plecos still happen.

6. Angelicus Pleco

Angelicus Pleco
Image credit: skyyguys_aquariums / Instagram
Scientific Name:Hypancistrus sp. L136
Adult Size:3.1 inches (8 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 30 gallons
Temperature:73.4–82.4°F (23–28°C) 
Behavior:Generally peaceful but territorial towards other bottom-dwellers, especially similar pleco species
Good for Beginners:Moderately suitable

Known for its dinky size, the Angelicus Pleco is another small member of the pleco family. These fish sport a bold pattern of white spots on a dark background, which works as camouflage in their natural habitat. 

This disruptive coloration makes them blend seamlessly with the riverbed. Size-wise, they grow to a maximum length of 3.1 inches, making them suitable for tanks that are at least 30 gallons.

If you decide to add this small pleco species to your aquarium, be sure to set up plenty of hiding spots and different kinds of plants. Meanwhile, when it comes to diet, give them small fish, shrimp, and algae,

Fun Fact: The Angelicus Pleco is part of the L136 complex. This means there are similar-looking variations like L136a, L136b, L136c, LDA05, and LCA06. This highlights the fascinating diversity and sometimes unclear classifications within the pleco family. 

7. Clown Pleco

Clown Pleco
Image credit: knjaquatics / Instagram
Scientific Name:Panaqolus sp. L206
Adult Size:3.1 inches (8 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons
Temperature:77–84.2°F (25–29°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, nocturnal, tend to hide during the day
Good for Beginners:Yes, but it requires research and proper tank setup.

The Clown Pleco is a colorful fish that makes an interesting addition to any freshwater aquarium. They grow to about 3.1 inches in length and are known for their peaceful and nocturnal nature. 

These fish require a tank of at least 20 gallons with a temperature range between 77°F and 84.2°F and a pH level of 6.0 to 7.5.

Their relatively easy care requirements make them fit for beginners who are willing to research and properly set up their aquarium. 

In fact, Clown Plecos were among the first fish I kept as a pet during my university years. What’s intriguing about these fish is the fact that they feed on wood, not just algae wafers and vegetables. 

This is one of their defining traits — they are xylivores or wood eaters. A healthy supply of driftwood is essential to their diet and well-being.

Watch this video to see what wood looks like before and after wood-eating plecos munch on it:

8. Blue Panaque Pleco

Blue Panaque Pleco
Scientific Name:Baryancistrus Beggini
Adult Size:3.2 inches (8.1 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons
Temperature:73.4–84.2°F (23–29°C) 
Behavior:Peaceful, but may show some territoriality towards other bottom-dwellers
Good for Beginners:Yes, but better for fishkeepers with some experience.

Characterized by their blue hues on a dark background, the Blue Panaque Pleco is another small species to take a look at. These fish reach only up to 3.2 inches in length. 

Their tiny size makes them suitable for tanks of at least 20 gallons. Meanwhile, when it comes to water parameters, they do best in temperatures between 73.4°F and 84.2°F and a pH range of 5.5 to 7.5

One thing to note about Blue Panaque Plecos is that they sometimes show territorial behavior toward other bottom-dwellers. Because of this, most of their suitable tank mates are top-dwelling fish.

Their diet is simple: algae wafers and plants reflect their herbivorous nature. 

Interestingly, despite the common name, the Blue Panaque is not part of the Panaque genus. Instead, it’s classified in the genus Baryancistrus.

Fun Fact: Blue Panaques are special because they have a keel, formed by a bent row of midventral plates along their belly. This feature sets them apart from other plecos.

9. Queen Arabesque Pleco

Queen Arabesque Pleco
Image credit: mr.pleco_japan / Instagram
Scientific Name:Hypancistrus sp L260
Adult Size:3.5 inches (8.9 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons 
Temperature:73.4–82.4°F (23–28°C)
Behavior:Semi-aggressive, territorial (especially males); best with small, peaceful tankmates
Good for Beginners:Moderately suitable

The Queen Arabesque Pleco is a small fish famous for its beautiful spots and stripes. Their name comes from the intricate, swirling black and white patterns. Size-wise, they grow to about 3.5 inches long

One thing to note about this small pleco species is that they can be a bit pushy and territorial, especially the males. Because of this, it’s best to pair them with calm tankmates. 

As meat eaters, they do well on a diet of bloodworms, brine shrimp, and similar foods. 

Even though they have a few special requirements, beginners can still enjoy them as long as their water parameters and dietary needs are met. 

Interestingly, Queen Arabesques do not munch on algae as much as other pleco species. This means they are not really that helpful in keeping tanks clean.

The reason behind this lies in the shape of their mouth and teeth. They have rasping teeth that are designed mainly for consuming high-protein food.

Sadly, the Queen Arabesque Pleco’s wild habitat in the Rio Tapajós is potentially threatened by proposed hydroelectric dam projects. 

10. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco
Scientific Name:Ancistrus cirrhosus
Adult Size:3.5 inches (8.9 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons
Temperature:68–79°F (20–26°C)
Behavior:Generally peaceful, but males can be territorial with each other, especially in smaller tanks
Good for Beginners:Yes, but it requires research and proper tank setup.

Native to South America, the Bristlenose Pleco is a small species of armored catfish. They sport distinct soft tentacles on their snouts, which is where they get their name from.

Usually, only males have these soft tentacles, but sometimes females can have them too. These barbels and whisker-like structures help them find food in murky waters or on surfaces.

Size-wise, Bristlenose Plecos typically grow to around 3.5 inches long, but some individuals may be larger.

In terms of behavior, these small fish are quite peaceful and can do well in community tanks with other non-aggressive species. 

One important thing to note is that Bristlenose Catfish are cave spawners, where the male cares for eggs and fry. If not kept in a sufficiently large tank, males may fight over territory, especially during breeding season.

On a related note, one of our recent lab experiments involved testing the effects of different levels of protein in a fish’s diet on their overall size and body condition.

One study we are referencing conducted a similar study with Bristlenose Plecos. Their findings suggest that a diet where 40% of the content is protein appears to be the best for their growth and health, especially for their digestive system.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Bristlenose Plecos come in a surprising range of colors and patterns? Some color variants include albino, calico, long-finned, and super red morphs.

11. Brown Dot Pleco

Brown Dot Pleco
Image credit: fish_farm_essen / Instagram
Scientific Name:Peckoltia oligospila
Adult Size:3.9 inches (9.9 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 30 gallons
Temperature:73–81°F (23–27°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, somewhat shy; can be semi-territorial with other bottom-dwellers
Good for Beginners:Yes, but it requires research and proper tank setup.

The Brown Dot Pleco is another tiny pleco species to consider adding to your tank. They are best known for the yellowish-brown dots covering their entire bodies.

These fish are calm and a bit shy, making them ideal tankmates for other fish. When it comes to water requirements, they prefer water that’s a bit on the warmer side, between 73°F and 81°F.

Meanwhile, in terms of diet, Brown Dot Plecos eat plants and small bits of meat, so they will do well with various foods. 

These fish need a tank of 30 gallons or even bigger if you decide to keep more than one or two. If you want to make sure your fish has everything it needs, be sure to read the guide I wrote about the proper tank size.

Brown Dot Plecos also appreciate if their tanks have lots of places where they can hide, like caves or spaces between rocks.

Overall, this small pleco species is considered suitable for beginners who are willing to research and properly set up their aquarium.

12. Angelicus Pleco (L004)

Angelicus Pleco L004
Image credit: jg.aquaherps / Instagram
Scientific Name:Hypancistrus sp. L004
Adult Size:3.9 inches (9.9 cm)
Tank Size:Minimum of 20 gallons
Temperature:78–86°F (25.5–30°C)
Behavior:Peaceful, bottom-dwelling. Can be slightly territorial with other bottom feeders
Good for Beginners:Moderately suitable

Wrapping up our list of small pleco species is the L004 Angelicus Pleco, an eye-catching fish known for its dark, almost velvety body speckled with vivid white dots.

These fish can be as little as 3.9 inches when fully grown, but other individuals can be a bit larger. They sport a streamlined shape and a sucker-like mouth characteristic of most plecos.

Interestingly, their distinctive white spotting pattern changes as they age. Young fish have big spots that get smaller and more plentiful as they grow older.

In terms of aquarium requirements, these Angelicus Plecos favor warm waters and require ample space in their tanks to explore and thrive. 

They are considered moderately easy to care for, making them a good choice for beginners. 

Pro Tip: Seek help from pleco experts or seasoned fishkeepers when purchasing an L004. Angelicus Plecos look a lot like other pleco species. In fact, there are tons of confused fishkeepers on forums like Reddit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Small pelco fish species side view

Can I Put a Pleco in a 3-gallon Tank?

No, almost all plecos need more space than a 3-gallon tank offers. Even the smallest varieties get too big and produce too much waste for such a small environment.

Is There a Pleco That Stays Small?

Yes, there are pleco species that stay small. The Bristlenose Pleco, for example, grows up to 4 to 6 inches only. Similarly, the Clown Pleco and Zebra Pleco are also good choices, reaching about 4 inches when fully mature.

Do Plecos Grow According to Tank Size?

Unfortunately, yes, but not in a healthy way. A small tank will stunt a pleco’s growth, leading to organ damage and a shortened lifespan. It’s important to always get a tank large enough for a pleco’s full adult size.

So, which small pleco species is your favorite? Are you getting one soon? Share with us your thoughts about these tiny plecos by leaving a comment below!

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