Sailfin Pleco: Care, Size, Lifespan, Breeding, & More

A large pleco, the Sailfin Plecos is a popular choice for large aquariums. This pleco gets its name from the way its tall dorsal fin looks; like the sail of a boat. The unusual appearance of these fish will capture the attention of any visitor. These large fish stand out from other species of their genus with their distinct pattern, large size, and disproportionately large dorsal fin. Sailfins are peaceful species that add beauty and functionality to your aquarium without bothering any of the other fish.

This article will walk you through all the information you need to know about Sailfin Pleco care and many more tips and tricks to make an ideal living space for them.

Species Profile & Overview

Sailfin Plecos, or L023, are a mutation of the common pleco and require the same conditions as their ancestors. These fish are not as readily available as regular plecos in pet shops. This is due to the fact that sailfin plecos quickly outgrow typical aquariums. Consequently, you should only purchase them if you have a sizable tank if they ever become available for sale.

This fish has an armored back that is designed with spots and patches. Depending on the age and size of the fish the color and patterns might slightly differ.

Having said that, these are among the pleco species that are most frequently kept in ponds and large tanks. They are not particularly shy, and they are most active at night.


Sailfin Pleco

The Sailfin Pleco is a large, brightly colored fish that will stand out in any tank or pond. Despite their size, these fish lack scales; instead, their entire back is protected by thick bone plates that acts as thier backbone.

The only vulnerable parts of these creatures are their bellies, which have a thin layer of skin and a sensitive underside, and their eyes, which are positioned on the head.

Anatomy Of Plecos

One of the biggest draws of plecos is their distinctive fins. Fins are triangular and are colored and patterned similarly to the rest of the body; there are a total of eight of them.

Adult Size

The average Sailfin Pleco size in captivity is about 15 – 20 inches in length. This means they are one of the bigger plecos that will outgrow most aquariums. So we only recommend this fish if you have a large tank or pond.

Additionally, they develop and grow quickly in comparison to other plecos. So if you bought them for a small or medium fish tank, you may need to upgrade soon.


In captivity, Sailfin Pleco lifespan is around 10 – 15 years. Bad diet, low water quality, and stress can reduce the life expectancy of this beautiful fish. As such, ensuring that this species has access to an appropriate environment and diet is essential if you want them to live their expected life expectancy.

Behavior and Temperament

Sailfin Plecos are solitary fish that are most active at night. They don’t bother or disturb other fish and most of their tank mates will not go after this fish. These fish, however, are slightly territorial and might show aggression if there isn’t enough place in the tank.

Even though they are nocturnal fish, they don’t mind swimming around in the aquarium’s bright regions and when lights are on. This occurs most often when they are hungry or when they have become comfortable in their tank.

If there is more than one pleco in the aquarium, they may compete for the same cave or other hiding places. An aquarium with plenty of room for the fish to hide is essential for preventing aggressive behavior.

Sailfin Pleco Care

Sailfin Pleco care is easy and simple. However, this does not imply that Sailfin Pleco does not require any special care. Clean, warm water and a nutritious diet designed especially for this pleco are required. once you take care of the mentioned aspects of this fish’s care, it will thrive.

To create an ideal environment for your Sailfin Pleco you will need to follow the recommendations mentioned below.

Tank Size

The minimum tank size for a single Sailfin Pleco is 120 gallons. When you first buy them they might be very small but they will grow quickly. So you will need to upgrade your tank soon if you keep it in a small tank. At the same time, the larger the tank, the less work you’ll have to do to maintain the same conditions within.

If possible, we recommend having a tank even bigger than 120 gallons. We are a big fan of larger tanks as they give your fish a better living environment and as a result, your fish will live a healthier life.

When you want to house more than one bottom dweller fish a larger tank is necessary. Sailfin pleco needs more floor space and it naturally comes with a larger aquarium. it is also easier to decorate a larger tank for a large fish like Sailfins.

Tank Setup:

To provide a suitable environment for Sailfin Pleco, there are a few key points to keep in mind when setting up their tank. This species of fish lives near the river floor and is known for its shy nature. They are often living around large boulders where they can easily crawl under and hide.

Simply putting large amounts of rocks and driftwood into your aquarium can provide sufficient cover for this fish. another option is to add pleco caves. This pleco needs a secure place to hide during the day or when it’s under stress.

You can either build your own DIY pleco cave out of driftwood or PVC pipes or purchase one online. Commercially made terracotta pleco caves are ideal because they are tailored to the needs of this species.

Because Sailfin Pleco has a delicate underbelly, it must be placed on a fine and soft substrate. They originally evolved in rivers with fine sand and muddy substrate.

So ideally, you’ll have to set up your aquarium to mimic thier natural habitat. Sand and many planted substrates are excellent choices as they are soft and will not harm your fish.

Because Sail fin pleco is a large fish, you should avoid having fragile types of plants. The ideal plants for this species are anubias and most of the surface floating species.

Water Parameters:

When it comes to the conditions of their water, Sailfin Pleco is easy to care for. They are just as resilient as other members of their family and may thrive in the same tropical conditions as other South American fish. Even novice aquarists should find it easy to keep this fish in their tanks.

Below are the tank parameters you can keep this species in: 

  • Temperature: 70 – 80 Degrees Fahrenheit 
  • PH: 6 – 7.5
  • TDS: 100 – 200 PPM

A Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter is an indispensable tool for every pleco keeper. The TDS meter will measure the total dissolved solids in the water in your tank. When the TDS in your tank rises over the optimal range, you must change the water. 

We think TDS and temperature are two characteristics that even novices should monitor, while others like PH and GH are also crucial. You’ll eventually be able to maintain checks on pH, GH, KH, etc. as your fishkeeping knowledge grows.


In general, Sailfin Pleco thrives in the shade. So avoid using harsh lighting if you don’t have any plants in your tank. Having lots of hiding spots is also vital so your sailfin can hide when the lights go on. Your pleco will be able to hide in and around the decorations and hiding spots you’ve provided.

Filter System:

Because of the volume of waste produced by sailfin pleco, a powerful filter is required to maintain a clean tank. So we strongly suggest using the biggest filter you can afford to purchase. A filter is the heart of your tank and the stronger it is the better living conditions it can create for your fish.

Common Diseases and Prevention

Sailfin Pleco is susceptible to illness if the conditions in its tank are not optimal. Fish that have been under a lot of stress for a long time are more susceptible to illness. Additionally, they are highly susceptible to all common aquarium illnesses that new fish may introduce.

If you want to keep your tank disease-free, you should never introduce new fish or plants without first adequately quarantining them. By taking this action, the possibility of a tank epidemic is reduced considerably.

Maintaining a clean tank is extremely essential to the health of your fish. Leftover food can rot and lead to internal and external bacterial infections. They will also cause worms in the tank, both internal and external.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

The sailfin plecos are often sold as algae-eating fish so some might believe that this fish can survive on algae and vegetables alone. Yes, these fish will gladly consume algae and plant debris, but their diet also requires meaty high protein foods.

To ensure they receive a balanced diet, you should give them a variety of fish foods. The main ingredient of these sinking foods should be plants and algae with lower amounts of protein content.

Plecos should be fed a diet of dry foods such as sinking pellets, shrimp wafers, algae wafers, and other commercially available fish foods. There are high-quality options among these foods, and there are others that may not provide your fish with quality nutrients.

In order to create the best diet for your Sailfin Pleco, you will need to purchase a few different kinds of foods and mix them. Doing this will let your fish receive most, if not all, of the nutrients it needs.

Sailfin Plecos should be fed mostly plant-based sinking pallets; however, they will also appreciate frozen food as snacks. Frozen foods like blood worms and brine shrimps should be provided once or twice weekly, but only in small amounts.

Sailfin Plecos do best on a diet that includes fresh vegetables as well. Fresh veggies like zucchini, cucumber, green peas, carrot, green or red pepper, potatoes, and spinach can be fed daily. Make sure to add just as much as they finish in a day as fresh vegetables can rot quickly.

Breeding Sailfin Pleco

Breeding Sailfin Pleco may be a delicate and frustrating process, making it difficult to achieve in a home aquarium. In rare cases, breeding can occur in large aquariums or ponds with a strong current.

Sailfin plecos are cave breeders. So during the mating season, the male searches for an appropriate cave to lure the female into. The male will trap the female and only let her leave once she releases her eggs. This process can be violent sometimes and females can get hurt severely.

There is not much information available on how to breed these fish as not many fish keepers attempted to breed them in home aquariums. The majority of the breeding facilities for these fish breed them in larger ponds outdoors where fish is exposed to natural elements.

Tank Mates

Sailfin Pleco is typically a peaceful and sociable fish, but during the mating season, males can become aggressive and territorial. If you set up an appropriately decorated tank, this fish won’t act aggressively. These fish need a safe zoon to call home in your tank.

Most fish from South America can get along with this pleco, so choosing tank mates for sailfin plecos are easy. However, you’ll need to make sure all your fish can live in the same water conditions and enough room is available for them to swim.

Avoid keeping Sailfin Pleco with fish like African cichlids that require a high ph. Make sure your fish can live in smilier waters and temperatures.

Here are some good tank mates worth considering: 

Sailfin Pleco
Image from Wikimedia under licence (Image is color corrected and resized)


At this point, you should feel well-equipped to take care of your Sailfin Pleco. The information in this article gave you a firm grasp on all the essentials of sailfin care. These fish are peaceful and won’t bother their tank mates as long as they have enough personal space. If you have any other questions we are happy to help. You can reach out to us via email or social media.