Leopard Sailfin Pleco
Leopard Sailfin Pleco

Leopard Sailfin Pleco

Introduction to Leopard sailfin pleco

The Leopard sailfin pleco belongs to the species Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps . In older sources you might find the synonyms Ancistrus gibbiceps and Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps . The Leopard sail fin pleco was scientifically described by Kner in 1845 and given the name Ancistrus gibbiceps . The species was moved to the genus Pterygoplichthys in 1980 and then to the genus Glyptoperichthys in 2003. It has the designated L-numbers L083 and L165.

The Leopard sailfin pleco have one pair of barbells on each side of the mouth. The barbells are not very big. The pectoral fins are big and almost reach the middle pelvic fins. The dorsal fin is really big, and this is why this fish is called sailfin. This treat is even more noticeable in juvenile specimens.

The base colour is black to golden brown. On this base, cream coloured lines form an irregular pattern which has given the fish its common name. The pattern is present on both body and fins and the markings are bigger on the body and smaller on the head. Small fishes tend to have spotted markings while big fishes normally have reticulated markings.

The body colouration and pattern changes as the fish grow older. In really old specimens, it is common for the patter to disappear completely.

The Leopard sailfin pleco is an important food fish in South America .

Geographical distribution, habitat and care

The Leopard sailfin pleco is common in Peru and Brazil and it can for instance be found in Rio Pacaya in Peru . In this river, it is found in environments where the water flows slowly. These fishes can form huge groups and forage together.

If you want to keep Leopard sailfin pleco, it is important to keep the oxygen level in the aquarium up. Medium strong current is appreciated. Efficient filtration is important, unless you want to carry out water changes extremely frequently. If you allow the levels of organic waste to increase in the aquarium, small holes can form in the fin membranes.

sailfin pleco
Sailfin Pleco - Picture by Smaug

The recommended temperature interval is 24-30 degrees C (75-86 degrees F). The pH-value should be kept in the 6.5-7.5 range (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline). Moderate water hardness is best. Around 12 dH is ideal; but everything from 4dH to 20 dH is okay.

It is important to provide your Leopard sailfin plecos with a varied and nutritious diet. Ideally combine large amounts of vegetable based food with smaller servings of meaty food. Leopard sailfin plecos are known to appreciate algae based prepared foods and vegetables such as lettuce, kale, spinach and green peas. Small specimens can be given shrimpmix while large specimens have no problem devouring whole shrimps and prawns. The Leopard sailfin pleco needs driftwood in the aquarium, since it needs to rasp wood in order to stay healthy.

Make sure that you fish actually eat; sometimes faster fishes in the aquarium gulp down all the food before the plecos get a chance to find it. A Leopard sailfin pleco with a hollow stomach is starving.

Aquarium set up and suitable tank mates

The Leopard sailfin pleco can be kept in a 90 cm (36 inches) aquarium until it is about 12 cm (5 inches) long. As it grows bigger you will need to move it to a 300 litre (80 gallons) aquarium that measures at least 120 cm (48 inches). Try to resemble the natural river environment for your Leopard sailfin pleco when you decorate the aquarium. Include rocks, pebbles and wood in the set up and create a lot of hiding spots and sheltered areas. A well-fed Leopard sailfin pleco will normally leave the plants alone, but large specimens can of course involuntarily knock over and pull up plants that are not safely anchored.

Large Leopard sailfin plecos are territorial and should not be combined with other members of its own species or closely related species unless you aquarium is very big and cleverly decorated. Leopard sailfin plecos are not aggressive and can be compared with other friendly species in a community aquarium. Keep in mind that faster species might devour all the food and leave the slow pleco starving.

Leopard sailfin pleco behaviour

The Leopard sailfin plecos fight by engaging each other in "shoulder charging". During "shoulder charging", the pleco will lock its pectoral fins at a 90 degree angle to the body. This behaviour is not unique to the Leopard sailfin pleco; it is exhibited by many fishes in the family Loricariidae. Locking the pectoral fins is not only useful during fights; it can also force predators to spit out the pleco since it is difficult to swallow a pleco with locked pectoral fins.

The Leopard sailfin pleco lives in a part of the world exposed to seasonal dry periods. In order to survive dry seasons, the Leopard sailfin pleco can bury itself in the riverbank and aestivate (stay dormant) until the rainy season starts.

When a Leopard Sailfin pleco is caught and taken out of the water it can make a hissing sound. This sound is believed to be an attempt to frighten predators.

The Leopard sailfin pleco is a slow-growing species that can reach an age of at least 15 years.

The Leopard sailfin pleco is a night active species. It is important to provide the fish with suitable hiding spots in the aquarium where it can rest during the day.

Leopard sailfin pleco
Leopard sailfin pleco - picture by smaug

Disease and other health problems in Leopard sailfin plecos

•  If you allow the levels of organic waste to rise in the aquarium, small holes can occur in the fin membranes.

•  Leopard sailfin plecos kept in aquariums without any wood can develop digestive problems.

•  Unfortunately, malnutrition is quite common in aquarium kept Leopard sailfin plecos since faster and more aggressive species eat all the food. Make sure that your fish finds food in the aquarium. The belly should always be round, never hollow.

Breeding Leopard sailfin pleco

The Leopard sailfin pleco is commercially farmed for the aquarium trade, but not in aquariums since this species wants to dig tunnels in mud during the breeding period. In the wild, this Leopard sailfin plecos dig tunnels in the river bank and use them as spawning sites. The tunnels are quite big and it would be hard to create a suitable environment for tunnel digging in an aquarium. The male stays inside the tunnel and guards the offspring. When Leopard sailfin plecos are bred commercially, fishponds with earth walls are used. Leopard sailfin pleco pond breeding is chiefly carried out in Southeast Asia, in Queensland in Australia and in Florida in the USA .

Sexing is a bit tricky, but a skilled breeder can distinguish between the sexes by looking at the genital papilla in mature specimens.

What's in a name?

The name of the genus Glyptoperichthys is derived from the words glypto and ichtys , which means "carved" and "fish" in Greek. The species name gibbiceps is also derived from Greek: gibbus means hump/huch in Greek and ceps means head. The head of the Leopard sailfin pleco is a bit hunched.

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