Zebra Pleco
Zebra Pleco

Zebra Pleco

Introduction to Zebra pleco

This species is also known as the Imperial pleco and its scientific name is Hypancistrus zebra . Earlier, the L-number L046 was used but in 1991 the species was scientifically described by Isbrücker & Nijssen and given the name Hypancistrus zebra . L098 and L173 belong to the same species, but have different colour patterns. (L098 have wavy and broken lines on its body.)

The Zebra pleco has a comparatively long snout and the eyes are set relatively high on the head. The mouth is filled with seven or eight teeth on each side in the upper jaw and four teeth on each side in the lower jaw. The upper teeth are long, bent and forked at the ends. The lower teeth are deeply forked. The tail of the Zebra pleco is V-shaped.

Just like the name implies, the Zebra pleco is a striped black and white pleco. The ground colour is whitish while the markings are black. If you look at this fish from above, you can (with a little imagination) see an inverted form of the letter "E" on its forehead. Behind the "E" you can see a broad band posterior of the eyes, and this band will become narrower under the orbit and slant forward at roughly 45 degrees. A second broad band is located right between the eyes and the dorsal fin base. This band continues over the sides of the body and goes all the way to the first soft rays of the pectoral fin. In some specimens, a paler stripe runs parallel to the main band. In addition to these major bands, the fish is beautifully decorated with stripes on both body and fins.

Geographical distribution, habitat and care

The Zebra pleco lives in Rio Xingú, a tributary of the Rio Amazon located in north-eastern Brazil . It is of course best to mimic the soft and neutral or slightly acidic water conditions in Rio Xingú in the aquarium, but the Zebra pleco is a fairly flexible species that can adapt to other water conditions and this fish has even spawned in hard and alkaline water. It is however always important to keep the water warm and well oxygenated. Good water movement is essential. Do not allow the levels of organic waste to rise. The recommended pH-value is 6.0-7.5 and the temperature should be kept in the 26-30 degrees C (79-86 degrees F) range.

The Zebra pleco is not an efficient algae eater for the aquarium and it needs plenty of protein rich food in its diet to stay healthy. If you look into its mouth, you can see that it is adapted for a carnivore lifestyle. You can for instance feed it sinking prepared foods for omnivores combined with meaty food such as bloodworms and rtemia. Make sure that your Zebra plecos actually get some food; they can have a hard time competing faster species.

Aquarium set up and tank mates

Try to resemble the environment in Rio Xingú when you set up the aquarium. Rio Xingú is filled with a myriad of stones and pebbles of varying sizes and between them is a layer of fine sand. The natural environment for the Zebra pleco is believed to be deeper mid-water channels, since it is from such environments that the fish is commonly collected. The fish likes to hide inside caves and crevices and should therefore be provided with such hiding spots in the aquarium. They love flowerpots and PVC-pipes. It is still not known whether the Zebra pleco needs wood in the aquarium or not. Many plecos need wood to chew on and the safest course of action is therefore to include at least one piece of wood in the set up.

The Zebra pleco should ideally be kept in groups consisting of one male and a few females. Zebra plecos are not aggressive and can be kept in community aquariums with other peaceful species.

Deformities, disease and other health problems in Zebra plecos

Just like any other fish, the Zebra pleco can develop various health problems, e.g. parasites, bacterial infections, wounds, metabolism problems and so on. Zebra plecos can also suffer from various deformities and since the Zebra plecos are very rare in the trade, many breeders sell fish with deformities instead of euthanizing them. If you only want to keep your Zebra pleco as a pet, a deformity is not a problem as long as it does not cause significant discomfort for the fish. If you on the other hand wish to breed Zebra pleco, you should ideally stay clear of deformed fish unless you are 100% sure that the reason behind the odd shape is not genetic.

Common deformities in Zebra plecos

•  Snubnose

The Zebra pleco has a comparatively long nose, but in some specimens the nose is really short. The exact length of the deformed nose varies; some specimens only have slightly shorter noses than normal while others look almost like pugs. The snubnose is unfortunately quite a common problem among first generation captive bred Zebra plecos (F1). It is still unclear what causes this malformation, and since it might be genetic it is best to avoid breeding snubnosed specimens. (Unless you are carrying out a proper scientific experiment in order to establish the cause of the deformation.) Subnosed Zebra plecos does not seem to suffer and they do reach the same age as normal Zebra plecos in the aquarium.

Some breeders have suggested that the stunted nose might be caused by a recessive gene, which means that a lot of fishes can be carrier without getting a snubnose since the trait has to be inherited from both parents in order to manifest. Others suspect that the snubnose is caused by the environment, not by genetics. It might for instance have something to do with the water in the breeding aquarium being too hard and/or too alkaline, since hard and alkaline water is known to make fish eggs harder and more difficult for the fry to get out of. Some aquarists believe that the subnose is a result of the male fish pushing his offspring into the back wall of the spawning cave, thus injuring their noses.

•  Underdeveloped body and fins

Breeding Zebra plecos in an improper environment can lead to underdeveloped body and/or fins. The fish can for instance end up lacking certain fins altogether or develop seriously stunted fins. In really poor conditions, the fishes can look like fry even though they are several years old.

Poor health in Zebra plecos

•  General appearance

Do not purchase Zebra plecos with red spots, skin lesions or frayed fins. The eyes of a healthy Zebra pleco will have a bluish tint and the same bluish hue should be present on caudal and tail fins. The belly should be round and full, the muscle tone should be healthy and the body should be at least as wide as the head. (If you purchase really young fish they might however still be fairly slim.) It might be tempting to purchase malnourished Zebra plecos in order to save them, but Zebra plecos with really depressed bellies are unfortunately often beyond salvation since permanent damage has already occurred.

•  Wounds

The Zebra pleco is not a very aggressive fish but sometimes territorial disputes will occur and this can lead to injury. Zebra plecos can also fight each other in order to establish dominance in the group. Healthy and well-fed Zebra plecos that are kept in a suitable environment can often recover from battle wounds. Make really frequent water changes in order to prevent infections when you have wounded fish in your aquarium. In some situations, antibacterial and/or anti-fungi treatment should be administered. Wounds that heal will often develop a new pattern that does not match the old surrounding pattern.

•  Infectious warts

The cause behind infectious warts in Zebra plecos remains unknown, but it is believed to be virus or bacteria. The infectious agent is suspected to cause mutations and force normal cells into creating warts on the skin. It might be some form of pathogen-induced cancer. One common form of treatment is to remove the warts surgically and treat the wound with iodine or similar.

The Zebra pleco export ban

The Zebra pleco is an extremely popular pleco and vast amounts of Zebra plecos were therefore exported from Brazil each year. The Brazilian government feared that this harvest could be hard for the Zebra pleco populations to handle in the long run and banned the export of Zebra pleco completely. Since then, captive breeding of Zebra plecos outside Brazil has become really important for the hobby. Since it is such a popular fish, the fry normally sell at fairly high prices and it is definitely not hard to find buyers for them.

Breeding Zebra pleco

Since the Zebra pleco can no longer be obtained from Brazil , aquarists are encouraged to try breeding their Zebra plecos. Sexing is easiest when the fishes are viewed from above since the male has a somewhat broader head than the female. His first pectoral fin ray is also a bit thicker. When he gets into breeding condition, he will develop eye-catching bristles on this fin ray.

Zebra pleco video

If you want to breed Zebra pleco you should of course start by providing them with excellent care and a nutritious diet. The levels of organic waste must be kept really low and the oxygen content should be really high. Include plenty of caves, crevices and upside-down flowerpots in the set up so that your Zebra plecos have several suitable breeding sites to chose among.

The recommended temperature interval for Zebra plecos is 26-30 degrees C (79-86 degrees F), but if you want to induce breeding you should increase the temperature up to 28-30 degrees C (83-86 degrees F).

During the spawning the female will lay several batches of large white eggs inside a cave or similar while the male guards the entrance. The male will leave the entrance to fertilize the eggs, and when all batches have been laid and fertilized he will chase the female away. The eggs are cared for and guarded by the male and it is therefore very important to let him stay in the aquarium. Zebra pleco eggs normally hatch within a week and the fry will receive nutrients from their yolk sacs for another 3-4 days. It can sometimes be tricky to notice that the eggs have hatched since the fry are so small. They look almost like tiny strands of hair and are not able to swim around until they have finished their yolk sacs.

When the yolk sac has been devoured, the fry is ready to eat newly hatched artemia. You can supplement the artemia with powdered flake food. Zebra pleco fry develop noticeable striping at a really early age, often right after having consumed the yolk sac. Within a week or so, they will look like miniature copies of their parents.

When rearing Zebra pleco fry, it is really important to keep the oxygen content up and the levels of organic waste down. Over feeding is a common reason behind foul water and must be avoided. Carry out small and frequent water changes instead of making large water changes once in a while. Another risk in the aquarium is the filter system. In order to prevent tiny fry from being sucked in, you can cover the opening with filter wool or similar.

Don't loose heart if the first spawning does not produce any fry; it is quite common. Your fish will most likely be more successful next time.

What's in a name?

The "zebra" part of the name is obviously a reference to the similarly patterned black-and-white African zebra. The genus name Hypancistrus is derived from two Greek words: hypo and agkistron. Hypo means under, while agkistron means hook. The word agkistron has been used to create the genus name Ancistrus.

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