Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra) L046



Zebra Pleco is an armored catfish species belonging to the Loricariidae family. It is endemic in the Rio Xingu watershed of Brazil, where it lives in highly oxygenated sections of the river having a sandy substrate. Its beautiful appearance and limited supply make it very famous in the hobby and expensive as well. The Brazilian government currently bans the export of many Hypancistrus species including Hypancistrus zebra because of the difficulty in taxing the trade of live fish. Since many aquarists and fish keepers continue to breed Zebra Pleco in captivity, it is still available in the aquarium trade.



Hypancistrus zebra is easily recognizable by the striking black stripes across its white body. It can grow up to 10 cm and has a lifespan of 10-15 years. The males have broader heads and thicker first pectoral fins. The males also have more prominent odontoid growth (hair or spikes) on their fins.

Behaviour & Compatibility

Zebra Pleco is a peaceful fish and does well in any community tank in the right water conditions. It struggles with boisterous tankmates as it is not very good at competing for food. It is not ideal in a tank with other bottom feeders. The ideal tank mates for Zebra pleco are current-loving fish like Rummy-nose tetra (Hemigrammus rhodostomus), Black Phantom Tetra (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus), or Harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha). Red cherry shrimp are also good tankmates if it is a planted tank. The best way to keep zebra pleco would be a species-only tank since it is an expensive fish.

Water Parameters

Temperature : 26-30 °C
pH : 6.0-7.5
Hardness : 0-5 dGH

Hypancistrus zebra can survive in a wide range of water conditions provided the water is rich in oxygen and warm (higher than 26° C). It is best to keep it in soft water which is slightly acidic to neutral. A powerful filter is required for strong water currents since its natural habitat is fast-flowing rivers.

This species is a territorial fish that needs caves and crevices like in its habitat. The aquarium must have a fine sandy or river gravel substrate with lots of rocks, and driftwood arranged in the form of caves. PVC pipes or ceramic tiles are also useful for creating cave-like structures. This fish feels secure if there are more hiding places and comes out more often with confidence. Although adding plants is optional but can be helpful as it sometimes eats vegetation to supplement the protein-based diet.


Hypancistrus zebra is an omnivore fish but mainly eats protein-based foods. It is shy and active mostly at night. Other aggressive bottom feeders can easily outcompete Zebra Pleco for food. It accepts frozen foods but appreciates live foods like brine shrimp or blood worms more likely. It occasionally needs a vegetable-based diet like crushed peas, zucchini, baby marrow or commercial vegetable bottom feeder foods. It eats algae sparingly unlike other members of the Loricariidae family.


It is best to have an exclusive tank for Zebra Plecos for breeding them. Only one male in the tank will spawn generally which is the alpha. Getting Zebra Plecos to breed is fairly easy except for the very first time. They usually spawn during the end of the rainy season in their natural habitat. So, aquarists try to mimic the conditions of water during the rainy season to make them spawn. A drop in pH and temperatures below normal levels helps imitate monsoon. Further, changing large portions of water (50-70%) frequently imitates the influx of fresh water and triggers spawning.

Sexually active males pick a cave and guard the entrance. Interested females then try to persuade the male for entry. The spawning begins after this ritual and can last for several days. The first spawn eggs will generally be infertile due to the inexperienced parents.

There are typically 7-15 eggs in a clutch that hatch in about 5-8 days. The fry are born as miniature versions of adults displaying the same zebra-like patterns. They completely use the egg sac in 2-3 days and the following days they will need small size live or frozen foods. They need protein-based food like micro worms or the nauplii of brine shrimps to survive and grow. It is recommended to avoid feeding the fry with full-size bloodworms because they can choke on large foods. The fry can be left in the tank with the parents as the adult fish don’t harm them. They become free-swimming after about 20 days following which they do not need any parental care.

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