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    Phantoms and candy - Hemiancistrus and Peckoltia

    Phantoms and candy – Hemiancistrus and Peckoltia

    Author: Darren Stevens
    First published in Aquarium World November 2009

    Hemiancistrus and Peckoltia are two similar, probably related, plecos. Although similar, Hemiancistrusspecies generally have spots and a uniform colour while Peckoltia generally have saddle-shaped markings on their back and stripes or spots on the head, belly, and fins.


    There are about 25 scientifically described Hemiancistrus species, and many awaiting a scientific name.Hemiancistrus has unclear origins and has been used as a scientific dumping ground for plecos, i.e. if it's not any other type of pleco its Hemiancistrus. Hemi means “half” in reference to Hemiancistrus species having half (or some) of the features of Ancistrus (e.g. common bristlenose, Ancistrus cf. cirrhosus). They are generally found in flowing water in medium to large rivers in the Guyanas (French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname), and the Rio (river) Negro, Rio Orinoco, and southern Amazonian tributaries. Hemiancistrusappreciate good water flow, plenty of aeration, and plenty of cover, in particular rocks. Feeding habits vary but most species are largely vegetarian. Green and blue phantom plecos are specialised aufwuchs feeders (see Gold nuggets & Snowflakes article) and should be fed on a largely vegetarian diet (algae wafers, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, etc.) with only very small quantities of meaty foods (blood worms, shrimps, shrimp pellets, tubifex, etc).

    Green phantom pleco (Hemiancistrus subviridis, L200)

    L200_Green Phantom.jpg

    Green phantom plecos are actually two similar looking species: Hemiancistrus subviridis andBaryancistrus demantoides. Both are olive with white to golden-yellow spots and originate from the upper Rio Orinoco and lower Rio Venturi in southern Venezuela. If there is a gap between the dorsal (top) fin and the adipose fin (the small knob-like fin in front of the tail) its H. subviridis. If the dorsal fin is connected to the adipose fin it’s a hi-fin green phantom pleco, B. demantoides. There is taxonomic uncertainty around the placement of Hemiancistrus subviridus (and presumably H. sp. L128) in the genus Hemiancistrus. A recent study placed H. subviridus and the very similar shaped H. guahiborum (see below), in their own clade along with Baryancistrus beggini and B. demantoides. These four species may need to be placed in their own new genus in the future.

    Most green phantom plecos imported into New Zealand have been H. subviridis, however a few high-fins have been imported. H. subviridis is a medium sized pleco (to 19 cm standard length, SL) suited to medium to large tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.8 and temperatures of 22–25oC. This species has been bred occasionally overseas.

    Blue phantom pleco (Hemiancistrus species L128)

    L128_Blue Phantom.jpg

    Blue phantom plecos are a greenish-blue, medium sized pleco (to 18 cm SL) with bluish white spots. This L-number may be a darker, northern form of the green phantom pleco, Hemiancistrus subviridis. An even darker form, the black phantom pleco, Hemiancistrus species L476, is found in the Rio Vaupes in Colombia but is rare overseas and has not been imported into New Zealand. Blue phantom plecos originate from the Rio Orinoco in Venezuela, and are suited to medium to large tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.0 and temperatures of 22–25°C. Blue phantom plecos have been bred occasionally overseas.

    Orange seam pleco (Hemiancistrus guahiborum L106)

    L106_Orange seam pleco.jpg

    Orange seam plecos are a mottled gray and tan medium sized pleco (to 15 cm SL) with an orange border to the dorsal and caudal fins. This pleco has unclear relationships and has also been placed in Pseudancistrus and Guyanancistrus by some researchers. A recent study placed. H. guahiborum, H. subviridus, Baryancistrus beggini, and B. demantoides in their own clade and they may be placed in their own new genus in the future. orange seam plecos are peaceful and require oxygen rich water and a strong current, with pH's of 5.0–7.0 and temperatures of 25–29°C. This species has not been bred in captivity.


    There are about 18 scientifically described Peckoltia species, and many awaiting a scientific name.Peckoltia was named after Gustavo Peckolt of the Natural History Commission of Rondon. These plecos are less commonly available than the similar looking Panaqolus (formerly included in the Genus Panaque) with which they are often confused. They also look similar to some Hypancistrus but can be separated from them by their teeth. Peckoltia have brush-shaped teeth while Panaqolus (and Panaques) have spoon-shaped teeth. These genera have similar sized teeth on the upper and lower jaws, while Hypancistrus have fewer and much larger teeth on the lower jaw.

    Peckoltia are generally found in shallow rocky rifles or in quieter water amongst submerged branches and in log cavities in the Orinoco, Essequibo, and Amazon River systems. They are omnivores with an affinity for meaty foods. Feed them on pleco algal wafers, veggies such as courgettes and peas, shrimp pellets, and meaty foods such as bloodworms, mysis shrimps, and brine shrimp. They are not good algae eaters and will generally not graze on aquarium plants.

    These plecos are generally small and peaceful, although mature males are territorial and may squabble. They are ideally suited to most community tanks if plenty of cover is provided. They do not need good water flow, but do appreciate lots of aeration. Peckoltia are cave spawners and a few species have been bred overseas. A few Peckoltia species have been imported including:

    Spotted Peckoltia (Peckoltia cf. brevis, L205, LDA78)

    L205_Peckoltia brevis.jpg

    The spotted Peckoltia is a small (to 12 cm SL) tan pleco with fine brown spots on the head and belly, brown bands on the fins and tail, and irregular brown bands and spots on the body. They originate from the Purus River Basin in Peru and Brazil. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 5.8–7.8 and temperatures of 22–26°C. This species has been bred a few times in New Zealand but is becoming quite rare.

    Leopard frog pleco (Peckoltia compta L134)

    L134_Leopard frog plecos.JPG

    The leopard frog pleco is a small (to 11 cm SL) beautifully patterned yellowish pleco covered with very clearly defined broad black spots. Older fish are darker with more stripes and specimens from the Rio Jamanxim have a finer, more spotted pattern. Leopard frogs are often regarded as the most attractive Peckoltia species. They originate from the Rio Tapajos drainage in Brazil. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 5.0–7.4 and temperatures of 24–28°C. This species has been bred a few times in New Zealand but is quite rare.

    ‘Big band tiger pleco’ (Peckoltia sp. L140)


    Peckoltia sp. L140 is a small (to about 14 cm SL) attractive yellowish pleco with black stripes. These plecos were sold as ‘big band tiger plecos’ although this is not a recognised common name. They were initially sold as L288 although they were later identified by an overseas expert as Peckoltia sp. L140. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of about 5–7 and temperatures of 25–29°C. Peckoltia sp. l140 is very similar to, perhaps the same as, the candy striped pleco, Peckoltia vittata, L015, which has also occasionally been imported. This species has recently been bred many times in New Zealand and is reasonably priced and freely available.

    Para or Big spot pleco (Peckoltia sabaji, L075, L124, L301, LDA02)

    L075_Bigspot pleco.jpg

    Big spot plecos or Para are a yellow to beige medium sized pleco (to 25 cm SL) with black spots. This pleco was originally placed in Peckoltia, although some researchers now place it in Hemiancistrus (others in Ancistomus – although this new grouping has not been widely adopted). Para plecos are relatively peaceful and are suited to larger tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.6 and temperatures of 24–26°C. This species has been bred overseas. Para plecos were imported a number of years ago and are now very rare in New Zealand..

    There are other Peckoltia that have been imported into New Zealand but their identity is unresolved. Some of these plecos have been referred to as vittata or candy striped plecos (Peckoltia vittata, L015) or leopard frog plecos (P. compta, L134) but they were not these species. To add to the confusion, clown plecos (Panaqolus aff. maccus, L448) have sometimes been sold as 'pretty Peckoltia'. 

    Peckoltia sp.jpg

    I would like to thank Firenzenz and Krazy Geoff for their comments and improvements on earlier versions of this article. Thanks to the Pet Centre, Lower Hutt, for allowing me to photograph their ‘big band tiger pleco’.

    Planet catfish http://www.planetcatfish.com

    Jonathan Armbrusters Loricariidae website
        http://www.auburn.edu/academic/science_math/res_area/loricariid/fish_key/lorhome/ index.html

    Seidel, I. (2008). Back to nature guide to L-Catfishes. Fohrman Aquaristik AB, Sweden. 208 p.

    Armbruster, J. W. (2008). The genus Peckoltia with the description of two new species and a reanalysis of the phylogeny of the genera of the Hypostominae (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Zootaxa 1822: 1–76.

    Armbruster, J. W.; Werneke, D. C.; Tan, M. (2015). Three new species of saddled loricariid catfishes, and a review of Hemiancistrus, Peckoltia, and allied genera (Siluriformes). ZooKeys 480: 97123. 

    Werneke, D. C.; Armbruster, J. W.; Lujan, N. K.; Taphorn, D. C. (2005). Hemiancistrus guahiborum, a new suckermouth catfish from Southern Venezuela (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Neotropical Ichthyology 3(4): 543548.

    Werneke, D. C.; Sabaj, M. H.; Lujan, N. K; Armbruster, J. W. (2005): Baryancistrus demantoides and Hemiancistrus subviridis, two new uniquely colored species of catfishes from Venezuela (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Neotropical Ichthyology 3(4): 533–542.

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