Jump to content
  • Butterflies and flatheads

    Butterflies and flatheads

    Author: Darren Stevens
    First published in Aquarium World November 2011

    In the previous articles, we have covered the main groups of plecos, and a few examples of each. However there are about 700 pleco species so it’s not surprising that we have left a few out. Many of these species are relatively plain and/or rare, so are unlikely to be popular in the hobby, but there are a few other beauties that have been imported in the past.


    The genus Dekeseria contains six scientifically described species and at least one awaiting a scientific name. All of these plecos have a broad flattened profile. They often inhabit black water rivers (i.e. those stained by tannins and humic acid from decaying vegetation) so not surprisingly, they prefer soft acidic water. Two of these species have been imported into New Zealand on several occasions.

    Butterfly plecos (Dekeyseria brachyura, L168 and Dekeyseria sp. L052)


    The name butterfly or flounder pleco is used for two very similar species. The butterfly pleco, Dekeyseria brachyura, L168, is a stunning black fish with broad white to yellowish bands and it originates from the Rio Negro in Brazil. The Atabapo butterfly pleco, Dekeyseria species L052 originates from blackwater tributaries of the upper Rio Orinoco. It is similar in appearance to Dekeyseria brachyura but the bands are duller and have more of a network pattern. Both of these species reach about 14 cm and under optimal conditions they are strikingly coloured; however, they can change their colour to suit their mood or surroundings and, when they adopt fright colouration, they are much duller. In the wild both species are unspecialised aufwuchs (essentially algal biofilm) feeders, but in aquaria they do well on a varied diet. They are suited to community tanks with a pH range between 5.6–7.0 and a temperature range of 25–29ºC. They can be kept in more alkaline aquaria but they are less likely to breed and be attractively patterned. Both types of butterfly pleco have been bred successfully in New Zealand.


    The genus Parancistrus contains 2 scientifically described species, and a couple of other varieties awaiting a scientific name. Parancistrus are broad stocky, strongly flattened plecos
    with large robust scutes, and a very large gill opening. The dorsal fin is connected to the adipose fin by a membrane. They prefer fast moving water and require high levels of dissolved oxygen. Parancistrus should be fed on a varied diet, including live and frozen foods. They are generally peaceful and only slightly territorial. One species, Parancistrus aff. auranticus (LDA046), has occasionally been imported into New Zealand.

    Chubby plecos (Parancistrus aurantiacus and P. aff. aurantiacus, LDA046)

    The name chubby pleco is often applied to two very similar plecos: Parancistrus aurantiacus and Parancistrus aff. aurantiacus (LDA046). The real chubby pleco, P. aurantiacus, is a large (to about 30 cm TL) black pleco from the Rio Araguaia (which flows into the Rio Tocantins) in north-eastern Brazil. Bizarrely, some individuals can change colour to golden yellow or a pied or marbled black and yellow pattern. The golden yellow individuals often command very high prices overseas, but they rarely retain their colour long term. Parancistrus aff. aurantiacus, LDA046, is a smaller (to about 15 cm) dark grey pleco from the Rio Tocantins and it is covered with a network of light lines and/or spots. It also sometimes changes to a yellow colour. Both chubby plecos are suited to larger tanks with a pH range of 5.5–7.5 and temperatures between 25–29ºC and have been bred in captivity a few times.


    The genus Pseudancistrus contains 18 scientifically described species, and several other species awaiting a scientific name. The name Pseudancistrus comes from the Greek word ‘pseudes’ meaning false, and in this case it refers to the Pseudancistrus species being similar to, but not the same as Ancistrus.Pseudancistrus are generally found among rocks in rapids in northern South America where they feed on aufwuchs, and as such they should be fed on a mainly vegetarian diet with only very small quantities of meaty foods. Males can be very territorial. One species, Pseudancistrus asurini (L67) has occasionally been imported into New Zealand.

    ‘Flathead gold nugget’ (Pseudancistrus asurini, L67)


    Pseudancistrus asurini (L67) is a lovely medium sized (to about 20 cm standard length, SL) dark brown pleco with fine gold spots. In New Zealand they were sold as ‘flathead’ gold nuggets although this is not a recognised common name. They originate from the Rio Xingu in Brazil where they occur alongside other very similar patterned plecos such as the gold nuggets (Baryancistrus xanthellusBaryancistrusspecies L081) and Hopliancistrus species L017. It is suited to larger tanks with a pH range of 5–7 and temperatures between 25–30ºC. This species has not been bred in captivity.


    The genus Spectracanthicus contains five scientifically described species and a handful of species awaiting a scientific name. The Genus Spectracanthicus is very similar to the Genus Oligancistrus and recent scientific publications, including a 2014 revision, only regard Spectracanthicus as valid (i.e. allOligancistrus species should be placed in Spectracanthicus). They are omnivores and should be given a varied diet. They are restricted to the tributaries of the lower Amazon in north-eastern Brazil. The peppermint pleco (L030), a form of Spectracanthicus punctatissimus, has occasionally been imported into New Zealand.

    Peppermint pleco (Spectracanthicus (formerly Oligancistrus)punctatissimus L016, L030, L353)


    The peppermint pleco is a lovely little (to 10 cm standard length) black pleco with small widely spaced off-white spots. It originates from the lower course of the Rio Xingu and is suited to aquaria with a pH range of 5.5–7.5 and temperatures between 26–30ºC. This species has been bred in captivity overseas.


    The genus Leporacanthicus contains four described species and a few species awaiting a scientific name. All have about four large long teeth on their upper jaw giving rise to their common name of vampire pleco. It is thought these long teeth are used to prise prey from crevices in wood and between rocks. All species are largely carnivorous and do well on a high protein diet (e.g., shrimp pellets, carnivore tablets, mosquito larvae, blood worms, shrimps, etc.). At least two species of Leporacanthicus have been imported into New Zealand.

    The vampire plecos (Leporacanthicus galaxias and L. heterodon)

    gold heterodon_1.jpg

    The vampire or galaxy pleco (Leporacanthicus galaxias, L007, L029) is a striking black pleco with white to yellowish spots and originates from the Rio Tocantins in north-eastern Brazil. It is relatively large (up to 30 cm SL) and is suited to larger tanks with a pH range of 5.5–7.5 and temperatures between 25–29ºC. The golden vampire pleco (Leporacanthicus heterodon) is a smaller (to 15–20 cm SL) tan pleco with black spots and originates from the lower and middle Rio Xingu in Brazil. It is suited to larger tanks with a pH range of 5–7 and temperatures between 26–30ºC. Both species of Leporacanthicus have been bred several times overseas.

    There are other plecos that occasionally surface in New Zealand. However these articles have covered the main plecos that you are likely to see here.

    Thanks to Jennifer Hamlin for her comments and improvements on an earlier version of this article.

    Planet catfish (www.planetcatfish.com)
    Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)
    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.
    Chamon, C.C. and Rapp Py-Daniel, L.H. (2014). Taxonomic revision of Spectracanthicus Nijssen & Isbrücker (Loricariidae: Hypostominae: Ancistrini), with description of three new species. Neotropical Ichthyology 12: 1–25.
    Rapp Py-Daniel, L.H. (1989) Redescription of Parancistrus aurantiacus (Castelnau, 1855) and preliminary establishment of two new genera: Baryancistrus and Oligancistrus (Siluriformes, Loricariidae). Cymbium 13: 235–246.
    Silva, G.S.C., Roxo, F.F. and Oliveira, C. (2015). Two new species of Pseudancistrus (Siluriformes, Loricariidae) from the Amazon basin, northern Brazil. ZooKeys 482: 21–34. Deuschle, F. (2018). The broadheaded Loricariids of the genus Parancistrus Bleeker, 1862. BSSW Report 30: 30–41.

    © This item may not be reproduced without written permission



      Report Article

  • Create New...