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If you happen to have bought or received an aquarium for Christmas, you will probably be considering what type of fish to add soon. The common pleco seems to be a favourite, being rather cute some what trainable, and reputed to be good for controlling algae. However the common pleco is not really suited for small tanks. I have been unable to come with a reliable estimate of the size of wild pleco but I have been told it can exceed 5'. The largest I have seen photographed in captivity is claimed to be 4' but looks more like 3' or a bit more to me. Lengths of 2' are not uncommon though, and I would expect 13- 15" minimum from a healthy adult. this makes them unsuitable for a 2' tank in my opinion, and should you choose to keep one in such a small tank, he will produce a lot of waste for that tank size, and constantly knock things over. Plus it seems cruel to keep one where he can not hide and swim about a little bit at least. I would consider the minimum size for a pleco to be a 4'tank.
So what is the alternative for those with smaller tanks? The Ancistrus is the perfect choice. The female of the species, pictured above, looks just like a pleco, only smaller. The male is similar but has bristles around it's mouth and nose, giving this species it's common name, bristle nose catfish. While looking like a pleco, these are much smaller with a maximum size of about 6" but most being neared 4" - 5" at maturity. Other factors to recommend this fish are the fact that is relatively inexpensive ( usually under £4 ), and easy to keep. This fish has the ability to take some air from the surface and will survive longer in oxygen poor waters, general poor water conditions ( not that you want to permanently subject it to these) and a wider range of ph and temperature than most fish. this hardiness does make them suitable for novices and new tank set ups. Their maximum lifespan is 12 years, but 5 -6 years is more common. They are generally peaceful community fish, but adult males can be aggressive with other males, especially if a new one is added to the tank. We keep one female ancistrus in a small community tank with fish such as neons and corydoras. They are also territorial with their own kind and need enough room for each to have it's own territory. I would recommend 1-2 for a 2' tank. In addition to the ordinary brown spotted variety there is also an albino variety available.
Despite it's small size, this is a rather voracious algae eater. It will also eat some flake, but prefers sinking foods, loves courgettes, peas and many other vegetables ( be very careful not to add too much and remove uneaten foods the next day to avoid polluting your tank). This fish also enjoys rasping away at bog wood and it is recommended a piece be kept in the tank with this fish to satisfy it's needs for dietary fiber. Although primarily vegetarian, they are scavengers and will eat just about anything, including dead fish. Like most tropical fish, they seem to quite enjoy the addition of frozen bloodworm to the diet.
This fish is relatively shy and should be provided with adequate shelter, or hiding places. Once accustomed to the tank, they will swim about freely though and not always hidden away, but must always have a cave, ornament or other hiding place to retreat to when needed.
For those interested in breeding fish, this is meant to be one of the easier species to try, although I have not done so myself. The male cares for the eggs and fry, the female is finished with them as soon as the eggs are laid.
The only drawback to this fish, is that i do not believe it can be trained to hand feed like it's larger cousins, the pleco, but as most people are unlikely to bother with this anyway, it is not a major issue. Like all catfish it does have sharp spines and care should be taken when handling as well as when releasing from a net. Of course for a really large tank with large fish this may seem too small, but for the average small community tank, this little fish is a brilliant addition. Of course like all fish, this animal does desrve care and attention, and will need it's basic needs met, food, clean water, heat etc...