Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

Sailfin plec

Sailfin plec, Pterygoplichthys gibbicepsSailfin plec, Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps
Photos by Andy Rapson


Pterygoplichthys: Greek, pterygion, diminutive of pteryx = wing, fin + Greek, hoplon = weapon + Greek, ichthys = fish

General Notes:

A very large but generally peaceful catfish which are often sold as good algae eaters while they are still babies. Many who buy them don't realise or are misinformed about their ultimate size. They are actually poor at controlling algae, they aren't even herbivores although vegetable matter does make up a good part of their diet. How ever they will pay little or no attention to algae once better quality aquarium food is fed in to the aquarium. As adults they become less tolerant of the company of their own kind and so keep one only per tank. They don't normally eat plants but large adults can be quite clumsy and they may inadvertently up root plants as they pass.


Wild sailfin plecs eat vegetable matter, algae worms and they will scavenge on dead fish or animals when the opportunity arises. In captivity they are very bold feeders and some large individuals may even try to control all the food added to the aquarium. They are completely unfussy about their food and will accept lettuce, sliced cucumber, processed peas without their skin, prepared earthworms, live or frozen bloodworms, chopped prawns and pelleted food.


Their are no external differences between the sexes. Except for a very small difference in the genital papillae which needs a well trained eye to be able to spot.


Wild sailfin plecs tunnel in to the river bank and use the tunnel as a spawning site and to help protect their brood. Such a set up wouldn't be practical for the home aquarium although if the aquarium was large enough the fish may be induced in to using pipes as a spawning site but this would require a gigantic aquarium.

The fish are bred commercially in large ponds.

Wild status

The health of wild populations has not been evaluated but most aquarium specimens are now bred in tropical ponds in semi captivity and not taken from the wild.

Information at a glance

pH: 6 - 8
dGH: 4 - 20
Temperature: 23 - 27°C (74 - 80°F)
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 50cm (20in)
Min tank size: 675 litres
Difficulty level: Easy
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: Bottom

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Sailfin plec, Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps

Origin: South America: Middle and upper Amazon and Orinoco basins

Habitat: Slow moving rivers, they also enter the flooded forest at certain times of the year.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Loricariidae
Genus: Pterygoplichthys
Species: P. gibbiceps, (Kner, 1854)

Common name:
Sailfin plec

Synonyms: Ancistrus gibbiceps, Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps, Liposarcus altipinnis