Can You Keep Plecos And Cichlids In The Same Aquarium?

Both plecos and cichlids have been very popular fish within the fish keeping hobby for some time and with cichlids being more of an aesthetic colorful fish for display purposes and plecos often being more of a working fish to eat algae, detritus, and discarded food, we have noticed more and more people asking about keeping plecos and cichlids in the same aquarium. There is a large amount of incorrect information online about keeping plecos and cichlids in the same aquarium so we decided to publish this article to try and help as many of our readers looking to keep plecos and cichlids in the same tank as possible.

The main issue with keeping plecos and cichlids in the same aquarium is that there is only a small range of cross-over when it comes to the pH levels of their water where it is suitable for both species. This drastically reduces the types of plecos and cichlids that you are able to keep in the same tank with aggression from the cichlids towards the pleco usually being less of a problem than balancing the water parameters.

More experienced fish keepers can usually work out ways to balance their water parameters to create an ideal environment for more species of pleco and cichlid to live together. For the most part though, this can restrict the cichlid species to the South American cichlid and the pleco species to the trusty common bristlenose pleco or the ancistrus cf cirrhosis due to the better crossover in pH requirements making it easier to keep the fish in the same time.

Are Plecos Good With Cichlids?

Plecos can be good in a tank with suitable cichlids as they can help to keep the tank clean and reduce the amount of tank maintenance required by the aquarium keeper due to the amount of detritus, algae, and discarded food they eat. For the most part, plecos can live with cichlids in harmony without problems with aggression too making them one of the better bottom dwelling species to pair with cichlids.

Many people within the fish keeping community who do keep cichlids use them as a display fish due to their colors and patterns but there are a number of pleco species that also have unique colors and patterns too helping the species fit into a display tank well. The problem is that the more colorful cichlids and more colorful pleco species often have different water parameter requirements, especially when it comes to pH levels making it difficult to match them, especially for beginners.

Keeping plecos in the same tanks as cichlids can be more challenging than most beginners initially realize though due to plecos tenting to poop more than other fish species. This can increase the amount of tank maintenance required on your part to maintain the tank’s water parameters with spikes in certain parameters presenting a potential risk to some species of cichlid. The majority of beginners we see looking to add cichlids and plecos in the same tank are often looking for a relatively low maintenance setup making this a poor choice of pairing in addition to the pH level issues.

Will Cichlids Eat A Pleco In Their Tank?

Fully grown plecos and cichlids usually don’t have problems with one species eating the other but it can be common for adult cichlids to eat smaller plecos in their tanks. Some species of pleco may try to eat a small cichlid but this does tend to be rare as plecos tend to be poor hunters for fish species like cichlids with rapid reflexes and the majority of plecos will just focus on plant based foods.

We have seen some fish keepers report problems with the more aggressive species of cichlid such as the dovii cichlid ganging up on other fish in their aquarium and attacking it until they are able to eat the fish. Although we have not seen any reports of this behavior from a group of cichlids against a pleco, it could present a potential risk and a pleco is unlikely to be able to fend off a number of aggressive cichlids.

African cichlids are also very popular right now and even the least aggressive African cichlids tend to have above average aggression levels. Thankfully though, due to the pleco being a bottom dwelling fish, this does reduce the interaction between the pleco and cichlids in the tank and can help to reduce the chances of the cichlids attacking and eating the pleco.

Do Plecos And Cichlids Have Any Crossovers With Their Water Parameters Requirements?

Most species of pleco tend to require much softer water than cichlids making it difficult to keep optimal water parameters for both species in the same tank with experienced fish keepers often having issues keeping the two in the same aquarium. There is some crossover with water parameters for some species of pleco and cichlid though but it does tend to be rare.

As we touched on earlier in the article, this will usually restrict you to keeping the South American cichlid with either the common bristlenose pleco or the ancistrus cf cirrhosis due to them having the best cross over with pH level requirements. Although some people do keep plecos with malawi cichlids, victorian cichlids, and tanganyikan cichlids, their pH requirements are just too high for a pleco to be comfortably kept in the same tank as them.

Some people do note that the panaque pleco has a better pH match with most cichlid species than the other pleco species but it is not an ideal fit for a cichlid tank. A panaque pleco required wood in its tank for algae grazing but wood releases tannis into the water that the cichlids will end up having problems with so avoid using the panaque pleco in a tank with cichlids.

The Best Pleco For A Cichlid Tank!

The best pleco for a cichlid tank has to be the common bristlenose pleco due to its hardy nature and having a better pH level crossover with a wider range of cichlid species. The problem is that just because the common bristlenose pleco is the best pleco for a cichlid tank does not mean that it should be kept in the same tank as cichlids.

As we have mentioned throughout the article, the common bristlenose pleco only has suitable pH water crossover with a small number of cichlid species. The common bristlenose pleco also tends to poop lots, far more than many people new to keeping plecos initially realize and their poop can start to cause problems with water parameters if tank maintenance is not carried out on a regular basis.

Some species of cichlid are surprisingly sensitive to these spikes and can quickly develop problems due to their water parameters not being ideal for their needs. This usually results in the aquarium keeper having to keep to a strict tank maintenance and water change routine that beginners to aquarium keeping often tend not to strictly stick to resulting in problems for their fish over time.

Will Plecos Eat Cichlid Eggs?

Plecos can and will eat cichlid eggs that they find in their tank making the pleco a poor choice of tank mate for anyone who is actively trying to breed their cichlids. A single pleco and eat a huge number of cichlid eggs and with a single female cichlid often producing less than 30 eggs, a pleco and easily eat all of the eggs in a single tank.

If you are looking to actively breed your cichlids then we would highly recommend that you try to invest in a specific breeding tank where you will put your cichlids to breed that is free from all predators. Although most cichlid species are not commonly kept in community tanks, other species in addition to plecos will eat any of their eggs that they find in a community tank making it difficult to breed them in regular tanks.

Most species of cichlid will also eat the eggs of their own species too so keeping a cichlid only tank even if all cichlids in the tank are the same species does not mean that the tank will have many eggs that survive. You can add breeding caves for a cichlid breeding program but these are often not as effective as some people say as other cichlids of the same species can go into the breeding caves and eat the eggs anyway.

Will Pleco Eat Cichlid Fry?

Most suitable species of pleco that you are able to keep in the same aquarium as a cichlid will not try to eat healthy cichlid fry with the fry often being able to keep well away from a pleco. Some pleco species such as the hypancistrus, sailfins, and hypostomus plecos will actively hunt fry in their aquarium but they tend not to be ideal species of pleco for a cichlid tank anyway.

As we covered in the section above though, if you are trying to actively breed your cichlids then you really should be looking to put the breeding cichlids in a breeding tank if possible. Just because most species of pleco will not eat the fry of your cichlids, they can eat enough eggs to drastically reduce the chances of any eggs being able to develop to a stage where they are able to hatch.

Conclusion

That brings our article going over keeping plecos and cichlids in the same aquarium to an end. We hope that we have been able to help as many of our readers as possible who are considering keeping the two species in the same aquarium but for the majority of people, we really wouldn’t recommend that you even try it. There are better pairings available and a pleco cichlid pairing just has too many potential downsides to be worth the time for most people.