Hypancistrus zebra

Common Names: Zebra pleco, imperial pleco, L046, L098, L193

Type Locality: Upstream of Altamira, Rio Xingu, Brazil

Range: Rio Xingu drainage

Taxonomic Troubles: Variations in the striping distinguished the various L-numbers, but they were combined in the original description as one species.

Size: 9 cm TL (3.5 inches)

Preferred Water Chemistry: Comes from soft, neutral to acid waters, but will thrive and spawn in any well-oxygenated water

Difficulty: The major difficulty with this species is the prive. It is an adaptable and hardy loricariid.

Tank Setup: Excellent aeration and substantial water motion are essential, along with plenty of crevices and caves. These catfish are not aggressive feeders and will not do well with tankmates that are.

Feeding: Primarily a carnivore. That's right, not an algae eater. With its small mouth it will take some vegetation and will munch on cucumber slices like other loricariids, but it must have a diet heavy on the meat side. Bloodworms are a particular favorite.

Breeding: This holy grail of catfishdom confers instant fame and wealth upon the aquarist for whom it spawns. The first hurdle was determining the proper diet, and now more people are joining the ranks. The small broods (about a dozen eggs) and high demand maintain the high price for this species.

Fish Description

Truly a zebra catfish, this species is striking in its balck and white striping, which is vertical on the head and horizontal on the body and in all the fins. The color pattern is apparent from the time the fry are free swimming. It has an extremely small mouth.


This is one of the most remarkable suckermouth catfish, and one that is instantly recognized. Its price has dropped from astronomical to high, and tank-bred specimens are now often available. In many ways other than its coloring it is an atypical loricariid: it is small, it eats mostly meaty foods, and it is peaceful. It shares these characteristics with other ancistrines, like the common bristlenose Ancistrus sp., but while that fish is ugly to the point of hideousness, the zebra pleco is so beautiful that non aquarists stop and stare at it, and people have mistaken it for a coral reef species.

In the wild these catfish inhabit deep river channels where numerous rocks are occasionally separated by sandy areas. These plecos live among the rocks, and rocky crevices or their PVC counterparts are the most necessary feature of aquascaping for their aquarium. With their adaptability regarding water chemistry, they still cannot tolerate accumulated dissolved wastes, and an aggressive water-change regime will approximate the pristine conditions of their natural riverine habitat. Powerful filtration and water movement will provide the proper high oxygen saturation. The only other requirement is plenty of warmth; they should ideally be kept at 27 degrees Clesius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher.

A peaceful setup without aggressive feeders is perfect for these zebras, but few people pay the price for this fish just to add beauty to their community tank. With one male and a couple of females in a tank of their own, you not only have a stunning display, you have a potential pleco breeding tank! Males have a thicker first ray of the pectoral fin and develop spiny projections on the ray when in spawning condition.

Spawning these fish is a lesson in patience, if nothing else. Even once you have a male guarding eggs, the eggs take about a week to hatch, and the fry take another few days to become free-swimming. They are large enough to take all types of food, including baby brine shrimp. In two or three months they will be one-inch miniatures of their parents--a sight coveted by many aquarists.