Cichlids (family Cichlidae) and plecos (family Loricariidae) have much in common. Certain plecos and certain cichlids make great beginner fish and can make great pets for people starting off in the aquarium hobby. At the same time, more rare, exotic and difficult species exist from both families, which can appeal to more experienced fish-keepers.
Certain cichlids are notorious for aggression. Most infamous, the African cichlids are known for roughing up tankmates. A pleco of similar size may be able to withstand such treatment, but this is not ideal. Less infamous, certain large plecos, like the royal pleco (Panque spp.) can harm other fish in the tank. Aggressive cichlids and aggressive plecos make poor tankmates as they can all injure each other.
Both families include large and small fish. Even big peaceful fish eat little fish. For example, the common pleco can grow more than two feet, and the Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) can grow more than a foot. At the same time, the ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) only grows to about two inches, and the dwarf pleco (Ottocinclus spp) maxes out at about an inch and a half. Size is a factor in compatibility; only keep fish of roughly the same size to avoid predation and injury.
Water chemistry is also a factor in the compatibility of cichlids and plecos. Plecos are generally hardy, but do their absolute best in water with a pH of 6 to 7. African cichlids prefer water with a pH of 7.5 to 8.5, some of the hardest water fish can live in. However, many South American cichlids, and African riverine cichlids prefer softer, acidic water like the plecos.
There are a few combinations of plecos and cichlids that usually work fine. The ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) comes from South America, and shares its home rivers with plecos. It also only grows a few inches long and is not very aggressive. The krib, a small west African cichlid is similarly compatible with smaller plecos. The dwarf pleco or otto cat (Ottocinclus spp) also stays small and is a hardy fish. A group of these will get along well with small cichlids. Additionally, the rubbernose pleco (Chaetostoma spp) generally stay under six inches and won’t harm small, peaceful cichlids.
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