Name: Hypancistrus zebra
Origin: Brazil (Rio Xingu)
This little fish is astonishing, a true rare gem of nature. I have a Zebra Pleco in my 200 L planted tank, who shares the bottom with a Tiger Pleco and a Gold Nugget Pleco, plus a few Cories and Loaches. Right now he's the smallest of all, (about 6 cm) and is extremely shy. Luckily he chose a cave near the front of the tank, which allows me to see him well all day long. He's the only Pleco that doesn't come out when I feed during the day. In fact, I never see him eat, but since he's been alive and well for almost a year I guess he gets his share of algae, uneaten food and spirulina discs that I throw in almost every night. This species is omnivorous, and not such a good algae eater as other Loricarids. They say that in Rio Xingu it lives in deep waters (20 to 40 meters), and maybe that's why it took so long to be "discovered" (it was only classified in 1991).
This is one of my favorite fish...I first bought one for about $50, but later found a shop that sold them to me for $20. Find these shops...I hate dealers that rip everyone off. I've seen pricing books wholesale these for 12-15 dollars...50-60 bucks is ridiculous. Now I have 5 in my 300 liter tank...a very beautiful fish with interesting night behavior. When I only had one, he just sat under a piece of driftwood and never came out, not even with a dim red light in the dark! Like Marcos above, I never saw him eat either, and he never moved unless my angelicus would try to bite him...then he'd turn on his side and poke with his fin/spine...it was cool to watch. I say "him" because he has a flatter head, and I've been told that the "narrow-headed" ones are female, but who knows. Now with five, they're much more active and like to fight at night...the males (3) are always defending territories. I have a five dollar 20watt light from Walmart, fitted with a red sleeve that seems to be dim enough to let them feel comfortable. When you set up decorations, make "overhangs" with driftwood that face the front of the tank, making sure there is no hiding place behind it,and put these no more than halfway back. That way they will stay in their cave during the day, and you can actually see them well. They don't mind you staring at them if they've got a roof over their heads. I think they also eat a bit of the wood as well. If you don't do this, they'll hide in some obscure location and you'll never see them eat or even move. Also, when I had to transfer them form another tank, they didn't mind me picking them up with my hands. I think I was more nervous than they were...
Many people are under the assumption that because Zebra Plecos are a pleco that they are algae eaters. Actually, they prefer a more carnivorous diet.
My all time favourite tropical fish! As Marcos Avila says, this is THE true gem of nature. I have three of them. Two are happily defending their territories in a 128 L tank specially set up for them. The other one was originally meant for that tank as well, but I had to remove him after only a day. These fish can be extremely territorial! My eldest Hyp. zebra went into a full frontal attack on the newcomer, which of course decided to have the elder Hyp. zebra's territory for his own. It was like watching Donald Duck fight. Occasionally a fin, a tail and a head came up in a fighting frenzy. It went so far as to the fish getting scars all over their small bodies. (They have tiny sharp teeth). I moved the newcomer to my larger 250 L, which has a lot of other catfish hiding around. I was worried it would die, suffering from the injuries, but it has actually managed to stay fit. The Hyp. zebra tries to ward off "trespassers" by laying on the side, and waving its tail at the face of the other fish. Hypancistrus Zebra prefers a "meaty" diet. Frozen bloodworms and "mushed" shrimps will do fine, but remember they are pretty shy and won't be the first to join the meal. You need to be very careful how to choose tankmates. I prefer to keep them with smaller tetras, and let them have all of the bottom to themselves. Here in Norway they are extremely expensive. From around US$50 to US$80 per fish. I would recommend fast flowing water with a lot of aeration. The temperature should be around 25-28°C, but I have heard they can actually spawn under a lot of different circumstances. It is also important that you build up a tank with lots of overhanging "cliffs", preferrably of rocks. I would also leave some bogwood in there. Build up plenty of hiding places that overshadow the ground, preferably facing the front of the aquarium so you can actually see this fish that is normally quite shy. In my opinion they are pretty hardy like most catfish, but remember to feed them meaty diets, and don't rely on them only going for algae or sinking tablets.
Indeed the zebra pleco will graze on the bog wood in my tank, as he is the only pleco in my 340 liter tank. The other members of the fish community in my tank are 1 pair of angels and 8 boeseman rainbowfish. Over the last year one branch of my bog wood has been taken down to nothing by the pleco. Also, when kept with quiet companions and no other bottom dwellers except cory cats, the pleco will come out of his cave to feed along with the others during the day.
This the best, most interesting and useful fish I have. I have four planted tanks and I keep two in each. While they are amazing algae eaters, they also love live foods and will eat flakes off my hand. They are incredibly active and intelligent. So please do yourself a favour and buy a Zebra Pleco!
Although I have never kept these wonderful fish, my father has. They are exceptionally beautiful, and are carnivorous, contrary to popular belief. Yet the Brazilian government has outlawed exportation of this fish, because their numbers are quickly declining.
I am lucky enough to own two male Zebras and would like to add a few observations. Feed these creatures blanched, shelled, frozen peas. Mine go absolutely mad for them - day or night. This supercedes even bloodworm as their favourite and is the food used to entice them from their holes when first introduced to the tank. The substrate is a fine quartz silicone sand where I lay plates of slate, on which bogwood caves rest. The cats love to burrow under the slate and have built a network of tunnels which has improved their confidence. However, being feral fish, slow contrived movements are still needed around the tank, otherwise they scatter. In addition, the more zebras you keep the more confident they seem to be of their surroundings. I used to have a colony of 6 zebras (mix of male and females until 4 were lost to tapeworm) and providing each fish has it's own little cave there were no real territorial disputes as a natural pecking order was established with one A1-male. All the rest seemed to have equal standing. This was in a 125 L planted tank. Their current tankmates include a posse of cherry, blue and amano shrimps, a group of Apistogramma agassizi (1m/2f), 5 dwarf neon rainbows (3m/2f) and an undescribed Hypancistrus species from the Xingu. With the justified export ban, prices are going through the roof in the UK.
I bought a zebra pleco for US$80 almost 10 years ago at a fish store in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It's the only one I've ever seen, and I've been in a lot of fish stores since. We traveled to Oregon together and it's still alive in my 150 L tank. It's the only fish I've had that lived that long. A fish store owner recently told me that they are selling for $200-$500. My zebra seems happy with the tiger pleco, angels, gouramis, platys and white clouds.
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