Zebra Plecos (Hypancistrus Zebra) are one of the most stunning and sought-after fish in the aquarium hobby today.
These dwarf Plecostomus are native to the Xingu River near Altamira region in Brazil and reaches a maximum size of about 3”. They have parallel white and black stripes down the length of their body, starting with a “collar” behind the head.
In this article, learn more about why the current Zebra Pleco cost is often so high and other expenses required to keep this small Brazilian catfish species.
Zebra Pleco Purchase Price
Zebra Plecos are available from many retailers online as well as private breeders. Local fish stores might not carry a fish this expensive unless a special order is placed.
Brazil banned the export of Zebra Plecos from Brazil in 2004 – meaning that all Zebra Plecos sold in the US today are tank-bred. If you are offered “wild” Zebra Plecos, you should double-check if it’s an L046.
- Online retailer – $190 to $240
Zebra Plecos are readily available from established online retailers. Buyers can expect a standardized level of fish quality and health when purchasing from a retailer.
Most online retailers also offer significant discount or free shipping with purchases above a certain dollar amount.
- Private breeders – $125 to $200
Zebra Plecos are offered by private breeders on various private sales trading platforms and forums. It’s suggested to only purchase fish from well-known and established private breeders.
Often, dedicated breeders sell Zebra Plecos that are on par or better in quality than major online retail store offerings. However, this varies by breeder so if you do decide to buy from private sellers, do some homework and dig through their post history.
When in doubt, consult with a moderator of the platform where the for-sale listing is posted.
Factors Affecting Zebra Pleco Price
The Zebra Pleco is one of many small catfish species. Some of these species can look very similar to the beginning keeper.
Note on clarification about different types of Zebra Plecos – Plecotomus are classified by the L-number system developed in the late 80s. True Zebra Plecos are labeled L046, while variations that carry different zebra patterns are L098 and L173.
Vendors might label Zebra Plecos differently, such as calling it “Zebra Altamira”, or “Imperial Pleco”. When in doubt about what kind of Pleco you’re buying, ask for the L number.
Luckily, you can typically tell by the price tag whether you are purchasing a true Zebra Pleco (one similar species is actually called the False Zebra Pleco and its price per fish is typically quite a bit lower – around $65 per fish).
These are the other major factors affecting Zebra Pleco price.
The Zebra Pleco is a dwarf catfish species with a maximum adult size of 3.5 inches and a lifespan of 15+ years in captivity.
Purchasing younger fish (1 to 2 inches) can often help ease the sticker shock a bit. It takes about three years for Zebra Plecos to grow to their full adult size and become ready to spawn (breed).
Adult male Zebra Plecos are bigger and bulkier than females with more pronounced facial and fin spine characteristics. Females are slimmer and lighter with more curve in their lower back region.
But it can be quite hard to tell the two genders apart until the fish are fully grown (about 3 years). Buying adult fish is the best (and most expensive) way to be sure you are getting a pair for breeding purposes.
As restrictions on importing and exporting wild-caught Zebra Plecos continue to tighten and wild populations are steadily reduced, prices for these colorful fish are continually rising.
At certain times of the year, it is not uncommon to experience a waiting list to get one of these fish.
Zebra Plecos are nocturnal fish that are notoriously shy. They prefer to stay partially hidden and do not fare well when housed with more aggressive species (free-swimmers or bottom-dwellers).
Some keepers prefer to keep Zebra Plecos apart from other fish in a dedicated tank. Keeping 4 to 6 fish in a 30 to 40-gallon tank with optimal husbandry conditions is acceptable.
One-Time Zebra Pleco Costs
These are the most common one-time Zebra Pleco costs associated with setting up your aquarium.
Shipping cost varies, depending on your distance from the shipper. Overnight shipping ($20 to $100) during spring or fall is recommended to avoid extreme temperature variations during transit.
For example, Discus Madness ships fish by zone. Costs range from $48 to $125 per order. On the other hand, Arizona Aquatic Gardens offers free shipping for orders of $199+. Shipping for orders of lesser amounts is calculated based on your ship-to location.
Aquarium or Fish Tank
Please note that most Zebra Plecos tend to do better in a single species tank. Their small size and shy nature mean that you’ll almost never see them out in the open in a community tank.
Faster fishes that reside on top and mid-water can outcompete Zebra Plecos for food. An adequately-sized aquarium is important for health since these fish require a well-oxygenated environment.
Zebra Plecos require pristine water conditions and lots of holes and crevices to hide. For one or two Zebra Plecos, a 20-gallon tank is recommended at the minimum.
This will allow room for plenty of hiding spaces as well as having enough water volume for quality to be maintained easily. However, aim for 30 gallons minimum for two pairs of fish.
- Glass 20 gallon – $30
Glass tanks are readily available and affordable. These are lighter and clearer than acrylic.
- Acrylic 20 gallon – $100 to $150
Acrylic tanks are stronger and more leak-proof than glass tanks. However, they are heavier and more scratch-prone.
Note on picking a tank – For larger tanks, acrylic is safer. An acrylic tank failure might result in a few gallons of water leaking out from an improperly sealed joint; whereas a glass tank failure would result in a complete and catastrophic break.
Zebra Plecos do not have light requirements since they are nocturnal. Your mileage may vary on this.
However, some owners reported that their Zebra Plecos are happy to venture out in the open of the tank during the day, and then there are owners who have never seen their Zebra Plecos before. Every fish is different.
- Dimmable LED aquarium light with moonlight function – $40
A dimmable LED with moonlight function will provide a dim light source as to not scare the pleco while still lighting up the tank enough to view the fish.
Zebra Plecos enjoy a moderate to strong and oxygen-rich current flow, similar to the river conditions in their native habitat.
- Canister filter 100 gallons per hour – $100
A canister filter with good water flow is recommended for a Zebra tank. Pick a filter that will turn over the tank at least 5 times.
A 100GPH filter is recommended for a 20-gallon tank at the minimum. Install a directional nozzle on the out-put pipe to make sure your tank water is always moving. Make sure the output agitates the surface of the water as that will increase water oxygen levels.
The filtration media, inserts, and cartridges included with filters are not adequate for Zebra Plecos. You should purchase separate filtration media that increases the effectiveness of your filter.
- Pre-filter foam (Coarse) – $1
Always use a pre-filter foam that goes over the intake of your filter. The strong suction could hurt your (very expensive) fish. This is especially important for tanks with baby Plecos in them.
- Filter foam (fine) – $1
Use a fine filter foam as the first step in your canister filter. This will prevent larger debris from getting into the rest of the filter which could cause a clog.
Note on foams: Remember to wring out the foam pieces every month or so. Do not wash it under tap water. Put some tank water in a bowl, put the sponge in, and give it a gentle squeeze or two to get larger debris out.
- Media bags – $1
Media bags are fine mesh bags that hold filtration media. Makes cleaning and servicing the canister filter much easier.
- Activated carbon – $3 per 5oz.
Activated carbon is highly porous and is one of the most commonly used filter media to keep the water crystal clear. Replace the carbon about every two weeks or when you notice the water clouding or is smelling funky.
- Ceramic rings/balls – $8 per 18 oz.
Ceramic rings/balls and other such filter media are all made to be porous with large total surface area to grow beneficial bacteria. This step is called biological filtration where the bacteria eats toxic chemicals like ammonia and nitrite – keeping fish safe.
Air-pump + Air-stone
As mentioned above, Zebra Plecos like warm and oxygen-rich water. When water temperature goes up, the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases. Use an air-pump with an air-stone to make sure the tank water is well-oxygenated.
- Air-Pump – $10
- Air-Stone – $3
- Airline – $3 for 8 ft
Some air-pumps do not come with air lines. Check the package content before purchasing.
- Heater 100-150 Watts – $25 to $40
An aquarium heater is required. Zebra Plecos originated from a river in Brazil and they are most comfortable in the water with a temperature of at least 79F to 86F.
- Digital thermometer – $10
A digital thermometer is faster and more accurate than a traditional tube thermometer.
Testing and monitoring
- Water testing kit – $23
These freshwater fish require slightly acidic water, so testing and monitoring for pH and other elements are important.
Purchase a complete freshwater testing kit to keep an eye on ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate as elevated levels of any of these will harm aquarium inhabitants. Zebra Plecos prefer PH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Water conditioner – $7 for an 8 oz bottle, treats 500 gallons of water.
Water conditioner is necessary if you use tap water. The conditioner will remove heavy metals and chemicals that can harm your fish.
- Powerhead – $15 (Optional)
Powerheads are like underwater fans that push water around. If your tank hardscape placement causes certain parts of the tank water to stay stagnant, consider using a powerhead.
- Algae scrubber – $4 (Optional)
Zebra Plecos don’t eat much algae. Consider buying a scrubber to keep your tank clear.
Tank Setup and Hardscape
Zebra Plecos came from an environment with rocky terrain with few plants. These fishes’ temperament is slightly counter-intuitive; the more hiding places that you give the Plecos, the more comfortable they are with the tank because they know they have places to hide; leading to them being more willing to hang out in the open.
Substrate (Tank Bottom Covering)
Sand and gravel/pebbles can both be used as a bottom cover for the tank. Avoid gravel/pebbles with sharp edges as that could hurt the fish.
- Sand – $4 for 5-lb.
Any type of sand can be used. In fact, many fish keepers swear by regular pool filter sand. Sand also gives beneficial bacteria surface area to grow which contributes to the tank’s filtration capacity.
- Gravel/pebbles – $4 for 5 lb
Avoid gravel with sharp edges.
- Aquarium rocks and stones – $15 to $50 per piece
Plenty of rocks should be used in the tank to create crevices and caves for the Pleco to hide. Use inert stones that won’t leech minerals into your water.
Dragon stone, Sansui stone, and Manten stones are some popular choices. The cost varies greatly between pieces of stone.
- Driftwood – $5 to $50 (optional)
Zebra Plecos, unlike other Plecostomus, don’t usually chew on driftwood. However, adding some doesn’t hurt and will benefit the tank aesthetics.
Zebra Plecos like to hide in driftwood along the tank bottom. They will also nibble on algae or live plants but prefer to hide in them.
- Live aquarium plants – $5 to $20 (optional)
Plants aren’t required for Zebra Plecos as they come from areas with little vegetation. Also, since they prefer higher temperature water, not all aquarium plants can be used in their tanks.
With that said, plants are never a bad idea for an aquarium as they grow by absorbing the ammonia and nitrite in water which helps keep the water clean.
Ongoing Zebra Pleco Costs
These are the most common ongoing Zebra Pleco costs associated with keeping and/or breeding these in-demand dwarf catfish:
Zebra Plecos have a diet that’s different than other suckermouth fishes. They are omnivores that prefer a meaty diet supplemented by some veggies. Since they are bottom feeders, make sure whatever food you are trying to give them will sink.
- Repashy Gel Food Premixed Powder – $10 for 3-oz.
Repashy Gel Food comes in powder form. To make it into a gel, just add water and let sit.
This gel food is packed full of nutrients specially formulated for bottom feeders. Its 45% crude protein content might be a little low for Zebra Plecos specifically, but you can further customize the mix by adding in frozen bloodworms, tubifex worms, flakes, or even pallets when making the gel.
- High-quality omnivore sinking flake/pallet – $10 for 3-oz.
High-quality flake and pallets are great for these tiny plecos.
- Frozen food – $3 to $6 for 8-oz.
Zebra Plecos will happily eat frozen bloodworms, brine, tubifex, etc. Meaty foods should be their primary diet.
- Fresh veggies – $1
One of the best veggies to feed Zebra Plecos is zucchini. Some keepers slightly blanch zucchini slices to soften them up. Peas with skin removed are great too. Remove all uneaten food after 2-3 hours.
- Algae wafers or algae-based flake/pallet – $17 per 8.8-oz. pack
Some keepers did not have much luck feeding Zebra Plecos algae-based foods. In fact, Zebra Plecos aren’t known to be great algae eaters in the wild. The plant portion of their diet should be supplied via omnivore flakes/pallets and fresh veggies.
Even once established in the proper tank environment, experienced aquarists say the Zebra Pleco fish can sometimes contract bacterial or fungal infections. Parasites can also attack fish.
Expect to pay between $20 and $80 per exam for aquatic veterinary care.