Phantoms and candy – Hemiancistrus and Peckoltia

Author: Darren Stevens
First published in Aquarium World November 2009

Hemiancistrus and Peckoltia are two similar, probably related, plecos. Although similar, Hemiancistrus species generally have spots and a uniform colour while Peckoltia generally have saddle-shaped markings on their back and stripes or spots on the head, belly, and fins.


There are about 25 scientifically described Hemiancistrus species, and many awaiting a scientific name. Hemiancistrus has unclear origins and has been used as a scientific dumping ground for plecos, i.e. if its not any other type of pleco its Hemiancistrus. Hemi means “half” in reference to Hemiancistrus species having half (or some) of the features of Ancistrus (e.g. common bristlenose, Ancistrus cf. cirrhosus). They are generally found in flowing water in medium to large rivers in the Guyanas (French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname), and the Rio (river) Negro, Rio Orinoco, and southern Amazonian tributaries. Hemiancistrus appreciate good water flow, plenty of aeration, and plenty of cover, in particular rocks. Feeding habits vary but most species are largely vegetarian. Green and blue phantom plecos are specialised aufwuchs feeders (see Gold nuggets & Snowflakes article) and should be fed on a largely vegetarian diet (algae wafers, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, etc.) with only very small quantities of meaty foods (blood worms, shrimps, shrimp pellets, tubifex, etc).

Green phantom pleco (Hemiancistrus subviridis, L200)

Green phantom plecos are actually two similar looking species: Hemiancistrus subviridis and Baryancistrus demantoides. Both are olive with white to golden-yellow spots and originate from the upper Rio Orinoco and lower Rio Venturi in southern Venezuela. If there is a gap between the dorsal (top) fin and the adipose fin (the small knob-like fin in front of the tail) its H. subviridis. If the dorsal fin is connected to the adipose fin it’s a hi-fin green phantom pleco, B. demantoides. Most green phantom plecos imported into New Zealand have been H. subviridis, however more recently a few high-fins have been imported. H. subviridis is a medium sized pleco (to 19 cm standard length, SL) suited to medium to large tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.8 and temperatures of 22–25oC. This species has been bred occasionally overseas.

Blue phantom pleco (Hemiancistrus species L128)

Blue phantom plecos are a greenish-blue, medium sized pleco (to 18 cm SL) with bluish white spots. This L-number may be a darker, northern form of the green phantom pleco, Hemiancistrus subviridis. They originate from the Rio Orinoco in Venezuela, and are suited to medium to large tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.0 and temperatures of 22–25°C. Blue phantom plecos have been bred occasionally overseas.


There are about 14 scientifically described Peckoltia species, and many awaiting a scientific name. Peckoltia was named after Gustavo Peckolt of the Natural History Commission of Rondon. These plecos are less commonly available than the similar looking smaller Panaques (Panaqolus species) with which they are often confused. They also look similar to some Hypancistrus but can be separated from them by their teeth. Peckoltia have brush-shaped teeth while Panaques have spoon-shaped teeth. Both groups have similar sized teeth on the upper and lower jaws, while Hypancistrus have fewer and much larger teeth on the lower jaw.

Peckoltia are generally found in shallow rocky rifles or in quieter water amongst submerged branches and in log cavities in the Orinoco, Essequibo, and Amazon River systems. They are omnivores with an affinity for meaty foods. Feed them on pleco algal wafers, veggies such as courgettes and peas, shrimp pellets, and meaty foods such as bloodworms, mysis shrimps, and brine shrimp. They are not good algae eaters and will generally not graze on aquarium plants.

These plecos are generally small and peaceful, although mature males are territorial and may squabble. They are ideally suited to most community tanks if plenty of cover is provided. They do not need good water flow, but do appreciate lots of aeration. Peckoltia are cave spawners and a few species have been bred overseas. Although relatively rare in New Zealand a few Peckoltia species have been imported including:

Spotted Peckoltia (Peckoltia brevis, L205, LDA78)

The spotted Peckoltia is a small (to 12 cm SL) tan pleco with fine brown spots on the head and belly, brown bands on the fins and tail, and irregular brown bands and spots on the body. They originate from the Purus River Basin in Peru and Brazil. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 5.8–7.8 and temperatures of 22–26°C. This species has been bred overseas.

‘Big band tiger pleco’ (Peckoltia species)

The ‘big band tiger pleco’ is a small (to about 14 cm SL) yellowish pleco with black stripes. These plecos were sold as ‘big band tiger plecos’ although this is not a recognised name. There is also some uncertainty over their L-number. They were imported as L288, but apparently other Peckoltia species are also exported under that L-number been including L140 and `Rio Tocantins`. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of about 5–7 and temperatures of 25–29°C. This species has recently been bred in New Zealand.

Big spot pleco (Peckoltia (Hemiancistrus) sabaji, L075, L124, L301, LDA02)

Big spot plecos or Para are a yellow to beige medium sized pleco (to 25 cm SL) with black spots. This pleco was originally placed in Peckoltia, although some researchers now place it in Hemiancistrus (others in Ancistomus – although this new grouping has not been widely adopted). Para plecos are relatively peaceful and are suited to larger tanks with pH’s of 6.0–7.6 and temperatures of 24–26°C. This species has been bred overseas.

There are other Peckoltia that have been imported including an unidentified species recently imported under the name of leopard frog pleco. Leopard frog plecos, Peckoltia compta (L134) are a different Peckoltia species. The candy striped pleco or common Peckoltia, Peckoltia vittata, (L015) has reportedly also been imported into New Zealand, although recent imports have proved to be other species.

I would like to thank Firenzenz and Krazy Geoff for their comments and improvements on earlier versions of this article. Thanks to the Pet Centre, Lower Hutt, for allowing me to photograph their ‘big band tiger pleco’.

Planet catfish
Jonathan Armbrusters Loricariidae website index.html
Seidel, I. (2008). Back to nature guide to L-Catfishes. Fohrman Aquaristik AB, Sweden. 208 p.
Armbruster, J. W. (2008). The genus Peckoltia with the description of two new species and a reanalysis of the phylogeny of the genera of the Hypostominae (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Zootaxa 1822: 1–76.
Werneke, D.C.; Sabaj, M.H.; Lujan, N.K; and Armbruster, J.W. (2005): Baryancistrus demantoides and Hemiancistrus subviridis, two new uniquely colored species of catfishes from Venezuela (Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Neotropical Ichthyology 3(4): 533–542.

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