Author: Darren Stevens
First published in Aquarium World February 2009
The delightful wood-eating Panaques are named after the Venezuelan name for plecostomus. Most Panaques are relatively small, growing from 10 to 13 cm. However there are a few notable exceptions, including the royal pleco which grows to about 40 cm and the titanic pleco (Panaque schaeferi, L203) which grows to at least 70 cm. The large species are known as canoe eaters in their home waters because of their occasional habit of chewing holes in wooden canoes.
There has been some debate over the naming of the smaller species. In 2003 the German aquarist magazine DATZ, proposed the scientific name Panaqolus to group the small species. Initially this new grouping was not widely adopted, however it now seems to have gained scientific acceptance. Currently there are 7 scientifically described Panaque species and 9 Panaqolus species and many more awaiting a scientific name. Both groupings are thought to be closely related to Peckoltia (e.g. candy striped pleco, Peckoltia vittata, L015) and Scobinancistrus (e.g. goldie pleco, Scobinancistrus aureatus, L014).
Panaque and Panaqolus species are widespread in South America and are found in the Amazon, Orinoco, and Magdalena river systems, the Essequibo drainage, and the Maracaibo basin. These waterways are relatively fast flowing, particularly during the rainy season. Plecos, including Panaques and Panaqolus species, are often found in the shallows among tree roots and log piles up against the riverbanks.
Panaques and Panaqolus species both feed mostly on wood and algae in the wild. They are highly specialised feeders and along with a few other plecos are the only known fish that are able to consume and digest wood. They have unique spoon-shaped teeth to chisel wood (and to scrape algae), specialised gut bacteria to enable them to digest it, and a very long intestine to aid digestion (about 8 times the length of the fish). So it is not surprising that wood is regarded as essential part of their diet.
Panaqolus species are relatively hardy, undemanding, and generally peaceful, although adult males are territorial and do squabble. Given their small adult size they are suitable for community tanks, but they do need plenty of cover, in particular bogwood. They like feeding on plants and as such are not always suitable for heavily planted tanks. Panaques grow a lot larger and need plenty of space and can be difficult to keep together. If you are thinking of keeping a few Panaqolus or one of the larger Panaques you will need good filtration and regular water changes as their fondness for devouring wood means they deposit a lot of “top soil”. They also appreciate good water flow and high dissolved oxygen levels.
Along with bogwood (ideally provide both soft and hardwoods), feed your Panagolus and Panaques on pleco algae wafers (there a few brands), and a variety of veggies. Most people feed them on courgettes and cucumber, but also try other veggies such as peas, silverbeet, spinach, yams, kumara, etc. Sometimes they take a while to get used to a new veggie so try them on it a few times before giving up. Meaty foods such as shrimp, bloodworms, etc. should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities. A protein rich diet may result in the early death of your pleco.
Panaqolus and in particular Panaques are difficult to breed. Several species of Panaqolus have been breed in captivity, and there are excellent articles on how to attempt this on Planet Catfish (www.planetcatfish.com). Panaques are very rarely bred, although there occasionally accounts of royal plecos having being bred.
As with many plecos, juvenile Panaqolus and Panaques generally have brighter coloration and more strongly marked patterning than adults. In many Panaqolus species, the outermost rays of the tail fin lengthen in larger fish to become whip-like extensions.
The following are some of the more commonly available Panaqolus species suitable for relatively small aquaria followed by a large spectacular Panaque species –the Royal pleco.
Clown pleco (Panaqolus maccus, L104, L162, LDA22)
The clown pleco is a small (to 9 cm standard length or SL – tip of snout to the base of the tail fin) light brown to dark brown fish with white to orange stripes. Colour varies depending on the fishes age and the area from which it was caught. They originate from the Rio (river) Orinoco drainage in Venezuela and Colombia. Clown plecos are the most affordable and commonly available Panaqolus, selling for around $30 to $50 each. They have been imported several times often under the name ‘pretty Peckoltia’. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 6.0–8.0 and temperatures of 25–30. Clown plecos are regarded as the easiest Panaqolus to breed, and have been bred several times in New Zealand.
Iquitos tiger pleco (Panaqolus changae, L226, LDA26)
The Iquitos tiger pleco is a small (to 10 cm SL) light grey to tan pleco with fine dark grey bands. They originate from the Rios Itaya, Momon, Nanau, and Loretto in eastern Peru. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 5.0–7.0 and temperatures of 25–29oC. This species has been bred a few times in New Zealand (see FNZAS website).
Flash pleco (Panaqolus albivermis, L204)
Flash plecos or Peru striped Panaques are a beautiful little (to 13 cm SL) dark brown pleco covered with thin white to yellowish stripes. They were first introduced into the hobby in 1996 but have only recently been given a scientific name. They originate from the Rio Alejandro on the Andean slopes of Peru. Flash plecos are a very adaptable species and will do well in most community tanks with pH’s of 6.0–8.0 and temperatures of 25–30oC. They have been breed occasionally overseas.
‘Tiger pleco’ (Panaqolus species)
There a number of very similar small (to 10 cm SL) light orange to light brown plecos with brown stripes, which may comprise a number of species or a few variable ones. The name tiger pleco is generally used for Panaqolus species L002, apparently the most commonly available ‘tiger pleco’ in the hobby. In New Zealand ‘tiger plecos’ have been sold under several names and L-numbers, and it is not known which forms we have here. L002 originates from the Rio Tocantins in Brazil. They are suited to most community tanks with pH’s of 5.5–7.5 and temperatures of 25–29oC. Tiger plecos have been bred several times in New Zealand and as a result they are often reasonably priced.
Royal pleco (Panaque nigrolineatus, L190)
The royal pleco is a great option for those with a large tank who want a stunning display fish. They are a large (to about 40 cm SL) light grey pleco covered with dark grey squiggles. Royal plecos are found over a wide area from Colombia and Venezuela to the southern Amazon. There are a number of similar varieties (L027 forms, L191, and L330) throughout their range, which may represent different species. Recently one of these varieties, the goldline royal (Panaque sp. L027 Tapajos) from the Rio Tapajos was scientifically described as a new species, Panaque armbrusteri. Royal plecos are generally peaceful and do well in tanks with pH’s of 6.5–7.5 and temperatures of 24–30oC. However large specimens are territorial and can be aggressive towards other royals. They can also be fussy eaters. Royal plecos have been bred occasionally overseas but with such large fish tank size becomes a major limiting factor. All Brazilian royal plecos are now banned from export by IBAMA, Brazils environmental protection agency.
There are other species that are occasionally imported, including the titanic pleco, Panaque schaeferi, L203 (imported as the papa Panaque, Panaque bathyphilus, L090), and the mustard spot pleco (Panaqolus albomaculatus, LDA31).
Another Panaque that is worth mentioning is the blue-eyed pleco, Panaque cochliodon, a dark grey to black pleco with electric blue eyes. It comes from the Rio Magdalena in Colombia but unfortunately due to conflict in the area, it has not been available for many years. Small numbers have recently been exported but at up to US$2000 each it is unlikely to reach our shores anytime soon. And finally the bluefin Panaque (L239) resembles a Panaque but is a species of Baryancistrus (B. beggini) and is related to the gold nugget plecos.
I would like to thank Firenzenz and Krazy Geoff for their comments and improvements on earlier versions of this article.
Planet Catfish http://www.planetcatfish.com
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