Snowball Pleco (The Polka Dot Fish)

Species Snapshot

  • Species Name: Hypancistrus inspector

  • Common Names: Snowball Pleco,

  • Size: Up to 6.3 inches

  • Lifespan: 8-10 years

  • Native Distribution: Venezuela

Native to the Rio Negro in Venezuela, Hypancistrus inspector – also known as the Snowball Pleco – is a species of armored catfish belonging to the family Loricariidae. Only growing up to 6.3 inches in length, this is one of the smaller pleco species. These fish don’t require monster tanks, though a minimum of 40 gallons is still recommended.

Snowball Plecos make wonderful additions to the freshwater community tank, serving as scavengers that help consume algae, uneaten fish food, and other detritus in the tank. Here’s what you need to know about these beautiful fish and how to care for them.

Snowball Pleco fish.

Anatomy and Appearance

Sometimes called the polka dot fish, the Snowball Pleco exhibits the standard Plecostomus or pleco appearance. They have torpedo-shaped bodies with flat bellies and suckermouths. This species also has the whisker-like barbels you’d expect to see in a pleco.

The Snowball Pleco’s coloration is distinct from the common pleco. Rather than shades of brown, this catfish has a black and gray base coloration interspersed with white and light yellow dots. The spots appear on the body as well as the fins.

There are a few anatomical differences between male and female Snowball Plecos. Females typically exhibit a more rounded body shape and males have a reddish hue to their color. Both males and females have external teeth called odontodes which are held in cheek plates on either side of the head. In males, the odontodes are more prominent.

Ideal Aquarium Setup

Like many plecos, the Snowball Pleco is a nocturnal species. They prefer planted tanks with plenty of places for them to hide during the day. It’s important to provide caves and other hiding places for this species to claim as their territory. If you plan to keep more than one Snowball Pleco, you’ll need a large enough tank for each to claim their own territory – especially if you have multiple males.

Aside from their needs for space and hiding places, Snowball Plecos are adaptable to different environments. If you want to create an authentic habitat for your fish, however, keep in mind that their native habitat is blackwater – the water is soft, acidic, and stained brown with decaying plant matter.

Tank Size

Because they only grow up to 6 inches in length, Snowball Plecos don’t need as large a tank as other armored catfish. A minimum of 40 gallons is recommended, though a larger tank is required if you stock it with other fish. This species tends to live longer when kept in larger tanks.

Water Parameters

Native to the Amazon River basin, Snowball Plecos prefer warm water between 72°F and 86°F. These fish can thrive in neutral to very slightly alkaline pH, but they prefer more acidic water. Their ideal pH range is between 5.0 and 7.6. They also prefer softer water from 6 to 10 dKH.

Though Snowball Plecos can adapt to more typical tropical tank parameters, they do require a significant amount of water circulation. A strong filter will help create flow and boost oxygen levels, though you might also consider a circulation pump to help mimic their natural river habitat. Adequate filtration will also help keep the water quality high. Biological filtration is particularly important to keep ammonia and nitrate levels in check.

Tank Décor

Snowball Plecos are most likely to thrive in planted tanks decorated with caves and driftwood. Soft substrate like sand is recommended to avoid injury to their delicate underbellies. Use driftwood and rocks to create various cave-like hiding spots large enough for your pleco to hide in during the day.

When adding driftwood to your tank, consider not soaking it beforehand. Soaking driftwood helps remove some of the tannins that stain the water. Because Snowball Plecos are native to blackwater habitats, they may appreciate the tea-like color of tannin-stained water.

Diet and Feeding

Like other plecos, Snowball Plecos are omnivores. In their natural habitat, they feed on a insects, small crustaceans, algae, decaying plant matter, and other detritus. While these fish will feed on algae, biofilm, and detritus in your tank, you’ll need to supplement their diet with protein-rich and plant-based foods. Sinking pellets and algae wafers work well.

Temperament and Tank Mates

The Snowball Pleco’s temperament is similar to that of other armored catfish. They’re generally compatible with community fish species, though they can become territorial as they mature. It’s best to keep a single Snowball Pleco to avoid territorial disputes.

Suitable tankmates for Hypancistrus inspector include other Amazon River species and community fish including Corydoras, tetras, discus, and danios. They may also do well with small to medium-sized gouramis, livebearers, and barbs as long as these fish are compatible with the Snowball Pleco’s tank parameter requirements.

Breeding Snowball Plecos

Though relatively easy to care for, Snowball Plecos can be difficult to breed. It’s particularly important to recreate the species’ natural habitat if you want to encourage breeding. Be sure to provide large caves with flat surfaces inside where the females can lay their eggs. It’s also important to maintain pristine water conditions for breeding.

To encourage breeding, condition your male and female Snowball Pleco with live and frozen food. You’ll know whether they have paired successfully if the female becomes noticeably swollen with eggs. Once the female lays the eggs in the cave, the male will take over guarding the eggs and fanning them with his fins. The eggs will hatch in about 7 days.

Other Interesting Facts

  • Like other armored catfish, Snowball Plecos are very sensitive to copper – it’s important to treat tap water to remove heavy metals before using it in your aquarium.

  • Snowball Plecos are not picky eaters. While they will eat algae and decaying plant material, they’ll also eat meat-based foods. But don’t worry – they won’t feed on healthy plants. You can get both the fish and the food at Shrimpy Business.

  • These fish may be more susceptible to disease than other fish and they require copper-free medications. Maintaining high water quality in your tank can help prevent disease.

  • If you don’t have access to driftwood, you can recreate the blackwater look in your tank by adding peat or tea bags to your tank’s filter. 

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