Catfish of the Month Right November 1997

Hypancistrus zebra
L046, L098, Zebra Pleco, Blåfinnet Zebrasugemalle (Denmark), Imperial Pleco, Zebra-sugemalle (Denmark), Zebrawels (Germany) - Hypancistrus zebra   Isbrücker & Nijssen, 1991

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded November 01, 1997.

Zebra Plecos - if the internet has adopted a catfish, then it is this fish. So much is written online about this enigmatic catfish that it is hard to assimilate accurately. Going back in time, when this fish appeared I couldn't believe that a Loricariid could exist with such a striking appearance. I also couldn't believe the £200 price tag for the first one sold in Scotland (as an "Imperial Peckoltia"). The Imperial common name presisted for a while in the far east, but is not now commonly used since the fish was assigned its scientific name by Isbrücker & Nijssen.

Eventually the price came down and I ran out of excuses not to buy one. I built this up over time to a trio and I still stare in disbelief at these most magnificent catfish whenever I see them. If it were not for their obvious heritage, I would swear I was looking at the kind of striking fish you would see in a marine reef tank. Once settled, Zebras are erratically active during the day and will come out on brief excursions from their chosen refuge if settled. They are not algae eaters, may munch the occasional cucumber slice or lettuce leaf but much prefer sinking tablets or their favourite: bloodworms.

It's not only the internet which has been "taken over" by the zebra pleco, for a relatively new species there is plenty of printed matter to read up on too. Check out these resources:

  • References:
  • Aqualog "Loricariidae all L-Numbers" Verlag ACS Gmbh (1995)
  • Forshey J. 1996, A visit to Brazil's Rio Xingu. TFH. May: 22-28.
  • Hypancistrus zebra, a new genus and species of uniquely pigmented ancistrine loricariid fish from the Rio Xingu, Brazil (Pisces:Siluriformes: Loricariidae) . Isbrücker & Nijssen 1991. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, Vol. 1 No. 4 pp.345-350.

Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.

Down Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific Name Hypancistrus zebra  Isbrücker & Nijssen, 1991
Common Names L046, Zebra Pleco
L098, Blåfinnet Zebrasugemalle (Denmark), Imperial Pleco, Zebra-sugemalle (Denmark), Zebrawels (Germany)
Type Locality About 1 hr. upstream of Altamira by speedboat, anastomoses of Rio Xingú, Pará State, Brazil.
Pronunciation hype an siss truss - zee BRA
Etymology A contraction of the Greek hypo (meaning less than) and ancistrus, an allusion to the reduced number of teeth (particularly in the lower jaw) found in this genus. zebra from the African black and white striped equine.
Article Link - Shane's World Right Reproduction Right Spawning Hypancistrus zebra
Article Link - Shane's World Right Reproduction Right All About Zebra Plecos
Article Link - Shane's World Right Catfishology Right Aquascaping for Hypancistrus zebra, Pt 1 - The Perfectionist
Article Link - Shane's World Right Catfishology Right Aquascaping for Hypancistrus zebra, Pt 2 - The Rest of Us
Down Species Information
Size 75mm or 3" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
Identification It is hard to misidentify this, the most high-profile aquarium catfish of our time, its black and white pattern is unique. Known by the l-number L046 (the common form) and L098 which is an uncommonly found wavy/broken line colour variation.
Sexing The first pectoral fin ray of the male is somewhat thicker than that of the female. Males in breeding condition further develop their spine-like ''odontodes'' on this ray. The male has a slightly broader head than the female, best observed from above.
General Remarks Discovered in late 1987 Yoshio Ogawa. A fish exporter based in Belem at the time, he was misdirected to collect fishes in the Xingu by another fish exporter because it was a blank spot on the map and out of the way. Ogawa quickly found many of the plecos that formed the backbone of what would drive the l-number boom. In those days, H. zebra could be collected by sitting on a rock and searching for them in crevices - no diving required. By the end of the decade, the secret of its location was no more and it was exported by many companies driving a new fish export economy in nearby Altamira. Isbrücker & Nijssen's 1991 description states that the species was found "About 1 hr. upstream of Altamira by speedboat, anastomoses of Rio Xingu, Pará, Brazil.". However, in keeping with much about this species early recorded history, this is incorrect. Isbrücker & Nijssen did not collect in the Xingu. The source of this information was influenced by the desire to keep the location, which had been commercially valuable information, obfuscated for as long as possible. The real locality is closer to one hour downstream by speedboat from Altamira.
Down Habitat Information
Distribution South America: Xingu River basin, Brazil.
Amazon, Lower Amazon, Xingu, Middle Xingu (click on these areas to find other species found there)
Amazon, Lower Amazon, Xingu, Lower Xingu (click on these areas to find other species found there)

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IUCN Red List Category Critically Endangered, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2018.
pH 6.0 - 7.5
Temperature 26.0-30.0°C or 78.8-86°F (Show species within this range)
Other Parameters The water chemistry of the Rio Xingú is well documented, but it is not that important as H. zebra seems to do well in just about any water provided it is high in oxygen content and warm. pH and DH do not seem to matter since the fish has been spawned in all types of water, even water that was hard and alkaline. To best replicate their natural habitat the water would be neutral to slightly acidic and soft.
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding Unlike the popular opinion of many other loricariids, H. zebra is more of a carnivore than an algae eater. This is backed up by a small and lightly toothed mouth that indicates it is a poor algae eater. Provide mainly meaty foods such as bloodworm and even brineshrimp. User data.
Furniture The Rio Xingú is full of rocks of many sizes with some fine sand between them. H. zebra is collected in deeper mid-water channels where it hides in crevices. The ideal H. zebra tank would be set up much differently than what we picture as a typical "South American" biotope. The tank should resemble a rocky riffle area in a stream with jumbles of rounded rocks and good water movement. Provide lots of small caves as the fish normally live and spawn in the caves and cracks of rocks. The rocks should be assembled in a haphazard fashion to create lots of crevices and shelves in which the fish can cram themselves. Sand is preferable, but large rounded gravel or bare-bottomed tanks are also accepted. Prefers dark rock to bogwood but I would provide some wood (many people claim that their zebras never touch the stuff) - better safe than sorry in my opinion.
Compatibility Peaceful but choose tankmates wisely as Zebras do not compete well for food with particularly fast or aggressive tankmates.
Suggested Tankmates An ideal (although expensive) addition to any community tank especially one stocked with active, but not boisterous, current-loving fish. For some reason many people ask if this species can be kept with discus or loaches, it can, but you are unlikely to get the best out of this fish in such company. Best kept in groups of 1 male and 2-3 females with active, current loving dither fish.
Breeding Raise temp. to at least 82°F and ensure the tank is well aerated and heavily filtered (A tank turnover rate of 6 times an hour is not excessive). Ensure there are many spawning caves and crevices available for the fish to select. During spawning - which takes place in several batches - the male blocks the cave entrance with his head. The female persuades the male away from guarding the cave entrance to fertilize the eggs. Once this is complete the male will often have to push the female out of the cave before he can resume his parental guarding. It is quite common that the first spawn will be more of a ''trial run'' and the eggs will remain infertile. There are typically between seven and 15 eggs laid. They take around 7 days to hatch, after 10 the yolk sac should be completely consumed and feeding begins. They immediately take dried foods and frozen or live brine shrimp nauplii. They will take about 2.5 months to reach 1'' in length. After this point, they should grow to 2" in 6 months and will breed again within the year if raised in an environment focused on them - high water quality a near-constant food supply.
Breeding Reports There are 53 breeding reports, read them all here.
Down Further Information
Reference Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters v. 1 (no. 4), pp 348, Figs. 1-2.
Registered Keepers There are 592 registered keepers, view all "my cats" data.
Wishlists Love this species? Click the heart to add it to your wish list.
There are 55 wishes to keep this species, see who wants what.
Spotters Spotted this species somewhere? Click the binoculars!
There are 147 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
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Last Update 2022 Dec 16 10:52 (species record created: 1997 Nov 01 11:22)

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