Catfish, Sailfin Suckermouth

Pterygoplichthys ap.

Adult length: 7.87 in. (20 cm); appearance: a large dorsal fin with more than nine rays, prominent nasal flares and a prominent hump or crest anterior to the dorsal fin as well as a substantial base to the dorsal fin; coloration: pattern consists of primarily irregular largish brown spots on a yellowish background giving a honeycombed like appearance.








South America: Amazon and Orinoco river systems


Freshwater shoals in sluggish rivers and flooded land areas during the wet season

Life Expectancy

In excess of 20 years

Sexual Maturity



In the wild, they eat primarily plants and occasionally dead animals; in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available sinking pelleted fish food and algae wafers.


Not Listed


Nocturnal, sailfin suckermouth catfish shy away from bright light, appreciating some sort of cover to hide under throughout the day. These fish are noted for the bony plates covering their bodies and their sucker mouths. Air-breathing is well known among many Loricariids. Pterygoplichthys are known for being kept out of water and sold alive in fish markets, surviving up to 30 hours out of water. Loricariids are facultative air breathers; they will only breathe air if under stress and will only use their gills in situations when oxygen levels are high. During the dry season when there is little food in their stomachs, sailfin suckermouth catfish will use their air breathing abilities while aestivating in burrows about 1 m long dug into mud banks along the length of a river. It is almost impossible to recognize male from female. Sometimes we can recognize males in a group, because later they become more territorial. Loricariids, in general, exhibit a wide range of reproductive strategies, including cavity spawning, attaching eggs on the underside of rocks, and egg-carrying. Parental care is usually well-developed, and the male guards the eggs and sometimes the larvae. The eggs hatch between 4 and 20 days, depending on the species. A tough fish, the sailfin suckermouth catfish can live with semi-aggressive and moderately aggressive tank mates. Due to its tall dorsal fin, it is best not to keep it with very aggressive fin-nippers.


One of the most obvious characteristics of the Loricariids is the suckermouth. The modified mouth and lips allow the fish to feed, breathe, and attach to the substrate through suction. To achieve suction, the fish pressed its lips against the substrate and inflates its mouth, causing negative pressure. It was once believed that lips could not function as a sucker while respiration continued as the inflowing water would cause the system to fail; however, it has been demonstrated that respiration and suction can function simultaneously. Inflowing water passing under the sucker is limited to a thin stream immediately behind each maxillary barbel.

Special Interests

The species name comes from the Latin gibbus, meaning “hump”, and the Greek cep, meaning “head”, a reference to the centrally located ridge. Common names include gibbys, leopard sailfin catfish and clown plecs. Ancistrus gibbiceps and Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps are synonyms of P. gibbiceps. The name “Plecostomus” and its shortened forms (plec and pleco) have become synonymous with the Loricariidae in general, since Plecostomus plecostomus (now called Hypostomus plecostomus) was one of the first species imported into the fish keeping hobby. This can cause some confusion as some unrelated fish may also be called plecostomus. Some types of Loricariids are often referred to by their ‘L-number’; this has become common since imports from South America often included specimens that had not been taxonomically described. Currently L-numbers are used not only by fish keeping enthusiasts but by biologists since they represent a useful stopgap until a new species of fish is given a full taxonomic name. It should be noted that in some cases two different L-numbered catfish have turned out to be different populations of the same species, while in other cases multiple (but superficially similar) species have all been traded under a single L-number. The sailfin suckermouth catfish does best in soft, slightly acidic to neutral water (pH 6.0-7.0) that is heavily oxygenation and features underwater currents. It is known to be extremely hardy and adaptable. A powerful filter system is recommended, as this fish produces a lot of waste. Loricariidae is the largest family of catfish (Order Siluriformes), with almost 700 species and new species being described each year. Loricariids originate from fresh water habitats of Costa Rica, Panama, and tropical and subtropical South America.



Jacksonville Zoo History

Although we may have had some earlier, our first record of arrival here is 2004.