The Gold Nugget Pleco, also known as Baryancistrus xanthellus, looks like it could be swimming down the catwalk of an “under the sea” fashion show.

Thanks to its striking looks, it wheedled hobbyists into keeping suckermouth catfish in the ’90s. If you’re interested in this fish, you’ve come to the right place!

Gold Nugget Pleco Stats

Scientific Name Baryancistrus xanthellus
Family Loricariidae
Genus Baryancistrus
Species Xanthellus
Size of Fish 9 – 12 inches
Colors & Patterns Black body, golden spots
Diet Omnivore
Min. Tank Size 55 gallons
Temperature 73 to 79 F
pH 6.5 to 7.5
Hardness 5 – 15 dGH
Lifespan 5 years
Temperament
  • Calm and nocturnal
  • Males are hostile against other catfish species

Baryancistrus Xanthellus Background

The Gold Nugget Plecostomus is a member of the Loricariidae family, which falls into the genus Baryancistrus. Loricariids, also known as “armored catfish,” have suckered mouths that provide them a foothold on rocks while consuming algae.

The species was introduced in the 1980s and received official recognition in 2011, where it was given the scientific name, Baryancistrus xanthellus. The name xanthellus is derived from the Greek word “xanthe,” which means golden. This refers to the pattern of the fish that resembles little gold nuggets.

Prior to its recognition, the Gold Nugget Pleco was identified using various “L” and number suffixes. “L” stands for Loricariidae, and what follows is the number allocated to a particular type. The “L” system was developed to avoid confusion between the different types of Gold Nuggets, and it remains widely in use until now for convenience.

– How Many Varieties Are There?

There exist three varieties of the Gold Nugget Pleco being the L18 (Big Spot), L85 (Fine Spot), and L177 (Goldseam). As juveniles, the difference between these types is so subtle that even experienced fans may have trouble telling them apart. Among the three, the L18 is the most popular!

– Where Do They Come From?

The different types of Gold Nuggets are native to the rocky rapids of Rio Xingu in Brazil, particularly in its downstream sector, Volta Grande do Xingu, and an area just right above Belo Monte falls and from Rio Irir, a large tributary of Rio Xingu.

These habitats are fast-flowing and warm, around 86 F. The fish mostly dwell in the shallows even as adults because they feed on algae and biofilm growing on rocks.

– Are They Getting Extinct?

The Gold Nugget Pleco is not rare, but it does have limited distribution.

Golden Nugget Fish Appearance

Let’s face it — catfish are ugly. Many people would rather catch a cold than catch a catfish. However, the Gold Nugget Pleco will prove everyone wrong in this department.

While not quite as striking as other freshwater fish, this pleco is a beautiful exception that will enthrall its viewers nonetheless.

– How Big Does a Gold Nugget Pleco Get?

The L18 and L177 Gold Nugget Pleco size maxes out at 9 inches in length. The L85, on the other hand, can grow up to 12 inches, which makes them rather big. As with any captive species, its growth rate is influenced by the quality of the food and water conditions.

– Distinct Features

As with any armored catfish, the Gold Nugget Pleco features the standard Loricariid shape and build. Likewise, it has a vertically-oriented mouth adapted for scraping algae and microorganisms that grow on rocks. Its head angles down to the bottom for proper scavenging.

The body widens from the pectoral fins to its eyes and thins down, starting at the caudal peduncle. This species has large pectoral fins that point backward, especially when they are resting. Its asymmetrical caudal fin is slightly larger than its fan-like dorsal fin.

– Colors and Patterns

Yellow is one of the highest attention-getting colors. Pair that with black, and you get a fish that looks as though it came straight out from an ‘80s TV sitcom! All Gold Nuggets feature a dark body, which ranges from olive green to black. While they aren’t the most colorful fish, their brilliant yellow dots make them look bold and edgy.

  • L85: This is the largest Gold Nugget Pleco. Its pale yellow spots are not always perfect circles, nor are they similar in size.
  • L18: This is the most well-known Gold Nugget Pleco distinguished by its large uniform-sized gold spots.
  • L177: This is the most vibrant Gold Nugget Pleco, which features a bright yellow polka dot pattern and yellow bands on the edge of its dorsal and caudal fins.

– How Can You Tell If a Fish Is Male or Female?

It is difficult to determine the sex of your Gold Nuggets unless the fish are at their full breeding size. By then, you can distinguish males from females by looking at their foreheads.

Adult males have:

  • a flatter, broader head
  • longer pectoral fin spines

Adult females, on the other hand, have:

  • more rounded forehead
  • slightly plumper when in spawning condition

There is no distinction when it comes to the odontodal growth in either gender.

Gold Nugget Pleco Behavior and Temperament

These catfish are not as fun as they look, but their existence is worth its weight in gold! For one, these fish are “Grime Scene Investigators.”

– Decoding Gold Nugget Behavior

The Gold Nugget Pleco is a calm, nocturnal species. They hide away during the day and wait for the noise and light to dwindle. As dusk falls, the fish would come out from their hideouts and do their thing.

I’d say if these plecos were humans, they would be longboarders! They like to take a ride on a leaf and use their suckered mouths to nosh slimy algae.

Juveniles and females, in particular, are peaceful and happy on their own. On the contrary, males can become intolerant of other pleco species as they age. If you wish to keep these golden spotted fish, it is best to avoid other plecos as they will be viewed as territorial threats by the males.

– Are Gold Nuggets Aggressive?

For the most part, they aren’t. Gold Nugget fish pay little attention to their tank mates while they dilly dally in their zones. As mentioned earlier, these spotted fish are nocturnal. You won’t see much movement from them during the day while most freshwater fish are out and about.

The only time Gold Nuggets lose their cool is when they catch other species of catfish wandering into their space. If a catfish takes a wrong turn and enters Gold Nugget Pleco territory, then the gloves are off!

On a positive note, you may get away with this if you have a massive tank. Bear in mind that this can be challenging given the adult size of these plecos.

– Do Gold Nugget Plecos Clean Tanks?

Since they are aufwuch gazers, many people assume they can employ Gold Nuggets to keep their tanks squeaky clean. Sure, the fish will rasp algae, but they aren’t the best clean-up crew members. Unlike other plecostomus species, they will not consume fish waste and other debris in the tank.

Gold Nugget Pleco Tank Mates

Choosing tank buddies for your Gold Nugget Pleco is an easy feat. However, it would take forever if we enumerate all the amazing freshwater fish you can stock with Gold Nuggets! So to get you started, how about you choose from this list?

  • Goldfish
  • Celestial Pearl Danio
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • Sparkling Gourami
  • Honey Gourami
  • Pearl Gourami
  • Ember Tetra
  • Neon Tetra
  • Rummy Nose Tetra

The coolheaded plecos don’t care what other fish are up to, especially those belonging in the upper tiers. As long as they don’t cross paths with a different species of pleco, then they are fine.

– Can the Gold Nugget L18, L81, and L177 Coexist?

The males can become hostile with other plecos, but other than that, conspecific males do fine when housed together.

– Can You Combine the Gold Nugget Plecostomus With Other Catfish?

You may be able to combine Gold Nuggets with another plecostomus species if there is adequate territorial space for each group. A rectangular aquarium with more horizontal space will suit them well.

However, you might have to double the recommended tank size to prevent difficult encounters. Visual barriers are crucial, as well. Then again, it is wise just to give up the idea!

Gold Nugget Pleco Care

The Gold Nugget Plecostomus lifespan can extend over five years in captivity. But as with any species, the diet and quality of the water will make or break the health of your fish.

– Gold Nugget Pleco Diet

Aside from algae, gut analyses revealed that Gold Nuggets feed on tiny crustaceans, midges, bryozoa, and other moss animals in the wild. This species is therefore omnivorous. Another advantage is that the Gold Nugget Pleco will gladly accept anything edible, thus making it a lot easier for you to develop a feeding plan.

Their primary source of food should be fruits and vegetables. You can start with zucchini, which is the go-to vegetable of every omnivorous fish. Slice it up, blanch, and then feed them to your plecos. If your plecos live in a community aquarium, you may stuff the zucchinis with an algae wafer at the center to keep other fish from getting them first.

Gold Nuggets also need protein-rich food lest they waste away. Try live or defrosted bloodworms, tubifex worms, shrimp, and other similar food items. By and by, you can identify your fish’s favorites. Nocturnal or not, these plecos will learn the feeding schedule so they can join in the feeding frenzy.

Some aquarists also swear by homemade, gelatin-based recipes containing pureed shellfish, fruit, vegetables, and fish feed. Such a diet has been proven to work well in various ways since it offers a diversity of concentrated nutrients. You may alter the recipe at will as long as the core dietary needs of your fish are met.

– Water Parameters and Maintenance

Gold Nuggets demand pristine water as they are less tolerable of poor water conditions than their cousins. But more importantly, they need consistent water parameters. These guys don’t do well with giant swings in either the temperature, pH, or hardness of the water.

This species is considered by most aquarists to be fragile, especially when introduced to a new tank. So unless you have a mature tank, you’ll need to perform water tests every other day during the first few weeks of ownership. These are the numbers you will be aiming for:

  • Temperature: 73 to 79 F
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 5 to 15 dGH
  • Water Changes: 20 – 50 percent each week

– Health Risks

The good news is that the Gold Nugget Pleco is not as susceptible to illnesses as other fish. So far, there are no documented reports of species-specific diseases that plague Gold Nuggets. However, that doesn’t mean these plecos are invincible. Parasitic infections like Ich can be an issue if your fish are under constant stress.

Stress can be anything that threatens to upset the physiological equilibrium of your fish. Water quality, tank mates, or diet can serve as a stressor. Once your fish is stressed, it must waste energy on this stressor and leave it with little energy to deal with other threats, such as pathogens.

Take note that these plecos are wild-collected. Thus a large percentage may arrive with internal parasites. Also, the fish are extremely stressed from capture, transportation, and multiple environmental acclimations to the point that some of them might refuse to eat or lose their color.

Therefore, observe the fish thoroughly before buying. Medicate and quarantine them for at least two weeks before adding them to your main tank.

Gold Nugget Pleco Breeding

You may encounter people detailing their methods online, but the fact of the matter is that these suckermouth catfish have not been successfully bred in an aquarium environment. There are no records from authority sites to confirm such claims.

Highly advanced aquarists who have elaborate setups may try to crack the code. Still, it would be downright cruel to experiment on your fish. When it comes to home breeding, our policy here at Bad Man’s Tropical Fish is to avoid it until the authorities have provided responsible breeding guidelines.

Gold Nugget Pleco Tank Setup

A Gold Nugget Plecostomus will feel snug as a bug in a tropical community aquarium designed to resemble a flowing river with a gravel substrate and decorations galore.

– Tank Size

For a bottom-dweller that can grow between nine to 12 inches, the tank size should be at least 55 gallons. Some sources throw around numbers like 30 gallons, but we believe it’s a bad idea.

Technically, a Golden Spot Pleco may survive in such a tank since it doesn’t move that much. But if you want your fish to keep its happy yellow spots, then choose a large tank. You will maximize your pleco’s lifespan this way. Remember too that you’ll need plenty of space for plants and decorations.

– Substrate

A golden rule when keeping catfish is to always use a nice, soft substrate. The reason is that they spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank. Anything rough may lead to cuts and secondary infections.

Aim for a substrate layer of at least two inches deep to allow rooting plants to flourish. To create an illusion of depth, increase the substrate towards the back of your tank.

– Plants and Decorations

The Xingu River doesn’t really have much wood because the currents are so strong. In the wild, the fish would hide behind rocks and cracks in boulders. Don’t even think of fitting a huge rock into your aquarium; you know they don’t end up well!

That said, it would be best to furnish your tank with large driftwood branches instead. Creating slate structures is also a fantastic idea. An average amount of vegetation is likewise needed. Here’s a list of the best aquatic plants that will supply more oxygen to your aquarium:

  • Anacharis
  • Bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana)
  • Dwarf Sagittaria
  • Green Cabomba
  • Hornwort
  • Jungle Vallisneri
  • Ludwigia Repens
  • Moneywort
  • Rotala Indica

Floating plants are also a must-have to subdue lighting. These guys are not a big fan of bright tanks! Thankfully, Gold Nuggets don’t eat up plants.

I’ve seen plenty of aquariums where juveniles gather underneath the filters since there aren’t enough dark hideouts. I don’t think you’d like that, and it isn’t applicable in the long-term since these plecos can grow over a foot.

– Equipment

Think of your budget and the needs of your aquarium, such as the stocking density and water circulation, among others.

Heater: Gold Nuggets prefer warm water. So use a submersible heater so that the tank doesn’t get too cool during inclement weather. This type of filter doesn’t get exposed while doing partial water changes, and it keeps the temperature of the entire tank uniform.

Thermometer: An aquarium thermometer is never 100 percent accurate, but it is better to have one than none at all. With a thermometer, you can have an educated guess of the water temperature and make sure it is not too far off from the recommended range.

Filter: The most important consideration when getting a powered filter is to ensure it accomplishes mechanical and biological filtration.

Mechanical filtration traps large debris, while biological filtration helps break down organic wastes resulting from uneaten food, fish excrement, and other decaying materials. Unless you have a reason requiring chemical filtration, it is best avoided. Chemical filtration can remove trace elements that plants need for growth.

A hang-on-back filter might be the most convenient choice for a 55-gallon tank. But if you are planning to upgrade your aquarium, a canister filter is a better option. This unit excels in all three areas of filtration.

Test Kit: Buy an aquarium testing kit for all kinds of measurements, including dissolved oxygen.

Lighting: Make sure the aquarium lighting can diffuse an adequate amount of light to promote plant growth, but not too much that could stress out your plecos.

A planted tank equipped with a powered filter will do fine without an air pump. However, an ornamental aerator is a pretty aspect of keeping fish. If you insist on getting one, choose which would look best in your tank.

Availability

This species was first exported to Great Britain in 1981, where it was advertised as the Golden Nugget Pleco. Since these are impossible to breed at home, all of the juvenile specimens you see in pet stores are collected from the wild by natives.

Are you concerned that fishing wild-caught specimens might be cruel? This is actually beneficial for the conservation of this species, especially in a river like Rio Xingu, where the natural environment of these fish is getting destroyed not only by the infamous Belo Monte Dam but also by industrial agriculture, mining, and deforestation.

– Gold Nugget Plecos Are Expensive

While Gold Nuggets are not as expensive as fancy plecos, they still cost a pretty penny because they are impossible to breed in captivity. Expect to pay around $30 to $40 for juvenile specimens ranging between two to three inches.

Those at eight to 10 inches will run you a hundred dollars or more. Moreover, you may also have to pay extra for shipping costs if you order your fish from a specialist dealer online.

– How To Select Gold Nugget Plecos

Gold Nuggets aren’t cheap, nor are they readily available. So when you have the opportunity to buy one, you will want to make sure you buy a healthy fish. When making a purchase, be sure to look for a fish that has the following:

  • a nice full stomach
  • eyes and belly aren’t sunken
  • the pectoral and ventral fins are lying flat against the substrate

Malnutrition is a common problem among recently imported Golden Nugget fish. Since these fish have a totally different diet in their natural habitat, they tend to be unaccepting of commercial fish feed. Not to mention, these fish haven’t eaten for five to six days during transport.

So ask the shopkeeper or dealer the arrival date of the fish. These wild-caught ornamental fish will need at least a week or two to adapt to their new diet and recover from starvation. Be sure your fish are fat and healthy before you part with your cash.

Conclusion

It requires more than just beginner’s luck to keep the Gold Nugget Pleco L18, L81, and L177. So here’s a quick summary to make sure you remember the most important points:

  • The first step to keeping your plecos hale and hearty is to feed them a well-rounded diet. This omnivorous species will forage meaty food and vegetables before they feed on algae as a secondary food source.
  • Golden Nugget fish will consume algae, but their role as tank cleaners is not as effective as many other plecostomus species.
  • Gold Nuggets have no interest in their tank mates. Indifferent and nocturnal, these fish fritter the day away, hiding behind plants and decorations.
  • These nocturnal critters will appreciate an environment that has plenty of shaded areas. Gold Nuggets need places to hide during the day.
  • The bigger the Gold Nugget fish, the more expensive it is going to be to acquire one.
  • Home breeding is a risky and fruitless venture. There are no well-documented reports and guidelines for the Gold Nugget Pleco.
  • When choosing tank mates, remember that there is only one rule: never add any other species of catfish.

Although you can get Gold Nugget Pleco anytime you want, you might want to give it a little more thought first.

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