Hypancistrus zebra (L46)

Hypancistrus zebra (L46)

PDF | Print | E-mail




Scientific Name or classification 

Hypancistrus zebra . Related L numbers: L98 (wavy zebra), L173 (broken line zebra). The fish indicated as L236 looks also extremely similar to the L46, though it is not officially recognised as a hypancistrus zebra.


Common Name

L46, Zebra pleco, Zeb (Zebbie - abbreviations), Zebra peckoltia, Imperial pleco.



Type Locality

Rio Xingu, est. Para, Brazil.


Loricariidae: from the Latin lorica (= corselet, alluring to the armoured thoracic area of the fish); Hypancistrus: from the Greek hypo (= less than) + ancistrus (from the Greek angistron meaning hook). The genus Hypancistrus was named by comparison to the genus Ancistrus; the name allured to the fact that individuals in the genus Hypancistrus they have less teeth than those in the genus Ancistrus (see Isaac J. H. Insbrucker and Han Nijssen, Hypancistrus Zebra). The description zebra refers to the pigmentation of the fish, resembling to the black and white striped African horse.  


Species Information

Size (TL or SL in cm)

 10-12 cm TL.


"Hypancistrus is distinguished from all other genera of the tribe Ancistrini by the combination of the following characters: (1) snout margin completely covered with dermal ossifications; (2) presence of an anal and an adipose fin; (3) absence of filiform teeth; premaxillary teeth (8-16 in number) considerably smaller than mandibullary teeth (4-7); (4) possession of six branched dorsal fin rays, the last one split to its base; (5) a depressed body; (6) absence of a membraneous extension posterior to the last dorsal fin ray, reaching to adipose fin spine; (7) no very wide head; (8) no extremely long evertible interopercular odontodes." (Isaac J. H. Insbrucker and Han Nijssen, Hypancistrus Zebra). Hypancistrus zebra has a characteristic black and white striped pattern.


Clear sexual dimorphism is best observed in adult fish. When looked from above, adult males have a broader head than the females while their first pectoral fin ray is thicker and when in breeding condition it is adorned with spine-like ''odontodes''. If the underbelly is examined, males show a clear V shape in the genital area while females a clear U shape.



Natural distribution 

Rio Xingu, Brazil.


The fish are reported to prefer slightly acidic and soft water, which is simulating the conditions in their natural habitat. This is usually ranging from 6 - 7,5. We have kept the fish successfully in pH 7.9 while there has been  a considerable number of reports of them spawning in pH up to 8,5. 


26° C - 32° C.   

Other parameters 

Avoid intense lightning. Good filtration and excellent oxygenation is a must. As opposed to popular opinion, the fish do extremely well in medium hard water. 




Hypancistrus zebra is not a fussy eater. It has a clear preference for meaty foods and will readily eat prepared foods (my wild caught fish were eating it within a week).  A good staple diet, including some vegetable matter occasionally, enriched with frozen food is highly recommended.



Popular opinion has it that this fish doesn't compete well for food and is rather shy. My experience with them has been different. I have kept zebras for 3 years with large and aggressive Loricariids (such as L25s, L24s, L160s etc) and they have done extremely well. Wise aquascaping is the trick; the fish will co-exist with others provided they have a safe hiding place to retreat to, should they need to do so.

Suggested Tankmates

Peaceful, current loving dither fish is the obvious choice. If you are planning to breed the zebras, consider the size of the tank mates. Small dither fish have a tendency to get in the caves - and in the way. If you are thinking of larger fish, make sure they won't hurt the wigglers once they are out of the caves.


Rocks, slate and wood are all well accepted. The fish are not bothered about plants, though I found that they do enjoy the shade these provide and thus they are more often seen in the tank than if exposed to direct light. Make sure there are plenty of caves, cracks and crevices for the adults and the youngsters to hide in. Avoid sharp edges (you can sand the rocks down, if need be) so that the fish won't get hurt.

A word of caution: do not tie plants onto pieces of wood or rock with string or fishing line in the tank. Your fish are more likely than not to be caught in the line and hurt themselves, sometimes seriously. 

Recommended Tank Size

Zebras don't grow big, so a 100 lit tank would be great for about 6-8 individuals. As with all bottom dwellers it should be remembered that these fish need floor space. It makes absolutely no sense to put them in a tank the total water volume of which is due to height rather than width and length. Make sure there is enough space between the caves of the males so as to avoid territorial disputes (wood or rock always come in handy to separate different territories).

Behaviour in Captivity 

The fish are territorial with conspecifics but will do well provided they all have suitable hiding places. They are not a difficult fish to keep; reports on their alleged sensitivity are exaggerated, in my opinion, due to the high prices they command. Better left alone, they will do well in an environment they are not often disturbed. On the main they prefer to hide; I get worried when I see mine in the open as this is a sign something is extremely wrong. For hobbyists who prefer to see their fish out in the open, zebras are not the best choice.

Other remarks 

Zebras are slow growers, particularly when kept in soft water. Medium hard water ensures maximum growth, in my experience. When healthy and happy, the fish have a blue tinge on their fins, which is more clearly seen on the dorsal fin. When annoyed they turn their white stripes to pink/red while the colour of the black stripes will fade considerably.

The Brazilian government have banned the export of Hypancistrus zebra in January 2006. 




Cave spawners. For a breeding report see Keeping and Breeding Hypancistrus zebra.


Enter Hypancistrus zebra Gallery