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The royal plec, royal pleco, or royal panaque, Panaque nigrolineatus, is a herbivorous freshwater catfish from South America known for being one of the few fish that digest wood. It is the type species of its genus and a member of the Loricariidae. In its native habitat this fish is eaten as food. This fish is also a popular aquarium fish.
The royal plec is closely related to the popular plecostomus catfish kept in many aquaria as an algae eater. While the royal plec also eats algae, it is best known among biologists as being among the very few fish capable of eating and digesting wood. It does so using symbiotic gut bacteria. Royal plecs are light grey in colour patterned with dark grey squiggles. They have red eyes and the dorsal fins are edged with cream or gold. The body is encased in heavy armour, except for the belly, which is soft. This armour is made of strong plates of skin, not scales. Royal plecs can grow to 43 centimetres (17 in) in length. Because they are heavy and inflexible, they do not swim well, but they do have a strong sucker-like mouth that enables them to hold onto rocks and wood in fast flowing waters.
The royal plec can be found in the Orinoco River as well as a number of tributaries of the Amazon River.
There are several undescribed varieties of Panaque that are very similar to Panaque nigrolineatus and are commonly traded as aquarium fish . These may be regional variations, subspecies, or closely related species. All share the same basic colouration but vary in the shape and distribution of the stripes and the amount of cream or gold on the fins. These varieties are:
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