Bristlenose Pleco: Complete Guide To Care, Breeding, Tank Size And Disease

Bristlenose Pleco Overview

The bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus Cirrhosus), is a freshwater fish that also goes by the name bristlenose catfish, bushy nose pleco, or simply, pleco fish. They look quite unique and due to this has become very popular in the aquarium trade. In their native environment, the bristlenose pleco is used to warmer, fast-flowing waters. They are often found in the Amazon river basin or in other parts of South America.

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They are quite small relative to their other catfish cousins, which makes them much easier to keep (especially if you lack space). Another wonderful feature about bristlenose plecos is they are tank cleaners. Yes, they do most of the heavy work when it comes to maintaining your tank (but more on that later).

This species is a great choice for beginners and is popular in the aquarium hobby because they are also easy to keep. To determine if the bristlenose pleco is the right fish to add to your aquarium, read through our guide to find out.

Information ChartBristlenose Pleco
Scientific Name: Ancistrus Cirrhosus
Family: Loricariidae
Care Level: Easy to Intermediate
Temperament: Peaceful
Color: Grey, brown, black, and albino
Lifespan: 5 years
Size: 3 to 5 inches
Diet: Herbivore
Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallon
Temperature: 73 to 81 F (23 to 27 C)
Water Conditions: pH: 5.8 to 7.8, hardness: 2 to 30 dGH
Tank Mate Compatibility: Peaceful, suitable for a large community tank

Bristlenose Pleco Appearance

There are many types of bristlenose plecos, but they all share the “bushy nose” or the “feelers/whiskers” you see sprouting from their noses. However, they aren’t born with them, with the tentacles appearing at about 6 months of age.

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An easy way of sexing the pleco species is by looking at these feelers. They are much more prominent among male plecos and grow to be longer. The species also possesses downward-facing mouths to make it easier for them to graze along the riverbed or bottom of the tank.

As mentioned, they possess bony armor that protects them from predators in the wild since they are of a smaller size compared to other plecos.

Types of Bristlenose Peco

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

First on our list is also the most popular aquarium trade. The albino bristlenose pleco is very different from other plecos because it is lighter. Instead of the usual black, brown, grey, or green, they are light yellow or pink. This makes them very unique and beautiful indeed.

Calico Bristlenose Pleco

Calico itself is a specific color among animals, especially cats. It usually consists of mainly orange and black, which is what the calico bristlenose looks like. Aquarists love this variation because it is the definition of a catfish.

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco

The Starlight Bristlenose lives up to its name with the unique color splatter it features all over its body. Like the universe we live in, the starlight bristlenose pleco fish is a solid black with white dots all over. It also displays a white stripe on its caudal and dorsal fins.

Super Red Bristlenose Pleco

As you can guess, the super red bristlenose pleco is a bright orangey-red, and they can be the envy of every other fish in the tank. You can also imagine how eye-catching their coloration is among less vivid fish.

Longfin Bristlenose Pleco

These fish are given quite literal names, and the longfin bristlenose plecos all feature long and flowing fins. They billow out while they swim and have a very elegant feel to them.

Lifespan of Bristlenose Peco

If cared for properly with the recommended tank conditions, your bristlenose pleco lives for over 5 years in captivity, with the oldest recorded being about 12 years old!

Bristlenose Peco Size

How big do bristlenose plecos get? They only grow to about 5 inches maximum in their adult size. How fast do Bristlenose Plecos grow? It takes them quite a while to reach their full size of 5 inches, with most of them needing around 2 years. What is the smallest pleco? The smallest pleco is the White Spotted Dwarf Hypancistrus Pleco, which grows only to about 2.5 inches maximum in its adult size.

Bristlenose Pleco Natural Habitat and Origin

They are often found in the fast-flowing waters of the Amazon river basin or in other parts of South America.  They are also widely found in some parts of Central America like Panama. 

These small river basins have numerous hiding places and shelters at the bottom of the river bed to help them as bottom feeders. Their nocturnal nature will make them spend the entire day in a dark, comfortable cave. Low and indirect sunlight is the best for them as they will stay active only at night.

Bristlenose Pleco Care & Tank Set-Up

The bristlenose pleco is a small and peaceful fish, which helps them acclimate easily in the tank. Since it comes naturally to the bristlenose pleco to keep your tank clean, they are not only interesting to look at but also help you in your tank maintenance efforts.

The best thing you can do for your bristlenose catfishes is to try and mimic their natural environments. This may not always be easy to do in captivity, but making sure the water is properly aerated and constantly moving is a good place to start.

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Whether you are experienced or just dipping your toes in the aquarium hobby, bristlenose plecos are a good species to start with. They are easy to take care of because they are very hardy fish and can adapt well to multiple living conditions.

Yet another feature that makes the bristlenose pleco great for beginners is they are not prone to any specific diseases or major health issues. However, that’s not to say they never get sick. You should still monitor your bristlenose plecos to make sure they don’t have skin problems such as Ich among other issues. Other bacterial diseases like dropsy and fin rot are also common in Plecos. Changing 25% of water daily can cure the infected fish quickly. 

Bristlenose Speco Tank Size and Specifications

Optimum Tank Size for Bristlenose Pleco

At least 25 gallons for one bristlenose pleco is needed. Think about doubling that for two or more if you plan on keeping a community.


Since they are bottom dwellers and spend most of their time scrounging around the tank lining and other decorations and substrate, you need to be sure not to use anything they can mistake for food. This refers to a smaller substrate such as sand, gravel, pebbles, and clay. Also, make sure there are a lot of hiding places for your bristlenose plecos by adding plenty of driftwood, plants, and small little artificial caves. 

They have nocturnal instincts, so when other fish are busy during the day, the bristlenose pleco will need quiet places to rest until the sun goes down. Being tank cleaners play a part in keeping the aquarium clean, but you will still need to do some maintenance on your part. Equipment you can add are canister filters and change the water bi-weekly.

Plecos can heave plants out of the substrate. Strong, deep-rooted plants like Amazon sword and Anubias are great to keep inside the tank. Live plants are also great for aeration in the tank, which the bristlenose plecos need a lot of. Also, keep the water flow moderate to replicate their natural habitat. Some filters can help with that; we have introduced some top filters here.

Water Parameters for Bristlenose Pleco

Water Temperature

They are used to warmer waters thanks to their natural environment and need you to keep it at a steady 73 to 81 F (23 to 27 C). The bristlenose plecos are very hardy, and a degree or so off in the temperature won’t be devastating. It’s a good idea to accommodate the other fish in the tank (if any) before you consider the bristlenose plecos when setting up the tank.

pH Level

As for the water conditions, the bristlenose pleco needs pH 5.8 to 7.8 and 20 to 30 dGH. A strong filter with good water flow is great for the tank. You can also add a bubbler for the circulation of oxygen. Keep the tank under sufficient natural lighting for the survival of the plants.

Feeding Bristlenose Pleco

They are classified as herbivores but can take some meat in their diet. The food they have access to in their South American home is quite diverse. Their main food source is algae, and they spend most of their time sifting through the substrate and the gravel bed in river basins looking for other plant-based food. They can even feed on insect larvae (which contributes to their partly carnivorous diet).

It’s difficult to allow them to scrounge for food in the tank, and aquarium fish may experience changes to their dietary habits. In captivity, you will most likely stick to a diet of mostly algae, but don’t forget to supplement your meals with frozen and fresh fish food such as bloodworms. Blanched veggies are also a great source of fresh food for your bristlenose pleco. Even though they are tank cleaners, you still need to remove the leftovers after a few min.

Algae wafers and food pellets are good ideas for the bristlenose plecos. Look for food made for bottom dwellers (meaning that they sink) and feed them only once or twice a day. They are small little creatures that don’t need too much. Plenty of algae and occasional supplements are more than enough.

If you start noticing odd behavior like your bristlenose plecos starting to pick at the vegetation, you will know they aren’t getting enough food. You can then increase the amount during each feeding by just a little bit. As a rule of thumb, anything they don’t finish within a few minutes would be considered extra.

To help you figure out the ratio, the perfectly balanced diet of a bristlenose pleco is 80% plant and 20% protein. Each fish is different, so it may take some time to figure out your likes. Your bristlenose pleco might enjoy blanched vegetables more than fish pellets. Fresh veggies are an excellent source of fiber. However, it’s difficult to guarantee that every day.

A good way to ensure they get enough in their food is to increase the algae, or even driftwood (which can help algae growth) can be a good source. Another way to monitor if your bristlenose plecos are getting enough food is to look at their coloration. Healthy fish will sport brighter colors.

While the common bristlenose is of more muted colors, you can’t deny their unique patterns, making it easy to tell. The albino bristlenose pleco has brighter hues and the super red, which also makes it easier to monitor.

Bristlenose Pleco Behavior and Temperament

They are cleaner fish and feed on algae, which is why you will mostly see them dwelling on the bottom of the tank. Cleaner fish and crustaceans may also cling to the side of the tank glass, just like the bristlenose pleco might do. They are also a peaceful species and can fit in well in community tanks.

Are bristlenose plecos aggressive? No, but even though they are peaceful, they can become aggressive when two male bristlenose plecos are kept together or if you house them with a species that resembles them in shape. If a duel does break out, bristlenose plecos are decorated with bristly and bony armor which will protect them from enemies.

They are classified as nocturnal, but they do become more active at night. During the day, they rest near the bottom of the tank and can almost completely blend in with the substrate. Even when the sun goes down the bristlenose plecos still stay close to the bottom scavenging for food.

Bristlenose Speco Tank Mates

Bristlenose plecos are very friendly and can play nice with most peaceful and even semi-aggressive fish. This makes them a great addition to any community. Just steer clear of fish that resemble the bristlenose plecos in shape and size. It will trigger their competitive side and definitely keep plecos of the same sex away from each other. If altercations happen, their bony armor protects them from aggressive species.

Tetras are a great breed to keep with them and guppies. No matter what tank mates you decide to place with your bristlenose plecos, the size of the tank is imperative. Though they like to dwell on the bottom and pick at algae, they also like to swim around. For such small fish, they need enough space to feel free, limiting the aggressive breakouts between other fish. A few other species that are great tank mates include:

Breeding Bristlenose Pleco

The bristlenose pleco is one gift that keeps on giving. Everything about them is easy, including breeding. Breeding the bristlenose in captivity isn’t difficult, with numerous success stories all over the globe. As with many other fish species, we recommend breeding in a separate tank. This will increase your chances of success since there won’t be other fish potentially feeding on the fry.

It will also give you the flexibility of creating the perfect environment to trigger mating between the fish. You need to simulate their natural breeding environment during the South American rainy season. The water will be cooler during this time, by around 3 degrees. It isn’t as easy as transferring them to an already cooler tank. It’s best if the water is adjusted slightly (switch out about 15-25%) daily.

Switching their diet to a more protein-based one will also encourage breeding. Just make sure the food is successfully sinking to the bottom of the tank to be seen.

Make sure there is plenty of vegetation and places to hide. These are essential decorations to add when breeding the bristlenose pleco because they will actively seek them out to spawn. We often say not to keep more than 1 bristlenose pleco, and if you must, it should be female. It’s normal to add more females into the tank for the male to increase the chances of success.

We do not recommend breeding more than one pair at a time. Having one male is maximum unless you have abundant space to keep them apart. When you see the male swimming about seeming to be searching for something, you will know the game is on. The male will try to find a good place for the female to lay the eggs. This is why having enough vegetation, plenty of driftwood, and artificial caves is so important.

Once he settles on a location, he will organize the place and wait for the female. When the lady appears, she will inspect the cave first. If she deems it acceptable, she will lay her eggs around the cave. It will be quite obvious to spot because of their bright orange hues. If she doesn’t accept his courtship, he will need to try again.

The male plecos are not monogamous and allow more than one female to populate the cave with her eggs. However, no two males can claim one cave, so you need to ensure you have placed plenty around the tank.

Once the eggs have been laid, the male will fertilize them. The breeding process is really a team effort. Once the eggs have been fertilized, the females will stand guard while the male goes about cleaning the eggs and fanning his tail over them for aeration. If the bristlenose plecos aren’t amazing enough already from all the facts we have given you, we have one more to add to the list.

Many fish species will tend to devour their eggs, which is why you need to remove them from the tank once the eggs are laid. However, the bristlenose pleco will not do this. They are great parents and will protect their eggs until the end. So there is no need for you to attempt to separate them from their young.

It could take anywhere from 4-10 days for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched, the fry latch onto their egg sacs and are fed for 2-4 days. In total, we would say to give it about 8 days to 2 weeks before attempting to feed them from when the eggs hatch; you need to be extra careful when monitoring the tank conditions. This is because the fry is more vulnerable to changes in the water condition than their parents.

You will see the fry swim out of the cave for the first time after this period, and this is when you can try to feed them fish food. Their diet consists mostly of algae, which is a good starting point. Gradually introduce blanched vegetables and then some protein supplements such as bloodworms.

In about half a year, the fish fry will have reached maturity. However, they don’t stop growing until a year or two later. They will also slowly develop their armor over time, which won’t be apparent when they are still young. You can introduce them back into the tank when they mature. It’s important to wait until this time because they won’t be able to adapt to the changes in tank conditions and their parents.

Bristlenose Speco Breeding Level


Bristlenose Speco Sexual Dimorphism?

There’s a substantial difference in size between the male and female Bristlenose Pleco. The males grow larger than the females. However, distinguishing between them is only possible if they are of the same age and have been subjected to the same level of care.

Bristlenose Speco Common Diseases and their Treatment

Diseases such as Ich and bacterial infections could occasionally plague the bristlenose pleco. Pay close attention to their skin. If you see white spots, there is a chance there is a bacterial infection. Luckily, these skin diseases are easy to treat, but you may need to isolate the bristlenose pleco from other fish until it heals.

Unfortunately, when your pleco gets sick, it will likely infect the rest of the tank unless you catch it quickly. To make sure it doesn’t, remove it when you see the slightest sign of illness symptoms. Once removed, double-check the rest of the community closely to ensure no one else is sick. If you find other victims, remove them to the hospital tank.

Medications to avoid for the bristlenose pleco would be salt-based ones. Look for ones meant for catfish species and since the plecos do not have traditional scales, it’s also important that the treatment reflects that.

Facts about Bristlenose Pleco

  • The bristlenose catfish, also known as the bushynose catfish, is a bottom-dwelling fish that feeds on algae and other substrates.
  • They come from the Actinopterygii class of phylum Chordata.
  • There are 64 species of plecos in the world.
  • Bristlenose Pleco is available in abundance and has not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • These fishes are widely found in the small tributaries of the Amazon river.
  • Adult Bristlenose Plecos can not live with other tank mates as they can get aggressive if someone interrupts their feeding patterns.
  • The smallest Bristlenose Pleco is about 3-5 cm in length.
  • A 40-gallon tank is the best suitable for these fishes.

Are Bristlenose Pleco suitable for you?

Bristlenose Pleco is a beginner-friendly fish. If you want a fish to clean your tank and reduce your work, get these bushy nose fishes as they are great algae-eaters. However, along with cleaning your tank, they also produce a lot of waste. 

Heavy filtration and frequent water changes will help you to maintain healthy water conditions inside the tank. Remember, Plecos can not be a substitute for cleaning your tank. Change the water when needed and vacuum the substrate to remove any waste.


After taking a closer look at the bristlenose catfish, one thing is for sure: they are very interesting little creatures that are very easy to care for. They are peaceful, friendly, and get along with everyone in the tank (unless they resemble them somehow). They are unique and come in different color variations that are sure to brighten up your tank. They are a great starting point for beginners and amazing new companions for more experienced aquarists.

A great way to minimize your tank maintenance is to add cleaner fish to the tank. Some crustacean species can be tank cleaners, but the bristlenose catfish is a great choice if you want a fish. They pull their weight and don’t add any extra problems to the tank. They are hardy fish that aren’t affected by serious illnesses and can be very forgiving with water fluctuations.

All you need to do to make sure they thrive is feed them the appropriate food, give them plenty of places to explore and hide and keep aggressive fish away from them. They are mostly active at night and can be known not to move for hours. If you want to watch them during the day, you need to simulate nighttime conditions by keeping the tank in a shaded area or turning the lights off.

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