Bristlenose Pleco: Care Guide, Diet, Habitat and Breeding

The Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.) is one of the most common aquarium Plecos.

People tend to choose the Bristlenose over the Common Pleco because of their smaller size and they are easier to keep.

The Bristlenose Pleco is a master of disguise, and also a great tank cleaner.

One of the main reasons this fish is so common in home aquariums, is because of its useful ability to keep algae down.

The Bristlenose Pleco is known as a number of different names including; Bristlenose Catfish, Bushynose Catfish, Common Bristlenose Catfish and the Brushmouth Pleco.

Before you read on about how to care for Bristlenose Plecos, take a quick look at this overview to help determine whether this species is right for you.

Category Rating
 Care Level: Easy
 Temperament: Peaceful
 Color Form: Brown, Black, Grey, Albino
 Lifespan: 5+ Years
 Size: Up to 5″
 Diet: Mostly Herbivore
 Family: Loricariidae
 Minimum Tank Size: 25 Gallons
 Tank Set-Up: Plenty of Caves and Hiding Spaces

Bristlenose Pleco Appearance

Bristlenose Pleco Apperance
Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Catfish is one of the smallest aquarium catfish, and will grow up to an average of 3-5 inches.

It has a wider head, and is much shorter, fatter and flatter than the Common Pleco.

They have a flattened body covered in bony plates, and as they reach maturity, they sprout tentacle like branches from their head. The males’ tentacles are longer and more prominent than females.

They have a pair of pectoral and abdominal fins, and a round mouth with elongated lips which make them an excellent suckerfish.

Bristlenose Plecos are usually black, brown, olive or grey with light white or yellow spots all over the body. The underneath side of the fish is lighter in color than the main body.

They blend in extremely well with their natural environment, and will sit motionless for hours.

Bristlenose Temperament & Tank Mates

Golden Ancistrus
Golden Ancistrus

They spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, or sucking on the side of the glass.

Bristlenoses are a peaceful species and will get along with most other peaceful community fish.

It’s a great fish for beginner and experienced aquarists alike. They are very hardy, and can comfortably adapt to live in a wide variety of tank conditions. It’s not recommended that you house two males together as they get extremely territorial and competitive with other similar shaped species.

Bristlenoses have bony armor which protects them against semi-aggressive, and small aggressive fish, however they will need to be monitored carefully if you choose to house them together.

Bristlenose Pleco Tank Requirements

Male Bristlenose Pleco
Male Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos originate from the streams and rivers in South America. They therefore prefer freshwater with a current that is well aerated.

You should ensure than your tank water is well oxygenated with a moderate water flow.

Bristlenoses are nocturnal fish, and you should make sure there are plenty of hiding places for them to rest in during the day. They like shadowed areas, so the more of these you can create the better. Plants, driftwood and caves all make excellent hiding spaces. Providing driftwood in your tank will also allow for somewhere for algae to grow for the fish to feed on.

The water temperature should be kept anywhere from 15-27oC (60-80 F), the water hardness should be fall within 20-25, and the pH should be within 6.5-7.5.

Depending on what other fish you are housing with your Bristlenose, you’ll need a minimum tank size of 25 gallons, and you should ensure than the bottom of the tank, which is where they spend most of their time, is large.

They produce a good amount of waste, so especially if they are housed with other fish, the bigger the tank the better.

An under-gravel water system will help to ensure that your tank remains highly oxygenated and will maintain water conditions. As always, you should also have a filter in your tank. The best filter to use in an aquarium with Bristlenose is a canister filter.

If you’re new to fishkeeping, I suggest that you buy a fully grown adult Bristlenose. Juveniles are more sensitive to pH levels than adults.

It’s not unusual for this fish to occasionally rush to the surface for air, however if you notice this is a frequent thing, it can be an indicator that there is too much ammonia and nitrates in the water, or not enough oxygen.

Bristlenose Pleco Diet and Feeding

Bristlenose PlecoBristlenoses are bottom feeding fish and have a mostly vegetarian diet.

They spend their time hiding out and grazing on the algae that grows on all the surfaces.

Although they are fantastic at keeping your tank clean, and eating plenty of algae, algae will not provide them with a balanced diet.

Their diet should consist of around 85% plant matter and 15% protein.

You should feed them tablets which have been specifically developed for bottom dwelling herbivores such as sinking algae pellets or wafers.

You can also feed them blanched vegetables – try out a variety to see what they like the best.

A few examples of things you could try are, parboiled lettuce or cabbage leaves, carrots, cucumber or peas. Remember to take any left of food or vegetables out of the tank within a day of feeding them to avoid them starting to deteriorate and affect the water conditions.

If you’re feeding your Plecos vegetables every day, it’s likely they will be getting enough fiber, however if you can’t commit to being consistent, you will need to provide them with another source of fiber.

By putting a piece of driftwood in your tank, not only will you be providing them with fibrous matter, but you’ll also be creating another space where algae can grow for them to eat.  You can also feed your Bristlenoses a very small amount of meaty foods to ensure they have a well-balanced diet. This is even more important if you plan on breeding them.

Your Bristlenose Plecos should be fed once or twice a day.

With regard to plants in your tank, Bristlenoses usually leave them well alone as long as they are well fed.

If you notice them starting to eat your plants – it may well be a sign that you’re not feeding them enough.

Another good tip to determine whether your Bristlenoses are being well fed is their color. If their nutritional needs are being met, they will have a good coloration.

Bristlenose Pleco Breeding

Bristlenose Plecos are pretty easy to breed however there are a few things to note before we look at how to breed them.

  1. Firstly, it’s highly unlikely the eggs or fry will survive in a community tank so you will need a specific breeding tank. If they do breed in a community tank, you can move the eggs (along with whatever they are attached to), to another tank.
  2. Secondly, breeding of this species usually occurs in the cooler winter months during the Amazon’s rainy season. To replicate this you may want to make your tank slightly cooler than normal.
  3. Thirdly, you should provide plenty of caves and driftwood for the males to select the best possible spawn site.

Let’s take a look now, at how to breed them. The first thing you’ll need to be able to determine is which are male and females. This is really easy to do with Bristlenose Plecos.

The males tend to have larger bristles, which grow out to the middle of its head. The females have much smaller bristles which only grow around their mouths. You should always try and have more females than males, as the males are extremely territorial, especially during breeding.

The male will claim a cave, and prepare and clean its surfaces ready for the eggs. If you have more than one male, they will fight for control of the cave, and will eat their rival’s eggs given the opportunity.

You should therefore provide as many caves as possible if you have more than one male.

He’ll then wait for a female. The female will inspect the cave, and if she is impressed, she’ll deposit some bright orange adhesive eggs.

The male will then fertilize them, and push the female out to guard the eggs. More than one female can lay eggs in a males cave.

The male will clean the eggs and the nest, and aerate them with his fins during the 4-10 days that they take to hatch.

Once hatched, the fry will attach themselves onto the sides of the cave until they have completely absorbed their egg sacks; this normally takes a further 2-4 days. By now, if they are free swimming, they’ll be able to feed on algae and you can supplement them with mashed vegetables such as peas.

They grow very quickly, and by around 6 months old, they’ll be almost as big as their parents.

Is a Bristlenose Pleco Suitable for your Aquarium? (Summary)

If you have a peaceful community tank and you’re looking for a unique looking, and also very useful fish – the Bristlenose Pleco is for you.

It is easy to care for, relatively low maintenance and gets on well with all peaceful community fish.

If you’re looking for an algae eater to help reduce the amount of algae in your tank, this fish is one of the best!

What do you think of Bristlenose Plecos, do you find them strange looking or attractive? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below…


  1. how do i feed my pleco if my mollies keep eating their pellets. what veggies could my pleco eat that my other fish wont eat or get sick from if they take a bite?

    • Hi Lanee,
      Try feeding your mollies on one side of your tank, and a few minutes later feed your Pleco on the opposite side.
      Failing that, Pleco’s are also nocturnal so you could feed him at night.

  2. I have had 2 albino and 2 regular pigmented bristlenose plecos for about 2 years in a large planted tank. Recently, I noticed all four together only now there is 1 albino and 3 regular pigment. Can the albino versions spontaneously change to normal pigmentation? I believe they are true albino as they have/had the pink eyes. I have doubled checked to make sure I was not mistakenly seeing one of my clown plecos with them, but they are distinctly different fish and the three normal pigment plecos all have the characteristic bristles.

    • Whilst I have never witnessed this with my own eyes, I have heard of a few people experiencing this. It could be caused by stress, has anything changed in your tank recently? Check your water parameters just to be sure.
      Alternatively, it is thought that some albinos carry a gene which that allows the pigmentation to add more coloring.

  3. Lost mine in my tank after I moved 3 months ago, assumed it jumped out somewhere or was stuck. Just found my 1 eyed little friend inside of my filter somehow! Gotta day it’s super clean though, I almost just want to leave him in too maintain it in there lol

    • Hi Nick,
      Yikes! He is really lucky to be alive. What type of filter do you have? How has he acclimatised back into the tank? Glad you found him 🙂

  4. Hi All
    I have a 75 gallon aquarium 5 large fancy Goldfish and 3 adult placo,s,1 dark female placo and 1 albino female then 1 albino male fully bristled and 10ish baby placo,s all dark with spots,

  5. I haven’t had much success with Bristlenose. I have done all I can with keeping water conditions and feeding after lights out. Could it be that the 12 Cory cats are eating all the tablets before they get a chance to feed? I do get them rather small when I do and could be part of the reason as well. I really want to keep one in my 75 gallon community tank. There are 4 dwarf gourami, 13 neon tetras, 9 scissor tail rasboras, with sand substrate drift wood and artificial plants. Sponge filter rated for 75g and aquaclear 110 to keep things running. Thanks

    • Hi Pete, thanks for posting. Have you watched exactly what happens when you put the pellets into the tank? Perhaps you could try raising a Bristlenose alone for a few months and then adding it to your community aquarium? Robert

  6. Hi, i have discovered eggs in my plecos cave, im worried about the other fish eating the fry when they hatch, is it ok to move the cave into a breeding box? I feel bad about taking them off dad..?? Hes been a great guard. Thanks for any advice.

    • Hi Aileen,
      I’d definitely recommend moving them to another tank if you have other fish that’ll eat them!

  7. HELP. I am having a breeding issue. I did not plan on breeding, I have two adult bristlenose (not realizing one male and one female). Now my tank is being overrun by plecos. I know they are laying eggs in our decorative volcano. I can take that out but I am unsure what to do with all of the babies. We have well over 50, I can’t knowingly kill them, what can I do? This is not good for the other fish in our tank.

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your message! I suggest contacting your local pet store, perhaps the one you bought them from and seeing if they are able to give them a temporary home and then sell them on. Let me know how you get on!

  8. I just got an albino long finned pleco. This is my first time owning a pleco and it is so pretty! I know they are supposed to be nocturnal, but mine is out during the day sucking things with some resting. It has me a little concerned that it might not be getting enough food at night, I love watching him, so as long as he isn’t starving, I’m happy to see him during the day. I have small algae wafers, and would like to know – in general, how much should I give him per day? I know each individual fish can be different, but since it is an albino I guess I can’t look for “good coloration” as a sign of being well fed. With my betta’s I originally got advice that they should get 5-10 mini pellets twice a day. Is there any guidance like that for one bristlenose pleco with algae wafers? Thanks for any advice!!

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