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.

Free Giveaway: Download your free Bristlenose Pleco guide. You’ll learn everything you need to know about caring for these fish.

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…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

58 Comments

  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.
      Robert

  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.
      Robert

  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 🙂
      Robert

  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!
      Robert

  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!
      Robert

  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!!

  9. Hi,
    Today hubby and I cleaned out fish tank which has 3 Albino and 3 dark ones. During the clean out to our surprise we have babies approx 6. We certainly did not expect this, however we are happy to have new editions to the family.
    We have not done anything in particular apart from the weekly clean keeping the water warm for the discus and our ghost knives, heaps of anubis, Rock’s and logs.
    Happy fish happy family.

  10. The info above was very helpful. I simply have a 55 gallon tank with guppies and pleco’s. I knew the guppies would have babies monthly. My kids just pointed out 3 baby pleco’s and then I noticed 6 more. I wonder the outcome of this tank, as we are simply feeding them all fish flake food and enjoying the multiplying.

  11. I love having bristlenose in my bank! They are such awesome cleaners. I just noticed a bunch of really small ones in my large tank too. So I assumed the few that I have must of bred.. which really surprises me since I thought for sure there was no way that would happen with the size fish I have in there… but hey the more the merrier!

  12. Hello.

    I just noticed a little guy sucking on the glass while I was cleaning the water filter and I also found like 9 of them inside the filter housing. Fortunately at least 6 of them were alive and kicking and they seemed fine when I put them back into the tank.

    But I was just wondering about how many of them are usually born in one batch? I have one about 2-4 year old male pleco, two 1-2 year old male plecos and two 1-2 year old female plecos.

    I also want to ask about the oldest pleco I have. Do you know what these weird lumps on it’s cheeks could be and why does it look like it’s blind (white eyes)? He is a lone wolf and likes to hang out next to the heater element for some reason instead of going into crevices to hide.

    And yes the oldest male plecos have scuffles but only really rarely so it’s not a problem.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Markus, congratulations on your pleco fry! Bristlenose Plecos typically lay in between 10-40 eggs. If you can send me a picture of the lumps, I can have a proper look at them. Do his eyes look cloudy? Do they have any goo around them or any other symptoms? Thanks, Robert

  13. Hi, just purchased 2 Bristlenose Plecos,they are both very small and I can’t see many(if any) bristles to know what sex they are. Also is it better to keep more than the two I currently have, I have plenty of room for more.

    • If you’re going to keep more than two in one tank, I recommend keeping one male and the rest females. Thanks, Robert

  14. I have a 57ltr tank with 1 male& female bristlenose with 10 endler guppies I have driftwood 2 pleco caves and well planted my bristlenose has now bred twice but I moved the eggs to a 12ltr tank and fry doing well I call my male the destroyer as I have a gravel substrate he just likes to throw this to the front so he can burrow under the log he also likes to sit on my plants for hrs on end but he bring enjoyment as like to watch his antics

  15. I am considering having a tall angelfish tank in my home. would it be possible to have a bristle nose in a tall tank.

    • Hi Graham, Bristlenose Plecs spend all their time in the bottom area of the tank so you’ll need a tank with a large floor area. Thanks, Robert

  16. Just had my first spawn from my chocolate Bristlenose plecos! The wiggles left the cave 2 days ago! There even seems to be one albino in the group of 9 that I can see so far. All have a brown color with white spots except this one which is completely white.

  17. I have a pair of bristle nose catfish. I didn’t realize till today that they have bred in my community tank. I shone a torch in their cave and I do see tiny catfish in there. The male keeps getting in the way lol. I can’t wait till the babies venture out of the cave and I can get a better look at them 👍🏻.

  18. Hi, We have a 500Ltr community aquarium. Amongst the various species of fish, we have 8 Bristlenose of various colours (including a rare Sunshine yellow with sapphire blue eyes) and 1 large Common Pleco. When I moved an ornament yesterday, I discovered a cluster of bright orange eggs underneath, I now understand these are Pleco eggs. I put them immediately in the Nursery as I have 2 large Angels and other fish that could potentially eat them. I know which pair of the 8 are responsible and often see the male climbing the Nursery to check
    on them. Have I done the right thing?

    • Hi Donna, yes you’ve definitely done the right thing. Its unlikely the eggs would survive in a community tank anyway. As our article mentions, the male usually aerates the eggs for around a week, so you might want to consider putting him with them if your nursery tank is large enough. Thanks, Robert

  19. Hi
    I noticed orange eggs and drift so I put that and dad in another tank u had here.
    The next day I counted 57 fry. But they are an orange colour. I wasn’t expecting them to come out so quick and wasn’t expecting orange.
    Does this seem right?

  20. Hello I have 2 goldfish and our daughter just put her young bristlenose pleco in my tank, Yahoo present for mum, I was wondering if I continue to add the Algae control that I have been using for my gold fish or not now the pleco is in with them, please help

    • Hi Kathryn, Pleco’s are well known for eating Pleco so if your tank is producing algae within normal levels (and not excessively) you shouldn’t need to add anything. Make sure your tank is large enough, I would suggest at least 40 gallons for 2 Goldfish and a Pleco. Thanks, Robert

    • Hi Mike, do you have any plants and other hiding places for your Bristlenose? They won’t feel comfortable and safe with places to hide, so it’s possible he is looking for a hiding place. Thanks, Robert

  21. Lots of wonderful information! Thank you! We had thought out Male committed suicide, as we couldn’t find him for 3 days, then he just popped out of our big cave, for about 20 seconds,and went right back in, and has been for about 2 days now, after being gone for 4 days solid. It’s a really tall cave, and I cant move it….would breeding grass help? I can put it at the largest opening, and I’ve been putting the tabs in the cave for him.
    The Neons are the only ones that go in the cave…I just keep hoping they cant see the babies, if there are any, in the darkness. Suggestions, please? And again, Thank you! Amazing article!!!

    • Hi Catie, I’m not sure what you’re asking? Do you think your Bristlenose is in the cave caring for eggs? If so, hairgrass or something similar is a good option! Thanks, Robert

  22. Hi there! I recently purchased a mid size Bristlenose Pleco. The girl at the store said that he would be alright in my African cichlid tank as long as there are spots to hide. While I do have plenty of rocks and caves for him to hide in, I’m a little worried about him getting picked on. So far he seems to be alright but what are your thoughts??? Thank you!

    • Hi Andrew, in most instances I would advise against keeping them together. African Cichlids are notoriously aggressive whereas Bristlenoses are quite peaceful. It comes down to the specific fish you are keeping though and their temperaments. I would keep a close eye on them over the next couple of weeks and if you notice any bullying, remove the Pleco. Thanks, Robert

  23. Hi there,

    My bristlenose plecos just had their second batch of eggs. The first batch got a fungus and I only ended up with 12 hatching. Shortly after realizing these guys are mature enough to breed, I set up a second tank for them to stay in until they get to 1 inch long, at which time I can exchange them at my local LFS for store credit.
    Now that I have the tank cycled and ready, my heater quit on me. The first batch of fry are in a tank at about 72-74°F. What is an optimal temp for the eggs? What about for the fry? And what is an acceptable range? Will I need to buy a new heater? (Note that nobody has been picked on in the original tank, though there are some other small fish)

    • Hi Nikki, Bristlenoses typically breed in the colder months anyway in the wild so your tank is most likely at the optimal temperature for them. Anywhere between 60-80oF is fine for them. Thanks, Robert

  24. Hi Robert
    I have a male and female Bristlenose each about 4″ so I think they should be mature.
    The male stays in his cave most of the time but if the female swims anywhere near his cave he’s very aggressive and chases her to the other side of the tank. Is there any hope of them breeding when he is so aggressive? Thanks!

    • Hi Kathleen, it’s impossible to say whether they’ll ever breed or not. Do they both have plenty of hiding spaces, in addition to the cave to ensure they have their own space? If you follow the breeding advice in this article, including lowering the temperature of the tank, it may induce breeding behaviors. Thanks, Robert.

  25. Can you have just one female? We don’t want to breed. Will she be happy by herself? Will she be healthy without laying eggs? We have other fishes and will also have 6 corydoras. It’s plenty of room and caves/hiding spots for her in our 190 litre corner aquarium.

  26. Hi, I think my female longfin bristlenose is a killer, and was looking to see if others have had this sort of problem. She’s pretty, but I also had a beautiful albino female. I actually saw them fighting over a hiding spot, so I removed that particular hide, but placed others in the tank. I didn’t notice any more fighting, so, I thought I was successful. One evening, I noticed that every place my albino swam to, the longfin followed. Then, my albino swam to the side of the tank, and was on the glass there. It was then that I noticed a streak of blood on one of her fins. It looked bad, so I removed her to a bucket and added some fresh water and a bubbler, and some stress guard. Unfortunately, she passed within a few hours. It broke my heart that she died, and that I didn’t realize the agression had gotten that bad until it was too late. She was about 4 years old, I believe. The tank is 65 gallons, and we’ll planted, with some Terra Cotta hides. I guess the longfin is going to be the only pleco in the tank for the remainder of her life, because I put a male in there, thinking a male would be alright, and I had to move him from another tank, but she was aggressive with him, too.

    • Hi Karen, unfortunately even when you buy a more peaceful fish species, there will be the odd one who is aggressive. It all comes down to the exact fish and their temperament. Thanks, Robert

  27. Hello, im new to keeping a tank and i have 5 guppies and a little bristlenose catfish hes a baby and bareley 2.5 cm long. When i bought him i asked what we should feed him and the person at the aquarium said fish flakes would be fine. But whenever i try and feed him all the guppys eat the food before its able to sink to the bottom to him. He never seems to go for food and try and get it and just stays at the bottom. Ive tryed many methods of feeding him like putting him in a big plastic container, filling it with the tank water and putting some flakes in there. I also tried cucumber but he dosebt eat that either. He may not be eating out of shock from moving to the plastic container but im not sure what to do

    • Hi Eamonn, have you tried algae wafers? They will float right to the bottom and he’ll be able to get to them. As your tank becomes more established, it’ll also build up an algae base which they’ll be able to graze on. Thanks, Robert

    • Hi Trevor, I can’t say for sure, but it should be OK. Bristlenoses are mostly herbivorous however about 15% of their diet should be made up of protein so they may be tempted to eat them. Thanks, Robert

  28. We had unexpected babies after having two plecos in the same tank for 6 months. Its 450 litres so there was no chance of catching them and they all disappeared soon, having large gouramis and mollies in there. A month later 3 started emerging that must have survived because they were about an inch long! They are a cross between a long finned brown and a golden blue eyed 🙂

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