Bristlenose Pleco: Species Profile & Care Guide

Bristlenose Pleco
Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus cirrhosus)

Bristlenose Pleco Species Profile

Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus cirrhosus) are a species of pleco native to South America. They originate mainly in the fast-flowing waters of the Amazon River Basin. Other species of Ancistrus catfishes can be found in other parts of South and Central America, including Panama.

Interestingly, Bristlenose Plecos do not have an L-number. The L-number system is a semi-scientific classification system of catfish based on photographs of shipments of tropical catfish of the family Loricariidae. When a loricariid receives an official scientific name, the L-number is retired.

In the aquarium hobby, Bristlenose Plecos are quite significant. They are popular among novice fish owners due to their unique appearance and their ability to help improve the quality of the tank. They are terrific tank cleaners who will “vacuum” the substrate on a daily basis. As peaceful and sociable fish, plecos fit into community tanks nicely.

Here are some interesting facts about Bristlenose Plecos:

  • They have a unique flat and short body with a wide head. The whole body of the Bristlenose Pleco is covered by bony plates.
  • As they grow, they become more interesting as their tentacle-like branches grow out from their head. These get bigger with age, especially on males.
  • Bristlenose Plecos are part of the armored catfish family, so they have sturdy, armored scales across their body. They do have some softer spots on their bellies, but these scales keep them well-protected from predation.
  • They usually have short fins, but there are long fin varieties.
  • Albino Bristlenose Pleco is one of the most popular variants.

Bristlenose Plecos Facts

Common Name(s)Bristlenose Pleco, Bristlenose Catfish, Bushynose Catfish, Bushy Nose
Scientific NameAncistrus cirrhosus
OriginSouth America, mainly in the fast-flowing waters of the Amazon River Basin
Temperature72° – 86° F
Size4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) when fully grown
Minimum Tank Size20 gallons, but a larger tank is better for their waste production and breeding
Food & DietMainly herbivores. They eat various aquatic plants, algae, and other organic detritus. Their diet can also consist of high-quality vegetable flakes, sinking algae wafers, and pellets. You can supplement this with fresh vegetables, such as shelled peas, spinach, zucchini, and cucumber
LifespanUp to 12 years
Water pH6.5-7.5
Tank MatesNeon Tetras, Guppies, Mollies, Corydoras, Gouramis
BreedingBristlenose Plecos are easy to breed. They don’t need much except a slight temperature rise and caves for breeding
Common DiseasesLike most fish species, Bristlenose Plecos can be susceptible to common fish diseases like Ich and Fin Rot. Maintaining good water quality and a balanced diet can help prevent these diseases

Bristlenose Pleco Size

Bristlenose Plecos are fascinating creatures with varying sizes depending on their type, gender, and environmental conditions. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Average Size: On average, Bristlenose Plecos reach a size of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) when fully grown.
  • Max Size: The maximum size that Bristlenose Plecos can grow to is typically around 5-6 inches in length, although some individuals may reach up to 7-8 inches.
  • Male Size: Males typically reach a maximum length of 6 inches (15 cm), with some extremes getting up to 8 inches in size. They tend to be larger and grow more bristles on their faces.
  • Female Size: Females tend to be slightly smaller, averaging around 4.5 inches (11 cm). They are generally smoother with fewer bristles on their faces.

The growth rate of Bristlenose Plecos is approximately 0.25 inches per month. They tend to grow at a fairly steady rate—around two inches per year. This means that in their first year of life, your pleco will grow anywhere between 1 and 2 inches. By the time they reach the age of two, they should have reached their full adult size.

The size of a Bristlenose Pleco can be influenced by several factors such as their genetic makeup, diet, and living conditions. For instance, the specific species of your Bristlenose Pleco plays a significant role in their growth. Their development will also depend on their age and diet. Moreover, the size of your tank, water parameters, and the number of other tankmates can also affect their growth.

Bristlenose Pleco Care

Bristlenose Plecos are known to be hardy. They are tropical fish that require warm waters, but they can tolerate a relatively wide range of water temperatures and conditions. They do require the tank to have a high oxygen level. These little critters are very easy to care for and can help improve the quality of the tank. Plus, they’re fun to watch! They’re particularly popular among novice fish owners.

Temperature & Water Parameters

Bristlenose Plecos are tropical fish that need warm water to thrive. The optimal water temperature range for Bristlenose Plecos is between 72 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they are also hardy fish that can tolerate some minor fluctuations in water quality and temperature.

The ideal water parameters for keeping Bristlenose Plecos include:

  • Temperature: 72-86°F
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness: Soft to medium (GH 4-12)

Bristlenose Plecos cannot tolerate cold water. They are tropical fish, so they grow well in warm water from 72-86°F. If the temperature is too cold, the creatures may encounter sickness or even die. If the water is too cold, especially once it gets below 60°F (15.5° C), the fish will suffer from various illnesses, fatigue, stress, and growth stunts. So, it’s crucial to maintain the appropriate temperature for these fish to ensure their health and well-being.

Tank Size

Bristlenose Plecos are unique fish with specific needs and preferences. The size of the tank plays a significant role in their development and overall well-being.

  • Minimum Tank Size for Bristlenose Plecos: The minimum tank size for Bristlenose Plecos is 20 gallons. This is the minimum tank size if you are keeping a single Bristlenose Pleco. However, they create a lot of waste, and if kept in smaller tanks, more frequent tank maintenance is required.
  • Ideal Tank Size for Bristlenose Plecos: While the minimum tank size for a Bristlenose Pleco is 20 gallons, a 30 gallon tank or larger is ideal, and the Bristlenose Plecos will be healthier in a larger tank.
  • Tank Size for Multiple Bristlenose Plecos: If you plan to keep multiple Bristlenose Plecos, the general guideline is to provide an additional 10 gallons for each additional fish. Considering the minimum tank size of 20 gallons for one fish, a 30 gallon tank or larger is required for two fish. However, this guideline may change depending on the specific needs of your individual fish and their living environment.

A tank with a proper size will provide a foundation for a suitable habitat for your Bristlenose Plecos.

Tank Setup

Bristlenose Plecos are found in the Amazon River basin and its tributaries. They prefer slow-moving or still waters with a sandy or muddy substrate. They are nocturnal fish, omnivorous, peaceful, and relatively easy to care for in captivity. They are also found in fast-flowing waters in the Amazon Basin in South America. Their preferred environment is shallow waters.

In an aquarium environment, your Bristlenose Pleco tank setup should include:

  • An aquarium of 20 gallons or more
  • A dark substrate (coarse sand or fine gravel)
  • Driftwood, rockwork, caves and hiding places
  • A powerful filter for ample waste management
  • A good heater to maintain the correct temperature
  • Aquarium plants for extra cover and oxygenation

Bristlenose Plecos do need caves. The average sized male bristlenose pleco will prefer the 1.25″ and 1.5″ cave openings. They like a tight fit. Large, older males and bigger species will prefer the larger 2.25″ openings.

Bristlenose Plecos do need driftwood as well. They use driftwood as a food source and it helps them with their digestion. Driftwood also provides resting places, making them feel more comfortable. They usually prefer softer woods such as Malaysian driftwood, cholla wood, and grape wood.

Regarding substrate, they prefer a fine substrate that allows them to dig and bury themselves. Sand or small gravel are good choices for substrate. In their natural habitat, they live in bodies of water with mud, clay, and/or gravel. They are known to dig through the sand at the bottom of fish tanks to clear space, but they may be less likely to dig if they already have a cave for themselves.

Food & Diet

The Bristlenose Pleco is predominantly a herbivore, and its diet should consist mostly of plant matter. The recommended ratio for a Bristlenose Pleco’s diet is at least 85% plant matter and 15% proteins. This means that the majority of their diet should be vegetables and plant-based foods, with a smaller portion consisting of protein sources. However, it’s important to note that while they can eat small amounts of meat, their primary food source should be plant-based.

Bristlenose Plecos are mainly herbivorous and need a varied diet of vegetables and algae wafers. Here are some recommended foods for Bristlenose Plecos:

  • Vegetables: Vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, and zucchini, are great food sources. However, some vegetables should be blanched first to soften them. Scrub the rinds and skins of any vegetables to avoid pesticides.
  • Algae Wafers: Feed your Bristlenose Pleco a small amount of vegetables each day and supplement with plant-based sinking pellets or Tetra Pro Pleco Wafers.

Remember that any food you feed them must sink to the bottom of the tank, or you risk them not seeing the food at all. A plant-based sinking pellet would be the best choice for an ‘all-rounder’.

Avoid fish meal and other foods that are not plant-based. Use a veggie clip or an aquarium weight to keep the vegetables at the bottom of the tank.

Do Bristlenose Plecos Eat Algae?

Bristlenose Plecos are known to be excellent algae eaters. They have a strong appetite for algae and can help keep your tank clean. In the wild, they generally feed on natural algae and aquatic plants by adhering their suckermouths to the plants and surfaces covered in algae. Therefore, Bristlenose Plecos will do an excellent job feasting on the excess algae in your tank.

Bristlenose Plecos are known to eat a variety of algae types, including:

  • Blue-green algae
  • Brown algae
  • Red algae
  • Green algae

However, they do not eat all types of algae, at least not readily. For instance, they typically do not readily consume hair algae and black beard algae (BBA). It’s also worth noting that while Bristlenose Plecos can help control algae in your tank, they should not be relied upon solely for this purpose. Their diet should be supplemented with other foods to ensure they receive all the nutrients they need.


Bristlenose Plecos, have an average lifespan of 5 to 10 years in captivity. However, with proper care and a suitable environment, some individuals have been known to live up to 15 years or more. The lifespan of your Bristlenose Pleco will mostly depend on the amount of care and maintenance you provide. There have been instances where this fish has lived up to 12 years in captivity.

Common Diseases & Health Issues

Bristlenose Plecos are generally hardy species, but they can still suffer from a few common diseases. Here are some of them:

  • Ich: This is a parasitic disease caused by Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, characterized by white spots appearing all over the fish’s body. Fish with Ich might try to rub against objects in the tank for relief and may also lose their appetite.
  • Fin Rot/Dropsy: These are bacterial diseases that can occur when water conditions in the tank aren’t good. Fish with Dropsy usually start looking bloated and lose coloration. Fish with Fin Rot might appear lethargic and lose their appetite, and if the condition worsens, their fins might start to appear ragged.
  • Pop-eye and Fish Fungi: These are also common problems that can affect Bristlenose Plecos.
  • Bacterial Infections: These can occur due to poor water quality, stress, or aggression from other fish.

To prevent these diseases, it’s important to maintain good water quality, reduce stress for the fish, and provide plenty of hiding places for the Plecos. If any of these diseases occur, appropriate treatment such as antibiotics for bacterial infections or medication for parasitic diseases like Ich may be required.


Bristlenose Plecos are known for their unique behavior and characteristics. Here are some key traits:

  • Docile and Sociable: Bristlenose Plecos are generally peaceful, calm, and compatible with most other fish. However, they can become fearful and hide away if they don’t feel safe.
  • Nocturnal: They are primarily nocturnal creatures. They prefer to do their eating mostly at night and spend most of their time grazing on algae and other food sources. During the day, they’ll use hiding spots to rest and feel safe.
  • Active Creatures: They are generally quite active, especially during the night when they venture out to forage for food. However, they may also become active during the day, especially if food is present.
  • Solitary Fish: Bristlenose Plecos are  not considered schooling fish, so it is not necessary to get a school of plecos to keep in your tank.
  • Community Fish: Bristlenose Plecos are peaceful fish and can be kept in a community aquarium with other peaceful fish species. They get along well with many other species.

Remember, while they share many similarities to popular freshwater aquarium catfish and other Pleco species, Bristlenose Plecos are unique creatures with their own distinct needs.

Tank Mates & Compatibility

Bristlenose Plecos are peaceful and non-territorial fish that can live with numerous other fish and invertebrates in a community aquarium. Here are some of the most suitable tank mates for Bristlenose Plecos:

  • Neon Tetras
  • Glass Catfish
  • Dwarf Shrimps
  • Bettas
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Rasboras
  • Oto Catfish
  • Platy fish
  • Guppies
  • Molly Fish
  • Swordtail Fish
  • Cherry Shrimp
  • Ghost Shrimp

While Bristlenose Plecos are generally peaceful fish, they may fight with other males of the same species for territory. Too many fish that compete with them for space on the bottom portion of the aquarium and the same type of food may become an issue as well. If space and resources are limited, it can create a stressful environment.

Larger, aggressive species, such as cichlids, should be avoided as tank mates, as they could cause injury.

Can Bristlenose Pleco live alone?

Bristlenose Plecos can live alone. They are solitary fish and do not need tank mates to keep them company. However, it’s important to note that male Bristlenose Plecos are territorial towards each other, so they should not be kept together in a small tank. If you’re a beginner or have limited space, it’s recommended to keep just one Bristlenose Pleco per tank. They’re calm and mild-mannered towards other species, making them perfect for community tanks.

How many Bristlenose Pleco should be kept together?

Bristlenose Plecos are generally solitary fish, but they can tolerate several other plecos, given that the tank is large enough. However, they are territorial fish. If you wish to keep two bristlenose plecos together in the same tank, consider keeping a male-female pair or two females. Never keep more than one male bristlenose pleco in a tank, as they’re very territorial and won’t hesitate to fight each other.

Also, you need to provide them with enough space to avoid conflicts. Two bristlenose plecos require a minimum of 30 gallon tank or larger to live comfortably. You should also keep plenty of live plants, miniature caves, and hiding spots in the tank. A bristlenose pleco can grow to be five inches long, and it requires plenty of space to live comfortably.


Bristlenose Plecos are generally considered easy to breed. They usually only need to be provided with a cave to spawn in, and the rest they do on their own. All you need is a pair of adult plecos interested in mating and a tank large enough for them. When the temperature gets cooler, somewhat close to the average temperature of the Amazon in the rainy season, the mating will start.

Bristlenose plecos generally start to breed when they’re around 3 inches in length, which is usually around one year in age. Males will start developing their bristles around this time. It’s best for the fish to only start breeding at 1.5 years of age, as this demands a lot from them. Depending on the growth rate, they begin to mature sexually at 6 to 8 months and will breed regularly for close to a year.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to breed Bristlenose Plecos:

  1. Breeding Tank Setup: Set up a separate breeding tank with cooler water than the main tank, about 72°F. The tank should be large enough for the pair and have some hiding spaces and a stable structure for spawning.
  2. Selecting the Pair: Choose up to three healthy females and one healthy male pleco. It’s crucial to ensure the mating pair’s proper age and experience. Usually, a pleco aged between 1-1.5 years works the best.
  3. Diet and Conditioning: Feed the fish nutritious food to condition them for breeding. It is generally recommended to keep your Bristlenose on a diet that features 85% plants and 15% meat. However, if you’re trying to breed your plecos, you should slightly increase the meaty foods in their diet. In addition, you can encourage breeding by lowering the water temperature to approximately 72°F and increasing the amount of protein in their diet.
  4. Spawning: The male lures the female into its cave where the female releases the eggs. The male will then trap the female in the cave. It usually takes a few hours for the mating process to finish.
  5. Fertilization: Once the eggs have been laid, the male will chase the female out of the cave. The male will fertilize the eggs once they’re outside of the female’s body.
  6. Guarding the Eggs: The male is responsible for guarding the eggs and fry until they leave the cave. The eggs will hatch in about 5 to 10 days.
  7. Feeding the Fry: In their first few weeks, baby Bristlenose Plecos will mostly feed off their yolk sacs. Once they start swimming around freely in the tank, you should start feeding them some food. They will consume algae in the same way that their parents did, but mashed vegetables are a great supplement.

Remember, mating is not something you can force or be sure of. You have to provide the right conditions and then let nature take its course.

Bristlenose Pleco Eggs

Bristlenose Plecos can lay between 50 and 200 eggs per spawn. The frequency of egg laying can vary depending on several factors such as the health of the fish, their age, and the conditions in the tank. However, it’s important to note that the survival rate of eggs is still quite low, even in captivity. Very rarely have more than 10 out of over 100 eggs survived. This number can be lower for new young males since they frequently fan the eggs out of the cave and never carry them back.

Bristlenose Pleco eggs will usually be between two- and four-millimeter large, orange balls. The eggs are laid in caves, and the male will guard the spawning area for the 5 to 10 days it takes for the eggs to hatch. After hatching, the fry will absorb their egg yolk for a few days, and once finished with that, they will move on immediately to eating algae.

Bristlenose Pleco Types

There are several types of Bristlenose Plecos, including:

  • Common Bristlenose Pleco: Depending on the condition of the water, it can be brownish, greenish, or greyish in color.
  • Longfin Bristlenose Pleco: This variant of the Bristlenose Pleco is known for its long, flowing fins.
  • Albino Bristlenose Pleco: An albino variant of the Bristlenose Pleco with a white, light-yellow, or pink-ish body color.
  • Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco: It has transparent, generally green fins that give it a delicate, ethereal appearance.
  • Blue Eyed Lemon Bristlenose Pleco: A variant with blue eyes and yellow coloration.
  • Super Red Bristlenose Pleco: A selectively bred variant with a primarily orange and light red body all around.
  • Starlight Bristlenose Pleco: This pleco features a charming combination of black and white spots covering its body, creating a mesmerizing pattern.
  • Calico Bristlenose Pleco: Known for its calico color pattern.

Each type has unique characteristics and color variations that make them a wonderful addition to any aquarium.

Bristlenose Pleco vs Common Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos and Common Plecos are both popular choices for aquarium enthusiasts, but they have some differences:

  • Appearance: Bristlenose Plecos have somewhat elongated lips and wider heads, which are shorter and a bit plumper. They also have bony plates covering their bodies. Female Bristlenose Plecos may have a small ring of bristles around the front. Bristlenose Plecos are usually more solid in color or spotted, while Common Plecos have a leopard pattern and can be wider.
  • Size: Bristlenose Plecos are smaller in size. On average, they grow to be 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) when fully grown. In contrast, Common Plecos can grow much larger. Common Plecos can grow to 15 inches or more.
  • Diet: Bristlenose Plecosare known as algae eating machines. On the other hand, Common Plecos are omnivores and have a more varied diet.

Remember, both types of Plecos make great additions to an aquarium but their care requirements differ slightly. Always ensure you can provide the right environment and diet for your fish before bringing them home.


Are Bristelnose Plecos Messy?

Bristlenose Plecos are known to be quite messy. They produce a lot of waste, which means they require heavy filtration and frequent water changes. Regular cleaning of the tank, especially the substrate, is important for the health of your plecos. Despite their reputation for eating algae and keeping tanks clean, they don’t actually “clean” your tanks by just eating some algae here and there. So, while they can help control algae levels, they also contribute to the waste in the tank.

Are Bristelnose Plecos poisonous?

Plecos in general, including Bristlenose Plecos, are not poisonous. They do have spines which can cause discomfort if you get pricked by them, but they do not contain venom. While they aren’t poisonous, it’s important to handle them carefully to avoid getting hurt by their spines.

Many people wonder if Bristlenose Plecos are poisonous because some species of armored catfish are poisonous. For example, in stressful or life-threatening situations, Corydoras can release toxins. This toxin is designed to deter predators but often has lethal effects for the fish itself. This process is called self-poisoning. While Corydoras are poisonous to other fish, they are not poisonous to humans.

The main distinction between Plecostomus (including Bristlenose Plecos) and Corydoras in terms of being poisonous is that while Plecos are not poisonous and only have sharp spines for defense, Corydoras have the ability to release toxins when threatened.

Do Bristlenose Pleco clean your tank?

Bristlenose Plecos are known to help clean your tank. They are excellent scavengers and will consume the uneaten food that falls to the bottom of the tank. They are also known to be one of the best tank cleaners as they perform the daily task of removing the algae from the glass and decorations.

Despite their cleaning abilities, regular tank maintenance and water changes are still necessary. They should not be relied upon as the sole means of tank maintenance. Regular cleaning practices should still be followed for a healthy aquarium environment.

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