Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide

Category: Catfish

Common Names: Bristlenose Pleco

Scientific Name: Ancistrus sp

Family: Loricariidae

Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Peaceful

Max Size: 5 Inches

Temperature: 74-80 F

pH: 6.5-7.5

Tank Level: Bottom

Colors: Orange, Tan, White

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Moderate

Species Overview

Bristlenose plecos, sometimes referred to by other names such as bushy nose pleco or bristle catfish, are a favorite among aquarium fanatics. With their unique patterns and unique appendages, they’re beautiful and wonderful to watch.

Originally from South America, bristlenose pleco evolved to eat algae and other plant life that grows in fresh waters. Their natural ability to find and consume algae makes them a practical addition to almost any aquarium.

Like many other catfish in the Loricariidae family, bristlenose plecos are popular among novice aquarium owners. They’re generally easy to care for and have unique personalities that tropical fish enthusiasts love.

Distinguishing Features

The most prominent feature of the bristlenose pleco is the appendages that extend out of the top of its head. These structures or bristles are more sizable in males than in females. They generally begin to grow when the fish is six months or older.

Like other plecos, bristlenoses have an armored body. These fish have armor-like bone plates that cover the length of their bodies. These plates give the fish a tough exterior that helps keep them protected from predators.

Compared to other species in the Loricariidae family, bristlenose plecos have bigger lips and shorter, fan-like fins and tails. A variation of bristlenoses called long-fin have fins roughly double the size of the common variety.

Bristlenoses have flat bodies, similar to other catfish, and their mouth is on the bottom of their body. These features allow the fish to roam the bottom of river beds eating algae and other food without being detected by predators.

Another way they prevent detection is with their patterns. Wild bristlenoses are dark in coloring, usually brown, black, or gray, with white or yellow spots. Their spotted bodies help them camouflage with their surroundings while also providing a beautiful pattern.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco


Bristlenose plecos originated in tropical South America, where various species live in areas across the continent. Some species live in locations like Panama and the Caribbean islands, but most live in the freshwater tributaries that feed the Amazon river.

In the wild, bristlenose plecos are a resilient species. They can thrive in fast-moving water or almost stagnant water. Generally, they do better in moving water, which is essential in an aquarium setting.

Their natural habitat can range from crystal clear to muddy waters. The rivers in their natural habitats tend to be clear due to fast-moving water. In an aquarium, they do best if your substrate replicates their original habitat, which means using sand, clay, and small rocks.

These plecos feed by attaching themselves, via their mouths, to a firm substrate. Then, using their lips and mouth, they suck up plant matter that’s found abundantly in their natural habitats, such as algae.


Bristlenose plecos tend to grow between five and six inches long, although males can reach up to eight inches long. Males are slightly larger than females on average. Females generally have flatter, wider heads than skinnier males.

Males usually have bulkier appendages or bristles. Whereas the male’s appendages stick out of the snout, the female’s stick out of their head, and they have a smooth snout. Males also have spikes that stick out of their fins, but females don’t have any appendages on their fins.


Bristlenose plecos have a relatively long lifespan compared to other tropical fish. Most tropical fish only live between three and five years in aquarium conditions. In contrast, bristlenoses can live for as long as 15 years!

Their long lifespan is ideal for aquarium enthusiasts who like to get to know their fish. Since plecos also have unique personalities, you’ll learn your fish’s routine, habits, and other essential information that you’ll use for more than a decade.


Male and female bristlenoses share many of the same features, but there are methods to tell them apart. The most noticeable difference is that males have bristles all over their faces and spikes on their fins, while females only have appendages on their heads.

Although males are generally longer and heavier than females, females are wider and plumper. Females also become larger when they’re carrying eggs. Females have broader heads than males, as well.

Males and females also tend to act differently in an aquarium. Males are more likely to find a dark spot like a cave and hide, but females are more likely to roam around the bottom of the tank.


In most circumstances, bristlenose plecos are peaceful fish that interact well with other fish. Due to their natural position as bottom feeders, they generally ignore other fish. Since their food source often differs from other fish, they don’t have to fight over food.

There’s one instance where bristlenose plecos become aggressive—during mating. If two males attempt to mate with a female, they become territorial and aggressive. They’re also known to fight for mates. It’s best to keep genders of the same species apart.

Tank Parameters

If you’re going to get a bristlenose pleco, you need to know some specifics about their tank conditions so your fishy friends can thrive. Here’s the essential information about tank conditions and other information you need to know.

Minimum Tank Size

The minimum size for a bristlenose tank is 20 gallons, although they do much better in 30 gallon tanks or more. Although 20 gallon tanks will suffice, they aren’t ideal. They don’t have enough space for the fish to thrive, particularly when it’s fully grown.

If you’re using a 20 gallon tank, consider exchanging it for a 30 gallon or larger tank as your pleco grows. For every additional pleco, you should get a tank with 10 gallons of extra volume.

Water Parameters

Here’s everything you need to know about water parameters for bristlenose pleco. Notably, adult bristlenoses can generally handle some changes to these parameters, but the young fish are more vulnerable.


Bristlenose plecos come from warm regions in South America, so their water needs to replicate their natural environment. Ideally, your tank’s water should be between 73-80ºF (23-27ºC).

Plecos can usually survive small changes to these temperatures, but significant changes can result in poor health and even death.


These fish like their water to be close to neutral. Ideally, the pH should range between 6.5 and 7.5 on the pH scale. If your tank water strays too far from the ideal pH, your fish may become lethargic and sick.


In nature, bristlenose plecos live in freshwater environments with very low salinity. In an aquarium, you should replicate their natural environment and use fresh water. If you use salt water, your bristlenose plecos will become dehydrated and can die.

Tank Setup

Once you’ve found the perfect size tank and know how to set up the water, all that’s left is to fill the tank with all the other things to help your bristlenose thrive.


In nature, bristlenose plecos live in environments with various different substrates. They live in areas with sand, silt, and rocks that form productive areas for plants and algae. In a tank, bristlenoses thrive when conditions are similar.

Pleco enthusiasts generally mix or layer their substrates to replicate their natural surroundings. It’s best to use a mix of gravel, clay, and dirt. The dirt and clay form the base layer where plants put down roots, while the gravel sits on top.

Giving your bristlenose plecos a bare tank isn’t a good idea. Since bristlenoses are bottom feeders, they like to roam near the substrate looking for food. They will become bored without substrate, and there won’t be anywhere for plants to grow.

Two Cory Catfish with Bristlenose Pleco


Like other bottom feeders, bristlenose plecos like to have places to hide, particularly during the day. In the wild, these nocturnal fish prefer to do most of their hunting and moving at night. During the day, they like to find somewhere safe to rest.

Aside from plants, which we’ll get to next, choose decorations that your pleco can use to hide. Some practical decorations for fish who enjoy hiding are:

  • Rocks
  • Caves or tunnels
  • Pipes
  • Wood or logs

When decorating your tank, always remember that bristlenose plecos are bottom feeders. They need to move around and may bump into the decorations. Sometimes they dig underneath decorations, too.

That’s why it’s essential you place the decorations directly on the floor of the tank rather than the substrate. If you put it on the substrate and your pleco digs below it, the decoration can crush your fish, which may result in serious injury.

Decorations are great for adding places to hide, but they add another benefit to bristlenose habitats—algae growth. Things like rocks and logs provide the perfect place for algae to grow, which gives your pleco a food source and conditions more similar to nature.


Bristlenose plecos love plants, so it’s necessary you provide an adequate amount for your fishy friend. Bristlenoses use plants to hide, and they eat the dead particles that fall off of the plants. But don’t worry, they don’t like to eat fresh plants, so your plants will be safe in the tank.

You don’t need to worry about getting plants native to their habitat in South America. Instead, choose plants that fit well with a bristlenose’s personality. That means large plants they can hide in during the day. Some ideal plants for a bristlenose tank include:

  • Java fern
  • Java moss
  • Water wisteria
  • Amazon sword

The tank should have plenty of plants to provide your pleco with adequate stimulation. You shouldn’t cover the entire tank floor with plants, but the more you can comfortably fit in the tank, the better.


Since bristlenose plecos are nocturnal in nature, there aren’t any concrete lighting requirements. Instead, you need to ensure there’s adequate natural or artificial light to keep the plants alive.

On top of that, you need to ensure you give your plecos adequate darkness. The best time to do this is at night. During the night, turn off any artificial lights. Once the lights are out, your bristlenose will become more active around the tank.


Bristlenose plecos originated in fast-moving streams, and they need moderate water flow with high levels of oxygen to replicate their natural habitat. When it comes to filtration, a hang-on-back (HOB) in combination with a sponge filter works, but it isn’t the best option.

Instead, the best option is a canister filter. Canister filters can handle higher flows and are more efficient at filtering out media. And that’s a good thing because bristlenoses produce significant amounts of waste. Ensure you purchase a filter rated for your tank’s size to get optimal results.


As stated before, bristlenose plecos need an average water temperature between 73-80ºF. To keep within that temperature range, it’s necessary that you use a water heater. Without a heater, the water can get too cold, which can cause death in extreme situations.

After installing a water heater, you should take some other steps to ensure a steady level of heat. First, move your tank away from direct sunlight. Although the tank should be in a room with sunlight, direct sunlight can cause the tank to heat up, which can cause problems.

Plants also help give your bristlenose places to find refuge from any heat or light. Plants give your pleco places to cool down and escape any excess heat.


Bristlenose plecos are herbivores who mainly consume algae and dead plant matter in the wild. In a tank, they will roam around looking for these same food sources. If you’ve decorated your tank with plants and logs, there should be some sources of food for your fish.

But that won’t be enough for them to survive all on their own, so you need to provide them with some food. In most cases, you can find flakes or pellets specially designed for pleco diets. On top of that, you can also feed them algae wafers.

Once a week, you can provide your bristlenose with peeled zucchini, cucumber, or lettuce. Plecos love these foods, and they work well as a treat. You should feed your pleco with flakes or pellets once a day, giving them the recommended amount based on their size.


Compared to other tropical fish, bristlenose plecos are generally easy to breed. The three biggest requirements for breeding bristlenoses are a mating pair, an average water temperature of 72ºF, and a cave or other covered location for the female to lay eggs.

Some people choose to use a separate tank for breeding. They do this because males can get fairly aggressive toward one another during mating season. It’s best to keep males separate during breeding, ideally by moving them to an isolated tank.

Males will look for hidden spots to create nests for females, usually in caves or beneath other decorations. Once the female lays her eggs, they take between 4 and 10 days to hatch. Once they hatch, you can feed the fry algae wafers.

Albino Bristle Nose Pleco

Common Diseases

Bristlenose plecos are generally a hardy species that fights off infections, but they can still occur. In tanks, bristlenose plecos are susceptible to various diseases, including ich and dropsy.


Ich, also known as white-spot disease, is a major problem for aquarium owners. Almost all species of freshwater fish can catch the disease, which makes bristlenose plecos in danger. Ich first causes white spots to form in the tank and on your fish.

Once you see the spots on your fish, it might be too late. Once ich infects their gills and other essential organs, most fish die. Ich is incredibly hard to get rid of, so prevention is the best method.

The best prevention method is quarantining new fish because they could be asymptomatic carriers. Keep new fish in a separate aquarium for 30 days to see if they develop an active infection. If they don’t, you should be safe to transfer them into your tank.


Dropsy is a condition caused by various types of infections or conditions. Although it’s not an infection itself, it’s a serious condition that can kill your pleco if you don’t treat it correctly. Dropsy affects many types of fish, including the bristlenose pleco.

Dropsy causes your fish’s abdomen to rapidly increase in size. Fish with dropsy have trouble swimming and breathing, and they usually have a distended belly. The distended belly is caused by fluid building up in the area.

If left untreated, dropsy can kill your pleco. The key to preventing dropsy is to keep your tank clean to lower the chances of a bacterial infection that can cause dropsy. Once your fish has dropsy, you must take your fish to a trained veterinarian so they can diagnose and treat the underlying condition causing dropsy.

Potential Tank Mates

Since bristlenose plecos are peaceful creatures in most circumstances, they need tank mates that are also peaceful. Plecos also inhabit that bottom part of the tank, so it’s ideal if you get tank mates that occupy the top or middle sections.

Since some variations of bristlenose plecos have long fins, not to mention their bristles, it’s best to avoid fish that nip at others. These include things like angelfish or tiger barbs. Some fish that pair well with bristlenoses are:

  • Guppies
  • Platy fish
  • Molly fish
  • Gourami
  • Glass catfish
  • Hatchetfish