Bristlenose Pleco: Care and Breeding Guide

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.

They are quite small in 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 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 Chart
Care Level:
Easy
Temperament:
Peaceful
Color:
Grey, black, brown (the common pleco)
Lifespan:
Over 5 years
Size:
5 inches maximum
Family
Loricariidae
Diet:
Herbivore
Minimum Tank Size:

At least 25 gallons

Temperature:
73 to 81 F (23 to 27 C)
Water Conditions:
pH 5.8 to 7.8, 20 to 30 dGH
Tank Mate Compatibility
Other peaceful fish

Care Level

The bristlenose pleco is a small and peaceful fish, which helps them acclimate easily in the tank. Since it comes natural 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.

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.

Temperament and Behavior

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 birstlenose 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.

Appearance

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

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.

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 White Spotted Dwarf Hypancistrus Pleco, which grows only to about 2.5 inches maximum in its adult size is the smallest pleco.

Color

Their usual coloring of black, brown, grey and green helps them blend in and camouflage with their surroundings in the wild. This will also further protect them from larger and more aggressive fish. The solid base color is decorated with white or yellow spots, and their underbellies are also of a lighter color. Let’s take a look at the different variations of the bristlenose pleco.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

First on our list is also the most popular one in the aquarium trade. The albino bristlenose pleco is very different from other plecos because it’s of a lighter color. 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 a mix of mainly orange and black, which is what the calico bristlenose looks like. Aquarists love this variation because it sort of 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. Just 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 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

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!

Diet

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 source of food is algae, and they spend most of their time sifting through substrate and the gravel bed in river basins looking for other plant-based food. At times, they can even feed on insect larvae (which contributes to their partly carnivorous diet).

It’s difficult to give them the opportunity 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 their 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 that is 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 do 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 what yours 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.

In this case, a good way to ensure they get enough in their food, you can 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, which can make it easy to tell. The albino bristlenose pleco is one that has brighter hues as well as the super red, which also makes it easier to monitor.

Family

The bristlenose pleco is from the loricariidae family, and is a freshwater fish that is native to South America.

Tank Conditions

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 that they can mistake for food. This refers to smaller substrate such as sand. 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 bustling around during the day, the bristlenose pleco will need quiet places to rest until the sun goes down. Being tank cleaners, they 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.

Live plants are great for aeration in the tank, which the bristlenose plecos needs a lot of. Also keep the water-flow moderate. Some filters can help with that, we have introduce some top filters here.

Temperature

They are used to warmer waters thanks to their natural environment, and would 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.

Water Conditions

As for the water conditions, the bristlenose pleco needs pH 5.8 to 7.8, and 20 to 30 dGH.

Minimum Tank Size

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.

Maintenance and Care

You may need to change out the water bi-weekly or monthly. It can be pushed to monthly because the bristlenose pleco is hardy and are helpful tank cleaners. They aren’t prone to serious illnesses, but if you see suspicious behavior such as your bristlenose plecos spending more time near the surface, this is something to look into. Causes for them to want to surface could be because the water isn’t oxygenated enough or there is too much ammonia.

If you see your bristlenose pleco popping up once a day or every once in a while, there is still no cause for concern. it’s only worrisome if it has become a regular habit. Another suspicious habit that could indicate illness is if your bristlenose plecos starts feeding and becoming active during the day. Also, don’t panic if your bristlenose plecos don’t seem to be moving much at all. They are known to be able to just lay low in the tank for hours on end.

When this happens you would need to check the water parameters more closely. 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, make sure to remove it when you see the slightest sign of illness symptoms. Once removed, double check the rest of the community closely to make sure no one else is sick. If you do find other victims, remove them to the hospital tank as well.

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

Suitable Tank Mates

Bristlenose plecos are very friendly and can play nice with most other 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 do happen, their bony armor serves as protection from aggressive species.

Tetras are a great breed to keep with them, and guppies as well. 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 do like to swim around as well. For such small fish, they need enough space to feel free, which can also limit the aggressive breakouts between other fish. A few other species that are great tank mates include:

Compatibility

The bristlenose plecos are incredibly easy to keep and aren’t picky about who they share the tank with. Since they are small in size, it’s best not to include larger species that could mistake them for food. Remember to steer away from fish that resemble the plecos, so peaceful species of a similar size are best.

bristlenose pleco guide

Breeding

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 species of fish, 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, which happens 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 for it 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 an abundant amount of space to keep them apart. When you see the male swimming about seeming to be in search for something, you will know the game is on. The male will try to search for 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 lay in wait for the female. When the lady appears, she will inspect the cave first. If she deeps it acceptable she will lay her eggs all 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 will allow more than one female to populate the cave with her eggs. However, no two males can claim one cave so you need to make sure 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 isn’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 have the tendency to devour their own 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 with latch themselves onto their egg sacs and feed for another 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 of mostly algae, so that 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 then 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 as well as their parents.

Conclusion

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 in some way). They are very 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 if you want a fish, the bristlenose catfish is a great choice. 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 to 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 to not move for hours. If you want to watch them during the day, you just need to simulate nighttime conditions by keeping the tank in a shaded area or turn the lights off.

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