Bristlenose Pleco: The Ultimate Care Guide

Types of Plecos catfish

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The Bushy Nose, or more commonly known as the Bristlenose Pleco, is listed as one of the most popular freshwater fish in the aquarium trade. Of course, there are reasons behind their massive popularity.

One of their best traits is their appearance. The “whiskers” on their faces are the most unique feature they have. Besides, they also grow smaller than other types of catfish, making them suitable for smaller tanks.

The second thing they are most popular for is their cleaning ability. Bristlenose is a member of the clean-up crew. They have a big appetite for the algae that grows inside the tank.

If you’re already curious and want to know the catfish more in-depth, you’re in the right place. We will discuss the essentials of the bristlenose pleco. Let’s jump right in!

Species Overview

Common NamesBristlenose Pleco, Bristlenose Catfish, Bushy Nose, Suckerfish
Scientific NameAncistrus cirrhosus
Sizeup to 6 inches
Lifespanaround 5 years, sometimes up to 10-15 years
OriginAmazon River, South America
Care LevelEasy
TemperamentPeaceful, can be territorial
CompatibilityCommunity Fish
BreedingEgg layer
Minimum Tank Size20 gallon
Water Temperature73-81°F (23-27°C)
Water Hardness2 – 20 dGH
Water pH Level5.8 – 7.5
Tank ConditionsFreshwater, any type of substrate, caves, and hiding places

Origin & Distribution

Originated from South America, Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus) inhabits waters with fast currents in Maroni, Suriname, and Saramacca along the Amazon River basins. Some species are also live in freshwater columns in Central America, including Panama.

Today, they are not only available in their native countries. The pleco is highly popular and sought after by aquarists from various countries. That’s why they are now commercially bred and easy to find all across the globe.


Bristlenose pleco head
Bristlenose pleco head | Image by

We have mentioned earlier that Bristlenose Pleco has a unique appearance and looks a bit peculiar. It’s pretty easy to recognize them even at a glance.

The fish’s body is a bit flat, with bony plates covering the overall body. Another district feature they have is their fins. The bushy nose has a sail-like dorsal fin with two pairs of pectoral fins on their sides.

Compared to other types of catfish, the bristlenose has a shorter, fatter, and wider head. Their mouth is on the bottom side of their body. It is round, and they have elongated lips. This mouth is also known as a suckermouth. It helps the bristlenose to attach itself to surfaces and feed, as they are bottom feeders.

Another unique feature of the bristlenose pleco is their bristles, which explains their given nickname. Those fleshy whiskers begin to develop when they reach maturity, usually within the age of 6 months. The bristles are more prominent in males. They are usually longer, larger, and more to the upper part of the head as well. In females, the bristles are smaller and only develop around the mouth.

As for the coloration, bristlenose comes in darker shades like brown, black, grey, and olive. Except for the albino one, which also has different fins size. In addition, there are white or yellow dots covering their overall bodies. They also have a lighter abdomen area than the back area.

Fun Fact: The dark colors of the bristlenose make them blend in easily with the environment in their natural habitat. They are also able to disguise themselves well in tanks. The purpose is to avoid being seen by aggressive fish and predators.

Size & Lifespan

This pleco is smaller than other fish types of the family. When they are mature, they can reach a maximum size of 6 inches. Bristlenose pleco generally grows around 3 to 5 inches in captivity. They grow rather rapidly during the first six months, but they become an official adult after two years.

You can have the catfish around for quite a long time. Most bristlenose plecos live for approximately five years, or even longer. Some reports state that this fish can live up to 12 years in the wild. However, their life expectancy depends on the care they receive and genetics.

Types of Bristlenose Pleco

Several types of bristlenose pleco are available out there. The differences are mainly in their coloration or the length of the fins. After all, they are still in one species.

1. Calico

Calico is recognizable from its orange color base with uneven black patches covering their bodies. The patches sometimes take over the base color. It makes the fish looks like it’s black with a hint of orange.

2. Super Red

This type of bristlenose pleco is stunning, although it’s not red in reality. Super Red bristlenose comes with a vibrant orange color covering the fish’s overall body. They are show-stealer and will stand out in any aquarium.

3. Starlight

As the name suggests, the appearance of this bushy nose resembles a starry night sky. The body is perfectly black and sprinkled with white dots all over. It’s a pattern which we usually call polka-dots, but on a fish. In addition, they have a white stripe along the tip of their caudal and dorsal fins. This fish is utterly beautiful.

4. Albino

It is the easiest bristlenose to spot. Unlike any other typical bristlenose, the albino ones have a bright yellow color with a slight pink tone all over their body. If you look closely, you may be able to see some patterns as well.

5. Longfin

This one is perhaps the only bristlenose variation that’s not named based on its coloration. Still, this type of bristlenose pleco is gorgeous. It has long and flowy fins that are pleasing to the eyes. It includes their dorsal, pectoral, and tail fins. All those fins move gracefully as the fish swim around. No wonder why this type is one of the most popular among aquarists.

Caring For Bristlenose Pleco

bristlenose catfish sucking aquarium wall

The bushy nose is one fish that is easy to keep. They only need the basics to survive and thrive. Also, they are not prone to any specific diseases.

You can perform regular water changes weekly to maintain the ideal water condition. Around 25% to 50% of the water is enough. Also, don’t forget to remove the leftover foods and other decaying matter from the tank.

Tank Size

The minimum tank size to house a bristlenose pleco is 25 gallons. A slightly smaller size like 20 gallons is also tolerable. It’s possible to keep the pleco in such a small tank size because they are relatively small. Also, they do not necessarily need to live as a shoal.

However, you may need to upgrade the tank size if you’re planning to keep your fish in a community tank. All fish requires ample space to move around as well as oxygen in the water. Besides, some of them produce lots of bioloads. A bigger tank would be beneficial in that case.


Good filtration is essential in the bristlenose pleco-keeping journey. The fish lives in waters with moderate to fast-flowing currents in the wild. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have plenty of flows throughout the tank.

To make a nice and moderate flow, you can utilize several air stones or water pumps. The flows ensure the water to be well oxygenated since plecos thrive best in such conditions.

As for the filtration, we recommend using canister or hang-on-back (HOB) filters. They work well removing the waste, knowing that bristlenose produce a good amount of it.

Besides, the canister filter also functions well with the under-gravel system. It is a system that helps to keep the water well aerated. It also ensures that the bottom of the tank is in good condition.

Sometimes, you may see your fish occasionally going up to the surface. If you see it frequently, you may need to test the water. It may indicate a high level of ammonia and nitrates or a low oxygen level in the water.


You’re probably stressing over what substrates suit the bristlenose well, knowing that they will spend most of their time there. But that is not necessary. The creature can live with any kind of substrate you provide them.

In their natural environment, the substrate is composed of dirt, clay, and gravel. In case you want to mimic it, you can use dirt or clay substrate on the bottom. Then, cover it with gravel as the top layer.

Plants & Decorations

The bristlenose is naturally nocturnal. Therefore, many hiding places and some shadowy areas are ideal for them.

Live floating plants are a good choice since it blocks the light to enter the tank. Some fake plants also will do, as long as they are silk. However, live plants are more advisable because not only do they provide a hiding space, they also help to maintain good tank condition.

You can also consider getting some driftwoods. Again, it is a great shelter, and algae will grow on it. Driftwood can be an extra feeding place for the plecos. Other decors such as caves and castles will also do the plecos some favor. They will benefit from the dark spaces when it’s daylight.

Don’t forget to turn off all your aquarium lights at night, if you have any. The bushy nose is active during the night and will not eat if it’s not dark.

Some decors you need to avoid are the ones made of plastic with sharp ends or seams. Although the bristlenose pleco is armored, there’s still a chance for the fish to get hurt.

Water Parameters

The bristlenose is famous for being hardy and able to tolerate various water conditions. But to support their well-being and long life expectancy, you should provide them the best water condition you can.

Coming from South America, these fish prefer warmer water temperatures ranging from 73-81°F. However, the pleco can also thrive in lower temperatures like 60°F.

The ideal pH for the bristlenose pleco fall between 5.8 to 7.5, and the hardness level ranges from 2 to 20 dGH.

Even though the bristlenose is sturdy, the juveniles can’t handle sudden water fluctuations very well. It makes them more prone to some diseases. If you keep a young bushy nose, make sure to pay attention to the water condition.

Diet & Feeding

albino bristlenose pleco

The bristlenose pleco is primarily a herbivore.  Even so, some proteins are also essential. Bristlenose eats the decaying plant and animal matter, algae, and driftwood in the wild. In captivity, they need pretty much the same food.

You can feed your bristlenose sinking pellets or algae wafers daily. Give them blanched vegetables to supplement their nutritional needs. Some recommended veggies are carrots, cabbages, peas, zucchini, and lettuce.

As for the protein, bloodworms or blackworms will do. You don’t need to feed them meat-based food often. Once a week will be enough. In case you have a ready-to-breed female in the tank, you can add extra bloodworms and veggies.

In addition, the bristlenose also loves to roam around the substrate and tank, devouring algae. Driftwood will also be a good food source addition. The outer layer will rot and soften, making it a delicious extra snack for the pleco.

Feeding the bristlenose pleco needs to be done once or twice every day. Keep in mind to only give them food after dark. If the tank is too bright, these fish won’t come out to eat.

You can determine if the catfish is well-fed or not by their colors. If the color and pattern seem dull and soft, it’s an indicator that they lack nutrition. Another sign of an underfed fish is when they start munching on your plants. Although bristlenose are herbivores, they don’t usually ruin the plants.

Useful Tip: If you notice that your bristlenose lose their appetite, it may be an indicator that they are sick or that something is wrong with the water. In the latter case, you need to change 30% of the water and use bubble-up filters with activated carbon. Or sometimes your fish are just bored with their food. You can try giving them food from different brands or other varieties of vegetables.


Bristlenose Pleco is a peaceful and docile species. You can house them pretty much with other docile fish around the same size.

However, the male can get aggressive and territorial during the spawning season. They will also fight each other if you keep more than one male in a tank.

It’s advisable to house only one male bristlenose with around two to four females.

Keeping bristlenose pleco in a shoal is not necessary. The catfish will do well on their own and prefer to mind their own business.

Compatible Tank Mates

Again, bristlenose pleco is a calm and peaceful bottom dweller. Keeping them together with other calm mid-water or surface swimmers will create a balance in the tank. They also won’t disturb other bottom dwellers. Just make sure they have ample room to slide around.

Some great tank mates for the bristlenose are:

The bristlenose can be a good tank companion for many species. Even so, there are some fish you need to avoid being kept together with the bushy nose. Several less suitable tank mates for the pleco are:

  • Bigger Plecostomus species
  • Tiger Barbs
  • Puffer Fish
  • Aggressive and large Cichlids

You also need to avoid keeping two male bristlenose together in a tank. They won’t hesitate to fight each other for the females and territory.


Breeding the bristlenose pleco is easy but not something we would recommend. It is not something for beginners to try for fun. They can produce hundreds of offspring even in a community tank. But if you plan to breed them, we can tell you the steps.

Things You Need To Know Before Breeding Bristlenose Pleco

  1. As long as the water is in its best condition and the bristlenose pleco are well fed, they can breed. They can spawn in a community tank without you even knowing. Sometimes the female lays the eggs behind the filters (if they fit). However, the eggs and fry are unlikely to survive since other tank inhabitants will see them as meals.
  2. In their natural habitat, the breeding season occurs during the cold rainy season. To mimic this, you can change 75% of the water and decrease the temperature slightly (to 72-74°F). It’s because the change to cooler temperature and influx of freshwater indicates wet rainy floods.
  3. To breed the bristlenose, you will need at least one male and around two females in the tank. Having more than one male bristlenose in one aquarium is not a good idea since they get pretty aggressive and territorial during spawning season.
  4. If you plan to breed them in a separate tank, make sure that it contains at least 25 gallons of water. There shouldn’t be any substrate in the breeding tank. Instead, you can put rocks, caves, bamboo tubes, or driftwoods. By doing so, you provide the male with various options to choose the best spot for him to care for the eggs.
  5. Breeding bristlenose pleco is not for fun. They can lay up to 200 eggs. You will need some massive aquariums to house them all later. Besides, the fish stores near you will unlikely buy the juveniles from you. It’s also not allowed to release them in rivers in some areas.

The Breeding Process

You can notice when the male and female bristlenose are ready to breed. The female will get fatter around their mid-body section, and they might look like a hot-air balloon. The male will seek a place for the female to lay the eggs, usually a cave or driftwood hollow.

Then the breeding process begins. Once the male has found a spot, he will make sure that it’s clean and safe. Then, he guides or waits for the female to enter his cave.

The female will inspects the spot and decides whether she thinks it’s perfect or not. If it is, then she will lay her eggs inside the cave. The female bristlenose can lay around 30 to 200 eggs. It depends on the fish’s size and age.

After that, the male will quickly eject the female from the cave and start his duty protecting the eggs. The eggs will hatch within 4 to 10 days. You can accelerate the hatching by increasing the water temperature up to 82°F.

When the eggs have already become fries, they will stay on the sides of the cave while absorbing the yolk sac. Even during this time, the male bristlenose will keep guarding the baby bristlenose. It usually takes around four days until the fries start swimming freely.

 Once the fries can swim around, you can feed them infusoria or powdered spirulina. After a few days, you can add brine shrimp and veggies to your diet. They will even start to devour algae just like their parents.

Juveniles grow pretty fast if you feed them three times a day and perform water changes of 20% daily. Within six months, you will notice that they already have fleshy tentacles on their faces and become as big as their parents.

Is Bristlenose Pleco For You?

Bristlenose Pleco is one of the best freshwater bottom-dweller you can get. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or advanced aquarist. They have a unique appearance, fun behavior, are sturdy, and are pretty helpful.

It’s also not a difficult task to care for the bristlenose. They are low maintenance and can tolerate various water conditions. All you need to do is feed them a balanced diet and keep the tank condition optimal.

Now you’re all set to start your bristlenose keeping journey! Please feel free to share your experience with the bristlenose. You can also leave some comments or questions below!

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