Bristlenose Pleco Guide: Info, Size, Colors & Pictures

The Bristlenose Pleco is one of the most popular Catfish around.

They are beginner friendly and have the same beautiful speckled pattern as any other Plecostomus.

As their name suggests they also have several bristles around their snout.

Most keepers choose to add them to their aquarium because they make very effective algae and detritus cleaners. Plus, their peaceful nature means they get along with many other kinds of aquarium fish.

Are you looking to add a Bristlenose Pleco to your tank?

Keep reading for a complete care guide including: diet, tank mates, breeding, setup and more…

Golden Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos 101

Bristlenose Pleco

The most popular Bristlenose Pleco is the Ancistrus cirrhosus.

Ancistrus cirrhosus originate from South America and are commonly known as Bushynose Catfish, Bushymouth Catfish and Jumbie Teta.

Surprisingly this fish does not come from the Plecostomus genus, they actually come from Loricariidae (the largest known family of Catfish).

The Bristlenose Pleco gained its popularity because they are much much smaller than other aquarium Loricariids. This makes them the best species for any keeper that does not feel ready for the care requirements of a full sized Plecostomus.

Their size makes them suitable for larger Nano tanks and small Goldfish tanks.

You are unlikely to find this fish at a pet store, but they can be purchased at retailers that specialize in aquarium fish.

Expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $25 per fish.

Pros

  • Beginner friendly.
  • Compatible with most tank setups.
  • Clears away algae and tank trash.
  • Strong and protective armor-like scales.
Cons

  • Unfriendly to their own kind.
  • Produces a lot of waste.
  • Sensitive to pH and cleanliness.
  • Can be expensive.

Tank Mates

Ancistrus cirrhosus

Finding tank mates for this friendly fish is easy.

They get along with almost anything and are one of the best Catfish that you can keep in a community.

Unlike other larger Catfish, these fish do not pose a risk to smaller tank mates.

There are so many different kinds of fish that you can keep with a Bristlenose Pleco. These include the ever popular Goldfish and Betta fish.

Common and Comet Goldfish are the best species to keep if your Pleco is going to be a janitor for a Goldfish tank.

The Yoyo and Dojo Loach are two other good neighbors for this fish.

A few Tetras can help to add some color to the middle levels of your tank. Try adding a school of Black Skirt or Rosy Tetras. Mollies fit just fine into Pleco tanks with higher salinities. Platies, Swordtails, and other Livebearers work out very nicely too.

Some Apple Snails or Mystery Snails can help out with the algae cleaning, as can a few Amano Shrimp.

Other Catfish species should be avoided (especially other Loricariids). They may trigger the Bristlenose’s competitive and territorial side.

Any aggressive fish (such as Redtail and Rainbow Sharks) should be kept away as well.

Some keepers have had success keeping fancy Goldfish, however this can be a little bit risky. Fancy Goldfish are slower moving than the single tailed breeds and this can entice the Catfish to suck on their wide fins.

Keeping Bristlenose Pleco Together?

You should not keep Bristlenose Pleco together unless you have a breeding pair. They may be friendly to other fish, but they are not very friendly to each other.

Most of the conflict is created by having too many males in one aquarium. Males will be in constant competition for the females in the tank.

This fish is not adapted to a single species tank and is better off when kept in a mixed community.

If you do want to keep a group of them together then we recommend keeping no more than 3. You should have 2 females for every male that you have in your group. It is safer not to include any males at all if you are keeping more than 3 in one tank.

Breeding Bristlenose Plecos

Golden Bristlenose

If you are new to breeding Catfish then this is the best species to start out with.

To encourage your Plecostomus Bristlenose to breed you can lower the water temperature below 65°F. You can also increase the amount of protein in their diet and provide a cave for spawning.

Males will engage in courtship behavior and elaborate mating displays. They will flare their bristles and perform a dance near a potential mate.

Once the couple has paired off the male will begin building a nest for the female to lay her eggs in. He will then lead her off to the chosen spawning surface.

Spawning will occur after about 4 days and the female can lay between 20 and 200 eggs.

The male will defend the nest and look after the eggs for the next 7 to 10 days until they hatch. He will not eat any food during this time. Once the eggs hatch you should remove the parents and leave the larvae to survive on their yolk sacs for an additional 4 days.

Once the yolk sac is gone the fry will feed on any algae that they find in your tank. You can crush some algae flakes into a powder if your tank does not have enough algae.

Juveniles reach maturity at about 4 to 6 months old and will begin to develop their tentacles then.

Bristlenose Pleco Care

Bristlenose Pleco Swimming

These species are very beginner friendly and do not demand very much outside of a pristine and well oxygenated tank.

Bristlenose Pleco can withstand slight shifts in water temperature and parameters, but they will suffer if your tank is not kept very clean.

You should monitor ammonia and nitrate levels regularly.

Clean your tank every 2 weeks and perform a 25% water change. Do not change your filter each time you clean the tank (or it may lower your filter’s efficiency).

Swim bladder problems are rather common if the fish does not have enough fiber in their diet. If you notice some uncoordinated swimming then you should consider increasing the fiber in your fish’s food.

Diet

Bristlenose Pleco are known as janitor fish.

This is because they are excellent at cleaning up the garbage that falls to the substrate. It the wild their diet includes algae, dead plant material and even carrion.

Inside your tank they will eat any algae.

You should provide some quick sinking algae wafers or flake foods, and Spirulina for extra nutrition.

Also as your aquarium plants decay they will eat them too.

Frozen bloodworms and insect larvae are extremely protein dense and satisfy the fish’s appetite for carrion. You can also supplement their diet with high protein fish flakes.

These little Plecos have very big appetites and will need to be fed about 3 times a day. If your tank is packed with algae and other natural foods then you can cut the feeding schedule down to 2 meals a day.

There are lots of different foods that you can feed a Bristlenose Pleco including:

  • Algae
  • Detritus
  • Algae flakes and tablets
  • Spirulina
  • Plant material
  • Protein flakes (supplement)
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen worms
  • Frozen insect larvae
  • Carrion

Bristlenose Pleco Eating

Behavior

The Bristlenose Pleco is a very peaceful and docile fish

Most of the time they will move around the tank slowly.

You can often spot them climbing up your aquarium glass looking for morsels to eat. Every so often they will venture to the upper levels while foraging for food.

They are active from sunset to sunrise and will spend the daylight hours hiding out in caves or sleeping. They will stay very still at the bottom of the tank as they try to blend in with your aquarium gravel.

The only exception to this is when other Catfish are around. This can make them more territorial. Males will flare their bristles when faced with an intruder, or when in competition for a female. If the harasser does not take the hint then the Pleco will strike at them.

Apart from this they will not go after fish that do not look like their own kind.

Habitat and Tank Set Up

In the wild the Bristlenose Pleco prefers to stay in tropical temperatures between 72-75°F.

You should keep the pH between 6.5-7.5 and a water hardness from 5 up to 25 dGH.

Because they are slow moving they prefer areas with fast moving currents and very clear water. Of course, some turbidity is to be expected at the bottom where they live.

Most importantly their environment should be decorated with hiding places for the fish to settle into.

You should have a filter running on moderate to high power – an under gravel filter is the best kind for this particular tank setup. The filter should also generate a moderate to high current. The light should be kept low, as this bottom dweller’s eyes are not suited to bright lights.

Oxygenation is important too.

If your filter does not provide enough dissolved oxygen then you should place a few air stones or add an air pump to your tank.

You should use dark colored gravel for substrate.

Also because Plecostomus Bristlenose like to hide make sure to include lots of places to hide. You can make artificial caves out of flowerpots, overturned logs, or PVC pipes.

This is one tank setup that does not need plants but there is also no harm in adding a few to make your tank look more natural. Go for bottom dwelling plants that can thrive in low light. Among the best are Anubias, Java Moss, Java Ferns, and Water Wisteria.

In a cool water tank, you can place a few Marimo balls.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 25 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater
Temperature 60-75°F
pH 6.5-7.5
Hardness 5-25 dGH
Flow Medium to Heavy
Substrate Dark gravel

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

To keep a Bristlenose Pleco you will need to have at least a 25 gallon tank.

For every additional Pleco you will need to increase the tank by 10 gallons.

History and First Sighting

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Pleco was first discovered in South America in 1836 and they entered the aquarium hobby in the 1920s.

However new species of Bristlenose Catfish are being discovered to this day.

A. maracasae was discovered in Trinidad in 1864 and was originally known as A. trinitatis. It is unknown exactly when this species entered the pet trade, but it was likely around the same time as A. cirrhosus.

In 2018, 6 new species were discovered in Brazil too! Although they are not yet available for aquariums.

Currently there are over 60 known species in the Ancistrus genus, though only A. cirrhosus, A. maracasae, and occasionally A. dolichopterous are found in the aquarium hobby.

The Bristlenose Pleco has become one of the most popular Plecostomus species to keep in home aquariums and they are second only to the Common Pleco.

Bristlenose Pleco Appearance

Plecostomus Bristlenose Close Up

Bristlenose Plecos grow to between 3-5 inches in size.

Like all members of the Loricariidae family, their skin is made up of armor-like scales called dermal plates. These protect the fish from predators and other environmental hazards.

In addition to the dermal planes their skin is also covered in tooth like structures called denticles.

Their mouth is found on their underside. Since they have no teeth, they use this sucker mouth to vacuum algae and small particles off of rocks, glass and substrate.

In total they have 7 fins. These include a sail shaped dorsal and caudal fin, a pair of pectoral and pelvic fins, and a tiny triangular anal fin just before the tail.

By far though their defining characteristic is their bristly tentacles on their nose.

The tentacles are used as sensory organs to help the fish detect changes in water pressure. This makes them similar to the sensory barbels that occur on other Catfish species.

When the fish is threatened by an intruder or feeling competitive with another male, it will flare its tentacles as a warning signal.

Bristlenose Pleco Size

The Bristlenose’s small size is part of what makes them so popular.

They will fit into smaller tanks where a Common or Sailfin Pleco will not.

You can expect them to grow to a maximum of 5 inches, with most growing to 3 inches long.

Color Varieties

  • Albino: Albino fish have solid yellow bodies with pink tones near their head, gills and underside. Albino is one of the most popular color forms and is known as a Yellow or Golden Bristlenose Pleco.
  • Black: Black colored Bristlenose Pleco can be solid or have a scatter of white or yellow spots.
  • Gray: Solid gray body or a gray base color with a scattering of black, yellow or olive colored spots. This is the most common color.
  • Brown: This is a deep brown base color with light grey, black or yellow spots.

Should You Keep The Bristlenose Pleco? (Summary)

Bristlenose Pleco
Other Common Names: Bushynose Catfish, Common Bristlenose Catfish, Jumbie Teta
Scientific Name: Ancistrus cirrhosus
Family Name: Loricariidae
Distribution: South America
Size: 3-5 inches
Color: Grey, brown, black and albino
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 5 years
Minimum Tank Size: 25+ gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Freshwater community fish

The funny looking fish is made for community setups and can get along with many popular freshwater fish. You can even keep it in a Goldfish tank.

Their peaceful nature makes them the perfect Pleco for first time fish keepers.

A clean tank and suitable hiding places make all of the difference.

Why do you want to keep Bristlenose Plecos? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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