Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide: The Ideal Aquarium Fish?

The Bristlenose Pleco is a well-known freshwater fish that gets its name from the bristles that grow on its nose. Learn just about everything there is to know about this fish here.

Bristlenose Pleco – Quick Facts

In a rush? Check out the quick facts about Bristlenose Pleco below.

Fish Info

Scientific NameAncistrus sp.
Common NamesBristlenose Pleco, bushy nose pleco
AppearanceThe Bristlenose Pleco is a small brown, green, or gray catfish with white or yellow spots. They have uneven coloring, with lighter and darker splotches on various parts of their bodies.
DifficultyThe main difficulty in caring for Bristlenose Pleco is ensuring they have enough food since they are mostly scavengers.
DistributionThe Bristlenose Pleco is found 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.
LifespanThe lifespan of a Bristlenose pleco is around 5 to 12 years.
ShoalingNo, Bristlenose Pleco is not a shoaling fish.
TemperamentThe temperament of Bristlenose Pleco is peaceful and sociable.
Keep in Groups ofIt is recommended to have at most 1 male, but otherwise, in groups of 2-5.
Tank MatesGuppies, Molly Fish, Platy Fish, Swordtail Fish, Corydoras, Gourami, Tiger Barb, Neon Tetra, Angelfish, Cory Catfish, Hatchetfish, Silver Dolla
DietThe diet of a Bristlenose Pleco is mainly algae, with some other vegetables as occasional treats. They are scavengers, so they will eat leftover food from the bottom of the tank.
LengthThe length of Bristlenose Pleco is about 4-5 inches.
Sexual DimorphismMales have bristles protruding from their faces.
Breeding DifficultyBreeding Bristlenose Plecos is easy and requires no special medication, supplement, or even a breeding tank.

Water/Tank Recommendations

Water TypeFreshwater
Water TemperatureThe ideal water temperature for Bristlenose Pleco is 22-27°C (72-82°F).
Water pHThe ideal water pH for Bristlenose Pleco is 6.5-7.4.
Water HardnessThe ideal water hardness for Bristlenose Pleco is between 6-13 dH.
Tank sizeThe minimum tank size for Bristlenose Pleco is 20 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 30 gallons.


The Bristlenose Pleco, we absolutely love these freshwater fish. There’s something about their interesting appearance and peaceful temperament that makes them a joy to own!

Read on to see how to properly care for our favorite catfish:

About Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Pleco (scientific name: Ancistrus sp.) is a freshwater fish that has become very popular in the aquarium community.

This is mainly due to their unique appearance and ease of care. This species doesn’t require much work on your part when it comes to keeping them healthy; there are some things you should pay attention to, however!

These fish have several quirks that aquarists have grown fond of over the years. They also help keep your tank clean by scavenging for organic matter at the bottom of your tank.


Typically, they are dark brown or olive-colored with splotches of lighter tones here and there.

The belly is usually lighter than the rest of their body as well as some portions on top and bottom of their head (especially near their eyes). Their fins are not very colorful either, almost transparent.

One noticeable feature that stands out on these catfish is the bristles on the face of the males. When you first see these, they can look a bit freaky!

Their Length

The average length of a Bristlenose Pleco is 4 to 5 inches.

This means they take up a decent amount of space in your tank. When you combine this with their need for low light, it can cause some problems when trying to start looking after these fish.


The lifespan of a Bristlenose Pleco is around 5 to 12 years. Many owners have noticed that the lifespan of these fish increases with good care, and those kept in large tanks tend to live longer as well.

While you might get lucky and have one live longer than the average, there is no way to guarantee this. So if you want a fish that will stick around for as long as possible, take good care of it.

Sexual Dimorphism

The main way to tell the difference between males and females is that males often have more prominent barbels than females, especially when they become sexually mature. These barbs can grow out from around their mouth, as well as on their chin and along the edge of their belly.


The native habitat of the Bristlenose Pleco is found in the fast-flowing waters of the Parana River. Other species of Ancistrus catfishes can be found in other parts of South and Central America, including Panama.

In their natural habitat, these fish will hide under rocks or driftwood for protection from predators. They are also able to cling to smooth surfaces with their sucker-like lips.

The bottom of the river where they are found is usually covered with fine sand, which these fish will sift through to find their favorite foods.

Caring for Bristlenose Pleco

It’s very important to ensure that the environment where you keep your Bristlenose Pleco is safe. These fish do fine in tropical climates, but temperatures should always be monitored and kept stable.

Another thing to pay attention to is water parameters. The pH levels and hardness of the water are key considerations (they shouldn’t have extremely hard or soft water). Read on for more specific information about the required water parameters.


A common misconception about Bristlenose Plecos is that they have a strict algae diet. While it’s true that they will take advantage of any algae or organic matter in the tank, their diets should be much more varied.

These fish are omnivores and will consume anything you give them! They do well with most commercially available flakes or pellets. However, we recommend giving them protein-based snacks from time to time.

Bristlenose plecos love live foods such as daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae. These can provide an extra boost of nutrients for your fish and keep them healthy. A couple of times per week is all it takes!

How Often & How Much to Feed Them

You should feed your Bristlenose Pleco once a day. Provide them with food that sinks to the bottom of the tank, then wait for them to scavenge it up!

It’s also important that you don’t overfeed your fish. Don’t give them greater amounts than they’re able to consume within 2 minutes.

This will keep them healthy and help prevent obesity.

Remember: these fish feed on algae in your tank, so its not necessary to feed them as much as you would feed other fish (as long as you’re making sure they are getting a varied diet).

Possible Diseases

Bristlenose Plecos can suffer from the usual freshwater fish diseases. However, this species is particularly susceptible to skin flukes and parasitic infections.

Skin fluke disease occurs when these catfish are kept in dirty water conditions. If your tank isn’t maintained regularly, parasites like the fluke will live on the bottom of the aquarium, which is not great for a fish species that spends it time there searching for food!

Tank Setup

The ideal tank setup for Bristlenose Plecos is a 20 or 30-gallon aquarium with at least 10 gallons of water per extra fish.

Many owners prefer to keep them in larger tanks, especially if they plan on keeping more than one together. They’re active and like having plenty of room to explore the tank. If you want to keep a large community, adding extra space is key!

We recommend that you have some plants inside the aquarium too. Plants are good for several reasons:

  • It provides your catfish with shelter from light when needed (if it’s getting too intense).
  • The leaves constantly shed algae into the water, which will be eaten by your fish.

Some popular choices include Anubias Barteri and Java Fern but feel free to experiment with other types as well! As long as the plant can grow in an underwater environment, there should be no problems.

Aquarium Size

The ideal tank size for Bristlenose Plecos is 20 gallons. However, we recommend that you go with a 30-gallon tank instead, as they are very active and will appreciate the extra space.

Due to their size and the potential for overpopulation, it’s best not to keep them in aquariums smaller than 20 gallons. They can be kept together with other fish that are of similar temperament and size.

Using a 30-gallon tank is recommended, and even more if you want to keep more than one of these catfish together.

Water Conditions

Bristlenose Plecos enjoy living in warmer temperatures. While they are not tropical fish, their environment should be kept fairly warm, with a water temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit being the ideal range for these fish to thrive in.

The pH balance is something that will need to be monitored closely. The waters around South America tend to have high levels of acidity, but this can be controlled by adding liquid solutions into the tank regularly.


PH is something else to consider when caring for fish in your aquarium. The ideal pH levels of 6.5-7.4 are what most aquarists shoot for, but there’s a range that the Bristlenose Pleco can tolerate as well (6 up to 8).

If you want to ensure that your new fish has optimal health, monitor their water conditions and perform tests regularly.

Doing this will tell you if any fine-tuning needs to be done. This can be a necessary task for hardy fish that can tolerate some pH variation, but it’s not recommended. The best thing you can do is maintain consistent water parameters.


The ideal water temperature for a Bristlenose Pleco is 22-27°C (72-82°F).

This species can tolerate a range of temperatures but will do best within the recommended range. Make especially sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below the lower end.

Bristlenose Plecos do fine in warmer waters, but this will have an impact on the other fish living in your aquarium. If you’ve already set up a tank for tropical species that prefer warmer water temperatures (like guppies), adding a Bristlenose Pleco might not be the best choice.


The hard water level of your tank should be between 6 and 13 dH.

The hardness of the water is not something to worry about too much, but you will need to test it periodically (especially if you keep live plants). Hardness levels can fluctuate slightly due to other factors in your area, such as well-water or softeners.


Make sure your tank is set up with a moderate water flow similar to their natural habitat. This will help them feel more comfortable because they will be in a more natural environment.

The filtration needs to have an adjustable outlet to prevent the aquarium inhabitants from being injured or dislodged.

Many aquarists recommend a canister filter for a Pleco tank, and we are no exception!

Aquarium Plants

Bristlenose Plecos do not have a preference when it comes to plants. They enjoy having places to hide and rest from time to time. This means this fish welcomes any kind of plant with low-lying leaves!

Some common choices for tank plants are:

  • Anubias Barteri Varieties
  • Java Ferns

We recommend having some floating plants as well, like Hornwort or Waterweed.

Behavior and Compatibility

Bristlenose Plecos can be a bit shy at first, but once they get used to their surroundings and feel safe, it is common for them to explore the tank. These are nocturnal creatures, so during the day, you may not see much of them!

They make great additions to tanks with other peaceful fish as long as there’s enough room for everyone (we always recommend doing thorough research on any potential tank mates). Some good companions include:

How Many to Keep Together

Bristlenose Pleco are not a shoaling fish, so you will be fine keeping just 1 if that’s what you want.

If you are looking at getting a group, we recommend having at most 1 male, since any more will tend to be aggressive and territorial toward each other, particularly with females present.

Note: Remember: if you want to keep more, you will need a much larger tank.


The Bristlenose Pleco is a very peaceful fish that will get along with almost any other creatures in your tank. This includes other types of plecos, small non-aggressive catfish, and smaller species of tetras.

They can also be kept with bottom-dwelling cichlids as long as there are no aggressive ones in the mix (like the Jack Dempsey). They’ll also do well with large snails such as nerite or mystery. The only kind of animal they don’t like is one that could hurt them physically!

Tank Mates

The best tank mates for the Bristlenose Pleco are other kinds of plecos or bottom-dwelling fish. They can live in harmony with most types of tetras, rasbora, gourami, and catfish.

You should avoid any species that are territorial or aggressive because they will likely attack your Bristlenose Pleco. The same goes for fast-moving fish that may injure them unintentionally.

Note: It’s best to avoid any known aggressive species of fish. This will ensure that everyone in your tank gets along and stays healthy.


Bristlenose Plecos are very easy to breed in captivity. All you need is a group of male and female fish, some caves for the males to protect their eggs, and live food like bloodworms or brine shrimp.

The parents will care for the eggs until they hatch (around 2 weeks). Once they’re out of the cave, you can feed them baby brine shrimp or algae wafers.

As always with breeding fish, it’s important to make sure that your tank is well-maintained since it could interfere with spawning activity.

Are Bristlenose Pleco Fish a Good Choice For Your Tank?

As you can see from the info above, Bristlenose Plecos are a great fish to have in your aquarium. They’re hardy, easy to care for, and peaceful.

However, there are some instances where these fish could be incompatible with your tank setup. While their general hardiness makes them an ideal introductory species for new aquarists, keeping them can become difficult if you don’t have the right kind of habitat setup.

Due to their need for moderate water flow and warmer water (all things they get in their natural environment), this species is probably best kept by experienced aquarists who understand how to mimic those conditions at home. The same goes if you keep other sensitive fish with this species.


Bristlenose Plecos are an excellent choice for any freshwater tank. They’re easy to care for and can be kept by aquarists at all experience levels.

These fish don’t require a lot of maintenance or fancy gear in order to stay healthy. This makes keeping them a low-maintenance affair that will free up some of your time so you can spend it on other tanks.

They also make great additions if you want to add some color or variety to your aquariums. With their varying patterns, these fish can easily stand out among other species when they move around the water!


Bristlenose Plecos have downsides that you should be aware of as well. One of the more prominent ones is that they can get quite large and need a lot of room to swim around, so you’ll need to find an aquarium with enough space.


Bristlenose Plecos are fantastic freshwater fish that can be a joy to own. They’re easy to care for, peaceful, and very entertaining!

With their quirky appearance and laid-back nature, it will not take long for you to fall in love with this fish. We highly recommend them!

If you have any recommendations or something to add regarding this fish (or others), we’d love for you to leave a comment. Connecting with other aquarists is one of our favorite things!

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