Bristlenose Pleco: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Aquarists sometimes call them Bristlenose Catfishes or Bushy Nose Plecos, but whatever you want to call them, they are one of the most popular freshwater fish we recommend to individuals in the fishkeeping community.

With their unique appearance, the Bristlenose Pleco is the perfect case of beauty lying in the eyes of the beholder.

While some aquarists are fond of their distinctive appearance and view them as must-have companions in their home aquarium, others are somewhat discouraged by the perceived odd look.

If you love them just as much as we do, you will want to read this guide to the end. Here, we’ve put together vital information about caring for these fish.

We will be providing an insightful look into the lives of Bristlenose Plecos, covering all aspects as appearance, most common types, care guidelines, suitable tank mates, tank size, diet, breeding, and much more!

Species Overview

Ancistrus Cirrhosus, or the Bristlenose Pleco, is a popular freshwater fish of the Loricariidae family. They are massive algae eaters whose presence inside the aquarium will be necessary for reducing the algal growth and the amount of decaying matter.

Naturally, Bristlenose Plecos originate from various tributaries and streams within the Amazon Basin. However, they’ve also been spotted in specific locations throughout South America and Central America.

These fish species have unique characteristics that set them apart from the aquarium catfishes and other known Pleco species. In the aquatic scene, it’s nice to see their increasing popularity these days since their first scientific classification about 100 years ago.

ColorBrown, black grey, albino
LifespanOver 5 Years
Care LevelEasy
Behavior & TemperamentPeaceful
CompatibilityPeaceful community fish
Food and DietHerbivores
SizeUp to 5 Inches
Tank SetupLots of caves and hiding spots
Tank Size (Minimum)25 Gallons


Naturally, Bristlenose Plecos will live for an average of 5 years in captivity. Under rare circumstances, they can live up to 12 years in the wild. As a pet lover, you can increase their lifespan by providing sustainable water conditions for optimum growth.


The first thing that separates the Bristlenose Pleco from its peers of the same family is, well, the “bristles.” They will develop these features as soon as they approach maturity, usually at six months.

The male Plecos usually have longer bristles compared to the females. Interestingly, these fish have uniquely positioned mouths just below their bodies. This facilitates their feeding habits, given their reputation for cleaning algae in home aquariums.

What’s more, their large heads with long lips also separate them from other Plecos. For protection, these fish possess bony plates that are an essential defensive mechanism against more aggressive enemies.

Still, on their defensive techniques, Bristlenose Plecos have distinctive color patterns that match their original habitat in the Amazon Basin. You can call it their camouflaging ability if you like.

This begins with olive, gray, or dark brown coloration. On top of the original color, they have light dots throughout their bodies, with yellow or white shades. And their bottoms will assume a subtle coloration.

In conclusion, these fish have two abdominal and pectoral fins and one large dorsal fin that provides stability during swimming.

Types of Bristlenose Plecos

In your search for the most suitable algae-eating Bristlenose Pleco for your aquarium, you may be spoilt for choice if you are visiting a local pet retailer for the first time.

Keep reading to get a deeper insight into more exotic types of the Bristlenose Plecos:

Longfin Bristlenose Pleco

As the name suggests, long fins differentiate the Longfin Bristlenose Plecos from the other species in this family. Usually, these fins are free-flowing in a constant swinging motion as the fish swims.

It is one of the most common Bristlenose Pleco varieties that are fun to watch and a joy to have at home. As such, they have deservedly earned the attention of seasoned fish keepers and beginner-level aquarists across the globe.

Albino Bristlenose Plecos

Albino Bristlenose Plecos get their name from their distinctive appearance that sets them apart from the rest.

With a unique, light yellow skin, supplemented with a pink coloration, it’s no offense they are called “Albino” Plecos. In fairness, they are among the most popular Bristlenose Pleco varieties we can’t stop recommending to aquarists around the world.

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco

The Starlight Bristlenose Pleco is the true epitome of perfection. With their unique shape and color pattern, they constantly justify every aquarist’s love for Plecos.

Their unique coloration of black, with beautiful white dots, evenly spread all over the body, makes them quite adorable in the entire fishkeeping community.

You won’t fail to notice a beautiful white strip traversing the caudal and dorsal fins in these fish.

For anyone looking to add an aesthetic appeal to their aquarium, the Starlight Bristlenose Plecos are worth every penny.

Super Red Bristlenose Pleco

The Super Red Bristlenose Pleco deserves all the plaudits we’ve given them over the years. And they are much more than just the unique name.

If you could spot them in their habitat, you would instantly see beautiful orange and red shades covering the whole body, making them special in any aquarium.

A Super Red Bristlenose Pleco will always have something unique to add to your tank, no matter its tank mates.

Calico Bristlenose Pleco

Calico Bristlenose Pleco completes our list of the five most popular Bristlenose Pleco types. These are a unique Pleco variant whose smooth appearance will have you glued to your tank all day long.

Usually, they display a beautiful orange coloration that’s supplemented by patches of black shades. They are an excellent option if you need something unique for the aquarium.

We might have covered only the five best exotic Bristlenose Pleco types, but remember, the list is almost endless when it comes to varieties.

The final decision will depend on availability, the existing conditions in the home aquarium, and the level of care you’re willing to provide to sustain their growth and development.


Unfortunately, Bristlenose Plecos may fall just short of an aquarist’s minimum expectations when it comes to size.

If you want a large fish for your aquarium, you may be forced to look elsewhere because the Bristlenose Pleco will only reach a maximum length of 3-5 inches.

Some varieties, including the Longfin Pleco as mentioned above, may even struggle to reach such lengths.

However, it’s worth mentioning that genetics, water conditions, and level of care will have a big say in determining the maximum size of your Bristlenose Pleco.

Bristlenose Pleco Care

Caring for Bristlenose Plecos is simple if you understand the general care principles within the fishkeeping community. These fish will thrive under different aquatic environments, but you should always consider the diet, water conditions, and comfort.

The fact they originate from the Amazon Basin should inform you to keep everything warm and humid. You will want to replicate such conditions by providing moderate water flow, a lot of oxygen, and warm temperatures.

Plenty of oxygen, in particular, is necessary for Bristlenose Pleco’s comfort. Don’t assume any slight changes in the water conditions will be received warmly by your pet Pleco. These fish are easily affected by subtle changes to aquatic conditions.

That being said, proper filtration should be part of Bristlenose Pleco care to help eliminate excess nitrates and ammonia that could threaten their peaceful lives.

Tank Size

Regarding the tank size, Bristlenose Plecos would usually thrive in a 25-gallon tank in captivity. This gives them enough space to explore the habitat while enjoying their favorite meals at different positions in the tank.

Generally, these fish are bottom dwellers who will want to scavenge for food and other plant materials anywhere in the tank but only eat them at desired hiding spots.

Water Parameters

With everything in place, you should focus on creating the ideal conditions for this fish’s survival inside a home aquarium. This is the perfect time to modify the water conditions by measuring its status regularly.

You should keenly monitor the water parameters that can either increase or shorten the fish’s lifespan. Generally speaking, many aquarists who keep these fish opt to maintain the standard values as highlighted below:

  • Water Temperature: 60°F to 80°F
  • Water Hardness: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 6-10

While adult Bristlenose Plecos may not have any difficulties adjusting to shifting water parameters, pH imbalance could significantly affect the younger ones.

As such, it’s advisable to choose the adult Plecos for a start if you lack enough experience in keeping these fish.

What to Put in Their Tank?

These bottom-dwelling fish species won’t have any problem living with other species in the same tank. However, it’s advisable to adjust the tank requirements to suit their routine.

If you can’t keep them on their own, don’t ruin their peaceful life by introducing aggressive tank mates.

Also, it’s essential to go with the right decorations to give them enough hiding places in the tank, considering they are bottom-dwelling species. Depending on your preferences, driftwood, caves, or live plants should go at the bottom of the tank.

Generally, these small fish are nocturnal, meaning they will be super active in the tank at night. During the day, they will want to feel more secure inside the tank, either resting at designated hiding spots or eating their favorite meal.

They might have a penchant for feeding on algae, but that alone is not enough to clean the tank.

Occasionally, you will want to clean their wastes to keep the tank in perfect condition. Also, you may need suitable filters to help with clearing the waste in the tank if you can’t do it all alone.

Common Diseases

Bristlenose Plecos aren’t susceptible to any diseases affecting the freshwater fish community.

However, they may still be affected by common problems like the Ich disease and various bacterial and fungal infections. But these should never be a problem if you follow the care principles and maintain suitable water conditions.

For the Ich disease, common over-the-counter medications will be enough to help relieve the symptoms in just a few days.

What do Bristlenose Plecos Eat?

In the wild, the Bristlenose Pleco will have an expansive list of nutritious meals. They are known bottom dwellers who will spend a lot of time surviving on plant-based foods.

Occasionally, they will feed on small insect larvae and algae if they can find them. In captivity, you won’t notice a significant change in their feeding habits. Sinking pellets and spirulina wafers should be fine for their typical meal.

For occasional supplements, you should go with protein-rich foods such as bloodworms. If you choose to go with natural foods as occasional supplements, you should consider blanched vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, and peas.

Such food sources provide additional nutrients that are essential for your Pleco’s overall health and wellbeing. The color pattern will be the clearest indication of a healthy fish. Usually, dull and softened coloration indicates a poor diet, and the opposite is true.

Behavior & Temperament

Bristlenose Plecos are a passive fish species that will be pretty relaxed in their environment. Usually, they get along with a variety of fish species with peaceful traits.

They are inactive during the day, and with their camouflaging traits, you might not even spot them in the tank.

They are more active when darkness sets in. And during this period, you will notice increased swimming as they search for food everywhere inside the tank.

Upon stumbling upon the perfect hiding spot after eating enough algae for the night, you may only see them again at sunrise.

Bristlenose Pleco Tank Mates

Bristlenose Plecos tolerate any peaceful tank mates that won’t interfere with their daily routine in the tank. They are perfect when paired with the following fish:

You won’t be doing them any justice if you pair them with more aggressive species like the bettas. Typically, these fish demand a peaceful environment with no apparent intruders.

For obvious reasons, you shouldn’t keep two or more males in the same tank. With poorly set territorial boundaries like in many home aquariums, the males tend to get quite aggressive when kept in the same place.

This is especially important during breeding, where everyone will want to occupy the same hiding spot. Also, keeping many Plecos within a small space could lead to frequent fights between the males.


Breeding Bristlenose Plecos is effortless. All you have to do is provide and maintain the right conditions, just like in the wild.

To begin with, you will need a higher number of females in the tank for successful breeding. Incredibly, the male will be responsible for finding the right hiding spot for the female during this period.

If the female is convinced of the hiding place, she will lay bright orange eggs for fertilization.

Caring for the eggs is more of a family affair. While the female will be busy guarding the eggs, the male will clean and aerate them, awaiting the hatching period.

And if everything goes well up to this point, the eggs will take between 4-10 days to hatch.

Bristlenose Plecos are probably one of the most parental fish species you will ever find. Unlike many fish that won’t hesitate to eat the eggs before hatching, these Pleco varieties will protect the fry to the last minute.

After hatching, the young ones will need care and attention until they are ready to swim. As they approach full maturity, you can introduce them to algae and blanched vegetables until they complete their development. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, caring for Bristlenose Plecos is effortless if you know what to expect. They are fun and beautiful fish who will want nothing more than the right tank conditions to help them thrive.

If you’re looking for the perfect algae eater or the calm community member to complete your aquarium, we would be happy to recommend the Bristlenose Pleco.

Perhaps it’s time to reduce the algal growth in your tank using a lovely little friend. And we can’t think of a more suitable option than the tiny Bushy Nose Plecos.