Bristlenose Plecostomus: Care Guide, Diet, Habitat, and Breeding

The Bristlenose Catfish, the Brushmouth Pleco, and the Bushynose Catfish – what do these all have in common? Well, they’re all different names for the same fish, the Bristlenose Plecostomus.

This freshwater catfish is considered a suckerfish or bottom feeder and hails from South America and Panama. While the Bristlenose Pleco comes in a variety of commercially available species, the Ancistrus cirrhosus is the most common.

Think you’d like to add one of these guys to your home aquarium? We’re going to take you through the ultimate Bristlenose Plecostomus care guide for 2020, complete with information about diet, habitat, and breeding so you can be fully informed before bringing your new friend home.

Bristlenose Plecostomus Facts

Before we get too deep into our care guide, let’s get the ball rolling with a few Bristlenose Pleco facts:

  • The Bristlenose Pleco is a nocturnal freshwater fish, belonging to the family Loricariidae.
  • They’re known as some of the best algae eaters out there, making them a handy addition to home aquariums.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco generally grows to a maximum of six inches while a common Pleco can grow to a whopping 24 inches.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco is one of the smallest aquarium fish.
  • In the wild, the Bristlenose Pleco lives comfortably in a variety of habitats ranging from deep rivers to shallow, low oxygen floodplains.


The Bristlenose Pleco is easily identifiable by its unique appearance and easily distinguishable from the common Pleco. Here are a few facts about the appearance of the Bristlenose Pleco:

  • The Bristlenose Pleco has a shorter body, wider head, and is fatter than the Common Pleco with their flattened body being covered in bony plates.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco does not grow its signature tentacles until it reaches maturity, at which point they sprout from the head.
  • One of the features that distinguish the male from the female Bristlenose Pleco is that the male’s tentacles are longer and more pronounced.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco has elongated lips and a round mouth, as well as pectoral and abdominal fins.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco is known as being a “master of disguise” and blends in with their environment – so don’t think you’ve lost them if you don’t see them for a while! They generally sit motionless for many hours.
  • The Bristlenose Pleco generally comes in muted shades such as black, grey, brown, and olive and often have white or yellow spots scattered throughout their body. Their underside is lighter in color than the rest of their body.

Bristlenose Temperament

The Bristlenose Pleco is a fantastic choice

The Bristlenose Pleco is a fantastic choice for both beginner and advanced aquarists, possessing every quality you could ask for in a low-maintenance, easy to care for fish.

These peaceful fish adapt easily to living with other peaceful fish in a community. Because they easily adapt to their environment, they can thrive in a variety of tank conditions.

While you can keep multiple Bristlenose Plecos in the same tank, it is not recommended that more than one of these are male. Males are known for being territorial with other males of their own kind or even males of similarly shaped species.

The bony plates protecting their body provide protection when it comes to minor attacks from other fish but we would still not recommend placing them in a situation where an attack is probable.


When it comes to feeding, the Bristlenose enjoys eating a wide variety of food and, no, they can’t live purely off of the algae in your tank! The Bristlenose is technically an omnivore but mostly enjoys a vegetarian diet.

Because of their bottom-feeder status, their main diet should consist of an herbivore sinking pellet food. The Bristlenose also enjoys the following:

  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Shelled peas
  • Broccoli
  • Bloodworms
  • Live blackworms

Keep in mind, bloodworms and blackworms are only necessary to the Bristlenose diet if you are planning to breed them. Otherwise, a vegetarian diet that is high in fiber will do just fine. Just make sure that what you do feed them is sinking to the bottom of the tank or they likely won’t even see that it’s there.

Inserting a piece of driftwood into the tank is a fantastic idea when you have a Bristlenose and is a sure way to get an adequate supply of fiber into their diet and improve their digestion.

Note: If feeding your Bristlenose vegetables, make sure you remove any uneaten vegetables from the fish tank to prevent waste and ammonia buildup. 

Habitat & Tank Requirements

The Bristlenose Pleco is a freshwater fish

The Bristlenose Pleco is a freshwater fish and prefers to live in an environment with a current that mimics the flow of the streams and rivers where they come from.

To achieve this, make sure that the water in your tank is both well oxygenated and has a moderate water flow. Having a suitable water pump for the size of your tank is a great way to control both. It’s always best to consult with a fish expert in your local pet store to understand the size and type of pump needed to achieve this. 

Because the Bristlenose is both a bottom feeder and nocturnal, creating an adequate number of hiding places is crucial for their happiness and wellbeing. There are many options for creating excellent hiding places for your Bristlenose, including:

  • A variety of real and artificial plants
  • Driftwood
  • Caves
  • Ornaments and decorations
  • A clay pot

As well as being a hiding place and a great source of fiber, driftwood also provides a place for algae to grow for your Bristlenose to feed off of.

Having an under-gravel water system in your tank as well as a filter is incredibly beneficial for keeping your tank clean and maintaining balanced water conditions, especially with the amount of waste the Bristlenose produces. It also ensures that your tank remains highly oxygenated, which is ideal for your Bristlenose.

When it comes to choosing a filter, a canister filter is ideal for a Bristlenose. If you don’t know what a canister filter is, it works by removing the water contained in the fish tank through an intake tube, runs it through a filter in a pressurized canister, and then pumps the filtered water back into the fish tank by way of a spillway or spray bar.

Water Temperature & Tank Size

Because the Bristlenose is a hardy fish, it can handle a broader pH range and water temperature than more fragile fish. If you are housing a fragile fish in the same community tank and that fish that has more specific parameters to thrive, the Bristlenose will likely adapt just fine.

Water temperature can be kept anywhere from 60 to 80°F with a pH range of 5.5 – 7.6, both of which are wide ranges and should be easy to maintain.

The Bristlenose itself has a minimum tank size requirement of 25 gallons with 30 gallons being sufficient for two Bristlenose Plecos but the larger and longer the tank, the better. It’s best to house your Bristlenose in a tank that is longer than it is wide as they spend nearly all of their time at the bottom of the tank.


male Bristlenose Pleco

If you want to breed your Bristlenose Pleco, it’s not difficult to do. As long as you have a mature male, two or more females, and a hiding place for them to spawn in, you don’t need to do anything to speed the process along.

As mentioned, it is best not to have more than one male Bristlenose Pleco in the same tank unless it is quite a large tank. The male Bristlenose is territorial towards other males and this behavior will only increase when it comes to breeding. In fact, they will claim their own cave just for breeding purposes and will fight another male if they try to inhabit it. They may even eat the male rival’s eggs.

When a Bristlenose is ready to breed, the male lures the female into its cave where the female releases the eggs. The male fertilizes the eggs once they’re outside of the female’s body.

The male is then responsible for guarding the eggs and fry until they leave the cave. Although a female can release up to 200 eggs at a time, only a few survive after leaving the cave.

Here are a few additional facts about breeding the Bristlenose Pleco:

  • To determine if you have at least one male and female, look at their bristles. The male has large bristles that extend to the middle of its head while the female has bristles only around their mouth. Females are also noticeably smaller than males.
  • A male cleans off the surfaces of its cave to prepare for the eggs when it’s ready to mate.
  • A male physically pushes a female out of the cave after it fertilizes her eggs.
  • More than one female may be enticed into the cave at a time in which case the male will fertilize more than one female’s eggs.
  • The eggs hatch after four to 10 days and the resulting fry cling to the sides of the cave until they have absorbed their egg sacs.
  • Fry can be fed with infusoria or powdered spirulina followed by baby brine shrimp as they begin to grow.
  • You need a specific breeding tank if you want to keep your Bristlenose fry alive as you cannot keep that many in a community tank.
  • To encourage your Bristlenose Plecos to breed, set the temperature of your tank to slightly cooler than normal as this species breeds during cooler months in the wild.
  • By six months old, the fry is nearly as big as their parents.


We would definitely recommend adding the Bristlenose Pleco to your community tank if you’re looking for a peaceful fish that is interesting to look at and is also very useful! Not only is the Bristlenose low maintenance but it will also reduce the amount of algae buildup in your tank. While a little bit of algae is perfectly fine, too much presents an issue for your tank. Not only will it cover the walls and decorations but it could also end up presenting a health issue for your fish. If you have a peaceful community tank that you’re looking to add a new buddy to, the Bristlenose Pleco could be the right fish for you.

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