Bristlenose Pleco: Food, Lifespan, Types and Tank size

Ancistrus also known as bristlenose pleco is a genus of nocturnal freshwater fish in order Siluriformes family Loricariidae, native to South America and Panama freshwater habitats.

In the aquarium trade, fish of this genus are common where they are known as bushynose or bristlenose catfish.

They are often referred to as bushynose or bristlenose plecos in the aquarium hobby instead, but this can lead to confusion as “pleco” is usually used for Hypostomus plecostomus and its allies and is often used as a catchall term for any loricariids that are remotely similar to that species.


The name ancistrus derives from the “hook” of Ancient Greek agkistron-a reference to the cheek odontodes form.

The Pristiancistrus, Thysanocara, and Xenocara genera are now synonymous with Ancistrus.


Ancistrus species show all of the characteristics typical of the Loricariidae. That includes a body covered with bony plates and a suckermouth ventral.

The most commonly associated feature of the genus are the fleshy tentacles found in adult males on the head; females may have tentacles along the margin of the snout but they are smaller and lack tentacles on the head.

Tentacles, tentacles directly associated with odontodes, develop in the males of certain species on the pectoral fin spine.

female bristlenose pleco

In females, males also have everlasting cheek odontodes that are less developed or absent.

Alongside the snout, they also lack odontodes.A bristlenose is typically shorter (4–6 inches or 15 cm or less) compared to a typical loricariid (pleco), more flattened and fatter, with a comparatively wider head.

Coloring is typically brown, gray, or black mottled. Small spots of white or yellow are common.

Unlike many other loricariid ‘plecos’ (many of which regularly exceed one foot in captivity), the bristlenose plecos usually do not exceed six inches in length; therefore, they can be kept in relatively small tanks, contributing to their popularity in the aquarium hobby.

Habitat and Distribution

Ancistrus is one of the most varied genera of Loricariids, and representatives are found in most areas where the family is present at large.

Many species are found in the Amazon basin ‘s rivers and floodplain areas, but species are also found elsewhere in tropical South America, as are two species, A. Centrolepis, with A. Chagresi is located in Panama.

Three species (troglobites) are true cavefish: A. cryptophthalmus, A. Galani, A. Formoso, formoso.

These are the only known loricariids that have adaptations for an underground lifestyle, such as reduced pigmentation (appearing whitish overall) and eyes.



The Bristlenose pleco or Catfish is one of the smallest catfish in the aquarium, and will grow to an average of 3-5 inches. 

It has a broader head, much shorter, fatter, and more flatter than the Common Pleco. 

They have a flattened body covered in bony plates and they sprout tentacles like branches from their head as they reach maturity.

Tentacles of males are lengthier and more prominent than females. 

They have a pair of pectoral and abdominal fins, and an elongated, round mouth that makes them an excellent suckerfish. 

Bristlenose Plecos are usually black , brown, olive or grey all over the body, with light white or yellow spots. The fish’s underside is lighter in colour than the main body.

The most defining feature of this fish is the bushy appendages of the nose which sprout from their snouts.

Those tentacles are namesake for the fish. They typically start appearing once the fish reaches maturity, which is around 6 months of age. 

All Bristlenose Plecos have the “Bristles.” They ‘re a lot more prominent in males though. They are longer, and tend to grow higher on their heads.

The bristles are a bit more subdued for females, and they sprout around the mouth area. 

Bristlenose Plecos has a mouth which is at the bottom of their bodies. This makes consuming algae from the substratum easier for them, and clinging to vertical surfaces.

The fish also have slightly elongated lips, compared to other Plecos. 

Another difference between the Plecos and the Bristlenose is that the head is wider. It’s a little bit plumper and shorter too. 

Another nice thing about this species is the covering of their bodies in bony plates. They offer some protection in the wild against more aggressive fish. 

Accompanying that base color is all around a series of lighter dots. They are usually yellow or white. Bristlenose Plecos’ ventre is colored slightly lighter.

Bristlenose Pleco types

Albino Bristlenose Pleco  

The most popular variation in this fish is easily the Albino Bristlenose Pleco. This is due to their unique look which separates them from the other types. 

Because of its light yellow and pink body colour, you can easily recognize the Albino Bristlenose Pleco.

You can also make out a marbled and spotted pattern of faint light. We ‘re a huge fan of that fish!

Longfin Bristlenose Pleco. 

What makes the Pleco so neat Longfin Bristlenose is right throughout the name.

The Longfin has very long and flowing fins that give it a hypnotic swinging motion because it swims around, unlike the other common variations.

This is one of the most enjoyable kinds of Bristlenose Plecos to observe in action and is a very popular buy for that reason. 

Super Red Bristlenose pleco 

Just like the Longfin, the Super Red Bristlenose Pleco is giving the name its uniqueness.

This fish’s body is pretty much orange and light-red all around.

This definitely stands out in your tank significantly, no matter what other fish you have with it in there!

Starlight Bristlenose pleco

The Starlight Bristlenose Pleco is by far our favorite personal variation of that fish. This fish has a mind-blowing pattern and colouration! 

The Starlight Bristlenose Pleco’s body is pretty much black, with white dots consistently spread all over (the “stars”).

On top of both dorsal and caudal fins rests a thin white stripe. It’s a great looking, really. 

Calico Pleco Bristlenose

This is another sleek variation that gives the viewing a very textured look. The Calico ‘s body is mostly orange with some black, shadowy patches dispersed around it.

This is another very popular option that seems to love the freshwater aquarists.

Bristlenose Size Pleco 

These fish are on the smaller end of the spectrum when it comes to size. The average size of Bristlenose Pleco is around 3 to 5 inches long. 

Some variations like the Longfin tend to be on the shorter end of this range, but the overall care and genetics have the most impact on this. 

Red Bristlenose pleco.

Developed over time from natural color variants, this fish sports a vibrant, uniform red-orange colouration.

These fish, as with all Common Bristlenose Plecos, are ideal inhabitants of the aquarium, grazing on diatom algae while still being safe with live plants and peaceful towards all tankmates.

Bristlenose pleco care


Bristle pleco

It’s relatively easy to provide good Bristlenose Pleco care once you know what you should do.

While some species of fish are susceptible to unique diseases, for the Bristlenose this is not the case.

It is not known they are suffering from major health problems.

Having said that, they can still face common problems such as Ich, bacterial infections, and more.

Those creatures are generally quite hardy. They ‘re doing well under a variety of tank conditions.

As long as you have a well maintained tank, you should not encounter any major issues. 

As we mentioned earlier, the Amazon originated in Bristlenose Plecos. So, replicating the conditions that they encounter in the wild is the key to keeping them healthy.

They thrive in warmer temperatures, moderate water flow and plenty of oxygen in environments. 

It can also be a sign that the water contains too much ammonia and nitrate.

Consider making some changes to the filter and aeration to ensure your fish can remain healthy.

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Bristlenose pleco growth rate

It usually takes about 2 year for a bristlenose pleco to reach the full size. However, it depends on the environment too.

Water Parameter Required

Once you have the tank all set up, it’s time to make sure the water conditions are right for the tank!

In a variety of conditions Bristlenose Plecos does well. But here’s what you should be aiming for to maximize their health and lifespan: 

Water temperature: From 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

PH: Somewhere between 6.5-7.5 

Hardness in water: Keep this between 20 and 25 

Adult Bristlenose Plecos can handle water quality fluctuations very well, in general. Stick with adult fish if you just haven’t got a ton of experience yet. Younger Plecos are likely to encounter some health issues when the pH balance gets off.

Bristlenose pleco Tank Mates

They spend most of their time at the tank bottom, or sucking at the glass side or at the edges. 

Bristlenoses are a peaceful species and they will get along with most other peaceful fish in the community. 

For beginners and experienced aquarists alike it is a great fish. They are very hardy, and can adapt to live comfortably in a wide range of tank conditions.

It is not recommended that you house two males together as they become extremely territorial and competitive with other species of similar shape.

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Bristlenoses have bony armor that protects them from semi-aggressive and small aggressive fish, but if you choose to house them together, they will need to be carefully monitored.

Bristlenose pleco tank size

Bristlenose Plecos originated in South America from the streams and rivers. So they prefer freshwater with a well aerated current. 

With a moderate flow of water you should ensure that your tank water is well oxygenated. 

Bristlenoses are nocturnal fish, and you should be sure that they have plenty of hiding places to rest in during the daytime.

They like shadowed areas, so the better you can create the more of these. Plants, driftwoods and caves all make excellent spaces for hiding.

In addition, providing driftwood in your tank will allow algae to grow somewhere for the fish to feed on.

The water temperature should be maintained from 15-27oC (60-80 F) anywhere, the water hardness should fall within 20-25, and the pH should be in 6.5-7.5. 

Depending on what other fish you lodge with your Bristlenose, you will need a minimum tank size of 25 gallons, and you should make sure that the tank’s bottom, which is where they spend most of their time, is big. 

They produce a good quantity of waste so the bigger the tank the better, especially if they are housed with other fish.

Occasionally rushing to the surface for air is not unusual for this fish, but if you notice this is a frequent thing, it may indicate that there is too much ammonia and nitrates in the water, or not enough oxygen.

Bristlenose pleco Feeding

They spend most of their time hiding on the algae that grows on all surfaces and grazing. 

While they’re fantastic in keeping your tank clean and eating plenty of algae, algae won’t give them a balanced diet. 

Their diet should consist of roughly 85% plant matter and 15 % protein. 

You should feed them with tablets specifically developed for herbivores such as sinking algae pellets or wafers at the bottom of the dwelling. 

Also, you can feed them with blanched vegetables – try a variety to see what they like best. 

Parboiled lettuce or cabbage leaves, carrots, cucumber or peas are a few examples of things you could try feeding.

Recall taking any left of food or vegetables out of the tank within one day of feeding them to avoid them starting to deteriorate and affect the conditions of the water. 

If you feed your Plecos vegetables every day, they’ll probably get enough fiber, but if you can’t commit to being consistent, you’ll need to give them another fiber source. 

Not only will you provide them with fibrous matter by putting a piece of driftwood in your tank, but you’ll also create another space where algae can grow for them to eat.

You can also feed a very small amount of meaty foods into your Bristlenoses to ensure they have a well-balanced diet.

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Bristlenose Pleco Breeding

Male and female Bristlenose pleco fish

Bristlenose Plecos are pretty easy to breed but before we look at how to breed them, there are a few things to note. 

First, it’s highly unlikely that the eggs or fry in a community tank will survive so you’ll need a specific breeding tank.

You could even move the eggs (along with whatever they are attached to to another tank if they breed in a community tank. 

Second, breeding of this species typically occurs during the rainy season of the Amazon in the cooler winter months.

You may want to make your tank slightly fresher than normal to replicate this. 

Third, you should provide the males with plenty of caves and driftwood to pick the best spawn site possible.

Let’s look at how to breed these now. The first thing that you need to be able to determine is who is male and female. With Bristlenose Plecos, that is really easy to do. 

The males tend to have larger bristles that grow out to the center of their head. The females have much smaller bristles that grow just around their mouth.

You should always try to have more females than males as the males, especially during breeding, are extremely territorial. 

The male will claim a cave, and will prepare and clean its egg-ready surfaces. If you have more than one male, they ‘re going to fight for the cave ‘s control and eat the eggs of their rival given the chance.

So, if you have more than one male, you should provide as many caves as possible. 

Then, he will wait for a woman. The female bristlenose pleco will inspect the cave and will deposit some bright orange adhesive eggs if she is impressed. 

They are then fertilized by the male and pushed out by the female to protect the eggs. In a male cave, more than one female may lay eggs. 

The male will clean the eggs and the nest, and aerate them over the 4-10 days they take to hatch with his fins. 

Once hatched, the fry will attach itself to the sides of the cave until their egg sacks have been fully absorbed; this normally takes another 2-4 days.

By now they will be able to feed on algae if they are free swimming, and you can supplement them with mashed vegetables such as peas. 

They grow very fast, and they’ll be almost as big as their parents by about 6 months of age.

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