Bristlenose Pleco 101: Care, Lifespan, Size, & Breeding

Bristlenose Plecos (sometimes called the Bushy Nose Pleco or Bristlenose Catfish) are incredibly unique and fun creatures that are quite popular in freshwater tanks.

They’re also rather polarizing.

Some aquarists think that they look fun and unique (like us), while others think they look odd and creepy.

If you’re in the first group then this guide is for you. You’ll learn everything you need to know about providing excellent Bristlenose Pleco care, plus some other neat information that might come in handy.

Species Summary

With their unique appearance and penchant for keeping algae at bay, Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus Cirrhosus in the Loricariidae family) are a great addition to any aquarium. They’re particularly popular among novice fish owners. These little critters are very easy to care for and can help improve the quality of the tank. Plus, they’re fun to watch!

Originally, Bristlenose Plecos come from the streams and tributaries in the Amazon Basin. Though, they can also be found throughout other parts of Central and South America as well.

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These freshwater fish were first classified in the 1800s. Since then, they have become popular with aquarists all over the world. While they share many similarities to popular freshwater aquarium catfish and other Pleco species, Bristlenose Plecos are unique creatures with their own distinct needs.

Bristlenose Pleco Lifespan

The average Bristlenose Pleco lifespan is at least five years, but there have been instances where this fish has lived up to 12 years in captivity!

When compared to a lot of the other popular freshwater tank inhabitants, this is a pretty solid length of time. In fact, the Bristlenose Pleco lifespan is one of the core reasons why people seem to gravitate toward this aquarium fish (in our experience).


The most defining characteristic of this fish is the bushy nose appendages that sprout from their snouts. These tentacles are the fish’s namesake. Typically, they start to appear once the fish reaches maturity, which is about 6 months of age.

The “bristles” are present in all Bristlenose Plecos. However, they are much more prominent in males. They’re longer and tend to grow higher up on the head. For females, the bristles are a bit more subdued and sprout out around the mouth area.

Bristlenose Plecos have a mouth that’s located on the bottom of their bodies. This makes it easier for them to consume algae from the substrate and cling onto vertical surfaces. When compared to other Plecos, the fish have somewhat elongated lips as well.

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

Another neat thing about this species is that their bodies are covered in bony plates. They offer some protection from more aggressive fish in the wild.

Fun Fact: The unique color patterns of the fish also help them evade trouble. Most Bristlenose Plecos have a dark color to blend in with the substrate of the Amazon Basin. You’ll find fish that are black, dark brown, gray, and olive.

Accompanying that base color is a series of lighter dots all over. They are usually white or yellow. The belly of Bristlenose Plecos is slightly lighter colored.

Ancistrus Cirrhosus resting at the bottom of the tank

The profile of the Bristlenose Pleco is distinct as well. They have a pair of pectoral fins, a pair of abdominal fins, and a larger dorsal fin up top.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

The Albino Bristlenose Pleco is easily the most popular variation of this fish. This is because of the unique look that separates them from the other types.

You can easily recognize the Albino Bristlenose Pleco because of the light yellow and pink color of its body. You can make out a faint light marbled and spotted pattern as well. We’re a big fan of this fish!

Longfin Bristlenose Pleco

What makes the Longfin Bristlenose Pleco so neat is right in the name. Unlike the other common variations, the Longfin has very long and flowing fins that give it a hypnotic swaying motion as it swims around. This is one of the most enjoyable kinds of Bristlenose Plecos to observe in action, and for that reason it’s a very popular buy.

Super Red Bristlenose Pleco

Just like the Longfin, the Super Red Bristlenose Pleco gives away it’s uniqueness in the name. The body of this fish is pretty much completely orange and light red all over. This makes it stand out significantly when in your tank, no matter what other fish you have in there with it!

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco

The Starlight Bristlenose Pleco is by far our personal favorite variation of this fish. The pattern and coloration on this fish is mind-blowing!

The body of the Starlight Bristlenose Pleco is pretty much completely black with white dots spread consistently all over (the “stars”). A thin white strip rests on top of both the dorsal and caudal fins. It’s really quite a stunning display.

Calico Bristlenose Pleco

This is another neat variation that gives a very textured look when viewing. The body of the Calico is mostly orange with some black shadowy patches scattered about. This is another very popular option that freshwater aquarists seem to love.

Bristlenose Pleco Size

When it comes to size, these fish are on the smaller end of the spectrum. The average Bristlenose Pleco size is somewhere between 3 and 5 inches long.

Certain variations such as the Longfin tend to be on the shorter end of this range, but overall care and genetics impact this the most.

Bristlenose Pleco Care

Providing good Bristlenose Pleco care is relatively easy once you know what to do. While some fish species are susceptible to unique diseases, that’s not the case for the Bristlenose. They’re not known to suffer from major health issues.

With that being said, they can still encounter common problems like Ich, bacterial infections, and more. Generally, these creatures are quite hardy. They do well in a variety of tank conditions. As long as you have a well-maintained tank, you shouldn’t experience any major problems.

As we mentioned earlier, Bristlenose Plecos originated from the Amazon. So, the key to keeping them healthy is to replicate the conditions they encounter in the wild. They thrive in environments with warmer temperatures, moderate water flow, and plenty of oxygen.

Author Note: These fish do react to extreme water changes. You might see your Pleco swimming up to the surface every once in a while. If it seems like a regular occurrence, don’t ignore it. Your fish may be getting air because the oxygen levels aren’t high enough for their comfort.

It could also be a sign that there’s too much ammonia and nitrate in the water. Consider making some filter and aeration changes to ensure that your fish can stay healthy.

Tank Size & What To Include In Their Habitat

If you plan on purchasing your own Bristlenose Plecos, you need to make sure that they have at least a 25 gallon tank to roam around. Make sure that you adjust your tank size accordingly if you decide to keep them with other fish (more on that below).

They are natural bottom-dwellers and you’ll want to construct their habitat with that in mind. You’ll notice that your fish spends most of their time scavenging for food at the bottom of the tank or near any decorations you have.

This means it’s good to give your Bristlenose Plecos as many hiding places as possible.

Things like live plants, driftwood, and manufactured caves are very beneficial. Bristlenose Plecos are nocturnal. During the day, they’ll use those hidings spots to rest and feel safe. They can also play a role in breeding, which we’ll get into a bit later as well.

One of the best parts of having a Bristlenose Pleco is that they are eager algae eaters. They will keep the tank much cleaner. However, these fish still produce waste. You can’t rely on their scavenging nature alone to keep the tank in good condition.

Seasoned aquarists typically go for canister filters for tanks (like the Fluval FX4 or FX6) with Bristlenose Plecos. They’re very effective at removing waste. Plus, they work well with an under-gravel system.

An under-gravel water system is great for any Pleco. They help to keep the bottom of the tank in great condition and keep the water oxygenated.

Required Water Parameters

Once you have the tank all set up, it’s time to make sure the tank has the right water conditions! Bristlenose Plecos do well in a variety of conditions. However, here’s what you should aim for in order to maximize their health and lifespan:

  • Water Temperature: Between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • pH: Somewhere in the 6.5 – 7.5 range
  • Water Hardness: 6 to 10 KH

Generally speaking, adult Bristlenose Plecos can handle fluctuations in water quality very well. If you don’t have a ton of experience just yet, stick with adult fish. Younger Plecos will likely encounter some health problems if the pH balance gets off.

Author Note: This species is a great cold water fish as well. Their generous range of water temperatures makes them quite versatile.

Food & Diet

In their natural habitat, Bristlenose Plecos have a lot of variation in their diet. They spend their time sifting through the bottom of the stream and survive mostly on plant-based materials. Sometimes, they may also cling onto plants to eat algae or feed on tiny insect larvae.

In captivity, much of that same dietary behavior remains. Algae is their primary source of food (you can give them algae wafers if you don’t have a lot of natural algae in your tank). With that being said, you still need to supplement their diet to keep them healthy.

You can feed them food that’s specially-made for bottom-dwellers. Sinking fish food pellets and spirulina wafers are great. They should be fed once or twice a day.

A Bristlenose Pleco looking for something to eat

Occasionally, you can also feed them protein-based foods like bloodworms. While they are primarily herbivores, protein is just as important.

Some aquarists like to give their Bristlenose Plecos natural foods. Blanched vegetables like peas, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, and such are great options. The fish will feed off them slowly and can take advantage of the nutrients they have.

If you decide to supply some blanched vegetables every once in a while, make sure that you remove the food after a few hours. Give them some time to pick at it before you remove it to prevent your tank from becoming a mess.

A good way to tell if you’re feeding your fish enough is to monitor their color. Despite the muted tones of their bodies, the color pattern is striking. If things that to look a bit dull and softened, it means that your fish aren’t getting the balanced diet that they need.

The Value Of Driftwood And Plants

Another great option is to put a piece of driftwood into the tank. Driftwood is excellent for algae growth. It doesn’t take long for the wood to be covered in the green stuff.

Your Bristlenose Plecos will eat the algae right off. While they do this, they’ll also be consuming plenty of fibrous material to keep them healthy.

If you have live plants in their environment (like hornwort or Java moss), they may also cling onto leaves to eat the algae. Usually, the Plecos will not eat the plants. If they do, that means that they’re not getting enough food. So, consider increasing the frequency of their meals a bit.

Behavior & Temperament

Bristlenose Plecos are pretty relaxed. They’re a docile fish that does well with other peaceful creatures. Because Plecos spend their time at the bottom of the tank, they probably won’t even pay attention to fish that are occupying other parts of the water column.

During the day, Bristlenose Plecos don’t move around a lot. Thanks to their camouflaging colors, you might even have a hard time finding them. They’re often relaxing in caves and dark hiding spots.

When the sun goes down, Plecos start to get much more active. They’ll swim around looking for food in the substrate. Once they find a good spot with plenty of algae, they will usually stay there and eat as much as they can before the sun comes up.

Any peaceful fish are fine tank mates for Bristlenose Plecos. They are great for community tanks with species like Neon Tetras, Platy fish, Guppies, and more. Some aquarists even pair them with known aggressors, such as bettas or African cichlids. However, we feel rather strongly that doing so is a bad choice.

Bristlenose Plecos do have protection all over their bodies to prevent injury from small aggressive fish. But, it’s best to just keep things as peaceful as possible. Pairing them with aggressive fish that constantly attacks them will only lead to stress-related health issues.

If you want to have a tank with more than one Bristlenose Pleco, err on the side of caution. It’s not recommended that you pair more than one male in the same tank.

Males can get a bit territorial, especially when it’s time to breed. Male Bristlenose Plecos like to claim a cave or hiding spot. If your tank is limited in size, you could encounter fights between the Plecos.

Bristlenose Pleco Breeding Tips

Breeding Bristlenose Plecos isn’t too difficult. You just need to create the right conditions to initiate their breeding instincts. While you could use your normal tank, you might want to consider creating a separate breeding tank. Other fish species will attempt to eat the baby fish once they hatch.

Whether you do a separate breeding tank or not, make sure that the environment is perfect. Create plenty of hiding spots. Caves are a must-have, as the males will seek them out as a spawning area.

In the wild, breeding occurs during the rainy seasons in South America. The water is naturally cooler. To increase your chances of success, you can perform a 75 percent water change with slightly cooler water.

The Breeding Process

You should have more female Bristlenose Plecos in the tank than males. Remember, males get very territorial during the breeding season. If you plan on having more than one male, make sure you have enough space and ample hiding spots to keep things peaceful.

The breeding process is very unique. It usually starts with the male looking for a great spot for the female to lay her eggs. This is where those caves and hiding spots come in.

Once they’ve found a spot, the male will clean up the cave and wait for the female. If she deems the site acceptable, she’ll lay her eggs all over the cave walls and floor. They’re sticky and have a bright orange color.

An Albino Bristlenose Pleco in a hiding place

At this point, the male will fertilize the eggs. The female Bristlenose Pleco will then guard over the cave while the pair waits for the eggs to hatch. During this time, the male will clean the eggs and aerate them with his tail. Usually, the eggs will hatch after 4 to 10 days.

While many fish species will eat the fry, this isn’t very common with Bristlenose Plecos. They’re more protective, which can help to increase the chances of survival.

After hatching, the baby Plecos will latch onto the sides of the cave and feed on their eggs sacks for a few days. Once you see them swimming throughout the tank freely, you can try to feed them some food. They will eat algae like their parents, but mashed vegetables are a great supplement.

Fish fry grows very rapidly. It only takes about 6 months to reach full maturity. When they’re still young, they will develop their tough skin. They won’t have those iconic bristles at first. But, they’ll start to develop after several months.            

Now You’re Ready To Go

Now that you’ve finished this guide you should have a much better understanding of Bristlenose Pleco care. These fun and peaceful creatures are rewarding to take care of, and want nothing more than to mind their business and live a healthy and happy life.

If you have any further questions about Bristlenose Plecos feel free to get in touch with us on social media or through our contact page. We have quite the soft spot for these little fish, and love chatting about them!

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