Bristlenose Pleco: Care, Breeding, Diet & Behavior

Bristlenose Pleco Complete Guide

The Bristlenose Pleco is also known as a “bushynose” or “bristlenose” catfish, with the scientific name Ancistrus cirrohus.

While it is often called a “pleco,” it is not a member of the plecostomus family. True bristlenoses are smaller than most plecos, so they are suited for smaller home aquariums.

These hardy little catfish are attractive and distinctive, easy to care for and help keep a fish tank clean and healthy.

Origin and Distribution

The Bristlenose Pleco is native to freshwater rivers and floodplains of the Amazon basin. Some varieties are found in rivers in Panama and other South American countries.

A few types are true subterranean cavefish with reduced pigmentation. Like other catfish family members, they are excellent tank cleaners, feeding on algae and decomposing plant matter.

Appearance and Markings

Bristlenose Plecos are very distinctive-looking fish, with a wide range of colors and patterns available. The most common varieties are dark grey or black, with light or white spots and paler bellies. There are also varieties in golden yellow, vivid red, and other color patterns.

Naturally, what sets these fish apart is their distinctive nose. Bristlenose Plecos are named for their eye-catching collection of tentacles on the head and snout. They also have armored bodies and a suckermouth for feeding.

Bristlenose Pleco Varieties 

Bristlenose Plecos are smaller than true plecos, with a size up to 5 inches, and hardy fish, making them very popular in home aquariums. Because they are hardy and easy to breed, there are many color morphs of bristlenoses available. Some of the most popular varieties of Bristlenose Pleco include:

  • The Common Brown Bristlenose is a pleco with a dark brown body and pale spots, which may be yellow or white
  • Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (also called the “white seam” bristlenose) is a deep black with bright white spots and a distinctive white stripe on the fins. They are slightly larger than common bristlenoses and can reach up to 6 inches long. They also have a tendency to be shyer than other variations
  • Albino Bristlenose Plecos are a popular morph with a pale pink, white, or yellowish color. These morphs are distinctive and conspicuous in an aquarium and exceptionally beautiful, but they may be subject to nipping by smaller, fast-moving fish
  • The Golden Bristlenose Pleco has a beautiful gold color with a pale underside. Longfin varieties of the golden bristlenose may also be called “butterfly catfish”
  • The Super Red Bristlenose Pleco, as you might suspect, ranges in shade from a vivid red-orange to a true deep red color; they can reach up to 6 inches in length
  • The Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco is a stunning bristlenose, especially in longfin morphs. They are a deep green color, often with yellow or lighter green fins, and may or may not have spots or a marbled green and yellow pattern that shifts in the light, creating a camouflage effect. Be mindful that “Green Dragon Plecos” are a different fish species than the bristlenose
  • A Blue-Eyed Bristlenose Pleco is usually lemon yellow in color, with striking blue eyes that give the morph its name
  • The Calico Bristlenose Pleco with the calico morph has a distinctive orange-and-brown marbled coloration, accented with spots all over their bodies.

Bristlenose pleco morphs are often available in long and shortfin varieties, which create a more distinctive appearance.

Bristlenose Pleco Habitat and Care

They need at least a 25-gallon tank, and, as bottom feeders, they benefit from longer tanks rather than high ones.

In their natural habitat, they have a wealth of hiding places at the bottom of a river bed, and it’s important to simulate those conditions.

Give them small caves, plants, and shady areas where they can feel comfortable. Adding driftwood to the tank increases the amount of algae available to eat and adds healthy fiber to their diet.

Bristlenose Plecos are nocturnal and will spend most of the day hiding in a comfy cave.

Males will become territorial and competitive about their caves, so give multiple males lots of room for distance from each other and a good selection of caves to choose from.

Because they are nocturnal, they prefer low and indirect light or plants that cast a lot of shade. They may nibble on plants when they are hungry but do not eat living plants.

Bristlenose Plecos Need

  • Temperature: 60-80°F
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Water hardness: 6-10 kH

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco Diet and Feeding

Bristlenose Plecos are excellent algae eaters and will happily browse an aquarium and help to keep it clean.

However, their natural diet is also very high in variety, and they still need supplemental food. Here are good feeding guidelines for Bristlenose Plecos:

  • Once or twice a day, feed sinking food pellets or spirulina wafers
  • A couple times a week, offer blanched vegetables and let the Bristlenose Pleco snack on them. Remove any uneaten vegetables from the tank after a few hours to help keep it clean
  • Supplement with protein. About 10-20% of the Bottlenose Pleco diet should come from protein, so offer bloodworms or other high protein foods from time to time

Gender Differences

As they mature, gender differences emerge in Bristlenose Plecos, and they are easy to spot.

Males are larger, have spikes on their fins, and they have whiskers, bristles on their heads, and more and longer bristles overall.

Females are smaller, without spiked fins and bristles on their snouts rather than on their heads.

Breeding the Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos are very easy to breed and may breed spontaneously in a healthy home aquarium. When males are mature, they will claim a cave that they think is suitable for spawning.

When the female is ready, she will inspect the cave. If she finds it acceptable, she will lay her eggs inside, sticking them to hard surfaces inside the cave.

The male will fertilize the eggs and then guard the cave for 5-10 days until the eggs hatch.

Bristlenose Pleco fry will absorb the egg yolk for a few days and then leave the cave to feed on algae.

If you want to stimulate Bristlenose Plecos to breed, consider simulating the transition into the rainy season, when these fish spawn in the wild. A 75% water change, especially in November, may trigger breeding and spawning.

Because Bristlenose Plecos breed so easily, and so many of their color morphs are in high demand, many people quickly develop a hobby of breeding them for specific colors or characteristics. There is a lot of available information on dominant and recessive morph genes, so it may be an interesting and rewarding hobby.

Bristlenose plecos are fascinating additions to a home aquarium. They are efficient algae eaters, attractive and distinctive-looking fish, and easy to care for with a long life span and little susceptibility to disease.

They can tolerate a wide range of tank conditions and get along well with many different types of tank mates. Plus, they are also easy to breed and capable of fascinating color and pattern variations.

There’s a reason that these catfish are so popular in home aquariums, so consider adding them to your freshwater aquarium today.


How Big do Bristlenose Plecos Get?

Most Bristlenose Plecos reach up to 5 inches, but some variants are smaller, measuring only 3-4 inches at maturity, and some morphs are larger, up to 6 inches.

Can You Keep Two Bristlenose Plecos Together?

As juveniles, Bristlenose Plecos are peaceful and can be kept together happily. As adults, males will become competitive and territorial. If you want to keep multiple males, allow about 25 gallons of tank space per male, and create lots of cave sites to reduce competition.

As a rule, you can keep 2-4 females for every male, provided your tank is large enough for the additional bioload.

How Long do Bristlenose Plecos Live?

Bristlenose Plecos can live for 10-12 years in optimal tank conditions.

What Size Aquarium do Bristlenose Plecos Need?

Bristlenose Plecos need at least a 25-gallon tank for every individual. Because they are bottom feeders, it’s a good idea to choose a long tank with a lot of surface area rather than a tall tank with a lot of height.