Bristlenose Pleco – Feeding, Breeding, Care Guide and More

Bristlenose plecostomus are great fish for a home aquarium. Being known as one of the best algae eaters, they are loved for their ability to help keep algae levels down in aquariums, they’re easy to keep and serve an important purpose in your tank’s ecosystem.

If you’re looking to learn about bristlenose pleco care, this article is the perfect place to get you started.

Bristlenose pleco resting on white gravel at the bottom of an aquarium
© Mirko Rosenau –

Bristlenose plecos are frequently selected for aquarium keeping, due to their size. They are much smaller than other catfish, staying between 3.5 and 5 inches once fully grown. Yet these small fish can have a significant and positive impact on the biosystem of your tank.

Easy to find and purchase at any fish supplier, including online, they can be yours for just a few dollars, are an attractive and exotic fish, and a positive addition to any suitable home aquarium.

In this article we take a look at this species in detail, covering where they’re from, ideal tank setup, how to feed them, breed them, tank mate combability and everything you might want to know about this beautiful fish.

Overview and Statistics

They hail from South America and you’ll find that keeping these peaceful fish in your aquarium is a pleasure.

Common name(s):Bristlenose pleco, bristlenose catfish, bushy nose pleco, bushy nose catfish, common bristlenose pleco, brushmouth pleco
Scientific Name(s):Ancistrus dolichopterus
Origin:South America
Care Level:Easy
Adult Size:4.5 inches
Color Form:Orange, tan, white
Lifespan:5 years
Minimum Tank Size:25 gallons
Typical Tank Setup:Caves and plentiful hiding spaces
Tank Level:Bottom dweller
Water Conditions:Freshwater, 74-79° Fahrenheit, KH 6-10, pH 6.5-7.4
Tank mates / Compatibility:Peaceable community fish like the neon tetra, goldfish, and molly fish —avoid placing with aggressive fish

Bristlenose plecos are nocturnal. They’ll appreciate plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in. Driftwood in the tank can help provide a source of algae for them. They are herbivores, but they won’t go after your living plants.

They aren’t picky eaters. They’ll often be at the bottom of the tank, motionless for hours while they rid your tank of excess waste and dirt.


They can be a variety of colors, including brown, green, yellow and gray. They will frequently have yellow or orange spots and may even have uneven coloring. Their colors help them easily hide and blend into their surroundings. This is a great asset in the wild and a fun attribute in captivity.

Males are generally larger than the female. Most of them sport a lighter underside and a darker topside. The albino bristlenose pleco is, unsurprisingly, mostly white.

These are an unusually shaped fish. With their wide heads and flat bodies, they won’t be mistaken for other species. Their defining feature is, of course, the fleshy tentacles that earned them their name.

Both male pleco and females have these tentacles. Females have tentacles on their noses, while the males have tentacles further up on top of their heads.

Some of them will have spikes on their fins. A bony armor will help protect them from aggressive fish, but care should still be taken to protect them from such fish.

Behavior and Temperament

They are a very placid species. They spend the majority of their time suctioning the bottom of the aquarium or attached to the glass walls.

While they are generally peaceful, males living together will become territorial and can be aggressive. It’s recommended not to house multiple males in the same tank to avoid such encounters.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

You’ll want to create a habitat where your fish can thrive and be happy. To learn more about the ins and outs of bristlenose pleco care and how to keep them happy, start here.

What Size Tank do Bristlenose Pleco Need?

They need to have at least a 25-gallon tank. They are quite dirty and spend the bulk of their time on the bottom of the tank. The larger tank you can provide them, the better, and you’ll want to make sure there’s plenty of area on the tank floor for them to explore.

These fish will stay quite small, but they don’t get to enjoy the full size of the tank. Remember that they prefer to be on the floor of the aquarium, so the surface area of the floor is a big consideration for your tank, and almost the only dimension that matters.

A tall, narrow, tank just won’t suit them well as they pretty much won’t get to see and enjoy it! They will only experience the base. Therefore, try to support them with a wide and deep tank, as opposed to a tall one. The bigger the base, the more area they have to live on and explore.

Water Type and Parameters

They should be in a freshwater tank. They are from South America and prefer warmer waters. Providing a suitable environment involves making sure the temperature stays between 74 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit and the KH level between 6 and 10.

While they are hardy fish that can be quite tolerant and comfortable in different tank environments, they do best when the pH is between 6.5 and 7.4.

What Substrate Should Be Used?

Both gravel and sand can be used successfully. They have their pros and cons, and most of your choice will come down to the individual fish you have, what other species you keep in the tank, and your personal preference.

Bristlenose plecos can enjoy playing in the sand. It’s also generally easier to clean than gravel, as waste sits on top of the sand and can be sucked up easily with a gravel vacuum for you to clean.

There are challenges with sand though. Your bristlenose pleco can make a mess while playing in the sand. If you have a strong filtration system that creates a lot of water flow, you may also find the sand is easily sucked into the filter and also blown around the tank. They do enjoy quite a bit of water movement, so this can easily be problematic for you.

Gravel will stay where you put it but may be more difficult to clean, as waste can slip between the gravel pieces. It may also be more difficult for your fish to bury and play in, which could be an issue if you plan to breed them.

Filtration Requirements

Originally found in the Amazon River, they prefer significant aeration and can tolerate, and even enjoy, waters with plenty of movement.

You’ll also find they are quite messy, despite their dedication to cleaning the tank of algae they won’t clean up after themselves, and handling their waste load requires a substantial filtration system be in place.

Correct water care will involve a heavy-duty filtration system, able to turn over the water in your tank multiple times per hour. So we recommend installing the best canister filter you can find.

Lighting Requirements

They are nocturnal and should have access to light in a traditional day and night schedule. You must ensure they have a daly night cycle with very little to no light!

They also do best in heavily planted tanks, so you will want to have the tank exposed to natural light for plant growth.

LED lights can be a great option for your tank. They’re easy to use, long-lasting, and can be programmed for day and night cycles. Make sure there are plenty of shadowed areas in your tank to provide hiding cavities for your bristlenose plecos and give them a place to hide during daylight hours.

Plants, Decorations, Swims, And Open Spaces

They thrive in tanks with live plants. The more aeration, the better for these little fish. Plants will help keep the tank healthy and full of oxygen and go a long way to providing an optimum environment. A good air pump or filtration system that helps keep air flowing will be beneficial to them as well.

Bristlenose plecos are nocturnal and should be offered many places to hide. Caves, crevices, and plant matter help create dark areas of the tank that can support the natural day and night rhythm they have.

Such hiding areas will also offer protection from any aggressive, bored, or hungry fish. Little cavities will mitigate any territorial behavior as well.

While they won’t be spending time zipping back and forth through the wide open space of your tank, they will spend their time on the floor. Make sure they have sufficient floor area to do their job without feeling cramped.

How Many Bristlenose Pleco Can You Have Per Gallon?

You may house more females together than you can males. In general, it’s not recommended that you have two males sharing a tank, but if your tank is greater than 50 gallons, you may be able to.

A single bristlenose pleco should have at least a 25-gallon tank. Due to their territorial nature, it’s best to keep that ratio, though you may be able to get away with multiple females in a smaller space. You may also have success keeping male and female pairs or trios if you don’t mind the possibility of hatching more.

For best results, whatever size tank you have, provide many different caves for them. This can help give each one its own territory and help minimize any aggressive behavior related to space.

A strong filtration system and regular cleaning is crucial. They are notoriously dirty and having multiple will mean there’s more waste to keep in check.

Diet and Feeding

Some will tell you that they don’t need to be fed their own food source and that they will simply work on whatever algae grows in the tank. It’s possible you’ll even find them labeled simply as “algae eaters” at your local fish provider.

Don’t be fooled by this – they deserve a dedicated food source just like your other fish. They need to have a varied diet, with a wide range of nutrients that algae alone cannot provide.

Read on to learn how to provide a well balanced diet.

What Do They Eat in the Wild?

They are predominantly herbivores. Outside of captivity, they feast on algae, plant debris, carcasses, and whatever else they might come across.

They do need a significant amount of fiber in their diet and will eat driftwood and other wood debris to obtain it.

What You Can Feed Them in Your Aquarium?

They will be happy munching away at any algae and organic debris that’s trying to set up shop in your tank. They’re excellent for helping to keep your tank clean. They won’t, however, make a dent in the waste they create.

They are notorious for the amount of waste they produce in the tank. While you can help keep the waste under control with regular cleanings and a strong filtration system, keeping track of how often they’re fed, and not overfeeding them will also help.

To provide the best diet possible, you should be doling out a plant-based fish food that will sink to the bottom of the aquarium. Spirulina fish food is a great option. You can also give them fresh produce. This will help provide them with the fiber they need.

Having driftwood available for them to munch on will be helpful as well.

What Human Foods Can they Eat?

They love fresh produce. Cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and peas, can all be a great source of food for them. Cut them into manageable chunks and drop them into your tank.

It’s in the best interest of your fish (and your tank) to remove any uneaten produce the following day. It likely won’t be eaten, and the decomposition can negatively impact your tank’s balanced ecosystem.

How Often Should You Feed Bristlenose Plecos?

They should be fed once or twice daily. You can train them to expect their food by tapping on the aquarium at feeding time. This can help get them eating their food when it’s provided and prevent fish food from fouling your tank.

It’s not unusual for bristlenose plecos to be gluttonous. They will eat whatever they come across.

Be careful not to overfeed them. Not only will it create more maintenance work for you because the more they eat, the more waste they will produce, but it will also endanger their health and well-being.

Special Care Requirements

Mostly, you’ll just need to turn your attention toward tank setup. Creating the space they need and deserve will be the best thing you can do for them.

Like other species, they can be sensitive to medications because they have no scales. Care should be used when treating your fish (or tank) with any medication. You may need to remove them during the treatment period or offer treatment in smaller doses.

Compatibility With Other Fish

Though they can be territorial (especially the males), they are quite peaceful and generally do well in community fish tanks. They are a great asset when it comes to keeping algae growth down. You will need a heavy-duty filtration system in place if you house them with many other fish, or with particularly dirty species.

While they are generally happy to be with other fish and get along well with all types, it’s best not to house them with aggressive ones. Bristlenose pleco can easily be hurt. Their eyes are especially vulnerable to attack and damage.

Can Multiple Bristlenose Plecos Be Housed Together?

Yes, they may be kept together, but you will need to have a larger tank to house them in. Don’t plan on keeping two males together. If you have at least 50 gallons to offer them, though, you may be able to keep multiple males together.

A single male to two or three females may work well together even if you don’t have the full 1:25 ratio of plecos to gallons of water available.

Purchasing Advice

They are relatively common and readily available at your local fish suppliers. They can be quite inexpensive, costing just a few dollars. You may pay more for unusual or specialty coloring. As always, a breeder who specializes in them will give you the best quality stock.

When looking to buy, select one with a rounded belly. A thin specimen may reflect starvation or illness. Always source from a clean tank as well.

If a local source is unable to supply you, many companies will deliver if you order them online.

Breeding Advice

If you want to breed your bristlenose plecos successfully, you should make sure they’re provided a healthy diet. Fiber from fresh produce is a must. Extra protein can be had by giving them blood worms or blackworms (live or frozen). Preparing your fish for successful breeding begins with ensuring they’re in great shape with their diet.

First, you’ll need to determine if you have a breeding pair. A female will only have the characteristic tentacles down by her snout. Males have “bristles” that extend much further up the head. Some even speculate these tentacles are related to their breeding practices. Females are generally smaller as well.

You will need to provide them with access to breeding locations. This will generally be a cave the male has claimed as his own for breeding purposes. Your male may even make alterations to the space as he sees fit.

Once the breeding cave is to his standards, the female will inspect it. Should she find it acceptable, she will move into the cave. Once her eggs have been deposited, the male will fertilize the eggs and evict her from the location. He will guard the eggs until they hatch.

If you have multiple females with your male, it’s possible that the male will allow another female in to the lay her eggs as well. You may find your hatch consists of fry from both females.

In just a few days, the eggs will hatch. For a few days, the pleco fry will cling to their location until they have fully absorbed the yolk sack from their egg. Once that happens they will be free swimming. The new fry can be fed powdered spirulina.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

  • They secrete a slime from their skin that helps to protect them from parasites and disease while allowing them to move more quickly through the water.
  • A flap on their eye can close when exposed to sudden light and protect the eye.
  • They are covered in little tastebuds—head to tail—that give them a good sense of taste.
  • Their bristles can help them blend into their surroundings.
  • Spawning behavior can be triggered by a change in water temperature.
  • They can live for up to 12 years.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Bristlenose Pleco Aggressive?

No, they are not aggressive. That being said, the males may be territorial. Provide plenty of options for fish to claim their own space to avoid territory-based aggression.

How Fast Does they Grow?

They are a slow growing fish. You can expect them to reach their adult size between nine and 12 months of age. They will generally grow to up to 5 inches.

When do they get Their Bristles?

They will sprout their distinguishing bristles around six months of age. This is when they can be more easily sexed. Prior to this time, the size difference may indicate male or female even earlier. Of course, their behavior may also reflect their sex at a younger age.

How Many Eggs Does a Bristlenose Pleco Lay?

They will usually lay between 50 and 100 eggs per spawning cycle.

Can You Keep Two Bristlenose Plecos Together?

Yes, two – or more – can be kept together, but it’s best to avoid keeping two males together, especially if your tank is small.

If you have greater than a 55-gallon tank—and can provide adequate caves and spaces for both males to claim as their own—you may be able to house multiple breeding pairs together.

Can they Be Kept Alone?

Yes, they may be kept alone, this won’t have a negative impact. The lone fish will be happy alone, or interact with other species in your aquarium.

Are Bristlenose Plecos Nocturnal?

Yes, they are a nocturnal fish. You should plan on providing them with a natural light cycle and give them plenty of dark spaces in the tank to spend their days.

Do They Eat Each Other?

One won’t kill another for food. It is possible, however, that they will eat a fish that’s already dead. If you find a partially eaten fish in your tank—and you believe your bristlenose pleco was responsible—the likelihood is that they were already dead before being munched on.

Can a Bristlenose Pleco Live With a Betta Fish?

Yes, they can can live peacefully with betta fish. Betta may find brightly colored fish to be more threatening, so it’s possible you’ll have the best luck introducing a betta to a traditionally colored bristlenose pleco.

Your pleco will spend its time at the bottom of the tank and probably won’t pay much attention to your betta. The one accommodation you’ll need to make is housing your betta in a tank that’s large enough to house both fish. While a betta may be comfortable in a 5-gallon tank, a bristlenose pleco certainly won’t be.


The bristlenose pleco can be a great addition to your home aquarium. They are hardy and peaceful and will work hard to keep your algae levels under control. Their care is straightforward and meeting their needs is easily achievable.

Unlike other plecos, the bristlenose will stay quite small, enabling them to live comfortably even in a modest-sized aquarium. Even the novice fish keeper can successfully keep and enjoy them.

Love your bristlenose plecos? Think they’re dirty as opposed to helpful? We’d love to hear about your experience with them. Leave us a comment below.

Happy fish keeping!

Wendy Kathryn

Hi, I'm Wendy, the owner and creator of this website, an experienced fish keeper and avid student of the art since 2010. My aim is to help beginners avoid the many possible mistakes when getting started in this wonderful hobby.

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