Bristlenose Pleco Fish Guide—How to Keep and Breed This Catfish

By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise

Bristlenose Pleco Fish Guide—How to Keep and Breed This Catfish

Of all plecos, bristlenose is the most popular species among freshwater fish keepers. This pleco is preferred to others in the family (which includes common pleco)because of it’s smaller size (usually top out at around 5 inches) and ease of maintenance.

The fish are also efficient algae eaters, and males have fleshy tentacles on the head which create a unique spectacle in home aquariums.

To keep bushynose catfish successfully, house them in at least a 20-gallon tropical fish tank with the temperature anywhere from 60& deg;F and 80& deg;F and a ph of 5.5 to 6.5.

Bristlenose plecos are sociable and largely not aggressive (peaceful) thus can live in a community with other small to medium-sized docile tank mates.

However, avoid keeping your plecos with boisterous companions, plus they prefer being the sole representative of their species, so only keep them singly (cannot live together with other bushynose plecos ).

This article will help you understand how to keep and care for bristlenose plecos in a fish tank including feeding, tank and water condition, breeding and more.

Bristlenose Pleco Overview

Bristlenose pleco is a nocturnal, bottom-dwelling freshwater species in the catfish family scientifically called Ancistrus. Though it’s also classed and sold as a pleco by many pet stores.

In the pet fish market and retail space, the fish is referred to by a couple of other names that include bushynose catfish and bristlenose catfish.

Bristlenose catfish are native to rivers and floodplains areas of the Amazon basin with other smaller populations elsewhere in tropical South America and Panama.

They come in several variants with distinctive colors which range from brown and black to grey and even albino types.


The feature most commonly associated with the bushynose catfish are the short, fleshy, whisker-like appendages found in the mouth and nose area in adult males. Females mostly posses the tentacles along the snout margin which are smaller and lack any on the head.

These bristles are used for detecting food.

Males also have cheek odontodes (hard, teeth-like structures) which are less developed or absent in females.

Generally, bristlenose bodies are covered in bony plates with a verticle suckermouth similar to other species in the Loricariidae catfish family. The body color range from brown to albino with small white or yellow spots.

However, unlike other species in the family which grow to over a foot long, bristlenose pleco usually grows to almost half that size, between 3 and 5 inches in length for average adults.


Bristlenose plecos can live for up to 12 years which is considerably longer than most freshwater aquarium fish species.

This lifespan is mostly because the fish is quite hardy hence can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. Also, they breed easily in captivity and are compatible with most freshwater fish.

However, individual bristlenose fish tend to live for a short period in captivity,sometimes for only 3 to 5 year, because of poor fish keeping techniques.

So, it is imperative to understand the many factors that come into play while determining how long your bushynose will live in a fish tank.

Most importantly, maintain fish in a clean environment with appropriate water conditions. Then look out for common illnesses or infections and injuries since they are notoriously stubborn causes of death in bristlenose plecos.

Bristlenose Pleco Types

The bushynose or bristlenose pleco come from rivers and tributaries of South American, with the wild type being brown with a molting of lighter areas. The mouth and face area is covered in long whisker-like appendages which are used to detect food.

However, in the trade, these plecos come in a variety of colors that are mostly used to distinguish one bristlenose type from others, albeit males having longer whiskers. Females have considerably short or no appendages at all.

These are some of the most common bristlenose pleco types you are most likely to find in your local pet store.

#1 — Albino Bristlenose Pleco

This is one of the most popular bristlenose color types and is easily distinguishable by its highly variable white-pink to yellow marbled body, as well as the growth of many appendages on the fish’s face.

Both sexes grow appendages, but the growth and length are much more pronounced in males.

Albino bushnose fish will make a good addition to any community aquarium, and especially enjoy planted tanks with hearty, fast-growing plants, good amounts of aeration and water movement.

Rocks and driftwood will help accent a natural habitat and provide space for your albino bristlenose to hide.

This pleco is relatively easy to breed, laying eggs that are usually deposited on a piece of driftwood where the male stays and guard them.

Albino bristlenose pleco fry become free swimming in 10 days and should be raised in a separate aquarium.

#2 — Starlight Bristlenose Pleco

The starlight bristlenose pleco, also called the white seam pleco or the orange seam pleco (for the coloring on the dorsal and caudal fin) originates from the Rio negro in Brazil.

Starlight bristlenose plec gets its common name from the series of small dots that appear all over the body, looking like a series of stars in the night sky. These fish can be very skittish and hide away a lot during the daylight hours.

Males have tentacles on their face, while females lack the appendages. Plus unlike albino plecos, they are hard to breed and grow larger than other bristlenose species so a large enough aquarium should be provided for adult.

However, breeding can still be achieved in blackwater conditions, which are soft and acidic. The conditions can be created by adding driftwood, almond leaves, peat or leaf litter in a fish tank.

Please note that while some local fish stores sell the starlight bristlenose as a normal bushnose, the fish is a different species (Ancistrus hoplogenys).

#3 — Super Red Bristlenose Pleco

This bristlenose pleco variant is a selectively bred color type, characterized by a yellowish body as juveniles, though both male and females develop deep red-orange coloration as they mature.

Both sexes also grow appendages, but the growth and length is much more pronounced in males.

The super red bristlenose is unique and less popular than the other types, but share in all bristlenose characteristics apart from the colors.

Developed overtime from naturally occurring colors, vibrant red bristlenose pleco will graze on brown algae (diatoms), while being safe with live plants and peaceful towards tankmates.

They will thrive in a well-maintained aquarium as small as 30 to 40 gallons, but because they are nocturnal, they are mostly going to be active at night. However, once they are established in an aquarium with plenty of plants, driftwood, rockwork, and other hiding spaces, super red bristlenose will venture out even during daytime hours.

These plecos should be fed a diet heavy in vegetable matter, including high-quality vegetable flake, sinking algae wafers, and pellets.

#4 — Long Fin Calico Bristlenose Pleco

The calico bristlenose is a minimally propagated variant with facial areas that become adorned with lots of appendages beginning in sub-adulthood. They also have long fins than average plecos hence the name.

Both sexes grow bristles, albeit being shorter in females and are also characterized by noticeable orange splotches. They may have black to reddish all over their yellowish, brown or orange bodies.

Even so, the colors on this bristlenose catfish can vary largely, with the amount of black and reddish-orange being unique in every fish. They range from little to no black marking and little to no orange marks.

The care and maintenance needs of this bristlenose catfish are pretty much the same with other types. They love planted aquariums with plenty of plants, driftwood, rocks, and other hiding spots, and live an omnivorous lifestyle primarily feeding on a high vegetable diet including algae-based foods.

How to Take Care of Bristlenose Pleco

Proper care for bristlenose includes getting the appropriate tank for them and maintaining the water in good condition. It also involves performing water changes, cleaning the tank and feeding your fish nutritious, high-quality food.

Tank and Water Conditions

This fish is by far one of the most popular fish in the aquarium hobby. It is also easily attainable in fish stores, and its care is quite basic.

Bristlenose pleco prefers tropical water temperature, but it’s also one of the few species that can withstand a fairly cold tank. Still, the fish will be most active when the temperature is higher, so maintain them in the range between 68& deg; F and 80& deg; F.

Because bristlenose fish are native to rivers, they also prefer well-aerated water and having a moderate flow.

The fish are also a nocturnal species that should be kept in aquaria with a lot of hiding place for the fish to rest during the day.

Plant your fish tank with hearty, fast-growing plants, then use rock and driftwood to accentuate the tank to create an environment akin to the fish natural habitat.

However, try not to overcrowd your tank, leave enough room for your bristlenose to swim as confining them increases stress levels and agitation.

A recommended minimum tank of 20 to 25 gallons should be provided to house the fish when maintained singly, but you may want to use a 30-gallon or more for a community aquarium; depending on the number of fish you are keeping.

Bristlenose catfish, despite feeding on algae, they produce a considerable amount of waste, especially when tanked with other fish. For this reason, you should have a filter for your aquarium.

The best filter option for a bushynose is a canister filter with a powerful biological filtration media.

Also, do 10 percent water changes weekly or 25 percent every two weeks to keep the water parameters stable. It’s good to note that young bristlenose plecos are more susceptible to water ph, therefore do frequent tests as well, and ideally, keep the range between 6.5 and 7.5 pH.

Bristlenose Pleco Food (+Diet, Feeding)

Bristlenose plecos are technically omnivores but have a preference for plant-based foods including aquarium algae. For this reason, feed them algae or spirulina wafers when keeping them in captivity.

Granules, flakes, and bloodworms are also good choices, and occasional zucchini slices, blanched lettuce, and spinach are good treats as well.

That said, your bushnose catfish will spend most of their time at the bottom hiding out and grazing on algae growing on all surfaces. So, it is important to consider the amount of algae available in your fish tank to make sure you don’t offer them excess food.

A well-balanced diet is also crucial with the recommended constituents being around 85 percent plant matter and 15 percent protein.

Fiber can be provided by feeding your fish parboiled lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cucumber or peas. Alternatively, place driftwood inside your aquarium to provide the fibrous matter and to also create more space for algae to grow.

You can feed your bristlenose plecos a small amount of meaty food to ensure a balanced diet and provide them with the needed 15 percent protein share.

When considering commercial foods, many pet stores sell prepared varieties for plecos, so getting some should not be a hassle. Usually, they come in the form of wafers, flakes, and pellets.

Prepared pleco foods make a good staple and are often sinking varieties, which is important since the fish are bottom-feeders that rarely swim up to feed.

Having said that, a thing to note is that overfeeding your plecos can be fatal, so serve them portions they can consume in less than 5 minutes when feeding them once a day. And portions they’ll consume in 3 minutes if feeding them two times a day.

Lastly, remember to remove any leftovers, more so uneaten vegetables, within a day of feeding to avoid deteriorating the aquarium water chemistry.

Can Bristlenose Plecos Live Together? (+Other Tankmates)

Bristlenose plecos are a peaceful species that get along with other fish, and often make a wonderful addition to freshwater community aquariums.

However, they can be highly territorial around others of their kind, meaning you should not keep more than one bristlenose in your aquarium, especially if your is a small fish tank.

It is also advisable not to housing two male bushynose plecos as they get quite competitive even with other similarly shaped catfish and plecos.

These fish get along best with fish that occupy a different water level from them including betta.

Some freshwater fish that can live happily alongside bristlenose pleco include most rasboras, danios, tetras, and other fast and active fish that swim in the middle and topwater levels.

Avoid keeping bushnose catfish with small slow fish that don’t have scales because they are known to suck-up and snack on such tankmates when hungry. They also suck on coats of fish like discus, and goldfish which can cause nasty wounds or ulcers.

Breeding Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose plecos are not hard to breed, you only need to provide them with spawning caves, and a breeding tank because their eggs and fry rarely survive in a community aquarium.

To tell male from female is also pretty easy. Usually, the females will have much smaller appendages which only grow around the mouth, while male bushynose catfish will have larger bristle covering a larger part of their face.

When breeding, try to have more females than males as the latter are highly territorial when reproducing. During the initial stages, males will take control of a cave, and if given the chance will even devour rival eggs.

To condition your bristlenose catfish for breeding, lower the temperature in your fish tank to mimic Amazonian winter conditions when the fish breed. You may also want to provide plenty of cover and driftwood for the males to select the best possible spawning site.

Once your male bristlenose is well conditioned and ready to breed, he will start to excavate a cave and will clean off the surfaces in preparation for the eggs. He will then casually wait for the female to inspect the cave, and if she likes it, your female will join the male and for mating to begin.

The gravid bristlenose pleco will deposit bright orange adhesive eggs, which the male will fertilize then push the female out to guard them. More than one female can lay eggs in a single males cave.

Bristlenose pleco eggs hatch in about 4 to 10 days, but the fry cling the sides of the cave until they have absorbed the egg sucks completely. This normally takes a further 2 to 4 days.

Once the fry are free swimming, you can start them on infusoria or powdered spirulina and switch to baby brine shrimp a few days later. They will also feed on any available algae, which you can supplement with mashed vegetables such as peas.

Bushynose catfish babies grow quickly and should almost be big as their parents in about 6 months or so.

Thats all! If you are located in the USA (more so Florida) and are looking to buy tropical (freshwater ) mentioned in this or any other post (and more), check out Consolidated Fish Farms Inc.

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Enjoy fish keeping.

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