Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide & Aquarium Setup For Beginners

Amazing little tank cleaners, and masters of disguise, bristlenose plecos are often found clinging to aquarium glass, driftwood, or vacuuming leftover food

Bizarre, but loveable, they make an excellent addition to most tanks. And this guide will walk you through what you need to provide bristlenose plecos with the right care.

Bristlenose Pleco Care Overview

Bristlenose Pleco Species Overview

Key Characteristics
  • Size: 4-6 inches
  • Life Span: 5 Years
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Living Zone: Bottom
  • Diet: Herbivore

Water Parameters
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Temperature: 74°-80°F (23°C-27°C)
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: < 20 ppm
  • Gh: 6 – 10 dGH
  • Kh: 4-8 dKH

Care Schedule
  • Daily: Feed once (also check for any rotting veggies previously fed)
  • Weekly: Water Test (pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate) & 25% water change
  • Monthly: Equipment check, substrate clean, Plant trimming

Scientific Classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Tribe: Ancistrini
  • Genus: Ancistrus
Bristlenose pleco close up on face whist resting on driftwood in planted aquarium

Tank Set Up Overview

Tank Supplies

20 gallons (or more)

Strong Filter


Air Pump

Air Stones

LED Lighting


Live Plants

Inert Substrate


Water Conditioner


Algae wafers

Repashy gel food




Live plants

Bristlenose Pleco Appearance & Origin

Bristlenose pleco close up on face whist resting on driftwood in planted aquarium
Bristlenose pleco

Bristlenose Plecos are naturally found in Amazon river basins, is a durable fish living up to 5 years on average in various habitats. Part of the armored catfish family, it’s recognized by its long whiskers and plate-like body scutes.

A hardy and peaceful fish, ideal for beginners, it’s popular among aquarium enthusiasts for it’s ability to help keep your tank clean. Known also as Hypostomus Plecostomus or Bushynose Pleco, it grows up to between 4-6 inches.

Bristlenose Pleco Aquarium Requirements

Bristlenose pleco on aquarium glass

Though Bristlenoses are a relatively low-maintenance pet to keep, there are a number of things to take into consideration before housing one.

  • Aquarium Size: Minimum 20 gallon Tank
  • Strong filter, led lighting, heater, air pump, air stones, bucket, gravel vacuum, thermometer, water testing kit, and water conditioner
  • Inert substrate
  • Live plants and decorations

Aquarium Size

Because of their size, Bristlenose’s need a minimum aquarium size of 20-30 gallons.

Be warned, they’re known to produce a large amount of waste due to the amount of food they consume.

Keep this in mind when choosing your tank size. If it’s in a community tank, you’ll be better off going with a larger tank, not only to ensure space, but so you don’t risk having too much excess waste.

Equipment Required

The main consideration will be the filter. Bristlenose plecos are known for producing a lot of waste, and it’s likely you’ll be keeping it in a community tank.

Therefore a powerful filter like a Fluval 407 canister filter or Seachem Tidal hang-on-back filter would be my recommendations. Just make sure The model’s GPH is rated for 4x the aquarium size.

The next is LED lighting. I recommend the hygger 24/7 planted LED light. It’s low-cost, provides plenty of PAR to grow aquarium plants, and have built in timers.

You’ll need a heater to maintain a stable temperature. From my heater tests, I found the Fluval E series to be the most reliable. I also love the heater guard.

Plecos like a good amount of water flow in the tank, so adding some air pumps, water pumps, and air stones can help achieve this.

You’ll also need the following:


In their habitat, they’re natural substrate would be a mixture of gravel, clay, and dirt. If you like, you can recreate this with a dirt or clay based substrate as a base layer, and then top with gravel.

But, Plecos will be find with pretty much any substrate. So don’t stress over this. As long as it’s an inert substrate, it wont effect your tank’s water quality

Plants & Decorations

Close up side view of bristlenose pleco resting on driftwood in aquarium

Bristlenoses love to hide and forage amongst plants and dark spaces. So you should have plenty of hiding spaces in your aquarium.

Live plants and most decorative ornaments, like caves and castles, are suitable when keeping a Bristlenose.

And they love to rest on driftwood, and hid in shipwrecks.

Fake plants are generally okay but only so long as they are silk. Rougher plants can scratch a bristlenose.

I always recommend going with live plants. They’ll help create a natural healthy environment for your fish.

Some you can try are:

And you can see out guide here on aquarium plants for beginners for more ideas.

Water Parameters

Bistlenose Pleco relaxing on a rock in planted aquarium

First thing to do when you want stable water parameters is to go through the Nitrogen cycle.

Cycling a new tank is a vital step when it comes to setting up any aquarium. If you are unaware of how to do it or need to tips, check out our easy-to-follow guide on cycling your aquarium.

Once you’ve cycled your tank, you should then aim to keep the following parameters stable:

  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Temperature: 74°-80°F (23°C-27°C)
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: < 20 ppm
  • Gh: 6 – 10 dGH
  • KH: 4-8 dKH

If your Pleco begins to rush to the surface of the water for air more often than usual, this could indicate that your oxygen levels have fallen or that ammonia/nitrate are present.

Bristlenose Pleco Tank Mates

Bristlenose plecos are peaceful and rarely aggressive, this opens up a ton of potential tank mates to house with them.

Some of my favorite are:

Really, the list can just go on and on. As long as it’s not an aggressive fish or big enough to eat them, almost any peaceful community fish with similar water parameters will be suitable.

Feeding Bristlenose Plecos

Bristlenose are bottom-feeders and will generally eat anything so long as it is high-quality and plant-based. Inside of these parameters, their diet is flexible.

Anything green, from cucumber to romaine lettuce, will provide your fish with a tasty snack packed full of nutrients. (It is key to ensure any leftovers are removed within a day of feeding.)

Equally, a plant-based sinking pellet like spirulina will work just fine as an all-rounder.

Bristlenoses do require a large amount of fiber in their diets to remain healthy. Driftwood can make for an excellent source of fiber and is useful to keep in your tank as a backup.

However, providing that they are consuming a regular supply of vegetables, your fish will be getting enough.

Bristlenoses are, of course, big-lovers of algae, too.

This will comprise a large part of their diets. You can provide algae wafers, but, these shouldn’t relied on alone.

Feeding Schedule

Algae wafers can be fed to your fish every other day.

In between replacing your wafers, it is wise to provide your Bristlenose with a constantly supply of a nutritious fresh vegetable, like zucchini.

Replenishing your fish’s vegetables every 8-24 hours will keep them from rotting and making your fish unwell.

Your three days of feeding may unfold like this:

  • Day 1: Add an algae wafer and a piece of a fresh vegetable.
  • Day 2: Replace fresh vegetable.
  • Day 3: Replace algae wafer and fresh vegetable

Repeat indefinitely.

Breeding Bristlenose Plecos

If you’re considering breeding your Bristlenose Pleco fish, you can rest assured knowing that they are one of the easiest to breed at home.

For successful Bristlenose Pleco breeding, maintain a 2:1 female-to-male ratio, provide ample hiding spots, feed high-quality food, and ensure all their needs are met for undistracted mating.

Choosing Your Breeding Cave

Bristlenose pleco hiding under ceramic in planted tank

For Bristlenose Pleco breeding, respect their privacy: provide a cave, large enough for two but keep it cozy. Use PVC pipes, purchase pre-made caves, or creatively stack rocks. Proper cave size is crucial for successful breeding.

Breeding Water Parameters

Bristlenose Plecos prefer to mate during the rainy seasons in the amazon. For this reason, you should conduct frequent water changes when trying to encourage your Plecos to breed.

Initially, aim to change your water 40-50% every three days.

Additionally, your water should be at least 4 degrees celsius cooler than usual. This will help replicate the rainy breeding parameters that your fish are adapted to.

The Mating Process

Females and males will enter the cave together, breed, and deposit eggs to the top of its surface.

After mating, female Plecos appear to have very flat-stomachs and can even look as if they are starving.

This is normal.

After a few weeks, they will regain this weight and slowly grow fatter until birth is given.

Be mindful that your male Plecos will grow increasingly territorial when breeding. It is wise to leave them to their own devices and minimise disturbances while this takes place.

Laying the Eggs

Once eggs are create, the male Pleco of your pair will take over and care for them.

The male will fan the eggs with its fins for a couple of weeks to ensure that they receive plenty of oxygen.

During this period, he will eat very little. All of his time will be spent caring for the eggs.

Hatching Fry

The eggs will hatch around 10 days following mating.

Other fish will readily eat small fry and so it is prudent to place your newborn Plecos in an isolated tank whilst they grow.

Bristlenose fry will begin to eat algae around your tank and powdered spirulina.

As they grow, gradually introduce them to more live foods such as vegetation and pellets.

How can I sex Bristlenose Plecos?

Male Bristlenoses grow spikes at the top of their head. While females do sometimes grow spikes, these are significantly less pronounced than in males.

How large to bristlenose plecos grow?

Bristlenose plecos can grow up to 4-6 inches

Christopher Adams
Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher, and I've successfully ran freshwater aquariums for the past few decades. The mission of this site is to make it simple for anyone to run their own freshwater aquarium.

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