Bristlenose Pleco Care: Expert Guide & Aquarium Set Up For Aquarists

Amazing little tank cleaners, and masters of disguise, Bristlenose Plecos are almost alien like with their bristles.

But, that’s what makes them so desirable.

Bizarre, but loveable, they make an excellent addition to most tanks. In this article, you’ll discover all the information you need to provide yours with the care it needs.

Lets get started.

Quick Stats Overview

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Suitable for Nano Tanks: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Natural Day & Night
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 81.0° F (22.8 to 27.2° C)
  • pH Range: 5.8-7.5
  • Water Hardness Range: 2 – 20 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate to strong water movement
  • Tank Region: Bottom

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Tribe: Ancistrini
  • Genus: Ancistrus

In the Wild: What is a Bristlenose Pleco and Where do they Come From?

Amazon river basin

Found in the vast river basins of the Amazon, the Bristlenose Pleco is a robust, hardy fish, capable of surviving in many different habitats for up to 12 years.

Plecos belong to the armoured catfish family, so-called because of the plate-like scutes coating their bodies.

There are many breeds of Pleco. Bristlenoses have a unique appearance, long whiskers hanging down from the tip of their heads setting them apart from others in the catfish family.

This breed is sought after by many aquatic hobbyists for its algae-eating tendencies.

In the wild, Bristlenoses adhere their suckermouths to surfaces and feed on natural algea, aquatic plants and even small crustaceans.

Referred to as Hypostomus Plecostomus, Bushynose Pleco, and more,  the Bristlenose Pleco can grow up to 8 inches long.

Preparing and Setting up your Bristlenose Pleco Tank

Planted bistlenose pleco aquarium

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

Lets take a look.

What’s the Best Aquarium size for your Bristlenose Catfish?

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.

What Type of Substrate I Should use?

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.

You might get away with a bare-bottom tank. However, being natural bottom-feeders, Plecos love to forage amongst substrates for food. So I wouldn’t recommend it.

Plus, you’re going to have plenty of plants in your tank (see below), so you may need to provide them nutrients to feed on, depending if they’re root or column feeders.

Keep this in mind when picking your substrates.

What Kind of Filtration Does a Bristlenose Pleco Need?

Coming from fast-flowing waters, you’ll need a strong filtration system with good flow throughout your tank.

Bristlenoses consume a lot of food and, in turn, have higher waste output than most other aquatic pets.

If the water isn’t well filtered, its quality will quickly fall in the presence of waste and this may harm your fish.

Canister and hang-on-back (HOB) filters are great options, providing that they are at least 300 gph.

You can get a few air stones, and water pumps to help create plenty of water flow throughout your tank.

These will ensure that any waste is dealt with swiftly and effectively, before the quality of your water is affected and your fish is in a comfortable environment.

Does a Pleco Need Specialist Lighting?

Specialist lighting isn’t necessary when keeping a Bristlenose. You’ll simply need to provide natural lighting to help keep your plants healthy.

I recommend LED lights as they’re cost effective to run longterm, provides the natural lighting needed, and can often be programmed and set on automatic timers. 

What Kind of Plants and Decorations Should I Have in my Tank?

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

Silk plants, 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 your pets’ skin and harm it.

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

And if you’re worried about having to take care of them, you can check out some easy, low-maintenance plants here.

Creating Your Pleco’s Habitat: Getting your Water Conditions Right

Bistlenose Pleco relaxing on a rock in planted aquarium

If you already have a cycled tank, don’t worry about this next sentence, skip to the next heading. If not, pay close attention to the next paragraph.

The Nitrogen Cycle 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.

Not cycling your aquarium will put your fish at serious risk.

What Should the Water Temperature be?

Bristlenose Pleco’s thrive in temperatures ranging from 73-80 degrees fahrenheit (23-27 degrees celsius).

Getting the Water Flow Right

Remember, Plecos are accustomed to fast-flowing tributaries in the Amazonian river.

So you need to provide good water flow throughout your tank. This isn’t only going to help your Pleco feel at home, it will help oxygenate your water–creating a healthier environment.

You can do this by through the use of air pumps, water pumps, air stones, and also through the arrangement of your tank’s ornaments.

pH: Acidity & Basicity/Alkalinity

The pH of you tank should range between 6.5-7.5 when keeping a Bristlenose.

If you’re new to fishkeeping, purchasing a fully-grown adult Bristlenose can save you a lot of time and hassle.

Younger breeds are far more sensitive to pH than adults.

If you’re ever having trouble with pH, you can se our guide here.

Pro Tip: 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.

Tank Temperament and Suitable Mates

Bristlenose Plecos have a very peaceful and sociable temperament. They’re rarely aggressive towards other fish.

For this reason, you’re able to house them with most fish that live within the same water parameters.

However, don’t this isn’t always the case.

Larger Plecos have been seen sucking on the slime coat of fish like discus or goldfish. Causing nasty wounds and/or ulcers.

They can also become territorial and aggressive during breeding or over food. So make sure yours isn’t being outcompeted for food–especially if you house other, faster bottom feeders like clown loaches.

And remember this comes from softer waters, so placing them in a tank with fish who like harder water isn’t a good idea.

It’s wise to house more female Bristlenoses than males to ensure that males are not forced into competing for breeding partners.

Look, although there are risks, the vast majority of hobbyists have only had positive experience with their plecos.

Your safest option is always to house your Pleco with non-aggressive tank mates.

Feeding Bristlenose Plecos

Bristlenose Plecos are bottom-feeding fish and are mostly vegetarian.

They love plant-based foods that sink to the bottom of their tanks and are used to scooping up foods from the bottoms of riverbeds in the wild.

Lets get discuss the diet you should provide your Pleco with.

What Can I feed my Bristlenose Pleco?

Bristlenose 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.

Hikari Usa Inc AHK21328 tropical Algae Wafer 8.8-Ounce
Hikari Usa Inc AHK21328 tropical Algae Wafer 8.8-Ounce

    Last update on 2023-09-23 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    How Often Should I Feed my Bristlenose Pleco?

    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 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.

    Let’s discuss how you can do this.

    How to Setup your Breeding Tank

    In order to maximise your chances of a successful breed, you should keep a female to male ratio of 2:1.

    As mentioned earlier, Plecos love to breed in hiding places.

    Your hiding spots will encourage your Bristlenoses to breed, so long as they are large enough for two fish.

    Furthermore, feeding your fish plenty of high-quality food will encourage them to breed.

    So long as all of their other needs are met, they can focus on mating without becoming preoccupied with anything else.

    Choosing Your Breeding Cave

    Plecos have got a right to their privacy just like you. They don’t want you staring at them while they do as nature intended.

    They love a cave to breed in.

    PVC pipes can be used as caves, though they aren’t the most attractive of furnishings.

    Alternatively, pre-made caves can be bought from pet shops. Rocks can also stuck together to make caves if you have a particular stylistic preference.

    Your cave should be large enough to house two Bristlenoses, but not so large that they feel insecure.

    Guys… you know what I mean, right? Right?

    Moving on.

    Caves that are inappropriately sized will discourage your fish from breeding so this is important to get right.

    Marina Decor Polyresin Cave, Large
    Marina Decor Polyresin Cave, Large

      Last update on 2023-09-23 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      Getting your Water Conditions Right for Breeding

      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.

      Selecting your Breeding Pair

      Which fish you choose to breed will determine how successfully they reproduce to create offspring.

      It is wise to pick the two Plecos that are healthiest, often being younger fish.

      Check your fish’s overall health for signs that it is unwell, like clamped fins, before selecting it for breeding.

      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.

      FAQ’s About Bristlenose Plecos

      I’m now going to answer some of the commonly asked questions I wasn’t able to answer in the main post.

      1. Are Bristlenose Plecos susceptible to any partiuclar diseases?

      No, Bristlenose Plecos are not known to be prone to any particular diseases.

      A clean tank kept in good condition that follows all of the parameters listed above with appropriate decorations and hiding places will ensure that it remains free from disease.

      2. What is the scientific name for the Bristlenose Pleco?

      Ancistrus Cirrhosus.

      3. What is the lifespan of the Bristlenose Pleco?

      Anywhere from 10-15 years if looked after correctly and kept healthy.

      4. 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.

      5. How large can they grow?

      Usually between 4 and 8 inches.

      6. How long does it take for Bristlenose Plecos to grow to full size?

      Approximately 2 years.

      7. How long does it take for Bristlenose Plecos to grow bristles?

      When they reach approximately 7-8 cm in length, they tend to start growing their famous bristles.

      8. How can I tell the age of my Bristlenose Pleco?

      It is possible to estimate the age of your fish based on its size.

      After 2 years, Bristlenose Plecos reach their full size and will stop growing. If your fish is continuing to grow, it must be younger than this.

      If you have anymore questions, let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

      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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