Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco: Species Profile & Aquarium Setup

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Bristlenose Plecos (also known as the Bushy Nose Pleco or Bristlenose Catfish) are strikingly stunning and fun critters that are quite popular in freshwater aquariums.

Having a diet of vegetation makes bristlenose plecos an amazing aquarium addition. They are considered excellent tank cleaners who will “vacuum” the substrate every single day. A friendly and sociable fish, bristlenose plecos fit into the community aquarium beautifully.

In this article, let us discover this species, find out how to care for them the right way, and breed them successfully.

Bristlenose Plecos Overview

Bristlenose Plecos Introduction
Bristlenose Plecos Overview


Bristlenose plecos come from the freshwater rivers and floodplain areas of the Amazon Basin in South America. The species are also found in Panama.
Their favorite environment is shallow waters. In the wild, bristlenose plecos use their mouths to hold onto driftwood and plants and to climb tree roots that poke out of the water. Besides, the strong suction mouth holds onto wood and rocks in fast currents, which anchors the fish in place.


The average bristlenose plecos lifetime is minimum five years. There have been cases in which the fish has lived up to 12 years in captivity.


The most outstanding characteristic of the fish is the bushy nose appendages that grow from their snouts. These tentacles will be the fish’s namesake. Usually, they begin to appear once the fish become mature, which is approximately 6 months of age.
The “bristles” are available in all bristle plecos. Nevertheless, they are far more popular among males. They are longer and tend to become higher up on the head. For females, the bristlenose fish are slightly more subdued and sprout out around the mouth area.

Interestingly, bristle plecos have a mouth on the bottom of their bodies. This feature allows them to eat algae from the substrate and cling to vertical surfaces.
Compared to other plecos, these fish have a bit elongated lips. Their heads are also wider, shorter, and slightly plumper.

Their bodies are covered in bony plates, protecting them from aggressive fish in the wild. Besides, the unique color patterns of the fish also help prevent trouble. Most bristle plecos have a dark color, making it easy to blend in with in the substrate of the Amazon Basin. You will find them in black, dark brown, gray, or olive. Along with that base color are a number of lighter dots all over the bodies, usually yellow or white.
Bristle plecos have a pair of pectoral fins, a pair of abdominal fins, and a bigger fin up top.

There are common bristle plecos, including:

  • Albino bristle pleco: The fish has light yellow and pink colors in their bodies. You can make out a faint light spotted and marbled pattern.
  • Longfin bristlenose pleco: The fish has lengthy and flowing fins that create a hypnotic swaying motion when they swim around.
  • Starlight bristlenose pleco: Their bodies is pretty much completely black with white dots. A thin white strip stays on top of both the caudal and dorsal fins.
  • Calico bristlenose pleco: The fish is mostly orange with a few black shadowy patches spreading the body.
  • Super red bristlenose pleco: The fish’s body is orange and light red, making it stick out in your tank.


Regarding size, these fish are on the smaller end of the spectrum. The bristlenose pleco size varies from 3 to 5 inches long.

Typical behavior

Bristlenose plecos are passive, friendly fish that live in harmony with other peaceful fish in a community aquarium. As bristlenose plecos spend most of their time swimming around the bottom of the aquarium, they don’t bother tank mates that occupy other parts of the water column.

During the day, the fish stay sedentary, with their brown coloring, blend into their environment and become nearly invisible. They love hiding in caves and behind plants.

Meanwhile, the species tend to be active at night, playing around and burrowing in the substrate. As the fish find a great source of algae, they will nibble on it until sunrise.

Bristlenose Pleco Tank Setup

How to Set Up a Tank For Bristlenose Plecos?
Bristlenose Pleco Tank Setup

Tank size

Bristlenose will need a minimum tank size of 20-30 gallons.

Note that they’re known to create a lot of waste as they consume a large amount of food.

Keep this in mind when choosing your aquarium size. If it’s in a community tank, you should go with a larger tank because you can provide enough space and avoid having too much waste.

Water parameters

Bristlenose plecos are hardy fish that can tolerate a wider range of water parameters. Thus, our goal is to simulate the natural environment of the fish we are housing and maintain it as consistently as possible.

  • Temperature: 73-81 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 5.8 – 7.5
  • Hardiness: 2-20 dGh
  • Oxygen levels: high


In their natural environment, the fish’s substrate would be a combination of gravel, dirt, and clay. If you like, you can build this with a dirt or clay-based substrate as a base layer, followed by gravel on top.

However, bristlenose plecos will be happy with almost all substrates. So don’t worry!

You even can get a bare-bottom tank for the fish. Yet being natural bottom-feeders, plecos love foraging amongst substrates for food.


Bristlenose plecos inhabit fast-flowing rivers with a high current and a quick turnover of water. This means that proper filtration and oxygenation are important for them to live a healthy life in your tank.

High-powered filters packed with an oxygen intake hose will be ideal. This equipment will help generate the necessary flow for bristle plecos to thrive and ensure the water is adequately oxygenated.

For additional oxygenation, you can install an air pump at the bottom of your aquarium.

Decorations & Plants

In their habitat, these fish will typically spend most of the time doing two things:

  • Searching for food or algae on your tank walls, plants, and decorations.
  • Hiding in a secure, cozy place such as under rocks or driftwood.

Therefore, they would love an aquarium with plenty of places to forage for food and much space to hide.

There is a variety of aquarium decorations available on the market. Almost any tank decoration will work, provided that there’s enough space. You can even use an upside-down plant pot or a piece of PVC pipe.


Bristlenose plecos are considered model community tank members, even better than common plecostomus. The fish never rasp on the sides of broad-bodies fish and are never aggressive to other bottom dwellers. Even though they might eat eggs they come across; they will not harm free-swimming fry.

Ideal tank mates for   bristlenose plecos include:

  • Middle and upper water schooling fish (Tetras, Rasboras, Danios, etc.)
  • Gouramis
  • Bettas
  • Livebearers
  • Corydoras
  • Most cichlids

Unsuitable tank mates for bristlenose plecos include:

  • Aggressive to large cichlids
  • Nippy barbs (Tiger barbs)
  • Pufferfish
  • Larger, aggressive plecos

Bristlenose Plecos Feeding

How to Feed Bristlenose Plecos?
Bristlenose Pleco Diet & Feeding

Bristlenose often eats anything as long as it’s high-quality and plant-based.

Anything green, from cucumber to romaine lettuce, will bring your fish a delicious snack full of nutrients. In addition, a plant-based sinking pellet like spirulina will be fine as an all-rounder.

These species do need a large amount of fiber in their diets to stay healthy. Driftwood can be a good source of fiber and works as a backup in your tank.

Moreover, bristlenose are big fans of algae which takes up a large part of their diets. You can provide them with algae wafers.

Like most freshwater aquarium fish, bristlenose plecos should be fed once or twice per day. The fish often eat a bit slower than others, so make sure that your plecos’ food is not stolen by more aggressive mates in the tank.

Bristlenose Pleco Breeding

How to Breed Bristlenose Plecos?
How to Breed Bristlenose Plecos?

Setup your breeding tank

To increase the chances of a successful breed, you should house a female to male ratio of 2:1.

Plecos will likely breed in hiding places. Your hiding space will stimulate the fish to feed, provided that they are big enough for two fish.

Besides, you also need to provide sufficient high-quality food so that they can focus on mating without worrying about food.

Choose your breeding cave

Plecos love privacy. They don’t want you to stare at them while they breed. Therefore, you will need a breeding cave. You can buy pre-made caves from pet shops. Just make sure the cave has room for two plecos.

Set water conditions right

In the habitat, bristlenose plecos love mating during the rainy seasons. Hence, it’s necessary for you to do regular water changes when encouraging your fish to breed.

Firstly, change your water by 40-50% every three days. Plus, your water should be at least 4 degrees Celsius cooler than normal. That helps mimic the rainy breeding parameters that your fish are adapted to.

Mating process

Pleco females and males enter the cave together, breed, and deposit eggs to the top of its surface. After mating, the females tend to have flat stomachs. A few weeks later, they will regain weight and slowly become fatter until birth is given.

Remember that your male plecos will become territorial when breeding. It’s crucial to leave them to their devices and mitigate disturbances while this happens.

Eggs and Fry

Once eggs are laid, the males will take over and care for them. They will fan the eggs with their fins for several weeks, making sure the eggs receive enough oxygen.

The eggs will hatch 10 days later. Other fish can consume fry, so it’s essential to separate newborn plecos in a different tank until they grow.

Bristlenose fry will start to eat algae around the aquarium and powered spirulina. When they grow, you can gradually give them live foods such as vegetables and pellets.

Bristlenose Pleco Disease

These hardy fish rarely suffer from serious diseases. However, some common freshwater aquarium diseases might affect the fish.


Ich is a parasitic disease that is characterised by white sprinkles on the fish’s body. Fish with ich will rub themselves against rough surfaces and appear lethargic. Ich in bristlenose is often caused by poor water conditions.

Separate the fish with ich and raise the water temperature by two degrees. Then add one tablespoon of salt per 5 gallons of water in the aquarium.

Hole in the head

Poor nutrition and subpar water quality are believed to cause hole in the head. There are several symptoms of this disease such as receding skin and small indentations on the fish’s head.
You can treat this disease by changing 90% water and removing activated carbon filters from the aquarium.


Dropsy, or Malawi bloat, is a common symptom of a bacterial infection that results in loss of coloration and bloating. This infection is the cause of malnutrition or liver dysfunction. Its symptoms are bulging eyes, dull fins, swelling abdomen, and pale feces.

To deal with dropsy, do a 25% water change every two days until the problem disappears.


Does this guide give you a better understanding of bristle pleco care? These lovely and docile creatures are worth taking care of. With easy care and simple maintenance, your fish can have a long healthy life in your tank.

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