The Bristlenose Pleco, also known as bristlenose Plecostomus, is a nocturnal, bottom-dwelling catfish that is very popular with all experience levels of freshwater aquarium keepers.

They are the perfect community aquarium species. Bristlenose Plecos are friendly, peaceful, hardy, and can comfortably adapt to a wide variety of water conditions. They are also tremendous tank cleaners with a penchant for algae.

Aquarium keepers love Bristlenose Pleco because they are easy to care for, are attractive in all their variants, are efficient bottom cleaners, and have interesting personalities.

This article will help you understand what you need to know to care for and maintain your Bristlenose Plecos properly.

Bristlenose Pleco Stats

Listed tank sizes are the minimum

Size: Average adult size: 4-5″ (10-13cm)
Tank: Minimum 30 gallons
Strata: Bottom
PH: PH recommendation 6.5 to 7.5
Hardness: Soft to medium (will adapt to a range of specifications)
Temperature: 72°F to 86°F (22°-30° C)
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Loricariidae
Sub Family: Ancistrinae
Genera: Ancistrus
Species: A. Cirrhosus

Origin and Appearance

The Bristlenose Pleco is found throughout the Amazon river basin as well as the Saramacca, Suriname, and Maroni River basins in South America. These rivers are seasonally affected by monsoon rains which raise the water levels, driving hundreds of fish species into flood lands to feed and spawn.

The rains bring differences in water chemistry with help trigger spawning behavior. Even though Bristlenose Pleco are bottom dwellers and stay in river channels, the water changes impact their spawning needs and behaviors.

What the floods do is bring decayed matter and pieces of driftwood into the river channels where Bristlenose Pleco live. This gives them cover and important additions to their mainly vegetative food sources.

They prefer fast-flowing, clear waters and pools with plenty of driftwood and places to hide. Bristlenose Plecos are a nocturnal species and generally only come out to feed and explore at night time.

They are very common in their native habitat and are also widely commercially bred and sold in the aquarium trade. The species was first identified in the 1800s, which gives it a long tenure in the aquarium world. There are more than 70 varieties of plecos. Many grow to more than a foot long. The Bristlenose Pleco size is about 3 to up to 5 inches when well-kept.

The name Bristlenose comes from the small mass of soft, bristly growths found on the top of the male Bristlenose Plecos head. Only the male has this; the female has smaller fleshy barbels growing around her mouth. This difference makes it very easy to tell males and females apart. The female Bristlenose Pleco will only have barbels around her mouth.

The native variant of the species is quite attractive, with a brown to a dark brown body covered with light spots. Tail, dorsal, and other fins will display broken bar patterns and appear lighter than the body. Their bellies are tan to white.

The mouth of the Bristlenose Pleco is on the underside of their head. They have rasping teeth, which they put to good use scraping algae from the bottom or pieces of wood.

Their eyes are towards the top of their head. This allows them to keep a watchful eye out for threats when they are flat on the bottom or the side of an aquarium.

The Bristlenose Pleco lifespan averages five years which is the norm for most community aquarium species.

Varieties

There are interesting varieties of Bristlenose Plecos.

A few of them are:

  • Albino Bristlenose Pleco: The Albino Bristlenose Pleco is one of the most popular varieties. The body color ranges from cream to light pink, and often the spots and marbling are prominent.
  • Longfin Bristlenose Pleco: The Longfin Bristlenose differs from other variants in that it has very long and flowing fins. This can give it an almost goldfish-like appearance as it swims.
  • Super Red Bristlenose Pleco: As its name implies, the body of this pleco is orange and light red all over. It is unusual to find fish that live at the bottom of the aquarium with such vivid coloring.
  • Starlight Bristlenose Pleco: The Starlight Bristlenose Pleco is almost completely black with white spots from its nose to its tail. A thin white stripe lines the dorsal and caudal fins. In aquariums with black lighting, these spots stand out quite nicely.
  • Calico Bristlenose Pleco: This Bristlenose Pleco variation has an orange and black mottled body. Once established in an aquarium, the coloration will stand out. This variation is bred in captivity for commercial sale and is readily available.

Bristlenose Pleco Care

Since Bristlenose Plecos live in the bottom of the aquarium and are nocturnal, successfully keeping them means adding them to environments that meet their needs. Community aquariums that are set up for Amazonian species will work for Bristlenose catfish with the following broad parameters.

Since Bristlenose Pleco are between 3 and 5 inches fully grown, you do not need giant aquariums to keep them. A 30-gallon aquarium is an ideal size for a South American community tank with a few species that live in the top, middle, and bottom layers. A few plecos in this scenario will get along with tank mates and each other.

Water temperature is most important. Bristlenose Pleco thrives in water between 72°F to 86°F (22°-30° C). Hardness and pH needs are very similar to most Amazon basin species.
While Bristlenose Pleco is a hardy fish species, they do not tolerate sudden changes in water quality. This can be avoided with a good filtration system that keeps the water clean, moving, and well oxygenated.

You should consider changing out 15% to 20% of the water once a week. For a 30-gallon tank, this equals 4.5 gallons of water. With your new water prepped to the right temperature and quality and ready to add, simply siphon out the amount to be replaced. Slowly add the new water to the aquarium.

Regular replacement of the tank water ensures that your community fish stay healthy and free from diseases. A mistake many novice keepers make is changing out all the water in the aquarium at once because it is easier than changing a portion of the water.

Changing out all the water in an aquarium puts tremendous stress on all fish species in the tank with the immediate change in water quality and tone. While you can replace water with that of equal temperature, hardness, and pH, what you cannot replicate is the beneficial bacteria that have developed in the water and that your fish has adapted to.

Changing just a portion of the tank water lets the old and new blend together. This is by far the least stressful way to maintain consistently good water quality, and your fish will be happier and live longer.

Aquatic design is less important to plecos as long as some driftwood is added to give them concealment and a wood source to scrape their rasping teeth on. Follow design principles for your South American community tank.

A substrate with enough texture for them to graze on, such as small aquarium gravel is ideal. Dark substrates will enhance the appearance of tank mates such as Neon Tetra and will also make any of the color variants more visible.

Add plants such as guppy grass or Java fern to the sides and back. Juvenile Bristlenose Pleco, in particular, will graze on the algae that grow on plants. Some fish keepers have tried placing the plants in pots in the aquarium. This can help with cutting or uprooting but is not necessary for small plecos and tank mates.

Keeping the aquarium clean is vital to the health of all fish. While Bristlenose Plecos are amazing algae eaters and scavengers, they are also small fish. Their efforts reduce the need for cleaning but do not eliminate it.

Consider scrubbing the walls of the aquarium with an algae sponge weekly. Don’t worry about algae on the driftwood or plants. The Bristlenose Pleco will graze on that.

If you have rocks or ornamental structures, remove them from the tank and scrub clean with water only, no soap or chemicals. This prevents any harsh residue from harming fish in the tank.

Tank Mates

Bristlenose Plecos are very peaceful bottom dwellers and keep to themselves. This can make them targets for aggressive fish with reputations for bullying, such as cichlids.

The majority of smaller peaceful South American and warm freshwater species make good tank mates.

  • Dwarf Gourami: The Dwarf Gourami a small, colorful member of the species. These fish are peaceful and tend more toward orange and red hues.
  • Pearl Gourami: The Pearl Gourami is covered with white, pearl-like markings. They are of similar temperaments and like the same types of vegetative habitats. They are an ideal choice especially when you are kitting out an aquarium of over 30 gallons. Pearl Gourami does best in groups of six or so, balanced heavily toward female fish.
  • Silver Dollars: The Silver Dollar is a species native to South America that can do well with Bristlenose Pleco. They are mostly peaceful, preferring the company of their species. They tend to leave other fish alone if they cannot fit them in their mouths.
  • Cyprinids: This family of fish contains most carp species. Its smaller members tend to live in the bottom layer of tanks and are omnivores. They mix well with plecos as long as you do not have too many of each species together.
  • Tiger Barb: The Tiger Barb is a similarly sized fish that does well in mixed tank environments. It is peaceful and an omnivore.
  • Rosy Tetra: The Rosy Tetra, as well as many other species of Tetra, thrive in the same water conditions as the Bristlenose Pleco. They are peaceful, although they may engage in fin nipping when stressed or in overcrowded tanks.
  • Guppy: There are many varieties of guppy that make great tank mates. What they have in common is that they are peaceful, not too small, and get along well with everything that will not eat them. Some of the more ornamental varieties add little splashes of color to your community tank.
  • Bristlenose Pleco Variants: A few different color variants will keep well together and may result in interesting-looking varieties through breeding.
  • Corydoras: Like Plecos, Corydoras are a variety of bottom-feeding catfish commonly placed in tropical freshwater aquariums. They grow up to 4 inches in size and are peaceful omnivores.
  • Cardinal Tetra: Cardinal Tetra makes great neighbors with many kinds of similarly gentle species. A small school of Cardinal Tetra adds beauty to any aquarium and does not create any type of significant bioload to the tank. Always a great choice. Add them in groups of 10.
  • Neon Tetra: Another great tank mate choice. Adding them in groups of 10, same as Cardinal Tetra, per 20-gallon tanks will give you an ever-moving, shimmering display.
  • Green Neon Tetra: If you want to keep a brightly colored aquarium, the Green Neon Tetra is another tank mate to consider. Similar in size and appearance to the Neon Tetra, the Green Neon Tetra, as its name implies, has a beautiful streak of neon green along its sides.
  • Samurai Gourami: The Samurai Gourami is a rare and darkly colored member of the species that has the right, timid nature to do well with Bristlenose Pleco. Samurai Gourami does best in darker tanks with heavy vegetation.
  • Snails: Snails are slow and peaceful. Bristlenose Pleco will not bother them.

If you have more than one Bristlenose Pleco in your aquarium, try to balance them out with equal numbers of males and females. The fish will stay mostly solitary but will come together to breed. As long as they have room to spread out, they will not compete for territory.

Here are some species best avoided as Bristlenose Pleco tank mates:

  • Kissing Gourami: This species of Gourami is often used as a food fish in Asia and is a popular aquarium fish because of the kissing motions it uses to both feed and fight. It grows quite a bit larger than the Honey Gourami, up to 12 inches in length, and while quite beautiful, it can be aggressive to smaller fish in all levels of the aquarium.
  • Paradise Gourami: The Paradise Gourami is a beautifully striped and colored member of the Gourami family known for its appearance and aggressive behavior. They will often fight other fish to the death and should not be placed in aquariums with peaceful fish such as Bristlenose Pleco.
  • Cichlids: There are many members of the cichlid species, but most of them are too aggressive to do well in community tanks with smaller fish. Trying to cohabitate them will lead to bullying of smaller species, including the bottom-dwelling plecos.
  • Oscars: Members of the Oscar family tend to grow too large, too quickly, and will consider a smaller, timid Bristlenoses more of a meal than a neighbor. Small Oscars will badger them, and large Oscars will eat them.

Breeding

As with most Amazon basin species, the beginning of the rainy season is also the beginning of spawning season for many species, such as the Bristlenose Pleco. These conditions can be replicated in an aquarium to induce your pleco to spawn.

Encouraging community species to spawn is usually best done by placing the breeding fish in a separate aquarium so that tank mates do not discover and eat the eggs or fry. This is the recommended approach for Bristlenose Pleco.

To encourage spawning, try changing out 75% of the aquarium water with new water of matching temperature and quality. The addition of an air stone or increasing water flow to add more oxygen to the water is also helpful. This is usually enough to put them in the proper frame of mind.

Adding some driftwood or forming rocks into a cave will provide some shelter for their nest. Watch the male of the species. He may start to make a depression in the substrate, or the pair may start exploring the aquarium together.

Once they have selected a nesting spot, the male will clean it with his suction cup. Once the nest is ready, the female will move in and lay her eggs. If there are more than a pair of Bristlenose Pleco in the aquarium, the males who have not established a territory will explore and, more likely than not, get into fights with other males guarding their nests.

Bristlenose Pleco eggs are easy to recognize. They are bright orange to red and about two mm in diameter. After the female has laid her eggs, she will forget about them and go on with her life. At this point, she can be transferred back to the community tank.

The male will stay with the eggs until they hatch in about 4 to 5 days. After that, his parental duties are done, and he can go back to the community tank as well.

Bristlenose Pleco fry will go into hiding when they are hatched. Having small caves or pieces of driftwood to shelter under is very beneficial. Once they start exploring and looking for food, they can be fed crumbled algae tablets and bits of vegetables such as romaine lettuce.

Diet

Bristlenose Plecos are remarkably easy to feed. They will happily accept just about any low-protein foods that can sink to the bottom.

Popular feeding choices are:

  • Algae tablets or wafers
  • Cucumber
  • Cut or sliced carrots
  • Green beans
  • Omnivore flakes
  • Peas
  • Romaine and other lettuces
  • Spinach
  • Squashes such as zucchini

If using vegetables for feeding, blanch them in hot water to soften them before using. Vegetables can be blanched in a large batch and then frozen in feeding-sized lots to help make the task easy to manage.

Bristlenose Pleco will occasionally eat protein foods such as bloodworms. These can be added to their diet but are not necessary for their health and wellbeing.

Since Bristlenose Plecos are nocturnal, the best time to feed them is before you turn off the lights. They do very well on a single feeding per day. If you have your community tank on a twice-daily feeding schedule, work the food for your bottom feeders into the second feeding.

Conclusion

  • Bristlenose Plecos are a bottom-dwelling species that are ideal for all levels of aquarium keepers.
  • The species is an amazing tank cleaner and will help with levels of algae in the aquarium.
  • They are nocturnal but will come out in the daytime if they are comfortable in the aquarium.
  • Bristlenose Plecos are very peaceful and make great tank mates for most species of
  • Amazon basin smaller species.
  • This pleco will grow to three to five inches and will live about five years.
  • 25 to 30 gallons is the minimum size for keeping a few Bristlenose Pleco with other species.
  • Ideal water conditions are temperature between 72°F to 86°F (22°–30° C).
  • Hardness and pH needs are very similar to most Amazon basin species.
  • For best conditions, use a filtration system that will keep the water clean, flowing, and well oxygenated.
  • Keeping pieces of driftwood in the bottom of the aquarium is essential for Bristlenose Pleco health. They will rasp on the wood with their teeth as part of their diet.
  • Bristlenose Pleco will breed readily but should be placed in a separate tank.
  • Their fry goes into hiding when hatched. Once they start to explore, you can feed them bits of algae pellets or lettuce.
  • Feed your Bristlenose Pleco vegetable-type foods and algae tablets for optimum health.

Bristlenose Plecos, in all their variations, are a marvelous species for every keeper to have. You will appreciate how they help keep tanks clean, get along with all species and come out to surprise you when you least expect them.

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