Bristlenose Pleco

A Living Vacuum Cleaner for Your Tank

Bristlenose Catfish
Wikimedia Commons

There are many species of Ancistrus, and several have become prominent within the aquarium hobby. This is attributed to the fact that they stay relatively smaller than their cousin catfish, the pleco stomas, usually maxing out at 5 inches in most species. Their diet of vegetation, consisting of mostly algae, also makes them an ideal tank addition: they are terrific tank cleaners who can "vacuum" the substrate of your tank on a daily basis.

With a price tag of three to four dollars, they are fairly easy to find and purchase. They're peaceful and sociable fish, fitting into a community tank nicely. The Bristlenose Pleco is not only an easy fish to live with; it's also unique in appearance and fun to watch.

Characteristics

Scientific NameAncistrus Cirrhosus
SynonymHypostomus cirrhosus
Common NameBristlenose Pleco, Bristlenose Catfish, Bushynose Catfish, Bushy Nose
FamilyLoricariidae
OriginAmazon, rapid-flowing tributaries
Adult Size5 inches (13 cm)
SocialPeaceful, suitable for large community tank
Lifespan5+ years
Tank LevelBottom dweller
Minimum Tank Size40 gallon
DietHerbivore
BreedingEgglayer
CareEasy to Intermediate
pH5.8 to 7.8
Hardness2 to 30 dGH
Temperature73-81 F (23-27 C)

Origin and Distribution

Ancistrus Cirrhosus originates in South America, mainly in the fast-flowing waters of the Amazon River Basin. They can also be found in some other parts of South and Central America including Panama.

Colors and Markings

The Bristlenose Pleco  is one of the smallest catfish, growing to only 3-5 inches. They are brown, green, or gray with white or yellow spots; some have uneven coloring, with lighter and darker splotches on various parts of their bodies. Most have lighter abdomens and darker backs (with the exception of the albino Bristlenose, which is mostly white).

This species has an unusual appearance, featuring bony plates, an "underbite," a flat, fat body, and a wide head. Both males and females have fleshy tentacles, thus earning the name Bristlenose. Males' bristles are on their heads, while females are on the snout. They also have spikes on their fins.  

Tankmates

Bristlenose Plecos are peaceful and sociable with most peaceful aquarium fish. It's a good idea, however, to avoid more aggressive tankmates.

Bristlenose Pleco Habitat and Care

Bristlenose Plecos originate from rivers and streams in South America, primarily the Amazon. Naturally, they prefer water that is well aerated with some sort of current. Because they are bottom dwellers, make sure to provide plenty of driftwood, roots, plants, and caves for them to hide in during the day. They are nocturnal and prefer to do their eating mostly at night. Driftwood can provide a good spot for algae to consistently grow, giving the Bristlenose Pleco a sufficient amount of food. Although they are herbivores, they should not harm live plants.

Bristlenose Plecos do well in a tank that's 20 gallons or larger and can handle a wide range of water conditions from soft and acidic to harder and alkaline.

Some hobbyists have found success with Bristlenose Plecos in Chiclid tanks. This may hold true, but it would be best not to keep them with larger Central and South American Chiclids. If you're looking to breed them, do not add into a tank with substrate spawning Chiclids because the Chiclids are likely to devour the eggs.

Bristlnose Pleco Diet

Bristlenose Plecos are herbivores, eating mainly algae, so feeding algae or spirulina wafers are best for feeding once or twice daily. Granules, flakes, or bloodworms are also good, while the occasional zucchini slices and blanched romaine lettuce or spinach are good treats. Just make sure to never overfeed. Well- fed plecos have good coloration so it's easy to tell when their nutritional needs are being met. Like all catfish, the Bristlenose Pleco will also spend some of its time foraging through the substrate for algae and other detritus; this, of course, is a great plus as it results in a much cleaner tank.

Sexual Differences

Males are usually larger, have whiskers and have larger bristles.

Breeding the Bristlenose Pleco

This species is relatively easy to breed, and it's quite easy, as well, to determine gender. Breeding conditions are fairly simple; in fact, the normal tank habitat is nearly ideal. To encourage mating, however, you will probably want to add caves or driftwood to your Bristlenose Plecos' habitat.  

Once males mature, they will claim a territory that is most suitable for spawning. The next step is for the female to arrive and lay her eggs during mating season. It's best to do a 75% water change to promote mating; their natural mating season is during the Amazon's rainy season, and the change of water can spur mating behaviors. (November at best to align with the natural timing of the mating season).

The male will defend his territory from other males until a mate finally shows up. Often they get into fights with other males, resulting in their bristles getting tangled together.

Once ready to breed, the female lays her eggs in the male's territory. Eggs are stuck onto hard surfaces such as driftwood, ceilings of caves, PVC piping, or a suitable tank decoration. The male will guard the spawning area for the 5-10 days it takes for the eggs to hatch. After hatching, the fry will absorb their egg yolk for a few days and once finished with that move on immediately to algae.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

Small catfish are a terrific addition to a freshwater tank, not only because they're peaceful and easy to care for but also because of their eating habits which help keep your tank clean. The Bristlenose Pleco is a great choice for a beginner, but if you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

Otherwise, check out all of our other freshwater pet fish breed profiles.