Bristlenose Catfish, also known as Bristlenose Plecos, these are unique fish that are quite polarising in the aquarium community. While some collectors think they look odd and creepy, others enjoy their unique appearance – and find them as a better substitute to snails. Bristlenose Catfish are bizarre, loveable, and amazing cleaners, making them the ideal addition to most tanks. Masters of disguise and almost alien like, this beginners guide to Bristlenose Catfish will help you learn to care for these fantastic algae-eating fish.
1: What is a Bristlenose Catfish?
Also known as Bristlenose Plecos or Ancistrus Cirrhosus, the Bristlenose Catfish comes from the Loricariidae family. They originate from streams and tributaries in the Amazon Basin. They can also be found throughout other parts of Central and South America. Well known for their unique appearance and their preference for algae, these fish are considered incredibly easy to care for and can help improve the quality of freshwater fish tanks. They adhere their suckermouth to different surfaces and feed on natural algae, aquatic plants, and even small crustaceans.
The Bristlenose Catfish is a robust, hardy fish, capable of surviving in many different habitats for up to 12 years and it takes about 2 years for it to reach full size. Compared to other freshwater fish, this is a decent amount of time, which is one of the reasons aquarium owners gravitate to the Bristlenose.
And while they do share similarities popular freshwater aquarium catfish and other Pleco species, the Bristlenose is a unique species with its own distinct needs.
2: What Does a Bristlenose Pleco Look Like?
The most defining characteristic of the Bristlenose Catfish is also its most polarising – the bushy nose appendages that sprout from their snouts. These tentacles are what give the fish its namesake and they typically begin to appear when the fish reaches 6 months of age and/or 7-8cm in length. These tentacles or “bristles” are present in all Bristlenose Catfish. Both male and female Bristlenose have these bristles but they’re more prominent on males where they tend to grow longer and higher up on the head. On females, they’re shorter and sprout around the mouth area.
The Bristlenose Catfish’s mouth is located at the bottom of their bodies. This allows them to consume algae from the substrate, rocks, and decorations, as well as cling to vertical surfaces. Compared to other Plecos, the Bristlenose has somewhat elongated lips and a wider head. The fish itself is also shorter and a bit plumper. Bristlenose Catfish are covered in bony plates that offered protection from aggressive fish when they lived in the wild. They have a pair of pectoral fins, a pair of abdominal fins, and a large dorsal fin on top.
Further, their unique colour patters helped them evade trouble. Most Bristlenose come in dark colours that would blend into the natural substrate of the amazon Basin. This is why most Bristlenose Catfish are black, dark brown, olive, or grey. They are patterned all over in lighter dots of either white or yellow with a light underbelly.
3: Types of Bristlenose Catfish
While most Bristlenose Catfish are black, olive, grey, or dark brown with lighter coloured spots, there are some other varieties available. These include:
1: Albino Bristlenose Pleco
One of the most popular fish aquarium fish is the albino Bristlenose Pleco. It is very different from other pleco due to its lighter colouring. Instead of the traditional darker shades, these fish are either light yellow or pink. As a result, they tend to stand out in most aquariums.
2: Calico Bristlenose Catfish
Everyone knows about calico cats. Calico is a specific colour among animals and fish are no different Calico Bristlenose Catfish are mainly orange and black and are a favourite among collectors who love this striking colouration.
3: Starlight Bristlenose Pleco
These fish live up to their name with the unique it’s unique colouration. The Bristlenose Pleco is a solid black fish with white dots all over. It also has a white stripe on its caudal fin and dorsal fins.
4: Super Red Bristlenose Catfish
The Super Red Bristlenose Catfish is a bright orangey-red fish, and often the envy of every fish in your tank. Their bright colour is incredibly vivid and many aquarists uses them as the centrepiece to their tank.
5: Longfin Bristlenose Pleco
The fins on these fish are what give them their namesake. The Longfin Bristlenose Pleco features long, flowing fins. They billow out while they swim, giving them an incredibly elegant feel.
4: Lifespan of the Bristlenose Pleco
If you care for your fish properly, and provide the right tank conditions, your Bristlenose Pleco can live up to 5 years in captivity, with the oldest living captive Bristlenose recorded as 12 years old.
How Can I Tell the Age of My Bristlenose Catfish?
It’s possible to estimate the age of your Bristlenose based on its size. After 2 years of age, the Bristlenose Catfish reaches its full size and will stop growing. If your fish continues to grow, it is under 2 years old.
5: How Big Can Bristlenose Catfish Get?
Bristlenose Catfish are on the smaller end of the spectrum. The average size of the species is between 3-5 inches long. There are, of course, some variations like the Longfin that tend to be on the shorter end of the range. However, care and genetics will impact their size the most. They are also quite small in comparison to other catfish species, making them fantastic fish for many freshwater aquariums.
6: What Tank Size Does a Bristlenose Pleco Need?
Caring for your Bristlenose Pleco is easy once you know what to do. Generally these fish are pretty hardy and do well in a variety of tank conditions. As long as you keep your tank well-maintained, you shouldn’t experience any major issues.
We mentioned earlier, Bristlenose Plecos originate from the Amazon. As a result, the key to keeping Bristlenose healthy is to replicate the conditions they encounter in the wild. They thrive in tank environments with warmer temperatures, good water flow, and plenty of oxygen. However, these fish do react to extreme water changes. If your fish is regularly swimming to the surface don’t ignore it, it might mean the oxygen level in your tank aren’t high enough for your Bristlenose.
However, it could also mean there’s too much ammonia and nitrate in the water, as well. As a result, we recommend making some changes to your filter and aeration to ensure that your fish stay healthy.
Bristlenose Plecos need a 25 gallon tank, at least. You will need to adjust your tank size accordingly if you plant to keep them with other fish. Because they are natural bottom-dwelling fish, you will want to construct their tank with that in mind. Your fish will spend a lot of time scavenging for food at the bottom of the tank or near any decorations. So you will need to give your Bristlenose as many hiding places as possible.
The team at Aquarium Factory recommend accessories like live plants, driftwood, and manufactured caves. Bristlenose Plecos are nocturnal which means they will spend most of the day hiding in those spots to rest and feel safe. And, if you plan to breed, hiding spots play a large role in breeding.
What Substrate Should I Use?
In their natural habitat, the Amazon Basin, the substrate would be a mixture of gravel, clay, and dirt. You can recreate this with a dirt or clay based substrate, or substrate designed for live aquarium plants. This can then be topped with gravel. However, Bristlenose Pleco will be fine with most substrate, so don’t stress too much. If you’re concerned, ask an aquarium team member, like the experts at Aquarium Factory, for advice.
You can try a bare-bottom tank, however Bristlenose are natural bottom-feeders and love foraging for food, so most aquarists don’t recommend it. Instead, we recommend plenty of plants for your tank so your can provide them as many nutrients as possible.
What Filtration Should I Install?
Bristlenose Catfish come from fast-flowing waters, so you will need a strong filtration system with a good flow through your tank. They also consume a lot of food and, in turn, have more waste than other fish. If your water isn’t well filtered, waste will build up, lowering the water quality and causing harm to all the fish in your tank. Hang-on-back filters and canister filters are great options, as long as they at least pump 300 gallons per hour.
Air stones are also a great addition to your tank to ensure the right amount of oxygen is being added to the water, and water pumps help create plenty of water flow throughout your tank. This will help ensure that any waste is dealt with swiftly and effectively, and your fish has a comfortable environment.
Do Bristlenose Plecos Need Specialist Lighting?
Unlike some fish, Bristlenose Plecos don’t need specialist lighting to stay healthy. They simply need natural lighting to keep them and any live plants healthy. Our team recommend LED lights as they’re cost effective in the long term. They provide natural lighting as needed and can be programmed as needed and set on automatic timers.
What Kind of Plants and Decorations are Recommended for a Bristlenose Tank?
Bristlenose Catfish love to hide and forage among plants and dark spaces. They also love places to hide during the day and when breeding. This makes live plants, silk plants, decorative ornaments like caves and castles, and driftwood ideal for Bristlenose Catfish. Fake plants are generally okay but only silk plants. Other materials are too rough and can scratch the Bristlenose, harming it. Live plants are better and create a natural, healthy environment for your fish.
Does the Bristlenose Pleco Have Specific Water Requirements?
Once your tank is set up, it’s time to ensure that your tank has the right water conditions. Bristlenose do well in a variety of conditions, however you should aim for the following water requirements in order to maximise their health and lifespan:
pH: 6.5-7.5 range
Adult Bristlenose pleco can handle fluctuations in water quality very well. So if you don’t have a great deal of experience in fish keeping, start with adult fish. Younger Bristlenose will encounter health problems if the pH balance is off.
The nitrogen cycle is a vital step when it comes to setting up your aquarium. Not cycling your aquarium will put your fish at serious risk. The team at The Aquarium Factory will be able to help you learn how to cycle your tank if you haven’t done so before.
7: What Should I Feed My Bristlenose Catfish?
In the wild, Bristlenose Catfish have a wide variety to their diet. They spend their time sifting through the bottom of the stream and survive on mostly plant-based materials. They will also cling onto plants to eat algae or feed on tiny insect larvae.
In captivity, this diet generally remains the same. Algae remains their primary source of food (you can even give them algae wafers if your tank doesn’t have much natural algae). But you should also supplement their diet to keep them healthy. There is food available specifically for bottom dwelling fish like fish food pellets and spirulina wafers. You should feed these once or twice a day. You can also feed them a protein-based food like bloodworms. Some aquarists like to give their Bristlenose Plecos natural foods. They will blanch vegetables like peas, cucumbers, carrots, and zucchini which the fish will feed off slowly and take advantage of the nutrients.
However, if you feed your fish blanched vegetables once in a while, make sure you remove food after a few hours. Give them time to pick over it before you remove it to prevent your tank becoming a mess.
You can tell if you’re feeding your fish enough by monitoring their colour. If their colours are looking a big dull and softened, then they aren’t getting a balanced diet.
8: What is the Behaviour of the Bristlenose Pleco?
Bristlenose Plecos are pretty relaxed. The are docile fish that do well with other peaceful fish. And, as bottom dwellers, they generally won’t pay attention to fish in the middle or upper areas of the tank.
During the day, Bristlenose won’t move around a lot as they’re generally nocturnal. Thanks to their colours, you’ll probably have a hard time finding them when they’re relaxing in their caves and dark hiding spots. At night, Bristlenose start to get more active. They will generally swim around looking for food in the substrate.
Are Bristlenose aggressive? No, but if you want more than one Bristlenose Pleco in your tank, we recommend erring on the side of caution and not putting more than one male in the same tank as males can get a bit territorial, especially when it comes to breeding time. Male Bristlenose like to claim a cave or hiding spot so if your tank is limited in size, you could experience fighting between your fish.
9: Which Fish Make the Best Tank Mates for Bristlenose Catfish?
Peaceful fish species make the best tank mates for Bristlenose Catfish. Bristlenose have a very peaceful and sociable temperament, and are very rarely aggressive towards other fish. This makes Bristlenose great for community tanks with species like Neon Tetras, Platy fish, Guppies, and more. Just make sure you are able to house them with fish that live within the same water parameters.
Bristlenose Catfish can also become territorial and aggressive during breeding or over food, so make sure your fish isn’t being outcompete for food, especially if you house your fish with faster bottom feeders like clown loaches.
It’s also wide to house more female Bristlenose Catfish female than males in a tank, so males aren’t forced into competing for breeding partners.
10: General Breeding Tips for Bristlenose Plecos
In general, breeding Bristlenose Plecos isn’t too difficult. You just need to create the right conditions to initiate their breeding instincts. While it is possible to use your normal tank, you might want to consider creating a separate breeding tank since other fish in your tank will try to eat the baby fish when they hatch. Whether or not you do a separate breeding tank, make sure the environment is perfect. Ensure there are plenty of hiding spots as caves are a must have. Males will seek them out as spawning areas.
In the wild, breeding begins during the rainy season and the water is naturally cooler. So to increase your chances of success you can try performing a 75% water change with slightly cooler water.
You should ensure you have more female than male Bristlenose Plecos in the tank as males get very territorial during the breeding season. If you plan on having more than one male, make sure you have enough space and ample hiding spots to keep things peaceful.
The Bristlenose Pleco breeding process is unique. It starts with the male looking for the perfect spot for the female to lay her eggs. This is where those caves and hiding spots come in. once they have chosen their spot, the male will clean up the cave and wait for a female. If a female deems the site acceptable, she’ll lay her eggs all over the cave walls and floor. The eggs are sticky and have a bright orange colour.
At this point, the male Bristlenose Pleco will fertilise the eggs. The female will guard the cave while the pair waits for the eggs to hatch. During this time, the male will clean the eggs and aerate them with his tail. Usually, the eggs will hatch after 4-0 days. While many fish species will eat the fry, this isn’t very common with Bristlenose. They’re more protective, which can help to increase the chance of survival.
After hatching, the baby Bristlenose fry will latch onto the sides of the cave and feed on their egg sacs for a few days. Once you see them swimming through the tank freely, you can try to feed them some food. They will eat algae like their parents, but you can also add some mashed vegetables as a supplement. The fry grow rapidly and will develop their tough skin while still young.
11: What Illnesses and Issues Can Bristlenose Catfish Have?
Unlike many fish, Bristlenose Catfish aren’t known to be prone to any particular diseases. Keeping your tank and water clean, following all the parameters above, with appropriate plants and hiding places will help ensure your fish remain free of disease.
Of course common conditions like Ich and bacterial infections could occasionally plague the Bristlenose Catfish so pay close attention to their skin. Luckily these are easy to treat , but you may need to isolate your fish until it heals.
Unfortunately, if one fish gets sick, it will likely infect the rest of the tank unless you catch it quickly. To make sure it doesn’t, remove the fish to a quarantine tank as soon as possible and keep an eye on the rest of the tank.
Looking for the perfect Bristlenose Catfish to add to your tank? Contact the team at The Aquarium Factory today! We have a wide range of fish, tanks, aquariums, food, and accessories to ensure you can set up the perfect, healthy tank in no time!