Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide

Bristlenose Plecoes, Ancistrus spp., are a group of plecoes that have proven to be the ideal algae control fish for almost any freshwater aquarium. They stay small, don’t bother fish, eat almost every type of algae, thrive in almost any temperature, and thrive in almost any type of water (hard or soft).

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Bristlenose plecoes actually come in many forms including albino, longfin, albino longfin, and others. Some are darker or lighter (also affected by substrate and background color, as well as lighting). Some have lots of spots and some are effectively solid.

Safe with Other Fish:

Bristlenose plecoes are the only pleco I trust with fancy goldfish and one of very few I would ever house with discus. Both of these fish are slow, easy targets for plecoes who want to chow down on their slime coat and/or skin. Even other plecoes that are commonly considered to be safe, such as rubberlip plecoes with fancy goldfish, are not as safe in my experience. I once had a rubberlip chew up the sides of a couple fancy goldfish overnight, including removing the eye of one of them.

Thrive in Almost Any Temperature:

Bristlenose plecoes are able to thrive in a wide temperature range. I have had them with fancy goldfish at room temperature (72F) as well as with discus at 85F and in both cases they do very well.

Eat Almost Any Type of Algae:

Bristlenose plecoes seem to be especially good at eating almost any type of algae. I have had them eat green algae, black hair algae (they won’t get rid of it, but they will keep it under control), green slime algae, and brown algae. They may not be as good at some types as others, but in my experience they just need more time or you need to add more of them in those cases.

They Stay Small:

Unlike so many other plecoes, bristlenose stay nice and small. The largest I have ever seen were about 5″ or so and wild caught. I have not seen anyone get the small ones to actually grow to be that large. Perhaps it is a different species or the captive ones have been bred to be a little smaller (possibly on accident). The largest I have seen people grow them in their tanks is about 3-4″. They are sold as small as 1-1.5″, which can start in a 10 gallon. Long term I would consider a 20 gallon to be minimum.


Bristlenose plecoes are not hard to breed. They will not breed like convict cichlids or guppies, but they are not particularly difficult. I had a client who accidentally bred hers. She took very good care of her tank so the water quality was very good. She fed New Life Spectrum exclusively (not even algae wafers or anything like that). Her main decoration was a hollow plastic rock that the pair made a nest in. She was able to isolate many of the babies into a net breeder to keep them safe from the other fish (a separate tank would have been ideal).

I accidentally bred bristlenose plecoes recently. I have two males and two females in a 75 with fancy goldfish, platies, and zebra danios. I have a piece of African root wood that had a really good cave in it where they bred. I now have babies growing up in the tank unaided by me (besides increasing the photoperiod to increase the natural algae for them to forage on). I have added a few cichlid stones (hollow, ceramic decorative rocks) that they now prefer and they have had at least one batch of babies in there.

Please Include Driftwood:

Like any pleco in my experience, bristlenose should have natural driftwood in their tank. It is a natural component of their habitat so it will make them feel much more comfortable, and it is actually part of their diet (some fish foods even include it as an ingredient now).

The Bristlenose Plecoes in the 300 Gallon are Breeding!