Bristlenose Catfish | Size | Breeding | Diet | Cost

Most fish keepers have heard of the Plecostomus, the bigger brother to the species we are about to talk about. It’s often purchased to clear unwanted algae from a home aquarium. However, most people when purchasing this fish don not understand the care needs and exactly how big they can grow.

This is where its smaller brother the Bristlenose Catfish comes into play. The Ancistrus species to which this fish belongs displays all the typical features of the Loricariidae.

Thanks to their size and suitability for home aquarium life, these fish have become very popular in the last few years. Many people are turning away from our old friend Hypostomus Plecostomus in favor of this much more manageable catfish, the Bristlenose.

Let us take a closer look at the species and see if you think it’s a suitable choice for your aquarium.

Bristlenose Species Data

Scientific NameAncistrus sp.
Common NamesBushynose Pleco, Bristlenose Catfish
Family Loricariidae
OriginSouth America
Care LevelEasy
Max Size5"
Water Conditions74-79° F, KH 6-10, pH 6.5-7.4
Temperament Peaceful
Water LevelBottom Dweller
ColorsBrown, Tan, White, Yellow, Orange
Tank Size20 Gallons +
DecorationRocks, Wood and Plants

Origin and Natural Habitat

The natural habitat for Bristlenose catfish are the Natural freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams of South America and mostly in the Amazon River Basin.

Most of their time is spent near the shallower waters, holding onto driftwood and tree roots with their amazing mouths. These fish can easily hold onto rocks and wood even in the strongest water currents. They are also seen above the water level as they climb their way up the tree roots that protrude out of the water.

They can also be found in some other parts of South and Central America including Panama.

How Big Do Bristlenose Catfish Grow?

4-5 Inch is a common size for a fully grown Bristlenose catfish. Unlike other plecos that can grow to over 20 inches, these species are the perfect size for a catfish in an average home aquarium.

Appearance and Colors

The Bristlenose catfish are instantly recognizable by their unusual bristles on the end/top of their mouths. They are brown and tan, green, or gray with white or yellow spots.

They can even be found as albino colors. These are more expensive and slightly harder to find in your local store but still within most people’s budgets.

bristlenose plec

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 plecos (catfish). Males are noticeably larger than females and have whiskers as well as larger bristles. Male’s bristles are on top of their heads whilst the females are more at the end of their snout.

They are perfectly adapted for life in fast-flowing rivers and capable of sucking to a rock or a piece of wood where they can eat algae from for hours on end.

If you want to see a fish that has adapted to life in a tough environment not only from water currents and conditions but also the threat of predators then look no further than the amazing Bristlenose catfish.

Diet and Feeding

Don’t make the mistake that lots of people make by thinking these fish will eat algae all day long and need no other type of food.

This is a big mistake, in fact, it’s one of the mistakes listed in our 30 Fishkeeping Mistakes article.

However, don’t fall into that trap. Bristlenose catfish are like all other herbivore fish. They need a balanced diet to keep them fit and healthy. Treat these fish no differently to any other fish in your aquarium.

Feed your Bristlenose catfish once or twice a day. You can provide them with parboiled lettuce or cabbage leaves, carrots, peas and one of my favorites, cucumber. My catfish love it!

Bristlenose catfish are bottom dwellers and will scavenge for food all day long. However, if you have an active aquarium full of fast swimming fish they could miss out on their share of flake food.

Feed them catfish sinking pellets or other suitable catfish food that has been developed with herbivores in mind.

By adding driftwood to your aquarium you’ll not only be introducing fibrous matter, but you’ll also be providing space where algae can grow for them to eat. Again, this is part of their diet but NOT the main source.

If you’re in a hurry we recommend Hikari Sinking Catfish Pellets available from Amazon here!

Ensure any veg that you feed to your fish is correctly prepared and any leftover veg is taken away quickly to avoid changing your water conditions.

Read our review of the best catfish food here!


Trying to sex young Bristlenose catfish is almost impossible. Thankfully it gets easier the older they get.

The best way to form a breeding pair is to buy 4-6 young fish and house them together in one aquarium. Then let nature do its thing and let them break off into pairs. Then you can safely remove the other Bristlenose catfish that did not pair and you’re left with at least one potential breeding pair.

The best time to start trying to breed Bristlenose catfish is around 1-2 Years when they will be around 3″ in length.

As these catfish grow older, males will develop longer bristles on top of their nose and females have shorter bristles more towards the very tip of their nose.

Once you are convinced that you have a true pair, it is best to separate them to ensure their eggs, once laid, are not eaten by other fish. A small 10-15 gallon aquarium ,with plenty of wood, plants and hiding places will be fine.

We found one of the best places for catfish to breed and lay their eggs is within a plastic PVC tube. We place short 6″ pieces of PVC tubing in the aquarium and surround them with rocks to create the perfect cave for them to spawn.

The perfect water temperature for spawning is around 24-28 degrees Celsius for Bristlenose catfish. Try to have a neutral or slightly acidic pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.0. Water hardness should be 5-10 dGH. However, we feel the correct temperature and regular small water changes will enhance your chances of spawning commencing.

Once the eggs are laid it is possible and advisable to remove the female catfish. Leave the male to look after the eggs. As the eggs start to hatch within 5-8 days. Once hatched the male fish will tender to his young. Once the fry are free-swimming you should remove the male and allow him to return to the main aquarium to be with the female.

The newly hatched fry will survive on their yolk sac for the first few days. After that, you should feed them on fresh, newly hatched small brine shrimp and slowly allow them to try algae pellets and wafers.

Care Guide

Bristlenose plecos are easy fish to keep in a home aquarium. As far as their care level, they are one of the easiest tropical catfish to own. Provide them with clean water at the right temperature and a tropical aquarium that is planted and decorated with wood, then you’ll be fine.

These are nocturnal fish that will constantly feed on the excessive algae that grow in your aquarium. Through the day these fish may not always be out in plain sight as they like to hideaway.

But don’t let this put you off. As your fish get used to their tankmates, they will slowly become more and more active throughout the day. Often seen clinging to a piece of wood or the glass of your aquarium.

bristlenose pleco
Ancistrus, a genus of freshwater fish in the family Loricariidae

One word of warning is regarding gravel or substrate. As these fish love to dig around in the substrate looking for scraps of food, ensure the substrate is suitable. Sometimes gravel can be very sharp and cause harm to their mouths. You should choose the right substrate so as not to cause injury or harm to any of your catfish.

Keep lighting low to dim to ensure they relax and come out of hiding more often. Try to recreate their natural environment which is soft acidic water, fast-flowing with a low pH value and low lighting. A similar environment as found in the Amazon basin.

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking these fish are herbivores and suckerfish that means they will destroy live plants. This is not true! Bristlenose catfish will not harm your plants by choice. If any damage is caused to your plants it will be minimal and by accident.


  • Do Bristlenose catfish eat other fish? These catfish are perfectly harmless however they have been known to eat any dead fish that become sick and die.
  • What’s the lifespan of a Bristlenose Catfish? 5-6 Years is the average lifespan of a bristlenose catfish. However, we have heard stories of some reaching 8-10 years but this is rare.
  • Can Bristlenose catfish live in cold water? This species of catfish is more accepting of colder temperatures but the ideal temperature is 15-27 C (60-80 F)
  • Are Bristlenose Catfish the same as Plecos? Ancistrus is a freshwater species in the Loricariidae family which includes the common Plecostomus most people have seen.
  • How much are Bristlenose catfish? The average cost of a young Bristlenose is $20 with Albinos demanding a higher price of $25-$30

Conclusion: Bristlenose Catfish

In my opinion, this is a very underrated catfish and often overlooked for its larger brother the common Plecostomus.

Like for like in size, a Bristlenose catfish compared to a common pleco will eat more algae in the same time. Then you have the fact that within 3 years you won’t have a 12-inch monster to try and house or worse give away.

Your perfectly formed Bristlenose catfish will still be going about his daily routine of eating and sleeping at a modest 3-4″. There will be no damage to plants and aquarium decor and no risk of harming any other fish accidentally or otherwise.

I have seen larger Plecos chasing smaller fish round the aquarium even though they are normally very peaceful fish. On the other hand, I have never seen a bristlenose cause any harm or stress to any other fish ever!

Research material used here: Ronsaquatic, Plantetcatfish