Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide: Lifespan, Diet, Size & All | 2024

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: March 20, 2022

The Bristlenose pleco is one of the most popular aquarium fish on the market today. It has a huge appetite for algae, which makes it an excellent tank mate for many people who are just getting into the hobby.

The success of this fish in the home aquarium is not surprising given its natural history – native to South America, where it piles up on top of each other by the hundreds in fast-moving waters and flooded forests.

The pleco does a great job at cleaning your fish tank, but there are some key tips to having a healthy, happy bristlenose that lives long and prospers! Here is my guide on their care.

Facts And Characteristics Of Bristlenose Pleco

Given below are a few facts and characteristics of bristlenose pleco. Let us have a look at those characteristics one by one.

How Does Bristlenose Pleco Look Like?

The Bristlenose pleco has a few unique physical characteristics that set it apart from other fish. For one, they have very strong front and rear fins that almost completely blend.

Bristlenose pleco

Bristlenose plecos also have an elongated snout that is covered in fleshy bristles (hence the name), which it uses to root around for food.

One of its most interesting physical characteristics is the tiny sucker-like mouth located on the underside of its body, right between its front and rear fins.

This sucker-like mouth is incredibly important to the fish because it allows the bristlenose pleco to cling to surfaces when there is a fast current. The pleco uses this suction cup-like mouth to cling on rocks and plants in its natural habitat and in your aquarium as well!

It even crawls around and clings onto the glass when it is out and about at night. Male and female bristlenose plecos can be easily differentiated by their snouts.

The males have a larger bulbous head on the end of their snout that is used to release sperm during breeding. Males are usually more colorful than females as well, having more detailed patterns with dark blue dots all over their bodies.

Read: Rubber Lip Pleco 101: Best Detailed Care Guide

What Are Their Colors?

Most Bristlenose plecos are brown, gray, or greenish. They occasionally have black spots on them, and some specimens can even show hints of blue.

Males typically have larger bristles than females, but both genders generally have the same coloring. You may find that your pleco has a yellow hue to its body – this is especially common in angelfish plecos. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though; many fish have this coloring.

Bristlenose Pleco Habitats

Bristlenoses pleco is native to the fast-moving waters of South America – specifically Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Because they live in such swift currents and flooded forests, they develop strong muscles and streamlined bodies.

Bristlenose pleco

You will often see them swimming against the current or right at the surface of the water. They are also nocturnal animals, meaning they hunt and scavenge for food primarily at night.

In its natural habitat, it is an opportunistic feeder eating a wide variety of plant material as well as tiny creatures that live in rotting wood.

Because of this natural diet, they are not picky eaters and will eat almost anything you put in the tank with them – but their favorite foods by far are algae!

Bristlenose Pleco Temperament

Bristlenose plecos are peaceful fish and will not bother any tankmates unless they try to eat the pleco’s food. They enjoy swimming and often pass the time by exploring all around their aquarium.

Bristlenose pleco

It is very fun to watch them “attack” plants and other decorations in your tank – it almost looks like they’re trying to climb or break their way out of the tank.

Like all fish, plecos are very social animals and form bonds with other members of their species. They will often be found circling each other at night while they sleep or forage for food.

Another interesting thing to note is that if one pleco in your tank dies, another will eat it before it decays, which is rather strange! In general, these fish are very hardy and easy to care for – they’re a perfect beginner fish.

However, if you ever have any problems with them, it’s best to take them to a local pet store or fish expert – the staff at your local pet store will be able to tell you what kind of fish you have and recommend the best foods to feed it.


If you want them to breed, you need a very large tank (at least 55 gallons) and a lot of hiding places. Males will be more active when they want to find a mate, and if they do not have a lot of places to hide from each other, they may injure or kill each other. Make sure there are plenty of plants, though!

Bristlenose pleco

It is not always easy to breed plecos, and they can take a long time to lay their eggs and tend the fry. However, the female will attach her eggs under broad leaves, so keep this in mind when you are adding aquarium plants or decorations!

You may want to leave some of these areas within the tank uncovered so that the female can find them and attach her eggs there.

The female will stay with the eggs until they hatch and even continue to watch over them after she has released them.

She may also eat any fish that come too close to her babies, so make sure the tank is well-sealed! For this reason, many people will move the newly hatched fry (and their mother) to a separate tank so that she can focus on taking care of the fry and not eat any other fish.

Bristlenose Pleco Growth & Lifespan

These plecos can get up to 16 inches long, although most of them will be around 10 inches at maturity.

Bristlenose pleco

They do not grow very quickly, but they tend to stop growing around 6 months of age anyway (and live for about 10-12 years), so don’t worry if your new fish is only 4 – 5 inches when you bring it home.

They tend to live for about 5 – 10 years (although some can live longer than 20 years!)

Do Bristlenose Pleco Eat Live Plants?

Plecos will eat real plants (they like to graze on the algae and other plants that grow in their tank). Although they are not aggressive enough to eat other fish, their long soft whiskers can get caught in the leaves of live plants.

They also like to dig around in the substrate looking for food, so it’s best not to have any real plants right in the middle of your pleco tank!

It is possible to have live plants if you have a large pleco. If you do, make sure to use a very strong filter and feed the plecos in their separate tank so they won’t eat any of the leaves that fall into your main tank!

Are They Dangerous?

Yes, they are pretty dangerous. They can grow to be quite large, so you must know where your pleco is at all times.

Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide

In order to keep your bristlenose pleco healthy, you need to take proper care of it. Given below are a few ways by which you can take proper care of bristlenose pleco to give it a longer life.

Tank Requirments

Plecos are famous for being hardy fish that can live in almost any kind of water. If you have very soft, acidic water (pH 6.0 – 7.5) and lots of floating plants and other aquarium plants, they will do great!

Bristlenose pleco

But if you don’t, it’s no big deal – lots of plecos live happily in harder, more basic water. If you have hard, alkaline water (above pH 7.5), they may become stressed, but this is not usually fatal.

If you plan to keep your Bristlenose pleco in a tank with other fish, the other fish should be peaceful bottom-feeders that will not nip at or bother the pleco.

Plecos are also very peaceful with other bottom-feeders like zebra danios and guppies. They are fine at the lower end of the temperature range for tropical fish but not ideal in tanks under 65°F since they come from warm water regions.

It’s best to keep them in an unheated aquarium if you live in a cool climate or your home gets below 65°F.

Unless you have a very large tank (over 75 gallons), your best bet is to put only one pleco in the tank. They are loners and will often fight with other plecos that they see as rivals, especially if they are both males!

It’s hard to tell if your pleco is a male or female, but usually, males have bristles on their foreheads, and females do not.

Water Condition And Lighting

Bristlenose Plecos are very hardy fish and can survive in a wide range of water conditions. If you want to keep them in soft acidic water, they will be very happy.

But if you have hard or alkaline water, they may become stressed, but this is not usually fatal. It’s best to research the pH and hardness of your tap water before planning on getting a pleco.

As long as you have plants in your tank, they will be fine – plecos are great at keeping plants clean! They can still do okay without them if you don’t have plants since they’ll usually eat algae off of stones and the glass inside the tank.

They also enjoy digging around in the substrate (or gravel), which can help keep it aerated and clean.

Bristlenose Plecos will only bother the plants in your tank if you feed the pleco sinking food, so to prevent this, either feed bristle nose plecos pellets or blanched vegetables like zucchini or cucumber and feed sinking food to other fish.

This way, the Bristlenose pleco will be busy eating its veggies and won’t have time to nip at the plants.

Bristlenoses also need a good amount of light since they are used to living in sunny areas. They do not directly benefit from this, but you must have your light on for about 8 hours a day so that they can find food and eat.

Bristlenose Pleco Feeding

They are omnivores and do very well when provided with a varied diet.

Bristlenose pleco

They will eat most meaty foods, although they have been known to nip at plants from time to time, so avoid putting any live plants right in the middle of their aquarium. A good staple food for them is high-quality algae wafers.

These are sold in most pet stores and will be a good staple for your fish. In addition to algae wafers, you can give them blanched veggies like zucchini or peas and clean bits of raw shrimp or scallops (they love the shells!).

Make sure that whatever you feed them is prepared very well since they have poor eyesight, and make sure to supplement their diet with algae wafers or blanched vegetables (like peas) every other day.

Bristlenose Plecos are what’s called “scavengers” – this means they will eat pretty much anything that drops into the tank, including pieces of fish, food, or dead plants.

This can be a good thing since it means you don’t have to over-feed them, but if they are fed too much or given other foods that aren’t as nutritious, you’ll find that the fish become fat, and their colors fade.

Tankmates Of Bristlenose Pleco

Though not really “fish-friendly,” they normally do very well in community aquariums with larger cichlids or medium-sized aquarium freshwater catfish.  

Bristlenose pleco

It is important to keep in mind that they will eat any fish smaller than them. Bristlenoses are peaceful bottom-feeders that will not bother or nip at any of the fish in your tank.

The only exception might be large cichlids (like Oscar fish) since these plecos can use their sucker mouths to pick food out of cichlid’s mouths (this is not good for the cichlid).

But if you have a convict cichlid tank, just avoid putting your pleco right in the middle of it! Bristlenoses are also very peaceful with other bottom-feeders like zebra danios and guppies.

Common Possible Diseases And Cure

Common Pleco diseases are pretty easy to identify. The usual issue is that the common Bristlenose pleco has “ice eye” or some sort of intestinal parasite that affects their health.

Bristlenose pleco

These both can usually be identified by the white spots on the fish, most notably near its eyes. It seems that once they have these parasites, though, they are susceptible to getting them again if conditions are not kept up.

Cures for common diseases for  Pleco’s are pretty easy too. The most common disease that plecos have is “ice eye,” which can be found on their eyes. This is very easily treatable with medicine normally found at your local pet store.

It is recommended that you treat your tank just in case, not because of any issue with the fish itself. The second disease they can get often is intestinal parasites which are easily treated by using medicines like Praziquantel or Levamisole.

Once again, these are very easily treated with common medicines that can be bought from your local pet store. If you treat your tank and fish for these two diseases, there should not be any problems with the pleco’s health.

There are many reasons why a pleco can get bloated and die, and I am going to go over the most common reason for them all:  water quality.

There are lots of ways to test your water for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates if the common pleco is bloated or lethargic.

If you can not find any reason for why they are acting this way, they may have parasites that will require medication to treat.


Overall, they are very easy to care for fish which are very hardy. They can be very beneficial to your tank and are not very risky.

I recommend getting one for any tank over 30 gallons unless you want to get one of the smaller types of pleco’s, which I do not recommend.

Thank you for reading this article. I hope that it will help you with whatever else you need for your pleco’s.

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