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Family: Loricariidae, Subfamily Hypostominae, Tribe Ancistrini

Common Name: Bristlenose Pleco

Origin and Habitat: South America: distributed throughout the rivers and floodplain of the Amazon Basin. Depending upon the species, they are found in flowing rivers to flooded forest.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful; a suitable addition to a community of non-aggressive fish. Males are territorial with conspecifics [males of the same species] and a group should be housed in suitably-sized tanks that have plenty of caves and similar hiding places.

Bristlenose Pleco Diet

Omnivorous, but mainly vegetarian. Prepared sinking foods (algae, spirulina, kelp-type wafers, disks, tablets), fresh vegetables (cucumber, zucchini, blanched spinach), frozen bloodworms and daphnia, live worms.


Specific to the particular species; the largest attains five inches but many species will not exceed three or four inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

10 gallon for one, 15-20 gallon for a pair, 3+ feet for a small group.

Water parameters for Bristlenose Pleco

Soft to medium hard (< 15 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH < 7.5) water, temperature 22-27C/71-81F. These ranges suit the common bristlenose, but wild-caught species will have specific and limited ranges.


A deservedly popular "bottom" fish due to its peacefulness, relatively small size, hardiness, and the fact that it is very easy to breed. The precise taxonomy and origin of the common "bristlenose" is unknown, and some authorities believe it may be a hybrid of other species. Several man-made varieties exist, including the albino and long-fin forms.

Some of the specific species other than the "common" bristlenose are considerably more demanding in their water parameter requirements; as these will in all likelihood be wild-caught fish, care must be taken to provide suitable water.

Ancistrus species all have "bristles" termed tentacles on the snout; in females and juveniles, these are short and occur only along the snout margin, whereas in mature males especially when breeding the tentacles are quite long and positioned along the top of the snout. It is now believed that the tentacles evolved as larval mimics to entice females into the cave, since a female is more likely to mate with a male already guarding a previous spawn; the male tentacles are the size and colouration of juvenile fish ready to leave the nest (Armbruster, 2004).

It has a well-deserved reputation for eating algae, and the aquarist must ensure there is a steady supply of either algae or vegetable foods, or the fish may turn to devouring plants. Bristlenose plecos require some driftwood fiber in their diet (though not to the extent of Panaque sp.). To ensure healthy plecos, it is recommended that at least some driftwood be included in the aquascape. The tank should be well-planted with pieces of bogwood and caves made from rocks or clay flowerpots; the substrate may be of smooth gravel or sand. Floating plants are beneficial to lessen the light. Like many plecos, Ancistrus can be largely nocturnal. They will be more active during daylight hours if kept under dimmer lighting or with a good cover of floating plants.

When netting these fish, care must be exercised to not entangle the defensive spines positioned on the sides of the head and the pectoral fin spines in the net; a long jar or container is preferable to using a net.

The fish is a cave spawner, and spawning will often occur even in community tanks if there is a male and female present. If more than one male is present, they should be in fairly large aquaria as breeding males are very pugnacious and breeding may not occur. The female will lay her eggs and leave the cave so the male can enter to fertilize them; the male then guards the eggs and fry until they are free-swimming, at which point they require copious amounts of algae or green foods, brine shrimp nauplii, microworms, etc. Food must be provided continuously as the fry are voracious feeders and will otherwise starve. Other female fish, if present, will be allowed into the cave to lay additional eggs, which the male will fertilize and then tend at the same time.

The Loricariidae [from the Latin lorica, a corselet] is the largest catfish family holding more than 825 nominal species. The largest subfamily is the Hypostominae containing 31 genera with 447 nominal species representing some 53% of all loricariids. The former subfamily Ancistrinae was changed to the status of a tribe (Ancistrini) within the subfamily Hypostominae (Armbruster, 2004).

The genus Ancistrus was erected by Kner in 1854; the name derives from the Greek agkistron [= hook] that refers to the cheek odontodes (spines) that are hooked. There are 64 valid species at the time of writing [source: Fishbase]. Species range over the entire Amazon basin and occur respectively in flowing rivers and flooded forest and in all water types; those from clear and white waters are generally light gray to medium brown with a pattern of darker or lighter spots, while those from blackwaters are dark brown to black with a pattern of small/medium white to yellow dots. All bear the soft tentacles on their snout [see above] that distinguish them from all other loricariids. They also have the ability to swallow air and extract oxygen in their modified stomach.


Armbruster, J.W. (2004), "Phylogenetic relationships of the suckermouth armoured catfishes (Loricariidae) with emphasis on the Hypostominae and the Ancistrinae," Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 141, pp. 1-80.

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