Bristlenose catfish – Ancistrus sp.

Bristlenose catfish (common name)
Ancistrus sp. (fish name)
Maximum size in aquariums (min-max): 10 – 12 cm ( 3.94 – 4.72 in )
pH of water: 5.8 – 7.8
Water hardness (dGH): 4 – 18 °N
Recommended temperature: 15 – 27 °C ( 59 – 80.6 °F )
Compatibility (temperament to it’s family): peaceful (read this answer)
Compatibility (temperament to other fish species): peaceful (read this answer)
Place in the aquarium: Bottom levels
The way of breeding: Spawning
Fish origin: South America

Food and feeding
There diet is mainly algal based; sinking pellets or wafers should be added to the tank. Bog wood is also required as they will gnaw on this. Weekly treats of blood worm or brine shrimp should be provided.

Bristle nose catfish originate from South America.

Females will be slightly smaller than the males; the bristles on their head will be less dominant.

Crevices or caves should be provided in the tank. The male will select a spawning site and if the female is happy with it, she will follow the male inside and lay her eggs. The female will play no further part in raising the young. The male will fan the eggs until hatching and a few days later the fry will emerge. Once their yolk sacs have been consumed, they should be fed on a high vegetable diet.

Expected lifespan is 15+ years.

Short description
Males are very territorial especially when protecting their eggs, females tend to wander from shelter to shelter. These make excellent glass cleaners on the tank and will consume algae from the plants.


Probably the most „common” fish in aquatic shops. Usually dark, sometimes with a small moustache, there is nothing sharp in the aquarium at all. It often sucks the bottom of the tank. But these are just the first impressions.

When you take a more in depth look, you will see how superlative this fish is. Ancistrus is a fine and good-looking fish which complements many freshwater aquariums.

I have kept ancistrus fish for more than 4 years and they have become an integral part of my tanks and my hobby. At first I bought only 4 of them and I didn’t know how to differentiate males from females. Fortunately, my aquarium was suitable for them and they did well. As time went by, the males acquired a moustache, all of them grew larger, and they all got a very nice coloration. After 2 years of successful keeping this nice species of fish, I decided to buy a larger tank. They liked it, because I saw small tails after few months. They sucked on wood all days long, and they showed me how beautiful they are. Generally speaking, people say that breeding ancistrus fish is not an easy task, but the environment in my tank did what I expected. The number of ancistrus in this tank has increased since this moment.

What do people need to know if they decide to keep Bristlenose catfish successfully? You can find a lot of information about water hardness, temperature, etc. in books. You may hear the same in shops and aquarists would tell you it again and again. I’d like to tell you a shortened version of these facts only including the most important information.

What kind of aquarium is most suitable for Bristlenose catfish?

I prefer tanks with many hiding-places, so they will be able to breed in peaceful conditions and small newborns will survive even if there are also larger fish in the tank. When you keep scalare or gouramis, then you will do better if the tank is planted heavily. I have 2 tanks and it happened to me, that gouramis ate all the newborn ancistrus but one. This one is still in my aquarium. The fish tank can be low, it won’t effect their normal activities. Bristlenose likes oxygen and the young need it at the bottom of tank. You can’t expect them to swim to the surface, because larger fish may eat them easily. When ancistrus grows up to 2 cm, it shouldn’t be considered as a dinner by other fish.

What about the temperature of the aquarium?

Bristlenose will survive in 18°C water, but I don’t recommend you to keep them under 21°C. I just forgot to close the window one night during winter… I keep water temperature between 22-25°C. Of course, summer means higher values. They feel better when temperature is higher.

What does Bristlenose eat?

I don’t want to make any advertisement campaign, but I fed them with Sera tablets since I bought the first one (first 4). I use only the meat and vegetable varieties. It is full of vitamins and is a really good solution, and I am yet to have mass disease in my tanks (fortunately). More ancistrus, more tablets.

Water hardness, ph and what else?

I have never measured any ph or dh in my tanks. In my opinion, an aquarium has to be something natural, not something that looks like a lab. I just keep them, I’m trying to satisfy their needs and I want them to feel good. I haven’t changed any water in my tanks for more than 2 years and I just top up water that has evaporated off.

Of course, I recommend to keep aquarium, fish and plants healthy.

What should you know before buying Bristlenose catfish?

1. This fish lives usually 8+ years. Don’t buy any Bristlenose if you plan to keep your aquarium for only 1-2 years.

2. Bristlenose is very peaceful fish. But it still needs its area. Adult males sometimes fight other males when they meet each other. But they don’t fight to the death. Naturally, when Bristlenose fish breed, the tank would become full of fish. This is not a reason to sell them or to give them to other people. I recommend to sell/give them when they’re adult or when they grow up to 6 cm. Two reasons why: firstly, they will easily survive in the new tank; secondly, they will cost more when they are adult as they are larger and more beautiful.

3. Bristlenose likes tablets! Often the shop assistant sells this fish and says “It will eat all algae in your tanks.” This is not true for adult fish. Unlike adults, newborns like algae much more. Until they are 2-3 cm long, they will eat it all day long.

4. Bristlenose catfish needs wood! Once I had two Bristlenose catfish without wood and they didn’t do well. When I moved wood into that tank, they became more active immediately. It is place where they can hide and where small fish can eat algae.


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