Ancistrus dolichopterus

by Gene Moy

Bristle-nose Plecostomus used to be more common back in the ’70s. These oddities would come in from the wholesalers along with the regular Plecos, Hypostomus plecostomus. Depending on one’s perspective, these are curiosities or monstrosities. Bristle-nose Plecostomus have catfish whisker types of growth on top of their lips. Some even have growths on other parts of their heads. Ancistrus dolichopterus (I think that’s the species that I have) males have more bristles than the females. These Plecos are reportedly easy to breed and are exceptional algae eaters.

In February 1999, while visiting one of my favorite aquarium shops in Clementon, NJ, I picked up a pair of these interesting Bristle-nose Plecos. (I occasionally have business meetings near Camden, NJ, and have checked out the fish stores in that area.)

The Plecos went into a 40-gallon community tank with lots of Corydoras and some other mostly peaceful residents. The Ancistrus proved their exceptional ability to scrape things clean. After settling in, they cleaned the aquarium glass as well as some newly introduced driftwood. The Plecos quickly removed the caked mud from the wood to reveal the true color of the wood. As a result of all their cleaning, a corresponding amount of waste is produced. During the day, the Plecos hid on the underside of a large piece of driftwood.

The Ancistrus seemed to enjoy the shrimp pellets that I offered my Corys. The Plecos would cover the pellets with their mouths and suck. This approach annoyed my Corys some. Other foods were placed into the tank, included flakes, some live blackworms or frozen bloodworms. I don’t believe that the Plecos ate much of the worms.

After eight months, while looking into a piece of bamboo, I saw a mass of something inside. I wasn’t sure that this was not just pieces of gravel until I stuck my finger inside. The mass felt soft. Using a flashlight, I saw what I thought to be eggs. The eggs were huge, some 3 mm in diameter, and orange! I guessed that there might be 15 to 30 eggs all clumped together. The male was partially inside the bamboo hovering over the eggs. I couldn’t tell if he was fanning the eggs or not.

I discovered that I had unwittingly raised the temperature of the tank to 87°F. I decided to leave the heater at that setting. The high temperature might have been a spawning inducement. I did decide to remove several clown loaches and some Anomalachromis thomasi.

The eggs hatched three days later. The male was seen to place his mouth over the eggs, possibly breathing over the young wrigglers to provide aeration. Seven days after that, the Pleco fry were free-swimming. The one reference that I had on Ancistrus breeding indicated better results with paternal care. I left the young with the parents for two days, then changed my mind when I started seeing several young (10 mm) Plecos on the aquarium glass. As most of the newly hatched young were still in the bamboo with the father, it was an easy matter to transfer them to a 5 1/2-gallon tank. The young that were on their own were siphoned or netted out and put with their brethren.

One of the reasons that I wanted to move the young was to provide food for them. The 40 gallon had very little algae as the parents had been very dutiful, while the 5 1/2 gallon tank had a fair amount of algae on the glass. The young quickly settled in. I could see several individuals grazing on the algae. After one day, I could see that the young were eating well. I could see strings of turd attached to several young Plecos as well as elsewhere in the aquarium. Within two days, the 20 or so youngsters had cleaned all the algae off the aquarium glass and almost everything else in the tank. They were now working on the individual grains of gravel. Wow! I may have to move them to bountiful quarters.

The young Bristle-noses are fairly hardy. They enjoy a strong current created by a power filter. After two weeks, they have doubled their size to nearly 20 mm total length. After 60 days, they are 1" total length. The young are ravenous. Peas with the skin removed are relished, as well as sliced cucumbers.

My pair breed on a regular basis of about every month, when the young are removed shortly after the free-swimming stage. When I left one batch with the male, other inhabitants apparently found the young. Subsequent spawns have been as much as 60 eggs.

Bristle-nose Plecos are very interesting, exceptional algae eaters, easy to take care of, and are easily bred and raised. What more can an aquarist ask of a fish?

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 31, # 3-4