How Many Bristlenose Plecos Can I Put in a 10 Gallon Tank?

Written By Lewis German  |  Tropical Fish  |  0 Comments

Bristlenose Pleco Care Guide

You may own a 10 gallon tank and are wondering if it is possible to house a Plecostomus in there, you may have heard that bristlenose are one of the smallest Plecos out there, and may have been told that they are ideal for smaller tanks.

But are they an appropriate fish for a 10 gallon tank? How many Bristlenose should you keep in a 10 gallon? And is it a good idea to house a Bristlenose with other fish in a 10 gallon?

This and more we will answer below:

How many Bristlenose Plecos should be kept together?

This question isn’t really that easy to answer, as there are multiple factors that can influence how many Bristlenose you decide to keep.

By nature, Bristlenose are quite solitary fish, they do not live their whole lives in close schools or groups, instead occupying their own territories within rockwork, spending most of their time grazing by themselves.

They are territorial creatures, and like to have their own space, which is why adding multiple adult Plecos into a 10 gallon often results in fighting.

Bristlenose need large areas in which to occupy, in a big enough tank, with more territory, it becomes possible to house more than one in the same space.

Upwards of 25 gallons allows you to house 2 Plecos, preferably a male and female, or 2 females. 

Upwards of 35 gallons allows you to house more than one male in the same tank, although territorial disputes will still occur.

In a 50 gallon tank, you may be able to house a handful of Bristlenose Plecos in a mixed sex group, as the abundance of territory allows them to co-exist.

But how many should you keep together is a subjective question and depends greatly on the situation and what you plan to do with the Bristlenose. 

Do you wish to breed them? Keep them in a community tank? Keep them as a colony? Keep them as display fish? Or keep them for some other reason? – depending on your reasoning, you may want to just house 1 Pleco, or you may want to keep half a dozen or so, just make sure you have the correct facilities set up for them.

What happens if you add too many Bristlenose Plecos to a 10 gallon tank?

Adding too many Bristlenose in a 10 gallon tank will result in fighting, excess ammonia production and the eventual loss of fish, as mentioned, Bristlenose are territorial creatures and will spar with each other for space.

They also produce lots of waste ammonia which would quickly foul a 10 gallon tank and cause it to crash if not for consistent water changes and strong filtration.

How many Bristlenose Plecos can I put in a 10 gallon tank?

You may house around a dozen under 2” Juvenile Bristlenose in a 10 gallon, or around 1 – 2 adolescents, but we wouldn’t recommend keeping an adult Bristlenose in a 10 gallon.

Bristlenose are a little too large to live their whole lives comfortably in a 10 gallon aquarium, there isn’t enough space to graze on and move around in, the water will foul quickly, and it does not provide enough territory for the fish to defend.

You may house 1 adult Bristlenose in a 10 gallon for a time, perhaps for quarantine purposes, but keeping one in a 10 gallon its whole life is not good enough, and we would suggest upgrading to at least a 20 gallon tank if possible.

How many male Bristlenose can I put in a 10 gallon tank?

Ideally, just one young male Bristlenose should be added to your 10 gallon tank, as they are territorial, and will compete for space ferociously using their gill spikes and barbed pectoral fins.

As young, Bristlenose are tolerable of their own kind, but as they start to mature, they become more aggressive and defensive of their residence, which is why it’s a good idea to separate them as they start to grow and become more developed.

A single male Bristlenose can be kept in a 10 gallon tank for a time, but should not be kept in one his whole life, as he will outgrow it and will require much more space as an adult.

We suggest keeping a single male in a minimum of a 20 gallon long tank, which provides just about enough floorspace for him to live comfortably in.

How many female Bristlenose Plecos can I put in a 10 gallon tank?

Female Bristlenose are a little less territorial than the males, but they can still be aggressive to other Plecos and will still fight over food and territory, especially in a small tank.

Much like the males, we wouldn’t really suggest keeping a female Bristlenose in a 10 gallon tank its whole life, and definitely wouldn’t suggest keeping multiple adult females in such a small tank.

You may be able to get away with housing multiple Bristlenose in a 25 gallon tank or higher, but a 10 gallon is too small for more than one Bristlenose Pleco to co-exist comfortably.

Can I breed Bristlenose in a 10 gallon tank?

Breeding Bristlenose in a 10 gallon tank is not easily done, and we typically don’t recommend it.

Bristlenose like their own space, and when housing a pair of Plecos, we normally suggest a tank over 25 gallons, to give both fish enough room to avoid each other when things get territorial.

Even males and females will show eachother aggression if they get too close for too long.

When breeding, after the female has laid her eggs in the male’s cave, he will usually see her off, and she will move away from the cave for a while.

A 10 gallon usually doesn’t provide enough space for this to happen without high amounts of stress in the fish.

Separating the male and female at this stage can be done, although it can break the pair bond, which can make future spawns more difficult.

While you can certainly breed Bristlenose in a 10 gallon tank, it can create problems which make the process more difficult.

We recommend breeding them in a 25 or 30 gallon, as the extra space makes things easier.

What is the best filter for a 10 gallon Bristlenose Pleco tank?

Bristlenose produce lots of waste and lots of ammonia, meaning that the filter needs to be able to cope with a high bioload.

For this we recommend using filters that are rated for 80 litres or more, as they will have a higher filtration capability, and will be able to support the waste output of a Plecostomus.

Any filters will do, but internal or external pumps work best, as they will collect the faeces and debris left behind by the Pleco, keeping the tank clean.

Filters with an impeller also throw out a current, which Plecos enjoy, as it produces high oxygen and mimics the movement of a flowing river.

10 gallon Bristlenose Pleco tank maintenance

Bristlenose have long digestive systems, and eat a lot, which means that they also produce a lot of waste.

Bristlenose Plecos defecate very often, and as a result they release a lot of ammonia into the tank.

For a 10 gallon aquarium, a single adult Bristlenose will produce enough waste to warrant at least 2 water changes a week.

They will also dirty the filter quickly, meaning frequent and regular filter cleans are also a necessity.

Bristlenose also need to be fed more than the average 10 gallon community fish due to their large size and expansive digestive system.

Because of their high waste output, Bristlenose can foul a 10 gallon tank quickly, and so more water changes and filter cleans are needed, making the tank high maintenance.

Another reason why we recommend larger tanks for Bristlenose, or any Pleco for that matter.

Can I keep other fish with a Bristlenose Pleco in a 10 gallon tank?

Yes, you can keep other fish with a Bristlenose, although in a 10 gallon, this should only be done for a short amount of time, as the Pleco will soon outgrow this size of tank, and will need more space.

Plecos are great for all sorts of community tanks, their armoured scales and quick movements mean that they are never usually the target of fin nippers.

Their peaceful nature means they are safe with more delicate fish, their downturned, grazing month means they are not a high risk to smaller fish, and their willingness to eat almost any fish food that sinks makes them ideal community fish.

Bristlenose can also tolerate a wide range of water parameters, making them highly versatile.

The main thing you need to watch out for when housing Bristlenose with other fish, is that they are actually getting enough food. 

Making sure that your Pleco is feeding enough is very important, as they are often outcompeted by pelagic fish, who swim out in the open and pick off the food before it reaches the bottom of the tank.

Make sure to feed plenty of algae wafers, cucumber, green beans and bloodworms to your Pleco.

Here are some recommendations of fish that are best suited for a Bristlenose tank:

Can I keep invertebrates with Bristlenose Plecos in a 10 gallon tank?

Yes, however, again, the Pleco should not be kept in a 10 gallon tank its whole life, and needs to be upgraded to a larger tank size as it grows.

Plecos are relatively safe with invertebrates, although casualties can occur.

It’s all about choosing the right invertebrates for your tank.



The best inverts to keep with Bristlenose are snails, their shells protect them from being eaten, they are great cleanup crew and will help break down decomposing material.

Snails are also highly adaptable, and they can live in all different water parameters.

Bristlenose show no interest in snails, so there is no worry that your Pleco will go around eating them all.


Cherry Shrimps

Shrimp are also relatively safe with Bristlenose, however, young shrimp can and will be hoovered up by the Pleco if they get in the way.

With plenty of plant life and cover, it is possible to breed Cherry shrimp in a tank with a Bristlenose Pleco, which can be very fun to do.

Crayfish and Crabs

As for larger invertebrates, it can get risky, as crabs, crayfish and Plecos all occupy the same area of the tank.

Your Bristlenose may just end up in the claws of a large crustacean.

While it can be done, we don’t recommend keeping Bristlenose Plecos with large predatory invertebrates, as the risk is too great.