The other day I was doing one of my daily walk-throughs and looking for a particular fish, but simply couldn’t find it. Mind you, this was not some tiny little goby or tetra that could almost literally disappear, this was a rather large, Spotted Royal Pleco, Panaque cf. nigrolineatus (L330). This particular Royal Pleco is something around 8 inches long. How in the world do you lose an 8 inch pleco? Check out the pic to the right and you’ll see.
Plecos and Caves
Most species of plecostomus love burrows, crevices, and caves. For example, members of the Pterygoplichthys genus will dig deep burrows into the side of a river bank to hide during the day and emerge at night to forage for food. These burrows are also “borrowed” after they are abandoned by other creatures. Other species, such as the fabled Hypancistrus zebra (L046), go into very snug confines to lay eggs and then use their bodies to help shield those eggs against predation. Here I often see the Flash Plecos (Panaque sp. L204) digging out the sand around flat pieces of wood to create a depression to hide in. Just about every plecostomus likes cover and structure.
Given these natural tendencies, you should provide plenty of wood and rock to help your pleco feel safe and secure. You do have to be cautious in how to place rocks and heavier pieces of wood in your aquarium. Be sure stacked stone is stable. If a pleco begins to burrow under a flat stone and it shifts, it can crush the fish. Small rounded stones set in a little group can create little crevices around the stones that can help make smaller specimens feel secure. Some species of plecostomus eat wood, so using natural driftwood has more than one benefit. Propping wood up against rocks can give just enough cover to make the fish feel safe by sitting underneath it.
If you choose to use artificial décor, there are many ornaments available. Take care in selecting one that has enough space to adequately house your pleco. As you can see from the photo, artificial pieces can present some perils for larger plecos. The pleco had to be carefully cut out of the ornament he had wedged himself into! Oddly-shaped entrances can be easier to get into than to get out of, so make sure that your fish can get back out of the ornament once it is in. A safe option for making artificial caves is using lengths of PVC tubing. They may not be that attractive, but they serve an important purpose.
A Final Note
As your pleco grows, you may find yourself having to ‘upgrade’ the size of the cave you have provided for your fish. It should be snug, but not restricting in movement. By giving your pleco a safe place to escape to, you may actually see it more often. Many species are shy. If they feel exposed you may never see them, and they may not eat enough if they are stressed which can effect their overall health. The benefits of providing places to hide in the aquarium far outweigh the risk of finding a fish stuck.