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Hiding Spots for Aquarium Fish – A Word of Caution

Pleco StuckThe 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.

Natural Pieces

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.

Artificial Homes

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. 

Thanks,

Craig

8 comments

  1. avatar

    hi did the pleco survive?

  2. avatar

    It did, just a little freaked out.

  3. avatar

    I have a royal spotted pleco and he’s getting to the point that I am worried about him hiding in the rock formation I have. Where can I get a “big” rock formation with caves for him to hide in. He’s about 7 inches in length? Any help with this??

  4. avatar

    Hi Chris, Depending on the look you’re going for, larger ornaments like caves, bridges and rockwork are available. You can also create your own using a terracotta pot on its side or by covering a large PVC tube with rockwork or substrate that coordinates with your environment to help camouflage it.

  5. avatar

    Thanks for the info. Any help on pointing me in the right direction for larger ornaments? Iv looked all over the web and in stores but can’t find anything larger than what iv already got. Money is not any option. I do like the terrocatta pot idea but would like something with more of a “tunnel” like and decorative. The rock formation I have is fairly large and hides my pleco and spotted catfish (4 inch) just fine but the pleco is upwards of 7 inch and I’m noticing he’s having trouble entering the cavern system he’s also pretty wide. Thanks again

  6. avatar

    Hi Chris, You can try looking for a large Bark Hideaway like this one or, if you cant find anything in the size or appearance you are looking for, try making your own. I would start with a PVC pipe at a length you like and perhaps a 5 or 6 inch diameter (again, whatever size works for you); this is available at most home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot and they will usually cut it for you. You can keep it intact or cut it in half length-wise. Then, use aquarium silicone and glue pieces of rock to the outside; I would recommend something like slate that is flat, easy to break and build up into a shape you like and attach to the pipe. You can also use gravel in the same way; just coat the outside of the tube and roll it over a tray of dry gravel to coat it.

    Most PVC you find will be white and most silicone sealant is clear or blue-ish, but if you want something darker, you can use black silicone rubber to attach the stones and hide the white edges to help it blend in. This is how the custom slate background pictured in our Adding A Personal Touch To Your Aquarium Décor blog was created.

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