Do Plecos Need Hiding Spots? (With 7 Creative Ideas)

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Setting up a tank for Pleco fish isn’t overly complicated; they are generally simple and undemanding fish.

But what about hiding places? Are they essential for the well-being of Plecos? If so, what are the best options and how should you arrange them?

In this article, I’ll cover all these aspects and more, so you’ll have all your questions answered by the end. Let’s get started.

Do Plecos Need Hiding Spots?

Yes, Plecos absolutely need hiding spots in their environment.

Ensuring they have appropriate places to retreat to is not just about comfort; it’s crucial for their overall health and mental well-being.

  • Stress Reduction: Plecos, being nocturnal, require hideaways for daytime rest, thus decreasing stress levels.
  • Mimics Natural Habitat: In nature, Plecos find shelter under submerged structures; replicating this comforts them.
  • Safety during Molting: Growth periods make Plecos vulnerable; hiding spots ensure protection from aggressive tank mates.
  • Breeding Behavior: For breeding Plecos, hides are essential, offering a space for egg-laying and protection.
  • Temperature Regulation: Caves or dens offer Plecos a cooler zone, aiding in effective body temperature control.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Tank Setup

7 Hiding Spots Ideas for Your Pleco

Here’s how to create exciting and efficient hiding spots for your Pleco:

1. Driftwood Tunnels

Driftwood is a natural choice for Plecos, offering an authentic environment similar to their native habitat. Their intricate tunnels provide the perfect shelter for these nocturnal fish.

  • Natural Look: By using a piece of Mopani or Malaysian driftwood, which are popular choices, you can recreate a forest-stream look, akin to the Pleco’s South American origins.
  • Tannin Release: When introducing driftwood, be prepared for it to release tannins over a few weeks to months. This imparts a tea-colored tint to the water, mimicking blackwater habitats.
  • Dual Purpose: Plecos, especially species like the Common Pleco, find driftwood not just for hiding but also for grazing on biofilm and algae. Occasional wood fibers might also be consumed.
  • Cost: While a medium-sized piece of quality driftwood can range from $20-$50, its multifaceted benefits in aesthetics and functionality validate the investment.
  • Arrangement Idea: When arranging, bury the base 1-2 inches into the substrate to ensure stability, and have its tunnels face slightly diagonally for visual depth and easy access for the Pleco.

My recommendation: Zoo Med Tag Mopani Wood (link to Amazon).

2. PVC Pipe Segments

PVC pipes are a straightforward and budget-friendly way to create hiding spots for Plecos. You can easily tailor and camouflage them to look natural in your fish tank.

  • Customization: Adjust PVC pipes to your preferred size, usually between 4-7 inches for standard Plecos, with a basic hacksaw.
  • Camouflage: To integrate with the aquarium’s ambiance, coat the pipe in fish-safe silicone and then roll it in sand or fine gravel, giving it a natural look.
  • Safety: Make sure the PVC is clean, without any residues, and has no sharp edges. You can use fine sandpaper to soften any rough spots.
  • Cost: Typically, a 10-foot 2-inch diameter PVC pipe is priced under $10, which gives you several segments for that cost.
  • Arrangement Idea: Set the PVC segments either horizontally, slightly submerged in the substrate, or at a gentle angle for a natural aesthetic and easy entry for Plecos.

Also Read: Best Substrate for Plecos

3. Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots offer a rustic, authentic hideaway that both fish enthusiasts and Plecos love.

  • Size Matters: For average-sized Plecos, choose pots with a diameter of around 4 inches; ensure the opening is spacious enough for the fish to enter and exit.
  • Safety First: Break the pot’s bottom for a more tunnel-like structure, but carefully sand down any sharp edges to prevent injuries.
  • Decorative Touch: For added aesthetics, drape java moss or anubias over the pot to give it a weathered, integrated look.
  • Cost: A single terracotta pot typically ranges from $1 to $5, making it an affordable choice.
  • Arrangement Idea: Half-bury the pot in the substrate, leaning it slightly, so it appears as if it’s naturally sunken into the tank’s bottom.

My recommendation: 4 Inch Terracotta Pots (link to Amazon).

4. Rock Formations

Creating caves or hideouts using rocks can lend a mountainscape appearance to your aquarium.

  • Stability is Key: When stacking rocks, use aquarium-safe silicone or putty to ensure the structure is stable and won’t topple.
  • Type of Rocks: Consider slate or dragon stone, which can be layered effectively. Always rinse and scrub rocks before introducing them to the tank.
  • Natural Layout: Design your rock formation to mimic natural terrain, creating both large and small pockets for varied hiding.
  • Cost: Depending on type and weight, rocks can range from $2 to $7 per pound.
  • Arrangement Idea: Base your formation around a central, larger stone and build outwards, ensuring hiding spots are accessible from multiple angles.

My recommendation: Natural Slate Stone 3 to 5 inch Rocks (link to Amazon).

5. Leaf Litter Zones

Leaf litter recreates a riverbed scene, offering both hiding spots and foraging opportunities for Plecos.

  • Type of Leaves: Indian almond leaves or oak leaves are popular choices. They decompose slowly, adding beneficial tannins.
  • Foraging Ground: As leaves break down, they attract microorganisms that Plecos and other fish might nibble on.
  • Regular Replacement: Since leaves decompose, consider replacing them every 4-6 weeks to maintain the desired look and function.
  • Cost: A pack of 10-20 Indian almond leaves can cost around $8 to $12.
  • Arrangement Idea: Scatter leaves over a designated section of the substrate, overlapping them slightly to create depth and multiple hiding nooks.

My recommendation: Premium Indian Almond Leave (link to Amazon).

6. Floating Plant Roots

Floating plants with long, dense roots provide a top-level refuge for Plecos and other species.

  • Plant Choices: Water lettuce and duckweed are ideal, given their dense root systems that dangle into the water column.
  • Water Quality Boost: These floating plants absorb excess nutrients, aiding in controlling algae blooms and maintaining water clarity.
  • Shelter and Foraging: The intricate root systems offer Plecos hiding spots and surfaces rich in biofilm for grazing.
  • Cost: A starter batch of water lettuce might range from $5 to $10.
  • Arrangement Idea: Introduce floating plants in a corner or section, ensuring they don’t cover the entire water surface, so other aquatic plants receive sufficient light.

Also Read: 11 Plants Your Plecos Will Love In Their Tank

7. Caves and Hollows

Caves replicate the nooks and crannies Plecos naturally seek in the wild. They’re great for shy fish who prefer an enclosed space.

  • Protection: Opt for darker-colored caves, which provide a better retreat from tank disturbances such as sudden light changes or hyperactive tank mates like tetras.
  • Breeding Advantage: If breeding Bristlenose Plecos or similar species, a cave with a 2-inch opening can serve as an ideal spot for laying and guarding eggs.
  • Variety: The market offers caves of various materials, from slate to ceramic. Consider purchasing a cave measuring about 4-6 inches for an average-sized Pleco.
  • Cost: Depending on material and size, expect to spend between $10 and $30 for a sturdy, aesthetically pleasing cave.
  • Arrangement Idea: Place caves near the back of the tank, half-buried in the substrate, with the opening angled slightly towards the front for easy observation and access.

My recommendation: Jabukosu Pleco Cave (link to Amazon).

Why Is My Pleco Always Hiding?

Your Pleco is likely always hiding due to its natural nocturnal behavior and certain environmental stressors.

While it’s common for Plecos to seek shelter during the day, continuous hiding can also suggest discomfort or fear within the tank.

  • Natural Behavior: Plecos are nocturnal, so they naturally seek daytime shelter, mimicking their wild habits.
  • Tank Conditions: Shifts in pH, temperature, or high ammonia can stress Plecos; ensure regular water testing and adjustments.
  • Predatory Threat: Aggressive or larger tank mates might intimidate Plecos, making them hide. Always ensure compatible companions.
  • Insufficient Hiding Spots: A lack of hideouts can make Plecos cling to one spot, underscoring the need for multiple shelters.
  • Lighting Issues: Excessive or prolonged lighting can disturb Plecos. Consider dimming or reducing light hours to comfort them.

How to Tell if Your Pleco Is Hiding Because It Is Unhealthy

To discern if your Pleco is hiding due to health issues, you must look beyond its reclusive behavior and identify other signs of distress or illness.

While hiding can be a normal behavior, persistent seclusion paired with other symptoms may indicate health concerns.

  • Physical Abnormalities: A healthy Pleco should have smooth skin; sores, spots, or patches can indicate infections or parasites. Check for unusual growths or wounds.
  • Changes in Color: A significant fade or darkening in your Pleco’s color, especially if sudden, can suggest stress or internal health issues.
  • Erratic Movements: If your Pleco darts around sporadically, struggles to swim, or frequently lies on its back, it’s likely not feeling its best.
  • Loss of Appetite: While Plecos have varied diets, a sudden disinterest in food or reduced grazing on algae and wood might hint at health problems.
  • Breathing Difficulties: Rapid gill movement or gasping at the tank’s surface can indicate a lack of oxygen or potential respiratory problems, which require immediate attention.

How Do You Get Pleco Out of Cave?

To coax a Pleco out of its cave, you’ll need to be patient, gentle, and use certain strategies. 

However, frequently disturbing your Pleco isn’t recommended, as it can cause undue stress and affect its well-being.

  • Food Temptation: Introducing some of their favorite foods near the cave’s entrance can lure them out. For instance, a zucchini slice can be enticing.
  • Gentle Nudging: With a soft, aquarium-safe tool like a long stick, you can lightly tap the Pleco. But remember, do this only once in a while to prevent stress.
  • Dim Lighting: Plecos tend to be more active in low light. So, dimming or turning off the tank lights might entice them out of their hiding places.
  • Tank Mix-Up: A slight change in the tank setup can pique the fish’s curiosity to explore. However, avoid frequent major alterations.
  • Minimize Disturbances: It’s okay to move a Pleco now and then, but continuous disturbances can negatively affect its health and stress levels.

Do Plecos Hide in Rocks?

Yes, Plecos frequently seek refuge in rocks or amidst rock structures. These stony spots give them a feel of safety and resemble their natural settings.

  • Natural Instinct: In their natural habitat, Plecos use rock crevices and gaps as hideaways, safeguarding them from threats and providing a peaceful daytime rest area.
  • Fondness for Slate and Smooth Stones: Plecos have a preference for slate and polished rocks with even surfaces. These surfaces make it easy for them to latch on and rest, reflecting their native riverbeds.
  • Gaps and Overhangs: Rocks with protective overhangs or fitting crevices present an ideal hideout for Plecos, letting them slide in and remain hidden from tank-mates.
  • Heat Management: Rock structures assist Plecos in body temperature regulation, especially in tanks with different temperature areas. Rocks store warmth, forming cozy corners.
  • Algae Snacking: Algae often grow on rock surfaces, especially in well-lit tanks. As natural algae munchers, Plecos might opt for these rocky hideouts to stay close to a food source.


Here’s a quick recap of what was covered above:

  • Plecos need hideaways to ensure their comfort, lower stress, and replicate their natural surroundings.
  • Such hiding spots play a vital role during their growth phases and when breeding, ensuring safety and places to lay eggs.
  • Diverse hiding choices, like driftwood, caves, PVC tubes, terracotta pots, and rocky structures, cater to varied tastes and budgets.
  • Environmental elements, including water quality and tank companions, can shape Plecos’ behavior in hiding, underlining the need for an appropriate setting.
  • It’s crucial to identify signs of health concerns in secluded Plecos, such as visible irregularities and behavioral shifts, for their holistic care and welfare.