Home-made pleco spawning caves

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bekateen
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Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Hi All,

One of the downsides about having a hobby like fish keeping is that you might get accused of using your time unwisely. I suppose this is valid sometimes... for example, when your house is on fire and your kids are still inside, but... but you need to finish a water change because nitrate levels are 30ppm... But besides that...

Anyway, one of the upsides about having this hobby is the opportunity to explore, learn, and challenge yourself. To that end, I've been reading a lot of the old posts by people who've chosen to create their own DIY pleco spawning caves, and I thought I would give it a go myself.

Here is my first attempt: I chose to use natural terra cotta clay instead of synthetic clay, mainly because some people have expressed concerns that the polymers in synthetic clay may be harmful to fish over long periods of time, especially since some plecos have a habit of chewing the surfaces of their caves. Of course, the downside to this choice is that I'll have to locate a kiln to fire the caves when I'm done forming them. That's taken care of; I contacted a local pottery guild/club, and they told me that they will fire my caves when I'm ready (hopefully my caves are made well enough that they don't crack during firing :-SS).

I bought 10 pounds (4.5kg) of clay (price: $10 USD), and I used about 1/6 of that (probably much less) to make my first cave; I'll use up all the clay before I take the caves to get fired.

To make this first cave, I started with some small square wood sticks, each cut about 1/4 inch think, and placed them about 8 inches apart on a flat glass cutting board covered with wax paper. I placed the clay in between these wood sticks and covered the clay with more wax paper; then I rolled the clay flat, down to the thickness of the wood sticks (i.e., I made my cave wall 1/4 inch thick) using a plastic extension tube from a vacuum cleaner as a rolling pin (come on, I wasn't going to use my kitchen rolling pin on clay! It's used for baking food. Duh.) I removed the sticks and upper wax paper, then cut the clay to a 7.5" x 7.5" square. Once I reached this step, I followed the technique shown in this YouTube video: Making a triangle breeding cave for fish. From start to finish, this part of the process took less than one hour.

My first cave is triangular, just over 6 inches long and the entrance is 2 inches wide along each edge of the triangle. The entrance is also curved inward to create a lip on all edges, to help retain eggs. Given its length, I didn't mean to make the cave so wide and short; I didn't anticipate how much of its length I would lose when I folded in the bottom, and I overestimated the circumference of the tube as I measured the width of the clay sheet I started with. As a result, I may have created a cave that is potentially rather useless, because any male pleco which is short enough to accept a 6 inch deep cave may not be wide enough with his fins to successfully block the entrance and trap females. I guess I'll just have to give it a try.

For future caves, I plan to make some round ones, and some rectangular ones; I've also read that some plecos like caves with side entrances, so I may try making one of those. Definitely, I'll make some caves with smaller diameters, since most of my plecos are pretty small (all are currently under 5" SL) and I'll also make some of the tubes much longer/deeper. I saw another YouTube video (Making a wood textured tunnel breeding cave for fish) which demonstrates how you can impress a "wood grain" onto the cave before you roll the cave into a tube; I may give that a try also on a few of these.

Also, I probably didn't need to make the walls of the cave 1/4 inch thick; I chose this thickness because that was the thickness of the wood sticks I had already. I could go thinner on future caves, but as you can imagine, as the caves get thinner, the clay gets harder to work with, and I risk thin spots which could break easier when sculpting and firing. That said, I just may stick with the 1/4 inch thickness, at least until I use up these 10 pounds of clay (unless someone can give me a reason to change).

So my questions for you are these:
  • I know that my Panaqolus maccus and albino BNs are perfectly happy using regular circular caves for spawning. But so far, my Panaqolus albomaculatus show no interest in the round caves I've placed in their quarantine tank. Does anybody know what shapes of caves they will prefer? Should I just assume "circular" since that is what my Panaqolus maccus like?
  • I still plan to get Hemiancistrus guahiborum at my earliest opportunity. Although there are no breeding reports for them, I'm assuming that they are similar to other Hemiancistrus. What shape caves do Hemiancistrus favor? (I've seen one photo of green phantoms spawning in caves with a D-shaped opening - is that best?)
  • Before I go making all the other shapes, maybe I should figure out if these would even be helpful to me, i.e., will I ever own plecos that would need these caves. So to that end, what types of plecos prefer caves with SIDE ENTRANCES? What types of plecos prefer caves shaped like FLAT BURRITOS (a circular tube, but very compressed vertically)? What types of plecos prefer the SQUARE caves, like those that are made out of sheets of slate rock, glued together?
Thanks for your help.

Cheers, Eric
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Jools »

The more I learn about this, the more I think the shape of the cave doesn't matter. It just needs to only have one entrance/exit and be the right size for a pair to spawn in. At least, that's what two weeks of looking at rock caves in the Rio Xingu has taught me.

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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Jools wrote:the more I think the shape of the cave doesn't matter.
Interesting. It's certainly easy to imagine that throughout nature, various species or genera have evolved to favor certain shapes over others (e.g., notice how much purposeful variation there is among bird nests, or how choosy some frogs are with regard to where in a pond they will deposit their eggs). But I would be overjoyed to learn that shape doesn't matter.
Jools wrote:It just needs to ... be the right size for a pair to spawn in.
That said, does anybody have some 3" long, 3" wide plecos for sale, which could use this cave I made? LOL
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Jools »

Here is an idea of what happens in nature...

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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Is that wood? I'm presuming that you found some plecos in these caves (or at least, ones like them). If so, what species (or at least genera, if you didn't know species)?

Thanks, Eric
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

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That's rock. Hypancistrus, Baryancistrus, Spectracanthicus, Parancistrus, Ancistrus and Squaliforma to name most but not all.

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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Okay, thanks.
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Jools »

No worries, I've got more photos like this, but I hope to pull them into an article to show Xingu rocks in their full glory!

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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Jools wrote:Xingu rocks in their full glory!
Maybe you can turn that into a new bossa nova hit. How are you with claves? b-)
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Getting back to a more serious note (and away from the bossa bova, although it IS a smooth and groovy sound), what about the position of the cave entrance: End of the tube or side of the tube? While the shape of the entrance may not matter, do fish care about side- versus end-openings? If so, which plecos?

Thanks, Eric
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Jools »

Nope, they don't really care as long as the male can block the entrance and there is enough space for two to spawn. I've used both but I prefer the end opening types as I can see what is going on and fishes are less likely to get trapped.

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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

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okay, thanks.
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Marine590622 »

bekateen wrote:Hi All,

One of the downsides about having a hobby like fish keeping is that you might get accused of using your time unwisely. I suppose this is valid sometimes... for example, when your house is on fire and your kids are still inside, but... but you need to finish a water change because nitrate levels are 30ppm... But besides that...

Anyway, one of the upsides about having this hobby is the opportunity to explore, learn, and challenge yourself. To that end, I've been reading a lot of the old posts by people who've chosen to create their own pleco spawning caves, and I thought I would give it a go myself....

Cheers, Eric
I totally get this Eric. about 5 years ago when I first started trying to breed ancistrus SP and some cave spawning cichlids, I started down this path, because while plecocaves.com caves and terra cotta pots work in the fish room I did not think my wife would accept these as caves in the display tanks in the living room.

I found a wood fired pottery piece at a local yard sale and it was just about the perfect size for a cave The really neat thing was the wood firing made this look like a natural stone, especially when it was in the water. This became my first spawning cave in my living room. I had already looked at making my own caves from clay, so then I was off to find a way to get pieces I built wood fired, after about a month, I decided I was either going to have to build my own wood fired kiln or find something else.

Then one day I decided, if I can't make caves that look like natural stone, maybe I can make caves that are made from natural stone.

What stone? Limestone and soapstone would appear to be natural candidates as they are soft enough to easily worked, so then I thought about what the stone would do to the water and I was worried about calcium leaching into the water column and affect TDS and PH. So Granite is basically inert in the water column.... would that work? Sure except that next to diamonds granite is the hardest of stones... So off I went on a year long project to teach myself to carve stone.

More on this later if anyone expresses interest.
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

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Marine590622 wrote:Then one day I decided, if I can't make caves that look like natural stone, maybe I can make caves that are made from natural stone... So off I went on a year long project to teach myself to carve stone.

More on this later if anyone expresses interest.
Absolutely, do tell! :-BD

I mean, granted, I started this thread to discuss what I expect to learn from making my own caves, and I intend to present to you all whatever I come up with as I progress...
  • Hopefully the rest of my caves come out better than my first cave, which apparently was designed for fish that are quite chubby! LOL (but not an actual "chubby pleco" (Parancistrus aurantiacus) as they would grow too long for my first cave
... but I think it would be interesting and educational to see the range of ideas people have had and the materials they've used to make DIY spawning caves. (and besides, if I don't let other people talk, then it's not really a discussion! =)) )

When I consider the various caves I've used, made, or seen, they fall in a relatively small number of categories:
  • the traditional tube-shaped caves, made out of various materials:
    • PVC or ABS plastic pipe (sometimes covered with gravel or sand on the outside using glue to hide the plastic)
    • Bamboo poles (personally, I've become a fan of these; they're cheap, and quick & easy to make, but they come in limited diameters; I can get only 1 inch and 1.5 inch diameter tubes -- great for clown plecos (and similar sized plecos) but not larger plecos)
    • Clay (this being shaped into various cross-sectional profiles: the standard circle, the D, the triangle, and the flatter burrito; I've also seen a few of these designed to stand vertically, and even some U-shaped varieties. I believe @Cristoffer Forssander used clay to make some caves shaped like natural stone, shown here (Re: L200 breeding) and here (Re: Breeding Hemiancistrus subviridis), although I couldn't find a thread where he described their production)
  • crescent-shaped caves made by juxtaposing two arc-shaped terra cotta roof tiles or broken terra cotta pots (this appeals to me because I've had a female pleco get trapped in a cave and die; if the cave can be opened (which by the way is also part of the design of some of the slate and stone caves), you can get her out)
  • caves formed inside solid wooden pieces using a large diameter drill to bore out a sizable hole in the wood (personally, I think this looks wonderful and so natural, but IMHO it seems like this really only works well in larger tanks because you'd need a pretty big piece of wood to be able to bore a cave into it, and still have enough wood remaining to have a worth-while decorative wooden object; in a small tank, this would probably displace a huge percentage of the water)
  • box-like caves made out of sheets of stone, slate, or tile cut into sheets and assembled into boxes
  • stone caves made out of rock or slate subjected to some kind of grinding wheel (this seems really hard (pun intended) to make; @MatsP and @joefish72b have threads (DIY breeding caves from larger stones. and Stone Pleco Caves) with nice examples of this.
  • Haavard Stoere made caves out of rock and concrete (720 liter Green Phantom species tank))
  • coconut shells, usually cut in half, but not necessarily, with an opening drilled or cut into the side
There are pros and cons to each of these designs, and each material poses its own unique construction challenges.

There are a variety of older threads here where people show off the caves they've made. Unfortunately, some of those threads have lost their photos (taken down or broken links), so we've lost the benefit of seeing what was done before. And in general, the threads are scattered; with a modest amount of effort and a lot of time, I've managed to view most of them, but it is a splintered topic in the forum. Therefore, I think it would be nice to see how this subject has progressed over the decade or so that the site has been running, regardless of how the cave is constructed or what material is used.

And of course I may have missed a few materials and techniques. So, yes, please tell us what you've learned about carving in stone to make your caves.

By the way, thinking about your comments, regarding making a clay cave look more natural, I'm now considering two additional tricks - (1) to intermingle (but not homogenously blend) grey and terra cotta clays in order to create color variation, and (2) impregnate the outer wall of the clay with salt crystals of different sizes, then rinse these off after the clay dries to create a texture on the outer surface of the cave. I'll have to be careful with the former idea because I will need to ensure that the two clays are blended well enough to stick together, but I don't want them to simply blend into some puke-grey-brown color, and I don't know how they will behave together in the kiln (they are both "natural clay" but does this mean they won't fracture apart when heated? Will they contract and shrink in a similar fashion? If anybody knows the answer to this, please share ;-))... But why not give it a go? As they say, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Cheers, Eric
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Marine590622 »

I actually put together a 20 min talk on what I ended up doing, so I will look around for the photos.

Where I am in Wisconsin there is a local farm supply store fleet farm that stocks bamboo for farm and garden projects, you can get bamboo in up to 3.5 inch diameter usually.

On the terra cotta mix I thought of that but never tried, if you do let me know how it works out. Another idea for plain terracotta caves is to pack paper and wood chips around them in an electric kiln. Some kiln owners are willing to play with this, but from what I understand the cleanup can be a mess.

Straight Granite can be carved with a mallet and Chisel but this is a time consuming process. power tools work, but with standard bits you spend a fortune on replacing bits, and blades.

Diamond edge, or coated works with granite, but can bee expensive. Long story short, I found a local granite out of the driftless area of south western Wisconsin. This stone has a varigated appearance with clean lines of cleavage, local stone workers call this rotted, or rotten granite, as it does not work well for much other then gardens. I can take a piece of that about the size of a softball, split it roughly in two, use a diamond wheel on my angle grinder, and form a roughly ushaped or vshaped slot on the inside face of one half of the stone then glue the stone back together to make a stone that has a breeding site inside of it.

working with a normal piece of granite it would take me between 20 and 40 hours to make a cave. With the rotten granite it takes about an hour or two.

At one point when I was driving I noticed a monument makers shop. I had time so I stopped and told him what I was trying to do, he was so tickled that I had stopped he spent an hour showing me some tips and tricks. Then as I was leaving he asked me why granite. I told him I knew it was hard to work with, but because I would be using these in fish tanks I had to ensure the finished product did not affect the water quality. He scoffed at that and gave me some scrap marble pieces to work with. I was really concerned that marble would leach into the water column and he told me to research acid treatments of the stone once I complete the project. It turns out the right acid applied to marble melts the pores in the stone closed and effectively chemically seals the stone.

The difference between working with marble, and working with granite are night and day.

I can carve a decent cave out of a piece of marble about 100 times faster then I can out of granite.

Got to run to a meeting but I will try to dig out some photos later and post them here.
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Marine590622 »

I just found a line to order larger pieces of bamboo

http://www.bamboocreasian.com/bamboopole.html
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Good to know as a resource. Apparently, and not unexpectedly, the price goes up significantly as the bamboo diameter increases. For my 1.5 inch diameter poles, I pay just over $8 USD for one 8 foot-long pole. The nice thing is you can make a lot of caves from one 8 foot pole.

I'll definitely keep this site in mind when I need bigger bamboo caves. Thanks.
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by bekateen »

Interesting stories.
Marine590622 wrote:He scoffed at that and gave me some scrap marble pieces to work with. I was really concerned that marble would leach into the water column and he told me to research acid treatments of the stone once I complete the project. It turns out the right acid applied to marble melts the pores in the stone closed and effectively chemically seals the stone.

The difference between working with marble, and working with granite are night and day.
In some towns, I've found building material "surplus stores," stores that sell used countertops, appliances, light fixtures, toilets, etc., which have been taken out of buildings during demolition or remodeling projects. These stores sometimes have both large and small pieces of marble countertops; when available, the marble is dirt cheap. (pun not intended that time, but I think I liked it :d )

Cheers, Eric
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TwoTankAmin
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by TwoTankAmin »

I agree with what Jools has said. I even had bn spawn inside sponge filters.

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I have actually watched a pair of P. compta where the cave was too small and the male needed to convince the female to move to an adjacent larger cave. She did.

I have had plecos spawn in round pvc caves; terra cotta squares, rectangles, tubes, clamshell; slate, bamboo.

When they are ready to go, they will find a place.
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Marine590622
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Re: Home-made pleco spawning caves

Post by Marine590622 »

I have also take pumicen stone and crushed it down to a sand, mixed that with a two part liquid acrylic made for coating bars etc, (This is certified as food safe once it cures.) I wraped a wooden down with plastic wrap and then allowed the mix to set. 24 hours later I was able to pull the wood out and then pull out most of the plastic wrap. I also used a mix of this and black blasting sand, and a mix of this and red flint sand to make caves. I poured the mix over a plastic bowl in one case allowed it to start to set up, the removed the bowl. mixed up a fresh batch and spread it over a cookie sheet (from goodwill, not our kitchen) I then inverted the first part and pressed in down into the fresh mix, cut a whole in the side, and then used the remained to sculpt the outside of the structure so that id did not look quite as perfectly smooth.
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