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 ).
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?