How to stop fish from hiding out in your aquarium? It’s a tough one, for sure. It’s also a question that us fishkeepers have been wrangling with for years.
Depending on what fish you keep, you might have never encountered this problem. Some fish are just inherently less skittish, e.g. goldfish. Mine don’t even flee and hide when it’s water change time—no matter what they just keep on swimming and being interactive.
But, I digress, most other aquarium fish are much more timid than goldfish. So, if you’re keeping something timid—like a pleco or an apisto—and you’d love to see it more often, then you’ve come to the right place.
Add More Hiding Spots And Cover
Wait, what!? Yep, you read that right. If you want your fish to hide less, then you need to offer them more places to hide. The logic behind this is that when a fish knows it has nearby spots it can flee to in the event of danger, then it is much more likely to enjoy swimming out in the open.
However, this isn’t true for all fish that like hiding. For example, if you give a bristlenose pleco a lot of drift wood hides then there’s a good chance it’ll hide out of sight on the far side of the wood.
Plants offer great security for your skittish fish. So, consider checking out my piece on the benefits of having live plants in your aquarium here.
Add Dither Fish To Calm Your Nervous Fish
What is a dither fish? Well, a dither fish is typically a smaller, schooling fish that is very active. These fish aren’t typically considered the main feature of the tank. Instead they are added to benefit the featured fish in the tank.
The perfect example of this is discus cichlids. They’re very shy fish at times, and discus keepers work around this by adding a school of cardinal tetras. When the discus see the cardinal tetras schooling and swimming around the aquarium, they then realize that the space is safe and they too will be bolder.
So, in short, bold dither fish make your timid fish feel more comfortable.
Tetras are often used as dither fish. Check out this list of underrated tetras.
Keep Your Aquarium Away From Heavy Foot Traffic
Again, I’m going back to discus for this example! Discus keepers quickly realized that their timid cichlids were averse to being placed in areas of the home that receive high levels of foot traffic. Specifically, don’t put your aquarium near a hallway or a door if you have naturally shy fish—there’s every chance the activity will force the fish into hiding.
Paint The Back And Sides A Dark Color
Painting the outside rear panel of an aquarium a solid color is quite a common practice. It’s typically done to help the colors of your fish “pop”. But, when it comes to nervous fish, painting both the back and the sides of the aquarium can help them feel more secure.
Before you go ahead and paint your tank, be aware that you are losing viewing area if you paint both the sides of the aquarium!
Don’t Mess Around With The Tank Too Much!
Going back to my goldfish, they couldn’t care less if I stick my big, fat hands all in their aquarium. But, goldfish are a special case. Most fish will really panic when you start entering their space.
Therefore, keep aquarium intrusions to an absolute minimum! That means only disturb the aquarium to feed and perform regular maintenance like gravel vacuuming and water changes.
Is Your Aquarium Light Scaring Your Fish?
For the plant-enthusiasts among us, asking to compromise on lighting can be a step too far.
However, it’s a real issue you need to consider; sure, your monte carlo might love the intense amount of light you LED fixture gives off, but your wild caught apistos will be quite intimidated if they can’t escape the light.
So, therefore, you might need to think about which comes first in your aquarium: the fish or the plants.
Use Food To Coax Them Out
You can use the lure of delicious food to bring out your shy fish.
One of my favorites is Sera’s O-Nip tabs—they are a small tablet shaped food that can be affixed to the front of the glass. You will then see your fish rush to the food to nibble on it while you’re able to watch on happily. You can grab them on Amazon here (affiliate link).
Frozen foods are another major temptation; mine go wild for the classics like frozen bloodworm. Most fish also like live brine shrimp if you’re willing to hatch them on a regular basis.
Plecos can be super shy! And, they might not come out of hiding for O-Nips or bloodworm. But, even plecos have their temptations. I bring my shy bristlenose plecos by using zucchini or canned green beans. In the case of zucchini, it needs help to sink. So, after slicing it lengthwise, I use a stainless steel butter knife to weigh it down.
*Make sure the knife is fully rinsed of any dish soap before using it in your aquarium!
Warning: DON’T OVER FEED! And, if you have added food that has gone unconsumed, go ahead and use your gravel vac to siphon out the excess. In the case of veggies, like zucchini, they can stay in for a bit longer. I try not to leave veggies in the tank longer than a day or two, but it really depends on how fast they break down.