The other alternatives I considered were:
- Texas Holey Rock- a natural limestone with holes worn through it. Pros- looks great and provides natural holes. Con- expensive, heavy, displaces a lot of water and how many holes is dependent on the piece since each is naturally formed.
- An artificial Texas Holey Rock- there's a company that makes modules that look like Texas Holey Rock but are more lightweight. Pros- more lightweight and has more holes then natural Holey Rock might. Cons- still expensive.
- Clay pots-some people just break up clay flower pots and/or drill holes in them. Pros- cheap. Con- looks anything but natural
- PVC pipe- you can use PVC pipe, gravel and aquarium silicone to create caves. Pros- they look pretty natural, inexpensive. Cons- not as natural look as I would like, requires some work, not very stackable- takes up a lot of horizontal space.
- Build my own from stones- either buying rock locally at a landscaping store or going out to find rock. I live in an area with a lot of limestone (which naturally raises water pH and hardness- something Malawi cichlids love). Using some rock and aquarium silicone, I could build caves. Pros- inexpensive and natural looking. Cons- some amount of work, heavy, displaces a lot of water.
After considering all of the alternatives, I decided to go with the Cichlid Stones from Underwater Galleries. They weren't too expensive. They ended up being about $70 for the 15 pack- no matter the source. In total, the 15 pack only weighs about 15 pounds. The equivalent amount of any type of stone would weigh several times that.
Here's what I like about them:
- They are ceramic, not plastic- eco friendly. Fired stone. I'm assuming/hoping they'll be good for the water chemistry as well as being good for the planet.
- They are lightweight- I don't have to worry about the silicone failing, them falling and having a cracked tank or dead fish.
- They are easily installed, rearranged and/or removed- because they are completely separate, you can arrange them any way you like. Scatter them around the floor or stack them up. When I first got them I thought the tops should be flat so they could stack easily. A few of the medium sized ones do have flat tops. But, I realized they look more natural not being flat on top and bottom. To get them to stack, I just rested the pile against the back wall of the aquarium.
- They don't displace a lot of water- Because they're hollow, they fill up completely with water. My 75 gallon tanks still has about 75 gallons of water. An equivalent amount of stones would not only be much heavier, they would displace much more water giving me smaller amount of water to carry oxygen, etc.
- They provide a LOT of hiding spaces for the volume they take up. Any other alternative other than the pots and possibly the PVC piping would provide less hiding spaces and room for my cichlids.
- They look pretty realistic- the paint job is good and the shapes look very natural. Of course, you don't see natural rocks with holes in them and hollowed out. But, this is a good trade-off to get so much space for the fish. As they get some algae on them, I think they're going to look even better.
I've only had them for a day. But, unless the finish wears off and they turn white, I can't see why they would just get better over time. I'm very happy with my purchase.