It takes a village...Or, maybe a community...

Ever noticed something happening in your aquarium that sort of catches you by surprise, even though, upon reflection, you realize that you should have known after years of fish keeping?

Here's a prime example of what I mean about this:

I've been slowly stocking up the 50 gallon office tank that I share here and on social media ad naseum. How slow/ Well, slow enough that the dinky little juvenile fishes that I started stocking the tank with are now not-so-dinky young adults. So, lately, I've made some more rapid and decisive stocking additions, and I've noticed something interesting. 

As I add more and more fishes to the once rather sparsely-populated tank, all of the fishes are somehow more relaxed, more active...and yeah, the tank just looks better. Now, as a lifetime hobbyist, you'd think that at some point I would have made this correlation before, right?

Yeah, but I never "put 2 and 2 together", as the expression goes. 

Now, there are probably a few reasons why I'm nothing the change in behaviors. First, the stocking additions of late have been additional individuals of species I already have. For example, I've "topped off" my group of Beckfordi Pencilfish to a dozen, and did the same with my Flame Tetras. These are social, shoaling fishes, so it stands to reason that the greater the number of individuals in the school, the more outgoing, relaxed, and social the fish would be, right?

Duh. Well, for some reason, I never made this correlation, which was immediately apparent even to my wife, who is a definite non-fish person. "Wow, there is so much more activity and the fish are so much more relaxed!" was here first comment on looking at the tank the other day.

And you know what? She was spot on in her observations. The fishes ARE acting more relaxed (well, hanging with your "crew" does that to you), social (hey, safety in numbers, right?), and just overall look better (okay, my recent "return to full blackwater" was part of that, I believe).

Characins, being shoaling or even schooling fishes by nature (with some exceptions, of course), simply look better, behave better, and even appear just generally more healthy when kept in more sizable aggregations. Sure, we all know a lone Neon or Pristella will skulk away in the corners and just generally fail to thrive, but I must admit, I think even having 5 or 6 of some of these fishes isn't enough. Seems like the larger the group, the more comfortable they become. I'm seeing this right off the bat with my new specimens of Crenuchus spilurus ("Sailfin Tetra") that I added in a group.

My Pencilfishes seemed to almost "welcome" the new group of juveniles of their own kind, almost like an older kid takes to the young neighbor across the street that wants to tag along everywhere. They occasionally will keep the enthusiastic little ones in line  with a well placed shove or little chase when needed, but for the most part, it's been good for all of them, as they go about their solitary business of picking "aufwuchs" from the wood and botanicals, then join up as a shoal at various times throughout the day. A definite pecking order has developed, with the group seemingly looking after each other. Interesting stuff, and I've observed it long enough to know that I'm not anthropomorphizing this behavior!

I mean, sure, it's been known for years that some fishes do better in schools or groups, but I sometimes wonder if we make those groups large enough, ya know? Sure, it's okay to keep smaller groups, but I'm realizing, when scanning my fish keeping memories over the years, that "shoaling fishes" always did better in pretty sizable 10-15 and up.

So...I think it goes without saying that, with few exceptions, the shoaling fishes I will keep in the future will be kept in much larger groups, because, as they say, it apparently does "take a village..."

Look at the obvious, and look again. Stay focused. Think creatively.

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment