Did you forget something? Or are you just letting Nature do her thing?

Continuing in our theme of late, celebrating working with Nature...

As a lifelong hobbyist, I've personally been through periods of time when I couldn't devote as much time  to my beloved fish tanks...Yet I always had one- fresh, salt, or otherwise. It's just not "home" unless you hear the reassuring popping of bubbles, whirring of pumps, and see the beautiful reflections caused by the interplay of light and moving water.

Of course, there were a number of times that, for one reason or another, I simply let the tanks "run themselves", save an occasional water change or filter media cleaning, and of course, regular feeding (that consisted of tossing in a few flakes or pellets, or whatever was on hand at the time).

You know, Mother Nature in control!

A particularly fond memory of this type of  "practice" comes from my Senior year in high school, when I was seriously into breeding killies (in addition to keeping saltwater, cichlids, tetras, and of course, the usual high school pursuits of girls, sports, and socializing). As a junior AKA member, I obtained a group of the "Clown Killie", Epiplatys annulatus Monroviae, and was determined to breed the little buggers.

Of course, they always had a reputation for being just a bit of a challenge, requiring careful care, feeding, and a fair measure of patience. As a busy kid, I had little patience (although more than the average high school guy- after all, I was a fish geek!), so I was delighted to learn that these fishes were thought to fare better in "permanent" and "natural" setups (fish geek code for "set and forget", IMHO).

So of course, I thought that this species was a perfect fish for my busy lifestyle at the time!

I set up 2 pairs and a few extra females in a 2.5 gallon tank, planted with Water Sprite, Hygrophila, and Rotala. Given moderate light from a small fixture, and a sponge filter providing filtration/circulation, this tank looked good and ran just fine with little intervention on my part. In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I would sometimes go a week or more without some much as looking at the tank long enough to toss some food in there.


One day (I think it was during  Spring Break), I took the time to really stare into the tank, to see what was going on...Sure enough, upon close examination, I saw several tiny fry flitting in and among the Rotala! I was elated! Rather than panic and start hatching brine shrimp, I made the very mature and level-headed decision to simply...leave them alone, as I had been doing for months. I resisted the temptation to net them out, power feed them, and otherwise intervene. I reasoned that I could hardly do better than what they were apparently being provided by nature, as they have done successfully for eons.

I ultimately ended up with a pretty stable population of around 12-15 individuals, in a tank I "maintained" for around 3-4 years. Ironically, the difficulties started when I had the time to really get into "taking care" of the fishes, and took more initiative and control of the breeding.

I ultimately slowly lost the entire colony. Sad.

But a valuable lesson. Sometimes, what we would classify as "benign neglect" is actually the best thing we could do..the closest imitation to nature that we can offer fishes in captive environments! 

Other times, it's a fusion of both "hands on" and "hands off" approaches.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you abandon all care of your fishes, but I am suggesting that you reconsider the way that you might care for some of the more demanding varieties (from a breeding aspect, anyways). Sometimes it's best to simply "monitor" and not intervene so much. Hard to do for us 'hands on" fish geeks- particularly for a hardcore hobbyist like myself- but it often times works far better than our efforts to take control of the situation, IMHO.

I was reminded this again a few years back, when I went into the office of my business partner at Unique Corals, to feed his fishes while he was out of town for the month. He and I both had freshwater tanks at UC, because they represented a nice change from the 16,000 gallons of saltwater we had in our facility...And, they were a bit more forgiving with our healthy travel schedules. I had a plant-less "hardscape", and my partner opted for a planted tank, CO2 and all. 

Of course, with the craziness of schedules and running businesses, sometimes we as hobbyists can't maintain our tanks as "steadfastly" as we'd like. This was certainly the case with my partner's tank.

I remembered fondly one day, when I popped my head in his office, after we were BOTH out of town and no one really took care of the tank, that the tank was just packed with plants...And the fishes were healthy, active, and solid. His Angelfish had paired off, and at least one young pair had a small clutch of eggs!

It was just another in a long series of reminders over my lifetime in the hobby that there is more than one way to keep an aquarium. And it shouldn't been that surprising.

Nature knows how to do this stuff!

Now, I'm not suggesting to abandon husbandry and care protocols in favor of neglect, just to see what happens. What I AM suggesting is that sometimes, closed systems can regulate themselves a bit with minimal intervention on our part.

Plants and animals whose needs are bing met will thrive and come to dominate the closed ecosystem, for better or worse, just like in nature. In fact, one could probably make the argument that- at least on a superficial level- the "benignly neglected" aquarium may be the closest imitation of nature that we can present!

Let Nature do her thing?

Something to think about...

Stay open-minded. Stay focused. Stay curious. Stay busy!

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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