Common...Rare..Does it matter to a fish geek?

Okay, so I’m in the aquatics business…I see lots of fishes, plants, and corals.
But I still like looking for cool stuff. It’s this weird affliction, I guess. You understand, I’m sure you do.

I was at a local fish store a couple of weeks back (Yeah, I STILL go to the LFS…because I’m a fish geek and that’s in my DNA!) and I was looking at the cichlid selection (imagine that), trying to see if I could actually identify some of the fishes on display (“Hmmm…looks like an Apisto!” - That’s my advanced ID skills in action!) and to check out the random, colorless characins that this shop always seems to have (yeah, I like grey fish…I just do. We can talk about that some time...), when I stumbled on a pretty nice fish that caught my eye. Now, mind you, I do see a lot of stuff in the course of my business, some of it pretty incredible. Yet, on this day, my eyes stumbled onto a most beautiful neon-hued Pelvicachromis pulcher! Yeah, the pretty much generic-issue Krib, with with a tinge of yellow…It had beautiful fin extension, and was putting on a show dancing in the current in the planted aquarium in which it was displayed…A KRIB- arguably one of the most “common” cichlids that we see in the hobby and trade….! Must have seen and kept a hundred of 'em over the years...

And I wasn’t alone in my admiration for this fishl. A couple of other apparently hardcore fish geeks noticed it , too - perhaps jaded by the somewhat typical selection of uber-expensive African cichlids and Acropora frags. I mean, this fish was absolutely haaawt! A real screamer…And yet, it was one of the most common fishes around. Imagine being able to afford such a really cool-looking fish! What a concept! To add to the awe of the moment was the fact that these two hobbyists were actually arguing over who would take the fish home. It actually went from light-hearted to heated (Us hardcore fish geeks are serious!). What a strange spectacle to witness! Or was it? Who could blame them- the fish was awesome.

We are so caught up looking for the newest and rarest, that we may often overlook that which is always in front of us, huh? It got me thinking, which is cooler: An ultra-rare Pleco or Mbuna, or a fantastic specimen of a common fish like this Krib, that inspired such passion between the two fish geeks? I know, I know. The first thing you think of when you hear the words “common fishes” are those "government-issue" translucent grey "Bloodfins" or boring "assorted" Cichlisoma, or dull silvery-colored Barbs...whatever. 

Enough of the dirt-brown Corys, non-distinctive Swrodtails , and generic Neon Tetras! How about looking for truly gorgeous specimens of these so-called “common” fishes? How about looking for those outrageous colors and perfect finance in the most commonly available fishes? They are out there- and they are rare, too! Ya know why? Because there is a small subculture of hardcore fish geeks that is looking for them, too! You’ll have to go the extra mile to find them. You might have to do the same thing you do when you stumble on that specimen of rare Cichlid in your dealer’s display tank- you’ll have to beg for one! All fish geeks know how to do that…It’s like "Fish Keeping 101" (Oh- and idea for another column!)

How funny it is to imagine a serious collector of fish pleading with the post-pubescent kid behind the counter at his or her LFS for “just a few” of that orange and green Boraras he spied in the little nano tank on the check-out counter? Humility. And groveling. Oh, but that’s the price of admission when you play the “rare/common” game. You have to be willing to put it all on the table! And these deals don’t always come cheap or easy! If you're a reefer, you’d do it for a “Ultimate Utter Chaos” Palythoa, right? Why would you expect this type of deal to go down any differently? I know at least one local reefer here in L.A. that had to swap a sizeabl *frag of his prized Acropora echinata from the Solomon Islands for an amazing yellow-and chocolate-brown Caulastrea ("Trumpet Coral")! Each side thought they got the better end of that deal, too (I know, because I heard it from both of ‘em!), too!

Speaking of “common” fishes in unexpected collections- one thing I have noticed about many excellent tanks that I’ve visited around the world is that these aquariums almost always contain a fish or two that makes you think, “Wow- what is that?” Inevitably, the owner points out that it was just a Harlequin Rasbora or an Anostomus rubrocaudatus that took on an abberant color pattern.  It was the sharp eye and dedicated heart of the hobbyist that brought that fish into the fold. And the real beauty of that sort of thing is that the hobbyist put his/her prejudices aside about how “common” it was, and acquired the fish because he or she liked the way it looked, not because it will make him/her cool at the next tank tour or club auction! It’s this sort of mental step that takes a hobbyist to the next level, in my humble opinion. The willingness to walk one’s own path, defying the prevailing trends of the time! The sign of a true visionary. A rare hobbyist, indeed!

So the next time you’re fish or coral shopping and that beautiful orange Fungia screams at you from across the store (or from the web page, of course!) to take it home, answer the call. Make it yours. Love it,. Own it. Treasure it. Share it. Because one day, that so-called “common coral" might just be banned from wild collection and export, or might be forgotten by the masses, leaving future generations of reefers without the opportunity to enjoy what was once an ubiquitous coral. A simple idea, perhaps- but that’s how the hobby seems to have gone. 

So, be sure to keep an eye peeled and your mind open while searching for fishes, corals, and plants, because awesome things happen when you appreciate an animal for what it truly is!

What "common" fish or coral have you stumbled on that became a standout show-stopper in your tank? Ever had a "common" species develop into something completely unexpected? Do tell!

Until next time...

Stay Sharp...and stay wet!

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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