Big thoughts on tiny fish. Setting the "stage" for an effective Characin display...

Did you ever think about why certain fishes are more popular than others?

I mean, sure, beyond the fact that say, that cool Placidochromis is rare and attractive, or the fact that the Neon Tetra is way nicer looking to most people than the Silver Tip Tetra, there must be more.

Perhaps it's personality. I know based on my experiences with Apistogramma and other dwarf cichlids, that they are downright "charming", with comical behaviors and engaging personalities...and they happen to be attractive!

Fishes like Discus and Fancy guppies alloy have that "it factor" which makes them more attractive. I get it.

A guy like me, coming from the reef aquarium world, where the fishes are generally very colorful and distinctive, who also has an infatuation with Characins, is in a strange place. I love my Tetras and other characins. To me, creating a cool community of these little fishes is exciting and enjoyable. But the thing is, they don't really have individual "personalities" in the way that cichlids or Gouramis, etc. do.

I mean, they are shoaling fishes, much in the way an anchovy or smelt is; part of a "collective", with no individual "personality", although as  species, many are quite attractive. Have you noticed that a solitary tetra will never show the same chromatic brilliance as one kept in a group?

So here I am, midway into stocking my South American-themed Characin display, looking for something with a little more "personality"- sort of a "standout fish"- and the choices in this group are somewhat (arguably) limited. Sure, If I had a huge tank, Chalceus, Distichodus, Metynnis, or Hemiodus species would work,but they get pretty large and/or have boisterous personalities. I adore Abramites and Leporinus, but they're kind of little...bastards- and would play havoc among my tiny tots..

So where does that leave me and my 50-gallon peaceful small Characin tank?

I look to smaller members of the group known collectively as "Headstanders", specifically, the "Spotted Headstander", Chilodus punctuatus. Yeah, I'm pinning my hopes for a "feature fish" for this tank on a group of these gentle, odd-looking fishes. I love the way they swim, and the way they tend to hide among the wood, picking at algae and such in a most "marine-fish-like" manner! I think they'll prove an interesting addition to my little menagerie!

And the whole "I'm looking for a "standout fish" mindset also has me thinking about how many of each group of fishes I want in my tank. I mean, the "collector's mentality" for a Characin lover will say, "Get like 6-10 of each variety", which is consistent with the desire to bring about natural behavior and appearance. However, a modest sized tank with 6 different groups of 6 fiefs is...well, not very relaxing..All of those different colors and shapes...too much variety in too small a space, IMHO. Better to narrow it down to larger shoals of a few species, right?

Yeah, that's my thinking...But which ones?

In my situation, I like kind of odd-looking, small, and subtly colored fishes that you have to sort of "look for" in the scape. I have Rummynose Tetras and Flame Tetras in there, which, of course, scream "Look at me!" So, why not have a larger number of the more subdued Pencilfishes that I keep...this will really help "pop" the colorful guys, and better set the stage for the headstanders to have impact as they swim about...

So, that's my stocking mindset..It's as much about creating an aesthetically pleasing "staging" of the fish as it is for creating a proper environment and community balance. Once you've narrowed down the fishes that you WANT to keep, it' important to simply figure out the ratios!

We'll see where this goes...

Just my thoughts for today...I'm sure you have many of your own on the idea of stocking and "staging" as well!

Stay interested. Stay creative...

And stay wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquaitcs.



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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