Roads Less Travelled: A different take on "the same old thing..."

We cover a lot of ground here at Tannin.

Not just in the blackwater/botanical-style arena, but in the overall "natural" approach to creating captive aquatic ecosystems. That approach often involves embracing ideas, aesthetics, and environmental characteristics which run somewhat contrary to what we've been indoctrinated to believe are "proper" aquarium conditions.

Yeah, we've talked about this stuff before.

However, as the hobby speciality evolves more, it's important to re-visit this idea repeatedly, lest we paint ourselves into a metaphorical "corner", unwilling to try some new things for fear of "violating" what one could call "conventional" aquarium keeping ideas.

And of course, it always goes back to Nature...

A high percentage of the natural habitats from which many of our fishes hail are perhaps not even all that "conventional" by aquarium/aquascaping standards. Often, it's a sediment-filled tangle of twigs and leaves...not everyone's idea of "attractive" for aquarium purposes- but it's very, very authentic in many cases. And I think it's one of those things that you have to actually execute to appreciate.

Of course, there ARE many habitats which seem to play right into our long-held beliefs of just how a "healthy, attractive aquarium" should look. Nature offers a "prototype" for just about anything we want- if we look hard enough!

Of course, Nature also has habitats which, from an aesthetic standpoint, are remarkably "simple", yet bely a complexity of biology, geology, and environmental interdependencies. Habitats which, if  we are willing to consider replicating in our aquariums, could provide remarkable insights and "unlocks" into the lifestyles and  reproductive habits of our fishes.

I believe that experiments with alternative substrate materials, use of different wood or root-like materials, and even simple elements such as twigs, can help open up new discoveries in the aquarium hobby realm.


Of course, the "roads less travelled" include those habitats which consist of the flooded meadows/forests, and muddy ditches which we've talked about so much here. Again, the idea of land taken over by water yields a host of possibilities and unusual opportunities to explore the life cycles of many unique fishes. 

And of course, utilizing these materials to create more realistic approaches to habitat replication involves accepting stuff like tint and our old apparent foe, turbidity.

Our aesthetic "upbringing" in the hobby seems to push us towards "crystal clear water", regardless of whether or not it's "tinted" or not! For some reason, we blindly associate "clear" water with "cleanliness" in our aquariums, and in Nature.

Think about this: You can have absolutely horrifically toxic levels of ammonia, dissolved heavy metals, etc. in water that is "invisible", and have perfectly beautiful parameters in water that is heavily tinted and even a bit turbid.

We need to stop thinking about perfectly clear water (tinted or otherwise) as an absolute indicator of cleanliness and suitability for tropical fishes.

(FYI, WIkipedia defines "turbidity" in part as, "...the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air.")

That's why the aquarium "mythology" which suggested that blackwater tanks were somehow "dirtier" than "blue water" tanks used to drive me crazy. The term "blackwater" describes a number of things; however, it's not a measure of the "cleanliness" of the water in an aquarium, is it?

Nope. It sure isn't.

Color alone is not indicative of water quality for aquarium purposes, nor is "turbidity." Sure, by municipal drinking water standards, color and clarity are important, and can indicate a number of potential issues...But we're not talking about drinking water here, are we?

No, we aren't! 

There is a difference between "color" and "clarity."

Like many of the ideas about aquariums we proffer here, you'll need to make some mental shifts to enjoy this look. You'll likely face the usual criticisms from dark corners of the Internet, criticizing your use of alga and detritus-filled hardscape as "the result of lackadaisical husbandry practices" and "low standards of cleanliness..."

Been there, heard that shit.


And sure, perhaps you will have to point to videos and photos of the many wild habitats which reflect these features in order to "vindicate" yourself among your peers.

Taking the roads less travelled in the aquarium hobby is not only fascinating and educational, it's seen as a bit "rebellious", so you'll need to have a thick skin. Perhaps you'll have to swallow your pride and eat some shit now and again if your experiment doesn't quite live up to your expectations...

Surprisingly, you'll find that most of your experiments with these unique types of habitats will not only meet your expectations- they'll often exceed them significantly!


Despite what the "experts" tell you.

The beauty of taking the "roads less travelled" in the aquarium hobby is that you'll almost always gain something from the journey- be it insights into a unique habitat you've been drooling over, or success with fishes that you've previously been stymied by.

Embrace the unusual.

You never know where it might take you.

Stay observant. Stay creative. Stay bold. Stay inspired...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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