A world of confessions...

Yeah, I think I have a few confessions to make...

As most of you know from reading (and now, listening!) to my little meanderings every day, I have this "mindset" in which I source/study/obsess over a fish I love, and plan an aquairum/environment around it. This process and focus has enabled me to create some pretty cool aquariums over the years, if I say so myself. However, it's also put me at odds with my love of being an all-around fish geek over the years, if that makes sense?


When we plan our aquariums, I know that many of us are super disciplined, highly detail-oriented, and attack the "fish list" with diligence and a high degree of "mission focus." Like, every fish added to the tank has to be from the general region that all of the others are from...or that the tank's "scape is supposed to "represent."

I have always been focused like that- almost to the point of having tanks run empty for months at a time when I couldn't source the specific fishes I wanted...("Yes, Poecilocharax weitzmani IS the ONLY Darter Characin I shall have!") I can be THAT focused! Like, absurdly, impractically focused.

And, I must confess:

I'm not immune to any "temptations" I might encounter along the way to my ultimate goal...

There is always that part of me which falls headlong into that "shiny object syndrome"- you know something cool catches my eye along the way, and there I am, off on a tangent, researching and considering ways to "modify" my plan...complete with justification ("Well, you know, just because I SAID it's going to be an Asian blackwater stream with Rasbora espie doesn't mean that I can't have a few of those Copella arnoldi in there. I mean, "SPLASHING-FREAKING TETRA- HELLO!" 

(Image by Zikamoi, used under CC-BY S.A. 3.0)

Yeah, sad shit like that.

Of course, that's how the classic "community tank", which we've loved for generations, is created, right? The best combination of cool fishes, regardless of origin, which happen to catch our fancy? As long as they are physically compatible, does it really matter? I mean, what's wrong with that, right? Really, does every salad we make have ingredients from the same farm?

Weak or not, it is that kind of "argument" that would make ME feel better, lol.


But I'd have such guilt.

As I stare at my "Asian-inspired" blackwater aquarium in my family room (which I'm getting really bored of, BTW), with fishes that are "regionally" accurate, but likely would never be found together in Nature, I can't help but reflect on my philosophies on "theme" and such, and the occasional "tangents" I'd take.

In past years, I would often further justify these tangents which lead to a "broader", geographically absurd array of fishes with almost-logical thoughts like, "Well, that little tetra from Colombia looks an awful lot like some of those random Rasbora you see in Asian streams...I mean..."

Yes, I would justify these decisions to myself just like that. 

Over the years, I became more focused, of course... I'd go to the other extreme at times. I'd tell myself that, unless every fish in the tank, regardless of the fact that it's from the same region, is wild caught, then one could make an argument that this is "off plan."

Well, somehow, anyways! I mean, a South American Tetra bred on an Asian fish farm, from stock that's been there 28 generations...hmm...how do you quantify that?

Yeah, like that is a good argument/"guilt diminisher."  Absurd. LOL

And the sad truth is that, unless you're one of those people who is absolutely obsessed with complete authenticity, or is entering into one of those carefully-scrutinized biotope aquascaping contests, it likely doesn't matter all that much, right? Having generally "geographically proximate" fishes in the same tank, has always been a "decent standard" for me personally.

I've always felt that the fishes that are from the same general region- even if not from the exact locale or ecological niche-will probably not interact all that much differently than they would if they were some other random species from their habitat...right?  I mean, a Dachshund and a Golden Retriever are both dogs, and...

Um, yeah. You can argue this one as much as you want, I suppose.


Sure, if you're like me, you'll carry with you that personal "mark of shame" and yeah- some feelings of guilt- for as long as you own the tank, or perhaps until your overwhelming horror at having made this "geographic transgression" finally takes you down and forces you to remove the "offending"  fishes into a tank of their own (hopefully with more "geographically-appropriate" tankmates , of course).

It's kind of...ridiculous...

Or is it? 

It likely is.

I mean, It's one thing to keep fishes from various blackwater habitats in say, Brazil. It's quite another to keep fishes from Brazil with fishes from, let's say- Borneo- together I the same tank!

On the other hand, are fishes from different parts of the world that physiologically dissimilar?

I mean, sure, fishes evolved over eons to take on specific characteristics that were likely adaptations to specific environmental conditions they'd encounter. Although I've often wondered wether or not a blackwater stream with a pH of 4.8 in Borneo is THAT much different, at least generally speaking, than an Amazonian igarape with the same pH.

I mean, sure there are probably some subtle flora/fauna/geology differences which impact the chemical composition on a level we as hobbyists are not able to distinguish, but are they THAT much different?

I wonder...Not that you ever would (for obvious reasons), but if you transplanted, say, a Rasbora from a stream in Southeast Asia to a jungle stream in the rainforests of Brazil, or a Nanostomus to a Sarawak jungle stream- could the fish adapt?

I mean, they may have slightly different food sources or ways of finding them, but could the fish adapt? Is this any different than the "coping" that wild-caught fishes have to do when captured and placed in most home aquariums? You know, strange food, different environmental parameters from their wild homes, and unknown, unnatural companions?

Is there a sort of "stress" that would arise under all of these conditions? Could these "subtle" stresses be the reason why so many fishes are elusive for long periods of time in the hobby, when it comes to spawning them?

I ponder this in the context of our botanical-style aquariums; our focus on more natural looking- and functioning systems...

Could it be why we are seeing more and more success with blackwater fishes being kept in more realistic habitats and environmental conditions? Could the humic substances and tannins be "something in the water" which bridges at least part of that gap between wild habitat and aquarium?

The idea of using materials like leaves, seed pods, stems, etc.- which to a great extent mimics both the form and function of the wild habitats from which our fishes hail at least gives us the ability explore the concept.

I mean, one could even take the argument about geographic suitability to our game. We could ponder if a Cariniana legalis seed pod from Brazil in our Asian-themed tank would somehow be detrimental to our fishes- or perhaps not as physiologically beneficial- as a more geographically appropriate Sterculia pod from Thailand.

We could.

Yet, wouldn't that literally be like "splitting hairs?"

I mean, where does it end? And what benefit or detriment would we be experiencing as a result of our decision to include/exclude a specific botanical, wood, substrate, or other material in our 100% authentic "geographic-focused aquarium?"

I remember not long ago reading in some forum on Killififsh that a certain African species needed selenium in its water, because the soil in the region from which it comes has high levels of the stuff. Hobbyists were discussing adding Brazil nuts and such to their tanks. I mean, we offer the so-called "Monkey Pot" -which is the "capsule" which protects the Brazil nut. Could it somehow "impart" selenium into the water?

Perhaps, maybe? Oh, but it's from the Lecythis pisonis tree, found in...Brazil. As are Brazill Nuts, of course.

And the killie is from...Africa.


Well. I suppose fish breeders can make such accommodations without guilt, right?

I think it circles back, of course.

I think that even hardcore biotope aquarium hobbyists- whom I respect and love- seem to focus more on outward appearances for their biotope tanks than they do on function and this "geo-physiological/functional" thing.

And I suppose it's a matter of practicality, really. 

I mean, I've seen many biotope aquarium "contest winners" who's tank represents "...a small riffle adjacent to Rio __________ in September" or whatever, filled with Beech leaves from the suburbs of London or Prague, or wherever. And judges will often rip the entry apart if the wood is oriented in the wrong direction or there is too much sand, or whatever- yet curiously seem to overlook the obviously-and absurdly out-of-place European Oak leaves...

How can we blame them?

Ever try to source leaves from South America? Or wood? You'll understand really quickly why Catappa leaves and Guava leaves from Asia or India are the ultimate "tropical stand-in" for leaves from other parts of the world, trust me. And yeah, I know that biotope aquarium enthusiasts would utilize the exact materials in their tanks...if they could source them!

Now, we shouldn't get too crazy about any of this, really. Otherwise, it becomes quite absurd. I personally think that, as hobbyists, we get too hung up on some aspects of "stuff." We just need to chill, right? Or at the very least, place an order with Tannin Aquatics and know that we're doing our best to offer natural materials from around the world which help replicate these habitats to the best extent possible, both aesthetically AND functionally! 

Whew! I worked in a shameless advertising plug there! 

Lots of questions. Lots of theories. Lots of speculations.

Isn't this FUN? 

I think so. Maddening at times. Often frustrating. But pretty damn fun!

And I think...THINK- that looking at things from this perspective might finally ease my guilty conscience if and when I eventually make the unthinkable ultimate "transgression" of keeping a captive-bred variant of a Danio species in the same tank as a Hyphessobrycon...

"Yeah, okay, Scott."

Well, that's MY "geographic confessional." It's the kind of stuff that haunts the inner recesses of my mind, and bubbles up on occasion to face scrutiny.

Well, the reality is that, in the end, I know that I'm still going to keep my Rasbora and Tetras separate...

I mean, at least for now.


Until next time. Please don't feel guilty. Or, maybe you should? I dunno.

Your call.

Stay studious. Stay inquisitive. Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay engaged.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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