Analogies, parallels, and stuff in between...

In my "infinite" down time (which is only like when I'm about to fall asleep, or so it seems these days), I often think of how some of the practices that we engage in as hobbyists are really analogous to many of the processes that occur in nature. With my near obsession with botanical-style, blackwater aquariums and trying to replicate as many natural process and functions as possible, I can't help but think of a few which really come to mind.

The most obvious is adding (or removing) leaves and botanicals to our tanks. I mean, simply tossing (actually, literally) in some leaves mimic very realistically the process of leaf drop, which has occurred in natural aquatic habitats as long as there have been trees! Now granted, many of us as hobbyists want to employ a bit of aesthetics and place them more carefully, but the analogy is the same. 

And you could conceivably apply some methodical "process" to this by dropping your leaves in greater quantities at certain times of the year, to mimic seasonal abundance. Or, changing the varieties of leaves that you place. And varying quantities. I have this thing where I make it a point to add 1 to 2 leaves every day into a tank...I literally will toss them in, and "let the chips fall where they may." Now granted, I might move them around Interesting side observation: When I drop in a leaf, the fishes literally could care less. Like it's a regular occurrence in their world (as it IS) and they are somehow "programmed" not to freak out about "botanical bombs" falling into their midst.

And lets be honest, if you have any water movement in your tank, stuff blows around and re-distributes...Just like what happens in nature, when currents conspire to do the same thing. In fact, in one large botanical-style tank I did a few years back, the prevailing water flow would act to create a submerged "litter bank" in one particular corner of the tank...which was incredible! I would often find my pair of Apistogramma cf. regani guarding a clutch of fry in that "bank!" Kind of like what they'd do in nature! Natural leaf litter banks are amazingly interesting structures...ripe for aquarium replication!

And of course, when you remove botanicals and leaves (like, if you're one of those hobbyists who has issues with stuff decomposing in your tank...wierdo!), or if you let it decompose-you're also sort of replicating a process in which material does the same thing in nature. These materials will impart their bound-up humic acids, tannins, and other compounds as long as possible, then ultimately, simply serve as a "substrate" for microorganism and algal growth...Just like in nature.

The time-honored practice of water exchanges is the ultimate "environmental hack"- as well as the most faithful parallel to what happens in nature- Rainfall, and the influx of new water from flooded forest areas, overflowing streams, and runoff. And we can, of course, "spike" our makeup water with botanicals to not only keep the visual tint consistent, but to maintain as much as possible the consistent concentration of tannins and humic substances.

Now, sure, we don't really have a reliable means to measure and reference what these concentrations are, but we can employ consistency and at least duplicate what is working. In other words, if in your 5-gallon makeup water container, you find that 5 catappa leaves and two pieces of catappa bark give you the right characteristics (visual tint and pH in range), it's a starting point, right? You do the same thing over and over again and that's your way of keeping your environment consistent. As much an "art" as a "science", it's a start...

Even the selection of botanicals we use in our aquariums can be a sort of analogy to what happens in nature. As biotope enthusiasts will attest, having the correct materials in your tank not only looks right- it serves to more accurately replicate the habitat that you're obsessed with...And of course, as part of our "Biotope by Tannin Aquatics" section, which will debut soon, we'll have very specifically curated botanical packs to replicate specific habitats! (shameless plug).

Commercial "humble brags" aside, the point is that we as hobbyists can, at least in theory, if not in reality-impart some of the same botanical substances into the water as the fishes might encounter in their natural habitat when we utilize the actual leaves and botanicals that occur there!, sort of the way utilizing specific probiotics  do certain things...would it not make some sense that using the specific botanical materials that are found in the fish's natural habitats in our tanks will provide many of the same benefits they'd receive in the wild?

Again, a lot of questions; a healthy dose of assumptions...but a really cool track to run on for the ambitious and inquisitive "Tinter!"

These are just the most immediate parallels/analogs which come to mind, but you get the idea. In overall aquarium practice, there are many. In the blackwater/botanical-style arena we operate in, the possibilities are endless...and the opportunities for advancement are numerous!

I get stupidly excited just contemplating this stuff!

It's another "mindset shift" we can make as "Tinters"...not just in accepting a different aesthetic or way of doing things...but in understanding that WHAT we do and HOW we do it can have implications beyond the superficial and obvious. And in the process, perhaps gaining a greater understanding of both our fishes and the amazing (blackwater/brackish, etc.) habitats from which they come.

Stay excited. Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay free-thinking. Stay ON IT!

And of course...

Stay Wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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