Beyond coincidence?

One of the great things about the tropical fish hobby is that you just never know what it will be that will deliver the result you've strived for, particularly when it comes to fish breeding. Sure, some things are virtually guaranteed, such as guppies having babies when you keep males and females together! 

However, most spawning events and breeding activities are the result of a lot of diligent hard work and extraordinary patience on the part of you, the hobbyist.

Yet, there are some positives which happen when we least expect them, perhaps when we're ready to throw up our hands in failure...

Have you ever had this happen?:

You're working with a fish that you really wanted to breed, and you tried seemingly every way possible to induce it to do so, with no apparent success...

You've tried environmental manipulation, water changes, switching up pairs, playing with the day/night cycle, switching out foods, etc., etc., etc.

Like, every damn thing you can think of.

Then, one day, sometime after you've thrown up your arms in look into the tank they reside in, have fry!

Ever had that happen?

It's one of the great mysteries of aquarium keeping...And it's not a bad thing of course. The main "bummer" is that you often don't know what- if anything-that you did was the "catalyst" for the spawning event! It's like you're just scratching your head...


Like, was it the accidental introduction of 25 un-prepared Alder cones into your know, not "pre-boiled" like usual- which perhaps introduced just enough extra tannins or humic substances to trigger that spawning response?  


Maybe just a coincidence?

Or maybe it was the fact that you got so busy last Wednesday that you missed your normal weekly water exchange day and performed it on Saturday instead? Or was it that extra bunch of freshly-prepared Guava leaves that you added to the tank last week when you removed a few older ones?

You just don't know, right?

Sometimes, it's a culmination of many things we've been doing continuously- for extended periods of time...and the moment is just "right." Other times, it could be the time you STOP doing the thing you've been doing for months and months. Perhaps the sudden break in routine- the slight variation in water chemistry or something tangential is the "trigger."

Yeah, but why NOW?

I mean, you've been working very diligently on conditioning them with food and optimum conditions for weeks...So it could have just been "time", right? I think it just goes to show you that animals often defy our human-rationalized "processes" and do whatever they damn well please! I mean, you can do what "the books" say to get a fish to spawn, but unless the fish are up to it, you're just dreaming...

So, where does this leave us, the aquarists who dream of breeding "that" fish? The one that's haunted us for years...?

It leaves us doing exactly what we've done for decades- giving our fish the best food and environment possible, and hoping against hope that our husbandry decisions result in a spawn. And if they don't, we just have to either "stand down" on trying new stuff, or just keep on going.


Yet, I think the reality for many fishes is that simply providing them the correct environmental conditions (i.e.; similar to those in which they have evolved) and offering them foods that are representative of their natural diet should ultimately yield spawning activity "whenever." I mean, think about it- those are things that should not be done on a "special" basis; rather, they are practices that most of us do- or should do- on a year 'round, continuous basis.

We go to so much effort to keep our fishes healthy and happy, so this is simply the result of what I call "cumulative competence"- or, as one of my fish-keeping buddies so eloquently states, "Doing shit the right way..."

We should continue to study the natural habitats of the fishes we are trying to breed. Yet, not just stop with "soft, acidic water" or whatever...No, we need to look further. What type of substrate exists in the habitats where the fish are found? What plants. Are there lots of decomposing leaves? Is the photoperiod longer or shorter? Is there a lot of tangled roots or wood? What physical and environmental parameters exist in the natural habitats during the time of year that the subject fish spawns that we should consider replicating in our aquariums?

And I think that we need to consider the idea of keeping our fishes in conditions which mimic, to some extent, the environmental conditions of their natural habitat on a continuous basis. Now, this is not some new, earth-shattering idea. However, I am always amused that many hobbyists with breeding aspirations only offer the fishes more "realistic" conditions (ie; similar to those found I their wild habitats) when they want to breed the fish.

I don't get it.

I am of the opinion that the "default" whenever possible, should be to continuously maintain our fishes in conditions which approximate- physically, structurally, and chemically, the conditions under which they have evolved to thrive under in Nature.

And, there appears to be e growing body of evidence that this practice is a pretty good way to go. I used to think it was just a "coincidence" that we'd see some cool stuff happening with fishes that were otherwise hesitant to thrive and ultimately spawn; however, it seems like there is a lot more going on now that leads me to think that.

As more and more hobbyists enter the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium "genre", we've seen and heard more and more of these reports of "spontaneous" or "anomalous" spawning events. We've heard of or rapid color and behavior improvements, or feeding habits in fishes that, under previous "aquarium standard" conditions were nice, but not amazing. The slight improvements (or, perhaps better referred to as "environmental tweaks") rendered by utilizing botanicals in aquariums with fishes that come from blackwater conditions are starting to yield consistent, tangible results that are far beyond mere coincidence.

The very utilization of botanicals to create consistent blackwater-style conditions in our tanks is something very special. Not a "cure -all" or some "hack" for doing everything right- but an incremental improvement to our "best practices."

However, it's still too early to know exactly what might be causing some of these events. I mean, what the specific triggers are. Is it chemical, physiological (the presence of humic substances, lower pH, etc.), or simply a result of the physical surroundings of the aquarium more closely representing those in which our fishes evolved over eons? You know, just having leaves on a soft, silted bottom like back home, instead of  the usual "#3 aquarium gravel" or whatever...

And the continuous refinement of the technique of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums is There is no right or wrong answer here..The reality is, what makes the tropical fish hobby so enjoyable is that eternal quest for knowledge- the pursuit of a goal...

Brought about by you, the hobbyist, practicing the art of..."continuous competence..."

Frustrating though it may be at times, I don't think I know a single hobbyist who would take up some other pursuit in its place, do you?

Didn't think so.

Your success is the result of a lot of hard work, intuition, and occasionally, risk. Your success is beyond a mere coincidence.


Stay focused. Stay passionate. Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay persistent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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