Can you see clearly now? The positive results of...restraint

Remember I was talking a few days back about how disruptive, yet necessary "deep cleanings" that we give our tanks now and again?

My hypothesis was that these were sort of analogous to seasonal and/or weather-related events, such as monsoonal rains, influxes of water into streams, etc. etc., and that they are probably more "traumatic" to the aquarist than they are to the fishes, which have evolved to handle them over eons.

Well, going back to this topic, I was looking at my office tank the other day, "recovering", if you will, from the thorough cleaning it received days before, and sort of marveled at the progression of things that happened. I kind of think I was spot-on in my thinking here for a change.

After the first 24 hours, I was a little down on myself, because I stirred up surprisingly large amount of detritus, which sort of started to settle on the Manzanita wood, leaves, and even the plants. The water was a little bit turbid. The formerly crystal-clear, sparkling clean (yet very brown) tank had a bit of "dirtiness" to it. It wasn't a huge amount, mind you- but sufficient enough for me to take notice and think to myself, "Damn, that looks kind of...different!"

"Different" = "shitty" to a fish geek....

Notice I didn't' freak out and think, "Oh my God! This tank is a mess...I need to do another massive water change...Need to..." Yeah. I stayed calm...I sort of believe in that theory we talked about. The theory that, in most cases, a healthy closed ecosystem like an aquarium will rebound from a seemingly significant event like the "Great Detritus Storm of 2016", and return to its glory really quickly with minimal intervention on the part of the aquarist. The theory that, in nature, disruptive events like storms and rains typically have more value than problems associated with them for the fishes.

Well, fast forward another couple of days, and I think that my time-honed hypothesis is right. All of that detritus has more or less cleared up..Settled...or captured by the filter? Probably to some extent...But the most remarkable "cleansing" of the detritus influx was conducted by the fishes themselves. I mean, especially my characins -which really went to town on this stuff, spending pretty much all day picking at the wood, substrate, leaves, botanicals.

Were they consuming the detritus itself? Um, probably not as much as I'd like to think; however, some of the materials bound up in the detritus were probably quite good to them. And this is borne out by my research into the natural stomach contents of many of these fishes. Algae, organic materials, and insect/crustacean life bound up in this matrix of stuff is an important part of the diet of many fishes. And of course, in some instances, the botanicals themselves are are the biofilms, fungi, sugars  and matrix of materials bound up in detritus and small particles of "stuff" in our leaf litter and such.

The fish were so "busy" at this foraging on the newly-uncovered "bounty", that I refrained from supplemental feeding for the past couple of days, and they are actually thicker and fatter than before this who thing started! 

And the tank? It's sparkling...crystal clear, with the beautiful brown tint we love so much around here in full glory. I'm glad that I held off from the "primal aquarist urge" to panic, reach for the siphon, and do another disruptive maintenance. I would have completely missed the interesting behavior of my fishes, and the gorgeous "rebound" of the aquarium during what would have been my frantic intervention. Rather, I'll just pick up where I left off and conduct my regular weekly water change later in the week..

So the simple takeaway from this not-all-that-uncommon occurrence in fish keeping? Not everything that seems like a "problem" is indeed a "problem." Not everything requires our rapid intervention. Or any intervention, for that matter. Nature's got this act honed to a fine sheen...We can coax it along, or even jump right in the mix...however, the reality is that these processes are certainties if left to themselves. There are reasons why stuff like this happens in nature, and reasons why our animals have adaptive mechanisms to deal with them. We just have to be patient, observant, and engaged.

All qualities which virtually every successful aquarist has anyways, right?


So, stay calm. Stay observant. Stay level-headed.

And of course,

Stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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