Your tank is looking awesome. The hardscape is down. The leaves and seed pods are in place...and then..it hits...
Yeah, you notice some strands of the icky-looking, yucky stuff...that gooey mess of sugar and bacteria that forms what we now accept in the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium world as a sort of "right of passage"- the point where your aquarium has exited the "biologically-sterile" phase and begins its journey towards becoming a diverse, naturally-functioning microhabitat.
We've all been there.
There is that initial "freak out" in many of our heads, which makes you doubt what your doing...has those little questions sneaking into your head. And of course, you do as we do... you dutifully scan all of those cool underwater pics and videos and come to the realization that most aquatic habitats are hardly the pristine, glossed-over aquarium "look" that we have dancing around in our minds.
And then we consider what's really happening; what it all means.
Suddenly, it begins to make sense: When we set up an aquarium in this fashion, we're supposed to expect this stuff to form. In fact, we encourage it and dare I say, celebrate it! Well, I suppose it's easy to NOT want to "celebrate" it's appearance, but it is important to understand it, rather than loathe it.
bi·o·film -ˈbīōˌfilm/ noun -a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface.
Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, gluelike substance, consisting of sugars and other substances, that can stick to all kinds of materials, such as- well- in our case, botanicals. It starts with a few bacteria, taking advantage of the abundant and comfy surface area that leaves, seed pods, and even driftwood offer. The "early adapters" put out the "welcome mat" for other bacteria by providing more diverse adhesion sites, such as a matrix of sugars that holds the biofilm together. Since some bacteria species are incapable of attaching to a surface on their own, they often anchor themselves to the matrix or directly to their friends who arrived at the party first.
And we could go on and on all day telling you that this is a completely natural occurrence; bacteria and other microorganisms taking advantage of a perfect substrate upon which to grow and reproduce, just like in the wild. Freshly added botanicals offer a "mother load"of organic material for these biofilms to propagate, and that's occasionally what happens - just like in nature.
Yet it does, so we will! :)
It's one of the major components of the "mental stretch" that we as hobbyists must make when we get into using botanicals and leaves in our aquariums.
First off, take comfort in the fact that this is typically sort of a passing phase, and can take anywhere from a few days to 2-3 weeks before it subsides on it's own to some level that you can mentally live with. And of course, you must realize that biofilms are present in every aquarium, to some degree. Yeah, even you "Nature Aquarium", guys.
Welcome to Planet Earth.
Yet, there are always those doubts...and some are not willing to sit by and watch the "slime" take over...despite the fact that we know it's okay...
And when you've got a lot of this material in your aquarium, and it's causing you considerable worry, stress, and just plain giving you a case of the shivers, there are some actions you can take ( besides cursing the whole idea of throwing aquatic botanicals in your system in the first place).
What to do? Here are a few time-tested options:
Biofilms are common in nature, and a part of pretty much any aquarium, yet a bit more significant (and noticeable) when you play with aquatic botanicals. They are not to be feared- although they should be respected- and ultimately, utilized as food by your animals!
But you knew that already, right?
Stay calm. Stay determined. Stay brave. Stay devoted...
And Stay Wet.