Do your Tetras know?

I suppose I am one of those deeply philosophical hobbyists. 

The other day, a fellow aquarist and I were talking about managing our aquariums, and the conversation turned (as it inevitably does when my friends talk to me) about the idea of utilizing natural materials (ie; wood, botanicals, etc.) in our aquariums, and where the practice fits in the grand scheme of trying to recreate the habitats from where our fishes come.

And of course, my mind wandered a bit...

One of the things I have always loved about keeping aquariums is that you have this wonderful glass or acrylic box, filled with water, wood, hardscape materials, and fishes, and to the animals which reside there, it becomes their whole universe.

Yeah, kind of "meta", I know, but...

Ever look at it that way?

I mean, even at the hobby's most "basic" levels, you as the aquarist create the physical environment for your fishes, and are more or less in control of every facet of its existence. You control the appearance, environmental parameters, population, input and export of nutrients- like, everything. And the health and lives of each and every organism which resides in the aquarium are completely in your hands.

Kind of an awesome responsibility, when you think about it that way, huh?

It is.

And, while our fishes go about their daily existence likely not comprehending all of that, and likely behave in your aquarium in much the manner that their wild ancestors have for untold millions of years, what they DO know is that this is their world. The physical structures you've created, the competing population of fishes, availability of food resources, and the quality of the water are just a few of the things they contend with like they would if they were swimming about in the wild.

This is one of the reasons why I have had a near-obsession with attempting to recreate, to some extent, as many of the physical/environmental characteristics of their wild habitats as possible for the fishes under my care. All the while, realizing that, although they will be residing in a closed system with many physio-chemical characteristics similar to what they have evolved to live under, it's not a perfect replication, much though I might want it to be, and being of the opinion that replicating "some"of these characteristics is likely better than replicating "none" of them.

An arrogant assumption on my part, I suppose. I mean, like every one of you, I'm fully responsible for the animals which I keep. And I take a certain degree of pride in that. I want the best for them.

That being said, I'm personally not in that mindset of having to be absolutely "hardcore" about being 100% accurate biotopically, in terms of making sure that every leaf, every twig, every botanical is from the specific habitat of the fishes which I keep. I do respect aquarists who do, however. But that's not me. Rather, I place the emphasis on providing a reasonably realistic, "functionally aesthetic" representation of the habitat form which they come, with aquascaping materials, layout, and environmental parameters as close as possible to the parameters in the wild.

You can be a very responsible owner without obsessing over making every micro-semion of conductivity, or every ppm of phosphate in your tank match that of your fishes' wild habitat. I'm pretty confident about that.

Your fishes likely don't know that, having been captive-bred for a few generations, or collected from their natural habitat and being subjected to varying environmental differences along the chain of custody from stream to store. The likely don't even care. They're likely just happy to be somewhere stable by the time they arrive in your home aquarium!

IMHO, being genetically "programmed" by evolution to live under certain environmental parameters for millennia can't likely be replaced by a few dozen generations of captive breeding. However, being able to acclimate and thrive-even reproduce- in conditions significantly different from what they evolved under does indicate some good adaptability on the part of our fishes, doesn't it? 

And as an aquarist, we benefit from this, even though our hearts may tell us it would be a cool idea to try to be 100% faithful to nature in this regard. I know that I do!

Of course, all the while being fully aware that, for example, achieving and managing a 4.3 pH similar to the floating leaf littler banks of the Aliança Stream (a tributary of Branco River in Brazil), for example, is beyond the level of detail that I want to go into!

It would be very cool to do, but it's just not what I'd want to do at the moment.

I suppose my attitude towards those factors would "disqualify" me personally from being a very hardcore biotope aquarist- at least one who would try to compete and win in a contest! 

The Tetras I keep, of course, don't know this.

Nor do they seem to care.

Rather, they're obsessed (are they?) with finding their next meal, socialization, and other more mundane aspects of their daily existence. As long as they are physically comfortable and free from high levels of stress as a result of evading predators and exploiting very limited food resources, I don't think one could make an argument that they do...

And just because you're content with your aquariums being "biotope-inspired" as opposed to 100% faithful to the natural habitat you're into doesn't mean you don't care, aren't doing a good job, or aren't dedicated to your craft.

What every Tetra, cichlid, Gourami, Pleco, or any other fish under your care does know is that they are living in a stable, stress-limited environment that they can easily adapt to and live out their lives in.

And that is worth considering the next time you set up an aquarium.

Now, really-do your tetras and cichlids and gouramis know this?

I think so.

Give yourself a pat on the back for doing what you do so well. I think that your fishes would, if they could. You're doing a pretty kick-ass job.

That's also what every Tetra knows.


Stay inquisitive. Stay inspired. Stay enthusiastic. Stay dedicated. Stay relentless...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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