If you know me well, you kind of figured by now that I obsess over strange details of our fishes' dietary preferences, habitats, and behaviors relative to their environment.
And as a dedicated blackwater/botanical-style aquarium enthusiast, I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out how we as hobbyists can "outfit" our aquariums to provide feeding opportunities similar to those encountered in the fishes' wild habitats.
A few of my favorite fishes, such as the awesome Crenuhus spilurus, the "Sailfin Tetra", have broad dietary preferences. It's been observed that the fish feed freely during daylight hours, and grab most of their food as it falls though the water column. What do they eat? Well, this is interesting to me: A lot of particulate matter that sinks; specifically, stuff like fruits, terrestrial insects, and very young tadpoles made uo the bulk of the stomach contents in a recent (2016) study of this fish.So, yeah, a typical consumer of...allochthonous materials (stuff which comes from the environment surrounding the aquatic habitat)!
Now, we've talked extensively in several blog posts over the past couple of years about the idea of allochthonous input (literally, food from the sky, lol) and how it impacts the feeding habits of many fishes, as well as their social and behavioral habits, and what could loosely be referred to as their "migratory patterns." It's long been known that fishes which inhabit the flooded forest floors (igapo) of Amazonia, for example, tend to literally "follow the food" and move into new areas where greater feeding opportunities exist, and will even adjust their dietary preferences seasonally to accommodate the available foods.
In this instance, it typically means areas of the forest where overhanging vegetation offers falling peices of fruit, seeds, nuts, plant parts, and the occasional clumsy insect, like an ant, which falls from the branches of said vegetation. So, here is where the idea gets interesting to me: Wouldn't it make a lot of sense to create a biotope-style aquarium which not only represents the appearance of the habitat, but also replicates, to a certain extent, the function of it?
Of course it would! (Surely, you wouldn't have expected any other answer from me, right?)
In this case, the "function" being the presence of allochthonous materials! Well, yeah. we've just described our botanical-style aquariums in (pardon the expression) a nutshell! Our tanks are replete with lots of terrestrial plant material (ie; botanicals, leaves, and wood), upon which our fishes and other aquatic animals will forage and even consume them directly over time.
I asked myself which materials would most realistically represent some of these items, and sort of came up with a list of my personal favorites. Now, obviously, you can utilize other stuff- and in terms of actual foods, you might even want to experiment with little appropriately-sized bits of fruit for fishes to consume directly! (back to that shortly)
Here are the botanicals that I think would best serve to represent some of the allochthonous materials we see in these forests:
Sure, I could go on and on and pretty much cite every botanical we offer as a sort of analog to these materials, making this blog little more than a blatant "infomercial" for our stuff, but you get the idea!
So, yeah, you could add an assortment of these and/or other materials to your tank, with the sole intention of utilizing them to represent the materials which fall off the trees and are directly consumed by some fishes and shrimp. Because of their physical structure, these selections tend to soften up fairly quickly after submersion, and are also pretty good at "recruiting" biofilms, which serve as a significant supplemental food source for a variety of fishes.
Now, back to my idea of using fruit in your fishes' diets. I'll summarize quickly in one sentence:
It makes sense.
Anyone who has read scholarly articles on the gut-contents of many of our fave fishes has noticed that during large portions of the year, fruits and seeds comprise a significant part of their diets! Utilizing appropriate fruits like finely-chopped açaí berries, blueberries, strawberries, Passion Fruit, and bananas to represent the fruits of the forest, is something I've played with for a long time with my Tetras and other characins. Believe it or not, they'll actually consume these foods directly, and I've also used flax seed and chia seeds for this purpose as well.
Passion Fruit ( Image by fir0002 Used under GFDL 1.2)
Many of these will represent the fruits of the Amazon rain forest, such as Camu Camu, Cupuaçu, Passion Fruit, aguaje (fruit of the Mauritia Plam), If you search health food stores and speciality fruit/produce vendors, you might find fresh or packaged versions of some of these unique fruits, or you could use the more commonly available substitutes mentioned above.
Cupuaçu Fruit (Image by BjoemS Used under CC BY-SA 2.0)
And of course, there is a very good commercially-prepared food option available, too!
Look, I'm well aware that I'm not the first to propose this "concept", and I'll receive a half a dozen references to some prepared brands of food specifically developed to represent this- so I'll just cut to the chase: One food really stands out to me: "Igapo Explorer" by Repashy -it is an amazing idea and a great way to bring the specialized diets of many of our favorite fishes to the aquarium. Every serious characin lover should try this stuff!
Although we don't carry much in the way of "dry goods" on our site, this food has had us re-thinking the idea for some time. Should we? If you're up for a little prep time in the kitchen, I think that it's an extremely valuable supplemental food which can be a real "game changer" for all sorts of fishes which originate form our beloved igapo habitat!
I could imagine changing up the diet of your fishes seasonally, along with ideas like environmental manipulations and "power dosing" botanicals into the aquarium to represent the "high water" season, to see how this impacts behavior, health, and spawning activities of your fishes from this habitat. We have the technology. We have the knowledge...and we have the food!
What's holding you back? Go for it!
I'd like to hear some of your ideas about creating aquariums based on the feeding ha bits of your fishes- a cool concept that I think deserves- and will receive- more attention and work as we move forward.
Stay curious. Stay innovative. Stay experimental. Stay Bold.
And Stay Wet.