As we assemble our aquariums and incorporate botanicals, it's really easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of it all, without considering the actual "utility" that may botanicals bring to the table, so to speak. A real marriage of form and function!
As Tannin begins to expand globally, more and more hobbyists are trying their hand at incorporating aquatic botanicals into their displays, and more and more thought is being given to making them functional as well as aesthetically attractive.
Today, I thought we'd visit this hot topic (it IS hot, judging by the number of email and PM discussions I've had on the subject from customers around the world lately!) of which botanicals are best suited for utilitarian purposes, such as sheltering fishes and other aquatic animals. We'll look at our faves, and toss in a few insights for each. Remember, there are no "rules" as to which botanicals you can use for this purpose. We're just giving you some information based on our own experience, as well as the experience of our "early adapter" customers!
If you keep fishes like Apistos, young Plecos, wild Betta species, Dario, Badis, Ctenopoma, Loaches, gobies, bennies, Corydoras, and other small catfishes, you're definitely going to want to take advantage of the botanicals (typically various seed pods) which offer larger surfaces, openings, and deep interiors, as well as the ability to place them in the aquarium to maximize their use as shelter in a wide range of positions.
The largest openings of any of the botanicals we offer are found on "Jungle Pods", which can vary from approximately 2"-4" (5.08-10.16cm), depending upon the shape of the particular pod.
They do vary in shape, as some of these pods are more "round" in configuration, while some are more "flattened out" in a tent-like shape. Both "morphs" work really well! We've seen more and more hobbyists use them for natural "spawning caves for Apistogramma, Nanochromis, Pelvicichromis, etc., in place of the venerable coconut shell- which we must say, we're happy to see!
I've talked to at least one hobbyist who wants to do a hardscape for cichlids incorporating only "Jungle Pods" and some cool stone...now, that is interesting!
Next on the "shelter" roster would be the "Savu Pod", with openings varying from approximately 1"-2" (2.54-5.08cm). Some are considerably larger in size. Since we have so many of them in stock at any time, feel free to ask us if you're looking for a "Savu" with a larger diameter opening; we'll do our best to accommodate.
These are incredibly durable pods, and aerating the most "natural looking" botanicals for a blackwater, botanical-influenced display.
Shrimp keepers really love these pods, as the shrimp seem to congregate in. on, and amongst them in a very interesting manner!
Well, let's be honest- shrimp love to congregate, forage on and among just about anything underwater that attracts biofilms, algae, and other food sources...so, like pretty much anything you put in their tank, right? Ah, but I digress...
When we first started offering the "Monkey Pod", it was intended for use by frog and herp enthusiasts, who employ them as shelters and "watering holes" in vivarium displays. Lately, however, we're seeing more and more aquarium hobbyists employing them in their aquariums. And why not? They are extremely durable, have a large opening (up to 3" (7.62cm) or more in diameter, and last a long time in submerged and humid environments terrestrial alike. The main issue with these guys, as discussed on our site, is their incredible "buoyancy." You have to boil and soak the - - - - out of 'em to get them to sink! However, once they're down, you've got a really useful, interesting-looking shelter pod!
One botanical that comes up all the time in discussion with customers is "Sino Xicara", super lightweight pod with a great shape. It's problem? It's super lightweight, and is virtually impossible to sink. Heartbreaking...It's really best relegated for a vivarium. Of course, you could experiment and use it as a floating shelter for bubble nest builders, or as a means to anchor plants...
Still another "sheltering" pod to consider is the "Ra Cama" pod, a big, heavy flattened out seed pod that is ideal for use in a vivarium, but has all sorts of creative applications for aquarium use. If you're looking for a natural "break" for terracing sand or gravel, and want to use something besides wood or rock- this pod is the one!
And then you have the "Tapete Pod", a sort of "Ra Cama Lite", if you will, yet interestingly curved and textured. I've used these in tanks with leaf litter and other lighter botanicals as sort of a "contrast piece", and you might want to do the same. They are interesting, versatile, and- you guessed it- shrimp love 'em!
Remember, with every botanical, you need to take the time to prepare them properly before using in your aquatic display. Boiling and soaking just sort of go with the territory here. Be responsible, patient, and take the time to do it right. Rinse any of our aquatic botanicals before use, even after boiling or soaking. By the way, a "post-boil soak" in fresh water with a bag of activated carbon is a recommended step, too.
Although we obtain our products from sources known to be free of pollution, impurities and pesticides, you can never be to careful, and the extra, albeit very conservative step is worthwhile, in our opinion. If you go deep into our blog (yeah, we have over 300 entries and growing daily!), you'll find tons of information about preparation, use, selection, and the overall ins-and-outs of aquatic botanical use.
Well, that's a very brief summary of what we feel are the very best pods for providing versatile shelter for many different fishes. You will no doubt find other uses, and other pods-in a botanical tank, anything is shelter for somebody!
I'm frequently amused by how our Crenuchus spilurus ("Sailfin Tetra") specimens utilize little openings in the leaf litter as "caves" to shelter in- just as in nature. The behavior alone that is enabled by utilizing natural materials in innovative ways within the aquarium makes them well worth playing with!
Of course, we'll keep scouring the world for more unusual botanicals. We've got a few undergoing testing right now that we think you're gonna love when we release them! The best part about any of these botanicals is that, other than getting them to do what you want (i.e.; sinking), they are most cooperative with your creative efforts! You're only limited by your imagination.
So, stay creative. Stay adventurous. Stay disciplined...
And Stay Wet!