Getting "in deep" with my next leaf litter tank...Some thoughts on this crazy plan!

So...I'm really getting into the planning of my next project aquarium. Have I told you about this one before? I think I touched on it. I'm sure that the subject matter will pretty much blow you away- you'll be like, "Damn, never would have thought Fellman would try THAT in his next tank..." NOT.

Yeah, you probably saw this coming: I'm shooting for a little simulation of a deep (by aquarium standards, anyways) leaf litter zone, with near 100% coverage over the substrate. The kind of little "pockets" you see in tributaries of the Rio Negro.

Lots of leaves and maybe just a few botanicals, like "Savu Pods", "Ceu Fruta", Coco Curls, or "Rio Fruta." The leaves will be a mix of Guava leaves, Magnolia, and maybe a few of the "Borneo Grade A Mega Catappa" leaves, which I've been itching to play with lately!

I don't think I'll be using any plants in this one, though, unlike in the Mike Tuccinardi pic of the Rio Negro above, or my office leaf litter tank that you've probably seen a 1,000 times already, below. This tank has provided me a lot of cool aesthetic "looks" as I've tried out different types of leaves for varying effects, which will pay off in this new tank.

I would love to have a couple of pieces of wood- small ones; however, specimens that project our of the water. It will either be a couple of Manzanita or perhaps just one larger, "beefier" Mopani specimen. I love both of these types. (and so do you, based on recent sales! Don't worry, we ordered a bunch more in; we'll have 'em up on the site soon!)

I kind of like the "dark, mysterious look" that my friend Reid of Monsterfish Studio in Hong Kong did...You've seen this pic before, too; study it a bit more closely- I'm liking the one piece of wood (mine would be over a lot more leaves) for a dramatic effect, but would love to break the waterline. This will be easy, as the aquarium I intend to utilize will only be 12" (30.48 cm) tall!

(I know, I know- this blog sounds almost like a "commercial" for our products, but hey, as the sayings goes- we use  and pretty much geek out about what we sell! Inspiration is part of what we do here at Tannin Aquatics!)

I'll only keep 2 species of fish- 3 at the most. I hope to highlight some Darter Characins (Elachocarax or Poecilocharax, if possible), and a large shoal (maybe like 20 or more) of "Green Neon Tetras" (Paracheirodon simulans), which is a perfect tiny, "hyperbright" fish for a small, dark tank like this.

(P. similans- Image by Sascha Biedermann, used under CC BY- SA 2.5)

If I end up with really shy Darter Characins, then I might just go with some Brown Pencilfish (Nannostomus eques), Nannostomus mortenthaleri  or even some Marble Hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata). 

Which species of Darter Characin I'll employ depends almost exclusively on which ones I can source! I'm trying to avoid the more "commonly" available (if that's an appropriate term!) "Green Darter Characin", which is found more typically associated with plants, as opposed to leaves- and in swifter water habitats than I'm attempting to replicate. Plus, the damn things are bright green...LOL (In a perfect world, my choice would be P. wietzmani- but hey, beggars can't be choosers, and I'm likely to end up with the "GDC" anyways!

I'm thinking of a shallow, wide aquarium with dimensions at 36"x14"x12" (91.44 x 35.56 x 30.48 cm). A bit wider than some of the cool "wide footprint" tanks being offered by some manufacturers now.  Of course, it's a "custom" job...I never do anything the easy way, it seems! However, those extra two inches in width will, I believe, create a bit more realism and make this tank a bit easier on the eyes, particularly with its short heigh of 12 inches (30.48 cm). I'll definitely be using extra clear, low-iron glass for this build, to maximize light into what will likely be a darker, richly-colored tank. The capacity is about 26 US gallons (98.42 L)- an odd size, but just about right for this little experiment!   


For filtration, I'm definitely going external- an Ehiem 2213 filter, with an inline heater and disguised returns, if possible. And of course, I'll hide the whole thing like I did in my old office aquarium. I hate seeing gear!  Flow will be modest. I'm directing most of it mid water; this will be really important if I go with the surface-dwelling hatchetfish as my "secondary cast members" in this tank...Ahh, those little considerations loom large when planning our aquariums, don't they?

For illumination, I'll rely on a combination of room-ambient lighting (it's going to be in my kitchen/family room area), and a cool Nanobox Reef "Mini Flare" LED light, which can be controlled nicely to provide just enough light for the effects I'd like to achieve in the aquarium. 

Since these are all wild-caught fishes, the need to acquire, quarantine, and acclimate the fishes to captive life long before the tank is ever set up is another consideration that I am planning for. Particularly with the little guys like characins, internal parasites seem to "go with the territory", and I'd rather be proactive in this process to avoid any potential problems down the line. Besides, little fishes like this just always seem to be half-starved, taking a beating in transit from capture to dealer to you. 

What I'm hoping to achieve in this tank is a very different aesthetic. Really, a sort of "slice" of a very specific niche habitat. And, by keeping little fishes in a relatively small tank, I think that we'll see each and every aspect of this microcosm in nice detail. This will help to create an aesthetically pleasing, yet "semi-authentic" representation which can give the viewer an appreciation for what in the past has been an easy-to-overlook subject for aquarium replication.

So, that's where I'm at right now. I'm in the process of vetting out a tank builder, searching for the appropriate fishes, and looking for that one piece of wood that will "talk" to me! It's a lot of fun to share this kind of stuff with you, because it helps spur on discussions about subjects that are not always covered. I can't tell you how many times I've found out some cool and useful information from another hobbyist that helped me execute my plan, simply by sharing it! As we've mentioned before- in this vast hobby world, theres' almost always someone out there who might have tried to do what you're thinking of- and their input can be invaluable!

We'll be sure to keep you updated as this one come into being. In the mean time, let me know if you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas about this project!

Stay creative. Stay involved. Stay excited...

And Stay Wet!

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics






Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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