Getting to know "old friends..."

Think back to the beginnings of your hobby experience...

Remember how excited you were just to KEEP tropical fishes- regardless of what type? Remember the magic of just seeing those colorful fishes- the ones which the hobby has, for better or for worse, anointed as "beginner's fishes" for their adaptability and resilience- swimming actively in your tank filled with plastic plants, colored gravel, and maybe an ornament or two? 

Pure magic, right?

Now, think about what you could do with those old friends...Those "beginner's fishes"- the so-called "common" fishes- with your evolved skill set, mental shift-optimized attitude, and experience!

Consider featuring one of these species in an aquarium which recreates- to the best extent possible, many of the environmental, chemical, and physical aspects of their natural habitat.

Can you imagine what you could accomplish?


The mind boggles. 

Want a personal example of a beloved, "beginner's fish" I've almost forgotten about over the decades? One that I think could benefit from a little more TLC, and a new approach?

(I was just thinking...How would YOU like to be called a "beginner's fish", or "common fish", anyways? And, what the fuck does that mean?)

As a kid, I think one of the most memorable sights in my first 10-gallon aquarium (complete with "regulation issue" blue gravel and plastic plants) was my group of 8 Zebra Danios  (Danio rerio) racing at high speed around the tank in a furious fashion, as if they had to get somewhere in a big freaking hurry...only to reverse course, and do it all again. I've never forgotten how much I liked the Zebras- or almost every other Danio species kept in the aquarium. 

And the amazing thing about this fish is that it's probably THE most bulletproof species you can keep. In fact, I recall reading somewhere that it's "tolerated temperature range" based on wild type localities is from 76.2 – 101.5°F (24.6 – 38.6°C). I mean, if THAT isn't a broad range, nothing is! And it tolerates water with a pH from 6.0-8.0.

Yeah, these guys are hardly what you'd call "fussy" fish!

They come from widely varying aquatic habitats in their natural range, too. Which means a lot of interesting possibilities for replicating them.

And you know me- once I hear that, I get these weird ideas like, "What if we mimic the conditions of the natural habitat of the fish? Would they do better? IS there an 'advantage' to doing this? What could you expect to achieve?"  I think like this for so many fishes...As if to shun the fact that 90% of what we keep in the aquarium these days has never seen a stream, pond, or river...

That being said, it's just..I don't know..irresistible to me to think about this kind of stuff! Taking the most common of common aquarium fishes and giving them "throwback" conditions; seeing if it somehow "awakens" something locked into their genetic code over eons...something...

I mean, it's kind of silly, I suppose...there are so many other things to do in the hobby...Especailly when one considers that many of the fishes I'm musing about here (like the Danios) have been kept and bred in aquariums for generations...Yet, I can't help but wonder if we can learn something from replicating some aspects of their long-forgotten wild habitats...

And, in regards to our friend, the Zebra Danio, what's interesting to me is the habitats in which these fish are found. I know that must shock you, right?

Typically, these fishes are found in Northern India, and this area is subjected to seasonal rainfall between the months of June and September due to the summer Monsoon, and the water levels and characteristics vary considerably at different times of the year. They are often found in inundated rice paddies and marginal pools, with silty, kind of turbid water with very little movement.

Oh, I know a little bit about working with silty water, right?😆

Now, during the dry times of the year, the Zebras spend their time in calm, shaded areas of streams, with rocky, sandy substrates. They move into different habitats with significantly different ecology different tines of the year, based on prevailing weather conditions...

This is interesting, because it reminds me a bit of the Amazon igarape, although instead of rain forest, you've got rice paddies...

And, as you know, I HAVE been playing with rice seeds, silted substrates, and turbid water lately! Hmmm...


So, my simple thought is...this fish seems to hang out in what we as hobbyists would think of us "less desirable" conditions for much of the year- the silty rice paddies...And only spends the dry season in the more permanent, less turbid streams. Why would this be? Is there some advantage? Like food, better substrates for breeding, protection? Why the turbid water? What does it bring to the fishes?

Would there be an advantage to keeping a fish like the Zebra in different conditions different times of the year, moving them into these conditions in a manner and timing similar to what happens in Nature? Or would it be just as interesting to simply maintain them in a tank representing one of the two habitats it's found in.

Of course, I find the idea of "transitioning" these fishes to these different environmental conditions at different times of the year fascinating. Now, I"m not saying that this would be easy, or even practical for many hobbyists to execute. However, "actively managing" these types of environmental simulations we're collectively gaining more experience with in our "Urban Igapo" experiments, right?


Would you WANT or NEED to do this? it's something which certainly doesn't have to be done in order to achieve success with breeding this fish. I mean, the fish has been a captive-bred staple of the hobby for almost a century...but I can't help but wonder why these fishes live the way they do in the wild. What advantages do these habitats hold for the fish?

Would you get different social structures, colors, health, spawning behaviors, etc. out of the fish by doing this "seasonal transition"..? Using a very fine sand substrate, maybe mixed in with some mud or something similar to replicate the rice paddies, with pump returns very gently angled at the bottom to simulate turbidity?

It's not hard to search online and find out about the geology of areas in which this, or many other fishes are found. And as we know, geology, weather,  and topography DO have significant influence on the live of fishes.

There's a lot we can do with this stuff!It's just waiting to be done.

Again, why, you ask?

My answer? Because I just think it could be kind of cool.

Weird, sure- but cool.

Am I the only one who imagines weird stuff like this? Maybe?

On second thought- don't answer that!

I know, the fish is bred by the billion in fish farms all over the world, as are many much sexier, "domesticated" strains of its relatives...Yet, wouldn't it be kind of  interesting to see what happens when you "repatriate" these "common" fishes to conditions similar to what they have evolved under in their natural habitats? 

Yet, the idea entices me. 

I've been playing a lot lately with more realistic, functional interpretations of the Brazilian igapo habitats which I'm so obsessed with, and am wondering if, by nuancing the executions of the physical environments we provide even "common" fishes, that there will be some "unlocks."

I've seen some spawning events in fishes like Neon Tetras and "Green Neon Tetras" in these types of simulations, so that's been a plus!

And to me, there is something just plain interesting about simulating and "actively managing" these functional representations of habitats and their seasonal variations in the aquarium.

I think it goes beyond the traditional "biotope" approach, which seems to replicate more of the look and perhaps some basic environmental characteristics, and encouraging us to examine the function of our fishes habitats and their influence on them.

Getting to know old friends in a new light is kind of exciting! A so-called "common" fish in an "uncommon" context is...well, uncommon!

And tantalizing, wouldn't you say?

Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay innovative. Stay observant. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

 Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

January 12, 2021

Couldn’t agree more, Kathleen! 😆


Kathleen Brophy
Kathleen Brophy

January 11, 2021

Of course it’s weird. That’s what makes it cool.

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