Like many of you, I've spent a lifetime in the hobby. Literally, I had my first real-deal aquarium when I was about 5 years old. Having a father who was a fish geek pretty much destined me to have a lifelong aquarium obsession! I've kept so many different types of aquariums and fishes over they years that its sometimes hard to remember them all!
Yet, it wasn't until 2015 that I obtained my first pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi!
Seriously. It took me THAT freaking long...
MY FIRST PAIR!
I can't believe that I just never got around to trying these fish before. They are absolutely...intoxicating. I mean, I couldn't get enough of them. They have amazing personalities, beautiful colors, and are near perfect fishes for my favored South American-themed aquariums! I completely understand the obsession-inducing quality of these fish.
The only thing I can't understand is why it took me so long to get to the party?
Obsessions. They're part of the hobby. Part of what keeps us going. And of course, I've had my share over the years...
For the longest time, it was the Yellow Assessor (Assessor flavissimus) from the South Pacific.
Before that, it was Centropyge hotumatua, the rare and absurdly expensive "Easter Island Pygmy Angelfish", which I've written about on these pages before.
And of course, there were always Killifish. Specifically, the genus Epiplatys...and to be exact, Ep. dageti Monrovia, the "Killifish of my childhood." I fell hard for that fish, and it was one of the coolest fish I ever bred. Still love it to this day!
For many decades, I was obsessed with the Sailfin Tetra, Crenuchus spilurus. A fish that I recall reading of as far back as elementary school, in my well-worn copy of Innes Exotic Aquarium Fishes. I'm a sucker for a black and white photo and a romantic description of a fish. It must have been unreal in 1939, because it still called to me in the 21st century. I didn't get my first group until 2016!
A weirdly diverse selection there, but I guess that's what you end up with after decades of wide-ranging interest in the hobby, right?
What is it about the hobby that keeps making us try new things, even decades into our hobby careers? It's interesting to me; maybe we like to collect stuff, and trying new fishes appeals to some instinctive "hunter-gatherer" thing in our genes. Or, it could simply be that there is such an incredible diversity of fishes that we just can't help but want to try 'em all!
Sometimes, I do wonder why certain people obsess with certain kinds of fishes. For example, for the longest time, I thought that the people when were into the big, predatory cichlids and Gaupote types were missing a few screws! At the very least, I unfairly placed them into that same stereotype category as the people who walk around with Boa Constrictors around their necks and mean-looking Pit Bulls on a chain...You know the type.
Then, I had the fortunate experience of doing a lot of aquarium-related travel and I'd spend some time with some of these obsessed hobbyists, see their aquariums, fish rooms, and systems devoted to these cool fish, and. .I sort of got it! I mean, they're not MY cup of tea- but I understand the obsession now.
It's the same with Betta and Guppy people. They may have chosen to specialize with one type of fish, but most of them have multiple strains- or in the case of Betta enthusiasts- different species. I recently fell hard for Betta albimarginata and some of the other "wild type" species, so I get it. And of course, many of these wild Betta are perfectly suited for botanical-style aquariums, and that adds to the allure for me!
There is so much out there!
And what's really cool to me is the serious fish room of a hardcore fish geek! It's like Disneyland for fishes! And it seems like even the most ardent lover of say, African Cichlids or Rainbowfishes will still have a few random tanks devoted to totally unrelated species...And you'll ask these hobbyists why, and they'll tell you those beautiful words, "Because they're cool!"
Love that. And that mindset, by the way, has perpetuated the whole "multiple tank syndrome" thing- where we have 30-50 tank fish rooms...I couldn't love it more!
A truly healthy obsession, IMHO!
Of course, aquarium hobby obsessions have a dark side, too.
I know some out there will hate me bringing this up. Usually, it results in at least one or two emails telling me what a hypocrite I am. However, I'm merely giving you my take on something that I think has turned a bit...unhealthy.
There are lots of amazingly talented, devoted hardcore reefers out there. However, in recent years, there was the emergence of what I felt (and still feel) is a "dark underbelly" of the reef aquarium world that, in my opinion, is "stain" on a lot of the really good stuff that's going on there.
One of the more recent things that I've railed on (yeah, I don't feel good about it) is the obscenity of what we call "named" coral frags. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the idea of entrepreneurship and commerce and free trade and such. Yeah, I know, if someone wants to be $600 USD for a microchip-sized "frag" of something, so be it, right? Who and I to bash this practice? And I sell twigs and leaves, and...
Let me explain.
I hate these "named frags" because, in my opinion, these groups have lowered the standards in the hobby by creating this ridiculous sub-trade for overpriced, photo-manipulated, microchip-sized coral frags of what typically are often just subtle color variants, or brightly-colored, freshly imported $16 USD specimens of common coral species (Acropora tenuis, for example) hacked off a colony, and given an absurd name. Artificial scarcity is created. The joke is that the same coral can typically be had at almost any legitimate coral vendor (brick and mortar or online) without a stupid name and the accompanying ridiculous hype.
Yeah, they've lowered the standards of the aquarium hobby and reduced it to something very different. The legitimate coral propagators out there do amazing work.
Why does a big chunk of the reef world embrace microchip-sized coral frags of so-called "rare" varieties (which often means nothing- just that someone gave a frag of a common species a ridiculous name)?
I wish I could tell you.
I suppose it has a certain "collector's appeal" appeal to many. I do get that. Indeed, one could label me a bit hypocritical, I suppose. I just fish it a bit sad about stuff like that. I think it cheapens the work done by legitimate coral propagators- of which there are many.
It seems to have created an unhealthy obsession, IMHO.
Anyways, my point here is not to bash the reef world (well, maybe kick it in the shins until it gets a bit more sense- I'm well known for doing that). The point was to celebrate the wonderful trait that all aquarium hobbyists share: The delight over trying new stuff, and to point out how easily it can be ruined by just a few people who don't seem to get it.
Damn, I got sidetracked a bit!
This stuff is not the same in other areas of the hobby, from what I've seen and experienced.
You simply don't see virally-hyped auctions for Plecos or say Mbuna or Lake Tanganyika "shellies", for example. Sure, you'll see some high prices for rarer varieties, and truly rare and hard-to-obtain fishes can fetch breathtaking prices- often because they are legitimately rare and hard to import! That makes sense.
Yet, what you see mostly is people selling cool fishes that they've bred, because they have too many of them- NOT because they're trying to make a quick ransom on an overpriced specimen. Sure, there are occasional exceptions...very occasional.
For the most part, it's very healthy.
In fact, what I've found refreshingly cool about the freshwater auctions is that you find many times that the seller is almost sadly divesting him/herself of beloved fishes because he or she simply has no space! In fact, many freshwater hobbyists (and quite a few reefers, too!) will often just give away stuff for free to others. And of course, when a new fish comes along, they do mysteriously carve out room somewhere for them!
It's amazing to me that we can still find new delights in a hobby that we've been in all of our lives in many cases. It amazes me that many wonderful people generously share, trade, and outright give away fishes and corals that they're obsessed with- simply because they want others to enjoy them (and perhaps, to make room for more cool stuff!).
Enjoy the hobby the way you want to. Never stop chasing those healthy obsessions! Think about your fellow hobbyists, the wild aquatic habitats, and the generations of hobbyists yet unborn. It's kind of mind-blowing when you think about stuff like that.
It's an honor to be a part of this wonderful hobby, and to be in the presence of a group of people who, despite occasionally needing a kick in the ass, overall are wonderful, talented geeks with a great love for what they do, and an appreciation for what they have.
Okay, need to get back to setting up that new tank...I'm going to get some killies...
No matter how your interests change or evolve: Stay honest. Stay obsessed. Stay generous. Stay devoted...
And most important: