More "toys in the sandbox?"

Something hit me the other day.

Not exactly groundbreaking, earth-shattering, or otherwise world-changing...

It seems to me that many of the tanks I see in which the aquarist keeps "monster-sized" fishes seem to be more "purpose-scaped" which, although attractive, seem to be distend more for practicality than aesthetics.

Now, I'm aware that there are some needs, when keeping some of these tank-busting fishes, which need to be addressed. Some huge cichlids, for example, will simply level everything, making plants almost impossible. Yet, I have this feeling that you could still do some things to create a more realistic aquarium, even one using botanicals.

Sure, a fish that digs and does stuff about on the substrate is probably not a ideal candidate for keeping in a tank filled with leaves, right? Well, think about it. Why not? I mean, sure, there going to just shift and dig and move substrate and such about- just like they do in the wild. So, a carefully conceived botanical-substrate or hardscape is going to be torn asunder and become a random aggregation of stuff...which, in my opinion, is pretty cool, actually.

I mean, most of these big cichlids, knife fishes, etc. don't "eat" these materials (okay, maybe some Pacu and such might "sample" them), but they will perhaps bury them, redistribute them, and, well- how do we put it delicately- "poop" in them.

And a bed of leaves mixed with sand, if they get redistributed and even partially buried is still a bed of leaves mixed with sand, right?

Okay. So...?

A siphon works the same in a tank with big fishes and a substrate full of botanical materials as it does in a tank filled with #3 gravel, right? Uneaten food, detritus, fish waste, etc. can be removed- with a bit more effort, perhaps...Perhaps starting out with juveniles of these brutes will bring out less "destructive" behaviors when maintained in these types of environments?

Something to think about, I suppose?

I can't help but wonder, for example, how some of these large cichlids with a reputation for being a bit well- "messy", would look in a large tank filled with lots of leaves, harder botanicals (like the bigger seed pods- "Ra Cama", "Monkey Pots", Sapuccaio Pods, "Jungle Pods", etc. and some wood. Now, granted, it's important to stay your target fish and make sure it comes from an environment that has analogs to some of these materials present- but wouldn't it be interesting to see how they act in a captive habitat more similar to the one they evolved in? 

I know I skirt the dangerous boundary of "making sweeping generalities" with this assertion and the basic premise of this post, but it just seems to me that many, many of the tanks I've seen which house big, gnarly fishes seem to be conceived and operated from a mindset that "The fish is going to "wreck" the 'scape, so best to just through in a few big pieces of wood and rock and call it a day." Now, I totally get that, but I simply can't help but wonder why it would hurt to try to create a botanical-style blackwater aquarium for larger fishes which come from similar habitats.

Knifefish, Arrowana, Puffers, Tiger Fish, etc., etc.


Sure, they'll move stuff, rip some things up, and generally throw any "planned" botanical scape into complete, random  disarray...but wouldn't that be And wouldn't the "psychological" benefits of this type of activity- this "big old sandbox"- be that much more stimulating for the fish, perhaps even calming, or spurring more natural behaviors? And would a tank in which all of this materials was redistributed, buried, and otherwise moved about be kind of cool? Perhaps a bit more challenging to siphon debris from (or NOT!), but cool, nonetheless.

Obviously, I don't claim to have all of the answers. Hell, I don't even like keeping monster-sized fishes. But I do like creating unique habitats for all sorts of fishes, and just can't help but wonder...

Would love to see and hear from those of you who have cast aside the usual 'cautions" and conventional thinking and just went for it in this area. Was it really a disaster to keep clean and chemically stable...or was it just a disheveled tank that ran okay, despite the "redecorating" of the big fish who resided there?

Just something that popped into my head this morning.

Catch you soon.

Stay adventurous. Stay challenged. Stay brave. Stay curious. Stay creative.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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