Preservation of the patina..

The other day, I had someone ask me, "... if Tannin is going to offer ________ brand of products, and more of ____________ , to become a 'more mainstream shop' in the hobby" (his words), and it made me immediately shudder a bit, and reflect on the "state of play" in our little corner of the aquarium world; where we are, how we see it, and what we're doing here.

My point of view looks at things a bit differently. 

It ain't pretty. Some of you won't like my tone here. I'm warning you:

There is a point in the aquarium hobby where you start looking at your 11,000th Instagram feed post of a aquascape with " ____ Stone" and "Blah, blah, blah Grass" and the requisite branching wood soaring out past the waterline, anointed as a tank which "embraces Nature", and you kind of want to...well, vomit.

Well, I do.


I'm at that point.

"Oh, you're such a badass, Fellman. You and Tannin are cool and everyone else sucks..."


At least hear me out, where I'm coming from..Then you can trash me if you want.

How many tanks with crystal-white sand, crisp green manicured lawns of Eleocharis, 36 Cardinal Tetras, and grey rock do we have to see, with the accompanying adulations about how "amazingly natural" the tank looks before we take our heads out of (a certain part of our anatomy) and realize there is way more to creating a "natural aquarium" than the "paint-by-numbers" aesthetics-first social media fodder that's "top of feed" every day?

Yes, haters- come flame me... I Know I sound sorry of spiteful, or jealous or something...But that's not what I'm getting at. These tanks are great. For what they are. They are to the wild aquatic habitats what a flower arrangement is to a meadow.

They are beautiful. They are the result of very talented aquascapers doing great work. However, I think it's kind of absurd that we tout them as some ultimate expression of nature. No, they are an expression of part of nature.

And that's okay.

Yet, as the old show biz sayings goes, "Is that all there is?"

I mean, to me, they're just sort of all the same. They seem to be set up solely for the aesthetics and the function of them as an underwater microcosm of life, featuring relationships and biological interdependencies is essentially lacking. 

Or at least, discussion about anything other than how the f---ing plants are trimmed or what brand of soil additive or designer stone is used is curiously lacking.


Enough. Again, enjoy the hobby how you want to. It's okay. It's the way it should be. But the over-reaching narrative about this type of thing?

Tannin is not going to become a part of that. 

Our coined term, "functional aesthetics" sort of shows our positioning here. Emphasis on "functional." The "aesthetics" part comes from accepting the beauty of Nature as she is.

Our original mission at Tannin was to share our passion for the reality of "unedited" Nature, in all of its murky, brown, algae-patina-enhanced glory. And I started to realize that a while back, we were starting to fall dangerously into that noisy, (IMHO) absurd, mainstream aquascaping world. Pressing our dirty faces against the pristine glass, we were sort of outsiders looking in...the awkward, different new kid on the block, wanting to play with the others.

Then, the realization hit that we never really wanted to play like that. It's not who we are.

We are not going to play there.

We're going to double down in our dirty, tinted, turbid, decomposing, inspired-by Nature world. Sure, our materials can and should be utilized by all sorts of hobbyists for all sorts of applications. However, if you were worried about your favorite little quirky supplier of twigs and nuts becoming yet another "player" in the world of homogenized, prepackaged, generic blah, let me assure you now that it will not be happening.

We're all-in on the "preservation of the patina." Biofilms. Detritus. Decomposing leaves... Letting Nature do here thing and not "sanitizing it."

Yes, you'll see more and more unique stuff from us to help you embrace Nature as it is and incorporate it into your aquarium work. And we'll continue to feature blogs and information that highlights aspects of the natural aquatic habitats that we can and should incorporate into our aquarium work. Aspects that focus as much- if not more- on the function, as opposed to just the aesthetics- which will arise as a result of embracing natural processes.

Looking at stuff that's literally right in our faces, yet curiously not applied to aquarium work- is our "jam." Stuff like seasonal changes in aquatic habitats and figuring out how to apply them in our tanks is exciting and quite likely, ground-breaking concept in the hobby for those who choose to work with it.

Hmm. Seasonality. "What do you mean, Scott?"

Amazonian seasonality, for example, is marked by river-level fluctuation, also known as "seasonal pulses." The average annual river-level fluctuations in the Amazon Basin can range from approximately 12'-45' /4–15m!!!  Scientists know this, because river-water-level data has been collected in some parts of the Brazilian Amazon for more than a century! The larger Amazonian rivers fall into to what is known as a “flood pulse”, and are actually relatively predictable.

And of course, when the water levels rise, the fish populations are affected in many ways. Rivers overflow into surrounding forests and plains, turning the formerly terrestrial landscape into an aquatic habitat once again.

What can we learn from these seasonal inundations, besides just the obvious "structural" impact on the environment? You know, the water level rises... 

Well, for one thing, we can observe the impact of this cycle on the diets of our fishes.

Yeah, what they eat at different times of the year.

In general, fish, detritus and insects form the most important food resources supporting the fish communities in both wet and dry seasons, but the proportions of invertebrates fruits, and fish are reduced during the low water season. Interestingly, individual fish species exhibit diet changes between high water and low water seasons in these areas...a fascinating adaptation and possible application for hobbyists?

Even specialized feeders, like herbivorous fishes- make these changes. 

The consumption of fruits in Mylossoma and Colossoma species was significantly less during the low water periods, and their diet was changed, with these materials substituted by plant parts and invertebrates, which were more abundant. Fruit-eating is significantly reduced during the low water period when the fruit sources in the forests are not readily accessible to the fish.

During these periods of time, fruit eating fishes ("frugivores"-yeah, that's a thing) consume more seeds than fruits, and supplement their diets with foods like as leaves, detritus, and plankton. Interestingly, even the known "gazers", like Leporinus,  were found to consume a greater proportion of materials like seeds during the low water season.

And the inundation itself creates impacts which influence both the availability and production of foods. Mud and detritus are transported via the overflowing rivers into flooded areas, and create a layer of organic materials which contribute to the forest leaf litter and other botanicals, becoming nutrient sources which contribute to the growth of epiphytic algae and microorganisms.

During the lower water periods, this organic layer helps compensate for the shortage of other food sources. When the water is at a high period and the forests are inundated, many terrestrial insects on the surrounding trees fall into the water and are consumed by fishes. In general, insects- both terrestrial and aquatic, support a large community of fishes.

So, it goes without saying that the importance of insects and fruits- which are essentially derived from the flooded forests, are reduced during the dry season when fishes are confined to open water and feed on different materials. 

So I part of the key to successfully conditioning and breeding some of the fishes found in these habitats altering their diets to mimic the seasonal importance/scarcity of various food items? In other words, feeding more insects at one time of the year, and perhaps allowing fishes to graze on detritus and biocover at other times?

Is the concept of creating a "food producing" aquarium, complete with detritus, natural mud, biofilms, and an abundance of decomposing botanical materials, a key to creating a more realistic feeding dynamic, as well as a "functionally aesthetic" aquarium?

Let's face it, a truly "natural" aquarium needs to embrace stuff like detritus, mud, wood, decomposing botanical materials, varying water tint and/or clarity, etc. The aesthetics might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the possibilities for creating more self-sustaining, ecologically sound microcosms are numerous, and the potential benefits for fishes are many. 

Just looking at Nature as it presents itself  and learning more about the dynamics of natural habitats and the ecology of the surrounding terrestrial environments is a  fascinating and compelling area of study that we as aquarists can really get into.

Yes, it requires some study of some esoteric things.

It requires trying some new and seemingly wacky ideas (encouraging the accumulation of detritus and epiphytic algal growth, for one thing), and embracing some different aesthetics. It requires us to get out of our own head space and separate superficial aesthetics from functional aesthetics. Can't wean yourself off of "aesthetics first?" Try this: Look at pictures of the natural aquatic habitats of the world instead of last month's "Tank of The Month", and ask yourself what occurs in Nature to make them appear the way they do.

Then, apply this to your next tank.

Free your mind.

Preserve the "patina" of life.

The potential for learning new things about our fishes, and perhaps being able to spawn them more reliably and productively, lessening our reliance on the collection of some wild specimens, and taking pressure off of the wild habitats, could be significant.

Stay observant. Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay unique. Stay bold...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment