Replication...or Inspiration?

I know that it's pretty flattering when someone looks at one of my aquariums and tells me, "I really love that tank! I want to set up one just like it!"

Have you ever seen someone's beautiful aquarium, thought to yourself, "I really want to duplicate that in my next tank!"- and you proceed to attempt to replicate it?

Yeah, I think we've all done something like that before.

It's one of those hobby "constants"- we see something someone else has done well, and we attempt to recreate all or part of it in our own systems. And why not? It's part of the "aspirational" aspect of aquarium keeping. Now, granted, you'll never fully duplicate that tank exactly like the original, but you can bring elements of it into your own design...

I mean, you should, right?

Why would you want to have the exact same thing someone else did?

It's the same as when we attempt to recreate wild habitats from which our fishes come. We take the elements which we find attractive, interesting, and functionally beneficial, and try to replicate them in our tanks. This is a great thing, IMHO, because it keeps us thinking about the needs of our fishes and about the components which make up their environment.

It's nice that we are looking closely at the functional aspects of Nature- not just the look.

And, as we've discussed before, there is no "rule" (except maybe in some contests) which says you have to use the exact materials found in the specific habitat you're trying to replicate. The idea is to do an aesthetic and functional facsimile of the habitat. 

I recall having a few tanks over the years that, either through the result of good planning and execution, periodic tweaks, or just plain old luck, stuck out as some of the better work that I've done in the aquarium world. "Better" meaning that they had components that I'd want to play with again.

Well, looking at them now, they had a lot of "aesthetic issues", but I was able to take components of them and use them in my more recent work.

And I've always kept elements of them in my mind, telling myself, "I'm gonna do that tank again- only bigger..." or whatever. A process...

I'd "reverse engineer" which elements conspired to create such a successful tank, and work to incorporate them in my "Version 2.0" or whatever tank I was doing. I think we all do this. And we should, really. And "iterating" off of other people's beautiful work is really fantastic, right? Just "lifting" some components of the 'scape and creating your own unique design.

Some of the best tanks I ever had, success-wise, were simply as a result of "benign neglect", or as one of my friends used to say- "letting Nature take it's course." You know, planting the tank and just letting the plants grow, not "messing" with stuff too often.

Oh, sure, I'd conduct water changes and such, but that was about it. These were almost "jungle-like" in appearance, with killifish or livebearer fry all over the place...really successful, cool systems for their intended purpose. I did a number of fry grow-out tanks in this fashion, and loved them each and every time.  

And I learned a lot about management of aquarium systems with these "jungles", too. 

In a way, the botanical-style aquariums that we allow to evolve "uninterrupted' to a certain extent are the absolute embodiment of this idea. There is much to be said for starting with a great "foundation" and allowing nature to do what it's done for eons. And replicating our own work by simply setting up a system in such a way as to accommodate this process is a classic example of successful aquarium "reverse engineering", isn't it? 

I'm probably rambling a bit too much on a topic that doesn't need as much explanation as I'm giving it. However, I receive a lot of correspondence from hobbyists who want to create aquariums with certain elements in them from other tanks they've tried, and wonder if the botanicals and such will work with them.

I say, "Of course they will!" I mean, the reality is that you can incorporate all sorts of approaches (within reason) into an aquarium, and it may take you in any number of directions.

And that, in my opinion, is one of the joys of aquarium keeping. "Cherry-picking" elements from systems that we love or worked well for us in the past, and incorporating them intentionally in a new tank is always fun. It's how we progress, learn, develop technique, screw stuff up, and generally advance the state of the art in aquarium keeping.

And it's pretty damn fun, too.

If you're not already, don't be afraid to reverse engineer in your aquarium efforts. You just never know what might come of it! Maybe something better than "V2.0" for sure! Something which may challenge your previous idea of aesthetics; something which helps you grow as a hobbyist...Something which helps the hobby grow.

Stay challenged. Stay excited. Stay curious. Stay experimental. Stay adventurous...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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