I was in my LFS earlier this week; something I love to do. As I perused the many tanks, one of the cool discoveries I made was a tank full of some Epiplatys annulatus, the tiny little killifish often called the "Rocket Killie" by hobbyists. It's not exactly "rare", in the sense that you never see it; however, it's not the most common fish that you'd expect to find at your LFS: Although it has pleasing colors and typical Epiplatys behaviors...You know, like lurking in plants or glued right to the surface...anywhere that it's maximum "pain-in-the-ass visual" location. Oh, and they're like .75" (1.9cm) long...not exactly show-stopping in stature.
Yet, I thought to myself, "What a remarkable thing to see!" This was fish that I read about as a killie fan for years, back in my pre-teen AKA-member days. It had a certain element of mystery and awe attached to it. Not easy to breed or rear, and fairly difficult to obtain..It was one you'd either have to purchase from a specialized breeder as fish or eggs, sight unseen, and in small quantities...and here was this fish; available by the dozen- in a tank at my LFS. I mean, seeing any killifish in the LFS was and is always sort of exciting to me. Seeing THIS one was just plain crazy!
Three tanks over was the "Purple Emperor Tetra", Inpaichtys kerri, a fish that was discovered when I was a kid; I remember reading about it in Tropical Fish Hobbyist (yeah, my parents bought me a subscription when I was 11 years old. They knew.). It was a big deal back in the late 70's/early eighties...a sexy new version of the Emperor Tetra. Well, not a new "version", actually...I believe one of the distinguishing characteristics is the presence of an adipose fin, which is lacking in the "classic" Nematobrycon palmeri. It made quite a splash in the magazines, and was a real collector's fish. Since then, it's been captive bred by the "ga-jillion", and the price is super reasonable.
It just sort of made me reflect on the state of the hobby.
I mean, nowadays, it's not just easy to purchase a classic fish like the Pristella. You need to choose if you want the regular, albino, gold, or even a long-finned variant! This is really crazy...in fact, I remember looking for that fish not long ago, and it was actually hard to find the "basic" species; it was superseded by the many captive-bred variations available! What a switch, huh?
And the Danios, like the Leopard and Zebra, are available in all sorts of captive-bred variations to the point where I think there is probably almost no market demand for the "regular-finned" versions. Actually, a bit alarming, and somewhere I hope some hobbyists are taking note of this as well, and keeping/breeding the "OG" versions of these fish before they are utterly forgotten; even lost to the hobby altogether!
I suppose it was my early 1970's little kid indoctrination into the hobby, reading my dad's vintage late 60's collection of aquarium books, which got me excited and romantic about the "classic" fishes and blown away by the intriguing variations that I was seeing now. I think reading this book and others that were sort of "vintage"- written in a time when everything was so amazing and new and exciting and...exotic- really set the tone for how I looked -and continue to look at- the fishes we keep. It IS sort of romantic and cool, huh? I mean, just in my lifetime, a lot of fishes went from being newly discovered, nearly unobtainable, or elusive at best, to being available as captive-bred variants by the million-"staples" in the trade!
In a way, the very fact that it's difficult to obtain the "original" versions of some classic fishes makes things even more romantic! Strange, but true, when you think about it.
And of course, don't even get me started on the previously unusual fishes available in their "natural" versions that are now commonplace in most well-stocked local fish stores. Fishes like the "Threadfin Rainbow", which has always had a certain "allure" to it- yet it's commonly seen at shops nowadays!
And there is another thing that us romantic aquarist-types notice: Some of these "classic" fishes, by virtue of them being perhaps more difficult or impractical to breed at scale, still come in from the wild, and still are sort of "aspirational" and smile-inducing when they arrive, like the Marbled Hatchetfish, Carnegiella strigata- one of those fishes which, in my opinion, will always put the "exotic" in the term "tropical fish!"
Of course, then there is the fascinating influx of "Wild Bettas" we see now...lotso f cool species that were previously relegated to Asian mud holes and the tanks of super-specialized breeders are now coming into the mainstream.
"Wild" -yet not because that many are freely-imported- but "wild" because they are not the "pampered poodle-type" domesticated show variants we see in every pet shop in the world.
And that makes them super cool..and yeah- a bit romantic, too.
And being a romantic, I cannot help but also lament a bit, the sort of "loss of mystery" I feel every time I see the words "captive bred" in front of my all-time favorite fish, the Black Ghost Knifefish, Apteronotus albifrons - for years my personal "Poster child" for "Coolest, most amazing fish ever!" For so many reasons: The story behind its name; the incredibly cool tale surrounding Fred Cochu's first capture and importation of this fish into the hobby, and even Axelrod's brief, perhaps sort of unintentionally (?) ethnically demeaning, but really impactful description of the fish in his classic "Exotic Tropical Fishes"- part of which I will never forget: "...The South American natives believe the ghosts of their departed ancestors take up residence in the fish, and refuse to disturb it..." and the oddly juxtaposed (yet correct!) description of it as a "...peaceful, friendly fish.."
I'll always feel this way about that fish.
And there will always be some fish which, although more and more available, are simply not all that common in the trade for a variety of reasons...like my "bestie", Crenuchus spilurus- the "Sailfin Tetra", which first captured my fantasy as a 7-year-old scanning the well-worn Innes book, stumbling upon the compelling black-and-white pic of this truly exotic and mysterious fish, and vowing to one day keep it. It wasn't until several decades later (Yikes! Dating myself here) that I actually finally owned some...and guess what? The thrill was as strong as ever! You know how it feels, I'll bet: When you finally acquire that fish you've been musing about for so long, it's a very sweet thing!
And then, finally, there is always that "thing" that keeps many of us going. The romance and thrill of finding a "mislabeled" or "nondescript" fish in the "Any fish in this tank, $2.99" aquarium, or whatever- that just happens to be some undescribed Apisto, rare, yet grey-brown (I Love your article series in Amazonas online, Matt Pedersen!) characin that's simply "by-catch", or a Hyphessobrycon rosaceus mislabeled as a "Candy Cane Tetra...Or maybe finding the seemingly incongruously-named "Costello Tetra", Hemigrammus hyanuary (I mean, why not just call it the "Hyanuary Tetra" once and for all and be done with it? )...
And, have you ever noticed how excited we get when someone posts a pic of the "real deal" version of a fish? I think we all sot of get this. We may not want to admit to being as unabashedly romantic and "gushy" as I do- but we all get this.
This is the stuff that fuels the fire, continues the romance...
Stuff like wild Discus, which serve to remind us that nature did a pretty damn good job for eons without our selective breeding and bare tanks.
Romance. straight up.
It's part of the reason I took my now-legendary hiatus from the reef world, to return to my first love in freshwater...The "romance" sort of got lost in that world, sandwiched somewhere between the latest protein skimmer variation, hyper-tuned LED, and rampant Facebook overhyped, overpriced, phony-ass microchip coral-frag auctions...The romance is sort of lost in that world. And that's sad. Perhaps I can help bring it back one day. We'll see.
Our world- this world- the massive, truly exotic, wonderfully segmented, still-ripe for innovation world of the freshwater aquarium- the world where I know I feel most at home- is truly amazing. It's filled with it's own challenges and absurdities, too. However, it's also filled with promise, aspirations, new and exciting developments, discoveries and yes- adulations of old friends, and a rich, varied, historical "culture" that builds on traditions- and hopefully, eschews and challenges some of them. And through it al.l, it never fails to inspire, excite, and yes- provide that special "romance" that makes this the greatest hobby on earth.
I sure hope somewhere there is a 7-year-old, leafing through her dad's copies of Amazonas, TFH, or PFK, and wondering...dreaming...
Stay excited. Stay compelled. Stay engaged. Stay...romantic.
And above all...