Spontaneous success- or the results of "cumulative competence?"

Have you ever had  this happen:

You're working with a fish that you really wanted to breed, and you tried seemingly every way possible to induce it to do so, with no apparent success?

You tried environmental manipulation, water changes, switching up pairs, playing with the day/night cycle, switching out foods, etc., etc., etc.

Like, everything you can think of.

Then, one day, sometime after you've thrown up your arms in defeat...you look into the tank they reside in, and...you have fry!

Ever had that happen?

It's one of the great mysteries of aquarium keeping...And it's not a bad thing of course. The main bummer is that you often don't know what- if anything-that you did was the "catalyst" for the spawning event! It's like you're just scratching your head...

Like, was it the accidental introduction of 25 un-prepared Alder cones into your filter...you know, not "pre-boiled" like usual- which perhaps introduced just enough extra tannins or humic substances to trigger that spawning response?  Maybe just a coincidence? Or maybe it was the fact that you got so busy last Wednesday that you missed your normal weekly water exchange day and performed it on Saturday instead? Or was it that extra bunch of freshly-prepared Guava leaves that you added to the tank last week when you removed a few older ones?

You just don't know, right?

Yeah, but why NOW? I mean, you've been working very diligently on conditioning them with food and optimum conditions for weeks...so it could have just been "time", right? I think it just goes to show you that animals often defy our human-rationalized "processes" and do whatever they damn well please! I mean, you can do what "the books" say to get a fish to spawn, but unless the fish are up to it, you're just dreaming...

So, where does this leave us, the aquarists who dream of breeding "that" fish?

It leaves us doing exactly what we've done for decades- giving our fish the best food and environment possible, and hoping against hope that our husbandry decisions result in a spawn. And if they don't, we just have to either "stand down" on trying new stuff, or just keep on going.


Yet, I think the reality for many fishes is that simply providing them the correct environmental conditions (i.e.; similar to those in which they have evolved) and offering them foods that are representative of their natural diet should ultimately yield spawning activity "whenever." I mean, think about it- those are things that should not be done on a "special" basis; rather, they are practices that most of us do- or should do- on a year 'round, continuous basis. We go to so much effort to keep our fishes healthy and happy, so this is simply the result of what I call "cumulative competence"- or, as one of my fish-keeping buddies so eloquently states, "Doing shit the right way..."


I think that, as more and more hobbyists enter the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium "genre", we've seen and heard more and more of these reports of "spontaneous" or "anomalous" spawning events, or rapid color and behavior improvements in fishes that, under previous "aquarium standard" conditions were nice, but not amazing. The slight improvements (or, perhaps better referred to as "tweaks") rendered by utilizing botanicals in aquariums with fishes that come from blackwater conditions are starting to yield tangible results that are far beyond mere coincidence.

The very utilization of botanicals to create consistent blackwater-style conditions in our tanks is something very special. Not a "cure -all" or some "hack" for doing everything right- but an incremental improvement to our "best practices."

However, it's still too early to know exactly what might be causing some of these events. I mean, what the specific triggers are. Is it chemical, physiological (the presence of humic substances, lower pH, etc.), or simply a result of the physical surroundings of the aquarium more closely representing those in which our fishes evolved over eons? You know, just having leaves on the bottom like back home, instead of #3 aquarium gravel or whatever...

And the continuous refinement of the technique of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums is There is no right or wrong answer here..The reality is, what makes the tropical fish hobby so enjoyable is that eternal quest for knowledge- the pursuit of a goal...

Brought about by the art of..."continuous competence..."

Frustrating though it may be at times, I don't think I know a single hobbyist who would take up some other pursuit in its place, do you?

Didn't think so.

Keep striving. Keep trying.

Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay relentless... 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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