Subtle "suggestions" and important observations from the non-aquarium crowd!

Have you ever noticed that we tend to operate in out own little world, often almost blissfully ignorant of how it all seems to those on the outside? Like, we may be so hyper-focused on one aspect of our hobby-or simply the hobby in general- that we fail to take into account how things look those who aren't hobbyists; you know, people who observe our aquariums from time to time. Or daily.

Perhaps it's because we are too "in the game..." We simply can't distance ourselves from the realities.


Ever noticed how the "non-aquarium" people in your life, especially those you reside with, seem to have an incredible knack for asking the perfect "rhetorical question?" I mean, some seem sort of obvious to everyone else, even though we might not want to hear them!

Yeah, it seems like the skeptical, or perhaps "mildly amused" non-fishy residents of your home are usually the main source of many of these "gems." Perhaps, if we look at a few of them more closely, we can see exactly what the core point is, and leverage the concerns expressed in the "question" to create a more harmonious home life.


Yeah. Think about that for a minute! In our world, "harmonious home life" often translates into a "green light" for...more fish tanks! (like, that's the ultimate "seal of approval" for all of us, right?) It pays to listen to such suggestions and observations from these very important people!

Besides...a lot of times, they're "spot-on"- regardless of if we like to hear them or not!

And we'd be wise to accept the validity of their observations, and to take action on them- rather than simply "explain them away", or take them as some sort of personal affront, like we may tend to do at times, huh?

Here are a few classic rhetorical questions the hardcore fish geek is bound to encounter now and again:


(Pointing to a sick or dead fish that you've either not yet discovered, or were about to net out) "Wow, these fish are kind of delicate, huh? They don't live so long in this tank?" 

Hmm- beyond the "hit" that your ego takes as a result of this discovery, perhaps there is a small kernel of truth here? I mean, it could be simply that the Zebra Danio croaked. Or, in the case of say, a more delicate Mbuna, Apisto, or wild Betta, that the environment or the husbandry techniques you're applying to the aquarium need some review and perhaps, some "tweaking."

The casual observer noticing frequent or regular fish losses should not be ignored. It's a responsibility for us to get to the bottom of this stuff. We may not like to be "under the microscope" for stuff like this, but it's often very valuable when we use it as constructive and investigate- and solve the potential issue.


"I'm trying to remember...Was the tank making this much noise last week?"

Another absolute classic that can tip you off to some potential issues, right? I've personally experienced this one before. Believe me, non-fish people (particularly spouses or other residents) notice every hum, whir, and pop your aquariums make, and if something changes...or if it's just kind of "mad-scientist-lab-sounding" to begin with, they'll be the first to let you know. It might be a bit annoying for you to hear these reports- yet, consider the potential "issues" that these things could be harbingers of.

This is the kind of feedback that could literally save your aquarium- or even your home life! Check those plumbing connections, air and water pumps, impellers, etc. perhaps something just needs a minor adjustment. Perhaps something major is about to fail. Regardless, this is the kind of feedback that we should never consider "annoying..."

The fact that others recognized this is a HUGE "tip off!"

"Has the tank always had that weird smell?"

"Earthy" ( a commonly ascribed olfactory observation of our botanical-style aquariums) is one thing... You can no doubt easily explain to the uninitiated that the earthy, rather pleasant smell is normal. "Weird" is quite another!  Aquariums shouldn't smell "weird." What to do? Check the filter. Check the floor. Check the sand. Check protein skimmer (in a SW tank)...Check everything! Something is definitely amiss! This is an absolute "red flag" you need to jump on immediately!

I mean....yuck! 

"Those 'algae-eaters' don't work very hard, do they?"

Oh. Yeah, we know what this means.

Your tank, flat-out, has too much nuisance algae. When even a non-fish person notices this, you have to finally accept and deal with this. Non-fish people are usually at least semi-excited about everything they see in an aquarium, so when they are pointing out something that is affecting the aesthetic, you need to take note of their "subtle hints" and attack the problem head on- and immediately. Now, in the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium world, we accept a certain amount of biofilms, fungal growth, algae and such.

However, when it begins to look less than "natural" and more "problematic", this is feedback worth listening to, IMHO! There are numerous ways to address algae; it's time to literally roll up your sleeves and get to work on identifying and controlling this stuff, once and for all.


"Is that big fish supposed to chase the skinny one all over the tank?"

Yeah, you may have noticed that you have a problem fish in there, and chose to "wait and see" how things go before taking action. We've all been there. And yes, it truly sucks to have to literally tear a tank apart to get out one fish. However, this type of behavior is a "life and death" matter for many fishes. In addition to simply stressing a single fish, the entire community is under stress...and stress leads to disease- or worse. 

When the non fish person notices "bullying", it's time to take action. Where is that net?

Wow, you have lots of little tadpole thingies in there by your cichlids. Are they normal?

OMG, your non-fish roommate noticed that your Apistogramma elizabethae have spawned even before you did! That's kinda cool- and ironclad proof that we should value the observations of a non-fish person just as much as we do another fish geek! I can't tell you how many times my wife or family members noticed stuff like that in my aquariums! It's an exciting discovery, for sure...and it's proof of the value of having the other members of your household engaged in your love of the hobby!

"Wouldn't it be easier if you had a towel there?"

Let's face it. You've been a bit messy, and you're kind of "on notice" now. If that siphon hose really was in the bucket, your feet wouldn't be getting wet, right? These are the kinds of things that can literally result in ultimatums being given, and threats to make tough choices about countinuing your fishy hobby. I've seen friends end up in the proverbial "doghouse" with their spouses over stuff like this, and it didn't always end well for them or their hobby "careers"...Up your game!

It's vitally important to understand the concerns of the other members of your household, and how the aquarium(s) impact them. So, why not take the less-than-subtle hint that you should put a drop cloth or towel down on the hardwood floor surrounding the aquarium. Talk about preserving domestic tranquility!  Taking care of the overall home environment is a simple, small gesture that will reap great dividends down the line, trust me!

"I don't remember seeing that fish in there. Have you always had that one?"

Shit.  You're busted. 

I've only got a few responses for you. All of them carry risk, and have potentially huge downsides. Yeah, you're on your own with THIS one, man!

Ahh..the observations of non-aquarium people... Almost annoyingly useful; often ridiculously accurate. Always important to heed.

So, in summary- the next time a "non-aquarium" person (especially a resident of the household) makes that seemingly innocuous comment about _________, be sure to take heed, because more often than not, there is some good, actionable information- or even advice- contained in the "rhetorical question!" And by taking action on the "observation", you might not only benefit your fishes and your hobby- you might just gain an ally in the process!

You might even convert a non fish person into a hobbyist, too!

Something to think ponder, right?

So, keep listening. Don't get flustered by "suggestions."

Stay calm. Stay open-minded. Stay diplomatic. Stay diligent. Stay flexible. Stay careful... 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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