That "Urban Aquarium Myth..."

Growing up in the hobby, I've spent a lifetime scouring local fish stores, club meetings, shows, and wholesalers looking for the fishes of my dreams. It's part of the experience of being a true hobbyist. We Study. We dream. We ponder. We plan. 

We search.

We've all heard this before: The so-called  "Aquarium Urban Myth." You know, the reefer that spotted an obscenely rare Centropyge interruptus at Petco, mismarked as a "Yellow Tail Damsel" for $3.00, or the The guy who scored the Aulonocara hansbaenchi from the "Assorted African Cichlids- $5.00" tank at the LFS..Or a huge Bucephelandra colony mislabeled as Anubias nana "Petite"- the list goes on and on...

"Really, it was listed as an "Assorted African Cichlid..."

Stuff like that.

It keeps many of us "lifers" in the hobby moving, talking, and inspiring us in strange ways. Much like the elusive winning $250,000,000 lottery ticket bought at the local liquor store, such tales have motivated countless fish geeks over the years to keep looking, keep digging in the local fish stores and petshops around the world- searching for that elusive, as yet unappreciated-by-the-masses rarity that is staring everyone right in the face!

Much like the bold ichthyologists of a century before, who braving disease, insects, predatory reptiles, and revolutionary, gun-toting guerrillas, searched tiny tributaries of The Amazon, the nameless streams of The Congo, or the stinky peat bogs of Southeast Asia, we relentlessly do our fish searches of the local aquarium stores and pet shops in our cities. Of course, it's from the air-conditioned comfort of our luxury SUV, with the only real "perils" we face being traffic, expired parking meters, lack of a convenient ATM, and spilled coffee from our commuter mug.  But that doesn't make it any easier or less fraught with danger, in our minds. Nope. Our hunting ground is that obscure tank in the back corner of the store. Or perhaps, the "New Arrivals" tank. Or the "Any fish in this tank $2.00" one.

We search.

Now, we're certainly NOT looking to "beat the system." (At least, none of us would confess to this..), but we ARE often looking for that one fish that stands out somehow. It might be the one you just read about in a magazine or online blog. Or, perhaps it's simply one YOU have never kept before, which hasn't been available for a while. The one you've been trying to find for the last 4 years. Or, maybe it's a rather sad, unrecognizable specimen of a rare and ultimately beautiful fish that just needs a nice tank and a little TLC to shine. Or it's the "ugly duckling" juvenile of a fish that blossoms as an adult. Maybe it's the regional "variation" of a more common species that only the most dedicated enthusiast (you) would recognize and appreciate. Often, it's a fish that was brought in as "bycatch" in a shipment of "Mixed Rasbora" or whatever, and sort of slipped through the cracks at the importer, wholesaler, and now the store. They didn't know what they were looking at. But to YOU- the educated, patient "explorer of fish stores"'s a true "score!"

You know how it feels to score something like that, too, right?  

You experience a mixture of emotions: Excitement, elation, guilt...Especially the it's a fish you feel should cost more. After your discovery in a tankful of other fishes, you compose yourself, then nonchalantly ask the LFS employee to grab it from the tank and bag it up for you ("Can you just snag me that little grey one that's hiding in the Sword Plant?"), all the while pretending to stifle a yawn, as if indifferent to the whole thing, while inside, all that your thinking is "Please, don't let my buddies from the local club show up right now!" You know that they'll be the first to say, "WOW! $12.99! Isn't that an 'L090 Pleco?' How much are you paying for that? That's like a $90.00 fish! You didn't get it from the "Assorted Catfish" tank, did you? That MUST have been a mistake! They screwed up!"

You scored, man!"

No, no no!

And in all likelihood, the LFS employee is thinking to herself, "OMG, the guy has such shitty taste in fishes. I can't believe he bought the ugliest fish in the tank- and paid $12.99 for it! I would have just given it to one would ever buy that thing..!"

Well, you've convinced yourself that you've "dodged the bullet" this time, right? Found the diamond in a sea of fakes and are getting away with it. Tensions are high. It's all about composure at this point. Not blowing it. You've come this far... Out the door you go, trying to walk as slowly as possible to your car, without gesturing, excessively smiling, or behaving in any other manner that would betray your emotions.

A good day. A very good day, indeed.

You rush home with your new found acquisition, all the while praying to yourself that you're not somehow being followed by the LFS manager, who suddenly realized his/her employee's mistake. You even vary the route home, just in case there is someone tailing you. You won't visit that store again for a month or more. Yeah, you've watched all of the "Bourne" movies. After you get your prize acclimated, you race online, and confirm what you already knew: That was a SCORE!

An odd mixture of elation, guilt- and...contentment, right?

We've all had this guilty pleasure before. This moral quandary. The exhilaration, dashed with just a tinge of guilt at having "beaten the system." …Of course, you rationalize that it's better that the fish ends up in the hands of the person best suited for its care: YOU! The aquarist who truly appreciates its subtle beauty, scarcity, and elusiveness. And- you have had a real run of bad luck lately, when those rare Headstanders jumped, and the batch of Apisto fry died in week 8, and...So you're "due", right? The "aquarium gods" owe you one, huh?

Yet for many of us, there's still a little biting guilt, right? The price we pay for scoring. Even if the guilt is only in our own mind...which it usually is.

Hmm... The realities of the "aquarium urban myth", right?

So, time for your confessions. Who has had such a score? What did you score? And how did things work out?

Confess your guilt, if any, and feel better...maybe.

Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay patient.

And as always...

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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