To further compound my theory, I needed only to a few aisles slip over in the shop to admire the (very grey!) “Tanganyika Lampeyes” that they received not too long ago. Now, upon initial observation, you might think that these grayish Rift Lake killifish are about as unexciting (is that a word?) as a fish can get- a "poster child" for the freshwater “haters”…But wait a minute.

Have you ever even seen one? Probably not that often. Probably because they are rather…well, bland, and collectors usually just toss ‘em back.  But man- that’s what’s so cool about them!  They are different!  Subtle. Imagine how awesome they’d look as contrasting players in a tank full of crazy-colorful African Cichlids!

And often times, the so-called "dull" fishes turn out to be pretty spectacular once they settle in; once their environmental needs are met. It's about context, as much as anything else. I think that there are some cool reasons to love the more subtly-colored fishes as primary "players" in your botanical-style, aquarium.

The first and foremost is that they don't compete with the colors of the botanicals; rather, they compliment them. 

Having more subtle-colored fishes is quite engaging, to me.

I receive a lot of questions from hobbyists who've set up a cool botanical-style aquarium, and want to know what fish- or fishes- to feature in it. One of my favorite aquarium ideas is to feature some of those so-called "common" fishes; the ones which we may take for granted, the ones that aren't considered "super colorful"- in these dynamic, botanical-rich aquariums.


And it doesn't have to stop at the "garden variety" specimens of these "common" fishes.

How about looking for truly gorgeous specimens of these so-called “common” fishes? How about looking for outrageous colors and perfect finnage in the most commonly available fishes? They are out there- and they are rare, too! Ya know why? Because there is a small subculture of hardcore fish geeks that is looking for them, too!

You’ll have to go the extra mile-competing with others- to find them.

That extra effort is necessary.

You might have to do the same thing that you do when you stumble on that specimen of rare Cichlid in your dealer’s display tank- you’ll have to beg the employee at the LFS for one! All fish geeks know how to do that…It’s like "Fish Keeping 101" (Oh- and likely an idea for another column!)

How funny it is to imagine a serious collector of fish pleading with the post-pubescent kid behind the counter at his or her LFS for “just a few” of that blue and red Dwarf Gourami he spied in the little nano tank on the check-out counter?

It takes humility. And a little groveling at times.

However, that’s the price of admission when you play the “rare/common” game. You have to be willing to put it all on the table! And these deals don’t always come cheap or easy!

If you're a reefer, you’d do it for an “Ultimate Utter Chaos” Palythoa or "Homewrecker Acro", right? Why would you expect this type of deal to go down any differently? I know at least one local reefer here in L.A. that had to swap a sizeable frag of his prized Acropora millepora from the Solomon Islands for a chunk of "common", yet amazing yellow-and chocolate-brown Caulastrea ("Trumpet Coral")!

Each side thought they got the better end of that deal, too (I know, because I heard it from both of ‘em!).

The beauty of the hobby is that there really IS room for all sorts of fishes and inverts. Seems like pretty much every animal out there gets at least some love from the hobby masses!

Admit it- you’ve occasionally stared longingly at a brownish fish of indeterminate origin in your dealer's "All fish in this tank $2.00" section and wondered, right? You’ve contemplated purchasing that grey-brown blenny with the cute eyes before, huh? You may have even purchased a "Corydoras sp." (you know, the sort of "generic-looking" ones) once! 

Speaking of “common” fishes in unexpected collections- one thing I have noticed about many excellent tanks that I’ve visited around the world is that these aquariums almost always contain a fish or two that makes you think, “Wow- what is that? Inevitably, the owner points out that it was just a "common" cichlid, for example, which took on an aberrant or just particularly nice color pattern.  

It was the sharp eye and dedication of the hobbyist that brought that "common" fish into the fold.

And the real beauty of that sort of thing is that the hobbyist put his/her prejudices aside about how “common” it was, and simply acquired the fish because he or she liked the way it looked, not because it will make him/her cool at the next aquarium club tank tour! It’s this sort of mental step that takes a hobbyist to the next level, in my humble opinion. The willingness to walk one’s own path, defying the prevailing trends of the time!

Thats the sign of a true visionary.

A rare hobbyist, indeed!

So, next time you're at that sort of mental crossroads, where you're wondering what fish you're thinking of making the star of your next botanical-style aquarium, don't assume automatically that you need to feature some rare or unusual species to make your tank "pop." Sometimes- many times, actually- it's that "common" fish- the one we all seem to take for granted- that can make it really special! 

Be sure to keep an eye peeled and your mind open while searching for fishes, corals, and plants, because awesome things happen when you appreciate an animal for what it truly is!

That otherwise "common", or "chromatically challenged" fish just might turn out  to be your fave. I know it's happened to me many times. Sometimes the fish just wins you over with behaviors, shapes, or its incredible background story. You never know.

Sometimes the "best" fish isn't the brightest!

Stay observant. Stay dedicated. Stay honest. Stay curious. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics