The inherent beauty of subtlety

I have no idea why, but I'm definitely one of those guys who loves grey and brown fishes...

Yeah, seriously... 

When I consider new fishes for my tanks, I'm not pouring over the selections either online or in person, looking for the brightest, most gaudily-colored fishes around. Nope, I'm obsessing over color patterns and intricacies. Subtle blends of tone and "texture."

I mean, even brown and gold and ball offer variations that are compelling, IMHO.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love really colorful ones, too- but for some reason, in recent years, my affections towards brown fishes has increased. I think it's in part because of my love of the blackwater, botanical-influneced aquarium I'm so obsessed with. One of my friends jokingly told me that he thinks it's because I grew up owning an old-school copy of William T. Innes' "Exotic Aquarium Fishes" that had nothing but black and white pics, and I obsessed over the patterns instead of the colors of the fishes...Hmm, he might be onto something there, as my favorite characin, Crenuchus spilurus, the rather subdued "Sailfin Tetra,"  is a strong childhood memory from the black-and-white pic in that book! 

All speculation aside, I think that there are some cool reasons to love the more subtly-colored fishes as primary "players" in your botanical, blackwater 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 far more engaging, to me. Having lots f brightly colored fishes swimming all over a bright, crisp-white tank is just...well- get a reef tank at that point! :)

And further, by creating a population of largely subtle-colored fishes, you create a sense of harmony and a relaxed aesthetic which sets the stage for the few brightly-colored fishes that you'd use, like Cardinal Tetras and Neon Tetras, etc. Sort of like in nature, where the really brightly colored fishes occur either in large schools, like the species mentioned above, or are just random individuals scattered throughout the leaf litter.

And isn't it kind of fun to "explore" your aquarium and have to do a little looking around to see what's swimming? I have always felt that many of the best aquariums I've ever encountered are not the ones with the most equsiite aquascape or most color full collection of fishes. Rather, to me, the most visually engaging aquariums are the ones that have intricate aquascapes with subtly-colored fishes throughout, inhabiting all sorts of niches within the tank. The brightly-colored ones are sort of the "icing on the cake", and add that pop of color that makes things dramatic and alive.

Interestingly, in talking with people who understand the way the colors of fishes is impacted by their environment, I was intrigued to discover that even the gaudy Neon Tetra is essentially a "stealth fish" in it's murky, blackwater environment, as far as ambush predators are concerned. Yeah- think about it. The red is virtually invisible in the dark, light-limited blackwater habitat, and the neon blue stripe bands in with the sky when viewed from know, the place you'd be if you were the kind of fish that was looking to munch on some Tetras for lunch...


And of course, the subtle, brownish-grey fishes with interesting patterns sort of blend right in, don't they? That's kind of cool, I think!

So, if you're thinking of stocking your next blackwater aquarium, I'd highly recommend going "subtle" for a while. Not only will you gain an appreciation of the way the fishes blend in-and yes, enhance- the aquascape, you'll be surprisingly pleased with the little intricate nuances of their color patterns. You'll develop a new appreciation for how and why these fishes evolved over eons, adapting to the complex, varied nature of their environment. Loud and bright is too easy...kind of overrated, in my opinion...

A favorite quote from author Neal Stephenson comes to mind...Although a bit aggressively satirical in its tone, there is a serious element of truth to it:

"The difference between stupid and intelligent people - and this is true whether or not they are well-educated - is that intelligent people can handle subtlety."


Don't overlook subtlety.

Today's simple thought for all you "tinters" out there.

Stay observant. Stay intrigued. Stay engaged

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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