There is something about being in the aquarium hobby a long time which makes you a bit sentimental, I suppose. It often doesn't take much to trigger memories of past hobby experiences (good and bad, of course.). Sometimes, it's seeing that fish which you kept years ago, which tuned out to be the first one that you bred. Maybe it's one that you had an amazing experience with...
Or maybe it was the coral that was your "gateway drug" into keeping more challenging species. Maybe it was seeing a product, remembering a now-defunct brand, or a pic of a tank you once created.
The hobby thrives on history. We collectively love to recall things which take us back to pleasant times and awesome experiences that we've had in the past.
Last weekend, I attended a reef aquarium show, Reefapalooza, here in So Cal. It was the first reef show I've been to since I started Tannin. I admit, it was kind of wierd at first, re-emersing myself in that very different world from which I came. It felt a bit alien for a bit...Had I lost touch? Had I forgotten that which was so all-consuming for so many years of my life and career?
Now sure, there's a ton of new tech new gear, and the usual fandom and buzz which accompanies them. I found it hard to believe that Euphyllia- particularly "Gold Torch Corals", which we used to propagate and sell at Unique Corals for $35-$40 for a small frag, now go for hundreds. I laughed, because they never really did much for me, and I felt kind of guilty for seeing multi-polyp small "colonies" for $100 or more back then!
I didn't' feel "old"- just a bit "out of touch."
Zoanthids, Goniopora, and Blastomussa- corals and corallimorphs which have been captive propagated for decades now, still commanded crazy high prices. THAT was a bit wierd to me. I mean, what exactly made them soem pricy? Supply and demand, I suppose.
I was on the hunt for a couple of corals, too. For the first time in years, I have a small coral tank set up, and a major reef aquarium under construction as well, ready to go in the next couple of months. I figured I'd stock my small tank (the mangrove/macroalgae one I've been sharing here), with a few appropriate corals, which happened to be among my old faves.
Sure, Pocillopora is not much of a challenge to keep. Many reefers consider it a “weed.” It’s been long since cast aside as reefers jump on more “trendy” corals- yet it holds a very special place in my heart. It’s fuzzy polyps, branching structure, and bright pink color give me the same joy now as they did all those years ago! Yet, every experienced reefer and coral propagator has kept it. In my career, I handled as many crazy rare corals as anyone at the time, but I never stopped loving that one.
Many have similarly nostalgic vibes for it.
I had to search the entire show- literally dozens of coral vendors- to find ONE frag. Everyone I asked was like, "Oh, yeah, we've had that." Or, "We have a bunch, but didn't' bring it." Yet, when pressed, they all professed their love for it too.
No one really could figure out why it wasn't more popular than it is these days. Maybe it's that perception of being " a weed." A coral that reproduces readily, spreading all over the tank- if you let it. Is this a "problem?" I mean, it's a fuzzy, bright pink stony coral! Shit! What could be cooler? Yet, that "weed" designation probably makes it undesirable for many, along with the fact that it's easy to keep.
I think that my beloved Pocillopora is just another part of that old aquairum hobby story: Once something becomes "common", or familiar, it tends to fall by the wayside as more unusual stuff makes its way into the market. Sure, if you're an idiot and don't bother to control your corals or maintain your tank, it can pop up all over the place (again, why exactly is this a problem?)
Yet, to those like me- who still hold on fondly to the memories of the corals they love so much- it never ceased being awesome.
Isn’t that kind of what the aquarium hobby is all about? Keep what you love; what brings YOU joy. You can never go wrong that way.
I purchased the one and only frag that I could find of it in a heartbeat!
I can't stop staring at it in my tank. At this one ridiculous little frag. It takes me back to a lot of great memories. And I'm looking forward to watching this little frag growth into an incredible colony- and sharing it with fellow reefers who still remember- or even those who've never kept it, and just think that it's cool, like I do.
This sort of nostalgia isn't limited to corals and reef tanks, of course. The freshwater side of the hobby abounds with numerous examples.
One of the neatest things about the freshwater side of the aquarium hobby is that the fishes which we play with are often the same species and varieties which have been around for generations. Our parents- and their parents before them- kept these same fishes!
When we visit the local fish store, we can see a whole host of fishes, many of which we may have kept at one point or another during our lives. They not only take us back to our hobby beginnings, but draw a direct line back to generations of hobbyists who came before us.
When I was a kid, and received my first aquarium (a metal framed, 5-gallon aquarium), I can remember the incredible excitement it caused. I could barely sleep the night before, and I think I was up at 4:30 AM for a week straight (much to my parent's chagrin, no doubt) after setting it up in my bedroom! I just couldn't wait to check out the fishes each morning!
Like every kid who kept tropical fishes, my tank had plastic plants, a goofy underwater castle ornament, some rainbow gravel, and an assortment of fishes that was probably inappropriate, slightly excessive, and no doubt, incompatible. My one secret weapon is that my dad was a seasoned fancy guppy breeder, so I had a ready source of in-house advice, assistance, and freshly-hatched brine shrimp!
The thing I remember the most about this tank were some of the fishes, and the joy and excitement they brought me. To this day, I still look at these fishes with a sense of nostalgia, and they evoke a sense of enchantment which other fishes just can't quite bring.
I only half-jokingly refer to them as "comfort fishes", as they evoke the same emotions in me as "comfort foods", like Mac and Cheese, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, or hamburgers do in others.
What were these fishes? Well, let's look at 'em:
First and foremost is the Neon Tetra.
No other fish evoked the whole tropical fish "experience" to me as much as this one. Its exotic colors, small size, shoaling behavior, and hardiness made it- still make it- one of the aquarium hobby's best overall fishes. I remember how I felt like I had "arrived" when I obtained my first group of 6.
Another fish that I kept form the beginning, which simply makes me smile every time I see it- one that I think I want to keep again soon, btw- is the Zebra Danio. Yeah, they swim obscenely fast, display little in the way of individual personality, and shit like mad, yet they absolutely take me back to that first aquarium, and never fail to make me smile!
So "old school", yet so alluring.
The Glass Catfish (now Kryptopterus vitreolus) is a bit more of a "serious" fish, but to a kid, the "X- Ray" thing it has going on is simply irresistible! Of course, I kept the fish completely incorrectly- singly, as opposed to in a small group. Yeah, my specimen, "Reggie", was a bit boisterous, and occasionally harassed my little Tetras (lucky he didn't eat them!), but it was one of my favorite fishes of all time! And this is another fish which I'd like to keep in a proper biotope-inspired aquarium soon.
I had a real thing for Barbs back in the day.
The Gold Barb was to me one of the best. Sure, it looks to most people to be little more than a common goldfish, and indeed, is often called that by non-fish types, but the "barbels" are the dead giveaway, and to a 7-year-old kid, they were a legit "tropical fish" that deserved a place in my tank! They still are, and they still do!
Peaceful, active, and "cute", they were a true favorite!
And then there is the Pristella.
This fish is probably one of the more under-appreciated Tetras out there, but it has the distinction of being the first egg-layer that ever spawned for me! That makes it awesome! And a school of them, swimming in and out of a bunch of Cabomba I had in this tank (my first live plant, after Sagittaria) used to captivate me all the time!
I kept some recently, in fact, and loved them just as much as I did when I was a kid. THAT says something about this fish, huh?
Of course, my list of "comfort fishes" would simply be incomplete if I failed to include the Guppy! My very first fish was a guppy. My dad used to give me some baby guppies in a bowl to have as fishy "boarders" for a while (he'd rotate them into his rearing tank as they grew)...I learned the art and perfected the skills of feeding and raising fry because of those little guys, an seeing them mature into beauties was something that I will never forget!
No doubt, everyone who's ever kept an aquarium as a kid has the same type of feelings for various fishes. They are part of who we are as both as a person and as an aquarist, and they will forever influence our hobby. No matter how far we advance in the hobby, the fishes of our childhood take us immediately back to those wonderous days of our hobby beginnings, which ignited a lifelong flame of passion for keeping and breeding tropical fishes.
I still keep fishes like "Flame Tetras" and Pristella.
However, they are in aquariums which bare far more resemblance to their natural environment than I ever maintained them in before- and they are far nicer, healthier, and happier than the ones I've maintained in the past. Not a week goes by when hobbyists, seeing pics of my tank on social media, ask me what fishes they are...ann each time, they're like, "Really? Pristella? I used to have those when I was a kid..."
Even the most "bread and butter" fishes seem to do better, look better, breed more readily- when we keep them in conditions similar to their natural environment. This is not a secret, nor is it some mystery concept. We all know this. And that's what's kind of cool. We can still play with the same fishes-and corals- that we had when we were a kid, yet in a more sophisticated manner, and still derive endless enjoyment from them.
Let those fishes, corals, and tanks take you back- and propel you forward, in the process.
Stay devoted. Stay tenacious. Stay excited. Stay diligent. Stay enthralled...
And Stay Wet.