I know that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on obscure and arcane topics in the aquarium hobby- I mean, someone has to, right?
We try to do lots of interesting little projects here at Tannin which not only are fun, but help us work through the basic philosophies that we operate by. Stuff like trying out different ideas and either "crashing and burning" or succeeding wildly, right in front of you guys- no "safety net" required. It's foundational. We have to push ourselves to do things a bit differently than we have done before- in both theory and practice. It's what drives us as hobbyists, and Tannin as a company, to "move the needle", if ever so slightly, of the hobby's state of the art.
It seems like no tank that I've presented in the last year or so has generated so much "buzz" in our community as the one that I created for my Tucano Tetras. I mean, I felt it, too. Something about this tank- this idea- that is clicking. Not exactly sure what exactly it is about this one, but I've received so many emails, DM's, and questions about it that it made me reflect even more about the simple philosophy which guides everything we do here. I'm thinking it's at least in part because it absolutely reflects our philosophy in a tangible way.
I think that it's important to look at the work that we do as hobbyists- specifically, the tanks we create- as little "microcosms" that are essentially our fishes' entire universe. That's not too much of a stretch, but it's a really important "cornerstone philosophy"- one that separates the "natural style" aquarium enthusiast from say, the pure aesthetic aquascaper, breeder, or casual fish keeper.
Even at the hobby's most "basic" levels, you as the aquarist create the physical environment for your fishes, and are more or less in control of every facet of its existence. You control the appearance, environmental parameters, population, input and export of nutrients- like, everything. And the health and lives of each and every organism which resides in the aquarium are completely in your hands.
Kind of an awesome responsibility, when you think about it that way, huh?
And, while our fishes go about their daily existence likely not comprehending all of that, and likely behaving in your aquarium in much the manner that their wild ancestors have for untold millions of years, what they DO know is that this is their world. The physical structures you've created, the water parameters, the competing population of fishes, availability of food resources, and the quality of the water are just a few of the things they contend with like they would if they were swimming about in the wild.
I mean, that's our hope, anyways...right?
This is one of the reasons why I have had a near-obsession with attempting to recreate, to some extent, as many of the physical/environmental characteristics of their wild habitats as possible for the fishes under my care. All the while, realizing that, although they will be residing in a closed system with many physio-chemical characteristics similar to what they have evolved to live under, it's not a perfect replication, much though I might want it to be, and being of the opinion that replicating "some"of these characteristics is likely better than replicating "none" of them. I have no illusions about this- and there is a far cry between recreate the "look" and mimicking the function of the habitat.
An arrogant assumption on my part, I suppose. I mean, like every one of you, I'm fully responsible for the animals which I keep, and I take a certain degree of pride in that. I want the best for them.
That being said, I'm personally not in that mindset of having to be absolutely "hardcore" about being 100% accurate biotopically, in terms of making sure that every leaf, every twig, every botanical is from the specific habitat of the fishes which I keep. I do respect aquarists who do, however. But that's not me. Rather, I place the emphasis on providing a reasonably realistic representation of the habitat form which they come, with aquascaping materials, layout, and environmental parameters as close as possible to the parameters in the wild.
You can be a very responsible owner, pushing the state of the art of the hobby forward, without obsessing over making every micro-semion of conductivity, or every ppm of phosphate in your tank match that of your fishes' wild habitat. I'm pretty confident about that.
Your fishes likely don't know that, having been captive-bred for a few generations, or collected from their natural habitat and being subjected to varying environmental differences along the chain of custody from stream to store. The likely don't even care. They're likely just happy to be somewhere stable by the time they arrive in your home aquarium!
Our fishes being genetically "programmed" by evolution to live under certain environmental parameters for millennia can't likely be replaced by a few dozen generations of captive breeding. You know, just substitute a line or two of "code", and presto! However, being able to acclimate and thrive-even reproduce- in conditions significantly different from what they evolved under does indicate some good adaptability on the part of our fishes, doesn't it?
And as an aquarist, we benefit from this, even though our hearts may tell us it would be a cool idea to try to be 100% faithful to nature in this regard, despite the difficulties involved.
Of course, all the while being fully aware that, for example, achieving and managing a 4.3 pH similar to the floating leaf littler banks of the Aliança Stream (a tributary of Branco River in Brazil), for example, is beyond the level of detail that I want to go into! It would be very cool to do, but it's just not what I'd want to do at the moment.
I suppose my attitude towards those factors would "disqualify" me personally from being a very hardcore biotope aquarist- at least one who would try to compete in a contest!
The Tucano Tetras I keep, of course, don't know this.
Nor do they seem to care.
None of the fishes I keep do.
Rather, they're preoccupied with finding their next meal, socialization, and other more mundane aspects of their daily existence. As long as they are physically comfortable and free from high levels of stress as a result of evading predators and exploiting very limited food resources, I don't think one could make an argument that they do care...
And just because you're content with your aquariums being "biotope-inspired" as opposed to 100% faithful to replicating the aesthetics or physical characteristics of the natural habitat you're into doesn't mean you don't care, aren't doing a good job, or aren't dedicated to your craft.
What every fish under your care does know is that they are living in a stable, stress-limited environment that they can easily adapt to and live out their lives in.
And that's worth considering the next time you set up an aquarium, isn't it?
I think so.
Stay curious. Stay open-minded. Stay observant. Stay enthusiastic. Stay creative...
And Stay Wet.