The value of those "subtle questions..."

Ever noticed how the non-aquarium people in your life, especially those you reside with, seem to have an incredible knack for asking the perfect "rhetorical question”, often at the "perfect" time? (like, right when the spill is about to occur, or when the fish is acting weird, or when the filter is making that loud noise that it's never made before?

In our case, were talking about stuff beyond the almost-obligatory, "Why is your water so brown?" (asked by aquarists and non-aquarists alike!) That's more of an "opening" to enlighten someone...I see that as an awesome chance to preach about "The Tint!"

Yeah, it seems like the skeptical, or perhaps mildly amused non-fishy residents of your home are usually the main source of many of these gems. Perhaps, if we look at a few of them more closely, we can see exactly what the core point is, and leverage the concerns expressed in the "question" to create a more harmonious home life. 


Yeah. Think about that for a minute!

Here are a few classic rhetorical questions the hardcore fish geek is bound to encounter now and again:


(Pointing to a dead fish that you've either not yet discovered, or were about to net out) "Wow, these fish are kind of delicate, huh? They don't live so long in this tank?" 

Hmm- perhaps there is a grain of truth here. I mean, it could be simply that the random Tetra croaked. The new Cryptocoryne "melted." the case of say, a more delicate fish, a Chocolate Gourami, rare Apistogramma, or Altum Angel, that the environment or husbandry techniques you're applying to the aquarium need some review and tweaking. The casual observer noticing frequent or regular fish losses should not be ignored.

"I'm trying to remember...Was the tank making this much noise last week?”

Another classic that can tip you off to some potential issues. I've experienced this one before. Believe me, non-fish people (particularly spouses or other residents) notice every hum, whir, and pop your aquariums make, and if something changes...or if it's just kind of "mad-scientist-lab"-sounding to begin with, they'll be the first to let you know. To you, it might be "acceptable." To them, it's like a jet engine revving for takeoff! Check those plumbing connections, air and water pumps, impellers, etc. Perhaps something just needs a minor adjustment. The fact that others recognized this is a big "tip off!"


"Does the tank always have that weird smell? I'm trying to remember…"

Check substrate. Check floor. Check filter. Check protein skimmer (in saltwater tanks)...Check everything! Something is definitely amiss! This is an absolute "red flag" you need to jump on immediately!


"Those catfish don't work very hard, do they?”

Oh. We know what this means. Your tank flat-out has too much nuisance algae. When even a non-fish person notices this, you have to finally accept and deal with this. Non-fish people are usually at least semi-excited about everything they see in an aquarium, so when they are pointing out something that is affecting the aesthetic, you need to take note of their subtle hints and attack the problem head on- and immediately.


"Is that big one supposed to chase the skinny one all over the tank?”

Yeah, you may have noticed that you have a problem fish in there, and chose to "wait and see" how things go before taking action. When the non-fish person notices "bullying", it's time to take action. Where is that net?


“Wow, you have lots of little tadpole thingies in there by your Kribs. Are they normal?”

OMG, your non-fish roommate noticed that your Kribs have spawned before you did! That's kinda cool- and ironclad proof that we should value the observations of a non-fish person just as much as we do another fish geek!


"Wouldn't it be easier if you had a towel there?”

Let's face it. You've been a bit messy, and you're on notice now. So, why not take the less-than-subtle hint that you should put a drop cloth or towel down on the hardwood floor surrounding the aquarium. Talk about preserving domestic tranquility! A simple, small gesture that will reap great dividends down the line, trust me!

“Wow! Those little snails are so cool! You must be doing something right, ‘cause you have hundreds of them!”

Uh-oh, your little snail “issue” is now becoming a full-blown headache. There are so many of ‘em, that casual observers are thinking you’re deliberately trying to grow them. Time to get to the root of this problem once and for all


"I don't remember seeing that fish in there. Have you always had that one?”



"It's cool the way the fish really eat those little  shrimp. If you didn't use them as feeders, I think they'd make cool pets!"


So, in summary- the next time a “non-aquarium” person (especially a resident of the household) makes that seemingly "innocuous" comment about_________, don’t get annoyed or flustered. Instead, be sure to take heed, because more often than not, there is some good, actionable information- or even wisdom- contained in the "rhetorical question!" 

I am 100% certain that many of you can add to this list, right?

And by taking action on the "observation", you might not only benefit your aquarium and your hobby- you might just gain an ally in the process!

Something to think about.

So, keep listening. Don't get flustered by “suggestions."

Have fun.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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