Throwing the spotlight on Killifishes with some "tough love." Once and For All!

One of the first real "speciality" fishes I got into in my earlier days in the hobby were killifishes. There was something extremely alluring about them to me- still is.


Perhaps it's the fact that they are (for the most part) small, super-colorful fishes who have managed to adapt and evolve to life in very unusual environmental niches, like puddles, small creeks, temporary pools- stuff like that. And of course, these are extremely "botanically-influenced" habitats, replete with leaves, soil/mud substrates, branches, etc.

Perfect for what we do!

I'm by no means a killie expert- but I am a huge fan of these fishes. 

Yet, for a lot of reasons, you don't see killifishes kept in biotope-themed aquariums. I know that part of the reason is simply that these are not the most readily-obtained fishes on the "open market", and that most are kept in dedicated breeding setups- you know, typically more "functionally" aquascaped than anything else. 

And, for many decades (starting back in my the math. lol), I've read about killifish fanciers lamenting the fact that their fishes of interest seem to be relegated excessively to the speciality breeders, and aren't very popular- and, with very, very few exceptions, are simply not part of the larger hobby "game."

Various reasons have been discussed to death by killie fanciers over the years, ranging from the fact that most have no "common names" (a LAME argument, because there are some insanely cool, unusual characins, for example, which have very tenuous "common names", like "Reed Tetra", "Kitty Tetra", etc., and manage to make regular appearances in the trade-oh, and wild Bettas!), to the fact that they require "special conditions" in order to keep them. (Okay...they are often kept in plastic shoe boxes with no heaters or filters because they are so this what people mean by "special?")

Another weak one, (if you ask me!).

And then there is the argument that they are not particularly prolific breeders, or don't live too long (in the case of "annual" species, sure...but how many years have you kept a Cardinal Tetra alive for?). And funny, we're seeing more and more wild Betta species showing up in local fish stores worldwide...SOMEONE is breeding them. And they are finding a place in botanical-style, blackwater aquariums! Yep. Killies can, too.

(Nothobranchius kilomberoensis, image by Andrew Bogott- Used under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The reality, IMHO opinion (which will make everyone in the killie world hate me, of course) is that  I simply don't think that we as killie fans have done a great job "de-mystifying" these fishes and their needs. We have seldom, if ever seen them being kept in anything other than a dedicated breeding setup with spawning mops and bare bottoms, which I think has perpetuated the popular perception that they require "specialty conditions" and tanks. Sure. some may be shy, skittish, aggressive, come from soft, acidic water, brackish(!), or whatever- but the last time I checked, we have this global community of skilled, adventurous aquarium hobbyists playing with blackwater, botanicals, and the availability of all sorts of "twigs and nuts" to create these kinds of specialty tanks.

We can keep these fishes with ease, so...

Time to call BS on these excuses.

Killies should be way more popular. Period.

They should be kept in dedicated blackwater, botanical-style aquariums designed to replicate, in some context, the habitats from which they hail. It's not that hard. One of my favorite aquascapers, George Farmer did this a while back with the diminutive (and occasionally-seen in fish stores) Fp. dageti Monroviae....and it was spectacular. We need more tanks like his... We've been doing it for some time with Apistos, characins, Anabantoids, etc. Hell, even the long-neglected Barbs and Danios are getting more play these days (a hobby "trend" I predict will be a "breakout thing" in 2018!).

(Go, George! "The Aquascaper" himself put down a Killie tank for the ages!)

Killies can totally be getting their fair share of expose to the larger hobby world. Killie lovers need to let go of 1978-era excuses and complaints about why they aren't out there, and simply share these fishes in more unique, relatable ways. We can't keep "self-medicating" on excuses and complain about it when the opportunity is there to "blow up" interest in these fishes! There's these platforms called ""Facebook and "Instagram" and "Snapchat"- crazy ways to spread ideas quickly...We should look 'em up once in a while, post something on a general hobby-interest forum- like a pic and descriptions of a cool display tank with killies- and get people talking.

We should.

It just hasn't been happing...

Of course, this is a real shame, because not only are the vast majority of these fishes beautiful and undemanding to keep- they'd be remarkable in a dedicated aquarium set up to replicate- at least in some part- their unique wild habitats. And most are incredibly sustainable, being relatively easy to breed in captivity...reducing environmental pressures on the wild habitats from which they come.

(Image by Bjorn Christian Torrissen, used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

And they come from places like Africa and South America, which we already have healthy obsession with when it comes to creating biotope and biotope-inspired aquariums to replicate their unique, just sayin'.

And you don't need a huge budget, all sorts of gear, or a big aquarium.

Killies would be perfect for smaller tanks, because many are ecologically adapted to smaller environments in the wild- like the aforementioned vernal pools, small rivulets, etc. Planted tank enthusiasts could hardly ask for a more sexy group of fishes for their small- and large- "contest-destined" aquariums! A great "foil" to the tiny "rasbora" varieties that are ubiquitous in "high concept" aquascaped tanks worldwide.

Why aren't we doing this? 

I won't accept the excuse that "Oh, I tried it before but no one was interested." No, you didn't do it in an effective way that conveys the wonder and fascination of these fishes to a wider audience, and as a result, interest in these fishes is still needlessly relegated to the darker, more specialized corners of the hobby. Sounds like what was said about...blackwater aquariums...or brackish, for that matter, doesn't it?

Yeah, it does. And we know how that's sort of working itself out, right?

We can do this.

Just seeing an aquarium set up to replicate, say, a small vernal pool in West Africa, housing fishes from the genera Epiplatys, Rivulus, Fundulopanchax, or Aphyosemion- amazingly colorful, small, and interesting fishes- would blow away just about everyone in the hobby who has been on the fence about them for years! And really researching a proper biotope- or biotope inspired tank could teach the hobby and the non-hobby world alike about these amazing fishes and their  often fragile habitats. And their unique reproductive strategies (as in the case of annual species and "bottom spawners") are amazing in and of themselves. 

Oh, and you can economically purchase most of them as eggs (in water or peat moss) and raise them from fry yourself, easily and sustainably, as touched on before. One of the worst-kept hobby "secrets" there is, IMHO.

And these fishes are OUT there. Hello, American Killifish Association! Hello, killie hobbyist forums on Facebook. Hello Aqua Bid!

And yes, I'm hoping that we may offer some of these cool fishes on Tannin Live! later this year, too.  They totally fit our market and area of interests.

And, if I say so myself,  our range of botanical products at Tannin Aquatics is like, really perfect for all types of killie display tanks. Just imagine what you could do with a 2.5 gallon tank, some "Fundo Tropical",  Jackfruit leaves, Catappa Bark, and a few other choice items from our collection?  Maybe we need to do a dedicated millie-themed pack? Whatever it takes. A shameless plug, perhaps- but the point I'm trying to make is that we (by that I mean hobbyists in our community and beyond) have everything we need already to really work well with these fishes in a totally different way, and to help throw a bit more light on this unique group.

We just need to get out there, do a little research, and get a tank or two going. Oh- and we need to share this work. On the "big stage"- outside of dedicated killie forums and pages. 

I'm sorry if I'm coming across a bit "harsh" on this. I can see how some folks might take this little kick in the ass in the wrong way- but I think that this "tough love" and request for us to look at what we're not doing well enough- from a big fan, no less- is warranted. I just get tired of hearing the same excuses for stuff with no new action being taken- especially when the excuses are made by incredibly talented people who can bring so much to the table...

Enough. 1978 is 40 years in the past. Time to work on the future!

Who's in?

In future columns, we'll touch more on the brass tacks of keeping these fishes and setting up a dedicated aquarium or two to feature them.

Until then...

Stay curious. Stay excited. Stay communicative. Stay motivated...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


3 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

January 13, 2018

Happy you are both into this idea! I think we can come up with some cool stuff to really bring home the point that these fishes are as worthy as any of a bigger place in the hobby- and in our tanks!


Frank Maccarrone
Frank Maccarrone

January 12, 2018

I look forward to ideas on blackwater killifish set ups. I have a lot on the breeding set ups but not more than"the keeping of these fish in more elaborate set ups is difficult." I have raised degatti and annulatus in tens and twenties with some success and was planning on a few more this spring.


January 12, 2018

Oh this makes me so happy! Killifish keeping is a lonely hobby. I would love if you guys sold epiplatys annulatus!!!

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