Have you ever noticed that some fishes sort of transcend the role of "pets" and become more obsessive, all-encompassing, and essentially become the objects of our devotion? Now, on first glance, it's easy for a fish geek to simply say that ALL fishes do this to some extent...However, if you look at it (as objectively as a fish geek can, anyways) there are certain groups of fishes that fall into this category of what I like to call "lifestyle fishes"...fishes that have gripped so many hobbyists in such a deep, lasting manner that they impact much of our lives. You know, the kinds of fishes that you devote an entire room of your house to! The ones that make you travel all over the nation (or world, for that matter) to attend conventions and events. The ones that, when they spawn, have you cancelling family vacations or seriously impacting life events around!
What fishes seem to do this? Well, here are a few that I can think of off the top of my head..
Guppies- I mean, where would the hobby be without them? These fishes have arguably done more to get people interested in the aquarium world than just about any other fishes. Sure, it could be argued that the serious fancy guppy "show circuit" has a degree of "exclusiveness" to it, but why not? I mean, these fishes have been drawing hobbyists to the fringes of obsession for generations. And with the rapid rise in popularity of Endler's Livebearers, I think a new round of obsession is underway!
Cichlids- Practically universally loved, cichlids are ubiquitous in the aquarium world. Cichlid fanciers are a huge contingent among serious, obsessive hobbyists. They are some of the most endearing, popular fishes of all, right? And the interesting thing about the cichlid crowd is that there are a number of "subgroups" which are huge in and unto themselves, right? Like the Apisto crowd and the Discus lovers! Not to mention, Mbuna fans...This group is so large and so diverse that it literally seems to encompass the whole gamut of hobbyists, with fish rooms worldwide devoted to their care and breeding. These sub-groups are breaking new ground every day, expanding our knowledge on these amazing fishes.
Bettas- Far removed from the $1.99 specimens most people encounter at their local "big box" pet supermarket, the Betta has driven thousands of hobbyists to near obsession, collecting, breeding, and improving their strains. Oh, and that's just the domesticated ones. There are plenty of you out there who have devoted substantial energy, time, and space in your fish room(!) to the wild varieties! Fishes which, although known to science for decades, are only now starting to become entrenched in the hobby. A constantly-evolving area of the hobby that's sure to continue attracting new and devoted followers for years to come.
Catfishes- It all starts with that cute little Cory or Pleco, and then seems to lead to a full-on obsession! Catfish fanciers live in a world of "L"-numbers, taxonomic dysfunction, and fascinating, endearing fishes. The variety and fascination surrounding these nearing fishes seems to have created one of the strongest specialty communities in the aquarium hobby, with specialized technique, equipment, and a group of experts who have achieved near "cult-like" following from catfish fans worldwide. With so much going on, the catfish world seems to offer something for everyone! Cool stuff.
Killifishes- More than just geeks who have houses filled with bags of peat moss and plastic shoeboxes filled with fish, killifish fanciers are possibly some of the most devoted and hard-working hobbyists around. For decades, killie people obsessively collected, identified, bred- and distributed hundreds of varieties of these amazing fishes worldwide. And they built up one of the greatest specialty organizations, the American Killifish Association- PRE-internet! This group of hobbyists has literally "written the book" on how to distribute fishes and share information worldwide among each other, ensuring that many fishes which would otherwise never find their way into aquariums (and possibly become extinct in the wild) are enjoyed and shared by thousands. For fishes that are seldom encountered in fish stores, the decades-old "culture" surrounding the collection and distribution of these fishes is among the most remarkable achievements in the hobby.
Rainbowfishes- Not to be forgotten, this is another specialty group of fishes that has attracted a worldwide following of engaged, obsessed fans, who have worked tirelessly to collect, identify, breed, conserve, and promote many amazing species. As a collective, I suppose you could argue that Rainbowfish fanciers are among the newer groups on the scene, but what they lack in long-term history, they make up for in knowledge and technique. Like killie people, Rainbowfish fanciers have had to operate in a segment of the hobby where, for decades, just getting your first pair of fishes was a challenge. Now, through skill, communication, and savvy use of the internet, fans are connecting as never before, and information (and fishes) are being distributed worldwide to hobbyists who might have never previously kept them...or even though of them!
Okay, that's just a start.
Any list like this will certainly raise the ire of some group I neglected to mention ("Don't you know there are thousands of goby lovers out their, Fellman? How could you have overlooked THEM"), but you get the idea, right? So many interesting varieties of fishes, each which you could devote a lifetime of study and devotion to...and many do. The really interesting thing, to me, as a marketer, about the freshwater hobby in general is that the demographics are so segmented, and the interests so varied, that it's hard to pin down just how to reach the audience as a whole. Now, granted, as vast and varied as the specialities are, and as obsessed as their fans might be, they realistically represent a small percentage of the overall fish-keeping public. That being said, IMHO its the most important group out there. It goes beyond simple economics.
Specialization is extremely pervasive in the freshwater hobby, and it's a unique challenge- and opportunity-for the budding aquatic entrepreneur to communicate with a wide variety of hobbyists. I remember thinking to myself, in trying to identify "influencers" in the freshwater world, that there are many "rockstars" in their respective specialties that most hobbyists have never heard of, because they "stay in their niches" and work in their areas of expertise. The business lesson here is to just do what you do and find ways to get a wide variety of hobbyists interested in a wide variety of things. From a hobby perspective in general, we don't want niches to become so segmented as to preclude any sharing of experience (not for any nefarious reasons- but simply because we're obsessed with OUR "thing" and tend to "stay in our lane.")
It's sort of a shame, because you really wish there was some way to bring the "experts" from these widely varied aquarium subspecialties together, for the benefits of the entire hobby. "Cross-pollination" within the greater freshwater world would be amazing, with advanced techniques common to one group a complete mystery to another being shared, adopted, and refined...for the benefit of all aquarium hobbyists- and the fishes we obsess over!
That being said, one quirky thing we all know as fish geeks is that, obsessed as we might be about say, Apsitos, we're equally likely to have a few Bettas, Tetras, or Catfishes hanging around.
We just love fish! It's what creates 100-tank fish rooms, for heaven's sake!
And we're great at making friends. Sharing a love, "culture"...and obsession.
So I guess my one "plea" to all of you crazy-cool "lifestyle fish" expert/"obsessionistas" would be to reach out across the aisle- to poke your head over the fence- and share some of your amazing expertise and experience within your specialty to others working in different areas. This will ensure not only that your hard-won information and ideas are not confined only to your specific area of obsession- it will perhaps foster breakthroughs in other hobby specialty groups. And some of those breakthroughs might just be the key to the long-term well-being of the hobby as a whole, and to sharing, educating about, propagating, and protecting the fishes- and habitats of the world -which so desperately need our attention.
Stay focused...on the "big picture."
Stay determined. Stay challenged. Stay devoted. Stay obsessed!
And Stay Wet.