Why all the talk about twigs?

After more than 5 years of sharing our obsession with botanical-style aquarium with you, we've all developed a sort of tranche of knowledge, "best practices", and expectations. Of course, even with a growing global movement and massive communication facilitated via social media, there are still many hobbyists who are not sure how to do stuff, what is happening in their aquariums, and why we we obsess over some seemingly weird things!

These often lead to other questions and avenues of discussion.

One of the things that we have been asked a lot by the uninitiated is, "I see you guys sell twigs and root pieces. What does this stuff do and why do you guys talk about this stuff so much?"

This is a pretty good question which deserves more than an answer like, "Because they look so cool!" (Like, we'd ever just give you that kind of answer sand leave it at that, right? 😆)

I mean, sure they do look cool- but that is so superficial and shallow an answer that it's almost an insult to your intelligence!

Of course, the composition of twigs includes substances like lignin and tannins, thing which we as botanical-style aquarium lovers are quite familiar with. As twigs and branches are submerged in water, they impart some of these substances into the water. 

There is a reason by are huge fans of creating aggregations of twigs and roots in our aquariums. Not only do these realistically represent the physical structure of many of the aquatic habitats we love, they serve to facilitate biological processes, such as epiphytic fungal and biofilm growth, decomposition, and detritus sequestration. 

And of course, you could always incorporate a layer of leaf litter, which really seems to go perfectly with this type of niche. In Nature, we see leaves and other materials accumulate in these root tangles and aggregations of fallen branches, so recreating this in an aquarium is kind of a "no brainer!" 

When assembled in conjunction with a nice aggregation of leaves, this configuration provides a remarkably interesting aquarium with a different sort of aesthetic and function.

In many natural aquatic habitats, fallen tree branches, twigs, and leaves, form a valuable and important part of the ecosystem. 

The complexity and additional "microhabitats" they create are compelling and interesting. And they are very useful for protecting baby fishes, breeding Apistogramma, maintaining Poecilocharaxcatfishes, Dicosssus, and other small, shy fishes which are common in these habitats. 

The mind-blowing diversity of Nature is comprised of millions of these little "scenes", all of which are the result of various factors coming together.

As aquarists, observing, studying, and understanding the specifics of microhabitats is a fascinating and compelling part of the hobby, because it can give us inspiration to replicate the form and function of them in our tanks!

We spend a lot of time discussing and considering the various components and interactions of water and terrestrial habitats, and I think that if WE haven't made a compelling case, our fishes will! And sure, there are always going to be hobbyists who think that the idea of tossing in a bunch of twigs and branches into an aquarium is just a bad idea.

If you're one of those hobbyists, I urge you to reconsider your position, and not to automatically dismiss the idea out of hand. And look, it doesn't have to be permanent.

You can always remove these materials if they offend your aesthetic sensibilities. I only ask that you give the idea a try...a good, serious look at the elegance and function of these amazing ecological niches...

The "microhabitats" where substrate, leaves, and roots meet create amazing opportunities to create unique, functionally aesthetic aquariums. Most important, they will offer your fishes many of the same benefits in the aquarium as they do in Nature: Specifically, facilitating the production of supplemental food, which we've been talking about seemingly forever here.

At the end of the day, the use of twigs, roots, and branches, the organisms which take advantage of them is one of the most stunning aspects of Nature that we can  see in our own aquariums, provided we don't "edit" them out of our tanks.

Like any dynamic habitat, the "twig and root" microhabitat relies on a variety of organisms to do the job of processing nutrients. A diverse assemblage of organisms dwelling in this layer, ranging from bacteria to fungi, to worms and small crustaceans- comprise what we call the "infauna." Essentially, the infauna is a collective of organisms which do most of the work in keeping a botanical-style aquarium functional and healthy.

Be kind to these organisms, and they'll no doubt be kind to you, too! THAT is what the big talk over twigs is all about!

Stay innovative. Stay observant. Stay engaged. Stay curious...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment