As an armchair philosopher, relentless self-appointed "classifier", and commentator about all things "aquarium", occasionally (okay, more than "occasionally", but who's counting?) I like to examine us crazy people who make up the hobby we love so much.
Who cares if I have no formal psychological training, and am grumpy, presumptuous, and often way off in my assessments of stuff…Fact is, I AM a keen observer of the aquarium-keeping world, and with my dual powers of assumption and opinion, I can make uncannily accurate anecdotal observations and defend them vehemently, regardless of any obvious inaccuracy presented…Hey, I think I’m describing a large chunk of the aquarium-keeping population to a ’T”, but, at the end of the day, that’s what I am- an opinionated hobbyist/businessman with a strong cup of coffee, a consistent blogging habit, some dedicated readers, an internet connection, and a new MacBook Pro…Yikes.
This has trouble written all over it!
Today, ladies and gentlemen, I offer my head on the chopping block yet again, as I present to you a very brief synopsis of some of the aforementioned anecdotal conclusions that I’ve made after years of being immersed in the aquarium-keeping world. Of course, there are my opinions, and for those of you who are offended by the rather broad strokes I’m painting, you can certainly feel free to add to this “open source” summary- in fact, I insist on it.
Todays topic can more or less be summarized as, “What you can tell about a hobbyist without even talking to him/her.”
Seriously, over the years, I think that I’ve made enough observations of hobbyists to make some general conclusions about them without even having to talk to them! And let’s be honest- so have you, but intelligence, tact and decorum have prohibited you from summarizing your observations. I, on the other hand, have no need to adhere to such stringent social restrictions- I’ll speak my mind here and duck the incoming "pot shots" that are no doubt headed my way.
Yes, this is kind of politically incorrect- I’m literally collating and perpetuating stereotypes- a cultural no-no! But it IS kind of fun…and true in many cases. If you care to join in, I’ve got your back..Here are just a few of the hundreds of observations and stereotypes I have examined to date:
Reef Hobbyists with "frag racks" in their tanks: Of course, I HAVE to go after my reefer brethren...I mean, it's almost too easy. These guys are just chronic collectors…They can’t get enough of new corals, and, unfortunately, they don’t have enough space on their reef structure to properly mount more frags. Ever seen this? If you hang around reefers, you have. It's the aquatic equivalent of a downtown Hong Kong residential area!
Taking a page from urban planners, they go vertical. They employ whatever means possible to continue to perpetuate their obsession. And that's actually commendable. Funny. But commendable! Generally adaptable, “can-do” kinds of people who want what they want- when they want it. And, judging by the amount of frags on the market, and the number of tanks with frag racks in them- they want a lot! As a reefer and former reef livestock propagator/vendor, I can sort of laugh at them- but they did keep me financially comfortable! So I salute you, "frag hoarders!"
Hobbyists with large Pleco collections: These people would seriously put them on a leash and take them to the mall if they could. They see Plecos in an almost anthropomorphic” manner, ascribing “personality” traits to them. And I get that. Some of them are amazing! And they always have like 15 varieties of them...ever noticed that? And they're usually really skilled breeders, too!
As much as we’d like to classify some Pleco lovers as “crazy cat ladies” and such, we all feel this way about Plecos, and have to admit that we see a lot of ourselves in them…These people definitely rock.
“High end” shrimp collectors: The closest thing freshwater has to "frag fanatics", these are these hobbyists who, to us "outsiders", simply love to name drop. In actuality, they’re experts on these little animals. An "expert" can be described as someone who "knows more and more about less and less"- highly focused. I mean, when you talk to a shrimp person, they know every name, every morph, and everything happening in the world of these animals. It's pretty impressive!
On the surface, you’d be tempted to just call them a bunch of name-dropping, clique-ish "joiners", but they are way more than that. There is a serious culture in this crowd. They really know their craft...and are excited to share their knowledge with others. Make friends with these people, because they are the ones who will help you settle that bet with your buddies about wether or not you have the real “King Kong Pandas” and not the run-of-the-mill “Crystal Reds” or whatever. Oh, and you might just learn a thing or two about some incredible creatures, too!
Hobbyists who name their fish: Okay, these are people like me, who couldn't have dogs and cats growing up because they were allergic, so they grow fond of their fishes and treat them like true pets! What’s wrong with that?
Oh sure, the hardcore pseudo-scientist fish geek would say that “Sparky” is just a male Altolamprologus compressiceps, or whatever, but they don’t understand all of the subtle nuances of his behavior that make him so endearing. I submit that people who name their fishes are really keen observers of their charges, and are incredibly diligent- if not a bit sentimental, hobbyists. They fully expect these animals to live or exceed natural life spans in their tanks, and will do everything possible to enable that.
How can we argue with that kind of effort, right?
Super gadget-loving hobbyists: You know the type. Every club has one- the guy that knows how to plumb, wire and program every new gadget that comes down the line. He/she is that rare combination of DIY-er, self-starter, survivalist, and joiner. We NEED these people to tell us how to program dosing pumps, conceive exotic overflow mods, and push and prod us into embracing automation.
He or she has had more than one tank crash, at least one aquarium-related homeowner’s insurance claim, and a healthy balance on his/her credit card, but this is the person you go to for cool stuff. And the best thing about these engineering "Pied Pipers" is that they LOVE to help fellow hobbyists with stuff. Partially because they are maxed out on their credit cards, and can’t get more gadgets themselves, and partially because they love to share. These folks are everything that's great about the aquarium hobby!
Aquatic plant enthusiasts: These folks are the "reefers” of the freshwater aquarium world, for sure. (Notice I keep using reef keeping as a reference point? Weird, huh?) They will explore every angle, learn every methodology, examine every product, try any device that will help them create the ultimate collection. Obsessive to the point of being near fanatics, plant lovers occupy a rare niche in the aquarium-keeping world. They have their own language, ritual, technique, and code of ethics.
You can put two plant lovers from different parts of the world together, and within minutes, they will find common ground, probably waxing philosophical about arcane topics like which potassium supplement is best, or the merits of Estimative Index versus the “El Natural”, or what species that Bucephelandra morph you see on Instagram really is. These are some of the hardest of the hardcore hobbyists, many of whom have spent countless amounts of time, money, and risk in pursuit of the ultimate underwater garden. How can you not love these people?
Nano tank keepers: People who may have started with tiny tanks out of practical necessity, and then came to realize that playing with tiny tanks is engaging, challenging, and pretty cool. In short, highly curious, generally meticulous, and very dedicated hobbyists. “Macro hobbyists” would be so content to just write them off as kooks who just like to make something challenging even more difficult- but these people are so much more than that.
While learning the secrets of making their little “slices of the bottom” work, they’ve stumbled on one truism in the aquarium-keeping world that we all must respect: If you can maintain a successful nano tank, you’ll easily be able to handle a much larger aquarium. And, content in their little world, nano tank keepers are the rugged individualists, the innovators, the nerdy “Steve Jobs-esque” outlaws, who pioneer new ideas just...because they enjoy it- not for some recognition or the hope of greater glory heaped upon them by the aquarium world. Whew, “cool” is just one word that comes to mind to describe them…
Aquatic Industry Vendors: Ok, I can vouch for this one. We’re essentially crazy hobbyists who managed to justify our hobby obsession by creating a business out of it. Risk-taking, quick-thinking entrepreneurs who, as one expression goes, seek to “make a small fortune while spending a large one” doing what they love.
Cautious, often calculating, and sometimes just a bit whacky, we are one part crack dealer, one part life coach, and one part fish buddy…It’s a strange combo that somehow works. Hey, at the end of the day, we get to play with aquarium stuff and actually file a tax return that confirms that this is what we do for a living. Not a bad thing, if we use our position in the aquarium world for good.
Seahorse fanatics: Kind of , um...different. ‘Nuff said. Really. I'll leave it at that. If you know any, you'll know what I mean. 😍
Marine fish breeders: People that deserve our respect and gratitude. Most tirelessly undertake exotic breeding projects costing them a lot of money, spending a lot of time, and creating some water damage in their homes, selflessly trying to unlock the secrets of this challenging new frontier.
They deserve way more credit than we occasionally give them, and are certainly more than just fish geeks with lots of small tanks in their basements. This is difficult stuff. They are on the "bleeding edge" of innovation in the aquarium hobby, and their tireless work may very well offer the key to the future of the marine aquarium hobby. Support these people- they really deserve it. Okay, they are a little bit geeky, however…
General observations: We are all geeks. Don’t believe me? Go to any aquarium conference. It’s basically "Comic-Con" without the costumes. Yeah, we are geeks.
But cool ones.
Really cool ones.
That’s a stereotype worth perpetuating.
I’m sure you have some of your own observations…Let’s hear ‘em.
Until next time…
Stay geeky. Stay creative. Stay unique. Stay proud...
And stay wet.