February 15, 2020


Leaps of faith.

At least a few times a week, I'm asked by fellow hobbyists-those perhaps "uninitiated" to our little world- about why the botanical-style aquarium, with its tinted water, biofilms, and decomposing materials is so appealing; why it's becoming more and more popular all the time.

Since we are asked this so often, it makes sense to discuss it yet again...Perhaps from a "slightly different perspective", as I like to say- so that you can have a sort of "reference" for friends who catch you off-guard with this common question! 

When you think about it, the art and science of botanical-style aquariums tends to get heaped in along with blackwater aquariums (not a bad thing). And they do go hand-in-hand, of course. However, as we've discussed a million times here, you don't have to have tinted water. Use of activated carbon or other chemical filtration media can take care of that "right quickly" as they say!

There are lots of ways to enjoy botanicals in your aquariums, and not all of them involve the vision that we've come to associate with them. Yeah, you can keep things nice and pristine and tidy.

Of course, many of us enjoy the aforementioned decomposition, biofilms, and fauna that goes with it. And the tinted water just goes with the territory. When we consider the "function" of these habitats; the humic substances, tannins, and other compounds which are imparted to the water as a result of the botanicals, the advantages of these types of tanks go beyond even the unusual aesthetics.

We've talked about the characteristics and function of blackwater numerous times here, and how they provide conditions which lead to natural behaviors- including reproduction- in many fishes.

Of course, the aesthetics are a "primary driver" in our love affair with these aquariums for many hobbyists! Taken apart from the function, it becomes a whole different element. "Blackwater," of course, is not just an environment, it's a mood. It's also a way of looking at an aquarium and understanding and accepting the influence that natural botanical materials exert in the overall aquatic environment, just as they do in Nature.

In a hardscape-driven, blackwater-themed, aquatic botanical-influenced aquarium, the interplay between the water and the environment is not just a "bonus"- it's the whole ballgame! As soon as these materials are added to the environment, they begin to soften, break down, and impart tannins and humic acids, as well as a host of  other organic material into the water column, just as they do in Nature.

Imagine, one of the natural world's most alluring and unique aquatic environments in your home aquarium!


As an aquarist, a little bit of faith in the natural process, and a willingness to let go of your preconceptions of exactly what an aquarium should look like- is absolutely necessary.

Even mandatory.

Once you free your mind of  these "prejudices", you will really begin to accept and appreciate the natural beauty of what these systems are all about.

A rich, varied, and aesthetically different experience is easily within your reach. And accepting the influence and conditions created by these natural materials will make your life as an aquarist a bit easier, in my opinion.

How so, you ask?

Well, think about it.

In a blackwater, botanical-style hardscape, you're not spending your time attempting to control or manage every process that occurs in the aquarium. Picture this: You're not constantly pruning, fertilizing, or otherwise "managing" the evolution of the environment in an attempt to preserve it in it's current state.

Rather, other than selecting, placing, and occasionally replacing botanicals as needed to achieve the look and "feel" you want, you're allowing your aquarium to evolve on its own- freeing you to enjoy the process.

Leaps of faith and letting go are not themes we often associate with aquarium keeping, so it's a fundamentally different experience, a mental shift, and a completely different "vibe" when you work with a blackwater, botanical-style system.

Sure, people have played with wood and leaves in aquariums for many years, but I don't think with the mindset that we've seen lately.

And that's huge.

In other words, hobbyists who incorporate botanicals and such into their aquarium nowadays are looking at things more "holistically', embracing the natural processes, such as the breakdown of materials, accumulation of biofilms, and even the occasional spot of algae, as part of the environment to be studied and enjoyed, rather than to be loathed, feared and removed.

We're learning more about the interactions between our fishes and these unique environments, and the opportunities to share this new knowledge are endless! 

And it all starts with a leap of faith.

Stay intruiged. Stay engaged. Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay confident. Stay faithful...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

February 14, 2020


Leaves, experiments, and subtle evolutions...

The concept of botanical-style aquariums is more than just some passing "fad", or today's "hot number." Well, to me it is, anyways. The idea behind this movement is that there is more to a unique aquarium than just tossing in some unusual leaves, wood, etc. and working on a "style."

It's as much about function as anything else. And, about pushing into some new directions. The unorthodox aesthetics of these unusual aquariums we play with just happen to be an interesting "by-product" of their function.

The desire to question "status quo" and try to do things differently than the way we've always done them in the hobby often leads us down some paths that, although seemingly not that complicated or exotic, shun convention enough to be considered "evolutionary" steps. Ones that, if built upon further, may definitely lead into some completely new directions.

I'm obsessed with the idea of leaves and leaf litter beds in aquariums.

That's no secret.

From day one here at Tannin, we've talked up the idea of creating leaf litter beds in our tanks. We've touted the process, the looks, the benefits. And it all makes a lot of sense, really. Leaf litter beds are perhaps some of the most natural, abundant, and (surprisingly) aquarium-replicable habitats we can work with.

Nature provides all of the inspiration that we need to work with this idea.


My obsession with leaf litter started when I took a much closer look at these habitats, and considering how fishes live within the leaf litter in Nature. Understanding the way these habitats support the abundance of fishes and other life forms led to a real epiphany of sorts for me.. I realized that this type of habitat is not only relatively simple to recreate in the aquarium- it also performs the dual role of creating "functional aesthetics!"

One of the more fascinating scientific observations I stumbled upon in recent years concerts the productivity (in terms of food inputs) of Amazonian streams. It's long been known by science that the primary production of food in these streams has been our friend, allochthonous inputs- you know, leaves, wood, fruits, blossoms, etc. from the surrounding forests.

Now, although there is a lot of the "stuff" in these streams, interestingly, biologists tended to classify these habitats as "low in biomass."

However, recent studies of the microfaunal diversity of these streams (Walker and Feriera), it was found that the stream fauna was aggregated in submerged litter and "may reach considerable densities..." This observation suggested that the animal community within the submerged leaf litter banks was of greater importance to the productivity of these waters than previously believed.

In other words, a lot of life-and food- happens in submerged leaf litter beds!

They provide both food and shelter- two primary factors affecting population density among fishes. And, if we carry this out to its logical "aquarium interpretation", it becomes more intriguing to contemplate an aquarium with the "hardscape" (for want of a better word) consisting essentially (or completely) of leaves! 

Now, this is an idea that we have played with before. If you recall, last year, we constructed an aquarium in which the entire "structure" consisted of about a 1.5" (3.81cm) bed of Texas Live Oak leaf litter.


One of the more fascinating scientific observations I stumbled upon in recent years concerts the productivity (in terms of food inputs) of Amazonian streams. It's long been known by science that the primary production of food in these streams has been our friend, allochthonous inputs- you know, leaves, wood, fruits, blossoms, etc. from the surrounding forests.

And, although there is a lot of the stuff in these streams, biologists tended to classify these habitats as "low in biomass." However, recent studies of the microfaunal diversity of these streams (Walker and Feriera), it was found that the stream fauna was aggregated in submerged litter and "may reach considerable densities..."

This observation suggested that the animal community within the submerged leaf litter banks was found in greater abundances- and was of greater importance- to the productivity of these waters than previously believed.


In other words, a lot of life and food happens in submerged leaf litter beds! They provide both food and shelter- two primary factors affecting population density among fishes. If we carry this out to its logical aquarium interpretation, it becomes more intriguing to contemplate an aquarium with the "hardscape" (for want of a better word) consisting essentially of leaves! 

Now, this is an idea that we have played with before. If you recall, last year, we constructed an aquarium in which the entire "structure" consisted of about a 1.5" (3.81cm) bed of Texas Live Oak leaf litter, a few Oak twigs...and that was it. A fine sprinkling of sand (like .25"/0.635cm) covered the very bottom of the aquarium.
I selected the Texas Live Oak leaf litter because it is one of the more "diverse" leaf products we work with- it contains bits of other terrestrial soils, dried mosses, small twigs, and even other types of small leaves. This makes it a very fertile "media" upon which to build an active, dynamic aquatic ecosystem in the aquarium. You could just as easily use Red Mangrove, Jackfruit, etc. 


And this aquarium ran incredibly successfully!

And it was interesting  too, fro man aquarium function perspective. There was virtually no traditional "cycle time"-curiously. And even more interesting, the tank stayed super "clean" in appearance. It did recruit some visible biofilm on the leaf surfaces, although it never really "bloomed" significantly after the first few weeks, and waned on its own in less than a month.


The other interesting thing about this tank is that I ran it as a sort of "proof of concept" tank, by allowing the litter to sit for a number of weeks without fishes, seeding it with a cup of decomposed leaf litter/botanicals from a different tank, some pure Paramecium cultures, some Daphnia, and some black worms to sort of "kick start" the micro/macro fauna population. I let it "run in" for about 3 weeks before adding fishes.

My goal was quite bold: To run an aquarium without any supplemental feeding of the resident fishes.

I populated the tank carefully, with 18 "Green Neon Tetras" (Paracheirodon simulans) as the sole occupants. I selected these fish because: a) they are small fishes with little production of waste, and b) they are efficient "micro predators" of small life forms, including the aforementioned Paramecium, biofilms, fungal growths, etc.



So, from day one, I didn't feed anything to these fishes. Rather, I let them do what they've done for eons in Nature- forage among leaf litter for their sustenance. 

And it worked fabulously. (if I say so, myself!)

I started with 18 young, healthy specimens , and when I ended the experiment some 6 months later, I still had 18 healthy specimens- just as fat (if not, MORE so) than when they were added. And, at around three months into the experiment, they spawned! I personally take that as a measure of success!


Of course, despite my successful experiments In this "no-supplemental-feeding" realm, I have no illusions that the idea of just tossing fishes into an aquarium and letting them fend for themselves is some panacea and "ultimate" way to keep fishes.  Nope. And, I did perform routine weekly water exchanges and regular filter cleanings (I used an Ehiem 2211). Nothing crazy there. And certainly not anything that would even qualify as "benign neglect", either. There was definitely not anything close to that. Interestingly, there was no detectible nitrate and phosphate in this aquarium during the entire operational lifespan of the system.


Other than no supplemental feeding, there was little more to distinguish this approach from more traditionally-run systems. However, I think it helps prove, to some extent, that there is a "low-maintenance, low food-input" aquarium approach for keeping certain small fishes which is viable.
Of course, that means setting the system up correctly from day one to function in this fashion.



Much like in Nature, if properly conceived and populated with an initial population of live food sources, I believe that an aquarium can be configured to create a productive, biologically-sustainable system, requiring little to no supplemental food input on the part of the aquarist to function successfully for extended periods of time. Of course, it is significantly different than a natural, fully-open system in many ways. And this is not a "revolutionary" statement or pronunciation, or some "breakthrough" in the art of aquarium keeping.


It is just an idea that- like so many we encourage here- replicates some aspects of natural aquatic systems. With responsible management and continued experimentation, I really see no reason why this concept couldn't be done on a larger scale with the same great success. 

My next experiment will be to apply this idea to a tank with a significantly deeper leaf litter bed- something like 3"-4" (7.62cm-10.16cm), to see if there are different possible outcomes with a greater leaf biomass. I am very curious to see if a deeper leaf litter bed functions similarly to the shallow type if regular maintenance is employed. 

I suspect there will be not much difference in "performance."

 My hypothesis is that it will, although for some reason, I am expecting to see a greater appearance of biofilms/fungal growths on the litter mass (the "more fuel/more fire" theory!). It'll be interesting to see if nitrate and phosphate levels in a deep leaf litter system managed this way are any different.

I also have executed a few versions of this concept using a mix of leaves and twigs and small botanicals, with similar results.

These types of experiments represent a further exploration into a natural approach which embraces both the aesthetics and function of some of the compelling habitats that we love so much. My hope is that my simple efforts will inspire those far more learned/talented than I to look at Nature, and interpret many of its aspects with a bent towards pushing ourselves in terms of management, husbandry, and aquascaping. 

A marriage of ideas, form, and function. In around, and above the leaf litter bed. One that leads to an eloquent, dynamic ecosystem which can provide beautifully for all of its inhabitants.

Just like what happens in Nature.

Keep pushing.

Stay observant. Stay inquisitive. Stay bold. Stay diligent. Stay persistent. Stay creative. Stay thoughtful...


And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

February 13, 2020


The beauty of humility in the hobby...

The interesting thing about the aquarium hobby is that it can be kind of humbing. And it's almost always educational. And challenging. It's nice to know that you never will want for the opportunity to learn a new thing or two. And opportunities to learn new things are right there, just waiting for those who push out into new areas of the hobby.

I’d say that I’m in tune with the hobby and the market. Okay, I'm fairly in tune with the hobby and market. I tend to study a lot of "macro trends" in the aquarium world, as many of you do. However, as you also know, the sheer volume of information in our hobby that is available makes it impossible to keep up with every development in every hobby sector.

I guess being in my “coral propagation bubble” in the coral world several years back sort of  left me a bit myopic and hyper focused on one aspect of the reef aquarium hobby. I could tell you all about what coral came from where and how it grows, and what kinds of water parameters are best for growth, blah, blah…I used that knowledge daily.  Yet, once I dove full-time into our world at Tannin, it was easy to have some of that stuff fall back into "dormant" mode.

Interestingly, though, when I play with new ideas in our specialized freshwater world, I find myself drawing upon some of the information I learned over the years in the reef world. It's not really surpassing that many of the lessons have "crossover" potential.

And, of course, no matter what side of the hobby you play in, you simply can't know every aspect of it. Like, I could tell you a whole lot about natural botanical materials and concepts, yet when it comes to the “latest and greatest” hardware, I’m a bit…humbled.

Oh sure, I’m up on the latest technology and concepts, and I know who makes what, but if you ask me who currently makes "the best canister filter, protein skimmer or LED light?", and why, I might not have a tremendous depth to my answer. I know what works for me, but I'm doing a lot of weird stuff that is significantly out of the hobby mainstream. I use tech simply to accomplish basic stuff...so I probably under-iutilize it.

“I know what I know”, I suppose…

Last week, hanging out with sophisticated reefers for the first time in a few years, listening and participating in discussions and seeing their work was really enlightening. Some of the stuff they talk about, gear-wise, makes my head spin. Honestly. I mean, somewhere along the line, super-high-technology just settled into the reef keeping game- and to a lesser extent, the freshwater game, too- for the betterment of the hobby.

But wow, in just a few years, things have changed a LOT in the reef world! Seems like you have to be an expert at things like computers, cell phones, and "smart home" technology just to grasp how some of this stuff works- and what it actually can do!

It was kind of…well- humbling… Made me realize that, even after a lifetime in the aquarium hobby, you simply can’t know everything there is to know. Sometimes, you DO need to rely on “experts” in other aspects of the aquarium field. 

And there’s really nothing wrong with that!

I rely on my friend Jake Adams at reefbuilders.com for the latest on all things hobby tech. You should, too! )

Just a couple of weeks ago, a buddy and I ran out to our favorite LFS for the time-honored tradition of looking for fish for our aquariums. My friend was looking for some small gobies and bennies, and I was focused on finding a few Checkerboard cichlids. When we were browsing the saltwater section, I knew that I had more than just a basic working knowledge of these fishes, but the reality was that I was woefully “out of practice”, so to speak.

I was struggling on some of the finer points of some of the varieties of fishes- like ID, etc.  It took me a little iPhone searching and assistance from the girl behind the counter to steer me in the right direction! And it was a great experience, if not a bit humbling. I mean, I WAS this "player" in the reef aquarium world less than 6 years ago, and....

Not a week ago, I was giving my first reef club talk in several years, and trust me, it took me most of the day of touring reef aquariums and hanging with very hardcore reef guys to sort of "re-calibrate" my brain to "turn on" the "reef hobby database" that was lying more-or-less "dormant" for a few years! 

If you don't use it- you tend to forget a lot of the finer details.

Of course, the reef aquarium world is no different to me than the hyper-focusing we do in our freshwater niche, on things like Tetras, cichlids, botanicals, etc.. You just need to listen, learn- immerse yourself in the “culture” a bit. When haunting some of the planted tank forums and other specialty forums and discussion groups (like biotopes, livebearers, and killies), I often come to the realization that there is so much specialized knowledge out there that it’s almost impossible to absorb it all.

And I still hear a lot of freshwater people elevating the reef side as if there is some extraterrestrial-imparted knowledge everyone who keeps corals has!

Yea, I have to laugh, because it seems like everyone on this side of the "salinity line" thinks that reef people are so sophisticated (trust me, I can prove otherwise in many cases!) and super knowledgable. The reality is- just like freshwater people, there are smart, knowledgeable reefers, and incredibly clueless, ignorant ones who simply suck.

Conversely, I am frequently blown away by the incredible sophistication of the freshwater hobbyists- especially fish breeders and planted tank people. I mean, it makes running a reef tank look comparatively simple. And you people who breed some of the crazier cichlids and catfishes- you’re on a whole different level.

It's all perspective.

And it’s all amazing, IMHO.

When I "jumped back" into the freshwater world when we started Tannin in 2015, in addition to being humbled by the awesome amount of “stuff” there is to know in the aquarium world, I was struck by a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in years…It’s fun to learn about all of these new (to me) things.

It's a "standard" that there are products, procedures, trends, and “experts” in specialty areas of the hobby that are completely unknown to us before we jump in…how cool is that?

These people have decades of experience with say, South American riverine Cichlids- or even more obscure- the genus Amphilophus, for example. Etc., etc., etc. To know what they know, you simply have to DO stuff for a long time…Or ask those who know and LISTEN- then do your own followup research-Just like in the reef world.

Sure, you can learn a lot by reading, and more by asking-but in the end, you have to DO stuff in order to get the valuable experience. You can literally spend a lifetime trying new stuff in the aquarium hobby and never even get to 10% of what's out there!

Crazy, right?

And I think that's what's pretty fun about some of the wierd stuff we're pushing here at Tannin. We do it because it's fun, interesting and helps push the boundaries of what is possible in the hobby. You see us “enabling” fellow aquarists with new concepts- like the "Urban Igapo" idea, brackish paludariums, leaf-litter only aquariums, etc.- things that will challenge the skills we’ve developed in our “fish careers”, and compel us to acquire and develop new ones!

It's fascinating to push out there.

And sure, it CAN be a bit humbling, if you go in with an ego. So, when you push out into new hobby territory, check your ego at the door and use your previous experience as a "supplement" to what you're going to learn in the new endeavors you're moving into.

It'll really help you!

My advice, if you find yourself in a “fish rut”, perhaps looking for something to get you mentally “back in the game?” Do something, anything- that gets you mentally engaged in a new aspect of the hobby. Do some research, seek out advice of others with experience in those fields, and then…to coin a phrase from an old Nike campaign- Just DO It.

With an almost infinite amount of stuff to learn, and enormous resources at our fingertips, including friendly, experienced hobbyists-there has never been a better time to embark on new journeys in the aquarium hobby. Yes, the usual caveats about taking people’s advice with a grain of salt apply, but with the proper attitude, and the willingness to be humble and “new” at something again, the possibilities for enjoyment in the aquarium hobby are as vast as the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world.

Think about it. But not too hard. You've gotta do stuff!

Enjoy the upcoming weekend. Play with your fishes. Spend time with your families. Learn something new. Try something that makes you a bit uncomfortable now and then. You might just change it forever with your work.

That's the beauty of humility in the aquarium hobby.

Stay resourceful. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay diligent. Stay bold. Stay humble...

And Stay Wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

February 12, 2020


Fishing around for fishes...

The neatest thing about tropical fishes is that there are so damn many varieties to play with, right? And within the different varieties are all sorts of species nuances, like temperament, dietary preferences, size, and interesting behavioral aspects. These nuances can often help us "discover" fishes that are actually well-suited for the types of aquariums that we play with.

Some DO find their way into our tanks fairly regularly...

Others tend to be more elusive. 

I wonder why I've been so obsessed with eh more elusive fishes over the years.

I guess it's because I was such a prolific reader of fish books growing up- or maybe, because I'm fascinated by the habitats from which some fishes come from, which has resulted in me researching and looking for some rather obscure fishes found in them. And the crazy thing is that many of them are simply not kept in the hobby at all.

Have you ever have a fascination with a fish that you absolutely know you'll probably never even keep? Or even see in the hobby, for that matter?

Yup, that's me! 

Some are so "hypothetical" (a term I hijacked long a go to mean, "Dude, you'll NEVER find those little bastards!") as to be almost "mythical"...

You know, like some of the really rare blackwater-dwelling livebearers, of which there are a few. Of course, they're just plain dull, and have so little commercial value that they are likely angrily tossed back by the native fishers because they foul the nets as "by-catch" while they're looking for some more interesting (read that, "saleable") fishes!

Makes sense. Economic realities often supersede our geeky obsessions...

Nonetheless, there are a surprisingly large number of livebearers found in environments we might be fascinated by. At least, enough species to "keep you on your toes", waiting, Watching, and wondering if they will ever show up in the hobby.

And there are the really unusual fishes:

One example?

Well, it's more of a group, really...Knife Fishes.. These are epic fishes, with all sorts of fascinating ones. Now, the "rap" on most of the Knives is that they get really large, are nocturnal, cryptic, predatory, etc...

And I admit that.  

Some simply get too large and hide like mad during pretty much any time of day you're likely to be in front of your aquarium. I don't know about you, but paying good money for a fish whom you might see the tail of, maybe three times a year- all the while, pandering to its specialized dietary requirements- can get old after a while, right?

However, they're my weakness...if there were ever a bunch of fishes I'd break my "no large fish" rule for (yeah, I f-cking HATE keeping large fishes), it'd be these guys. However, there are smaller ones...Yeah, you heard me. Ones that reach reasonable sizes; some of which don't even spend every second of their existence hiding...

Sure, I know my fave, the Black Ghost  (Apteronotus albifrons) will often become rather tame, and come out all hours. But hey do get kind of large...I give them a pass for their cool factor. 

Yet, there ARE others out there that fit my bizarre "requirements..."

Like the Hypomidae, aka "Grass Knifefishes"- 30 some-odd species in the Amazon region, only a few of which have found their way into the aquarium trade/hobby...The neatest thing about these fishes is that they are generally considerably smaller than the big guys- the Clown Knife Fish, Banded Knife Fish, etc...

Many come from small rainforest streams, rivulets, even flooded forest areas and other habitats that we're kind of into around here...so, yeah! They tend to spend most of their daylight hours hiding in leaf litter (we can offer 'em that, huh?) and come out at night to go after the lights go out...And they like to eat insect larvae and small crustaceans, so providing the right kinds of foods isn't that hard.

The tricky part is obtaining the fishes to begin with...acclimating them, getting them to overcome their natural shyness- and feeding them at the right time of day (or night, typically)! I'd imagine that creating an aquarium for these fishes would be challenge free...it's the ability to enjoy them (ie; see them) when we want that could be problematic!

Nonetheless, the possibilities are tantalizing, huh? 

My "dream species?" A fish called Microsternarchus bilineatus. It reacts a length no larger than 4.75 inches/12cm...Can you imagine?

(Image by John P. Sullivan)

Yeh, I admit, I've NEVER seen this species in the hobby...likely never will. However, it's that chance of stumbling upon one that was collected as "by-catch" or whatever, which keeps busy geeks like me excited and "on the hunt" for years.

I am also strangely fascinated by the Prochilodontidae- Like, the families Curimatidae, Prochilodus, etc. Larger, kind of "neurotic" fishes, some members of which can reach impressive sizes (like up to 30 inches/80cm or more!). They're found throughout the Amazon Basin. And I'll be the first to tell you that they aren't the most colorful fishes you could keep, either! 

They are often associated with marginal lagoons, and flooded grassy areas, which, as we all know by now, form when the aforementioned larger rivers overflow during the rainy season. 

Are these good fishes to keep?

I mean, people keep Prochilodus species, and Semiprochilodus (the "Flag Tails"), and they do reach "respectable" sizes (like 15 inches/40cm) or more, making them possible long-term residents of truly large aquariums. I generally dislike large fishes...Or should I say, keeping large fishes in aquariums. I just have this thing about smaller fishes in larger tanks...

(Prochilodus insignis -Image by Jutta234, used under CC-BY S.A. 3.0)

So, why do I have even the remotest interest in this group?

I like what they eat.

I love how they are serious detritivores.

I find this type of feeder to be really, really interesting as a resident of a botanical-style aquarium, because they are adapted to processing the decomposing/mineralizing botanical materials as they are broken down by microbial and fungal action. 

This is a perfect type of fish to include in one of our systems, right? If only there were a smaller version!

Well, there ARE smaller fishes which consume detritus. What about the Hemiodus? These are social fishes, typically attaining much smaller size (like 6 inches/16cm or less), which feeding largely- though not exclusively- upon detritus, mud, filamentous algae, and some aquatic plants as well.

And, they're typically found in smaller forest streams, as opposed to larger rivers and tributaries...perfect residents for larger versions our style of aquarium, right?

They have been observed in nature following fishes like Sting Rays, snapping up various foods as the Rays displace the substrate with their activities. Oh, THAT could make for an interesting aquarium display for anyone who is into Rays (And, as you might surmise- I have like, zero interest in Rays, myself)!

Yet, there are some smaller ones- some, like Chilodus punctuatus, the "Spotted Headstander", reach no more than about  3.14 inches /80mm in length! I've kept this species before In a botanical-style aquarium and really found them fascinating- and useful!

What I find fascinating about these little fishes, which tend to occur in both larger bodies of water- like rivers and streams, as well as the flooded forests and little blackwater tributaries we generally obsess over, is that they are typically very specialized feeders- detritivores, to be specific. And they also pick at biofilms on wood, rocks leaves, etc. 


I guess you might liken them to carp- fishes that will essentially eat just about anything...And some of them, like the little Headstanders I just mentioned- are social, and tend to shoal together as they feed!

It's fun to occasionally muse and consider the possibilities of smaller, or more "accessible" versions of some of these unusual fishes...

There are so many out there...

What's the one that keeps YOU looking, hunting, searching? Or, what are the available "analogs" that you keep?

Something fun to muse about, right?

Stay hopeful. Stay on the trail. Stay relentless. Stay dedicated...Stay studious...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



February 11, 2020


Welcome (Back) to "The Jungle..."

Ever since I was a kid, with my first aquarium in my bedroom, I had this vision of the underwater environment as a complex tangle of aquatic plants, branches, twigs, etc.

This idea was probably put in my head from some reading I did on jungle streams and such, and the "vision" never really left me. And curiously, as I look back on some of the memorable tanks and experiences that I've had in aquariums over the years, I couldn't help but think back to all of the ones that held a special fascination for me. 

There was a sort of commonality to them all; I think it was the "complexity" of the aquariums' "structure." It's something that I continue to play with to this day in some of my most successful aquariums.

Factors other than "planning", however, were the catalysts of my earliest learning experiences with this concept:

We all have a life outside of aquarium keeping (well, we should!), and sometimes, it impacts our aquariums.

I know that growing up, there were a number of times over the decades that, for one reason or another, I simply let the tanks "run themselves", save an occasional water change or filter media cleaning, and of course, regular feeding (that consisted of tossing in a chunk of frozen brine shrimp, or whatever was on hand at the time).

A particularly fond memory of this type of "practice" comes from my Senior year in high school, when I was seriously into breeding killies (in addition to keeping saltwater, cichlids, tetras, and of course, the usual high school-dude pursuits of girls, surfing, and socializing). As a junior AKA member, I obtained a group of killies- Epiplatys dageti "Monroviae", and was determined to breed them.

Of course, they were very "easy", by killie standards, and had a reputation for being a bit of a "beginner's fish", requiring basic care, feeding, and the usual measure of patience. As a busy kid, I had little patience (although more than the average high school guy- after all, I was a fish geek!), and even less time-so I was delighted to learn that some hobbyists found that these fishes were able to do okay in "permanent" and "natural" setups (fish-geek "code" for "set and forget", IMHO)- granted, with a smaller, but regular production of fry... So of course, this was a perfect fish for my busy lifestyle at the time!

I set up 1 pair and a few extra females in a 5-gallon tank, planted with Water Sprite, Hygrophila, and Rotala. Given moderate light from a small fixture, and a sponge filter providing filtration/circulation, this tank looked good and ran just fine with little intervention on my part. In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I would sometimes go a week or more without so much as looking at the tank long enough to toss some food in there!

One day (I think it was during Spring Break), I took the time to really stare into the tank, to see what was going on...Sure enough, upon close examination, I saw several tiny fry and juveniles flitting in and among the Rotala! I was elated! Rather than panic and start hatching brine shrimp, I made the very "mature and level-headed" decision to simply...leave them alone, as I had been doing for months. I resisted the temptation to net them out, "power feed" them, and otherwise intervene.

I reasoned that I could hardly do better than what they were apparently being provided by Nature, as they have done successfully for...well, eons! I ultimately ended up with a pretty stable population of around 12-15 individuals, in a tank I "maintained" for around 3-4 years. Ironically, the difficulties started when I had the time to really get into "taking care" of the fishes, and took more initiative and control of the breeding. I ultimately slowly lost the entire colony.


But a valuable lesson. Sometimes, what we would classify as "benign neglect" is actually the best thing we could do..the closest imitation to Nature that we can offer fishes in captive environments! I experimented with this recently in my "no-scape" leaf litter tank for Paracheirodon simulans, which was set up in the hopes of "passively feeding" the fish via organisms living in, and produced via the layer of decomposing leaf litter which provided the entire "hardscape" of the aquarium.

It worked. And it worked well.

And, as part of the experiment, I did not feed these fishes during the entire 7-month duration of the experiment, and they not only were as fat and happy as any "Green Neon Tetras" I'd ever seen, but they spawned repeatedly in this tank. They subsisted entirely on food sources produced by the aquarium.

As I've reiterated previously, the tank was "pre-stocked" with some small crustaceans, paramecium cultures, and some worms and such, and allowed to "break in" for a month before fishes were even added.

It was set up to succeed in this fashion.

And it did.

I am currently repeating a variation of this with my prized Tucanoicthys tucano- and having similar good results!

Now, I'm not suggesting that you abandon all care of your fishes, but I am suggesting that you reconsider the way that you might care for some of the more demanding varieties (from a breeding aspect, anyways). Sometimes it's best to simply "monitor" and not intervene so much. Hard to do for us 'hands on" fish geeks- particularly for a hardcore reefer like myself- but it often times works far better than our efforts to take "control" of the situation, IMHO.

In a well-established, properly cared-for aquarium, fishes will find sustenance among the resources already present in their environment. In many cases, the tank itself may not produce enough food to sustain an entire population of mid-sized adult fishes...However, it might be able to supplement whatever feeding you're actively doing as an aquarist, and very likely could do the same for fry, until they are caught and moved to a "proper nursery" tank.

I was reminded this years later when I checked out the office aquarium of a friend, who had a pretty heavy travel schedule. I went to feed his fishes while was out of town for the month (of course, he didn't ask me to until over two weeks into his trip...).

His tank was the typical planted tank- CO2 and all that stuff. 

Of course, much like in our youth, with the craziness of schedules and running businesses, sometimes we can't  maintain our tanks as "steadfastly" as we would like. This was certainly the case with my friend's tank. When I popped my head in one day, the tank was just packed with plants...And the fishes were healthy, active, and solid.

In fact, his Angelfish had paired off, and at least one young pair had a small clutch of eggs!

It was just another reminder to me that there is more than one way to keep an aquarium and have fishes reproduce.

I saw this again more recently on in my friend Dave's "Jungle Tank" in his home. Now, he's a rock-solid, ultra-DIY, high-tech-loving, super-talented reefer (and he has a coral propagation facility in his backyard!)- but he keeps this freshwater tank packed full of plants and assorted livebearers...just does water changes and the occasional (I mean occasional) thinning of plants- and that's it! 

And it's an amazing tank! I could stare at it for hours...

Elegant. Simple by design, yet utterly complex in its function. A case study for ceding control to Nature.

Welcome back to the "jungle."

There's something to be said for this sort of "style" of tank...It's a more modern, better-equipped, slightly differently-executed homage to the "Leiden Style" planted tanks of the early 20th century; a way to create a densely-planted, intricate underwater world which leaves the system largely to it's own devices, with minimal human intervention. Although the true earliest "Leiden Style" tanks didn't have pumps and filters and such...

The "common element" in the tanks I referred to in this piece was that they all have/had reasonably manageable fish populations, fertile substrates, adequate lighting- and an outrageous amount and variety of plants- or, in the case of my recent experiments- significant "biodegradable" hardscape in the form of twigs, leaves, or botanicals! 

Set up for success. A significant quantity of food-producing/supporting materials is the common denominator among these tanks.

And in these days of intricately-planned, tightly-executed "high-tech/high concept" planted aquariums, it's fun to see what happens when they're left largely to their own devices...Yes, most serious "competition" aquascapers would simply lose their shit at the mere thought of this kind of thing.

Yet, there is something oddly refreshing about this idea: Plants not in perfectly-manicured form, with occasional bits of algae and awkward, untended growth...

Kind of like what happens in Nature, actually. 

And I refer you to the much-discussed "Urban Igapo" tanks that we've been playing with lately. The idea of a cyclicly-flooded terrestrial display, with rich soils, submersion-tolerant grasses and plants, and botanicals, becoming home for annual killifishes whos' eggs incubated in situ- this is a very compelling concept, IMHO!

The potential to serve as a sort of "nursery" for many types of fishes with this kind of tank is there. We're still in the early experimental phases of the concept, and we'll see how it goes!

There are numerous examples of this sort of habitat in Nature that we draw inspiration from; each hosts a large population of fishes, insects, and other aquatic organisms, existing in a unique, seasonally-controlled habitat.

Like so many things in the natural world, there is often more to it than meets the eye upon first glance.

Much more.

I think you could perhaps even envision viewing "jungle-style" or "urban igapo"-style aquariums much like the abandoned lot down the street, which is filled with patches of weeds, a few hardy shrubs, and soil. Perhaps unattractive and disorderly upon first glance (at least to the uninitiated!), yet oddly compelling and even beautiful in its own way upon, closer examination.

A unique microcosm of life.

I'm not suggesting to abandon husbandry and care protocols in favor of neglect.

I'm not suggesting that we look at our aquariums as "patches of weeds" and accept the aesthetics as "high concept" or anything. However, the term "natural" does sound more applicable in this case, right?

What I AM suggesting is that sometimes, well-thought-out, decently-maintained closed systems can regulate themselves a bit with minimal intervention on our part. This is not some recent discovery. Rather, it harkens back to the dawn of fish-keeping. And of course, the "science" behind it is as old as Nature itself.

Plants and animals whose needs are being met will thrive and come to dominate the closed ecosystem, for better or worse, just like in Nature. We could allow the plants to grow in a manner that they "want" to. We could allow some algae, some biofilm; some decomposition...Some more accurate representation of what occurs in Nature...

In fact, one could probably make the argument that- at least on a superficial level- the "benignly neglected" aquarium- or more precisely- the "minimal intervention" aquarium- may be the closest imitation of Nature that we can present!

With botanical-style, blackwater aquariums, the emphasis has been much more on the overall "scene" than on a specific component. And long-term functionality, in terms of creating a stable, biologically active and diverse system, has been the next big step we've taken after merely creating workable blackwater, botanical-style aquariums.

Plants, "active substrates", "cryptic zones", refugia, and deep leaf litter beds are becoming-and will continue to become- more and more a part of our scene, and it would be interesting to see how a "benignly-neglected" Botanical-Style system fares over time!

Something akin to what we see in Nature, I suspect.

Although I certainly wouldn't advocate running every single botanical-style, blackwater aquarium, especially one devoid of plants, in this fashion, there are aspects of the idea that I find intriguing. There is much to learn from this idea...one that me seem a bit unorthodox- even radical- yet is something that reaches back to the earliest days of aquarium keeping...

Truly "working with Nature"- not in the cliche'-ridden, aquascaping contest fanboy  bullshit sense, mind you. Rather, embracing the mindset that if we help create conditions for life to exist, Nature can work with what we offer to create conditions for life to thrive.

There are many ways to practice this craft of devotion to Nature, too.

The concept of creating our own "flooded forest"- including a rich, substrate and a mix of leaves, botanicals, and terrestrial/marginal/aquatic plants is another logical step to embrace as we continue to push the boundaries to create truly "natural style" aquariums! I think this idea will provide a lot of "unlocks" in multiple facets of the aquarium hobby, as more an more aquarists experiment with it.

So, the idea of ceding some control of our aquariums to Nature again in order for them to provide for our fishes rears its head- and it's simply not a crazy idea, is it? Nope. It makes a ton of sense, given Nature's ability to "find a way" to support life almost whenever possible.

Yeah, Nature's got this thing down!

The question is...are you down with Nature? 

We've done it before in the hobby. We can do it again.

Welcome back to the jungle.

Stay open-minded. Stay focused. Stay determined.Stay on top of things...or not!

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

February 10, 2020


The Best Version of Yourself.

As you know by now, I'm pretty much obsessed with the "cultural" aspect of aquarium-keeping. I'm fascinated by what makes us do what we do, cling to other beliefs that we have, create and/or follow techniques, and embrace the styles and trends that we do.

It has me studying the work, ideas, and aquarium "cultural trends" that permeate our existence on a non-stop basis. And of course, I have plenty of fellow hobbyists ask me why I'm so taken with this world of brown water, earthy patinas, decomposing leaves, seed pods, biofilms, and fungal growth. Like, what makes an aquarist so enthralled by this stuff which much of the fish world seems to revile?

Just what is it that is so alluring to me? Maybe you've asked yourself this question before?

It's likely a few things, really. Yet, in the end, it really boils down to one thing: An appreciation for Nature as it is.


It's really a desire to "reconnect" with Nature in some way. Yeah, I personally kind of think that we as hobbyists in general tend to over-complicate things a bit and sort of "polish" out and "edit" the true beauty of Nature. It's not that we "ruin" stuff- it's just that many of us seem married to an interpretation of Nature that is unyielding and bound up by a lot of "rules" and "guidelines in pursuit of what we call a "natural" look.

As you might imagine, I am not fond of rules in aquascaping. And there are many "natural looks" in the aquarium world. It's not just one type of interpretation. It never was, yet to many hobbyists, there is only one...


There are no rules in rediscovering the unfiltered "art" that exists naturally beneath the surface.

Repeat that to yourself the next time you're "stuck"; or the next time a "fanboy" of some "school" of aquarium technique tells you otherwise.

The only "rules" that exist in our interpretation of Nature vis a vis aquascaping are those which Nature imparts to dictate how materials accumulate, interact with, and decompose in water.

My peers in the reef-keeping world often ask me why I "gave up" the splashy and exotic color palette that accompanies the reef aquarium for the organic, earth-tone-influenced world of natural freshwater aquascaping, particularly "blackwater" environments.

I find the question amusing, because I didn't "give up" anything.

I love both.

However, to some of my reef-keeping acquaintances who were sort of "set in their ways", seeing me evolve a different path was perhaps disconcerting, frightening, or just plain confusing. And that's okay. I have my own tastes- as everyone should- and they encompass a variety of things. I poke my head out of the bubble from time to time. We all should.

Aim to be the best version of yourself. 

And yeah, I do see this same kind of "resistance to change" in various corners of the freshwater world in which I operate now. Like, I wonder why so few hobbyists tend to question many of the "rules" or "guidelines" that have been imposed upon our hobby practice for decades. There is a lot of resistance to even considering that these things might be outmoded or unnecessary.

Although it's sad to see hostility to different ways of thinking, I can't help but feel that it's changing a bit.

Slowly, but it's changing. 

Yet, you still see a lot of attitudes out there which make you scratch your head sometimes...

A lot of it is obvious when you hear some people who are in a position to influence others giving- well- I'll just say it- lame advice.

Some of the most revealing aquascaping advice I've ever seen deterred out socially was also some of the worst: "Copy an existing work that you like- exactly. Work with it for a long time and gain confidence with it before moving on to a design of your own"


I mean, shit. Really? Copy someone else's work before thinking for yourself at all?


I mean, I suppose it could be interpreted as good because we all aspire to create stuff that pleases us, and if you need to copy others' work because you love it, so be it.

Nothing wrong with that. Inspiration is one thing. It's what we're all about here.

But, "don't attempt your own until you've successfully replicated someone else's work first?"

That's lousy, IMHO. 

I realize that, for many hobbyists, that might mean recreating an aquascape that we saw online, at the LFS, a fellow hobbyist's tank, or one of those international competitions. Gaining inspiration from the work of others is great...It gives us a "guideline", so to speak, for creating our own version of the word. 

Artists have been doing it for centuries- drawing inspiration from others, then sort of "tweaking" their own versions. Nothing inherently wrong with this. 


When it starts becoming a "paint by numbers" thing, with everyone trying to create an aquascape that meets someone else's rigid "formula" for theme, layout, composition, stocking, etc., it's "unhealthy", in my opinion.

Like, this typically gets me lambasted throughout the competitive aquascaping world, but I, for one, have made it no secret that I'm a bit tired of aquascapes that contain sand waterfalls, floating cities, "beach scenes", "enchanted forests", etc. 

I mean, it seems to me that to place highly in one of those contests, an aquarium has to look like something out of "Lord of The Rings" -some weird fantasy with an underwater twist. 'Scapes that employ these things are studied, analyzed- revered as THE way to 'scape. Anything that seems to deviate from this is just sort of shrugged off as a "nice try", "too niche-y",  or something equally dismissive. And yet, the term "Nature" permeates the entire scene. It's bizzare.

If you look at this objectively, I'm kind of right...

And it need not be this way.

From the outside- especially to someone like me who comes from the reef aquarium world, which has went through similar "Copy this exactly in order to have a successful attractive tank..." periods, its all too familiar- and all too disappointing.

I suppose that it's even kind of funny, too.

A sort of "paint by numbers" approach to 'scaping, quantifying, and looking at the aquatic world. Trying to conform to what we see elsewhere; offering up what others "approve" of. Perhaps not even what we feel in our hearts. That can't be a "positive" for the hobby and art of aquascaping.

Look, I have no problem with different styles of aquascaping. If you're into floating forests and stuff, Mazel Tov. Good for you. Keep doing them. Because you love them.

Where I have problems is when we (and I mean "we" generically and collectively) are resistant to any deviation from what we as a group  feel is "the way."

And worse, when we are afraid to do what resonates within ourselves because we don't want to piss off "the establishment."

Now, again, let me make myself clear- just because I'm advocating utilizing materials and adopting an interpretation of Nature as it really appears in some areas, doesn't mean that every other way sucks. Although I'm not the only one who thinks this wayI always hear from at least one or two persons, who, after reading a piece like this, will tell me that I'm doing the same thing as those I question, and am "nothing but a hypocrite."

No. I'm not. Read this again.

All I'm saying is that no one should "hijack" the art of aquascaping and aquarium keeping  and dictate what is the accepted "style" or "practice" and what isn't. Trust me, I'm well aware that many people find the "style"  and interpretation we advocate here as aesthetically ugly, "dirty", messy, etc. 

And that's okay. Opinions- and tastes- vary.

Yet, I just can't help but wonder why so many aquascapers worldwide seem to be "held hostage" by a mindset that proffers that "you have to do it like everyone else" in order for your work to be "taken seriously", and how it arose. What is the reason for this attitude?

To be "cool?" To belong? Because we want so badly to be like the great aquascapers that we'll forcibly subscribe to some rigid style to appease the masses? Would the great Takashi Amano want this?

I don't think so.

His greatest works were those that embraced the concept of "wabi-sabi", in which Nature guided them. Scapes which evolved over time. Scapes in which Nature herself dictated the way this occurred, and how they look. There are no "floating cities", "floating forests" and underwater waterfalls in Nature. So how did all of this weird stuff become the accepted norm?

Where did the "aquascaping hegemony" decide to take this weird turn? Why is it considered better to "edit" the look of Nature?

I have no idea.

I merely suggest that we consider the absurdity of this close-minded thinking when choosing to precisely replicate the work of others- no matter where they are from or who they are. And you know what? I am pretty confident that most of the creators of these beautiful 'scapes will be flattered that others are inspired by their work, but they'll also be the first to tell you that you should not feel that you have to exactly replicate their work in order for it to be considered "great."

Don't get me wrong.

There is enormous discipline and talent that goes into the creation and maintenance of these "fantasy-inspired" aquascaping works, and many are achingly beautiful. I wish I had 1/10th the talent of some of these people. That's not the problem! The problem, as I see it, is that many of the high-placing and winning aquascapes in these competitions are crushingly "formulaic"- simply trying to "one up" or play off of the creations of others, and not really forging truly new paths- and this directly influences the larger aquarium-keeping world.

I suppose that, to some extent, this is how inspiration and "movements" work, but its the sort of closed mindset and shitty attitudes which often accompany it that sort of concerns me. There is some downright nastiness that runs in some of these circles. It stifles creative thought, IMHO. I hate stuff that stifles creativity or discourages innovation outside a given set of "rules" that others arbitrarily set.

This is supposed to be fun- right?

Again, there's nothing "wrong" at all with the brilliant work that people are doing in the big international aquascaping competitions.

Funny, but if it was viewed in the same fashion that we view concept cars at auto shows- you know, the absurdly futuristically styled ones with glass domes, hologram instrument panels, etc.- stuff that might eventually "trickle down" to production vehicles in terms of style or technology- then I totally get it. 

But it's not that way. The message sent is that in order to be taken seriously as an "aquascape artist", you need to do it THIS way. 

Why do I find this so problematic? What's the bug up my ass?

It's just that, well- it all starts looking the same after a while, and we continue to force ourselves to view every single one of these derivative works as "aspirational", as if our own stuff is just sort of..there.

There are talented aquascapers all over the world who do amazing work, with their own sense of style, without the influence of others- simply based on what pleases them- what's in their heads, or based on what they see in the natural world.

The natural world. Blemishes, chaos, and all. Cool.

Since starting Tannin, we've been blessed to have struck a chord with hobbyists who are looking for a slightly different direction. A direction that looks to Nature for its ultimate inspiration.

It's fun to see people take the botanicals we offer and "run with them", so to speak- creating aquascapes and aquariums that speak to their own tastes. A new palette of materials for a hungry, extremely talented aquascaping crowd eager to try something a bit different. We're honored to offer something a bit different to play with.

There is no "right or wrong" in expressing aquatic creativity. Only in the attitude which accompanies it.

Ok, deep breath, Scott.

The big takeaway of this op-ed today? 

Just be yourself. The best version of YOU. No matter what anyone says. No matter what everyone else thinks is "the way." If you think you have a better way- or just a better way to enjoy the hobby- execute it.

There are lots of "ways." None of them "wrong."

And you can always turn to Nature- unedited Nature- as your muse. She's been doing this for eons, without our input or "advice." She's really good.

I leave you with what I think is one of the greatest, most inspiring advertising passages ever written, the famous Apple "Think Different." passage- an advertising narrative, which perhaps speaks to this very school of thought:

"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

It's hard to imagine this said any better than that.

Don't allow yourself to be beaten down by prevailing thought or "convention." Be the best version of yourself. Allow yourself to stand in awe of Nature, and to learn from Her processes and influences.  

Stay thougthful. Stay open-minded. Stay true to yourself. Stay supportive. Stay bold. Stay innovative. Stay YOU...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

February 09, 2020


"Pushing twigs."

I have to admit, occasionally I will write a post that is, well, overtly commercial. You know, those kinds of posts where there is little I could do other than to discuss something that is about our business. 

Well, today is one of those days, but I think it's about something that you've really enjoyed, so maybe we get a "pass" for that? Well, maybe not, but here we go anyways!

I want to talk a bit about a few things related to purchasing from us. Now, it's hard to talk about this sort of stuff without sounding a bit "smarmy" at times...I mean, I'm talking about how we roll, so..yeah...

Now, one of the things we talk about the most amongst ourselves is "expectation management." I mean, every consumer-facing company does, of course. When I started Tannin, it was about one thing- okay, maybe two things- or, three, actually: Having Fun. Doing Cool Stuff. Treating fellow hobbyists like friends. If I do say so, we've generally hit on all three quite consistently over the years!

F---- You, Amazon!

That felt good to say...I mean, therapeutic!

Yeah, those bastards have really changed the game. I actually love them. But the expectations of "millisecond turnarounds" on orders has percolated into our consciousness as consumers, and it's simply not realistic for a company like Tannin to hit those metrics.

And I wouldn't want to.

Yes, there are some things that we would do well explaining to you- in all of their uncomfortable ugliness. I'll just tell it like it is, and not attempt to "sugar coat" them. The most important thing is to give you an idea of what to expect when ordering from us. And it starts with an understanding of how we do our curating, packing, and shipping.

One of the questions we will occasionally receive- usually from new customers- is, "When will my order ship? It's been like 24 hours. I ordered Saturday night and it's now Sunday and I haven't received a shipping confirmation..."

Now, I totally get it. You've read about this stuff in our blogs...Heard customer reviews of Tannin Aquatics and the cool botanicals and all. You're ready to roll! You're used to hyper-fast service from Amazon, the "other guy on eBay", "--- Aquarium Supplies", or...whatever.

So, let me explain, at the risk of sounding a bit stubborn:

We're not them.

(Yeah, the jute bags are coming BACK soon! BY popular demand, no less!)

We're Tannin Aquatics. 

I don't ever, ever, EVER want to be like "x". And you shouldn't want us to be, either.

We are uniquely "us", and we operating in a way that delivers the best possible experience for the largest number of our customers. And that means it may take longer than, oh, 12 hours to ship your order! I know, sounds a bit crass, but why would I couch this in some marketing "double-talk?" I want to be open about this. 

Just like not everyone loves brown water, biofilms, and decomposition- not everyone will like this way of doing business. We get that. But we're being honest here about how we work. I'm sure that you appreciate that.

Now, look- it doesn't mean that we are inflexible and will never adapt or change or modify our processes to be more efficient or improve. It just means that we won't compromise our core premises of giving you the best quality and care.

We don't have some cold, sterile warehouse of pre-packed seed pods and such. We never intended to do business that way, and we never will. No bar-coded, scanned computerized collating system, or impersonal stuff like that. Nope. Fish geeks selecting stuff for fellow fish geeks. Would-be competitors could see that as a "weakness" of sorts, but I beg to differ. It's our strength. It's why we have grown so steadily over the past few years.

We are here for YOU!

Our process IS radically inefficient, tough to "scale", often challenging for us, and slower than perhaps you'd wish...By design. Yeah. Yet, it assures you that you'll receive the best stuff in the best possible fashion from people who love this stuff as much as you do. Old fashioned. Not modern at all, in that respect. But it's the right way to do business, IMHO. It's how we like to do business. Really.  And we're honored if you elect to do business with us.

We are always striving to get your botanicals and other items to you as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible. We turn around most orders within 4-5 after they're received. This time frame may vary during holidays, weekends, and during busy sales! Once items leave our hands, we're at the mercy of the carrier, of course.

Now, again- we're not inflexible. In fact- just reach out to me or our staff and we'll do our best to accommodate almost anything that we can! This is where we really excel- those hands-on "extra touches." That, and the quality of our botanicals and the attention you'll receive are part of the reason why we have grown some rapidly.

And yeah, that's part of why we're not the cheapest guys on the block.

Oh, another thing. Don't forget that our aquarium prices and our rock prices INCLUDE the shipping. No surprises. On first glance, you might think that we're way out of line with the rest of the market, until you go to check out on the other guy's site, and...BLAM! Shipping! We're not going to "price match"- that's a game we won't play. However, we will offer you a fair price.

Again, we're being honest with you here...

Above all, we're a bunch of fish geeks- working for our fellow fish geeks. We get you! Yeah- there is a reason why your fellow hobbyists, aquarium clubs, hobby personalities, influencers, researchers, and public aquariums choose to do business with us. 

Of course, if you absolutely need to have your botanicals and stuff on a specific day, we can arrange (at your expense) Fed Ex or UPS overnight shipping, which, unfortunately is pretty expensive- but it is an option. Contact us if you want to make such an arrangement and we can look up pricing for you. 

The most important thing to remember is that every botanical item is hand-picked and packaged to order. It's not a "pre-packaged, mass-produced" kind of thing. Think of it almost like you would an "artisanal" product. 

This is precisely why we really dislike wholesale, for the most part, BTW. It's cold, impersonal, bottom-line-driven, and just not how we choose to do business. We're honored to do a very limited wholesale business for some select businesses, but we're never going to be that brand that's in every fish store or online shop everywhere.  We adore the LFS...However, it's not what I started Tannin for. Honestly, that would be soul-sucking and awful and simply go against everything that we stand for. We love dealing directly with our customers- YOU!

And it wouldn't be fun for us, either, to be this big, fancy prepackaged thing.

Honestly, if I had a choice between writing another blog or doing another  "Tint" podcast for you, or getting our products into one more store- I'd choose the podcast or blog each and every time. And quite frankly, I'm as excited about getting people into this idea of botanical-style aquariums as I am about selling a few extra orders.

It's bigger than that.

So yeah- we aren't the most efficient aquatics business out there. And I'm really proud of that!

As such, we respectfully ask for- and totally appreciate- your patience, especially during busier times of the year. ( Although I admit, it's busy all the time now, lol) Despite our large presence and global reach, we're a small company at heart. We hope you will appreciate the care and uncompromising attention which goes into each order, large or small.

From a single pack of leaves to the most specialized "Enigma Pack", each order received our utmost care and attention. Obviously, if you have special needs that we should accommodate (a birthday or something), do let us know and we'll do our best to expedite your order! 

Oh, let's talk about the most annoying part of our business. It annoys the hell out of us- I KNOW it will annoy you. So let's address it:

We occasionally run out of stuff.

We try our best to keep a healthy inventory of all of our botanicals at all times, and our top priority is to send you exactly what you ordered in a timely fashion. However, sometimes stuff just conspires against us and we don't have enough of what you ordered to fill the order.

Totally sucks.

And there are plenty of reasons for this: With a global network of suppliers, all sorts of things can go wrong, like customs delays at the point of origin, weather, seasonal limited availability of some items, shipping delays, etc. Stuff sells quickly, too! A product get's "hot" and all the sudden, it goes in a day. Or, a supplier can't collect any at the moment. And yeah, we do screw up on our inventory from time to time. I admit it. Sorry! 😐 

If we have to substitute an item, we will always use a botanical of equal or greater value. This occasionally happens with leaves and some seasonally-scarce botanicals. We'll usually simply take an item out of inventory if we're out. However, it does happen from time to time. Stuff slips though. If we do have to substitute in this instance, we'll either contact you regarding some alternatives, or note it on the pack.

We appreciate your patience and understanding! 

Again- talk to us if you are not happy with something. If you ask a fellow hobbyist how their issue was handled by us- I'm confident that every time, they'll tell you we took care of them well. That's my goal- and my promise to you. We want your business and I want you to be happy- so I'll do whatever I can to help.

Sure, we occasionally screw up. You know, just send the wrong stuff, have a package lost...even (gulp) forget (yeah, it's happened) to ship something in an order. I fully admit it. We're human, we get a bit crazed, and we mess up once in a while. It sucks, but it happens. And of course, when we do that, we promptly correct the issue as soon as we're aware of it.

I mean, that stuff is totally inexcusable- but when you're dealing with humans I na sort of "curated process" of hand-selecting stuff, we screw up now and then. It just happens. 😂 So, feel free to contact us when we do...you can even admonish us...We deserve it. But give us the chance to make things right, okay? 

Occasionally, other stuff happens, like someone won't like the particular Monkey Pot we selected, or whatever. I mean, we do our best, but it's understandable that you may not like something. Oh, and with wood...we occasionally hear fro ma customer that hoped to get something a bit wider, or smaller, or less "branchy", or whatever. Again, I understand that it's a tough one to reconcile. However, let's just talk if you're unhappy.

(Oh, we're bringing back WYSIWYG wood! Stay tuned!)

We try to do our best and ship you stuff that we'd want to use in our own tanks...but everyone is different. And everyone has different expectations. Again, it's one of those things that we need to talk about when you are less than excited with what you receive. We can always try to work something out. 

Okay, the "dark underbelly" sort of stuff covered- let's talk about something happier! 

One of the best things about Tannin (if I say so myself) is that we have a variety of botanical materials which we can all combine in an almost unlimited number of combinations for a wide variety of aquatic applications. When we first began, I knew that the almost bewildering variety of stuff necessitated some curated "variety packs", intended to create certain effects, or suited for specific applications; even inspired by types of fish or habitats.

It was cool!

("OG" botanical pack shot, for our homies!)

And of course, after things started really taking off, the realization hit that not only would we drive ourselves bat-shit crazy making 14 different variety packs, each with 11 different "ingredients"- we'd deny our customers the ability to curate their own selections! Nervously, in October of 2018, we nixed them...to way, way, way fewer grumbles than we expected.

Like, practically none! 

It's turned out to be way better for YOU- because maybe you don't want "6 of this or 4 of that", or whatever, in your pack. Maybe you want "32 of this, and 10 of that..." Self-curation was empowerment, and you- and we- haven't looked back, since. Of course, now we have "themes" that you can use as guidelines for various self-curated "exursions" in the botanical-style aquarium world.

And yeah, when the occasional self-proclaimed "competitor" comes on the scene offering ga few "variety packs", I have to contain the laughter a bit. I mean, good luck to you, buddy- Enjoy trying to track all that when (if) you get busy! Maybe you can...

That being said- and the hearty dig at other "competitors" aside, we realized that there is a certain joy in offering fellow aquatic hobbyists a variety of custom-curated botanicals tailored to their specific needs...and thus, the "Enigma Pack" was born! And of course, a big part of the fun of this pack is that you kind of never know what you're getting until you receive it!

Everyone loves a good mystery, now and again, right?

One thing that you are guaranteed is that your "Enigma Pack" will contain an assortment of cool stuff selected from our website collection...but you won't know exactly WHAT until you receive it! We get to geek out and "deep dive" into whatever it is that you're into, and select stuff that WE would want for your stated purposes if it was for our own tanks! 

Yeah, it's as much fun for us to select your stuff as we think it will be for you to work with it! Like, we spend a lot of time telling ourselves, "Hey- this combo would be cool in OUR tank..."

And the beauty of it is that we will customize your pack for your specific needs! Looking to keep that cool Apisto from that unique environmental niche? We'll select stuff for that! Trying to develop a 'scape that only features botanicals which can also serve as hiding places for fishes? We can do that! Need a selection of stuff for your Axolotls? We'll select the stuff which works best for them. Want to build a botanical variety around Cariniana Pods?

On it.

Maybe, you are totally into botanicals, and are simply looking for a little "gift" for yourself- a surprise for a new project...Or, maybe a gift for your fish geek buddy or an item for the aquarium club raffle... Maybe you just want a hat, some stickers, and a beanie- or a blanket...Got it.

So, yeah, we can do THAT. Whatever "that" might be! 

Our thinking is that you likely know the overall idea or need that you have, and we're privileged to do some custom curation for you within our extensive botanical collection. 

So, what are some things you can do to help us curate the best possible "Enigma Pack" for you? Here's are a few more questions that you might want to consider when advising us about yours:

1) Let us know the size of the aquarium(s) you're working with. Are the botanicals intended to compliment or provide foraging, shelter, or spawning sites for specific fishes?

2) Are you looking for the botanicals to be the "dominant" role in your tank, or just be part of the "supporting cast?"

3) Are your trying to adhere specifically to materials found in a given biotope, or are you okay with a "biotope-inspired" selection? (Remember, while many of our materials have their origin in a specific region, they might not all find their way into aquatic habitats in said region...)

4) Are there items that you DON'T want included in your pack?

5) Are you attempting to create a very "tinted" look, or to influence the water chemistry in your tank, or is your intent simply to have botanicals in the aquarium, with "tint" being a secondary consideration?

6) Do you want larger or smaller botanical items in your pack? Specific colors? 

7) Did you want only items from a specific geographical region? 

8) Is your intent to use all the materials in the "initial installation", or do you need to have enough materials to replenish those that break down?

9) Are you only looking for botanicals, or would you like us to include some other, non-botanical "stuff" in your pack? (stickers, gear...coffee?)

10) Is this pack a gift for someone else, or just for you? 

Obviously, these are merely a few of the many questions that you might want to consider when you order your "Enigma Pack", as it's really all about YOU, er, your fishes... 😆

Just let us know what you need.

It's really as much fun for us to create these packs as we hope it is for you to receive and work with them!

It's all about fun, trying something different; inspiring creativity! And we admit, we LOVE seeing your pics and videos on Facebook and Instagram, (we love when you use the hashtags #enigmapack, or #tanninenigmapack , by the way!) showing the "unboxing" and those sexy "arrangements" you do before you utilize them in your tanks! Oh, and no one ever gets tired of those prep pics, and of course, the aquatic displays you create!  

So, okay- I imagine that some parts of today's piece may come across like a bunch of excuses or even sound whiny a bit. However, I want to be 100% authentic and honest with you about how we do business. We're growing at a rate that I never expected- and I'm grateful for that.

Of course, I also don't want lose sight of why I started Tannin Aquatics: To share my love of the process, the beauty, and the joy of natural, botanical-style aquariums. To help educate and inspire my fellow hobbyists. To support clubs, the hobby, and conservation organizations. To be authentic, human, irreverent- and occasionally, a bit of a pain in the ass...

I think we've achieved at least some of those goals! 

Thanks for sticking with us! We look forward to working with you more as a lot of cool new stuff emerges in 2020!

Remember, it's all about fun, creativity...and sharing.

Stay excited. Stay imaginative. Stay bold. Stay unique...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


February 08, 2020


Yes you can.Should you?

Pretty much every day, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create better, more natural environments for our fishes. This involves studying not only their wild habitats, but techniques to successfully recreate many of they characteristics of these habitats in our aquariums.

And of course, these often involve some experimentation and even some risk. In the earlier days of my botanical-style aquarium work, I took a lot of risk as I played with different types of materials and ways to recreate some of the aspects of the natural habitats of my fishes in my tanks- and it didn't always go perfectly. It took time to perfect- or develop techniques that created better outcomes for the fishes.

I think it's a safe bet to say that no lover of aquariums ever wants to put his/her animals' lives in danger. However, when you're traveling into uncharted waters (literally!) and trying things that you and few other aquarists have ever done before, the element of risk comes into play.

The degree to which we as aquarists take risks is, of course, variable, and a personal thing. However, the idea that the aquarium hobby is completely without risk to our animals sort of overlooks the fundamentals by which we operate.

Just removing fishes from a stable, wild habitat and "acclimating" them to the conditions that we provide in a glass or acrylic box of water in our suburban living room is a significant risk, right? Fishes have evolved for eons to live their lives in a specific set of environmental characteristics. For example, characins and such from soft, acidic blackwater habitats.

And when we "force acclimate" them to the environmental conditions which are most convenient for us to provide, it's clear to me that we are adding a layer of stress to their existence.

Now, as we all know, many fishes have bred and reared for quite a few generations in environmental conditions that are dramatically different from those in which they evolved. Now, when we are able to breed, for example, a Cardinal Tetra or whatever- a fish which evolved in soft, acid water- in our hard, alkaline tap water, we hail the achievement and make the observation that these fishes are adaptable and have been "acclimated" to our conditions.

And it's hard to argue that point on the surface.

Spawning any fish is an achievement to be proud of; to be celebrated. We've helped a fish become some comfortable; so adapted the environment that we provided that it responds to our efforts by initiating eons-old "programming" to start reproducing....Amazing!

However, I can't help but wonder if there is a difference between "adaptable" and "stress free" or whatever. I mean, just because the fish lives, and even breeds, in conditions far different than it was evolved to live in doesn't necessarily indicate that the fish is "acclimated" to them.

Sure, the fact that a fish are spawning indicates that it's more or less "comfortable" with your conditions- yet, if you take the approach that spawning is an almost "automatic" thing for many fishes- a necessary survival strategy that assures that the population continues, it's as much a testimony to their tenacity as it is to our skills, right? 

Not to diminish the effort of talented breeders around the world- that's not the point here...

What I am getting at is the question of whether or not many fishes truly as hardy and happy in our "forced acclimation" conditions as they would be if maintained and spawned in the conditions to which they have evolved to live in. Have we been really able to "undo" millions of years of natural evolution in a mere few decades of (commercial) breeding?

Is the breeding a "survival-induced" stress response, as opposed to a grand tribute to our skills?

Perhaps it's a bit of both.

I realize that this theory will not go down well with pretty much everyone who breeds tropical fishes...and I want to reiterate that I am not questioning our practices. It's not, "Congrats! You've bred the rare Wild Discus in hard, alkaline water because the fish is fearing for its very survival! You were LUCKY! It's NOT about YOU!" I'm just curious what is physiologically happening to species of fishes over the long term, which live their lives in conditions significantly different than those they were evolved to live under.

Yes, my ignorance of genetics and physiology are showing. But it IS something to at least consider, right?

I mean, yes, you can absolutely "acclimate" a Neon Tetra to hard, alkaline water.  I won't argue that. Over time, however, will this reduce the overall hardiness or disease-resistance of the captive population? Will different genetic selectors come into play, essentially "modifying" the species from its wild form, in terms of it's ability to function as "designed" by Nature?

Would it be such a crime to provide more natural conditions for the fish, as opposed to forcing the fish to adapt to the conditions which we want to, or are are easily capable of providing?

Yes, this calls into question the practice of a century of fish keeping.

It goes against the grain of the "keeping fishes is easy" mantra that the industry needs. So Im totally aware of the skepticism and unpopularity that this idea might foster. I'm not saying that what we've been doing is wrong. And I know that the hobby has been able to expand and grow as much as it has because not everyone wants to keep animals that require dirty-brown water and 5.7pH.

I just wonder if, in our century-long efforts to make all sorts of fishes "more accessible", if we've added an extra layer of stress to their lives?

Bringing this all home, I am no longer amazed by the many, many reports and pictures of all sorts of fishes which come from soft, acidic, blackwater conditions thriving, showing awesome color, and reproducing freely when kept in these conditions in aquariums. I mean, it SHOULDN'T be a surprise, right? The strange dichotomy of the last several decades is that many (not all...) hobbyists have been successful in keeping and breeding fishes in "tap water" conditions- so much so that reports of hearing how well they're doing under more natural conditions are the big news!

Funny. It wasn't always like this...If you read classic aquarium literature (like Innes, etc.), you see what great efforts hobbyists went to in decades past to provide more natural conditions for their fishes in order to get them to thrive and spawn. As the hobby exploded, it seems to me like it became more about making the fish work in the conditions that were easiest for the bulk of hobbyists to provide!

Yet, the reports of interesting results keep trickling in from our community. Even though we're not hitting every single environmental touch point, we are checking a lot of boxes off, right?

I don't think it's a coincidence.

"Repatriating" blackwater fishes to the natural conditions under which they have evolved for many millions of years just makes sense, right? Is its the humic substances and Tannins, and the lower ph? I think so. Sure, most of us cannot possibly maintain the 3.9-4.6pH that some species are found under- but keeping them in a pH of 5.8-6.6 certainly must be better for the fishes long term than say, a pH of 7.8-8.2, right?

This argument can be made for all sorts of fishes which come from specific environmental conditions- like brackish water fishes, African Rift Lake cichlids, marine fishes, etc.

Something to ponder as you plan your next (or first!) blackwater, botanical-style aquarium. It's more than just a pretty display or a unique setup. It's far beyond throwing in some leaves and seed pods and watching the water color up, isn't it?

Now sure, an argument could be made that captive-bred fishes which we keep in more easy-to-provide" tap water conditions could evolve through selection to be better equipped to survive in a variety of conditions than their wild brethren, who hail from a very specific set of parameters, right?

Maybe? I'm still not 100% certain that a few generations of captivitve breeding can erase millions of years of evolution in specific environmental conditions...

It's an argument that can go many ways.

It's very much the art and science of providing fishes with conditions far more representative of those under which they have evolved than we typically have done. To us, it's a voyage of discovery- a grand experiment filled with surprises and challenges.It's not as easy as it looks. To us, it's a new experience, like doing something in a different way than we've taken for granted for so long.

To our fishes, perhaps-maybe- it's like...going home. Sort of?

Enjoy YOUR Journey, while facilitating theirs.

Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay bold. Stay experimental. Stay dedicated...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



February 07, 2020


Crossing the "salinity line", breaking barriers...and blurring the lines...

As usual, when I complete a presentation at a club, I leave with an insane amount of ideas, motivation, and inspiration.

The other day, I was fortunate enough to give a talk at a Reef Aquarium Club- one I've spoken at several times over the years. However, this was my first time retiring to the club since I've dived full-time into Tannin Aquatics after having spent several decades immersed in both the hobby and business side of the reef aquarium world.

I have to admit, I put together a rather ambitious presentation- one which I intended to sort of bridge the splashy world of reef aquariums to our tinted, earthy world of botanical-style/blackwater aquariums. Now, it wasn't like this was some "high concept" thing- it was a simple idea...I wanted to show a sort of "commonality" of ideas, practices, and inspirations between the fresh and saltwater worlds.

And I have to tell you, it was likely the choppiest, hardest-to-pull-off presentation I've ever given. Like, how do you inspire or excite people who have tons of money (often tens of thousands of dollars) and sweat and time invested in seriously complex reef aquariums sand show them that our world of brown water and decomposing leaves is somehow relevant to their work?

It's a tough topic even to talk about without standing up in front of dozens of people and sharing slides. It was the first time in like 18 years of talking to clubs and conferences (including the 7 times as a featured speaker at the "Super Bowl" of the reef world, the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America) that I was actually a bit nervous.

Like,  I was self-reflecting as I was starting out the talk- not even fully convinced myself that I could somehow formulate the idea.

Then, like a little over the halfway point (sorry guys) it kind of hit...And I was jamming.

What I realized that is the most significant "commonality" between the reef and the freshwater speciality world is that we deal with Nature. Sure, it might be a different side of the "salinity line", but the philosophy is the same.

And hobbyists are the same on both sides of the line. We all can benefit from "mental shifts." Reefers are obsessed with coral growth and having a perfectly pristine tank stocked with all sorts of corals...And they are all convinced that if their tank doesn't fall into a very tight set of parameters and have a certain "look", that they're somehow not successful.

The thing I realized a long time ago in reef keeping was the same thing that I've learned in our botanical-style aquarium world: Nature is not a crystal-clear, spotless, and pristine place. It doesn't have perfect order, symmetry, or even anything resembling many of the carefully ordered, "garden-style" reefs that many hobbyists strive for.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, I"ll bet it does... 

As hobbyists, we tend to get caught up in stuff like chasing numbers, following the dogmatic ideas of "influencers", and, for many- an acceptance of "stuff" without questioning why we do it.

Now, don't get me wrong- I have immense respect for the reef community and the hobbyists which comprise it. However, the reef world, IMHO- especially in the last few years- has been the epitome of "chasing numbers"- you know, trying to hit well- defined, very specific alkalinity, phosphate, and trace element levels in our tanks.

As someone coming who's been a sort of "semi-outsider" to the community recently, and is now coming back to this world more thoughtfully once again, this was really apparent to me!

Reef hobbyists are almost obsessed with this. It's the same thing that we have talked about many times here in "The Tint"- doing things just "because" the "ill-defined "they" say you need to in order to be successful.


Don't get me wrong- there is an abundance of amazing reef tanks out there. The talent pool in the reef hobby is immense- just as it is in the FW side. I just think that we in the reef aquarium world can use those skills to...push out a bit. Break convention. Breathe...

You know- you can push the boundaries.

You can question practices...experiment with new approaches. Follow up on hunches...

You're not bound to convention, someone else's opinion, or some absurdly rigid methodology. You're bound only to the laws of Nature.

And I think that's perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn from our aquariums- fresh, salt, or brackish. As aquarists, we can do a lot- we can change the equipment, correct initial mistakes or shortcomings the system might have had from the beginning.

We set the stage, so to speak.

However, in the end..it's Nature which does most of the real "heavy lifting" here. Nature rewards us for our good decisions, kicks our asses for our bad ones, and provides "cues" on what future decisions we need to make.

And Nature does it all indifferently...without judgement. It reacts positively or negatively to our attempts to control it. 

Which is why the reality of a blackwater/botanical-style aquarium or a well-thought-out reef aquarium is that it's perhaps one of the best ways to bring Nature into our home. To help recreate the dynamics of what we see in the wild. The form and the function.

To blur the lines between Nature and aquarium.

Sure, planted aquariums give us a similar challenge...but the botanical-style aquarium, and the reef aquarium challenge us in different ways. They task us to accept Nature in all of its beauty. And yeah, it makes us accept that there IS beauty in things like decomposition, biofilm, and algal growth. Even the ebb and flow of life- corals, macro algae, and other life forms...Things which we as aquarists might have been "indoctrinated" to loathe over the years..

Yet, when viewed as a "whole", the macro view of an aquarium is that it challenges us to look at the big picture- to not get too caught up in any one aspect of managing our aquarium...and to appreciate all of the process by which nature does its work. 

We can work with Nature's cues. Follow Her lead...but we also need to accept- and let go of our extreme desire to control everything...

And to make a "mental shift" to understand that everything we see in the aquarium is exactly what Nature intends. A definite homage to Amano's idea of wabi-wabi, which treasures some of the transience and "process" which occurs in nature, without our intervention.

One need only study the wild aquatic systems of the world to realize that it's not all "crystal clear and sterile" out there- and that our aquariums in all of their tinted, murky glory will reflect this. Nature "calls the shots" here.

And that it's totally okay.

Midway during the talk...I realized that exactly what I was trying to express has been foremost on my mind for decades...Regardless of what side of the "salinity line" I was playing with.

Yeah, it wen't pretty well from there! Touched a few hobbyists...Light bulbs were going off in their heads. People were starting to question convention, "traditional approaches", and all that we take for granted.

I couldn't imagine a better outcome than that! 

Until next time...

Push the limits. Stay bold. Stay thoughtful. Stay unchained. Stay inspired...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


February 05, 2020


Bending the rules?

If there is one thing that I find endearing about the botanical-style aquarium, it's that the practices and procedures which we employ are still very much evolving. There are no "absolute rules" that have been imposed upon those of us who play with leaves and botanicals. We haven't gotten that stubborn.

Well, I guess I should be a bit more precise...

There are no "rules" which we as practitioners of this style of aquarium have created. Nature does that for us; provides us the "guardrails" which keep us in line and prevent us from doing stupid things and getting away with them. Rather, we have developed procedures and "best practices" based on Nature's rules.

And procedures are always subject to individual "customization", aren't they?

Sure, Nature will dictate how stuff works, yet we have an ability to adapt and "iterate" practices within Her guidelines. It's part of what makes us unique as hobbyists (and people) is the way each and every one of us seems to approach stuff in the aquarium hobby in our own slightly personalized way.

Over time, and with enough personal experience, we often develop our own  "rules" for how to do things in the hobby.

Much like rules or "best practices" that we've created for ourselves in our everyday lives ("..always log out of your PayPal account when using your iPad, never get your sushi from a supermarket", etc.), the way we approach our aquarium practice is as individual as we are.

I know that I have a few "hard-and-fast" hobby "rules"/practices that I have personally developed over the years...And when I reflect upon them, I realize that many of them were simply as a result of my "socialization" within the hobby when I was younger and more impressionable, or something like that, lol! 

Like, I have this thing about never feeding dry/prepared foods to my fishes... I just don't. I mean, like, EVER. I'd literally sooner swat houseflies or collect ants from the backyard by hand before I'd throw in some flakes...It's that ingrained in me.

I know, it's a bit ridiculous. It is.

I think I have an idea why/how this sort of weird practice evolved, too:

"Back in the day" (like, during my pre-teenage years) I was obsessed with killifishes. The prevailing hobby wisdom at the time was that you should feed them "exclusively with live and (maybe) frozen foods." It was almost like there was a "taboo" about dry food- especially if you were serious about keeping and breeding them.

And there were plenty of "experts" who said that killies wouldn't even eat prepared foods! As if the fishes felt that these foods were somehow harmful or detrimental to them!

And this thinking, of course, was not limited to killies.

I've seen evidence that this same sort of dogma has been floating around the hobby since before I was born! The guppy-breeding reference books from the 1950's and 1960's which my dad accumulated in his hobby library (and which formed the much of the basis of my aquarium hobby "indoctrination") eschewed dried foods insisted upon feeding your breeders "newly-hatched baby brine shrimp" and "frozen adult brine shrimp" almost exclusively.

Dried food was not even considered! Yet oddly, weird food like "finely-scraped frozen beef heart" (WTF) was considered good stuff... Yuck.

I think that there was an interesting dichotomy going on in the hobby during the so-called "Golden Era." Even though technology was starting to impact the practices and procedures that were prevalent during the day, there seemed to be a distrust among hobbyists about abandoning, or even evolving practices long held dear. Like feeding dried foods in place of- or even in addition to- live and frozen foods.

Umm, I call B.S. on that...

Now, in all fairness, this was at the "dawn" of the high-tech influence on the hobby, with all of the insanely scientifically-derived dried foods we take for granted now just starting to really appear, so hobbyists from my generation were still strongly influenced by the "old-school" hobbyists who collected/grew their own Daphnia, Brine Shrimp, White Worms, Glass Worms, etc., and were perhaps a bit spooked about the idea that you could provide your fishes with "high quality nutrition in a can."  

I suppose it makes a lot of sense, given typical norms of human behavior- not to mention, the way hobbyists think!

And being a really young guy in a very hardcore hobbyist group like the AKA at the time (the 1980's), where I'd hazard a guess that the average age was like 55, I couldn't help but be influenced by this crowd. Some of these people were even serious hobbyists in the pre WWII era, and pretty much "invented" many of the practices that formed the basis of our hobby for a generation! 

It was pretty rad, actually.

Live food was just considered "what you do" when you bred killies. If you weren't into "growing your own", frozen was THE ONLY option to fall back on. And of course, even the use of frozen foods would cause a few murmurs and hushed comments about your "skill and devotion" (or lack thereof) to the hobby. I mean, how lazy ARE you if you use frozen food?  

Yeah, it was a tough crowd! :)

And using dried food was almost seen as a "shortcut" that "not-so-serious" hobbyists would take. Shame.

I mean, if you couldn't even be "bothered" even to thaw out some frozen food, let alone culture your own fruit flies or whatever, your skill set and dedication were highly questioned. And of course, there was the widely-accepted opinion that dried/prepared foods were not as "nutritionally sound" as the live foods we grew and collected (which, at the time, probably wasn't that far from the truth!).

Obviously, that's completely outmoded thinking these days. The technology behind the development and manufacturing of dried (and frozen!) foods has evolved so much, that even the cheapest, most "generic" mass-market can of flake food is probably better than 90% of the most "premium" prepared foods available in the 1960's.

Stuff has, thankfully, evolved.

In fact, nowadays, I suppose some hobbyists might even question why you'd even go to the effort to collect your own or culture food yourself...Your exotic wild-caught fishes can be fed near-natural-quality foods from a can, a premix, or the freezer daily.

So yeah, this sort of "tribal influence" from the hobby elders really set me into my habit, which to this day I almost never deviate from. I feed virtually 100% frozen and live for all my fishes, as a matter of practice. In fact, other than those occasional samples you receive at hobby conferences and as raffle prizes, you'll pretty much never see dried or freeze dried food in my house.

I know. Crazy. Stupid. Stubborn...and entirely outmoded thinking, because todays's prepared foods are probably 10X better than the frozen foods of 30 years ago! 

But hell, I'm stubborn.

Yet, it's rather ironic that bending the rules I've subscribed to have generally worked out just fine for me!  And you know Im rather fond of bending hobby rules, right? So, yeah..It's a bit "interesting."

And it's actually kind of funny- absurd, even..Because there are some insanely good foods out there. Like some that you'd be just stupid (my thinking) NOT to try! (hint, hint...)

Yet, in my own weird way, over the years, I'd convinced myself that live (and by extension, my "lazy" use of frozen) foods was just "how I do it..." I have all of the stubbornness of my predecessors (without the judgmental part, however)!


Yet I"m not completely stubborn and unyielding in my thinking, however. 

Now, I admit I have tried one of the new, insect-based dried foods, which I was REALLY excited to use...and was profoundly disappointed by the results. My fishes showed like ZERO interest in them...which was weird, because- well, flies! I mean, HELLO! It's their natural food...yet...

Can fishes be stubborn? Maybe? Well, maybe MY fishes can be stubborn? Yeah, probably.

However, I'll keep trying. I promise. 

Yes, "fish food" is one of those things that we take for granted...stuff that becomes a habit, and then a sort of "rule" in our hobby practices. Now, unlike my predecessors, I wouldn't look down on anyone who keeps a pack of flakes in her home and swears by high-tech, scientifically-formulated pellet foods...Our lifestyle as humans has changed so much over the decades, and these foods offer not just convenience- they offer overall practicality and cost effectiveness. 

And, let's just be honest: Convincing your significant other that it's "just fine" to keep a container of wriggly worms in the refrigerator, right next to the leftover lasagne from last night is increasingly difficult!

The good news is that ideas, practices, and "rules" once considered beyond question are open for conversation, analysis...and evolution! The speed with which information spreads in the hobby enables rapid evolution of ideas, practices, and procedures.

Look at how our little hobby niche has evolved and spread...

Yet, even with the rapid dissemination of ideas and information, human stubbornness and laziness still win out more often than you'd think!

I mean, yeah, we're in a world where tweets and hashtags have replaced long-form conversations and such, and where many hobbyists won't read the massive amount of information that's readily available to them with a simple click. Even though many hobbyists are interested in what we discuss in "The Tint" blog, a higher percentage would rather listen to the podcast. And that's cool, as long as they absorb the information!

Time is apparently more precious than ever. So we try to get information out in a means that's easy to digest, and in a variety of formats to keep us informed during our busy days.

And yet, there is still a shockingly large number of hobbyists who just won't absorb all but the most superficial information. Even if it's right in front of them. Don't believe me? I get at least 2-3 emails every week from customers who order botanicals from me and ask, "Okay, I received my botanicals. Do I prepare them for use, or can I just add them to my tank?"

I mean, I literally want to slap myself sometimes...

I've spent hours and hours developing and sharing "best practices" right here, creating instructions on how to prepare botanicals, the justification for why we do it, and the benefits of engaging in a preparation "protocol." It's formed the foundation of what we do. Not a set of "rules", but definitely a recommended set of "best practices" that we want to make as obvious to as many hobbyists as humanly possible.

We even went as far as to develop an easy-to-digest "infographic" that summarizes this important process ( with a minimum of verbiage) that we include with every first and second-time order. It's important to impart as much information to hobbyists as humanly possible about basic practices of our speciality. 

The apparent lack of desire to read or research stuff that one would think should be fun- ('cause it's a beloved hobby... you should WANT to find stuff out) might just be a "thing" with culture...A shift of sorts...

I suppose it makes sense.

Time and convenience tend to relegate stuff like culturing live foods (and even reading INSTRUCTIONS!) to the hardcore DIY-type hobbyist crowd. Hatching brine shrimp eggs for our baby fishes SHOULD be "Aquarium Keeping 101", yet the reality is that it might just become one of these interesting, charming, yet essentially largely extinct skills.

You know, like horseshoe-making, subsistence farming, grinding our own coffee beans, and changing the oil in our cars ourselves. Stuff which simply become "unnecessary" or "incbecause of the developments in our world.

Cool stuff to know- a novelty, even- but not "necessary."

I suppose that I can't fault this shift. I mean, our culture has evolved.

We stream movies to our iPads, use websites to deliver food from local restaurants, and let total strangers drive our 14-year-old daughters around town in their own vehicles with a simple smart phone app and no concerns whatsoever- something that would have freaked out any parent just a decade ago.

Yeah, cultural changes.

Look at the explosion in so-called "meal kits" targeted at a growing segment of consumers who apparently need a "paint-by-numbers" approach to preparing meals for their families. Order online and it's delivered to your door, complete with instructions! It's easier than planning out a meal, shopping for the readily-available ingredients, and preparing it from scratch- right? Maybe?

I can't entirely diss the idea. It goes with this cultural shift. Most people will tell you that they have less free time than ever, and that the demands on their leisure time are many. Time is more valuable than ever to us.

We value different stuff now than we did even 10 years ago, let alone, several decades ago...

Times change. It's cool. 

And it's probably for the better, right?

I mean, I know that my mom would not have been all that disappointed if I fed lots of freeze-dried Tubifex worms, instead of laying out cantaloupe rinds in containers of water in the backyard to bait mosquitoes into laying their eggs so I could collect larvae! 

Sure, we could romanticize stuff like collecting and growing Daphnia and Tubifex worms..

We could lament and think it's sad that,"Most  people don't do it that way any more..." Yet, it's kind of silly to do that. Culture, people, and the hobby- evolve and change over time, and that's a great thing.Yet, there are all sorts of interesting signs that things are changing yet again! "Growing your own" is enjoying a sort of rebirth of sorts, with culturing live foods becoming more and more prevalent among even less than totally hardcore hobbyists!

Live food culture is almost becoming a "sub-hobby" of sorts! It's starting to come full circle, I suppose. Much like home brewing of beer or whatever. You don't have to- but it's sort of fun! A great skill to acquire, and an homage to the "craft" of our hobby.

Yeah, times do change.

Sort of. 

And there is nothing wrong with bending our own rules from time to time.

Gotta run...thawning out some frozen bloodworms for my fishes. No time for netting Daphnia today...You know what, maybe I'll just try that can of new pelletized Soldier Flies. I've heard good stuff about it...

Stay unique. Stay stubborn- sort of. Stay progressive. Stay open-minded. Stay skilled. Stay relentless in your pursuit of hobby knowledge...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics