December 13, 2017

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How come there are no rocks in the igapo? (And other nagging questions...)

Yes, some of us have this strange obsession with blackwater, botanical-style aquariums- and have this desire to replicate some of the aesthetics, form, and function of the natural igapo seasonally-inundated forests of Amazonia. (Maybe it's just me...but you're already here...so read on, okay? ) We are often faced with a bunch of questions about how to represent them in aquariums. Today, I address two of the ones I've had for a long time, and judging by the number of inquiries we receive- so have many of you (well, many of you who play with this arcane sort of stuff, anyways!)...And, like so many of the topics we discuss here, the "answers" are sometimes less than satisfying, often leading to more questions! 

How come you don't see rocks in those pics of the igapo inundated forests?

Oh, this is a good one...

The "whitewater" rivers rush quickly down from the mountains of Peru and Bolivia, too rapidly for clay and silt to be stripped from them. The rocks from these mountainous areas offer minerals and nutrients such as nitrogen, attached to the silt and clay, and minerals like illite, montmorillomite (hey, we know that one from shrimp geeks!), and chlorite, to nourish the lower-lying areas. In these areas, numerous microbes and plants consume some of the nitrogen, and while eaten by other organisms, convey what's left to the even lower-lying forest habitats. The Amazonian blackwater rivers are largely depleted in nutrients, having passed through the lowland forest soils as groundwater, from which weathering has already occurred. "Hydro-geomorphic processes" ( i.e.; a fancy way of referring to part of the stuff that makes rocks!) are far less intense than they are in the upland, mountainous regions, with their abundance of minerals, nutrients, slits, and sediments.

In other words, most low-lying Amazonian forest soils are really low in nutrients. The soils are nutrient-poor, acidic "podzols..." It's been suggested that most of the available nutrients are taken up by the root mats of the dense plant growth in these forested areas. And even the rainwater provides little in the way of nutrient for the plants which grow there. However, what little nutrient there is typically returns to the soils by means of leaf drop from the trees which grow there. And of course, when the water returns to the forest floors, what little nutrient remains is released into the waters, too. And it's quickly utilized by the resident microorganisms. Serious nutrient cycling, right?

I'm no expert-or even a novice- on geology or geochemistry, or anything in that subject area, for that matter....However, based on my research into this stuff, it goes without saying that these are hardly conditions under which rocks as we know them could form. You might find the random rock in the igapo that was washed down from the Andes or some other high-country locale in these forests, but it did not evolve there. This also helps to explain why the blackwater habitats are generally low in inorganic nutrients and minerals, right? 

So...if you're really, really hardcore into replicating an igapo, you'd probably want to exclude rocks...

 

What kinds of plants are coming from blackwater habitats? And shouldn't I be able to keep them?

Well, let's tackle the second part of the question first. I mean, I'm no plant expert, and could easily be schooled by even the most novice-level serious aquatic plant geek, but here is my thinking: First off, you're right...some plants should be able to do well in a blackwater aquarium. I mean, in nature, they're often found in extremely low nutrient, low pH environments. Our blackwater aquariums seem to be largely devoid of carbonate hardness (if we're using RO/DI water), and minimal sources of carbon for "fertilizer..."

In these low-pH habitats, CO2 is the real source of inorganic carbon (which plants seem to love, right?), so you'd think that certain plants would love this. And they do, in my experience! Well, perhaps not all of 'em LOVE it, but many "tolerate" it...A hardcore planted-tank person, with a "primary motivation" to create a blackwater planted tank, may not like my approach or attitude, but for those of us who have made the "planted" aspect somewhat lower on the priority scale than other aspects of the tank, it's pretty good... :)

Many Cryptocoryne, for example, come from very low pH, low nutrient habitats (like 4.0-5.5). Based on my personal experience with plants like Myriophyllum, Cabomba, Cryptocoryne, Tonina, Anubias, Polygonum "sp. Kawagoeanum", and others, I'd say that, with good nutritive substrates (like the ones made for planted tanks, or a "dirted" substrate you can create, or even one that's influenced by "botanical mulch" (Cory Hopkins- calling on YOU! ), there is potential for more plants to grow in these systems.

I'm leaning towards those rich substrates...CO2 can be "preserved" with minimal surface agitation, so you might be able to "cheat" a bit and avoid having to inject it.  Light intensity is another part of the equation, and with the dark, tinted water, you need to get some decent lighting in there (LED's are my personal weapon of choice).  

Some known residents of the igapo waters? Well, there are just a few that I was able to locate: Polygonum, Azolla, Pistia, Salvinia, Ceratopterus, and a few other "floaters." 

In my own "ignorance bubble", I make the "coral farmer's analogy', in which I've found over the years that you can compensate somewhat for lower light by providing other parts of the equation (like nutrients, trace elements, and food) and get good growth. Yes, hardly scientific, shockingly speculative...but it worked. And based on my (admittedly limited) experience with plants in blackwater, botanical-style tanks, I'd say it works in these situations, too. Now, I admit, I've never gotten the lush, full look of those clearwater, gnarly high-tech planted tank you see splashed all over social media...but I have gotten some growth, and am willing to sacrifice some of the "epic" growth for love of the entire blackwater aquarium- of which plants are merely a "minor component"  to me (I Know, I just lost the respect of every aquatic plant lover out there- but hey...honesty, right?)

The reality is that many of the (South American) habitats which we play with simply don't have much in the way of true aquatic plants in them. For example, the igapo flooded forests and small streams just don't have much more than epiphytic algae and submerged terrestrial plants in them.  I think it's more of a matter of trying various plants which tend to come from lower ph, blackwater habitats, and applying these ideas to their care. My list is ridiculously superficial, of course- so you hardcore plant people will have to take the flag and run with this!

(The Uakari is the de facto expert on igapo vegetation!)

Now, my other "challenge' to plant lovers in general: Let's figure out which terrestrial plants can tolerate/grow/thrive under submerged or partially submerged (blackwater) conditions. Perhaps a more "realistic" (not in the hardcore "biotope aquarium contest" context, of course) avenue to explore in this regard?

I've got one tree for you to research...the dominant terrestrial plant in this habitat is Eugenia inundata... Don't think I'm not well underway in my (somewhat futile) efforts to see if we can secure fallen leaves of THIS plant! You'll also find Iriartea setigera, Socratea exorrhiza, Mauritiella aculeata palms in these areas.. Like so many things from the Amazon, it's not easy (read that, damn near impossible) to secure botanical material from this region, so the proverbial "Don't hold your breath waiting for this" comes to mind! Oh, and the submerged grasses we see and drool over in those underwater pics from Mike Tuck and Ivan Mikolji of these habitats? They're typically Paspalum repens and Oryza perennis.

Paspalum is found in North America, too...possibly a species you could obtain?

(Paspalum. Image by Keisyoto. Used under GFDL)

Perhaps you could, right? And it's that kind of stuff that keeps us working away.

And the absence of rocks i nthe igapo? Well, yeah, it's a fact...but I like rocks, so &*^%$ it.

Good attitude, right? :)

On a more serious note- I realize that this discussion probably only opens up more questions, and is a little short on "hard facts" to help you make decisions...but it gets the discussion going, and hopefully, stimulates further investigation by many of you more experienced, highly talented aquarists who make up our amazing community!

Keep asking questions. Keep searching for answers.

Stay engaged. Stay excited. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay resourceful...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

 

 

 

December 12, 2017

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"Wood" you believe...? Yeah, there's more to it than that!

One of the things I tend to think of a lot in my daily aquarium practice is the dietary requirements of our fishes. And, not just what to toss into the tank...Rather, how to actually construct the tank and aquascape  themselves to be a part of the feeding process.

Huh?

Lately, I've been giving more and more thought to the way that our fishes tend to feed...specifically, thinking about our botanical-style tanks not only as a "structural-aesthetic" vehicle, but from the perspective of providing the fishes which reside in them supplemental food  sources.

And it goes even beyond even the "refugium" concept we've talked about- purposely cultivating aquatic crustaceans, microorganisms, and insects somewhere within the system to supplement the foods we're feeding our fishes. Yeah, it's about configuring the aquarium hardscape itself to serve as a supplemental food source. Sure, we all know about the benefits of biofilms and epiphytic algal growth on our wood and botanicals- but what about the wood and botanicals themselves being a food source?

Well, sure- there is plenty of precedent for this in the aquarium hobby. Just about anyone who has more than a casual interest in Loricariids knows that many tend to feed directly on wood, earning the title of "xylivore" (an organism which feeds on wood). And it's also been documented through gut content analysis that these fishes are not only rasping the wood and consuming some of the outer layers- they're also taking on the biofilm and layers of micro and macro organisms which reside in and on the wood itself. What are these other items? And what kinds of wood materials are these fishes preferentially consuming? 

Well, gut content analysis of Panaque nigrolineatus  from one study I perused showed a dominant presence of a coconut wood (Scheelea phalerata)! This makes us think about utilizing materials that are coconut-derived, in addition to the regular driftwoods we use in aquascaping. It's not just having some wood in the tank for these fishes to graze on...my thinking is that it may be equally important to have the right kind of wood materials for them to graze upon. Bring on the "Coco Curls!"

And while we're on the subject of Loricarids, a scan of scientific literature reveals some interesting things about what these fishes are actually taking in when they "graze" in the wild. It's kind of eye opening, to me. One study revealed that Loricariids consumed five principal items: sponges, organic detritus, bryophytes, bryozoans and sediment. Wood is definitely part of the equation, but for the species examined in one of the studies I found (Rhinelepis aspera, Hypostomus regani, H. ternetzi, H. maragaritifer, H. microstomus, and Megalancistrus aculeatus) the gut content analysis was quite revealing:

The food spectrum of R. aspera is primarily organic detritus and small quantities of sediment; with few periphytic organisms. Although H. regani was found to consume large quantities of organic detritus as well, it also consumed plant detritus, various sediment, and periphytic organisms (i.e.; bryozoans, sponges and aquatic insect larvae). Bryozoans and sponges, huh? Wow!  The study indicated that bryozoans and organic detritus were the main food food of H. ternetzi, which, according to the gut contents of a number of individuals,  tended to consume more sediment, rotifers, chironomids (i.e.; "Bloodworms'), gastropods and harpacticoids than the other species. Harpactoids...you mean, like "copepods? Stuff we as reefers feed all the time? H. margaritifer was found to ingest plant material. Other periphytic organisms such as insect larvae, and those bryozoans and sponges contributed to the diet of H. margaritifer.

And it gets more interesting still...

Sponges were the principal food resource of H. microstomus and M. aculeatus, with a healthy does of chironomids, various gastropods, Trichoptera (insects), and some bryozoans also consumed. Diets of these two fishes were composed of larger-sized items, with the finer organic detritus and such being less important than it was to the other species in the study. 

This kind of information is tantalizing. It's compelling. And what really gets me going is learning that some of our favorite, most beloved fishes are consuming large quantities of materials that I doubt any aquarist adds to his/her arsenal of foodstuffs. We're really good at feeding our catfishes baby vegetables and stuff, while typically overlooking many species surprisingly high dietary dependency on items like insects, bryozoans, harpactoid copepods, and interestingly...sponges!

While we kind of always knew that these fishes consumed wood and "stuff", it's interesting to see what they're eating in the wild...especially the "stuff"- and configuring our aquariums and the supplemental and primary feeding opportunities available to the fishes accordingly. We have some interesting, yet perhaps overlooked possibilities to provide some of these items. 

Now, interestingly, there are a number of marine aquarium-purposed foods (typically targeted at marine angelfishes, many of which consume significant quantities of sponge)  which contain sponges in their forumlation. Granted, these are marine sponges, but I can't help but wonder if these are that morphologically or nutritionally different to the fishes than a freshwater/tree sponge would be? Could the next great frozen Loricarid food include sponges? And we have harpactoid copepods available live and in a variety of other formats intended for marine organisms...Interestingly, the big "knock" by reefers for a long time about some of these copepods was that they were "freshwater" varieties...Hmm...

(Image by Copepodkils used under CC-BY SA 3.0)

So really, the takeaway from this little rambling thingy is to really go just beyond what we know, even when it comes to well-studied (hobby-wise) fishes like the "Plecos", which have been kept and bred for years. Sure, we're doing really well..Seems like we could even do better with just a few dietary "tweaks", right? 

So, don't fear detritus. Be daring enough to try feeding some sponge-based frozen marine aquarium foods. Oh, and perhaps try some marine-intended cultures of harpactoid copepods...Or even figuring out ways to cultivate freshwater sponges...Possibilities. 

And unrelated to this....something to contemplate and think about: There ARE actually fishes which consume leaves as a part of their diet... And more fishes than you think actually eat fruit, too. Yup.

Try some of these foods with your Loricarids..and other fishes as well.

Impractical? Maybe. Too much work? Perhaps. Ridiculous, when we're doing "just fine" now with what we're doing? Stupid. 

Don't be stupid. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. Don't just accept "what works" as "the way." 

Push forward. Experiment. Fail quickly, or move forward rapidly with success. Try something different.

Stay excited. Stay curious. Stay bold. Stay daring...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

December 11, 2017

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No place like home....

As we evolve in the hobby of studying, embracing, and replicating the natural habitats of our fishes, it's been very interesting to see that there are many different approaches we as hobbyists are taking to this process. Some of us are extremely hardcore adherents to the art and science of biotopic aquarium design, whereas many others are working the less-demanding "biotope-inspired" angle. Still others are just into cool-looking tanks. Some are a beautiful combination of both!

And it's all great!

What is neat to see- regardless of what approach you take personally to the design of your aquariums- has been the interest in examining the wild habitats of your subject fishes, and attempting to replicate aspects of them in your tanks. The benefits to your fishes have been both significant and documented, and the more we have been looking towards the wild habitats for our inspiration, the more and more we have unlocked about the secrets of the fishes which reside there. And, perhaps even more important, we've obtained a greater appreciation and understanding about the processes which occur in these habitats, and for the need to preserve and protect them from destruction.

The idea of biotope aquariums is nothing new. The idea of creating representation of our fishes' natural habitats is as old as the aquarium hobby itself. However, the art and science of replicating these systems on both a functional and "aesthetic" basis, while attempting to foster some of the natural processes and benefits- is a more recent evolution. For the first time, we're seeing active conversations on replicating functional "food webs", incorporating more natural substrate materials, and examining things like seasonal environmental manipulation in a quest to unlock the secrets of our treasured fishes. It's a super exciting time!

With the launch of Tannin Live! and our growing selection of wild-collected South American and Asian fishes, we're able to obtain precious data and imagery from the wild habitats from which our fishes come. Mike Tuccinardi, our "curator-at-large", has personally visited many of these habitats, and has more than just a basic familiarity with them and the fisherfolk who work there. This gives us- and YOU- the hobbyist- a huge advantage if you're looking to replicate the habitats form which your fish come.

Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of the pics Mike has taken for us in the wild habitats of some of the fishes we offer at Tannin Live! Not only will you appreciate their natural beauty, but you'll get some ideas about how to construct your next aquarium to more accurately represent some of the aesthetic AND functional aspects of their habitats. We will get into the specific "numbers" from these habitats in a future piece, but today we'll just give you some eye candy to get started!

From the Amazon near Leticia, Colombia, we obtain our "fan favorite" Amazon Otocinculus (Otocinculus macrospilus). These beloved little fishes come from actively-flowing streams, filled with rocks, wood, and bordered by riparian vegetation. 

As you can see, the water does take on that brownish cast from decomposing vegetation and substrate, but it also has a real tangle of living plant roots at the water's edge. Many of the fishes are collected from this niche, and you might find it interesting to replicate such a habitat with some roots and larger botanical materials...Perhaps, if you're really  adventurous and creative, you'd want to play with some marginal plants and try to represent the edges of these streams, where these guys and other interesting fishes are often found!

As you can see, it's a bit of work to catch these diminutive fishes, even in the relatively shallow water! And, while we're on the subject...I personally see really shallow water an interesting inspiration for creating some unique aquariums...

And speaking about inspiration, for the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium enthusiast, it's hard to find a fish from a more inspiring habitat than the Cardinal Tetra! Ours come from the Orinoco, and are known to be extremely hardy and adaptable. They are found in both clearwater and (the more commonly-encountered) blackwater habitats. Both are fascinating to replicate in the aquarium, and it's interesting to get a look at the "real deal" locales where these guys are collected for some "functional aquascaping" ideas now and then, isn't it?

The pic above depicts the classic blackwater habitat from the Orinoco, where our Cardinals come from. All of the elements are in play here- the surrounding forest vegetation, roots extending into the water, soft light-colored sand substrate, an aggregation of leaves and botanical materials, and the compelling pieces of tree branches. Oh, and that water! I love this pic because it shows an interesting location with all of the elements we associate with the fishes, but like everything nature does, no one component seems to dominate. Rather, the ecology of the habitat is a collective, with each component contributing to the function, water chemistry, and structural-physical attributes which influence the health, habits, and behavior of these most popular fishes!

From an aquarist's standpoint, it's easy to see why these fishes have captured the imagination of so many hobbyists, and have influenced the design of many botanical-style blackwater aquariums! I know that my latest system was directly influenced by this confluence of elements that are the backbone of these fascinating habitats. SO much there to work with!

When it comes to mimicry and camouflage, perhaps one of the undisputed champions of the aquatic world is the Farlowella "Twig Catfish", Farlowella vittata! This comical and much-loved fish is a perfect resident of a well-researched botanical-style aquarium, replete with wood, leaves, and other botanical materials. It's color and physical shape make it absolutely compelling...and its wonderful adaptation to its habitat make it (unbeknownst to it, of course!) one of the more useful educational tools to introduce the uninitiated into the wonderful world of tropical fishes!

As you might suspect, the wild habitat of these interesting fish is melange of driftwood, roots, and tangled branches, covered in algae and biofilms. These shy and somewhat reclusive fishes use their unique camouflage to their advantage, grazing away on the algal films while maintaining near-perfect mimicry to stay difficult to detect to would-be predators ( I'm thinking birds, maybe?).

As you can see n the pic above, such a habitat would be pretty easy to replicate, with a significant quantity of driftwood pieces and root tangles incorporated into your aquarium design. Palm fronds and other larger botanical items (I'm thinking of stuff like "Ceu Fruta", etc.) and the requisite leaves would form a perfectly natural-looking display, encouraging the grazing behavior of the fish while offering them security. Of course, letting the biofilms and algae accumulate on your wood stack is par for the course here! As well-indoctrinated "Tinter's", we've all let the fear and loathing aspect of these natural life forms go a long time ago- and what an advantage this newfound love for "films" will give your "sticks!"

Those of you who follow my ramblings regularly here and elsewhere are no doubt aware of my near-obsession with the Diptail Pencilfish, Nanostomus eques. I have been in love with this comical, cryptic-looking, yet personable little fish for decades! It's literally the most perfect fish for a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium there is, in my opinion! Everything about it encapsulates what I love about the hobby. And an aquarium designed to replicate its dark and compelling natural habitat is about as cool as it gets, in my (not-so-humble) opinion!

Ours hail from the flooded forest areas of the Orinoco, and are great subjects as "stars" of your botanical-style blackwater aquarium! if you study Mike's pic of the habitat from where ours are collected, you'll see a lot of the usual elements that we've come to expect when discussing these fish and others that reside in flooded forests.

In addition to the botanical materials, branches, and root tangles, did you notice the floating/partially sunken leaf bed? I dod! This is an interesting niche we've talked about before. Sometimes "ephemeral", lasting only short periods of time before breaking up and being washed away with rains and currents- and sometimes lasting for years- these leaf beds are really fascinating environments, seldom replicated in the aquarium! One can only think of the possibilities to replicate this one: Lower water flow, a ton of leaves (not necessarily boiled into submission; rather, soaked to clean 'em up a bit, then tossed in to the tank-regardless of their "buoyancy status"-to form an aggregation of materials in which your Pencils and other small fishes will aggregate and shelter. Talk about a unique "structurally functional botanical aquascape! Try THIS one for an entry into your next biotope aquarium contest!

There are so many unique ecological niches that we can experiment with when contemplating what to try next in our hobby! Part of the fun for me is selecting the environment I want to play with, then figuring out what fishes live there. Other hobbyists take the reverse approach, looking at specific fishes and attempting to replicate their natural habitats...The good news is that there are no real "rules" as tho how to approach this. The main prerequisite, in my opinion, is to consider the needs of the fishes that you want to keep and think about how they live in their natural ecological niches. Even though the fishes we keep are largely adaptable and accepting of many of the conditions we supply them with, including the physical aquascape of the aquarium...in reality, there truly IS no place like home!

Stay fascinated. Stay resourceful. Stay creative. Stay relentless...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

 

 

 

December 10, 2017

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Guaranteed happiness?

With the launch of Tannin Live! and the enthusiasm we've seen just far, it's been interesting to hear your feedback on the "business" of online tropical fish purchases. One of the things that I've had several discussions- some quite passionate- with different hobbyists and industry people lately is the concept of livestock guarantees. Specifically, why we are going with a 14-day guarantee.

Now, as a big supporter of both brick-and-mortar and online businesses, I realize the importance of both, and the extra confidence that such guarantees provide for the purchaser. We felt that it would be important for us to offer a significant guarantee (14 days from date of arrival) for our customers. We think that having such a long guarantee is important, as it takes away one of the major "stressors" about purchasing fishes- both online or in person.

Now, one of the interesting "counterpoints" preferred by a few industry friends I spoke with about the "dark side", if you will, of having a long guarantee on livestock was that it sort of takes away a certain degree of responsibility from the purchaser to provide careful acclimation, quarantine, and optimal conditions for his/her livestock. In other words, a customer could simply dump his/her new fishes into a brand new, unicycle aquarium, have them die in a matter of days from ammonia toxicity, and then invoke our guarantee to get a credit for new fishes.

In other words, having a (long) guarantee period could foster a certain form of irresponsibility. It's weird, because having been on both sides of the fence (hobbyist and vendor) for many years, I can see both sides of the argument clearly. However, like many things we do at Tannin, I felt that it's necessary to side with the consumer...almost to a fault, I suppose.

I just don't know if I buy the counterargument, logical though out may be. 

My rationale for the long livestock guarantee is based on my interactions and involvement with the aquatic community, and the people who make up this hobby. Sure, there are a few irresponsible, dishonest, underhanded people who will look you right in the face while literally ripping you off...but the vast, vast majority of hobbyists are good, honest, caring people, who simply want quality fishes and will do everything in their power to do the right thing for them.

Sure, there are a few neophytes, who, through simple lack of experience, will make tragic mistakes. There are also some downright stupid people out there- as there are in any hobby! Fortunately, they're few and far in between. I recall a story related to me by a fellow coral vendor who had a customer who ordered hundreds of dollars worth of cool colonies over the course of a few weeks, only to have each one die in a matter of days. She would ask for refund after refund (he had a different policy)...Finally, my friend asked here about the procedures, conditions, etc. that she was using in her reef tank that resulted in the rapid death of so many corals.

Her response was priceless...Something to the effect that, "Maybe my Plecos are eating them or something?" And of course, he asked here about the tank and what she meant by "Plecos"- and she went on to explain that it couldn't be her Rams, "...because they were small fish..." To his astonishment, he realized that she was purchasing live coral for a freshwater aquarium! Yeah, that one takes the cake...but it's an extreme example of the "perils" of a guarantee for a vendor. You are, in effect, protecting- and one might argue, even fostering- acts of stupidity!

Offering an unconditional guarantee on aquatic livestock does have its "dark side", and the argument that it encourages a sort of "laissez faire" attitude by customers is, I suppose, legitimate. On the other hand, I think that anyone who is going to go to the trouble of ordering some quality fishes and paying a significant sum for shipping is more likely to be a typical, caring, responsible hobbyist who is simply looking to obtain great fishes, and will do all he or she can to create a successful outcome.

I just don't feel that you have to run a business based on fear of the actions of that tiny fraction of people that would happily rip you off "just because." I really see the good in most hobbyists, and I'm going to operate on the assumption that most fish people are cool, honest people who are great to work with. I realize that stuff can go wrong with live animals- on both ends. Shipments get delayed, a box gets damaged. A fish could die in quarantine. A fish may not acclimate well, etc. Variables. Risks. That's part of the game. We've chosen to play in this arena.

 

We play a "long game" at Tannin. Always have. We want long-term relationships with you- our customers. We've built up our community through trust, communication, and a commitment to doing what's right. We want you as a customer forever. When we screw up- we own it. When there is a issue, we fix it. It's that simple. Nothing is perfect. We've done our best to explain candidly and carefully the potential pitfalls of botanicals, and literally have posted blogs on topics like "How to kill your fishes with botanicals" and stuff like that- because you need to know the good and the bad. It's the way we've chosen to do business.

We've built our reputation on trust, compassion, integrity, communication, and owning our mistakes. And by fostering communication with our community.

And it's the same with livestock.

With fishes, it as simple as this: Stuff could happen. We'll cover it for 14 days. We won't give you a runaround. We won't argue with you. We might ask a question or two about what happened- so we can learn. But that's it. If you're stupid enough (yes) to put a Pencilfish in a saltwater aquarium, we'll give you a credit. But we reserve the right to ever sell you fishes again. That's a guarantee.

In the big picture, we kind of think that trust means something still. Integrity still matters.

You- our community, always matter. So that, in a nutshell, is why we offer the 14-day guarantee on our fishes.

Stay diligent. Stay honest. Stay caring. Stay compassionate. Stay smart.

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

 

December 09, 2017

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Pushing out to Asia!

As the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium "movement" begins to gain some momentum and starts inspiring aquarists from all sorts of "disciplines", it's interesting to see that we've begun to see an interest in habitats from other parts of the world besides just South America. 

Now, don't get me wrong- I'm a huge fan of the South American blackwater habitats...What is there NOT to like about Rio Negro tributaries, igarapes, morichals, igapos, etc? I mean, these are some of the most compelling and interesting habitats in the world, with a rich variety of life, niches, and aesthetics that could keep you busy for a lifetime trying to duplicate.

Yet, it's been pointed out to me by more than one member of our community that we don't see quite as many Asian (and African- but that's another discussion for another blog!) blackwater biotope-inspired tanks out there. Now, we have featured some of these types of tanks over the past year or so, but you are correct, they have been a bit under-represented.

Notice my choice of the words "have been?"

I think that we are beginning to see a noticeable "uptick" in the number of tanks inspired by Asian habitats.

We've seen a big surge in the popularity of wild Betta species and lesser-known Gouramis. Having the experience in playing with Tetras and other South American blackwater fishes has given ideas and let's face it- a confidence boost- to many hobbyists who have been keeping the compelling Asian fishes for years, and were looking for something a bit different for them.

The fact is, the wild Asian habitats offer a lot of interesting fishes, and lots of opportunities to contribute to the existing body of knowledge in working with them.

And they offer some unique aesthetic looks. Remember the Asian peat swamps we talked about before?  These are fascinating and endangered habitats, with unique aesthetics- really darkly tinted water, heavily botanical-enriched substrates, and often....PLANTS! 

Yes, the Asian blackwater habitats often contain terrific plants, like various Cryptocoryne, Bucephelandra, etc. And many of these plants do very well in aquarium designed to meet their requirements. I think we will see a lot more interesting setups featuring plants and mixes of plants and other elements as more and more aquarists play in this area. And with more experimentation will come more understanding of the plants that come from other blackwater habitats around the world.

The reality is that Asian blackwater habitats are every bit as fascinating, challenging, and beautiful as their South American counterparts. With lots of smaller, interesting fishes inhabiting these regions and niches, you've got the makings of some very interesting aquarium displays! 

The variety of materials which come from Asia and can be incorporated into a blackwater, Asian-themed aquarium is significant! Add that to the fact that a number of our botanicals hail from Asia, and you have some interesting opportunities to recreate some compelling biotope-type aquariums. 

And the potential for creating amazing-looking displays is huge! The aesthetics are a bit different than the more commonly represented South American blackwater habitats.ANd you have different fishes with which to populate your display...and with the use of different fishes comes new chances to observe them in aquarium habitats that are reminiscent of the wild ones from which they come.

What interesting breakthroughs in maintaining and breeding some of the unique fishes from these compelling habitats will be made when more of us venture towards Asia? Will we see a surge in interest in brackish water, botanical-style aquariums, representing the fantastic habitats in these regions? I think we might!

What lessons will we learn about the delicate Blackwater habitats that we can apply to our aquarium work? What previously under-appreciated fishes will become new favorites? 

With all of the knowledge we're gaining on blackwater aquariums, it's been an exciting ride so far- and we're really eager to see what direction we head in as we turn towards Asia! The opportunities to work with different fishes and model more unique habitats are simply irresistible to the "Tinter!"

Can't wait to see what evolves from this interesting area!

Stay excited. Stay fascinated. Stay motivated. Stay creative.

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

December 08, 2017

1 comment


"Sponteaneous" spawnings, Botanical nurseries..and "evolutionary" shifts. Just another day in the aquarium world!

One of the things we're seeing more and more in botanical-stye, blackwater aquariums are reports of "spontaneous" spawnings of all sorts of different fishes associated with these types of conditions.

Often, it's fishes that the aquarist had for a while, perhaps with little effort put into spawning them, and then it just sort of "happened." For others, it is perhaps expected- maybe the ultimate goal as it relates to said species...but was just taking a long time!

The "common denominator" in all of the reports we receive are that the fishes are displaying better color, vigor, and overall health after being exposed to the more "physiologically appropriate" conditions of a blackwater aquarium. Now, this is by no means us stating that blackwater tanks are somehow magical, and possess the ability to make every fish magically thrive and spawn. It's more of an affirmation that fishes from specialized environments- even those which might be several generations captive-bred, can always benefit from being "re-patriated" to the conditions under which they have evolved for eons.

I know that there are those who will adamantly state that this is not necessary or true, but I just have this really hard time accepting the argument that fishes from say, soft, acidic blackwater are somehow "better off" in hard, alkaline "tap water" conniptions...after only a few generations in captivity. Have we somehow changed the physiology or physiological needs of the fish in a few decades? I'm not buying that argument! 

Now, I could be totally wrong, but I'm not listening anyways...lol (I'm not irrationally stubborn or anything...LOL)

Seriously, I think there is a lot to be said for the potential benefits of humic substances for fishes- and indeed, much research has been done in this area already by science. Still, much is yet to be fully understood, but suffice it to say, there are a variety of health benefits ascribed to humic substances found in blackwater habitats, and the "superficial" observations we've made thus far seem to confirm this! What advantages do they give us when we're trying to breed fishes from these habitats?

Now, I am equally fascinated by the possible benefits of these conditions for fry. In other words, not only the chemical conditions (i.e; pH, levels of tannins/humic substances, etc.), but the possibility that the biofilms which botanicals and leaves "recruit" will serve as an excellent natural source of food- supplemental or otherwise- for many fish fry. Biofilms are consumed by a number of species as adults, so it goes without saying that, if they're available to fry, they might also be a possible source of nutrition. Which leads me to wonder...

(If I'm correct, that makes Cory Hopkins' tank possibly the sexiest fry-rearing tank of all time, lol)

Could a botanically-"stocked" aquarium, complete with perhaps a deep leaf litter bed and lots of botanicals, doing their thing, serve as a sort of "nursery" for fry of fishes which are accustomed to blackwater conditions? So, perhaps a versions of the fry-rearing tank that's a bit more than the typical bare-bottomed, hyper-maintained nursery tanks we tend to use a lot? I mean, sure, for commercial breeding, it probably would be a challenge...but for the hobbyist working with a few species...could this be a great way to provide some supplemental/primary feeding? A sort of "botanical refugium" for fry? 

I think there is precedent. I mean, What hobbyist hasn't had one of those planted "jungle" tanks over the years, where you'd just sort of "stumble" on fry from time to time in the "canopy" of plants? I mean, same idea, right? Natural foods and protection? I think that we might see some of this as more and more hobbyists experiment with botanical-style brackish tanks, too! A lot of potential discoveries- even breakthroughs- are possible! 

None of this stuff is completely mind-blowingly revolutionary. But it is evolutionary...a sort of possible progression in thinking. It's not really "rocket science" ("Filll tank with water. Add leaves and let them decompose. Add fish fry.") Much research needs to be done. 

Who's up for it?

Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay creative. Stay progressive...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellaman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

 

 

December 07, 2017

0 comments


Focusing...and freaking out. Or not.

I had a friend call the other day (wow- a PHONE CALL! Remember those?) just freaked out about some relatively minor change in his aquarium...like in a full-on panic. Like, had to be talked down from the edge panic. 

What was it?

The lighting just looked "different" in his tank this morning when it came on. (don't laugh, to reef guys, its a super-big deal!). He was freaked that all of his corals would be shocked and stressed and die and...deep breath! 

Everything looked different.

Upon going through the normal third-party-due-diligence fish tank diagnosis stuff, it turned out...That his toddler had grabbed ahold of his iPhone..which just happened to have the LED light control app open...and those little fingers changed the program. One quick little swipe later, and his corals were enjoying the same lighting conditions they had for the last two years. The little incident was the aquarium equivalent of a cloudy day in Fiji. That's it. No meltdown. No harm. No damage. (except to my friends blood pressure, of course.)

Now, the point of this motor was not to illustrate my insane aquarium problem-solving skills or intuitive nature. I mean, it was just dumb luck that it was like the second thing we looked at. That being said, my friend's drama was just an example of how we as aquarists KNOW what is "normal" for our tanks, and tend to sound the alarm at any deviation from said norm.

Not a bad thing. But the concerns we have sometimes drive us to crazy "solutions" (like my friend about to pull the trigger on a new $500 USD light system to replace the "damaged" one, before really troubleshooting). Okay- an extreme case- but the mindset is fairly common, in my experience.

Have you noticed that as you become more experienced in the hobby, you tend to do more, but pay attention to less?

Like, you are very aware of how the environment is functioning in your aquarium. You understand the way your equipment is supposed to operate. You have a great grasp on the needs of your fishes, and what is "normal" for them. 

Yet, you tend to focus on a few things, right?

As a botanical-style, blackwater aquarium enthusiast, you really tend to hyper focus on a few interesting things, like how to prepare them, how to add them. You're acutely aware, over time, of what is considered "normal" for this type of aquarium. After an absurd amount of indoctrination and discussion over the past few years, we as a community no longer freak out about the appearance of biofilm, the deep tint of the water, etc. Instead, we focus on what we would consider "deviations" from the "norm" that we've come to expect from these types of tanks.

We have a lot of hobbyists concerned when the visual "tint" starts fading a bit. The big allure, dark;-tinted water, is really important to many of us, and when we lose that "look", it's a source of consternation...Time to reach for more leaves, bark, etc!

Or not. It depends.

Our fishes tend to hang out in certain parts of the tank pretty much all the time, right? And we tend to be concerned when they're not hanging out where we expect them, thinking that somethings wrong. Maybe, maybe it's that they are hanging out in the spot that's best suited for their needs? Perhaps we tend to project our own ideas on what the fishes do- and of course, being wild creatures- they react to their environment in a manner that's appropriate for their comfort and safety. Yet, we see those cichlids in that different spot in the driftwood and we assume the worst. Maybe-just possibly- they're getting ready to spawn? Maybe something good, actually? Maybe?

We notice when the water might be a bit "cloudy" or somehow "soupy", and we know exactly how the water should look under "typical" conditions...perhaps crystal-clear, yet deeply tinted. When there is a deviation from that, we snap to attention and try to see what caused it. Perhaps its simply a result of one or more of our botanicals breaking down a bit more when a layer of tissue "gave way" and released more "stuff" into the water. Cause for alarm? Probably not. However, we observe, we investigate, and we often worry.

We know the smell of a healthy tank. Earthy, pleasant, almost "woodsy." And if that smell is somehow different than what we know to be "perfect", we immediately begin to troubleshoot.Yes, bad smells are a signal that something is amiss. Different smells, however, are a sign that something is...different. Not necessarily "bad", though. Right?

I think it's a real testimony to our dedication, understanding, and experience with aquariums and fishes when we take notice of subtle differences and changes in our tanks. It's a sign that we know what is "normal" and what is "different." The real test is how we respond to these new bits of information. Most of us, despite having invested lots of time, energy money, and devotion to our fishes, don't just freak out and panic, initiating some unrehearsed "disaster protocol" that takes us in all sorts of directions. 

Rather, we tend to look at the available data and analyze what's going on (like really quickly) and then research what the solution is before charging into action...or not. 

And that's a good thing. It's good because I feel that, quite frankly, rushed reactions to things that might not be real "problems" often result in consequences that are far worse than whatever "problem" precipitated the response in the first place. Yikes. 

It just makes sense for us as hobbyists to focus on why _______ is "normal" for our tank, as opposed to just "what" is normal. This way, we can understand our fishes and their environment even more intimately, and what it's a good thing that ________ is the way it is. Just knowing that something is not the way it's always been before isn't portending disaster...particualrly if we don't understand why things were the way they were for so long before. I mean, a change can be a good thing, right? 

Yeah.

So, my brief, simplistic, and very tortured point here: Understand why things are the way they are with your aquarium. Then, figure out what could have caused the change from the "normal", and you'll probably find out pretty quickly why things changed in the first place!

But, you probably knew that already.

Right?

Yeah, might just be me...

Anyways...that's todays philosophical pondering from your highly caffeinated fish geek.

Stay vigilant. Stay observant. Stay focused. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

December 06, 2017

2 comments


Who values the "Otos?" We all should.

As I find myself spending a lot of time writing descriptions of fishes for our upcoming debut of "Tannin Live!", I'm reminded of just why I fell in love with certain fishes, question why I never liked others, and find myself becoming an "advocate" of sorts for fishes that I feel are either under-appreciated or underrepresented by the majority of hobbyists.

Nowhere do I feel the need to be an "advocate" more than when looking at my favorite small catfishes, specifically the lovable, popular, but seemingly mis-perceived as "disposable", Otocinculus species!  These are comical, endearing fish that are both misunderstood and shockingly disrespected, in my opinion.

It's a shame that, for whatever reason over the years, we've tended to heap a lot of small. bottom-dwelling fishes as "scavengers" or assigned them the ridiculous moniker of "cleanup crew" or "janitors" or whatever, somehow simultaneously devaluing the fish and relegating them to an arbitrary "role" in our tanks that is both underserved and quite frankly, often inappropriate.

Now, I suppose that the popular term "catfish" to the hobby at large over the decades probably instantly brought to mind a picture of a non-descript "bottom-feeding scavenger fish", patiently sifting through the substrate for uneaten food or algae; going about its business as members of it's group had done for eons, blissfully unaware that this was the only shot at sustenance they would get.

Nobody was going out of their way to target feed the "scavengers", right?

Urghh..

Now, wait a minute....This is a catfish, right?:

Oh, and so is THIS:

Sure, fishes like the Otocinculus are about as good a consumer of algal films as "they" make- but to purchase the fish solely for this role not only "commoditizes" the fish- it feeds the perception that its sole "purpose" is to "clean the tank." I'll say it one more time: These small, seemingly non-descript fish are actually quite fascinating and engaging, and worthy of much more attention and respect than merely being regarded as "cleanup crew" by hobbyists.  They are remarkably "social" fish, with interesting interactions and group dynamics that are enjoyable and fascinating to watch.

That is, if we're not solely adding them to our tanks for the purpose of cleaning up the mess.

In the wild, they are found in large aggregations in streams and rivers among submerged and floating vegetation, and are well-adapted for life among plants and submerged tree roots and driftwood.

These aggregations should tell you something about their personalities, right? Remarkably, when offered for sale in the aquarium trade, many unsuspecting neophyte hobbyists are advised to purchase "one or two" as cheap "algae eaters" for their new tank. And of course, being small, gregarious, social creatures, they can be very shy when kept singly, yet display surpsingly interesting social behaviors when kept in groups of 6 or more. And that, by the way, is exactly why we offer them in groups at Tannin Live!

It just makes sense to us.

Interestingly, their dietary preference creates a strange sort of "paradox" for many hobbyists who treat them simply as humble "algae eaters", placed in a tank for the sole purpose of consuming unwanted algal films (which they do an amazing job at, BTW): They are so good at consuming algae that, in an aquarium without sufficient algal growth, a population of these fishes could literally "eat themselves to death" by consuming all of the available natural food resource rapidly. This is why it's important 1) not to keep too many in a small tank  and 2) to understand that they can and will consume other foods, like frozen brine shrimp, etc., and 3) to make sure that food is made available to them.

Because of their shy, retiring nature, when you supplement their natural algae diet, you need to make sure that food reaches them, and that the other tank inhabitants don't beat them to the food. It may take a little more time, but these endearing little fishes certainly are worthy of the attention!

It's an extra act of kindness that is most definitely not misspent, in my opinion. Now, "shy and retiring" typically applies to them when they're new. They will often become far more comfortable and be out in the open much more when they've adapted to their new home. And, since they really are found in groups in nature, we feel that keeping a small group of them in the aquarium helps to "socialize" them more quickly.

As stated above, "Otos" are really interesting fishes in and of themselves, and should, in our opinion, be treated like any other fish in the aquarium. That is, you should accommodate their need for food by never adding them to an "immature" aquarium that doesn't have some algal growth present, and making sure that they get their fair share of prepared, aquarist-fed food as well. And obtaining food is really the main battle these fishes face, and the by-product of poor handling along the chain of custody from capture to aquarist leads to weakened fish with a poor survival record, further reinforcing the negative perception that they are somehow "expendable" creatures...

Mike Tuccinardi, who curates and handles our fishes for Tannin Live!, will be the first to tell you that these fishes suffer from that horrible "commoditization" which tends to overtake many small, bottom-dwelling fishes in the hobby. To that end, he suggests that we all consider the challenges the fish face on the way to us, and understand the extra steps that we are taking to assure that they remain healthy before they get to you:

"...it just takes a little TLC along the supply chain to keep these interesting and useful little fish happy and healthy. The primary issue with this fish is access to food – as mentioned earlier they tend to arrive half-starved and weak, which usually traces back to the conditions they were held in immediately after collection.

Sadly, some Otocinclus in the trade may not be fed between that point and the time they reach a store (which can be a week or more), so they are in far from ideal condition on arrival. Our supplier actually holds these fish in earth ponds until just before they are scheduled to ship out – which provides them with a low-stress environment and plentiful natural food (algae). The difference is immediately noticeable on arrival: strong, healthy fish with nice full bellies. I make sure to keep them that way by providing food as soon as they leave the bags and right up until they ship out to you."

With a little bit more of an understanding- and a lot more attention paid to their needs- I think it's entirely realistic to create a fascinating and engaging aquarium for the sole purpose of featuring and enjoying this fish! Could you imagine an aquarium set up to represent the streams from which they come, complete with some smooth, algal film-covered rocks and pieces of driftwood, and perhaps a few aquatic plants? And a group of several dozen Otocinculus in the mix? Yeah, the potential for learning more about-and perhaps even breeding- these shockingly misunderstood, yet remarkably endearing fish is amazing!

We really need to re-think our "relationship" with these little fishes.

Like so many things in our hobby, it involves a "mindset shift", a re-allignment of our perceptions, and a greater appreciation for the needs and challenges of the amazing animals that we treasure so much. So please- the next time you're thinking about purchasing one or more of these fishes for the sole purpose of being "algae eaters" in your high-concept planted aquarium, consider their needs...and if you aren't convinced that this is worthwhile, I'd implore you to consider honing your algae-scraping skills instead, and leaving these little guys to the care of someone who appreciates them for more than just "utility."

Tough love. Yes.

Okay, I'm off of my "soapbox"...Well, for now anyways! 

Stay diligent. Stay compassionate. Stay educated. Stay enthusiastic.

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

December 05, 2017

0 comments


Its not that terrible in The Tapajos...Musings on "Whitewater", Botanical-Influenced Systems

Now it seems kind of funny, in this blog called "The Tint" that today's subject is clearwater botanical-influenced systems!

"Yikes...what! Fellman's not blabbering about a blackwater system?"

Now, don't get me wrong- just because water is "white" doesn't mean it and the organisms which reside in it are not interesting to a geek like me! I just happen to be a bit obsessed with the more "tinted" water. Nonetheless, with some many fishes coming from fascinating "whitewater" habitats, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about this topic now and again! 

 

("Whitewater" madness by Mike Tuccinardi!)

Part of what inspired me today was a product description I was writing for a favorite fish that we'll feature on Tannin Live! (shameless plug), Crenichicla regani, the beloved Dwarf Pike Cichlid from...The Tapajos! As interesting as the fish is, the habitat from which it comes is equally engaging, and representative of this type of acidic, botanically-influenced whitewater habitat.

The Tapajos and its surrounding streams are interesting, in that they are essentially "colorless", yet have very acidic conditions and lack of electrolytes, resembling the "classic" blackwater systems...but the key word is "colorless!"

Interestingly, the Tapajos and other Amazonian "whitewater" systems are characterized by scientists as "carbonate waters", meaning that they have a richness in carbonates and calcium (relative to blackwaters). Typically, they also have a pH above 6.5, and higher electrical conductivity (redox) than blackwater systems. The lower part of the Tapajos is thought to be clear ("white") because there are no major currents present, and because the sediment material has been deposited in ages past. The underlying dynamics of this is tied into geology, glacial periods, and a lot of stuff that's"way above my pay grade", as they say...Yet, suffice it to say, the heavy influence of leaves and podsol substrates that we see in blackwater habitats is not occurring in these interesting environments..

(Map by Kmusser, used under CC BY S.A. 3.0)

 Amazon whitewater come from flow off of the Andes, and start out as relatively  turbid, nearly neutral, relatively electrolyte-rich water, dominated by carbonates of alkali earth metals, as scientists refer to them...By contrast, the waters of the Rio Negro, for example, originated on the Precambrian shield of the northern region of the Amazon basin, and is a typical representative of the Amazonian black waters, with transparent red-brown color from  a high content of dissolved humic substances. And, as we know, the water is poor in nutrients and electrolytes, and has low alkalinity. The pH and electrical conductivity values are quite low, as well.

(Ahh...a more familiar blackwater stream, courtesy of our pal, David Sobry!)

So, the fascinating thing about these habitats is that you will find rocks, submerged branches, leaves, etc. on the sandy substrates, but their influence is not nearly as significant as it is with the blackwater streams and rivers that we obsess over oh so much here! An aquarium with fishes from The Tapajos, could represent parts of the river and its tributaries which are influenced by areas of flooded forests, yet, unlike the blackwater igapo,  you'll occasionally see some floating aquatic plants. There are significant areas of fine sand and a tangle of submerged roots, fallen tree branches, and a lot of stones and even some small boulders.

So, yeah- excellent for all sorts of aquascaping ideas and executions! One could easily utilize some rocks, and a few of the more "durable", less "visual-tint-imparting botanicals, like "Jungle Pods", "Savu Pods", "Heart Pods", etc., and perhaps some Guava leaves (as opposed to the more tannin-producing Catappa), mixed into the hardscape. 

And of course, you could feel free to go crazy with activated carbon and other chemical filtration media, because you're not obsessed with keeping the water highly tinted, right? And the fishes you'd keep in a Tapajos-themed (notice I didn't say "biotope", because that's a different level of detail, of course!) are legion. It's estimated to be home to at least 500 fish species! Favorites like   the aforementioned Dwarf Regani Pike Cichlid, Festivum, Geophagus, Checkerboard Cichlids (D. maculatus), Pristella Tetra, Pencilfishes, Leporinus, a bunch of Hemigrammus species, and even some Apistos are just a few of the many aquarium species at home in this type of habitat. I know that we (okay, ME) tend to go a bit "blackwater crazy" and recommend so many fishes for these types of habitats, but the reality is that there are many of our "blackwater" favorites found in these acidic, "whitewater" habitats as well!

 

 

And of course, as mentioned previously, rocks are a major part of the habitat, unlike our flooded forest floors, where these are rarely seen, so more hardscape possibilities with something other than just wood and leaves present themselves! (not that there's anything WRONG with these materials, of course! )

So, yeah- the "Whitewater, Botanical-Style" Aquarium is yet another option for us. Another area to explore (literally), and more favorite fishes to play with. As with so many aspects of our hobby, keeping an open mind and diving beyond the superficial will yield a lot of great information and ideas that can be used to set up some truly interesting, "functionally aesthetic" displays...and it really doesn't matter if your water is "black" or "white"- It's pretty damn interesting!

And really, it's not all that terrible in The Tapajos, is it? 

Until next time...

Stay open-minded. Stay curious. Stay resourceful. Stay excited...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

 

December 04, 2017

0 comments


Using what you've got...working with botanicals with a different mindset. Monday meanderings.

One of the things I notice a lot with most blackwater, botanical-style aquariums is how quickly they seem to take on a more "mature" look. In other words, the wood sort of "mellows", the botanicals show a more "broken-in" look and appear to be softening, and the water has that initial burst of tannins creating a rich, dark color.

Ever noticed that?

I'm frequently amazed when a fellow hobbyist shows me a tank that's been set up for maybe two weeks, and it literally looks like it's been set up for months, or even longer! I think the very nature of these materials lends themselves to such an appearance and overall "vibe." Conversely, you can just tell when a botanical-style tank is brand new: The botanicals themselves look "fresh", the water is not quite dark, and the overall tank itselflf looks kind of "clinical"; like, really "clean" (gulp, I hate using that expression, lol- as if to imply that blackwater is "dirty" somehow...a common theme we've heard over the years!)

With leaves, the interesting thing is that they display a wide range of durability. My latest aquarium utilized Indian Jackfruit leaves and Yellow Mangrove Leaves as the primary leaf litter, and this combination has proved both attractive and quite durable, showing little breakdown of "structural integrity" even after like 3-4 weeks submerged.

In tests, these leaves always held up well, but it's the first time I have used them together in an actual display tank as the exclusive combination for my leaf litter bed...and I'm really impressed. 

Now, both of these leaves will tend to recruit biofilms fairly rapidly- something I've noticed with most "durable" leaves, like Magnolia, for example, which has a sort of "waxy" cutin layer that protects the leaf from the elements while on the tree. The Mangrove and Jackfruit don't have this layer, but display surprising durability even after softening a bit. And like in many cases, the initial biofilm layer tends to pass after a while.

I have always been a big believer in utilizing various types of catappa bark in my tanks, and I think they're still sort of underrated by many hobbyists for both aesthetics and their "functional capabilities" (i.e.; imparting lots of tannins into the water). These products, although increasingly popular with our customers, took a lot longer to catch on. I think a lot of the issue was that they were more expensive than leaves (because the prep work at the supplier level is greater, as is the shipping cost because of weight), and require a different sort of "aesthetic commitment" from the aquarist than leaves...They tend to last a lot longer than leaves, and are almost like wood in terms of how they'd appear in your overall aquascape.

As I play more an more with new applications for some of the materials I've worked with for years from a "functional" basis, I'm realizing how much potential they provide! I've even envisioned entire hardscape of just various catappa bark pieces over a thin sand substrate. Maybe a few leaves and a "twig" or two from another planet...but that's it. Just something different, perhaps utilizing materials we're already familiar with.

 

And I think that's kind of my overall mindset these days, in terms of utilizing botanical materials...Playing with new ideas and different combinations; mixing the familiar and the unfamiliar, in new ways. And seeing how they "meld" together in a scape as they break down and soften. These are always some of the more exciting aspects of playing with botanicals, IMHO.

And I'm pretty sure that's the best way to go with  just about anything we do with aquariums...Try new stuff...or new combinations of stuff you already know! 

Just my assortment of random thoughts on a Monday! Thanks for indulging me here.

Stay creative. Stay unique. Stay excited. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

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