Does this Match My Electric Blue?

One of the challenges of being a pet supplies retailer is helping your customer achieve their desire without allowing your own personal preferences to influence the process.  There are as many ways to set up an aquarium as there are people trying. Some hobbyists like to try to set up a biotope style all natural tank for the fish they keep. Others want a simple to maintain artificial set up that mimics a natural environment. Others do not care how artificial it is as long as it matches the wall color. A last style is a theme aquarium with matching ornaments. All have their devotees and most stores stock the aquarium supplies needed for any of these types of aquarium tanks, including Petsolutions. In some of these arrangements, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder!

Biotope Aquariums, you cannot mix those together!

I always enjoyed helping someone set up a biotope aquarium because it gave both of us a chance to research and learn more about the tropical fish we were keeping. Generally it was an Amazonian River environment with Tetras, Corydoras, Angelfish and lots of freshwater plants (Swords, Myrophillia, Pennywort,etc) . I was always surprised by how many of the plants available for the aquarium hobby do not come from South America! Having spent my entire life in Ohio and Wisconsin, I really do not think of the USA as a “tropical” area, but an amazing number of the “bunch” plants come from N. America. Another favorite biotope was for African Cichlids which would usually consist of lots of rocks and some Anubias. The more rocks you could put in the tank the better. My 150 gallon tank had over 200 pounds of lava rock and desert coral rock. The tank ended up only have 105 gallons of water! I can honestly say that in 30 plus years I have never talked to any hobbyist that set up a SouthEast Asian biotope, closest they have come is with brackish aquariums. The great thing about these tanks is that as the creator of this small environment, you can take liberties and use fish or plants from other areas and still keep a basic biotope. The majority of freshwater fish are now farm raised and saying that they need their “natural” environmental conditions to thrive is not as critical as it once was when all fish were wild caught. I have had Discus spawn in my tap water aquariums with a pH 8.2 value.

You mean that is not real?!?

Perhaps the most popular type of aquarium lay-out is one that looks real, but uses plastic or silk plants to mimic real plants. Several years ago I attended a conference where one of the Willinger brothers (then owners of Second Nature/Whisper) gave a 45 minute talk on how they used craftsmen to mold their production dies to mimic real plants with lifelike detail. He then spent 15 minutes chastising us store owners for not offering enough live plants! Fortunately over the years the selection of artificial plants (and even corals) has greatly expanded and with a little wear can mimic live plants well enough to fool the casual looker. (I even wonder about some of the fish, they seem to be willing to try to eat the silk plants.) Resin and ceramic rocks and caves can give a realistic look to the aquarium and not discolor or fade over time. Pieces of natural driftwood have been used since the early days and provide a comfort factor to many fish. I had a large piece with two big holes drilled through it and my Clown Loaches loved to cram into the holes. They would get packed in so tight that as one squeezed in from the backside, one would be pushed out the front side, only to scurry to the backside and squeeze its way back in while another was pushed out. This provided me hours of entertainment when I needed a good laugh.

I wear sunglasses at night…

The third type of aquarium decor was usually favored by the younger hobbyist. Bright colors were a must.  Keeping with  social conditioning, girls preferred pink and purple, boys liked multi-color or dayglow colors. Fortunately (IMHO) most of these tanks were small and would not overwhelm the home decor. IF asked, I would usually try to point out that most fish will not show their best colors against really bright colors and are not comfortable with bright substrates, but only when asked. I accidentally came up with a great way to point this out in one of my display tanks. I had set up a display with green “grass” divided by a dark blue “river” with plastic plants spread out on the grass. I had about 15 Corydora catfish in the tank, and after a bit of observation I noticed they always rested on the dark blue, you never saw one sitting on the green gravel! (Strangely, they also usually sat all facing the same direction, possibly with their nostrils facing upstream in the current?) The ornament makers also tapped into the market and offered brightly colored artificial plants, that strangely enough sometimes do not look that garish in the aquarium. Today you can find artificial colored fish and genetically modified fish to add more colors.

Avast ye maties!

The fourth aquarium set-up involves some type of themed ornaments;  sunken ships, skeletons, skulls  and pirates are a favorite. Roman/Atlantean ruins are another with newer sets of matching decor for the Little Mermaid or SpongeBob Squarepants. I have always admired the thought that goes into making the perfect theme tank, sometimes the end result can be quite striking. I should point out that this type of set-up is probably the hardest to keep clean. You will have to remove the decorations to eliminate algae growing on them and keep the glass spotless for the right visual effect. You do not see as many of the air driven “action ornaments” as you used to. Treasure chests that open, skeletons that rise from the crypt, divers that float up and down through the tank. I once got an up close and personal look at all of these items. I left for a short vacation and asked a couple of my employees to feed my fish and my dog. Well….they decided to decorate my 150 gallon tank with all the action ornaments as a joke. They (John G. who runs a large local aquarium store and Kevin K. who sells fish in Wisconsin) know who they are! Revenge will be mine someday!!

About The Author Don Roberts

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