If you’re anything like me, the last year of social distancing and lockdowns has not been good for your social life, hobbies, or generally doing interesting things at all. Going to movies, restaurants, bars, concerts, or events are for the most part non-starters; parties and other social gatherings involving more people than can be counted on one hand are a distant memory; video gaming have simultaneously become more obsessive and less fun; I’m not about to take up recreational exercise or reading. I need a new hobby that can be safely practiced in the home and does not require I learn a useful skill, like playing the guitar.
That’s why I am calling for Gizmodo dot com to immediately buy me a fish tank.
See, it’s been a while, but I actually used to be a fish tank nut. I had a 20-ish gallon tank in my college dorm room, which I then swapped out for a 55 gallon community aquarium over the protestations of my roommates. My recollection is hazy, but old Facebook posts indicate that this was what could have charitably been called a learning experience.
I’m not asking for much, just an opportunity to do it again and do it right. I’m not asking for a saltwater tank setup—let’s not go crazy—just a planted freshwater tank of moderate size, stocked with unusual and colorful tropical fish, some snails, and, if we’re feeling spicy, a vibrant, hardy shrimp or two. I found a nice “widescreen” one coming in at 13.6 gallons, but I wouldn’t say no to one holding in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 gallons. I’d prefer a kit setup but if you want me to go hog wild I’m sure I come up with a sick list of individual parts to slap together and bring us all down to Tom’s Fish Town. Oh, and one of those 50-foot hoses that screws onto a sink and eliminates the need for buckets. Maybe a canister filter with inlet and outlet hoses that circulate water through the tank, avoiding the creation of waste dead zones, as well as the increased evaporation and risk of injury to tank stock that comes with a hang on back (HOB) filter.
As I have now established, fish are tech.
Unlike my colleague Bryan Menegus, I’m open to all kinds of things, really. I just found out about Neolamprologus brichardi, a type of small, 3.5-inch tropical rift lake cichlid that makes its habitat in exactly the kind of shells that I could stock the floor of my tank with. (They’re called shellies!) My research leads me to believe that a tank between 15-25 gallons would be a great environment for a small family of them, though if I went with a pair of its more peaceful cousin Neolamprologus brevis, I could potentially fit in a few tank mates, like the Masked Julie (Julidochromis transcriptus).
Cichlids are cool. But Gizmodo could also bankroll my creation of a peaceful community tank of other fish like tetras, gouramis, cherry barbs, guppies, danios, mollies, or cory catfish—taking care of course to make sure that I’m giving each species ample space to roam within its top/middle/bottom layer, carefully balancing social needs, and avoiding other possible points of conflict, like pairing long-finned fish with fin-nippers. That said, I also just learned about a gold-colored breed of killifish called the Cape Lopez lyretail (Aphyosemion australe) that is absolutely breathtaking, provided, like me, you are the kind of person whose breath can be taken away by tiny fish.
Unfortunately I cannot fit my favorite species of fish, the humble red-tailed black shark (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor) from Thailand, in a 20-25 gallon tank— while they’re sold at a length of just an inch or two in stores, they can actually grow up to six inches long and thus require a tank of 55 gallons or more. That wouldn’t work then, unless Gizmodo happened to spring for a larger one. Did you know it’s actually a species of carp that’s critically endangered in the wild? Wow. Unlike a shark, they won’t actually eat their tankmates, but like a shark, they will chase them around to the point of exhaustion.
By this point I’ve probably made at least one embarrassing error or amateur mistake in my description of a possible setup, but that’s just fine because reading information about potential aqua-friends for hours and hours before I purchase them is part of the fun.
I could build a tiny little world of infinite options! FISH OPTIONS.
Anyone got any suggestions for aquarium plants Gizmodo could buy me? I’m thinking a copse of moneywort, hornwort, eelgrass, dwarf hairgrass, and/or maybe even Rotala Rotundifola. I’d leave some room for a Java fern, Amazon sword, or Bucephalandra. If whoever is in charge of giving me money for a fish tank doesn’t know what those are, that’s OK. Just imagine a beautiful underwater forest winding around a piece of driftwood and maybe a little sunken aircraft carrier. Actually, I could set up the whole thing as a scene. Maybe the aftermath of a naval battle or the lost city of Atlantis? I just looked it up and it occurred to me I haven’t seen a tank decorated to look like a city sunken by climate change.
Hear me out: Fishmodo, bloggers of the world rise up all you have to lose is everything you own in the event of a catastrophic water leak, etc.
Gizmodo did not respond to a request for comment on my possible acquisition of a fish tank at their expense, but my anonymous live-in partner sighed and said, “Okay.”