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Three Aquarium "Rules of Thirds"

Fish Folk

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Before unfolding this recommendation, just for context: we are running about 17 tanks presently. Most of them are dedicated breeding tanks, which have virtually nothing to do with the substance of this post. When you're focussed on breeding fish, your purpose is quite different from keeping elegantly designed tanks.

Additionally, many fish keepers find deep satisfaction from keeping "Wet pets." We typically give names to such fish, and build environments for them that are less aesthetic in value but more personal . . . fun . . . memorable . . . etc. Beautiful balance is not your main goal with such tanks. Having a cool place to interact with that adorable Betta or your pet Oscar is.

Furthermore, a pure-blood aquascaper is already grooving on artistic delights that will make the following suggestions feel too elementary. And conversely, the contrarian fish keeper who loves to troll the fish nerd world by keeping a ghost knife fish, a goldfish, a school of mosquito fish, and a piraña in a 10 gal tall . . . should move along now. This thread is not for you.

SO setting breeding tanks aside, as well as "wet pet" tanks, aquascaped masterpieces, and odd-ball internet-breaking nonconformists . . . that leaves us still with many people seeking  recommendations for good setups. Every week, on this forum, posts are made . . . "how should I set up this tank" . . . "what would you stock in this tank?" . . . "what's your favorite community fish tank combinations?" . . . "name your favorite plants" . . . etc. To all of these and the like, I propose the following suggestions:

(1) Think of your setup in three groups: Hardscape, Plants, Fish

(2) For each of the three groups, firmly establish [a] a homogenous group [b] a major feature [b] a minor feature

(3) As an example, for Hardscape: [a] substrate can be your homogenous group . . . or a bunch of small stones, pebbles, etc. [b] a large rock or stone outcropping can be your major feature . . . or an elegant piece of wood [c] just a couple smaller rocks, or smaller wood pieces can serve as your minor feature -- typically balanced a bit apart from the major feature.

(4) As another example, for Plants: [a] a carpeting plant makes for a nice homogenous group . . . or, as Cory mentioned recently, a massive grouping of crypt can provide this feature . . . we've used rotalla indica before . . . and trimmed hygrophilia . . . even a lot of valisneria, though tall, can provide a "homogenous plant grouping" . . . even a bunch of hornwort can work . . . or floating water lettuce, frog bit, etc [b] a major feature plant might be a sword, a large lily, a huge java fern, an Anubis, etc. The key is that it stand out by its size, placement, difference, etc. [c] minor feature plants might be Buce, nana petit, etc. smaller, not as stunning, but beautiful nonetheless. Choices are infinite, but again, the suggestion here is: choose a grouping plant, a major standout plant, and a minor plant.

(5) Finally, for Fish: [a] a schooling fish is so satisfying as a homogenous group. Your favorite tetras . . . or shiners . . . even livebearers . . . maybe angelfish . . . corydoras . . . something that, together, forms a large group [b] a major centerpiece fish, pair of fish, or small group that stands out by its size, behavior, color, etc. Of course it must be compatible with all other fish. [c] And then some minor feature fish -- often bottom dwellers, plecos, etc. "quieter" fish that you appreciate more for their special secrecy than for their flamboyance.

I suggest that any tank set up with these three levels attended to with hardscape, plants, and fish stocking will be a life-long delight to enjoy.

Edited by Fish Folk
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