Natural Decor Is Best for Your Tropical Fish
If you want your fish to thrive, you need to look beyond the solid facts of fish keeping and think about the effect of visual surroundings on your fish
As many fish keepers know, or soon find out, there tends to be a focus on things like water conditions, filtration and maintenance when it comes to looking after our fish. Whilst these things are vitally important, there is another issue that has a direct effect on our fish's wellbeing that is often overlooked, and that is the visual environment we put them in.
Choices such as the type and colour of gravel, the style of background, real or artificial wood, and the colour of decorative ornaments might seem to be purely for our own benefit in creating a pleasing appearance, but they also have a role in whether your fish thrive or suffer. To understand how this relationship works, we have to look to the fish's natural environment first.
The effect of environment on fish healthTo some it may sound a bit strange, but fish need to feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings if they are going to be healthy and experience a good quality of life. Any factors that cause stress are detrimental to health and will prevent fish from exhibiting normal healthy behaviour.
Stress can prevent feeding, cause behavioural changes, and reduce immunity, allowing diseases to take hold. In the wild, one of the biggest stress factors to small fish, which includes the majority of aquarium species, is being preyed upon, so the fish goes to great lengths to avoid this.
The relationship between a fish's environment and its need to avoid being preyed upon is still present in the aquarium, even if there are no predators around. Looking at the common ways some fish use the environment to avoid being preyed upon reveals some interesting relationships, and highlights how the wrong environment can cause stress.
Aquarium substrate / gravelIf you look at many aquarium fish, with the exception of selectively bred colour forms like platies, you will notice that a lot of fish have a lighter underside and are darker on top. In the wild this is a form of camouflage, predators looking down on the fish see the darker topside against the background of a dark substrate, whilst those looking from below see the lighter underside against the bright sunlit waters surface.
If the substrate in a natural environment were a bright colour, like coloured gravel, the fish would be easier to spot by predators and might be quickly eaten. Putting some fish in an aquarium with bright gravel can cause them to feel exposed, more likely to be spotted by predators, and stressed. Most fish prefer a dark or natural coloured substrate.