Updated: Nov 14, 2021
Transport yourself to the steamy Peruvian rainforest, teaming with life, the river runs by you, it's secrets hidden under the water. One way to reveal the underwater beauty of any exotic local is with a biotope aquarium.
A biotope tank is a type of setup which includes fish, plants, invertebrates, substrate, wood, litter, lighting, and the water chemistry of a specific region from anywhere in the world. One of the most popular biotopes is the blackwater aquarium, (pictured above). The blackwater gets it coloration from tannins leaching into the water from leaf and wood debris known as litter.
Pictured above is a participant in the 2012 Aquatic Gardeners Association biotope contest; an aquascape of the north Mekong River. This setup includes harlequin rasbora fish from southeast Asia, wood and stones endemic to the region, and Microsorum grass, Vesicularia moss, and Lomariopsis fern, all from southeast Asia.
The virtues of a biotope tank go beyond just the appearance. When you recreate the environment of a certain region down to the pH, temperature, water hardness, lighting, and even the type of sand, you achieve a perfect habitat for the fish you decide to place in there. These fish become healthier, more colorful, vivid, and active, and more likely to undergo natural behaviors like shoaling and breeding. There is nothing quite like the perfect murmuration of a school of fish.
Here is a beautiful aquascape recreating the rocky shores of lake Malawi in east central Africa. These vibrant fish are African cichlids.
Saltwater and reef biotope tanks are not as common due to the massive geographical scale at which the creatures in the oceans exist. It is hard to pin down a specific location for most fish and coral due to breeding habits. Regions can be recreated to some affect. The tank pictured above is an attempt at a Caribbean biotope.
Mangrove forest biotopes are probably the most popular saltwater biotopes as the mangrove plants are easy to grow and this setup allows for all kinds of salt tolerant fish like mollies, bumblebee gobies, archerfish, scats, and different kinds of brackish pufferfish.