People who visit my living room are often struck by the sheer, jungle-like lushness of the vegetation in my 125-gallon aquarium. The tank has such a profusion of plant life that its fish sometimes fight for the clear spaces or disappear for weeks on end in the thickets, living as they would in only the most abundant natural settings. This is a far cry from the aquaria I maintained as a child, when the only plants I could keep alive were the most beginner-friendly, least demanding species, if even then. Perseverance got me to my current skill, and a key part of that perseverance is learning my way around more advanced tools of the aquarist trade. And for someone who takes great joy in aquatic plants, that means carbon dioxide (CO2).
I recently returned from a vacation in French Polynesia. This was my first ever solo vacation and something I planned and anticipated for a long time before I could finally make it happen. It was not my first air travel, nor my first vacation, but the first time I traveled to a far-off place alone with no academic conference, family visit, or other purpose in mind. It was also the farthest from home I have ever been, at nearly double the distance of my previous record. And it was glorious.
It’s the end of an era, and by era I mean a handful of months of trying something new and watching it not quite work. Today, I officially lay my paludarium ambitions to rest for the foreseeable future. It was okay while it lasted, but the test did not yield the desired results and it is over. I am pivoting.
So, what happened?
Evolution is a powerful thing. In the span of generations it turns scuttling reptiles into towering sauropods and soaring birds, and it has made and unmade more living things than humanity will ever know. Understanding the relationships between the lineages of living things is one of the grander ways in which humans understand our place in the infinite assemblage of life, and it also tells us an enormous amount about how everything is related to everything else. For the right ultra-specific kind of nerd, it’s also barrels of fun. Fortunately, we have just such a nerd in attendance.
So I made cladograms for all my pets and plants.
For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium. Continue reading “Operation Paludarium”
I’m trying something a little different today. By popular request, I’ve filmed a video going over the contents of my 125-gallon (473-liter) aquarium. Come for the aquarium insight, stay for my clothes, leave knowing more about turtle penises than you ever wanted to know. Have fun!
I made a big decision recently. I replaced my 55-gallon (208 liter) aquarium with a shiny new 125-gallon (473-liter) beast that now defines the layout of my home office. This was no small task, and I offer this series of thoughts as guidance for anyone else attempting a similar upgrade.
Aquaria are beautiful, diverse, interactive, complicated, and so many more adjectives. Their sounds bring peace, their sight brings smiles, and millions of people around the world bring these boxes full of water into their homes. But why? What are the joys that aquaria provide to those who keep them? I’m so glad you asked.
Agriculture is rightly recognized as one of the turning points in human history. The practice of tending to specific animals and plants to maintain and even increase their utility helped drive humans into city-building and, from there, into the large, complex, settled societies we know today. Humans, however, are not the only animals that have discovered agriculture. Everything from snails to elephants has some ability to foster and guide the evolution of another creature for its own use. Agriculture, it turns out, is a subset of ecosystem engineering, and a lot of creatures are engineers.
The deep ocean is one of the most impoverished biomes on the planet. It encompasses more area than all of the world’s land biomes combined but exists hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from the nearest solar ray, a lightless void punctuated almost entirely by the wispy phosphorescence of the creatures within it. Such light cannot sustain an ecosystem, for the energy that powers it comes from within that very ecosystem. Nearly all of the resources available to the creatures that call the deep ocean home fall from above, nutritious plankton remains forming the dense sludge called “marine snow” that coats much of the seafloor. There is productivity at the seafloor, involving chemical reactions at geologic sites called hydrothermal vents, and these locations occupy an outsized portion of the public imagination. But there is another deep-ocean ecosystem that is no less fascinating for its obscurity, and is proving to be instrumental to the persistence of hydrothermal vent life: the whalefall.