All things brown and beautiful

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Forum moderator Bob Mehen says that you shouldn't overlook fish just because they're brown...

We get a lot of questions on the forum asking about potential stocking choices for people tanks – and the vast majority of these specify "something colourful".

When people say something colourful they generally mean blues, yellows, reds – bright rainbow colours. They seldom mean brown – but I'm here to sing the praises of that colour and the fish that choose its many hues.

What springs into your mind when I mention the term "brown catfish"? To many people this means a seldom seen, ungainly lumpen beast that resembles the piece of wood it spends most of its time under.

At first glance fish like Banjo catfish, Bunocephalus sp. look rather like a dead leaf, or if you're being less charitable the results of something's digestive tract after it's eaten a dead leaf. Take a closer look and you'll see the beauty of brown – these fish are mottled with subtle shades chocolate, russet auburn and sepia – doesn't that sound nicer than brown?

You tend to find that most brown fish are coloured like this for the purposes of camouflage – which catfish like Sturisoma and Farlowella do wonderfully by imitating twigs.

On a real piece of wood they almost disappear and can take some finding – when they do move from their hiding place onto a background less suited for their cryptic colouration you can truly appreciate the subtle beauty of their colour, bars, blotches and stripes of darker hues, over a lighter ochre background. All this added to their wonderful fin extensions and you have a real beauty without a trace of rainbow on it.

It's not just catfish that display the wonders of brown though – the Chocolate gourami, Sphaerichthys osphromenoides is one such non-whiskered lovely. Now if there was ever a brown fish that is a thing of beauty this is it – rich chocolates, umbers and mahogany broken by cream stripes – a delicate beauty worth the effort required to maintain it surely?

There are many wonderful brown cichlid and loach species as well (like the Yo-Yo loach pictured above).

Think of the beauty of wild type Brown Discus – now it could be argued that it's the wonderful blue and red patterning that make these fish so magnificent, but to me it's the rich olive brown background that provides contrasts these bright colours that makes these fish far more pleasing to the eye than their gaudy, line-bred cousins in neon and orange.

So next time you're after something striking and different for your tank, pass by the gaudy colours and look at the beauties of auburn, bistre, burgundy, copper, maroon, russet, rust, sepia, sienna. Let brown fish into your life and tank - they really are the colour of choice of some of the most fascinating, interesting and attractive fishes available in the hobby, and if nothing else they'll make your neon's look even brighter!