"Jersey Devil biotope" aquascape plans


I'm in college, and I'm sad I can't really have much in the way of fish tanks, but that doesn't stop me from coming up with aquascapes I really want to build but can't.

I'm originally from New Jersey, and while NJ isn't exactly famous for its wilderness there is one exception. The Pine Barrens is a forested area that is remarkably un-inhabitated in contrast to the intense urbanization of the rest of the state. Dominated by pitch pines, briars, sandy soils, and dark water the pine barrens can feel deserted of most life, even to a naturalist. Perhaps, this is where the Barren's most famous resident, the mythical, man-eating Jersey devil, comes from. In the eerie quiet of an early morning bird survey, in the monotony of thousands on pole-like pines, I myself began to see a creature, too big to be a fox or coyote, moving too smoothly to be a person at the edge of my vision. I know the Jersey Devil isn't real, but I've always had a strong feeling that this forsaken landscape is his essential home.

Of course, there's real, natural life here too. Pine and Prarie warblers sing and build their nests in the heights of trees on the edges of burnt fields. Spiny-scaled fence lizards run from a human footfall nearly too fast to be seen, seeming to be racing with the equally fast leopard frogs.

The water in some places is tannic to the point of looking like dark amber, and the fishes who live there are just as strange and beautiful as you would expect.

This is why I want to make a Pine Barrens biotope tank, but I can't right now, so here are my eventual plans for one (feel free to use it if you'd like).

I'd start with a 30-gallon long with white sand as a substrate. The most important part of a Pine Barrens tank would be to have very dark, tannic water. To do this, I would haphazardly lay Malaysian driftwood (or have a single very large piece) along the bottom. Water flow should be slow, with a sponge filter or slow canister filter. Heat does not need to be added if your average room temperature is between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. There aren't many rocks in the pine barrens, so stick to wood. Dried leaves may also be of use. The aquatic plants of the pine barrens are adapted to grow on poor substrate and little light. The plants I've found so far have included:

- Starworts (Callitriche)
- Vallisnerias
- yellow water lilies (Nuphar lutea)
- Sedges

As far as fish go, the species I've found in the Pine Barrens that could live in a 30 gal are:

-Blue-spotted sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus)
Blackbanded sunfish (Enneacanthus chaetodon)
-Swamp Darter (Etheostoma fusiforme)

I love Enneacanthus sunfish with their brightly colored spots and nearly tropical vibes.

these are my favorites, but other species include:

-Eastern mudminnow (Umbra pygmaea)
-Eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)
-Banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus)

If you have a WAY bigger tank, you might also be interested in:

-Chain pickerel (Esox niger)
- American Pickerels (Esox americanus americanus/ Esox americanus vermiculatus)
-Yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)
-Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

As for invertabrates:

-Bladder snail (Physella acuta)
-Ramshorn snails (planorbidae)
-Common grass shrimp (Palaemon pugio)

Of Course, this scape wouldn't be complete without a touch of magic. This is why this is a Jersey Devil Scape and not a Pine Barrens scape. Perched on a piece of wood, I would put a "moss monster". AquaBonsai sells these on Etsy, and having one lurking in the shadows of this tank would really pull it together.

Let me know if you try this!


Love the Pine Barrens. Spent a lot of time enjoying fall bird migrations in Cape May, NJ over the years. Hit the Pine Barrens a few times. Very cool habitat


I used to lead canoe camping trips out in the Pine Barrens...it's a neat place.

Your tank plans seem excellent to me. I once had a very similar setup with blue-spotted sunfish and eastern mudminnows. These two species get along fine and are awesome little fishes.

The blue-spotted sunfish are similar to dwarf cichlids in terms of behavior. They are beautiful and feisty.

The mudminnows remind me of puffers as they helicopter around the tank, curiously poking around every little spot. But, unlike puffers, they are not aggressive and leave the other fishes alone.

I've also kept swamp darters. Darters of any sort are some of my favorites. Swamp darters are one of the few (possibly only) darters that don't need a hillstream setup and cooler temps...so that's a plus.

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