Okay, I admit it. For the longest time, I had this absolute aversion to the idea of a "nano tank." I think it was part frustration and rebellion, from years of having to keep little tanks by necessity in my bedroom growing up.."Enough!" And, another big part was the reefer crowd I ran with for many years. You know, the ones who asserted that a nano tank is essentially a "portable fish extermination device"- the "goldfish bowl of the 21st century." That sort of thing. I totally bought into that dumb idea.
And it's funny, because my room as a kid, well into my teen years, was dominated by 2.5 (US) gallon and maybe some 5 gallon tanks. And I was really quite good at keeping fishes in them, if I say so myself. Killies, Bettas, assorted characins..you name it. I even bred my first cichlid, Pelvicachromis pulcher, in a 2.5 gallon tank! I remember using a 2.5 as a "growout" tank for the little killie, Pseudoepiplatys annulatus Monroviae. It was all I needed...I mean, I had management of water quality down to a science with those little tanks, and could change the water in like 8 of 'em in mere minutes!
Yet, when I was of the age where I was permitted to have larger aquarium, both via finances and my parents- I launched into an immediate rebellion against anything under 5 gallons for years. I mean, at one point, my brine shrimp growout tank was 10 gallons! NO WAY was I ever going back to those tiny tanks for ANYTHING!!!
Ahh, the voice of ignorance, rearing its ugly (and in my case, relatively youthful) voice again. I was REEFER, man. You didn't play around with saltwater fishes and corals in one of those "death traps!" Yeah, I fell right in line with the prevailing thinking of the day. And as for their use in freshwater...I was negative at best, downright unreasonable about them at worst. Even though amazingly talented, super successful breeders worldwide used 2.5's and 5's in their extensive fish rooms, I wasn't having any of it. They were a joke, a toy, a dangerous little habit. Besides I was a reefer- that elite, snobbish, and outright arrogant clique within the greater aquarium hobby. How perfectly shallow for the late eighties...and how stupid to be so arrogant about it.
What an awful attitude I had.
Well, like so many things, maturity and more experience brings some degree of wisdom, and I eventually started coming around. I realized that little aquarium gave a lot of people the opportunity to play with fishes that might otherwise not be able to. I also realized that people were doing pretty amazing stuff with them...always had been. I think the turning point to me was when the whole "Nano" reef crowd started emerging. Adventurous and very talented hobbyists began playing with nano tanks (now, granted, in the "reef" context, a "nano tank" was like 5-20 gallons, but still...), and soon, a whole subculture grew up around them. Manufacturers wised up, and all sorts of gear was developed just for nano tanks!
And then ADA came out with those damn "Mini M" tanks. Game over. This was a serious (and pricy) hobby option. Once I saw some of those crazy little planted nanos, the words "alternative" or "niche" were seldom used in my vocabulary again when discussing small aquariums! And for shrimp...ahhh. Nice.
They were no longer a "stunt." Rather, they were a legitimate option- indeed, often the best option, for a whole host of projects- freshwater and marine! It occurred to me that, not only were they useful from a utilitarian standpoint- they provided a perfect way to really highlight and care for specific species of fishes and inverts that would quite literally be "lost" in a larger show aquarium. I was so taken by them, I even wrote an article in the well-regarded "Advanced Aquarist" online magazine (marine) praising the whole thing...What 360 degree shift- from "hater" to "devotee" in less than a decade!
In fact, I began to realize that nano tanks were a great "testbed" to try out new stuff. With a nano, you can think of a concept for a tank while languishing in bed at 5AM, and have it built out and filled before noon! And broken down by 5PM with little more than a few hours of pleasant labor and maybe one trip to the local hardware store under your belt. I mean, these tanks were low-stress, and awesome "proving grounds" for ideas that could be scaled up...or not!
And, with the advent of the "New Botanical"-style aquarium and blackwater and such, nano aquariums give us an amazing way to test and prove new concepts, like deep leaf litter beds, miniature ripariums, mud biotopes...all sorts of crazy ideas that you want to test out in a smaller, more easily controlled system first, before you go ahead and order 50 packs of "Mixed Leaf Media" from us geeks at Tannin!
And of course, to those who ALWAYS believed- to those hobbyists who always knew what I arrogantly turned my nose up at so many years back...those who used them for breeding, medicating, rearing, experimenting- or to those who these tanks offered the only means of being in the hobby: I'm sorry. Yeah. I just didn't get it back then. I'm sorry that I got caught up in attitude and hubris and groupthink, rather than realizing just how important these diminutive tanks are to us.
(ADA "Mini M" by Johnny Ciotti...my friend and awesome aquarium aesthetic influencer...)
They've enabled us to do things that would not otherwise be practical, ranging from daily breeding to proof-of-concept work on state of the art practices. They've tested our skill, steeled our resolve, and propelled us forward. So, the takeaway here today, my friends, is not just that nano tanks are cool and useful, they're necessary! We've also learned once again that the "ignorance of arrogance" has no place in our hobby, and is, indeed, a hinderance to our necessary progression.
Stay open minded. Stay devoted. Stay experimental.
And stay wet.