The big argument FOR smaller tanks...

As you know, we've celebrated the art of creating botanical-style aquariums in all their glory. Aquarium that reflect nature ina very unique way. And probably the least-discussed aspect of our work is- wait for it- the SIZE of the aquarium that you use.

The other day, I had an aquarist ask (Well, it sounded more like a demand, actually) to know why we are offering only the smaller-sized aquariums from Ultum Nature Systems for sale. Besides the immediately obvious reason (it's f- ing expensive to ship large aquariums!), there is a good reason...they fall in line with a personal philosophy of sorts.

I've had fellow hobbyists approach me over the years after talks and such, and sort of "apologize" that their tanks weren't "large" and that they didn't keep "big fish."

Huh? What?

That is sad... Totally unnecessary...What's up with the apology thing? Like, what's wrong with keeping small fishes and modest-sized aquariums? Where does this stuff come from?

Now, first off- I don't think that super-tiny tanks are great for everyone, either. They allow little to no margin for error, so you need to employ maximum skills when maintaining one. You can't overstock. You need to employ solid husbandry and a healthy dose of common sense. So let's just get that one out of the way.

So, what is the simple origin of this apparent bias?

I like smaller fishes. 

Big fishes are cool, but- well, they're BIG. AND they eat and poop a lot. And they need large physical spaces; otherwise, most home aquariums are the equivalent of you or I spending the rest of our lives in our (comfortable) living room. I mean, great, you have satellite TV, snacks, a comfy couch...but after a while, those four walls start to close in a bit, right? Well, in my warped mind, that's how I see it.

It's not like "bigger is better." At least, not always.

In fact, many of the largest tanks I've seen which feature humongous fishes still seem kind of absurd. I'm kind of against the practice, if you haven't guessed by now.

I'm kind of militant about it, actually.

I remember in my custom aquarium installation days, I used to hate it when a customer would build, say, a 500-600 gallon aquarium, and then want to stock it with BIG fishes, like full-size Triggerfishes, Morays, large Angels, and Tangs. Oh, and sharks. I have no idea what it is about keeping a shark in a relatively large- but not large enough aquarium that appeals to people. Quite frankly, I'm not so sure what it is about keeping sharks in general in an aquarium that appeals to people....that's another thing for another time.

Anyhow, my observations of the general public, and a good segment of the aquarium-keeping community over the years seems to indicate that a lot of people just figure, "I have a really large tank. Now I can keep some large fishes in there!" I never understood why we just sort of accept that idea as "the way."

I mean, sure-in theory, you could keep larger, more metabolic-waste-producing fishes in a larger tank- of course. Yet, then you have this group of really big fishes that can make a really big mess, possibly grow even larger, and ultimately end up with the same issue that many of us face- not having a large enough aquarium for all of the fishes you want to keep.

Why not keep MORE small fishes...lots of 'em- in an environment that provides more than enough physical space, creates an interesting environment for them, and that they won't outgrow? Like, ever. I mean, can you imagine how many Axelrodia riesei  or Tucanoichthys tucano you can keep in a 500-gallon aquarium? Umm, I dunno- a shitload of 'em, maybe?

Of course, the immediate counterargument we'll hear is, "Do you know how much it would cost to purchase 250 Tucanoichthys tucano?" And my smart-ass counterargument is, "If you can afford to purchase, outfit , and run a 500-gallon aquarium, you can afford to spend $12USD a piece on some half-inch fish!"

(Gee...I wonder why I don't do much in the way of "tank build consulting"  anymore?)

I'm on a roll here...And I've not yet even finished my first cup of coffee today, late though it may be!


And, of course, it works both ways, too.

One of the most common "pro-nano" arguments is equally as dumb, IMHO. As you know, it typically goes like, "Well, the smaller aquarium allows the fishes to be closer to their food, and for you to observe them more easily." 


That's the reason why you keep a "nano" aquarium? REALLY?

Honestly, I can discuss the absurdities of that assertion, but it just will raise my blood pressure. We can do better than use those lame excuses as a rationale for keeping little tanks.

I love more modest-sized tanks. (provided the caveats about their care discussed above are taken into account)

I think they're cool, fun, practical, economical; purposeful..and I suppose you COULD make the argument about keeping track of tiny fishes and having them be closer to their food...but man, it's sort of funny to me. There's a lot of ways to feed tiny fishes in larger aquariums, IMHO. Really. And if you look hard enough, you'll see plenty of the little guys in that monster tank. Really. I mean, we find them in streams, so why can't we find those tiny Rasbora or whatever, in a 300-gallon tank? 

Now, back to the nano tanks...What about the fact that you can use nano's as a "testbed" for dozens of really crazy ideas...deep botanical beds, "100% Banana Stem Pieces substrates", a huge ball of Water Sprite and nothing else, crushed leaf litter substrates, Catappa Bark "flooded forest floors"- yeah...all sorts of zany stuff that's too expensive/time-consuming/experimental to do in a 50-100 gallon tank! 

Now, I have nothing against large aquariums, despite the apparent "small-tank bias" I seem to be showing in this rant!

In fact, the smallest saltwater aquarium I've kept in the past ten years is 150 gallons- freshwater, 50 gallons. So, before I blast the whole institution of "Bigger Aquariums Are Better", and piss off everyone who owns a deluxe aquarium, let's clap up the advantages of larger aquariums.

Oh, what's a "large aquarium", anyways?

As far as this fish geek is concerned, a "large "aquarium is anything over 100 gallons (400 L). Or you could look at it from a more practical standpoint: "large" is any size of aquarium that will result in chiropractic bills if less than three people attempt to lift it. "Large" is any aquarium that will result in freakin' weather patterns forming in your living room as a result of the moisture. "Large" is....well- you get the picture.

Alright, I'll give you this: larger aquariums aquariums do offer a more stable environment. Larger water volumes retain temperature better (acting as heat sinks), hold more oxygen, maintain chemical balance longer, and dilute metabolic waste easier, by virtue of volume (provided the aquarium is not overcrowded, and that common-sense husbandry techniques are employed, of course).

Within reason, larger volumes of water (especially with tanks of greater surface area dimensions) DO allow you to keep greater numbers of fishes, or, gulp, larger specimens. Of course, why do you HAVE to keep huge fishes just because you have a large tank? I'm not getting this, still.  Of course, common sense must prevail, too.

I've met a few hobbyists who's ego was even larger than their tank...and just because you have a large tank doesn't make you "cool" or successful... If your fishy "career" includes a legacy of mismanaged,  shitty, overcrowded 10, 20, and 50 gallon tanks, ending in mediocre results, lackluster appearances, or outright disaster, there's a really good chance that you'll repeat the same thing with your 200 gallon aquarium. In other words, if you suck, you're just "buying more time" with a large tank before you start having problems. It may take a little longer (and cost a lot more), but it happens.

Damn, I'm "Mr. Positive" this morning, huh?

Hey- it's reality.

Of course, larger aquariums DO provide more space to develop dramatic aquascaping schemes. You can utilize those huge pieces of driftwood that look absurd in smaller aquariums. You could actually build up a 6 -inch botanical bed or use a ton of cool driftwood and still have room for water and livestock!

Yep- big tanks are pretty cool.

They're also expensive to purchase. And they're a bit tougher to work with. And they cost more to operate. And they take longer to stock.  Although, I know plenty of people with 20-40 gallon "high tech" planted aquairums that spend more on them than I did on a few 75-100 gallon reef tanks I've set up over the years!

It's easy to fantasize about the huge aquarium that you're going to build when you win the lottery. It's quite another to actually set it up if you're of more modest means. In reality, it's usually necessary to compromise somewhat based on budget, space, time, etc.

And then there has always been that hobby-culture "perception" that having a bigger tank means you're one of the cool kids.

I hate that one.

Remember, despite what you might see and hear from time to time, having a large aquarium does not brand you as a "success" in our hobby, any more than maintaining a smaller system brands you as a novice. It's not like you crossed over some imaginary barrier and arrived as a "serious" hobbyist. Success in the hobby is about creating and maintaining a vibrant, healthy aquarium, regardless of size, for the long term growth and prosperity of its inhabitants.

Yes, large aquariums are impressive; well, from a size standpoint, at least. I've seen plenty of large aquariums that were downright unremarkable (in fact, I've set up a few, myself).  I mean, they really sucked to the point where you literally wouldn't want them if they were given to you. Really. Many hobbyists set up huge systems as the "next phase" in their aquarium career, and some end in disappointment- or even disaster. If you're not able to master the art and science of aquarium keeping with a small system, a large tank will likely not be any different for you.

Think before you leap.

Large aquariums can be visually arresting, beneficial to their inhabitants, and just generally add a new dimension of fun to your hobby. However, the time, money and commitment to maintain them are a serious consideration. Keeping a large aquarium is not an endeavor that you enter into lightly.

A long-winded rant on why I like smaller tanks. And a good part of the reason why, when I decided to offer aquariums here at Tannin Aquatics, that we went with the more modest-sized ones!

For many hobbyists, a more modest-sized aquarium allows them to enjoy their hobby-as well as their life. Being forced to become a "tank slave" to your monster-sized aquarium may not lead to long-term hobby happiness. On the other hand, smaller aquariums do require discipline and self-control in order to keep them properly stocked and correctly maintained. The margins for error are proportionately smaller than in larger aquariums. In smaller tanks, you can't be as cavalier about stuff like adding a lot of botanicals at once, or making radical environmental changes.

Be aware of this, and enjoy your aquarium accordingly.

Oh, and regardless of the size of the system that you create, think "outside the box" when planning your system. Pleeeeze! 

In the end- it's your call as to how you want to proceed in your hobby. Don't buy into the latest trends or fads. Just go with what will work for you. It's not the size that makes your aquarium special. It's the skill, dedication and imagination of the hobbyist that gets the job done. Creating and maintaining an aquarium that brings pleasure and enjoyment to you is the true measure of success in this hobby.

And my bad attitude is not helpful...

But it's fun to kind of piss everyone off now and again...seriously.

Keeps things interesting, huh? Or annoying, depending upon how you look at it, I suppose. Maybe I'll try to catch a few more zzz's right now and...


Stay on the cutting edge. Stay innovative. Stay creative. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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