Tiny tanks- big ideas?

I have a problem.

I think my problem is that I have too many ideas floating around in my head, and not enough time or space to execute on all of them.

I think a lot of hobbyists suffer from this issue. And yeah, "suffer" is the world, because when you want to try something out and just can't, it sucks! You see all of these cool images of natural habitats and think to yourself, "I HAVE to try that! I need another tank!"

One of the cool things about my love of smaller fishes is that I can play with my ideas in small tanks. Now, mind you, coming off of decades as a practicing reef hobbyist, "small" to me has always meant "under 40 gallons,", so like a 20 gallon aquarium is practically a "nano" to me! 

And that's nice, actually, because 20 gallon tanks are like the perfect size for experimenting with...stuff!

It would be nice if I had a basement to convert into a big old fish room, but, like...zero percent of homes in Los Angeles have basements...So we have to get creative- converting bedrooms, spare rooms, allocating an aquarium here and there in the living room, guest bedroom, etc., etc. 

And because we operate this way, the tanks always have to look good. And that's hard on a fish geek, right? Especially if you're the "utilitarian" type. Yeah, no bubbling sponge-filtered, bare-bottom breeding tanks with a clump of Java Moss in the living room. No DIY corner filters...No warehouse-grade hanging T5 lighting fixtures...None of the cool stuff that we love so much. Nope. It all has to look "presentable." Like, non-fish-keeping/spouse/sibling/roomate/partner "presentable." Pressure, right?

And if you want to execute on a lot of ideas, that typically means you need to go with smaller tanks, as they're scattered throughout the house. (Unless, of course, you can have lots of large tanks scattered throughout the house- in which case you are one of the very lucky ones!)

So, I dare say that it's okay to go against the conventional wisdom about going with the largest tank you can get. If you're a hardcore "tinter" like me, you're no doubt scheming all sorts of ideas, all sorts of unique experiments. And yeah, it would be killer to have 3 120-gallon tanks set up to replicate different blackwater habitats and such, but I think it  makes a lot more sense to try like 3-4 smaller tanks (like 20-40 US gal/75-152 l) and maybe one or two larger displays (50-100 gals/ 189-379 l), right?

As a progressive, experimental fish geek with lots of ideas, you need numbers! You need as many "test beds" as you can accommodate, huh? 

The nice thing about small tanks is that, if you are talented- like most of you are- you can do some truly special things with them! And if you're a guy like George Farmer, a small tank is just another blank canvass on which to compose greatness.

It's about how we look at things, I think.

When I started playing with nano systems, I decided from the outset that each nano would have to stand up on its own as an example of good aesthetics. No dangling powerheads or heaters, mix-and-match tank components, etc. for me. If these little things are going to be in my living room, they are going to have to look nice. And, unfortunately, for me- occasionally translates into "pricy." Why is that? 

Now, you don't HAVE to spend tons of money on a nano tank- and I discourage you from feeling obligated to do so- but it amazes me what you can end up with when you start out with quality, even on these tiny tanks.

If done responsibly, a nano system can be every bit as sexy and interesting as that 400 gallon behemoth you're drooling over-and still allow you to meet the monthly mortgage payment. And you won't have to worry about weather patterns forming in your living room from the moisture of a huge tank! But most important of all- nanos allow us as hobbyists to more easily push the state of the art. They are way more than "the goldfish bowl of the 21st century!"

So, use your nano tank for good: Test an idea that's popped into your head. See if you like it. See if it is even workable. Practice working in the tank. Study flow, evaporation, concealing plumbing, etc. You'll definitely learn things and hone skills that you will incorporate daily with your larger systems. Keeping a nano can and will demand more from you than you think, and it will make you a better, more well-rounded hobbyist!

Now, I realize other factors come into play when we think about limiting the number and size of tanks we have- like economics, electrical consumption, weight (in apartments), and again- that aforementioned "significant other factor."

However, I remember coming up with all sorts of creative "hacks" to establish more tanks in my childhood. Like, adding small containers inside my aquarium stands! I'd be able to accommodate a bunch of 4-6 liter plastic containers that I'd keep in the shelves underneath my display tanks. It was the coolest way to have multiple tanks in a bedroom as a 15-year-old without losing "mom approval" along the way!  It was a bit of a challenge to heat and filter them ("filter" typically meant "air stone and lots of water changes"), but I made it work. I remember using those under-tank reptile heater pads to heat the little tanks on the shelves...they worked great! Of course, when I was keeping killifish, I didn't need to worry at all about heating tanks, which was one less issue to contend with!

Those plastic containers serve many a hobbyist very well...

So, fast-forward to the present...

How many of you need to contend with some of those "limitations" that we touched on here? How do you overcome your "multiple tank syndrome" without destroying your home, budget, and domestic tranquility?

A good conversation starter for a weekend, I think!

Stay creative. Stay inventive. Stay resourceful...

And Stay Wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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