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June 15, 2012

The craze among hobbyists today is the Nano aquarium. They are perfectly sized for the desk in the office or that extra bit of space on the kitchen counter. There are many misconceptions that smaller aquariums are harder to work with. So, this week I thought I’d help not only set up a Nano tank, but provide some pointers on how to succeed at Nano fish keeping.

To start, it’s a good idea to establish how small you’d like to go, and do you want a tank with a lid or one with an open top? This will not only be determined by the amount of room you have to work with in the space you choose and the amount of time and energy you wish to put into the tank, but also by the fish you may want to keep in the tank. The benefits of having a tank with an open lid are that you can have the wood, rocks, and plants growing out of the top. The downsides are more water will evaporate, it will require more energy to heat compared to that of one with a lid and you may get a few suicidal fish.

There are literally hundreds of aquarium fish in the trade, but that does not mean a small tank would be good for all of them. For instance “Red Arc/Coral Red Pencil” (Nannostomus mortenthaleri) may only grow to around 1.5”, but its big attitude certainly calls for a tank of at least 20 gallons in capacity.

Nannostomus mortenthaleri

In the front of our store, you will find many of these beautifully planted aquaria that draws the eyes of our customers. Some of them have been so impressed by our employees’ water gardening skills they buy the tank out right! So what does it take to set up and properly maintain one of these?

Let’s begin. Most of us here at the store like the Amazonia substrate from ADA and will lay down a small layer of it. There are a lot of micro fish that look great under the darker substrates, so we’ll usually top the remainder off with Tahitian Moon Sand. From there, we’ll place the decorations we have carefully picked out which usually include Amano branch woods and lace rocks. The next step is to place the plants in the tank. Now that’s where it gets a bit tricky. Planting in tight places with your hands can prove to be difficult. Using specially designed plant tweezers makes the job a breeze, and when it comes time to do some pruning it will be a snap. There are several different lighting options available in the market. You should choose one based on what you want to accomplish from the aquaria.

You really want to make sure the tank cycles before adding fish. The Amazonia substrate also puts off a lot of ammonia. To compensate for this we usually do large water changes before adding fish. It’s also a very good idea to add beneficial bacteria. Smaller animals are very sensitive to high levels of ammonia and nitrites. If you add them too soon you could end up losing fish. I would suggest starting off with hardier fish like “White Cloud Mountain Minnows” (Tanichthys albonubes) before rushing out to get those “Red Fin Dwarf Rasboras” (Boraras brigittae). If you wish to add shrimp to the tank, I would suggest waiting until the tank is 100% cycled. It’s well known that it’s easier to maintain good water chemistry in larger aquaria. In smaller aquaria, you can achieve this by planting correctly, not over stocking with large fish, and by having proper filtration. Which brings me to the next question - what kind of filter should you use?

Tanichthys albonubes "Long Fin"

Well, there are internal filters designed for Nano-tanks but they may not be the best choice. For one, they take up space inside the aquarium where space is already limited. In addition, the filter media is often small and needs to be cleaned more frequently. All of us here at the shop prefer an external filter such as a small canister designed just for the Nano tank. Whatever filter you choose be sure to place mesh netting over the intake tube so that your little ones don’t get sucked in!

Boraras brigittae

After the tank is going, what’s next? Now it’s time figure out how often you should change the water. Most literature tells you to change about 25-30% of water weekly. I’m not sure if I agree with this completely. In my experience, doing too much to a tank cannot only cause problems with the tank, but may cause too much stress on the fish. We prefer to change 25% about every 10-14 days or so. It’s also important not to mess around too often with the filter. That is, after all, where the beneficial bacteria keep the aquarium going. I would recommend small amounts of food about once or maybe twice a day. Again, it just depends on what kind of fish you are housing. During the feeding you should be observing the health of your fish, as well. If the fish do not come rushing for the food or are not acting normal it may be time to test the water, most of this only a real concern for the first month or so.

If you are planning on setting up a nano-tank, I hope this gives you a better understanding of what to do. If you are having some issues with your current nano-tank then maybe this will help troubleshoot any problems you may have been having. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures I took of our displays. I would also like to give credit to the authors of Back to Nature Guide to Nano Aquarium for their insight and the information they provided. If you haven’t purchased their book yet I strongly urge you to do so and add it to your library!

Until next week!

Anthony Perry
Sales Manager