Special Considerations for Small Tanks

Among the more common problems associated with small tanks is a propensity toward temperature instability. With the same amount of heat, a small volume of water changes temperature faster than a larger volume. Thus, big tanks tend to heat up and cool down more slowly, maintaining a stable temperature as the room temperature changes. Similarly, a given fish will pollute a small-volume tank more quickly than a larger one. The fish excretes wastes proportional to the amount of food it consumes. The fish's waste, therefore, will be more diluted in a larger volume of water, and thus take more time to build up to harmful levels. Similarly, respired carbon dioxide has less impact on the pH of the tank when the water volume is greater.

The foregoing should immediately suggest the key to a successful small tank: test and tweak on a weekly basis (or more often if possible), and perform partial water changes religiously. Common sense should also prevail in the selection of inhabitants for small aquariums: they need to be small, as well. Keeping a grouper, for example, in a twenty-gallon tank guarantees problems when the grouper outgrows its surroundings. By the same token, keeping a dozen gobies in a tank better suited to a single specimen will lead to disaster.

With careful planning, conscientious maintenance, and common sense, you can create an interesting and beautiful aquarium even in a tiny tank. Consider the following important points as you develop your design:

• Locate small tanks in an area of the house where the temperature remains relatively constant.

• Provide enough light for photosynthetic invertebrates. Doing so poses fewer problems for a small tank because of the restricted surface area and depth. Compact fluorescent lighting has revolutionized small aquarium illumination.

• Use a hang-on box filter with built-in skimmer for tanks in the ten- to twenty-gallon range. A sump or an external protein skimmer may not be practical for a small tank. For smaller systems, use the built-in filter that comes with the aquarium, and rely on water changes to take the place of skimming.

• Avoid adding large filter-feeding invertebrates. They can pose a great challenge in a small aquarium. It is difficult to supply enough food without overwhelming the system with pollutants.

• Keep the fish population to a minimum in a small tank. At most, a pair of three-inch fish could be safely kept in twenty gallons. One or two individuals of a tiny species, such as some gobies, might be OK even in a five-gallon system.

• Consider using only live rock and sand. Live rock and live sand play crucial roles in small tanks as in larger ones. A beautiful small tank can be created containing these materials alone.

For some highly desirable saltwater species, a small tank may be the best way to exhibit them. Animals that would quickly be lost in a large aquarium become the focus of a tiny one. Several of the model designs in this chapter exploit this principle.

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Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

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