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Big tanks vs. Little tanks, pros and cons.


Brandy
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So I see this popping up in a lot of threads and I don't want to hijack those threads. 

There seem to be 2 schools of thought about tank sizes--some people are in the Bigger Is Better camp, some people are in the Small Is Beautiful camp. I see pros and cons to both, and thought we could bat ideas and tips for each around here. 

I like little because I live in a small space, I don't have a lot of money, and I mostly like small fish. 

In defense of the Small Is Beautiful camp:

  • Tiny tanks can easily be disrupted by small things--like ONE dead snail--but they can also be corrected rapidly.
  • A 30-50% water change takes minutes, you aren't too tired to tackle it after work.
  • Fish, plants, and equipment are (or can be) cheaper.
  • FINDING that dead snail is not a herculean task.
  • Big, static tanks can become a chore, and people leave the hobby for that reason also.

To be fair, if I had the space I would LOVE a giant tank. I would also like a Victorian conservatory attached to the side of my house. A maid, and perhaps a view of something other than the highway. But until I strike it rich, I am really good at making tiny work. The learning curve may be steep, I may have a lot of frustrations at times, but if the only option is between a 55 gallon or nothing I would be forced to choose nothing. Some fish>no fish.

So the question for me is not what size tank to offer newbies, but how to lower the bar for anyone who is interested. 

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1 hour ago, Brandy said:

To be fair, if I had the space I would LOVE a giant tank. I would also like a Victorian conservatory attached to the side of my house. A maid, and perhaps a view of something other than the highway. But until I strike it rich, I am really good at making tiny work.

I got to look into this Victorian conservatory thing!

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Well, I will take the bigger is better side of the argument. 

Bigger tanks allow the keeping of bigger fish. If all you have are 20 gallons and under, you eliminated a huge amount of fish you can keep. 

Large water volumes change slowly, allowing for adjustments before a problem is huge.

Big tanks have big viewing panels, rather watch a 13" TV or a 50"?

Over stocking is much easier, if you like aggressive species like African cichlids. 

You can keep small and nano fish in large tanks that would do well in small tanks. This is not true in the opposite. 

Aquascaping options are way more for larger tanks. Most of my favorite hardscape pieces are larger than a 20H.

 

I admit there are drawbacks to both, but big is always my preference. 

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I think it depends on what stage you are in life. If you are a very busy, a small or mid sized tank is best. But if you have the time to dedicate, you can maintain a large tank or multiple tanks. I think Brandy is completely right that there are Pro and Cons. But once you get the tank up and running and it is humming along. It is such a satisfying feeling. No matter if it is a 5 gallon tank or a 1300 gallon tank. I personally love both big and small fish tanks for different reasons. Like Edward said, you can get some beautiful large fish in large tanks. Also you can get a lot of nano fish and see schooling behavior. But, to me, it still comes down to what you have the time and energy to keep.

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All of the reasons listed above are why I landed in the middle.   My favorite size tank is a 40 gallon.  I currently have the taller version, but I can see the appeal of the 40 gallon breeder.  My son ended up with a 29 gallon tank because I happened to have an oak stand for a 29 gallon tank.  

Really tiny tanks like the 3 and 5 can be interesting and have their place.  I'm working on a 5 gallon setup for my betta and it's been interesting.  I've seen a few really interesting 3 gallon setups recently.  But in general, it's not for me, I think.  

I like having the ability to plan for and keep multiple compatible species.  The 40 gallon isn't huge, but by sticking with smaller fish I can still keep decent sized groups and everyone is still happy.  The 40 currently houses 12 black neon tetras, 12 panda corydoras, 1 young bristlenose and a pair of dwarf cichlids (Nannacara anomola).   That gives me 4 distinct behavioral types in different areas of the tank (it is a little bottom heavy though.)   The costs remain affordable and water changes wouldn't be bad even if I had to forgo the Python.

My son also has a 10 gallon and I really struggled to maintain a community in that tank while he was younger.  It was a betta only tank for years after that and we only recently added a handful of cardinal tetras and two baby (about 1.5 inches) bristlenose that are destined for his new 29 gallon tank.  As of this last weekend's water change, nitrates on that tank were above 40 even with plants in the tank and he's learning that he's going to have to step up the water changes.   I'm betting that the maintenance on the 29 will actually be easier.

All this to say that I would pick a mid size tank over a small tank every time.   And I probably would pick up mid size tank over a really large tank at this point of my life as well.  (But don't tempt me, I'm weak.)

Edited by ForestJenn
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And in this corner, in defense of the Big Is Beautiful Camp

  • Big tanks are like piloting a supertanker nothing changes rapidly
  • A dead house pet like a cat in the tank probably wouldn't cause much of an ammonia spike and wouldn't be too hard to find
  • During extended power outages you will have a month's supply of water to flush toilets and cook with
  • There is never a shortage of aged water. When doing water changes just put the Python hook on the other of end of the hose and pull water from the big tank down into the littte ones
  • Your children are probably better off going to a state college than those fancy private schools (if you spent their tuition money on the big tank)
  • Big tanks come with big tools, a 32 inch long pair of tweezers can reach most items including missing pets
  • 20200718_1703.JPG.41fba4e3f38adacae7151f686b567278.JPG

But more seriously,

Everything is hideously expensive. You can't just put in a half a dozen rummy nose tetras. 500 look much better. I do think very long and hard about introducing a new a fish to the tank as last time I changed my mind (about those Endler's guppies) I had to put a minnow trap in the tank to get them back out.

Even the strongest aquarium lights are very dim at 36 inches water depth.

I am old and overweight and can't really get in the tank, so on the few occasions we changed the aquascaping my wife has gone over the side and in to tank. Thankfully we have an excellent marriage counselor and most of these aquarium issue were resolved in less than a year.

 

2 hours ago, Brandy said:
  • Big, static tanks can become a chore, and people leave the hobby for that reason also.

 

But the one thing big tanks are definitely not is they are not a chore to maintain. Of all the tanks I have ever had, I spend the least amount of time doing any maintenance on the big tank. It doesn't need maintenance anymore than the creek behind my house needs maintenance. If I did nothing for 6 months the only thing that would happen is that algae would build up on the glass.

And once you have a big tank, don't worry, your are never leaving the hobby. That ginormous aquarium in the middle of your living room has made it so unlikely that you can ever resell your house, you will be an aquarium keeper until the day you drown.

 

 

MinnowTrap.PNG

Edited by Daniel
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I started with small/medium tanks (40s and 20s) and I definitely think something like a 40 breeder gives you the better parts of both worlds, and bumping up to a 4ft tank like a 55 gives you a wider choice of slightly larger species (longer, not taller).

Nowadays I personally believe bigger is better if I had the space -- but only up to a point. Personally, I want the biggest tank that I can still reach all 4 bottom corners, even if I need a stepstool. I like live plants and hardscape and am constantly maintaining/trimming. I'm 6'2" so I'm not too limited in that regard, but I'm not sure I would want to take on the responsibility of a tank like Cory's 800G. And there's no way in heck I'm getting inside a glass box for hours on end to set it up.

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Not including outdoor tubs, I have ten aquariums, for 65 gallons total. Non-hobbyists are surprised by the first number, and aquarists by the second.

My pico tanks are on window sills, bedside tables, etc., almost like aquatic houseplants. My smallest is a 1.25 gallon.

However, when I stop renting I will get a big square-base tank for the center of a room so I can walk around and enjoy it from every side and above, and then who knows?

Cheers

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4 hours ago, Brandy said:

So I see this popping up in a lot of threads and I don't want to hijack those threads. 

There seem to be 2 schools of thought about tank sizes--some people are in the Bigger Is Better camp, some people are in the Small Is Beautiful camp. I see pros and cons to both, and thought we could bat ideas and tips for each around here. 

I like little because I live in a small space, I don't have a lot of money, and I mostly like small fish. 

In defense of the Small Is Beautiful camp:

  • Tiny tanks can easily be disrupted by small things--like ONE dead snail--but they can also be corrected rapidly.
  • A 30-50% water change takes minutes, you aren't too tired to tackle it after work.
  • Fish, plants, and equipment are (or can be) cheaper.
  • FINDING that dead snail is not a herculean task.
  • Big, static tanks can become a chore, and people leave the hobby for that reason also.

To be fair, if I had the space I would LOVE a giant tank. I would also like a Victorian conservatory attached to the side of my house. A maid, and perhaps a view of something other than the highway. But until I strike it rich, I am really good at making tiny work. The learning curve may be steep, I may have a lot of frustrations at times, but if the only option is between a 55 gallon or nothing I would be forced to choose nothing. Some fish>no fish.

So the question for me is not what size tank to offer newbies, but how to lower the bar for anyone who is interested. 

I've thought about this subject of small vs larger tanks for quite some time.  Personally, I like a wall of 10 gallon aquariums over a single 150 gallon aquarium, but that's just me.

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Bigger is better AND beautiful.

Little tanks are fine when you don't  have space, but I suppose it bears defining, what's a little tank?

In my case, I think I call anything under 20 long a little tank, and then 20 long to say, a 75 is a medium tank, and past that is a big tank.

I think what drives me nuts most about little tanks is that I find them nearly impossible to keep a community in. Your species choices are severely limited, and what you can keep in there is usually only a single species, or just two species. I love community tanks and the little tanks just dont cut it.

Medium and large tanks? Now that's when you start getting into space to actually keep big schools. Or multiple schools, and really start filling in the different levels of a tank. And so many more species options! I love having lots of choices to consider.

Maintenance on big tanks is not hard. I don't  do weekly water changes on my 220. It doesn't need it. It's extremely stable and efficient at taking care of wastes. Little tanks I find myself testing far more frequently because of how quickly they can suddenly swing from good to oh boy, everything is dieing.  

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1 hour ago, Nataku said:

Little tanks are fine when you don't  have space, but I suppose it bears defining, what's a little tank?

In my case, I think I call anything under 20 long a little tank, and then 20 long to say, a 75 is a medium tank, and past that is a big tank.

I think what drives me nuts most about little tanks is that I find them nearly impossible to keep a community in. Your species choices are severely limited, and what you can keep in there is usually only a single species, or just two species. I love community tanks and the little tanks just dont cut it.

I totally agree with your size cut offs. I have 7 small tanks and one medium one. 93g total. 

I understand about the stocking restrictions, and if you want big fish then it is totally true that you need big tanks. But with 8 tanks I could have 8 totally different biotopes, with one or 2 species in each small tank and maybe 4-5 in the medium. I DON'T, but I could, and I may at some point. A 93 gallon stocked with 18-19 species that all get along would be challenging for me to stock.

Arguably, splitting my 93g across 8 locations is neither cost effective nor labor saving. Only space saving in my 500sf apartment that houses a cat, 2 large reptiles, and 3 humans.

ONE small tank is still reasonable. But what fun is reasonable?

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