Fish and Shrimp Tank Size – the Second Opinion

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What if Tank Size Does not Matter?
I believe that everybody in the fish keeping community heard the statement “the bigger your tank the easier it is to take care of”. Is it so or is there another side of the coin? Well, yes there is!

If you know what you are doing, it really does not matter much how big or small your aquarium. On the contrary, you will not have many problems with small tanks and I will tell you why I think so.

First Fail does not Mean Anything

 When people decide to do fish or shrimp keeping for the first time they usually start with a small tank – “trial version”. As a result, in most cases, due to a lack of experience, almost everybody makes a lot of mistakes. They put too many fish in the tank or overfeed them, pick a wrong substrate, do not do enough water changes (which results in the loss of fish even if their tanks are cycled) or … there are can be so many ways to fail.

An aquarium is a very delicate eco-system. This underwater world should be treated with respect and caution, it does not tolerate negligence. Unfortunately, it also takes some time to learn the tricks.
So, when everything goes wrong, they decide that it is the aquarium’s fault and there will be better chances with another one, bigger one.

With that being said people move everything into a larger tank and they do have fewer problems because the volume of water allows for some buffering of mistakes from which they learned from by the way. All of this results in the well-spread expression that “the bigger your tank the easier it is to take care of”.
But let it not confuse you.

Big Tanks – Bigger Problems

Unfortunately, it absolutely does not mean that larger fish tank is easier to keep. It just means that you have fewer chances to lose your fish because of an ammonia spike.  Nevertheless, if you are doing it the wrong way it can still happen regardless of the size of your tank. So, where is the benefit of the big one?

Well, of course, you can say that it gives you some time to react to the problem but what about downsides?

  • Large aquariums cost a lot.
  • Accessories to the tank also cost more due to requirements.
  • It is a real problem to find a good place for the big tank.
  • Maintenance is a pain in your … back.
  • More dangerous. It is not a joke to have a couple of hundred pounds of water, rocks, and soil in your home.

I believe that we need to stop telling people (particularly to beginners) that if you have problems with a small tank get a bigger tank because they are easier to take care of. That is far from the truth. Again let me give you some examples.

Some comparison.

Have you ever seen a 120-gallon tank? Can you imagine what it is like to take care of it? That takes a hell of a lot more work than taking care of the 10 or 15-gallon tank. For example, it takes 1-5 minutes to do a water change in the 10-gallon tank, which is absolutely impossible to do with a 120-gallon tank. You will spend significantly more time doing it, cleaning the glass in itself is a monumental task.
Another example, at times you can get the algae bloom. Actually, it happens in every tank regardless of its size. If we are talking about a small tank, well you can wipe it out and remove the algae manually in a couple of minutes. Once again, you simply cannot be that fast with a larger tank.

Therefore, we need to tell people (who are new to this hobby) that you need to stock your tank to a capacity that you are able to care for. What does it mean? Can you afford the chemicals required for dechlorination? Do you have the patience to do water changes frequently enough to keep up with the nitrate cycle in your aquarium? That means do you understand the breeding process and many many other things.

Knowledge Will Keep Your Small Tank Safe

We need to stop telling people that big tanks are easier. That just sends the wrong message.

When it comes to the amount of work, which is needed to maintain big tanks, you will see those small ones are easier to take care of. You need less time, less efforts and it will not cost you an arm and a leg. If you ask anybody who has (or had) large tanks you will quickly understand how troublesome it can be and how expensive it can be to maintain.

Sometimes you can hear that fish becomes aggressive in a small tank. This is true, but what will happen if you put too many fish in a big tank? The answer is obvious, fish will be aggressive as well. So, there is a difference? The point is that you need to know how many fish you can have to avoid problems.

Huge tank, which is full of parasites, is not a joke. The life cycle of parasites is complicated especially in large aquariums because they can get down into the gravel, sand, soil and so on. There is such a high volume of water to treat.

You have to learn through trial and error.  That is absolutely the right thing to do and the best way to do and with the small one, you will understand it faster. What we do not need to do is tell people that small tank will give you problems, get a big one and it’s going to be easier. In reality, actually, the problem is not in the tank but knowledge.


You need to learn how to manage your tank, you need to understand the cycle, you need to buy a test kit. Yes, it will cost you some additional money but it will be one of the most important things to do. Especially, when you are new to fish keeping.

You need to understand that you are going to develop bacteria. Which will convert ammonia to nitrite and that’s going happen fairly quickly. The next step of conversion from nitrite to nitrate takes significantly more time and you must be patient at this stage. You can read more about Nitrogen cycle here.

Beginners need to know and understand these processes. They need to have a thermometer in their tank. They need to know how, when and why the heater, pump or light works. Do they understand the compatible for pH temperature hardness? If you are running a planted tank did you just buy a bunch of tissue cultured plants that you threw in there. As a result, they are all decaying because you did not fertilize anything. Do you have the correct lighting? Is your tank put in the right place?

So, what makes a tank easy to keep is not the size but Aquarius knowledge of what you can and cannot do. 

Pros of small Tanks Cons of small Tanks  
Cost is low Unstable water parameters
Accessories cost (no need for powerful light, pump, heater) Aggressive fish (If there are too many fish)
Weight (you can move it around if it is needed) Stress for the shrimp (if there are too many shrimp)
Less time for maintenance  

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