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Setting Up a Nano Aquarium

Setting up a nano tank involves the same steps as setting up any aquarium, but on a smaller scale. This makes certain aspects easier, e.g. no heavy bags of gravel substrate to wash.

The first step is to find a suitable location for the tank. It should be positioned away from direct sunlight, and away from areas where temperature will be difficult to control, such as near radiators.

Most nano tanks can be supported on normal furniture, rather than requiring purpose-built aquarium stands. However, the tank should still be positioned on a firm, stable surface. Most branded nano tanks have base frames, so don’t require polystyrene beneath the tank. However, if you have a plain glass tank with no base frame, it will usually require a layer of polystyrene placed underneath.

Once the tank is in position, the substrate can be added. Plain gravel and sand substrates should be thoroughly washed before adding, otherwise dust and fine particles will cloud the water. If using a nutrient substrate designed for planted tanks, check the manufacturer’s instructions, as many of these should not be prewashed. If using a base-layer substrate, a layer of sand or fine gravel should be added on top. Some planted tank substrates are deigned to be a complete substrate and do not need a separate top layer.

Next, position any décor such as rocks or wood. Generally speaking, it looks far more natural if coordinated pieces of the same type of rock or wood are used, rather than a random collection of different types.

Once you are happy with the basic décor, carefully fill with water (to avoid stirring up the substrate) and use a dechlorinator/water conditioner. As well as removing chlorine and chloramine, most water conditioners also bind potentially toxic heavy metals.

If adding live plants, this can be done immediately if the water is at least close to room temperature, or the tank can be left to run for a day or two before planting.

For planted nano aquaria, it may be easier to add the plants with the water level about three-quarters full. In smaller nano tanks, placing your hands in a full tank could displace enough water to cause the tank to overflow!

Once the tank has been filled to the required level, the filter should be switched on. If a heater is being used, it should also be switched on at this stage, and allowed 24-48 hours to achieve a stable temperature. Fit a thermometer to the tank to check the temperature.

Allow the tank to run for at least a few days before adding any fish or shrimp. The total fish or shrimp that an aquarium can be support should never be added all at once.

An aquarium needs to mature biologically before it can support fish or shrimp safely, a process referred to as cycling, which involves building up a population of bacteria that break down fish wastes. There are many websites with articles about cycling an aquarium, and you should read up on this vital process if you are unfamiliar with the concept.

The cycling process can be speeded up with commercial bacterial products, or by using filter material or décor from a mature aquarium. There are also ways to cycle an aquarium using an ammonia source, referred to as “fishless cycling”.

A very effective method that is particularly suited to nano tanks is to run the filter in a larger mature aquarium (with similar water parameters) for at least a couple of weeks and then transfer this filter to the smaller tank, adding the initial livestock within 24 hours, so that the filter bacteria that have built up will have a ‘food’ source. To make this method work most effectively, you should transfer some ‘dirt’ from the mature filter media to the new filter media, so that it seeds with the essential bacteria more quickly.

A planted tank where the plants are growing well can normally support a small number of fish or shrimp without using additional measures, because plants will take up ammonia/ammonium that fish excrete. In addition, they will help to introduce the necessary bacteria on their roots and leaves.

Assuming you have used one of the above methods to get the tank started biologically, you should now be ready for the enjoyable part – selecting your chosen livestock to complete your nano aquarium!


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