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22 Different Types of Fish Tanks (Buying Guide)

Types of fish tanks.

Discover the best fish tank for your own home aquarium. We feature the best ones for both beginners and serious aquarists.

Did you know, according to site Fishkeepingworldthat “over 12.5 million households keep freshwater fish in the US, they account for the largest proportion of pets owned across America, and it’s no surprise that they are the top choice of pet.” So that means that if you are an aquarium hobbyist or are thinking about starting an aquarium, then you are in good company.

The first fish tank was invented in the 19th century by Jeanne Villepreux-Power, a French seamstress and also one of the leading cephalopod researchers of her time. She invented the modern glass fish tank in 1832 in order to observe the paper nautilus in her lab.

Fishkeeping became a hobby only among the wealthy until the 1950s when the goldfish bowl was introduced to the market. Fish tanks soon evolved from glass-framed to glass-sealed tanks to saltwater aquariums with the necessary live rock, salinity and filtration system.  Be sure to check out our in-depth guide on how to set up an aquarium in your home.

Related: Types of Koi Fish

Type

Just like there are many types of aquarium fish, there are many types of aquariums.  Here they are.

Coldwater Aquariums

Cold water aquarium

When thinking of coldwater aquariums, it might be easiest to reminisce of our childhood days to get a picture of this common aquarium. Many of us or our friends had them, usually for goldfish or perhaps even a fish won at the local fair. Those fishbowls that looked like they could have been a glass container for mom’s flour, remember those?


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Coldwater aquariums should typically have some type of aerator and be kept at or around a room temperature of 70 degrees. Although these aren’t uncommon types of aquariums, they are most often starter aquariums for beginners or the young. Freshwater aquariums lead the way when it comes to the most common and most popular types of aquariums.

The Alternative “Coldwater” Aquarium

In the realms of fish experts, this wouldn’t be considered the alternative but the original or actual “coldwater” aquarium. For our discussion and for practical reasons, we won’t argue, but we will just refer to it as the alternative coldwater aquarium.

Unlike its more common and vastly more popular coldwater tank counterpart, the alternative coldwater aquarium requires much more effort, upkeep, and expense. As AquariumWiki pointed out, special equipment like a chiller is required to keep the water temperature cooled. It is also an aquarium that shouldn’t be attempted until you have had some experience dealing with tank upkeep and maintenance. That is in addition to having some level of knowledge caring for fish. This type of aquarium is not for beginners.

Freshwater Tropical Aquariums

Tropical fresh water aquarium

By default and like its cold-water counterpart, freshwater tropical aquariums are very easy to maintain. That being said, it does also mean that novice fish owners should feel fully confident in starting with a freshwater tropical aquarium as well. There are a few more considerations with this type of aquarium but nothing too taxing.

The biggest and most important difference between cold water and freshwater tropical aquariums is the water temperature. For freshwater tanks, the temperature can range from 72 to 84 balmy degrees. This type of freshwater aquarium obviously brings new concerns that need to be addressed, such as heating and maintaining temperature ranges.

Just as it is with the cold water aquarium or any aquarium, check with the experts on how to take care of your aquarium – and your fish. According to PetHelpful, six of the top ten reasons our fish die can or could be attributed to our aquarium. The leading reason for tropical fish dying is stress, which can often be a result of their habitat.

Other reasons included 3. tank size, 5. poor water conditions, and 7. bad tank management practices. Remember, it isn’t terribly difficult to manage freshwater tropical aquariums, but it does require some effort if you want happy fish and a healthy aquarium. Basic steps like balancing the water’s PH levels, for example, are important to the health and viability of the habitat your fish need to live and thrive. Depending on the species, most freshwater fish require a pH level between 6.6 and 7.8.

Other basic requirements for maintaining your freshwater tropical aquarium are regularly replacing water, conditioning the water, and cleaning the tank. If it sounds like a lot, it is, and it isn’t. Once you get the hang of it you will be surprised at how easy it can be, all it really takes is a little effort, consideration, and time.

The options, styles, sizes, and shapes of the freshwater tropical aquariums offer many looks and feels. These aquariums can be the centerpiece of your dining room, the perfect calm for your study, or the right backdrop for the living room. There is a reason why these aquariums are so popular, but they aren’t the only option, and nothing is as unique as Marine aquariums.

Marine (Saltwater) Aquariums

Marine salt water aquarium

Saltwater or Marine aquariums, as are commonly called, offer a species of fish that freshwater tanks apparently cannot. They also require considerably more effort from tank equipment and upkeep to providing viable fish habitat for saltwater fish. Most saltwater fish are less durable to variations in their ecosystem than freshwater fish. This puts extra importance on caring for and maintaining a liveable saltwater habitat for your fish.

As you might expect, it is always advisable, to begin with, freshwater fish and freshwater aquariums before tackling the world of saltwater. Don’t worry, it isn’t that you shouldn’t try or shouldn’t want to try your hand at keeping saltwater fish, but for the sake of animal cruelty and your expense account, you should wait. At least until you have some experience and have learned what it takes.

Now when you get there or if you already care for saltwater fish, you understand and appreciate the beauty Marine aquariums offer. From stunning coral to uniquely beautiful invertebrates and the amazing colors of saltwater specimens, Marine aquariums are a worthwhile investment. It is that investment, however, that is also one of the reasons to take your time before diving in. The chemicals, the aquarium, the parts, and even the fish will be considerably more expensive than the freshwater options.

When it comes to caring for your Marine aquarium, there are steps that can be broken down into daily, weekly, monthly, and annual categories. For example, on a daily basis, the upkeep of a Marine aquarium would involve checking water temperature, filtration systems, and gravity measurements. On a weekly basis, your tank will require testing ammonia, nitrite, and phosphate levels among other simple tasks. Water change and basic cleaning should be included in your monthly checklist, and bulb and lighting replacements should be on your annual or bi-annual list of things to do.

Sure it may seem like a considerable amount of work, but is it any more of an investment than any other hobby? Tropical marine aquarium hobbyists will probably think not and with so much automated equipment today, you may think not too.

Brackish Aquariums

Brackish aquarium

There are places in the world, and yes here in the United States, that have uncommon bodies of water develop that become a mixture of saltwater and freshwater. There are tributaries at southern points of North America where the ocean meets the inland, and there it happens, Brackish waters.

In these Brackish waters, there are also fish that have acclimated to this habitat, and therefore we now have Brackish aquariums. No, these aren’t all that common but in particular, at points across the country and elsewhere where Brackish water develops, you may find these types of aquariums.

These types of aquariums are also suggested to be used by the more experienced fish owner who has some in-depth knowledge of caring for fish. In this case, Brackish fish.

These are the four basic types of aquariums and with each one, there are advantages and disadvantages, benefits and drawbacks. A big part of getting an aquarium you will love depends on you.

Betta Fish Tank

While many people think that you can put betta fish into any kind of bowl and they will be happy because they are able to live in smaller amounts of water, if you want your betta to be happy and live for a long time, then you need to make sure that you meet their needs. You have to consider the size of the tank, how you will heat and filter the water, and what decorations you want to include.

While betta fish can survive in small cups of water, they do much better in larger spaces. This allows them to swim more, stretch out, and be healthier. The shape of the tank doesn’t matter to your fish but you do want to make sure that there is enough room for all of your fishes’ needs. While you may want to aerate the tank, this is not a great choice for betta fish and they will be much happier and healthier if you simply use a great filtration system for your tank.

Betta fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Breeder Tank

Breeder tanks are generally smaller than traditional fish tanks and are often a little shallower. This is because while the fish are breeding, they may need to be able to get to the surface of the water quickly and they can do this easily in shallower water. They generally have a protected filter so that the fish will not get injured on the filter while they are in the tank and will have plastic pieces called “traps” that can be inserted into the tank.

These act as clear walls that allow the fish to see each other but keep them separated. Because some fish become violent during or directly after breeding, this will allow you to make sure that your fish aren’t injured and don’t get into a fight during this time. These traps are also useful after you have eggs and babies as you can separate the adults from the eggs and young, which will prevent them from eating the eggs. Instead of having to remove the fish from the tank, you can easily make rooms in it using these traps to keep everyone apart.

Breeder fish tank.

Source: Hayneedle

Large Tank

This are the most common types of fish tanks that you can buy. They have at least one transparent side so that you can see in and view the fish and plants that you have planted. They can be used not only to keep fish but also aquatic plants, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. By adding plants to the fish tank, you can not only increase the amount of oxygen that is in the water but also prevent the fish from growing too large.

Fish tanks are generally made from acrylic or glass but larger ones tend to be made from high-strength acrylic so that they can withstand the pressure of the water as well as all of the equipment needed to keep the tank operating correctly and keep the fish safe. Larger tanks generally have more components than smaller tanks do and will need lighting, a filtration system, and a chiller or heater, depending on the type of fish housed in the aquarium.

Many large fish tanks have a hood that will not only house the lights but also keep fish from jumping out of the tank. A large fish tank has enough room that you can design a whole environment for the fish and can add material for the floor, various plants, and other items for fish to hide in.

Large fish tank.

Source: Houzz

Kids’ Tank

For children who want to have a fish tank, a smaller child’s tank is going to be a much better choice than a larger tank. Not only do they often come in fun colors and designs to keep the children interested in taking care of their fish but they hold fewer fish so there is less of a risk of making a mistake and all of the fish dying.

When you are looking for a fish tank for your children, you need to decide if you want it to have a handle so that it can be carried from one location to another or if it will be kept in one place. Acrylic is a great choice for a kids’ tank as it weighs less than glass and tends to be much stronger. The ideal size for a children’s fish tank is between 10 and 20 gallons as this gives them enough room to add a filter, doesn’t take up a lot of room, but is large enough that the child can easily help to clean the tank each week.

Kid's fish tank.

Source: Hayneedle

Material

Acrylic

Acrylic fish tanks have come a long way since their inception. In the past, these tanks would actually discolor when they were exposed to light but new advances have made this no longer the case and ensured that these tanks would be incredibly popular. This material is stronger than glass, provides some temperature insulation, and weighs less than the same size tanks made of glass.

If you live in a particularly cold environment, then you will find that using an acrylic tank is preferable because it does a much better job at regulating temperature and doesn’t need as powerful a heater. While it is easier to scratch acrylic tanks, the scratches can be polished out to make sure that the tank looks flawless again. Additionally, if you want an unusual shape for your fish tank, then you will want to use acrylic as it can be formed into strange and interesting shapes whereas glass cannot be.

You will not have to deal with refraction when you buy an acrylic tank. Unlike glass tanks, any distortion of the appearance of your fish is going to be very minor. If you want to include an overflow system for your fish tank, you can easily drill a hole in an acrylic tank to add this system.

Acrylic fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Glass

Glass fish tanks are easy to find and rely on a strong sealant as well as plastic frames to give the fish tank the support and shape that it needs. The problem with glass is that it tends to be very brittle and can easily break. Even though this is a common problem with glass fish tanks, it is usually the sealant that fails first.

Glass fish tanks cost significantly less than acrylic tanks do and tend to stand up to scratches a lot better. While the price difference between these two materials is very obvious in smaller tanks, as the size of the tank increases, the price difference tends to go away.

Glass tanks tend to weigh as much as four to ten times more than a same-size acrylic fish tank, which means that not only do you need to be stronger to be able to lift and move the tank but you also have to have a very strong and sturdy frame or piece of furniture where you can house the fish tank.

It is difficult to make glass into interesting shapes so you are generally going to find glass tanks that are square or rectangular. Any time that glass is curved, it will affect the appearance of the fish in the tank so curved glass tanks are incredibly rare. This refraction is more pronounced when the glass is thicker.

Glass fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Features

Includes Stand

Because you need to make sure that the stand or piece of furniture that your fish tank is on is strong enough to support the weight of the filled tank, it’s a good idea to go ahead and buy the tank with the included stand. This will remove any doubt that you may have about whether or not you will have problems with your tank not being supported.

While you can use any piece of furniture in your home that you want to support your tank, if the piece of furniture isn’t strong enough, then it will begin to buckle and can eventually break, causing your tank to fall and spill. This will cause a huge mess and will likely end up killing your fish.

You can easily avoid this problem by simply buying a fish tank with an included stand. The larger the tank, the more important the support is. While you may not think that the included stand is the most attractive option, you can rest easy that you won’t have any problems with it breaking or failing you.

Fish tank with stand.

Source: Wayfair

Coffee Table

One very interesting way to display your fish in your home is in a coffee table fish tank. These are not very common so it is sure to be a statement piece in your home. If you do not have a lot of room for a tank but still want to have fish in your living room, then this is a great option. These fish tanks come in a number of different sizes and shapes so you can easily find one that will look great with your décor.

Look for one that has hidden pumps so that you can aerate and filter the water for your fish without it being obvious or bulky. Another thing to consider when thinking about a coffee table fish tank is how you are going to be able to feed your fish and clean the water. Make sure that the fish tank offers easy access to your fish so you don’t avoid this task.

Coffee table fish tank.

Source: Hayneedle

Wall-Mounted

If you love fish tanks and want to have one in your home but don’t have room for a stand, then it’s time to consider a wall-mounted tank. These become works of art in your home and will instantly brighten up your room. You can choose from very small tanks that will house a betta fish and hang on the wall to larger ones that actually fit into the wall and become part of your home. No matter what kind you choose, you are sure to love the bright colors and excitement of watching your fish. When you want a fish tank but know that you need to be careful when choosing one because of limited space in your home, then this really is the best option.

Wall-mounted fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Planter

One great way to enjoy both a fish tank and your favorite plant is by combining them into a planter. This piece is great for putting on a coffee table or on your desk and is sure to start conversations. Fish and plants go together naturally and while a lot of people enjoy having plants in their actual tanks, some people do not want to deal with the increased mess that this will cause in the water. You can have the combined beauty of a fish tank and a planter when you opt for a hybrid piece that will allow you to enjoy the beauty and function of both of them combined.

Planter fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Kit

Getting started with a fish tank can be a little daunting even if you have done all of your research and think that you are prepared. Instead of worrying about whether or not you have bought the right materials for your tank, when you buy a kit, you don’t have to stress out about making sure that you have the correct items. Kits generally come with everything that you need to set your tank up and start enjoying your new fish right away, including a pump, light, and sponge for your filter. While most do not include food for your fish, this is fine as it will allow you to go to the store and buy the appropriate kind for the fish that you are going to keep.

Fish tank kit.

Source: Wayfair

Tubes

What many people do not realize is that your fish are incredibly curious and love to explore. If you want to give them another place to explore in their tank, then you can opt for a tank with two rooms that are connected by tubes. These tubes will allow your fish to easily swim from one side of the tank to the other and you can decorate them differently if you please to make the change even more obvious.

Fish tank tube.

Source: Hayneedle

Alarm Clock

There’s no reason why you should have to give up the space on your desk or bedside table for a fish tank and miss out on having an alarm clock and place to put your pens. This type of fish tank is ideal for an office where you want to enjoy your fish but need to make sure that you have easy access to office supplies and always know what time it is. Being able to set the time on your clock and even set an alarm will ensure that you get up on time or make it to your meeting before your boss.

Fish tank with alarm clock.

 

Source:  Wayfair

Shape

Rectangular

Probably the most common shape for fish tanks, rectangular tanks offer a lot of benefits for the fish that most people do not even realize. Opting for a shorter and wider fish tank will ensure that you have a lot of surface area for the water.

This means that gas exchange is optimized and will allow the water to become oxygenated faster and will also allow the carbon dioxide from the tank to more easily off-gas. While this may not seem important, it will ensure that your fish have a very healthy environment. Most fish also prefer to swim in a horizontal plane, not up and down, and a rectangular tank is great for allowing them to do this.

When you opt for a rectangular tank, you will also have more space on the bottom where you can place plants, rocks, and other items to provide places for your fish to hide. This will reduce fighting in your tank and ensure that your fish feel safe.

Shorter tanks make it much easier for light to penetrate to the bottom of the water and also to get in and clean the tank without getting too wet. This may not seem to be a big deal but maintaining your tank is important and if you continually get soaking wet, then you may not want to complete this chore as often as necessary.

Rectangular fish tank.

Source: Etsy

Tower

If you really want your new fish tank to make a statement, no matter if it is in your home or office, then you can opt for a tower tank. These take up very little space on the floor and do not usually need a frame or stand to hold them up. However, they are incredibly difficult to clean due to their height and their smaller width and are constantly in danger of being knocked over or kicked. If you do opt for a tower tank, then you need to make sure that you are committed to the maintenance that it will require to keep it clean and that it is in a safe location where the fish will not only get plenty of light but will be safe from accidents.

Tower fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Round

Round fish tanks are really popular because they remind people of fish bowls that they would have had growing up. These tanks are going to generally be smaller than rectangular tanks or even square ones as it can be difficult to devote a lot of room to a round tank. They are best when displayed on a desk or table and offer uninterrupted 360-degree views of everything in the tank.

While this means that you can easily see what is going on in the fish tank at all times, it also means that you need to keep your tank clean and ensure that it looks great from all sides. Additionally, the refraction from the shape of the tank itself can distort the appearance of fish and make it difficult to easily see what is going on inside your fish tank, especially if you choose one that is made of glass.

Round fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Bowfront

Again, because of the shape of the tank, you will have to deal with refraction problems when you buy a bowfront fish tank. While they can be difficult to look into and to photograph, many people love the way that bowfront fish tanks look. They are very aesthetically pleasing and will instantly update your living room and make your whole home look a little nicer. One problem to consider when thinking about whether or not you want a bowfront fish tank is that they are not as efficient of a use of space and will leave open space in front of the tank that you can’t use, unlike rectangular tanks that do not waste any floor space.

Bowfront fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Square

For a fish tank that has all of the benefits of a rectangular tank but takes up much less space on your table or desk, a square tank is a great option. Of course, your fish won’t have the larger swimming areas that they do in a rectangular tank but you won’t have refraction problems to deal with, plenty of light will reach the bottom of the tank, and you can easily see into your fish tank from any direction.

Because you have straight sides on a square tank, you won’t have to worry about how you are going to attach a filter or a pump as they can easily hang down the side of the tank or clip onto the outside without any problems. These smaller tanks look great in bedrooms or in offices but it is more difficult to find larger square tanks that will become a statement piece in your home.

Square fish tank.

Source: Wayfair

Wrapping it up

For the joy and experience of keeping fish and creating beautiful aquariums, we have suggested that you take your time. Were you aware of the health benefits also associated with keeping fish? Fishkeepingadvice.com cited such benefits as reduced stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and even aids sleep. So yeah, we want the aquarium experience to be a good one for many reasons. Taking your time and building, learning, and creating a beautiful aquarium shouldn’t be rushed.

Start with only a few fish too, using a smaller aquarium or tank. Learn what works best for you to clean the glass and get the hang of balancing chemical and pH levels. Don’t be surprised, especially if you are new to the fish and aquarium world, if you fall in love with a fish or two along the way. When they die (and they will – they are fish after all), you will miss them but that is all part of the experience. It is also another reason to take our time and to learn how to be good fishkeepers which means being a good aquarium keeper.

It doesn’t matter if you are just learning to keep fish or if you have done it for years, regardless of what kind of aquarium you have, taking care of it is taking care of your fish. That means understanding the special needs that a marine aquarium will require. It means handling the basic algae and glass cleaning all aquariums need.

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