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Types of Fish for Each 10gal Nano Tank Biome

6980 Views 52 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Chesh
I'm in the Beginner Freshwater Forum section, simply because I don't know where else would be better for this post, luckily I'm a beginner, so at least half of the title is acceptable. This might take a while, so lets start. I had this really awesome idea, I've had my big premier tank for a little while now and was thinking of different ways I could go about in the future such as these options:

- One Big tank w/ optional quarantine tank
- Two half size tanks example - Planted tank, Reef tank
- Several smaller nano tanks

Then all of a sudden I decided I could keep my big tank (which I would have anyway) and thought of having several nano tanks based off the three main biomes: Freshwater, Brackish, Saltwater, and I have a really long table behind my couch I could use the space for. These are the different separate biomes I'm doing:


- Lakes/Pond (Arctic)
- Rivers/ Streams (Tropical)


- Rivers to Oceans (Arctic)
- Brackish Marsh (Tropical)


- Ocean (Arctic)
- Reef (Tropical)


So not to bombard everyone with so many biomes, but I would like to have AT LEAST three different fish for each biome that can get along, I like to slightly overcrowd my tanks, so five different fish for each biome (a fish per gallon) would be much appreciated.

Also, what kind of aquascape could I do for each one? I already know I have to get 3 chillers and 3 heaters.......

Another thing I might have to point out, I'm a noobie when it comes to Brackish water and have NO clue what I'm doing in Saltwater, I know my stuff in Freshwater at least.

Any small input will be greatly appreciated!

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Welcome to the forum!

I can't speak for the brackish and salt, but I can tell you, you'll have a lot of trouble keeping true arctic freshwater species. The temperature will be the largest issue and your other issue is size. Most of those fish are pretty large. You'd have better luck going for temperate, northern hemisphere fish. But even then, your options are SEVERELY limited with a 5 gal. Most north american natives I know of require 40+ gal tanks. Stunning fish, but not for small tanks. For your freshwater tank, I'd advise going with tropical/subtropical fishes.
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Well not to confuse anyone, or you in particular. I wrote Arctic because it was simple and basically just stated that it's the opposite of "Tropical" so yeah - Hmmm, so if I do temperate or just northern fish in general, what can I be looking at for the lakes/ponds?
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Your idea is amazing, and I'm thinking that many of us have dreamed of something similar at some point! Hopefully some of our members will be able to get you get the input you need to get started. . .

Questions for YOU first. . .

Is there ANY chance you can try this amazing setup with slightly larger tanks?!! Just upping them from 5g to 10g or 15g will give you so many more options. . . and make your life much easier as far as maintaining consistent parameters (including temperature!). Especially with saltwater. I'm not terribly familiar with the salty side, but from what I've seen poking around, you may find it fairly difficult to maintain a nano tank of this size as a beginner. . . Personally, I'd rather go down to ONE tank of each type and have it be larger/healthier - Though that kind of kills the idea of tropical/temperate tanks for each! :/

Do you have the tanks already? If so, wondering the dimensions - the difference between a standard 5g and a 5g hex (or whatever!) can make a big difference in the suggestions you will receive!

What is your water hardness? Knowing your kh and gh will help us out a bit as far as offering possible suggestions. . .

Along the same lines - how willing/experienced are you with shifting and maintaining water parameters in tanks of this size? Most of the smaller/nano fish tend to be very sensitive, and as the tiny tanks are so subject to flux. . . it can be very dangerous for them, unless you have a fair amount of experience with these things. . .

I'm wondering how set you are on FISH - or would you be willing to go with other fun things, like shrimp, frogs, crabs, even maybe a coral (if that's possible, idk!!!) would make a pretty cool display, and could be far easier for you to maintain.

Does it HAVE to be 3-5 DIFFERENT species? Speaking from a freshwater perspective, there are probably a few nano fish that can be kept in a well maintained 5g (10 would still be much better!), but some of those need to be kept on their own as specemin fish, and most others require a shoal - in both cases you'd be stuck with a species-only tank. I'm not really coming up with many COMMUNITY nano fish that you'd be able to stock in a 5g tank, unfortunately. :/

As far as setups/aquascapes - that's always fun! But this will likely be directly related to the animal(s) you end up with - so better to figure that part out first, and in the course of researching, you'll begin to form a clearer image of the needs of the creatures who will be living there, and can set the tank up as a biotope to best suit both them and you!

Welcome to TFK, by the way! Glad to have you - and I'm not trying to rain on your parade!!! Hopefully we can all work together to find something that will work for both you and the animals, so everyone can be happy! In the meantime, I suggest that you pop over to our Beginner Saltwater area, and set up a thread there to get more input on what you'll need to set up and maintain nano saltwater tanks of this size!

Really looking forward to seeing this dream develop, and wishing you the best of luck on this fun project! ^__^

ETA: I'm going to move this thread into our advanced discussions area! This setup is going to require quite a bit of discussion, and a skill-set that's more advanced than what your average beginner has to properly maintain! Typically, our suggestions for beginners wanting to set up tanks of this size would be good ol' Betta splendens, and I'd hate for a true newbie to see a recommendation for a more sensitive fish and not have the experience to keep it well!
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Hey Chesh - well I'm getting better with my main freshwater tank day by day, its been about 9 months now doing this and I'm really happy with my progression. I almost feel like a pro....but sadly I'm not, but getting there!

Anywho, I was just thinking the same darn idea before I could go to sleep was instead of having six 5gal nano tanks being Arctic/Tropical - I could if I really, really wanted to, I could sacrifice the Arctic side and basically half my biome environments for the sake of management and upkeep - but I keep going back to the fact it wouldn't be as cool, not as stellar to look at, not as impressive. I'll keep my wits about me maintaining 5gal tanks.

Nope, I don't have the tanks, I'm thinking of starting this project in a couple years because you know, I have other stuff I have to do and such. But when I get around to it, definitely square or cubed tanks. OK, and to clear things up, I'm really only looking at getting 3 fish per tank, I mean if the selection is narrow I will sacrifice the amount of fish. It's fine.

These are my water parameters

- Nitrates: 0 - 10ppm (in my 60gal aquarium)
- Nitrites: 0ppm
- Hard/Soft: 180 - 300
- Alkalinity: 120 - 180
- PH: 7.8 - 8.4

Ha, oh man - no. I have virtually no (zero) experience with this kind of stuff......

3 fish per tank (5gal) is where I'm looking at, I mean I would really, REALLY like it to be consistent throughout the 6 tanks.

Lastly, I'm most certainly fine moving away from just strictly fish, I can do other aquatic animals or even as far as amphibians, yeah I ok with that

Also, thanks for the warm welcome!
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i'm always surprised when people want tanks under 10gallons

Dwarf Pigmy goby - Pandaka pygmaea - under 1cm freshwater
stout infantfish - Schindleria brevipinguis - under 1cm marine
there is a smaller freshwater, but that wants a PH of about 3

just my opinion, get a larger tank
such a small tank, even 2x the recommended max bioload, 3 fish for small, 5+ fish if you can find something like the green neon or other very small fish. measure based on adult size, and suddenly 5gallon tanks are suitable for solitary fish only. community fish your looking at 3-4 fish minimum, 5+ preferred

the small 1cm fish i mentioned, when i looked for the freshwater one, for diet it said "plankton", ... phytoplankton, zooplankton, either/or, ... dono

can you get the fish, ... probably not
can you feed the fish, ... if you can't feed it, don't get it.

for small tanks, if you insist, ...

design the substrate, sand, for more beneficial bacteria. to keep ammonia & nitrites down
add lava rock to keep the nitrates down (same process as life rock for marine)

add plants, moss, (freshwater)
macro algae (marine)
-to keep nitrates down

stay away from stem plants if only because they can overgrow the tank easily if it's that small (or your pruning lots - not that it's a bad thing)

and i don't know squat about sizes of different macro-algaes
i would recommend ignoring the lighting recommendations for marine tanks (the 10,000K lights), even coral that lives down lower (still plenty of light) i've heard benefits from 6500K lighting, ... then your only looking to take care of the symbiotic algae it lives with (if you have coral)

i would/could easily recommend coral in such a tank, ... but then you've gotta deal with nutrient issues that can cause algae blooms which are a good sign your going to loose your coral

worry less about the fish & compatibility for such small tanks (and at that size, your either stuck with solitary fish (1, maybe 2 - would likely turn into one fish doing the backstroke while you flushed him down the toilet), or your dealing with community fish, which a single species will require enough same species your back to one species for the tank.

worry less about compatibility and more about building a sustainable tank, that size tanks are far less stable, i think that's a far larger goal & priority.

or could skip the fish and look for bio-luminescent plankton, ... a disturbance and the tank will glow in the dark, not enough to read, but enough to know where the tank is in the middle of a moonless night
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This is an interesting idea in a hypothetical way. I don't think it is possible to met such exacting requirements for each one though, namely the three fish per each five gallon tank. I could however name several that might work, but instead want to focus on something you mentioned in passing.

- One Big tank w/ optional quarantine tank
I understand wanting to keep lots of different fish, believe me I do. You want to use every available tank and all the space to do it. I have the urge too. The problem though is that you should not sacrifice keeping a quarantine tank in favor of this plan. You want long term success in this hobby then you need to start thinking of QT tanks as mandatory and not optional.
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@Fear - There must be a compliment in there somewhere! Talking about my 5gal tanks.....

Thanks for the tiny list of fish I can keep, Well because I'm doing so small of tank sizes, I COULD maybe do RO water....

And here is the part everyone needs to listen to and not just to you Fear, I've decided I wanted to do three 10gal tanks, I can group the lake/pond into the river/stream and the same can go with the Estuary and Marine - I was thinking of doing something like a main freshwater tank that would perfectly illustrate that biome of that part of the world with mainly just a really well done hardscape, same with the other two - no plants or corals. Just a very pleasing overly done hardscape. Moving on, I still want to keep the idea of a cold/warm concept, so I decided I want to do an "Arctic" theme for my strictly freshwater tank - than a "Temperate" or seasonal theme for my Estuary tank - finally a "Tropical" theme for my marine tank.

I wander if the fish would only eat live plankton or frozen? I'll see what I can do

Well I know I'm doing sand for my marine tank, and I'm going to do a 50/50 with my estuary tank, and I'll look into another substrate for my freshwater which is a lake/river hybrid......this'll be interesting

Thanks for the plant plant list, I might do plants, but to a minimum for all my tanks, simply because, and this the other piece to my concept, I would love to have my biotope nano tanks be the hardscaped version to my large tank, My large tank would be heavily planted - so it's like Yin and Yang - I could see if I can do a tank without such plants or corals.....I mean I don't know, this is my first

I think that's a good idea - I'll probably do 6500K LED for all my tanks, but I'm still wondering if I HAVE to plants, because I would kind of like it more without, maybe if you or someone could recommend an idea without plants for equipment or the hardscape that'd be awesome - or you could say the opposite, why I would need plants, I dunno

About the fish - what would be the perfect stock number for a ten (10) gallon tank? Because I could do three fish in a 5 gal, could I do seven in a 10gal tank? And then what would be my options for 7 fish, species only, schooling, I should be able to do more variety

Hmmmm, bio-luminescent plankton - I could do that, I stated before that I can move away from just strictly fish, so you never know, options are open
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@BWG - Hmmm, yeah, I have heard a ton of people recommending the quarantine tank for at least my main aquarium, well I'll probably keep that as mandatory then
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SUPER relieved and happy to hear your plan has shifted to allow for bigger tanks! This is going to make your life so much easier, and go a long way in ensuring whatever animals you end up with are safe. . . as well as opening up many options to you that were closed to a 5g tank. A VERY wise decision. I commend you! (if you'd like I'd be happy to edit your original post to reflect the tank size change, I'm fairly certain that you'll get more information if this is made clear from the beginning - just send a PM letting me know what you'd like changed, if anything, and I'll take care of it for you!)

As for stocking - there IS no 'perfect stock number.' lol. Each fish has it's own unique bioload, and THAT is what will determine how many you are able to keep in a each setup. Going for the 10g tanks is going to give you MUCH more room to work with stocking-wise, but there truly is no 'hard and fast' rule for stocking. . . once we pin down the animials that will be living here, THEN the answers to many of your other questions will begin to fall into place and become more clear.

BWG brings up a point that is incredibly important, and I REALLY encourage you to put a lot of thought into this. A QT/Hospital tank is unfortunately one of those things that people often don't feel is necessary until their fish find themselves in a life or death situation. PLEASE don't let that happen to you! If you have to choose between this project, or having a QT - QT wins, hands down! Will you have room in your home for these three setups, in addition to a QT tank?

Flear brings up several valid points here, too - tank size aside. Smaller fish tend to have very specific requirements/needs - in feeding, water quality, water chemistry - the list goes on. Nano fish are *typically* what I would consider 'advanced' fish. Not saying that you don't have the skill to handle them, but that you should be prepared to do all sorts of things that you may not have thought of yet to ensure that they thrive. . . lol, it is NEVER a bad thing to learn as much as you can - but I wouldn't worry *TOO* much about plankton just yet. You have a bit of a way to go before you're ready to truly settle on any fish, and when you do - you'll have to learn about their needs too!!!

Not in agreement about the addition of plantlife, however! Not saying you have to agree with me, lol, but many of the nano species that I know of would feel quite stressed in an environment without plants, and the benefit plants bring in terms of helping to maintain water quality will go a long way in helping you to keep the pristine conditions that most nanofish require, as well as giving you that biotope feel that you seem to be looking for (depending on the fish you end up with, of course >.<). To be HONEST? You need to FIRST figure out which fish you want to keep - and THEN build the tank around their needs. Again, many of these nanos are specialist fish, often require species-only (something you may wish to think on further - there is nothing, in my opinion, that is more beautiful than a rare fish species in an environment built exactly suited to it's needs). And as far as creating a TRUE biotope, well - to be authentic, it kind of has to be centered around the where the fish you end up with live. . . we need to get some suggestions in here!!! ^__^

lol, I hope you realize that you aren't asking easy questions here!!! I'm not the most experienced with nanos, but all those I'm familiar with are fresh and tropical - so don't match ANY of your criteria for these tanks! >.< BWG knows his nanofish (sorry to put you on the spot, BWG!!!) If anyone can find what you're looking for, I'm betting it's him! He's never let me down, but my questions seem so simple compared to yours!!! >.<

Our NUMBER ONE GOAL on TFK is to give the BEST input that we are able to ensure the safety of the animals in our care. A 5g tank filled with nano fish is something that many of our most experienced members 20+ years!) would steer away from, and I suspect this is why you've seen very little in terms of *actual* suggestions as of yet. . . just wanted to put that out there, so you understand why you aren't getting a straight-up list of tinyfish (and also why I suggested you may want to edit your original post/title). This project is going to require a lot of time and research on your part to get started! Seems to me like you realize that, and I commend you for taking the time NOW to learn as much as you can before bringing these animals home. . .this amazing concept may not be *quite* as easy as it seems at first glance! But hopefully together we can get this sorted and you on your way!


Oh, and out of curiosity. . . would something like a paludarium be an option for you with this? Or ONLY underwater environments?
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Wow, 3 posts in a row - I'd really like a reply after I make this one, but anyway, this is what I've come up with for today's research. It's mostly just the ground work, the foundation, I can always add stuff to what I already looked up....or get rid of stuff.

Freshwater Arctic Nano Biotope

Moss / Driftwood / Rock

Dirt, clay, sand or gravel (substrate)

River rock, slate, lava rock

Suggestions on type of Driftwood (?)

Calliergon Giganteum (plant)

- Northern Leatherside Chub
- Two-horned sculpin
- Lake chub
- Ninespine stickleback
- Slimy sculpin
- Spoonhead sculpin
- Threespined stickleback
Other animals

- Wood frog
- Siberian Salamander
- Lymnaea Elodes
- Murray crayfish
- Callinectes sapidus
- Northern map turtle

So yeah, that's it - I kind of decided I want 7 critters in it, mostly the fish, and then the rest is filler space.

On a side note, I know I have amphibious animals on the list, but I would like this biotope to be 100% aquatic.

So feedback - I need it, please
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@Chesh - You can change the title, and whatever else you need to change to reflect my change for this concept, most definitely

So you're saying, when we (or just me) find out the specific fish/animals I would could possibly have, the stock list will basically show itself, because of those specific needs the fish and or animal has to have, got it

Yeah I have room for a QT tank and the 3 nano tanks...... *whispering* barely (lol)

I have a couple of advanced fish in my big tank, namely rams, but ok for the plankton, when it gets closer to actually doing the project I'll let you know

I can do plants, but I would like it to be at a minimum, I mean I don't want a heavy planted tank, but I can put some plants here and there, yeah. Also I need to find more arctic aquatic plants other than the moss I found.....

I can most certainly do a paludarium! But can only be for my Estuary tank....... haha

So BWG - he's the guy that COULD potentially help me the most? Sweet!

Lastly, I can't find a way to edit my original post, I'm brandy new to this site, so forgive me, also, I would LOVE to have bio-luminescent plankton in my marine tank
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Actually I've been watching since your first post, but you told me to hustle so here I am.

My first bit of advice is that you really have to dial back on your expectations. You're excited I get that. I promise you though that neither species of ram is all that advanced. Your idea of 3 ten gallons with different looks and fish is doable (and kind of awesome!), but that's as far as I'll go.

You keep saying artic, which I take to mean cold water. How do you intend to achieve that? Chillers are costly pieces of equipment. Subtropical is going to be much easier to achieve.

Where are you planning to get the fish you listed? I don't know what state you are in so don't know if they are present AND legal to catch.

Many of the things you have listed so far get too large. You only have a 10 gallon. A blue crab for instance can reach a width of 9 inches!

What is the insistence with 7 fish per aquarium? I could easily stock more than that in a freshwater 10. I know very little about saltwater, but I'll be amazingly surprised if anyone can name 7 tropical saltwater fish that will be fine together in a 10 gallon.

I could design more than 3 ten gallon freshwater biotopes for you, but honestly with all criteria it's just impossible.
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I'm going to go through your 'arctic' fish list (of which most you list are temperate fishes). I'm not trying to be a party-pooper. I'm just being realistic.

Northern Leatherside Chub --> entirely too large for a 10 gal. Typical size for this species is 8.5cm. A 10 gal is 25 cm wide. Chubs (like most cyprinids) are shoaling fish meaning they like groups of more than 6 fish. It's a common trend with small fish.
Two-horned sculpin --> not actually a freshwater species. While this is a true polar species, it's marine.
Lake chub --> Same issue with other chub. This fish gets 10.5cm long and should be in groups.
Ninespine stickleback --> Might actually be small enough for a 10 gal at 6.5 cm, but judging from distribution data this is probably an estuarine species that can move back and fourth between fresh and salt.
Slimy sculpin --> another species that travels between fresh and brackish, so likely an estuarine species. Would be pushing it in a 10 gal with a length of 7.5cm.
Spoonhead sculpin --> Length might actually work in a 10 gal as it averages 6cm, but this species appears to need high flow as it inhabits fast flowing streams. Good unidirectional flow is difficult to accomplish in a 10 gal.
Threespined stickleback --> Snother estuarine species. Averages 5.1cm so probably the most viable of the list for a 10 gal. However, I cannot speak to it's conspecific requirements like I can for the chubs.

BWG brings up another good point. How are you going to acquire all of these fish? Some are from the central US, others are coastal Europe (which incidentally also means it's not a biotope).

If you are really interested in temperate (cool-water) species, I highly recommend you check out the profiles on this site: Biology and Captive Care - Captive Care

My personal choice for a 10 gal temperate tank would be darters that don't need a lot of flow like johnny darters or swamp darters. Honestly, darters are some of my favorite temperate fish, but a lot of them require high flow which is more easily attained in longer tanks.
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@BWG - Ahhhh, I don't want to dial back, and thanks, it will be awesome

Well I need to look up the chillers, and I keep saying Arctic, because I mean Arctic - it's freeze your bottom off cold - than my Estuary tank is subtropical/temperate - My Marine tank is going to be purely Tropical.......Hmmmm, I'm thinking - If I wanted to, I COULD dial back a smidgen and have my "Arctic" freshwater tank be a 50/50 being a little bit of arctic fish and a bit of temperate fish. Than I would like my Estuary tank to be MOSTLY just temperate fish, and then my Marine tank could be 50/50 of temperate and tropical fish......I'm just throwing it out there. I need feedback, what could I sacrifice a little for to get more of - how would you do it?

Well I live in NJ (USA) and I knew to begin with that the cold water fish would be hard to get, I know that a whole lot of tropical fish are really easy to get a hold of.

Well yeah, I threw in a few of those that I knew would be too big, I don't know why I even put them on the list, I know the turtle couldn't work..... C'mon, I'm pretty sure those fish can be just fine in a 10gal, I hope

It doesn't have to be 7 fish, it's whatever that can be justified in a 10gal, I just picked 7 because it just felt right (I dunno)

You really could design all three? Wow, that'd be awesome


@thekoimaiden - Damn Wikipedia, Y U NO TELL TRUTH!!!!!!

Alright, well what other kinds of true freshwater arctic fish are there, if most of mine are temperate?

Thanks for the link

I am interested in temperate fish, but for my freshwater tank, I'd really, really like it to be true I need true freshwater arctic species that are really small and can fit in a 10gal tank

Thanks for the Darter fish, they look really sick!
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10 gallon tanks, could start looking at 1" fish (adult size), these are hard to find as our aquarium fish are rarely rated /listed by size, ... there are not many 1" fish, shrimp are an option

dwarf puffer fish are an option if you want snail, snail are then live food to the puffer fish, they are territorial, so at best a breeding set, i've heard 1 per 5 gallons, i stayed away from these as they are reported to be single species tank type fish, the otto. can work (another small fish) because it's very quick to get out of the way. the dwarf puffers are also reported to have lots of personality, which can be fun, but you'll only have a couple in 10 gallons

could look at the otto itself, ottocyclis,

green neon tetra, other tetras range from 1", and larger
nothing against the traditional neon tetra at 10 gallons, but the market is taking it's toll on them genetically, they getting unhealthy deformities due to bad breeding practices by some... also larger than an inch

celestial pearl danio looks nice, new to the hobby, so healthy, hard part is finding them, 1" in size, good enough for 10 gallons.

1" fish are out there, but again, our fish are not rated by size anywhere i've seen (i've looked lots, and lots more, not sorted by size anywhere) but this is what your looking for at 10 gallons. there are not many 1" fish, but they are out there :)

thekoimaiden brings up a good point
the fish i mentioned are small, i have no idea about there swimming behaviors or water current preferences
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Just stopping in with another random thought from the peanut gallery. . .

As far as biotopes are concerned, one of my FAVORITE types (that unfortunately I see very little of) are local ones. >.< Several of our members (including some of the commenters on this thread ;)) are fairly familiar with the native fish that live in your (our!) area. I have no idea, personally, if there is anything woObie enough to fit into a 10g tank, but would you consider doing a temperate local setup if it proves possible?

Just curious, cuz' *I* think that would be fun ! ^__^
Some good points, Flear. . . shrimp WOULD be ridiculously awesome (and active), and there are a lot of 'specimen fish,' like the (omg adorable!) dwarf puffers that would be perfect~ ^_^

But Squatch - these aren't arctic animals, and how opposed are you to shifting your ideal of many creatures in one small tank, to just one or two - but super cool - critters? >.<

Nothing wrong with a bustling community tank, they're gorgeous to watch (you know this, you have one already!) - but there is a certan charm that comes with tanks that cater to the needs of one specefic animal, too. When you're talking about biotopes. . . you have the option of getting far more specific when you're building a tank to reflect the habitat of only one or two creatures. . .

lol, just a few more idle thoughts. :)
@Flear - 1" fish, geez, well I don't know if this is out of the question, but could I POSSIBLY do up to 3" ? I mean, it might be a tiny cramp for them, but could it be done? I would like shrimp, they're cool.

Dwarf puffers, which type of water do they live in, fresh, brack, salt? I wouldn't mind having a couple of those, and about the Ottocyclist, are you saying they can be with the puffers or are you saying its just a totally different fish I could do by itself?

- Green neon tetra
-Celestial pearl danio

Got it, what about rosy barbs or something in the 1" category?
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@Chesh - Darn you, just had to throw a curve ball saying if I was interested in doing a Paledarium, now I can't get it out of my head!

I'd be ok with doing a couple awesome critters in my tank, yeah, I'm ok with it.

I don't want to do a local biotope, meh. Not interesting.

Well I need to do arctic, or really close arctic as I can, I'll do more research and even get a book from the library if I have to

Also, I guess I'm not going to be doing a true biotope to one specific habitat, but the GENERAL habitat to all arctic in freshwater...... I would like to have a community

Lastly, I don't know if you guys would hate me or something, but I'm at my LPS and they do mostly fish, she said she has a 10gal and I could definitely do 3" fish and possibly stock up to 5 of them
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