Making the Most Out of Your Small Tower Fish Tank

A small tank setup article

  1. Mike
    Many fish keeping beginners choose a tank before considering their fish. In fact, I may have even been one of them. Often times, a tower tank appears to be an attractive option. It takes up relatively little floor space. There may be an aesthetic appeal, as they are less common than a traditional long tank. Then the beginner begins to research possible fish stock. They hear a lot of talk about tower tanks, some of it helpful and some of it less so. Here are some points I’ve found to be true in my experience with my small 15 gallon tower tank.

    • Most fish that are recommended for a 10 gallon long will do perfectly well in your 15 gallon tower, as both tanks possess similar dimensions of horizontal space. While you have a larger water column, you have less surface area for bottom dwellers than the typical long tank.

    •If you have a planted tower tank, many of the tall background plants will have the opportunity to grow to their full potential and will look quite impressive. This is one of the advantages of the tower tank. In fact, I would strongly recommend taller background plants as this will also provide your fish with a more interesting environment and less “empty space”.

    • Many of the fish appropriate for a smaller tower tank are skittish by nature and may avoid that spacious water column. Consider using floating plants, like water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) to add coverage. You will be surprised how many of your fish come out of the woodworks after feeling safe and secure. My killifish will drift in and out of the water lettuce, playing peek-a-boo at the surface. Floating plants dramatically expand their comfort zone.

    • Providing appropriate light for plants requires a little more effort. Even if you don’t have floating plants, you will not receive the same light penetration for your ground cover plants as you would in shorter tanks. Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) deals with the type and quality of light reaching your plants. The further away the plants are from the source, the less PAR is received (meaning less photosynthesis and a harder time growing). If you want to have a “carpet” on the bottom of your tank, consider using foreground Cryptocorynes that do not require a great deal of light to thrive. My personal favorite is Cryptocoryne parva.

    Aquascaping is no more challenging than with a long tank, but it is different. A large horizontally placed stone or piece of driftwood may seem awkward in a tall tank. Consider placing it vertically, so as to accentuate the height of the water column. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, but your fish will utilize more of the water column as they explore their new surface. Just be sure the object is secure and unable to topple over.

    • Some filters have short intake tubes designed to reach half way to the bottom of a shorter tank. Be sure the intake tube is, at the very least, drawing water from the mid-level of your tower tank. Closer to the substrate is even better, but may be difficult to accomplish depending on the height of your tank. You just want to make sure the proper circulation occurs.

    • As with the typical long tank, you must still consider where your choice of fish like to hang out. Labyrinth fish (e.g. Gourami, betta) like to swim at the surface, but are restricted by the same lack of surface area as bottom dwellers. While some long, heavily planted tanks may support large stocks of “top” dwellers, the tower tank owner should consider keeping slightly fewer (or perhaps only one) depending on the species.


    These are just a handful of the differences between tall and long tanks. Any additional insights or thoughts would be most welcomed and much appreciated. In my humble opinion, I think tower tanks can be some of the most impressive tanks available to beginners. They just require a little more research and understanding of fish keeping.

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  1. Aquaphobia
    Aquaphobia
    5/5,
    This is great! A very helpful roundup of the things one needs to consider when choosing a tall, narrow tank.