Aquarium: Everything You Need To Know

Aquariums are one of the most exciting ways to keep a vivarium. The idea of capturing a piece of the aquatic world will forever amaze me. Aquaria give us a front-row seat to the lifestyle of inhabitants far from our reach.

Rather than venturing far from our comfortable, dry realm, simply take a stroll through your living or bedroom. Because of this, aquarium upkeep has been one of the most popular hobbies to spawn in the last 200 years. Today we will explore the very topic: aquariums!

Keep reading to learn what they are, when they were first created, and how to set up a few basic types of aquaria.

What Is an Aquarium?

An aquarium, also commonly referred to as “aquaria”, is a clear enclosure that houses aquatic animals and plants. The prefix aqua is Latin for “water.” So, the word in itself translates to “water within a container”. The plural substitute for the word aquarium would be aquaria.

These types of vivaria are widely popular among enthusiasts of all ages. They are used for everything from home decor to educational observation. The word “aquarium” can also be used to refer to a building that is set up with exhibits focused on aquatic plants and animals.

The History Of Aquariums

It is said that the very first aquariums were built by the Ancient Romans, around 100 BC. They would use marble boxes to keep fish like sea barbel. In 50 AD, the Romans began using glass panes on one side of these marble boxes to have a better view of the aquatic inhabitants.

Aquarium History

Fast forward to the 19th century. Shortly after inventing the terrarium, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward proposed a similar concept with the exception of using only aquatic plants and animals.

The popularity of fishkeeping became mainstream throughout the 1850s, and the hobby spread throughout the UK soon after. By 1853, the first official public aquarium opened for viewing at the London Zoo.

The First Aquarium In History

It wasn’t until 1854 that the official term for these enclosures was established. They were often referred to as aqua-vivarium or aquatic vivariums. The word “Aquarium” was first used by an author named, Philip Henry Gosse, who coined the word in his book called The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea.

Aquarium Vs Oceanarium: What’s the Difference?

When the term aquarium is used to describe a building and not an enclosure, the word oceanarium could be used to describe a particular type of aquarium. An oceanarium is a large, park-like establishment that usually houses bigger marine mammals from the ocean.

Aquaria are usually indoors and oceanaria are usually outdoors. Seaquarium is another name you might see commonly used to describe these types of parks.

Building an Aquarium

Putting an aquarium together is a pretty simple process. Filtration, lighting & temperature are important factors that should be catered to during the initial setup. Nailing these key features will be crucial to the survival of your enclosure regardless of what type of aquarium it is.

Setting Up An Aquarium

The Filtration System

The filtration system is the part of your vivarium that cleans the water. Ordinarily, it consists of a water pump, a reservoir tank (or sump), and a barrier of some type to strain the water through. There are two important properties that combine to make a proper aquatic filtration, the mechanical piece and the biological one.

The mechanical characteristic is usually the sponge part of the barrier that collects large debris and waste, helping to keep the tank visually clean. The Biological part of the filtration process is a blend of absorbing minerals like the activated carbon found in the mechanical part of the filter and bacteria that live in the aquarium.

Bacteria help break down waste and keep nitrogen levels regulated. Live plants can also count towards the filtration system. They, like bacteria, help mediate nitrification by consuming harmful nitrates and ammonia.

The Lighting System

The lighting system is made up of artificial lights used to visually light the aquarium. I prefer LED lighting to other artificial alternatives, but fluorescent lighting will work as well.

Lighting is important because it aids in the growth of plants by providing a source of energy for the plants to use when mediating nitrification. In saltwater setups, coral depends on UV lighting to provide energy to the algae that live on it.

The Temperature Control

Temperature regulation is another important necessity for aquaria. Depending on where the tank is located, you will need to have the ability to moderate and keep the water temperatures consistent in the vivarium. Heaters work well for keeping the water warm and Chillers work well for keeping the water cool.

Water Circulation

Water circulation is more or less vital to some types of aquaria. The existing water pumpair stones, or circulation pumps are all simple ways to keep the water moving within the tank. Some inhabitants may require a certain level of flow within the enclosure so take note of that when shopping for tank mates.

Even though stagnant water may benefit some plants like Lotuses or animals like the walking catfish, having pockets of non-flowing water can create dangerous areas of bad bacteria and algae.

Different Types Of Aquariums

Now that we have a better understanding of how your tank will function, let’s figure out what type of aquarium you will want to build. In terms of “aquarium type”, I will basically break it down by the type of water you house in the enclosure.

There are three types of Aquatic tanks… Freshwater, Saltwater, and a mixture of the two make it Brackish. Knowing the type of water you plan to establish is essential to the plants and animals you plan to house later.

Different Types Of Aquariums

Saltwater Tanks

Also known as Reef Aquariums, saltwater tanks are aquariums that consist of seawater and display marine animals. As the name would suggest, These types of setups contain high amounts of salinity and higher PH levels than the other two tanks.

It’s not really common to see plants in this type of enclosure. Coral is the usual substitute for these kinds of reef aquaria.

Saltwater aquaria are one of the most expensive and hardest to maintain. They require a complex filtration system that is often complimented with live rocks. Lighting is important and usually ran in optimal amounts.

Depending on the type of coral and fish inhabiting this enclosure, the temperature may be warmer or cooler than room temperature.. Above all, it MUST remain consistent. The water circulation will vary based on marine life but will more than likely be high to moderate.

Freshwater Tanks

These types of enclosures are my personal favorite. Also known as a Planted Aquarium, freshwater tanks display plants and animals that thrive in more neutral water. You can find freshwater in ponds, creeks, and rivers. Having a more neutral PH level allows a wide variety of plants to thrive in this type of enclosure.

Understanding Aquarium Plants

Freshwater aquaria can be one of the easiest tanks to maintain. They don’t require a complex filtration system. They can thrive off of a variety of lighting setups. Depending on the inhabitants, the temperature can run at a wide range of options. The water circulation will vary here as well but some freshwater animals prefer the stillness of stagnant water.

Furthermore, take advantage of the opportunity hardscapes provide these types of setups. The hardscape is essential to every vivarium. It is the foundation of the tank and will regulate the overall ecosystem depending on the type of material it is.

This can either be composed of rock or wood. Even though the substrate will be put down into the enclosure first, the hardscape should be decided before any other elements are considered. Learn more about the importance of hardscaping in this article if you need help choosing the right types of material for your specific build.

Aquarium Gravel: The Most Definitive Guide | Bantam.Earth
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Brackish Water Tanks

This type of water setup is extremely fascinating to me. So Brackish water is a mixture of fresh and saltwater tanks. They have a bit more salinity than freshwater, but not as much as saltwater. You can find brackish water around swamps or water banks where seawater meets freshwater.

These setups are ideal for freshwater fry that need a more salty environment as they mature… Like Pufferfish!

Aquarium Care Tips

There is something REALLY important I need to point out now that we have a good understanding of the aquarium we want to build… The water cycle process. When we run our tank for the first time or make any significant changes to the environment, like adding too many new fish, We cause a bacteria bloom!

To put it more simply, you have a check system of good bacteria breaking down nitrogen (fish waste). The more nitrogen, the more bacteria.. visa-versa! In a brand new tank, when you add fish and they begin to generate nitrogen, the new bacteria have to colonize and populate once the nitrogen is established.

This process causes spikes in the nitrogen first and then the bacteria spike follows, causing a visible white cloud to form within the tank. That spike in nitrogen is dangerous and will kill many inhabitants right away. The safest way around that is to do a fish-less cycle on new tanks and never add more than one or two fish at once.

Water Changes

Once or twice a month pour out and refill about 25%-35% of the tank water. As the water evaporates, the concentration of minerals goes up as they are left behind in the remaining water. The nitrates your good bacteria leave behind also accumulate to unhealthy levels over time.

Replacing as much as 50% of your water monthly with new, clean water will help keep the overall aquarium healthy. Be careful not to change more than 50% of the water at once or it may cause the nitrogen to spike (restarting the cycle process), potentially killing your livestock. Use a gravel vacuum to easily remove water and trapped waste from the enclosure.

Replace Filter

Mechanical filters should be cleaned out as well as biological filters replaced at least once a month or during water changes. This greatly decreases the number of built-up toxins like ammonia and nitrates resting within the reservoir areas.

You can easily replenish buffers and maintain a healthy PH level by adding Easy Balance during this process. This will assure your aquatic inhabitants are comfortable within their healthy environment.

Water Conditioning

Whenever adding new water, animals, or filtration parts to the established aquarium, it is always a good idea to be sure the water is conditioned properly for your inhabitants. I’d recommend something like Seachem Prime to rid the water of Chlorine that might be in the added water. It would also be to replace the healthy bacteria that is lost during water changes with API QuickStart.

Test Water Parameters

Once a week or biweekly, it is ideal to check water chemistry to make sure things like PH, ammonia, and nitrites are in good condition and doesn’t exceed potentially fatal limits.

If you see any signs of illness in animals or worse, someone dies, the first diagnosis should be to make sure the water parameters are good. API makes a master kit that is really affordable and pretty accurate with results when testing.

Aquarium Care Tips

Best Aquarium Kits

Aquarium kits are great for those looking for a complete set to kick-start their hobby. In most cases, an aquarium kit will come with everything needed to start an aquarium tank. Depending on the size and type of animals inhabiting your future vivarium…

You might wonder where to go from here in regards to shopping for an aquarium tank. Here are a few editor’s picks we recommend taking a look at:

Best Aquarium Kit For Kids

This Aquarium Kit for kids is perfect for children of all ages. The color-changing bubble feature is an awesome touch that will keep kids interested and hopefully provoke curiosity. This setup would do well with freshwater or cold-water fish.

Best Freshwater Aquarium Kit

This Freshwater Aquarium Kit comes in a variety of sizes as well as colors. It comes with all vital necessities as well as decoration and artificial plants. This tank package is the perfect starter kit for anyone just starting out in the aquarium hobby.

Best Saltwater Aquarium Kit

This Saltwater Aquarium Kit comes in small and large sizes. I would highly recommend this package to anyone looking to start an aquarium that will house coral and any other ocean-dwelling life. One of my favorite features on this kit is the natural day cycle the lights automatically set to.

Vivariums Similar To An Aquarium

The many other types of vivariums you will see out there are more than likely based on one of these core designs. If you are building a vivarium with the intention of housing a specific type of plant or animal, be sure to go with a design that closely fits their needs. If you enjoyed this type of content, be sure to check out some of the other popular types of enclosures we’ve covered in the past:

Ripariums Complete Guide
Paludarium Complete Guide
Terrariums Complete Guide


Aquariums can be as simple as a 5-gallon nano tank with a single Betta fish or a massive sea world with hundreds of species of invertebrates and coral. What comes to mind when you think of the aquarium?

Frequently Asked Questions

The best-size fish tank for beginners is a 10gallon aquarium. This size is great for those just starting out, as it‘s not too small, and not too large. It‘s the perfect size to easily monitor water parameters and master the necessary fishkeeping skills. Plus, you can keep a variety of fish and species in a 10gallon aquarium.

The cost of a fish tank depends on its size, type, material, and other features. A basic 10gallon tank typically costs around $30$50, while a large-themed tank can range from $100 to several thousand dollars.

Fish generally prefer wide, long tanks rather than high, tall tanks as they provide more space for swimming and are often more aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, higher gal tanks tend to experience more turbulence and require additional filtration to keep the water safe for fish.

If you own a fish tank, it is important to clean it on a regular basis to ensure the health of your fish. As a general rule, you should clean your fish tank at least once every two weeks to remove any debris, uneaten food, or waste that might be left in the tank.

Yes, you can add tap water to your fish tank, but you should first treat it with a water conditioner to remove chlorine and other chemicals that can harm your fish. Water conditioners can be found at most pet supply stores and online.

It‘s best to wait 24 weeks before adding fish to a new tank. 

This is to ensure that the water chemistry is properly balanced for the fish‘s health. Additionally, adding fish too soon can introduce pollutants into the tank, which can overwhelm the tank and damage the fish‘s health.

To change the water in your fish tank, first remove 10-25% of the water and any debris. Then, top off the tank with fresh, dechlorinated water. Make sure the temperature of the new water is close to the old water, as fish can experience shock from temperature changes. When you finish refilling the tank, add an aquarium conditioner like Prime to be sure your fish do not suffer any negative effects from the water change.

Yes, fish can drown. Fish breathe oxygen from the water around them and need to be in an environment that is adequately oxygenated. If the oxygen levels become too low, fish suffer from a lack of oxygen, which can result in drowning.

The best type of water for fish tanks is dechlorinated tap water. It‘s important to use a water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramine, and heavy metals, as these can be harmful or fatal to your fish. Also, use a water testing kit to ensure the right pH and other levels are optimal for your fish.

Here’s a quick guide to cleaning a fish tank as a beginner:

  • Turn off the heater and filter and unplug the electrical cords.
  • Use a gravel vacuum to remove the old gravel and gunk from the bottom of the tank.
  • Clean the gravel, decorations, and tank walls with a sponge.
  • Remove 25-50% of the water from the tank and replace it with fresh water, being sure to match the temperature of the new water to that of the tank.
  • Refill the filter with new media or clean it with a filter-cleaning solution.
  • Replace ornaments, plants, and other decorations.
  • Replace the fish with the displaced tank water.
  • Turn the heater and filter back on and plug them back in.

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