Desktop Aquarium – Is it for you?

Fluval Edge Desktop Aquarium

Desktop Aquariums offer style to almost any surroundings

The popularity of the desktop aquarium has risen dramatically in the past few years.  People are finding that an standard size aquarium, with its requirement to place it on a manufactured aquarium stand does not add as interesting a “look” as an aquarium designed from the ground up to enhance a space with a living picture.  The Fluval Edge brought the concept of a design aquarium to the table and desktop.  It has all the right features to make it a good choice for the home.  With two sizes now available, a 6 gallon and 12 gallon tall version, these desktop aquariums provide a fairly large volume to keep a few small fish comfortable and healthy.  But what are these features that are important to have in these types of small tanks?

Features for the Desktop Aquarium

  • Volume – these tanks need to be large enough to safely house fish – I prefer aquariums above 2 gallons.  Most in the desktop category range between 2 – 7 U.S. Gallon.  After that most require a properly manufactured stand to protect the tank from cracking (see support).
  • Filtration – These decorator tanks are not goldfish bowls, they are designed to hold many types of fish.  A proper filter is vital.  Whether the filter is integrated into the system, or an added on unit, there should be adequate water movement and filter material to provide proper water purification.  The problem for many smaller tanks is that they use filters that create too great a current and can suck small fish into the intake by accident.
    Be sure you are confident that the fish you are going to keep are strong enough to escape from the input strainer of the filter.  Many inside filters are too small for babies and other small fish, so be careful when matching the fish to the capacity and filter
  • Lighting – Fish do need a bit of light, especially when they are fed.  Many of the newer desktop style sets are equipped with LED fixtures.  These last for a very long time and provide good light quality to the habitat.  Depending on the diodes in the fixture, they can also provide illumination for plants that is within the useful spectrum for photosynthesis.
    A second choice for light is the fluorescent lamp, these are able to provide useful UV bands to the plants and to corals if the system is set up as a nano reef aquarium.
    Avoid, as much as possible, the incandescent bulbs, often these use the older Christmas style bulbs. While they do provide illumination, they cannot provide any UV to the tank. What they do provide is heat.  This can raise the temperature of the water when they are on, and allow the temperature to drop quickly when they are shut off.  This is a very dangerous situation and should be avoided if possible.  An LED or Fluorescent system may be slightly more expensive, but you will save on replacement bulbs and power consumption over time.
  • Support – The main advantage of desktop styles is that they should be designed strong enough to be able to sit on the surface of a table or desk and not break from stress placed on the tank as the surface moves and warps.  Water is extremely heavy, 8 – 10 pounds per gallon, depending on what decorations are added.  A properly set-up tank with gravel and ornaments will average about ten pounds per gallon capacity.  A ten gallon aquarium can put one hundred pounds of pressure on a very small footprint.  Most tables are not prepared to withstand that, and will warp or twist slightly.  This twisting is often enough to stress crack a glass aquarium and it will break and leak.  A proper stand is made to withstand these pressures.
    Desktop systems overcome the problem in a number of ways.  They may be made of acrylic and seamless to prevent the chances of a crack forming when placed on a shifting surface.  The Fluval Edge solution is to provide an integrated platform that supports the glass tank. It is smaller than the bottom of the tank, so even more force is placed on the footprint, but the plastic is formed not to shift even if the supporting surface does.
  • Heat – Most desktop aquarium make no allowance for heating the water, they restrict themselves to fish that can tolerate temperature levels closer to room temperature.  The USB desktop Aquarium has no room for a heater while the Fluval Edge has an optional heater that keeps the temperature at 78oF without needing to be set or adjusted.  It depends on the amount capacity and shape of the system whether a heater, and thus tropical fish, can be added.  Most do not come equipped with a heater, that is almost always an option.

There are a lot of shapes and sizes of desktop aquarium, so I am pretty sure you will find one that makes sense for your needs. As long as you understand the criteria for successfully keeping fish in these admittedly small tanks, you should be well able to make an informed decision for the right one for you.


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