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Choosing your livestock

Choosing & researching livestock choices for your new nano tank will likely be an enjoyable experience, but can also become a bit tricky. Although your livestock choices are somewhat limited with a nano tank, there are more than enough livestock choices to choose from that will thrive in a nano tank & create a spectacular display. When seeking advice from other Nano Reef Keepers as to whether a particular livestock species is nano safe or not will have varying opinions. This article will provide information based on livestock that I’ve kept both successfully & unsuccessfully.

Lets start with choosing nano safe fish. Many hobbyists choose to keep a “fishless tank” consisting of various corals & small invertebrate for the purpose of keeping things simple. This is fine, but adding a few easy to keep nano safe fish will create a much more interesting presentation. One of the most commonly kept fish in a nano tank is the clownfish (Nemo.) These fish are very easy to keep & will contribute a lot of personality to your tank. Damsel fish are another good nano safe fish. Although many Damsel species can become quite aggressive, they are easy to care for & can be very entertaining. These are only a few examples of nano safe fish. There are several species of blennies, Gobies, Basslet, ect. that can also be kept successfully in a nano tank. When choosing fish, it’s important make sure they are compatible with one another. This can be a bit tricky. Some fish may be considered compatible with one another, but only in large tanks. The reason for this is that larger tanks provide more space for the fish to steak out it’s own territory. By nature, most fish are territorial, even those considered to be “peaceful.“ Due to the limited amount of space in a nano tank, fish considered to be compatible can soon become bitter enemies. Bottom line, just use some common sense & you’ll be just fine.

For most hobbyists, corals are considered to be the center piece of their tank. Your choices of nano safe corals is nearly endless. For those who are new to the hobby, start out with easy to keep corals, such as button polyps. These are extremely hardy & can usually survive abrupt changes in water parameters (ph, temperature, ect.) which is common in newly setup nano tanks. Another nano safe coral is Plate coral (short tentacle). These are also easy to keep & several color forms are available. Although they are considered semi-aggressive, keeping them away from other corals within reach will resolve that issue.

Corals with long flowing tentacles, such as torch coral, frogspawn & long tentacle plate coral are usually not recommended in nano tanks. I respectfully disagree with this theory. As long as you place these corals far enough away from their neighbors & provide adequate lighting & moderate to strong current, you shouldn’t have any problem keeping these corals alive. Before you purchase any species of coral, it’s important to do your homework. Make sure you understand what’s required to keep them happy & healthy. By following these guidelines, you’ll soon be rewarded with an incredible visual display.

Choosing nano safe Invertebrates will be the last topic of discussion. The invertebrates you choose will play a vital role in keeping your tank clean, while also adding a new interesting dimension to your tank. Basically, nano safe invertebrates will consist of various species of small hermit crabs, shrimp, snails & other miscellaneous creatures. The first group of invertebrates I recommend adding are hermit crabs. The two most common nano safe species available are the dwarf blue leg hermit crab & the dwarf zebra hermit crab. Both of these species stay quite small (usually less than one inch), peaceful & do an excellent job of keeping your sand bed clean. Another species of crab I strongly recommend adding to your tank is the Emerald Mithrax Crab. These are one of the few marine invertebrates with will eat hair algae. If you do decide to add one of these guys to your tank, make sure your live rock & corals are in a secure position. These crabs are stronger than you may think. When they come out at night searching for a meal, they can easily topple over your live rock & corals. Trust me, this is not a pretty sight to wake up to.

The next group of inverts that can be added should consist of one or two of various species of “Cleaner Shrimp”, including Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp, Peppermint Shrimp & Blood shrimp. By far, the most popular shrimp in the hobby is the Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp. The most important role these shrimp play is keeping your fish parasite free. These shrimp will actually setup a “cleaning station” where by the fish in need of cleaning will eagerly allow the shrimp to pick off & eat any parasites that may be present on the fishes body. This is actually an interesting sight to see. Another popular species of shrimp is the Peppermint Shrimp. These guys usually stay out of sight during the day & go out hunting during the night. Of all the shrimp available, these are probably the least attractive. You may be asking yourself, why would I want to add an unattractive shrimp to my tank that I rarely get to see? Their role is more important than pleasing the eye, they play a vital role in controlling Aiptasia anemones which can quickly over run your tank. Lastly, is the Blood Shrimp also referred to as Fire Shrimp. Based on my own experiences, these shrimp don’t do a very good of cleaning your tank, but their appearance more than makes up for this shortfall. Their bright red color & docile temperament make them an excellent addition to any reef tank.

To complete your cleanup crew, you’ll need to add a few snails. Their main role is to keep the glass from the inside of your tank free of algae. It doesn’t make much sense to spend time & money on marine live that you aren’t able to see, right? Many species will also feed on algae growing on your live rock. Although nearly any snail available to hobbyists will do just fine in a nano tank, I’d avoid larger species such as Turbo Snails which can easily topple over your rockwork & corals. In my experience, I’ve found that Astrae snails will more than adequately fulfill the job of keeping your glass clean.

Now that you’ve done all your homework & are an expert on nano safe livestock, its time to consider the best place to purchase your livestock. Your two main choices are your local fish store, or a reputable online supplier. Either choice has its advantages & disadvantages. If you have a favorite local fish store with healthy livestock, reasonable prices & a knowledgeable sales staff, then by all means, this is probably the best place to purchase your livestock. If you wish to visit several fish stores in your area before deciding which store best suits your needs (recommended), the best thing to do is ask the sales personal at each store lots of questions, even if your confident you already know the answer to your question. For example, if you ask the sales person which fish is most compatible with your Damsel & clownfish, and he takes you the African Cichlid tank, it’s probably best to get the hell out of that store & don’t look back! Once you have some experience & are able to confidently do your own research on the species you plan to keep, buying your livestock (and dry goods) online does makes a lot of sense. Due to their relatively small amount of overhead, online retailers are able to sell you livestock much cheaper than you will find at your local fish store. In addition, most online suppliers will offer “stay alive guarantees” for up to two weeks while most local fish stores only have guarantees on freshwater fish. Whether you’re a new hobbyist or advanced, the biggest disadvantage to purchasing livestock online is that your usually not able to see the actual specimen you’ve just purchased. This especially holds true when purchasing livestock that tends to vary in size & shape among individual specimens of the same species, such as various species of branching corals (Torch Coral, Hammer Coral, Frogspawn, ect,) & live rock. When purchasing fish or invertebrates online, this usually isn’t a big issue. Although there are several online livestock vendors to choose from, is by far my personal favorite & the easiest to do business with. Their also one of the few major vendors that offer "Nano Packs," which consist of a variety of easy to care for corals (typically polyp & mushroom.)  If you'd like to learn more about them, click the link at the bottom of this page.

In conclusion, I hope you’ve found this article informative & helpful. If you have any feed back, comments or suggestions, I'd live to hear from you.  I can be contacted at



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CF - Nano Polyp Pack