The Differences Between Pico and Nano Reefs


Literally put, a pico and a nano reef tank directly refer to the size of the salt water aquarium itself. Nano refers to tanks with a 30 gallon or less capacity, pico refers to tanks with a capacity of less than 3 gallons usually. All tanks under 30 gallons are nano tanks, but some are small enough to be considered pico reef tanks. You can have a reef tank that is considered a nano/pico, as calling a tank that is under 3 gallons a nano is still perfectly acceptable.

Many people believe that saltwater reef aquariums have to be large in order to work. While the reality of water quality stability increases with aquarium size in fresh and saltwater tanks alike, you can still create a beautiful and healthy, stable salt water habitat for many different creatures in a small nano or even tiny pico-sized tank. For a lot of people, wanting to give salt water aquarium keeping a try are attracted to nano and pico reef aquariums because of their size, manageability, and lower cost to set up and run.

Suitable reef inhabitants for larger nano reef tanks are more numerous than smaller tanks. There are some species of fish that can live happily in a 20-30 gallon nano tank such as the many goby varieties available now. But, for most tanks under this size, fish never really make good inhabitants. Sticking with invertebrates that cling to rocks, as well as snails, shrimp, and crabs, are better options. Animals that live in salt water that don’t need much in the way of space or water movement are ideal for pico and nano reef tanks. Corals, mushrooms, sponges, macro algae, and interesting worms are some other options as well.

Typically, reef aquariums require a lot of lighting that simulates the direct bright overhead light of the tropics and some amount of turbulence created by powerheads on filtration systems. High temperatures are essential as well. However, without the addition of fish and creatures like anemone that rely on heavy turbulence to bring them food and oxygenated water, you can get away with a reef that also requires less equipment. High amounts of lighting and heat are always essential. Some water movement is also essential, but turbulence isn’t necessary. You can set up a nano/pico reef aquarium much like a larger saltwater aquarium. Live sand and rock make up the basis of what you’ll need in the aquarium itself when you start. You can add on from there. Many nano reef tank keepers enjoy watching what grows from the live rock and sand alone.

Setting up and keeping a nano/pico reef tank is a rewarding hobby that can also be a challenge. If you’ve always wanted to have a salt water aquarium, keeping a small one might be a good start for you! Less cost, less space, less hassle make a nano or pico saltwater reef aquarium an attractive alternative to the gigantic reef tanks of the past.

Pico Reef example aquariums

Nano Reef example aquariums

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