What pets can I keep in a 5-gallon tank?
So you’ve just pulled out a dusty old aquarium from the basement and are now wondering if there are any interesting animals you can keep in it to avoid throwing it away or pursuing an arduous search for someone who’d be willing to come pick it up from your house (shipping them would be far more expensive than the unit itself). You can consider a limited number of animal species that can reside in your tank for their entire lives, livening up a boring room space with movement, and/or a natural, thriving aquatic or terrestrial ecosystem. First things first: make sure you clean out your aquarium with vinegar only. Never use any chemicals or soap.
Research is paramount to finding a pet that best meets the level of commitment you’re willing to put into them, as well as one that doesn’t tax your pocketbook.
Never place any animals in an aquarium unsuited for their adult size while they are neonates, unless you are prepared to switch them later. Viewing animals thriving and behaving in a properly sized environment is very rewarding.
Pets for a 5 Gallon Tank
Generally, only experienced keepers will push the envelope but it is always best to do everything in your power to assure a comfortable existence for your pet. For most animals, bigger is better, and with small tanks comes more maintenance to compensate for excess nutrient levels (animal waste turning into nitrates). Think in terms of long term success for best results, don't purchase any pets that you don't foresee living at least five years in your five gallon tank.
Observe the behavior of prospective fish for your tank before buying them. Do they utilize a lot of horizontal swimming space? Do they tend to stay toward the bottom? Ignore the ‘1 inch per gallon’ rule as it is meant to be utilized with a minimum tank size in mind. Many retailers advertise with photos of five gallon tanks with everything in them from angelfish to lizards, but it is by no means acceptable to house a majority of these species in this amount of space. Always do careful research to pick fish for small tanks to insure they are suitable, and to find out if they should be kept alone, or with tank-mates.
With that said, what are some of these suitable creatures?
1. African Dwarf Frogs
African dwarf frogs are an excellent choice for five gallon tanks, and are probably the most suitably-sized vertebrate for nano aquariums. These tiny frogs are not to be confused with African clawed frogs, a much larger species.
Also, fire belly toads are a small frog species that can minimally tolerate a 5 gallon tank size, but again, this is not ideal and many keepers would recommend against it.
2. Freshwater Fish and Other Small Aquatic Invertebrates
Betta Fish (also known as Siamese fighting fish) are the most popular choice on this list. They are often erroneously said to do well in the small, cup-like aquariums that they are routinely sold in. However in the wild, they live in large rice paddies, not puddles, and they should have a minimum of a five gallon tank size. The males also cannot be kept with members of their own species. Remember that while there are small fish that would seem to fit well in a five gallon, like bigger neon tetras, they need to be in larger groups that do not fit.
Some other freshwater species: Paradise fish, Sparkling Gouramin, Dwarf Gouramin, Head and Taillight Tetra, guppy, platy fish, Otocinclus, Green Neon Tetra, dwarf puffers.
Most small aquatic invertebrates, such as freshwater shrimp (small shrimp like cleaner shrimp, sexy anemone shrimp, and peppermint shrimp), corals, button polyps (Zoanthids), small hermit crabs, snails, and clams. These are all small but very entertaining, perfect for a five gallon. Such aquariums are equally fascinating and water changes aren’t such a critical necessity every week.
3. Marine Fish
There is some controversy on what fish are suitable for a five gallon tank. Even relatively large fish like the smaller clownfish species are routinely kept in what are referred to as nano-reefs. Unless they are babies, I wouldn’t recommend clownfish. My preferred recommendation for a five gallon is to stick to the invertebrates listed above.
However, for those determined to have fish inhabitants, here are a few species that some people keep in smaller tanks because they are ‘perching’ fish as opposed to swimmers, although it is not considered to be ideal: neon goby, clown goby, trimma goby, eviota goby, catalina Goby (needs colder water).
As mentioned already but it bears repeating: invertebrates would do very well in a five gallon.
The popular flame scallops fare very poorly in captivity.
4. Dwarf Seahorses
Dwarf seahorses are another option for your five gallon tank. However keep in mind, while they may sound like an exciting animal to consider because they are the right size and very slow swimmers, they still require very particular care. In fact, dwarf seahorses require small tanks in order to feed. However, they are not very easy to care for, and require live brine cultures for their food. For the more adventurous aquarist however, this is one option that will dazzle a small tank.
5. Other Invertebrates
There are many other invertebrates that you can consider for your aquarium, like land arthropods. For those into animals that most would consider ‘creepy’, many pet bugs are suitable for five gallons: tarantulas, tropical cockroaches, millipedes, scorpion.
Remember that all tarantulas, centipedes, and scorpions are venomous. Also, some species are larger and not recommended.
Small Animals NOT Recommended for 5 Gallon Tanks: mandarin dragonet, goldfish, poison dart frogs, white's tree frog, red eye tree frog, turtles, dwarf hamsters, king snakes.