The Big List of all the Types of Aquariums

Written by Randy Martin

Here is a list of all the different types of aquariums that people keep.

A lot of these fish tanks can be mixed and matched, some are sub categories of other aquarium types. Most aquariums will consist of about 2 to 3 different aspects that I have listed below.

Let’s jump right in, starting with the most popular type of aquariums.

Tropical freshwater aquarium

Tropical freshwater aquarium with plants and black gravel substrate.

Tropical freshwater aquariums are by far the most common type of home aquariums kept around the world. They consist of fish, animals and plants that are found in rivers, lakes and ponds in warmer climates. The majority of species commonly kept come from South America, Asia and Africa.

Since they are tropical, the tanks need to be kept at warmer consistent temperatures. Most fish keepers will use aquarium heaters to achieve this.

All of your Tetras, Guppies, Mollies, Plecos, Cichlids and Barbs, just to name a few, are tropical freshwater species; they are widely bred, imported and available for cheap—which makes this type of aquarium even more popular.

Tropical marine (saltwater) aquarium

Marine fish swimming in saltwater aquarium

Saltwater fish aquariums are of course extremely popular as well. Tropical marine tanks consist of fish and animals that come from the ocean in warmer climates.

Matching the water conditions of the ocean takes a little bit more of an involved process and usually more gear, and most people would say it’s not suitable for beginners, but it’s really not as hard as they make it out to be.

Everything is more expensive when it comes to marine tanks, considering the fact that most of the species have to be caught and imported from the wild, as breeding saltwater species is not as easily achieved as it is with freshwater species.

But the amount of saltwater species available to be kept is seemingly endless. Marine tanks typically are very colorful, vivid and beautiful.

Cold freshwater aquarium

Animals that come from rivers, lakes and ponds from around the world in colder climates would belong in cold freshwater aquariums.

One of the most popular species of this type would be Fancy Goldfish. A Fancy Goldfish in a fish bowl is of course something everyone has either had in their home or seen in countless others.

There are many popular tropical fish that can do well in subtropical temperatures, but they can’t survive in too cold of waters.

In comparison I have seen common goldfish survive in ponds that have froze over during the winter.

Cold marine aquarium

Cold marine aquariums are pretty rare, not many people are in this hobby but it is growing ever year. Instead of using a heater you would need a water chiller to keep the water cold enough for the animal life. And since prices have been going down on water chillers you can start a cold saltwater aquarium for about the same price as a tropical marine tank.

There is a growing community online for this hobby, and if you are going to get into it you will be associating with these core groups just to get your animals and gear.

Brackish water aquarium

Brackish water aquariums are a mixture of freshwater and saltwater. It happens in estuaries and in areas where sea water mixes into the freshwater of rivers for example.

It’s basically water that is a little bit salty, but not marine levels of salinity.

The fish that live in these environments usually can live in either freshwater or saltwater, but their healthiest state would be achieved in a mixed brackish water condition.

You don’t need as much gear as a marine tank, like a protein skimmer is not needed for example. You just mix a certain amount of marine salt into the water.

Brackish water aquariums are more rare as well, and there isn’t as many animals that you can keep in these but they can definitely be fun and interesting to keep.

Planted tanks

Green aquarium plants

This is an aquarium type that can be associated with any other aquarium type, but when people say they have a “planted tank” they are referring to the fact that they have living plants growing in their aquarium.

Keeping your plants alive, healthy and vibrant is just as much of a skill as keeping your animals healthy.

You can find plants that can go in freshwater tanks or saltwater tanks—or even in both.

Many people decorate their tanks with ornaments and fake plants, but most serious fish keepers will lean towards live planted tanks.

Paludarium

Surface level of a Paludarium showing a bonsai growing out of the water.

A paludarium is a mixture of aquarium and terrarium, so it has both water and land. This is perfect for certain frogs species, salamanders, turtles and more.

Most commonly people keep amphibians, turtles, and snakes in these type of tanks, but I know a lot of people that have fish only paludariums simply because of how beautiful and interesting a paludarium can look.

Species only tank

“Species only” tank is when you keep one type of fish species and nothing else. Almost always when you see a fish tank you are going to see various amounts of different species in the tank, but some fish keepers prefer to spotlight and only keep one species.

There can be several practical reasons for this as well, if the species is aggressive or reclusive for example.

Community tank

On the other end of the spectrum, community tanks are designed to be filled with a variety of different species. Typically containing different types of schooling fish, you will see this kind of aquarium moving and flowing with life.

In all aquariums you want to make sure that the species you keep will be compatible. But in community aquariums it’s more crucial to stock it with peaceful fish that won’t agitate each other.

But technically speaking community tanks make up the overwhelming majority of aquariums in the world. Most marine tanks are also community tanks.

Species only tanks are the exception.

Biotope aquarium

Up close view of a biotope aquarium.

Alright I have to admit that a biotope aquarium is one of my favorite types of fish tanks.

A biotope aquarium is when you design the whole tank to match a specific habitat. So for example, say you wanted to make a biotope of a Colombian river; you would get only tropical fish and animals that live in those rivers and you would plant it with plants specific to that region. Decorate the whole tank to make it look natural and authentic.

Biotopes are taking an environment of earth and recreating it in your very own aquarium.

Aquaponic aquarium

Gardening meets fish keeping. This is becoming more and more popular, and is often done with do-it-yourself type enthusiasts.

It’s essentially a system where you have a fish tank, the water is filtered out of the tank and into a holder of plants, which supplies the plants with nutrients to grow. The plants actually help clean and recycle the water and then it’s cycled back into the fish tank.

People are seriously growing vegetables and fruits right in their homes with this method.

And many people are claiming amazing self-cleaning qualities to this system—that the plants can keep the water pH in perfect condition for months without water changes.

Reef Tank

This also belongs in the tropical marine section, but it’s such a huge niche that it deserves it’s own spotlight.

A reef tank is when you create a tropical marine reef system right in your own aquarium.

“Reefers” as the people who are into this hobby lovingly call themselves—are pretty die hard and not afraid to drop some coin to build elaborate beautiful reef systems.

Aside from all the fish and crustaceans you can keep with these; you can dive deep with living rock, mushrooms, polyps, anemones… It goes on and on with the elements you can add to create the color and vibrancy of a reef.

Koi pond

Ok so this isn’t an aquarium, but koi ponds seem to be the luxury side of fish keeping.

And not just koi are stocked in a pond, various fish are stocked in home ponds, but the elite of the elite is koi.

These fish are bred in Japan and imported around the world by specialist koi dealers. I didn’t know much about koi until I heard about some of these fish being sold for tens of thousands of dollars per fish… Say what?

So I researched koi and came across this video on Youtube by Sacramento Koi titled: What is it like to buy koi in Japan (youtube link). I was fascinated by this video, not just because I got to learn about a whole other facet of fish keeping, but I also got to learn more about Japan in general and get a small look into their culture. Sacramento Koi did a great job, I recommend it when you have the time.

Breeder Tank

This is probably not something you expected to see on here, but it is an aquarium type separate from others.

A breeder tank is sometimes designed in a special way for egg scatterers species. It typically has different compartments and often times is designed in a way so the fry (baby fish) can reside and grow in a safe space away from predators and adult fish.

But just any normal fish tank can be defined as a breeder tank if you are using it for the sole purpose to breed your fish.

Depending on the species, breeders can apply various different types of setups and environments to ensure success in breeding.

Quarantine tank

Along the lines of breeding tanks, a lot of serious hobbyists will have a separate quarantine tank which can come in handy when dealing with sick and diseased fish.

Especially used when introducing new fish to your aquariums and you want to monitor them for awhile before sticking them in with your other fish, to acclimate them and avoid infections.

Conclusion

For further reading, you can check out my closely related article of 8 beautiful aquariums for inspiration and information that will elaborate on many of these aquarium types and even give you a full price breakdown of the approximate cost.

This is all I could think of for right now. I’m sure there is more that I am missing. Let me know in the comments of any aquarium types I might have missed and you feel should be added, thank you for reading!

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