Aquarium Shape, Does It Matter?

Aquarium shape is not particularly thought about when an aquarium is being bought. There’s four sides, a bottom and sometimes a top made of sliding glasses or similar. The only thought that usually arises is ‘will it fit the space I have?’. That’s fair enough and quite normal.

However aquarium shape does matter, though the concerns are usually met because aquariums for sale are usually of a particular design: a long front matched of course by the back, two equal ends about a third or so of the front length and a height of around the same as the end panel width. The previous size description is very variable but the shape is usually ‘thereabouts’, similar to the picture.

The concern of a new aquarist is, as said, the question of whether the aquarium will fit the space available. This is usually solved by having a standard shaped aquarium on a strong base, either existing furniture or a specially designed one. A problem could arise if the aquarist is a little more ambitious.

The space is available and the length and width are fine, but the aquarist decides that he/she  would like a deep aquarium to try to give it more impact. This is fine but there are practical considerations. The depth of the aquarium might be such that the bottom cannot be easily reached so there could be, more likely will be problems with maintenance. This isn’t a good idea. Public aquariums are often very deep but they have trained staff to deal with this, sometimes having them wear underwater equipment. The deep home aquarium could be handled if long tongs, glass algae cleaner, siphon and the like can be obtained. This is possible if the aquarium is not over deep.

There is another consideration, oxygenation. Oxygen is very important of course and the saltwater needs to be adequately loaded. If not the obvious troubles will arise. A deep aquarium that has a normal surface area where oxygen is taken in could be inadequately oxygenated. This is so particularly with a fish only type as the higher number of fish, up to around twice the load, will  have a higher demand than the lower fish numbers in a reef system. This is partially combatted by the protein skimmer and the circulation pumps which are moving saltwater so that it is exposed to the air for a short while. This could be inadequate however, and an oxygen test is a good idea. Perhaps a weir could be incorporated to expose a lot more saltwater to the air.

If a higher impact is desired then how about a corner aquarium? There must of course be an area that is suitable, strangely enough in a corner. There must be adequate power supplies and approachability so that maintenance can be done. The corner aquarium is not likely to be available in the local shop or on line. It’s going to cost more than two individual aquariums of like size. However if the decision is made then the local specialist will help. There are two ways. The first (not the best!) is two suitable sized and matching aquariums are obtained and the relevant end panel is removed in each. They are then positioned on suitably strong supports and joined together. The downsides are that a base glass is needed to cover the base between the tanks and the back glasses will need extending.  A very careful check needs to be made that there isn’t any flexibility on the support furniture particularly at the joint corner. This joining needs to be very well done and needs some experience so usually professional help is needed. Because of the difficulties in construction and potential weak points this type isn’t recommended. Better to purchase two identical aquariums and place them front corner to front corner leaving a triangular space behind in the corner. This can be used for a decorative something. If they are both reef tanks then if constructed similarly and with the same materials then they should be very attractive.

The second and better way for a ‘proper’ corner aquarium is that two aquariums are made to measure but the end panels where they will join are left missing. These ends are supported by plywood panels or similar so that they can be safely moved. The base glass on one aquarium is already extended with an extended rear glass joined to it so there isn’t any potential weakness of the base glass. The other aquarium has an extended rear glass. When positioned in the prepared corner they are fastened together. This too is a professional construction. Most aquarists won’t care for either of these procedures.

The best way of all is for the corner aquarium to be constructed entirely in the home. This means that all glass and joints are correct and the entire construction is complete without any interim potential stresses.

So why not have more than one aquarium, perhaps one above the other or in any way that is preferred? This is much easier and cheaper. The first attachment is not really ‘multi-tank’ – the sump. This is often below the display aquarium and can house heaters, skimmer etc and it effectively increases the volume of saltwater in the aquarium (when calculating livestock numbers the sump gallonage should be excluded). An attached aquarium can be used just to grow algae (the nice stuff of course!) and also house a creature unsuitable for the reef – a mantis shrimp maybe or the like. So the possibilities go on, it’s all in the aquarist’s mind. What is needed is the space, the desire and the means to obtain it all.

Another high impact aquarium is the wall type. An aquarium built into a wall looks superb when properly done and offers the opportunity of a double-sided view.

Most aquarists go down the well-trodden path with a standard type aquarium large or small and there are lots of beautiful aquariums. If the aquarist wants to differ and have a deep aquarium or a corner aquarium or whatever then a lot of thought is required both from the construction, maintenance and livestock points of view.


  1. I agree the size of the aquarium matters, long time ago my so bought a big aquarium but we didn’t use it because of the lack in space.

  2. Oh dear, I hope you got your money back from the shop or found someone else who wanted the aquarium.

  3. I have a 92 gallon corner aquarium (with a bow front). I love the tank. It looks great, fits great and feels like I have a lot of tank in a relatively small amount of space.

    One small point to make about shape with a bow front is that it makes photographing things that are deep in the tank harder to photograph than with a straight glass tank. The bow front bends the light.

    I don’t think I would swap it out…but my photo attempts have been foiled occasionally by the shape.

    Nice article!

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