Tetra 3-Gallon Cube Aquarium Kit

Ok guys, so the first post was a “down the memory lane” post, hopefully not down the drain 🙂 but we’ll see about that. Today we’ll talk a bit about some serious fish tanking. Well, not entirely “serious” ‘cuz it’s actually a bit of a beginner’s kit. If there are any hardcore fish keeping guys among you reading this, I would like by this to undertake some expectations management and ask them: please guys, don’t get upset, and please, please don’t bounce off the page 🙂 I’ll get to the hardcore stuff later, I promise 🙂

But right now I just HAVE to write about this little jewel of an aquarium – cute as a bug, designed for people who just happen to need a nice deco item around the house which doesn’t just “stands there” but contributes nicely to the overall decoration of the place, is easily maintained and does not require a huge investment if it happens to later evolve into a bit of a hobby or just need upgrading.

Tetra 3 Gallon LED Aquarium Kit

Tetra 3 Gallon Aqarium

So, I hereby present you the Tetra 3 Gallon Cube Aquarium – a very nice starting tank for kids or aquarium beginners who would like to take up this hobby and test the waters a bit first. Fish are beautifully colored creatures and raising them, even in a small tanks like this one, can give great satisfaction. However, one needs to be sure about it before getting in. Just like keeping a dog or a cat, fish keeping involves responsibility as these are living creatures we’re talking about.

Anyway, supposing you’re sure about owning not only the tank, but also the fish inside, please keep in mind these that this is a small 3 gallons (11.3 liters) tank, so it’s not suitable for more than three small-sized “water creatures”, and even this number may be one unit too high. I say “water creatures” and not just “fish” because I’ve seen on Amazon that people explore options like keeping a snail together with a frog or even a turtle in this tank, which is really not recommended because of the tank’s size. Turtles, even small ones, require larger habitats to feel comfortable, and the same is true for frogs. Of the three, only the snail would be happy, and you wouldn’t want this, would you?

Population Rule of Thumb and Recommended Species

Anyway, there’s a rule of thumb well-known by fish tank owners which says one inch of fish for every gallon of water. This rule alone kind of limits the options regarding the tank’s population, since well groomed betta’s bred in captivity are known to reach even 2.5 inches in size. You need something which looks pretty and behaves well in most conditions – some guppies perhaps.

"HM Orange M Sarawut" by Daniella Vereeken - Flickr: HM Orange M - Sarawut. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HM_Orange_M_Sarawut.jpg#/media/File:HM_Orange_M_Sarawut.jpg
Betta Splendens – Daniella Vereeken – Wikimedia

However, most people who own this tank recommend it as ideal for one betta (betta splendens), perhaps combined with a medium sized snail or a quick swimmer who’d be able to avoid the betta’s naturally aggressive behavior towards other fish, and which also does not have long and beautifully colored fins, as these would be the first the betta would prey upon.

/Quick note: Perhaps write an article about which combination of species look great or behave well together? /End of note.

Ok, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself talking about possible fish combos. I want to take you guys step by step through this product. So let’s start with unboxing.

Taking It Out of the Box

Now, I have a choice. There’s a 5 mins video on YouTube on unboxing this aquarium. I could provide you the link right now… or just leave it at the end of the section while feeding you some of juicy stuff myself. Guess which one will I choose 🙂 So here we go.

The box itself is about 5.5 pounds or 2.5 kilos upon arrival. It’s cubic in shape, very brightly decorated. Branded properly in bright yellow and blue, with a clear pic of the product on one side, already up and running and decorated with a nice Easter Island head, some fish and several green plants. Neither of these decorations is included with the product. Inside the box you’ll find:

Tetra 3 Gallon Aqarium - Boxed
Tetra 3 Gallon Aqarium – Boxed
  • tank: transparent, made of styrene – a natural compound produced industrially in the US since the ’30s;
  • tank lid: also transparent, styrene made, with feeding and filter locations sections cut out to allow fitting;
  • tank base, also plastic, black
  • basic filter: 3i Whisper, internal, black, air pump driven, together with small filter cartridge;
  • lamp with clipping system for fixing, On / Off switch, 9 LEDs & power adapter;
  • transparent hose – one head into the air pump, another one into the filter;
  • user manual which details how to install the filter and deploy the tank wherever you need.

One thing I want to discuss here. I guess some of you – tank owners with some experience under the belt – have probably puffed and even rolled their eyes a bit in hearing about using acrylic / plastic / styrene or whatever other plastic fish tanks.

Yes, I would normally agree with you that pfff… plastic tanks stink. Yes, I know, the walls get muddy and scratched in no-time if you’re not cleaning them with special sponges. Yes, I know you won’t be able to see a thing inside in a matter of days if you don’t change the water regularly and vacuum the tank and have everything in order inside.

But guys, don’t forget this is a starting kit. Doing those things often would help a beginner learn the ropes. So please, have some patience and read on – at least to correct me if I’m wrong in the comments section, if for no other reason.

Ok, so back to unboxing. A few words about each item inside:

Tetra 3 Gallon Aqarium_Empty

  • The tank itself is solid, no worries about it breaking during moves or anything; the drawback is it needs gentle cleaning in order not to scratch the walls; use special sponge you can get at pet-store for the purpose.
  • The base also looks solid, even if it gives up a flexible “vibe” initially; when under the filled up tank, it does the job holding the entire thing stable;
  • The lid does not quite convince me. Once placed upon the tank, it’s kept in place by some very small plastic holders. And it’s not flat. By all means it’s not flat. It may stay there, but yet again, it may not. It has a 3 inch wide x 2 inch deep (7.5 x 5 cm) cutout in the lid, where you can easily place the filter, and another one for feeding purposes.
  • One nice thing to mention here is that all the cutouts in the lid have rounded corners, which helps protecting the hand in case you decide you need to adjust something inside and go through the lid instead of taking it off entirely.
  • The filter needs some handy-work to get it up and running; will provide details and a movie below; please keep in mind that if the rest of the components can be used as they are delivered, the filter really needs replacement with something real, otherwise you’ll do maintenance every week. It simply can’t handle the job because of low capacity.
  • The LED lamp it’s something minimal, but it does come with an ON / OFF switch, which is a good thing. It’s OK to use it if you don’t aim at hosting living plants inside the tank. If you do, you’ll need an upgrade. More on this later in the article.
  • Also, some people reported the lights being too strong for their fish. This can be remedied by placing a sheet of paper on the lid – it diffuses the light and makes it more confortable.
    The flimsy plastic plant included supports the above hypothesis – no living plants. Only use plastic plants with this tank.
  • The user manual – useful for setting up the filter and combining everything into one piece if you’re a beginner.

Ok, now’s the time for the goodies. Here’s the link to the unboxing video I was talking about earlier. It’s home made (not by myself) so don’t expect much in terms of image quality, but it can give you a good idea on what you get on delivery.

Setting Up the Default Filter

3i Whisper Filter

Let’s see what the filter package includes first: the filter’s plastic body, covered at one end with a plastic cap, the filter cartridge, where all the mess in the water gets stored, a plastic diffuser, a flexible, transparent hose and the air pump. At first look it may seem complicated to set up but it isn’t.

First thing you need to do is take off the filter’s cover, remove the cartridge from its plastic folio and place it inside the filter’s body. Second, connect the diffuser to its special location on the filter’s body. The diffuser helps the water oxygenation process. Next, connect the hose with one end to the air pump and the other end to the diffuser. Last, replace the filter cover back in it’s original position. And voila, you’re ready to go. The final step is to fix the filter on the wall of the tank using the suction cup provided with it. Here’s the link to a Tetra-Fish.com video on YouTube which shows how the filter set-up process should go. Hope you’ll find it useful.

Population Combos and Decorating Tips

Now, about population. I’ve already told you several things about it. I would like to add one more, which I can’t stress enough:

No “really” exotic fish should be kept in this tank. It may look pretty shining and beautiful when installed and filled up, but it’s a basic model which does not provide a lot of the functionality that its larger size glass made counterparts provide. For instance, it is totally unsuitable for keeping sea horses or any other salt water fish. Salt water tanks are really complicated to maintain – you need to know a lot about the chemical composition of the water and what’s right or wrong for each species. I’ve read on Amazon about people intending to use it for keeping sea horses. This borders animal cruelty – sea horses need a lot more to thrive than this 3 gallon tank.

One other thing I want to remind you – the one inch per gallon of water rule. It’s easy to get carried away with a new tank and have one too many fish inside. I mean, it IS possible to do that, but the filter won’t be able to clean up the mess they produce, the water chemistry will go horribly wrong and all animals inside will end up dying.

Tetra 3 Net

  • If I were you I would follow the recommendations on the box & use this aquarium for a single betta or a betta in combination with a snail or a faster fish. Do not use two bettas as they are also aggressive towards each other and besides, two bettas would be too much for the size of the tank.
  • Careful in choosing the second fish – you don’t want a school fish because it will be really lonely for it inside by itself. Also, you want a fish which does not need a lot of oxygen infused into the water and is able to breath by going to the surface, similarly to the betta. If you do go with a school fish, better give up the betta and replace it with at least two other fish from the same species, if they are small enough.
  • Also, don’t use the tank with gold fish. They grow too large and are much too messy. Cleaning up would soon become a nightmare.
  • Plants wise, there’s really not much to tell. The LED lamp provided with the original aquarium only provides some nice illumination, but does not give enough light for live plants to develop. So go with something plastic but spectacularly looking, which does not take too much space in the water.
  • Also plants related – an interesting observation by this user on Amazon suggests not using any plastic plants which include metal clipping devices. These can seriously damage the beautiful fins of your betta fish (if you decided to go with one)
  • Use gravel and perhaps some rocks according to your fantasy to mimic the see floor and you can use some other decoration here on the website if you feel the need for something extra.

Upgrading the Tetra 3 Gallon LED Aquarium Kit

There are several upgrade options you can consider for this tank. The most important one, as I already said several times, it’s the filter. The one the tank comes with by default is not really up to the task unless it is cleaned once third or fourth day of functioning, which may soon turn into a serious inconvenience.

a) Filter upgrade:

Mignon 60

After shifting through tons of reviews on Amazon, came to the conclusion that indeed this filter is not the best choice you could make. After some more research & reading I learned about this filter – the Azoo Mignon Filter 60 – which looks like the perfect replacement for the default 3i Whisper. Most users recommend it as it is very quiet and has adjustable flow control function. Also it comes with a pre-filter which stops the fish from being sucked inside. It can be easily placed on the rim of the Tetra 3 Gallon and should run on minimum or similar setting.

b) Adding a heater

Hydor Heater 7.5W

This is not really an upgrade as much as a “must” add-on, especially if you decide to go with a betta population. Bettas require 73.4 degrees to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 23 to 27 degrees Celsius, so unless you have this temp by default in the room, a heater is a must. A good one which some people have successfully used is the Hydor 7.5w Slim Heater. What’s cool about this heater is that it can be placed under the gravel as it has a nice, flat, rounded design.

General advice on changing water

Water should be placed in a clean bucket the evening or the day before you intend to clean up the tank and let it reach room temperature. You don’t want to replace the entire water in the tank – as it sits inside, water develops an entire range of beneficial bacteria, some sort of small ecosystem, important for the well-being of the fish inside.

That’s why water changing is usually done by replacing one third or only half of the water. You can take the water out by using a clean scoop or through a hose or even better, by using a hand pump which, incidentally, also helps at cleaning remains from between the pebbles or gravel.

Important note on filter cleaning – the filter is cleaned in the old water you just took out of the tank, not in fresh water. This is so because inside the filter there are also good bacteria which help the water quickly get back to the chemical balance from before the water change.

Buy or don’t buy

Ok, so here we are – close to the finish line with this review. I guess the question which pops into everyone’s mind is: “Should I get this or not?” As usual with this type of questions, the answer depends on your expectations.

As I highlighted in the beginning of the article, this is mostly a starting tank, designed for beginners, first time owners or people who don’t really have the time required to take care of more complicated set-ups. It looks great and it’s relatively easy to maintain, provided the recommended upgrades.

For them, also based on the type of fish and on the willingness to invest another 18 bucks in a decent filter, this is most definitely a “should” buy.

For the more advanced fish keepers, buying this set and using it for the purpose advertised would be a wasted investment. Not to mention the fact that surely by now they own much more advanced tanks and equipment. However, I could see this tank used as a fish nursery, with some additional investment required. So I would go with a not buy recommendation for them.

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