Difference Between A Reptile Tank And A Fish Tank

Are you looking to find an excellent home for your new pet reptile?

Does selecting a new tank feel overwhelming because there are so many options?

When you are looking for a new tank for your reptile, you might be wondering:

How can I tell the difference between a reptile tank and a fish tank?

To tell the difference between a reptile tank and a fish tank, look at the glass’s thickness, if there is a lid look at the type, and check for any ventilation or drain holes.

You might not be interested in investing a lot of money if you are just learning how to be a reptile owner, so a secondhand tank might be a route you want to take.

Keep reading as we dive further into telling the difference between a reptile tank and a fish tank.

how to tell the difference between a reptile tank and a fish tank

How To Tell The Difference Between A Reptile Tank And A Fish Tank

If you have been given a tank for your new or growing collection of reptiles or purchased one secondhand to house these pets, you might have difficulty telling if you have a fish tank or a reptile tank on your hands.

Fish tanks and reptile tanks might look very similar, but the tanks’ design can really differ.

These tanks are designed differently based on the need of what you are putting into them.

The word terrarium starts with “terra” meaning land, while the “aqua” in aquarium refers to water.

Fish tanks, or aquariums, are explicitly designed to hold water, requiring a watertight seal and thicker glass.

Reptile tanks, or terrariums, use thinner glass for the side construction and could have ventilation holes or a drain.

If you notice holes or a drain, your search is over, and you can quickly identify your tank as one made specifically for reptiles.

The glass’s thickness is very important to consider if you are attempting to fill the tank with water.

Some unsuspecting people have filled a reptile tank with water and have experienced at best leaks, and at worst, a total breakdown of the container.

This is because the thinner glass is not equipped to handle the pressure water creates.

You could become seriously injured or cut if the tank breakdowns when filled entirely with water.

Check the thickness of the glass using a pair of calipers if possible.

Because an aquarium is made with thicker glass, it will be heavier than a terrarium built for reptiles.

If you are experienced with what an aquarium and terrarium feel like, weight-wise, you will better gauge what you have.

The silicone used to seal the edges of the aquarium is also different from a terrarium.

This is a bit harder to determine by looking at it, add a little water in the bottom and check for leaks.

In addition to being heavier and waterproof, the aquariums you encounter are often taller than terrariums.

With a little research and measuring, you will determine if your tank falls in line with the height of a fish tank or a reptile tank.

After the drain and ventilation holes, the easiest way to tell the difference between fish and reptile tanks is how they open.

Terrariums often come with a door or lid to the front of the tank.

This is designed to make access to the animal and cleaning the tank so much easier.

Other than doors, the reptile tank might have a screen top to aid with ventilation.

Looking at these design aspects will help you decide if the tank you have is a fish tank or a reptile tank.

Can I Use A Fish Tank As A Reptile Tank?

What if you have determined you have a fish tank, but instead of fish, you want to put your reptile in it?

If you are wondering if you might use your fish tank for reptiles, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.

Whether you have purchased or been given a tank secondhand or decided to buy a fish tank for your reptile, there are a few modifications you need to make to make it safe for your pet.

Many reptiles will do just fine in an aquarium meant for fish or other aquatic animals, but some reptiles cannot thrive or survive in a fish tank.

Most snakes, lizards, and some turtles can live in a fish tank, but reptiles requiring more airflow, like chameleons, will not do well living in an aquarium.

Besides airflow, chameleons are often upset by seeing their reflection in the glass.

If you decide to go this route, you will need to keep an eye on the aquarium’s interior temperature.

Because the glass walls are thicker, the temperature inside may be quite different than the exterior temperature.

Keep a close eye on it, and if you notice it getting too hot or cold, make adjustments by adding things like a heat lamp.

This will help keep the reptile at just the right temperature for their bodies to perform all their essential functions properly.

For some reptiles, especially snakes, you will need to make or invest in a lid.

The lid will need to allow for airflow, but not be too loose.

If the lid does not fit quite right or is loose, your pet could escape the enclosure.

On the flip side, we don’t recommend turning your reptile terrarium into an aquarium.

They aren’t made to withstand the pressure when filled with water, and the silicone sealing the sides together isn’t always waterproof.

Some silicones might also be harmful to any fish you attempt to put into the reptile tank turned fish tank.

The chemicals from the silicone, will leach into the water and poison your fish.

This isn’t a problem for reptiles, because they are not ingesting the silicone sealant.

Do I Need A Fish Tank Or Reptile Tank?

Let’s say you have determined you have a reptile you can put in an aquarium over a terrarium.

But should you?

Terrariums are made especially to house reptiles, but aquariums can work.

There are a few questions to ask yourself to see if a fish tank or a reptile tank would work best.

Will you be moving the tank regularly?

If you are someone who frequently rearranges furniture or moves homes or apartments regularly, a reptile tank might be better for you.

As we touched on earlier, fish tanks are going to weigh more than the reptile tanks because of the glass’s thickness.

Are you planning to keep the tank in one place for the foreseeable future?

You could get an aquarium instead.

Another question to ask yourself is, how easy you want it to be to access the inside of the tank?

Whether you are trying to take your reptile out of the tank for a handling session or just need to do a quick cleaning, easy access is more important than for others.

Some reptile tanks will have a door or opening in the front of the tank giving you quick and easy access.

An aquarium, because it needs to securely hold water constantly, will never come with this front door option.

If easy access is your priority, find yourself a reptile tank to house your pets.

This will come in handy as you will need to clean their home quite often.

Additionally, you will need to add fresh water and food to the tank, and front access might make things easier for you.

Alternatives To A Reptile Tank

Glass tanks might be the standard option, and they are available in a variety of sizes and styles.

But if these glass tank options don’t work for your needs, there are other choices.

Screen-vented enclosures might be something to look into if your pet needs more ventilation.

These habitats are great for arboreal (tree climbing) species who need low humidity temperatures.

They are light and are relatively easy to move.

Depending on how much money you want to spend, look at customized enclosures, or even make your own.

Customized enclosures are available online to fit your needs, but they can get costly, so it is best to wait until you have decided you are committed to caring for a reptile before you invest in one.

We recommend waiting until you have a little more experience to make your own enclosure as many reptiles have particular needs.

There are many options available on the market besides the standard glass tank.

Take some time and do your research before you settle on what will work best for you.


A reptile tank and a fish tank might look the same, but they have very significant differences.

While you can use an aquarium for certain reptiles, do your research and ask questions to make sure it is the right choice.

We hope you now have a better understanding of how to tell the difference between a reptile tank and a fish tank.