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FAQs on Freshwater Aquariums & Ammonia 2

Related Articles: Ammonia, Freshwater Aquarium Water Quality, pH, alkalinity, acidityTreating Tap Water, Freshwater MaintenanceFrequent Partial Water Changes Establishing Cycling, Freshwater Filtration, Know Your Filter Media, A Concise Guide to Your Options by Neale Monks, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for Beginners

Related FAQs: Freshwater Ammonia 1, Freshwater Ammonia 3, & FAQs on FW Ammonia: Importance, Science, Measure, Sources, Control, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting/Fixing, & Freshwater Nutrient Cycling, FW H2O Quality 1, Aquarium MaintenanceEnvironmental Disease, Treating Tap Water for Aquarium Use, pH, Alkalinity, Acidity, Biological Filtration, Nitrogen Cycling, Establishing Cycling 1, Nitrite, Nitrate, Freshwater Algae Control, Algae Control, Foods, Feeding, Aquatic Nutrition, Disease


Ammonia, FW, reading   2/22/08 I have read the q&a section of your site <Have read your msg. here... the Q and A is not where you need to peruse...> and could not find what I was looking for. I have a 55 gal. aquarium with about 1-2ins of gravel. An AquaClear Power Filter with Chemical, Mechanical and Biological Filtration. Artificial Plantings and Decos. bought at PetSmart. Set-up tank 12/31/07 without fish. Readings: Amon.-O 1/5/08---Amon - 0.5 PH - 6.5 PH - 7 No2 & No3 - O No2 & No3 - O On 1/9/08 I added 6 Danios for cycling - Amon. Levels stayed at 0.5, <... this is toxic... There should be no fishes present> PH stayed at 7, No2 & No3 stayed at O until 2/12/08. Was in constant contact with a knowledge salesperson at PetSmart (I thought) due to the Ammonia level not going above 0.5 and any rise in the No2 % No3. He told me not to worry about it and the fact that my tank is 55gal., it will take longer to start cycling. <This is so> On 1/24/08 he told me it was ok to add more fish. <Was there still measurable ammonia present? Still toxic> He suggested 3 swordtails & 1 male gold/honey Gourami. (Total now 10) On 2/4/08 noted 1 Danio missing and never found to this day-searched everywhere including gravel. Salesperson told me that it  was probably a weak one, died and was eaten. Still telling me the Amon. level was ok even though I kept telling him of my concern. No2 & No3 still at O. <... trouble> On 2/10/08 he told me the cycle must be complete and that I could add more fish. He suggested 6 Australian Rainbows. 3 female & 3 males (Total now 15) On 2/17/08 Amon level- 1, PH-7.2, No2 & No3 - O <...> Had been doing 15% - 25% water changes every week, rinsed foam (2/10/08), replaced carbon (2/13/08) and then replaced foam (2/20/08) Last water change was 2/17/08 (25%) Still no change in Amon, Ph, No2 % No3. Am really concerned and don't want to lose any fish but thinking it may be too late. <Have you read on WWM re FW cycling?> On 2/21/08 noted tiny bit of tail fin on a Danio missing. It is eating fine and swimming fine. Also noted that the Gourami stays pretty much by itself now. It's not eating that well and its' movements are strange. At times when it's swimming forward it looks like it is hopping forward instead of a smooth forward motion. As you can tell, I am new to this hobby and want to have a healthy tank. <You should have read, been reading... not listening to a lone "sales clerk"> What is happening? I am thinking that the tank didn't cycle when I was told it did and may be cycling now with all of these fish in there. What can I do? Is there any hope for my fish? Should I stop feeding and changing water? Please Help asap Thank you for any info. you can give me <... Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwestcycling.htm and the linked files above, particularly Ammonia... I would be very careful re feeding anything much here, and immediately seek out and use BioSpira (A Marineland product) to establish cycling here. No more fish for now... Bob Fenner>

Re: DISCUS AND AMMONIA SPIKE AFTERMATH... induced Discus prob.s, hypochondria... reading  2/1/08 Hi , thanks for your response <... where is the prev. corr.?> to my ammonia issue I bought the AmQuel + and that has resolved the ammonia (chloramine in my tap water at H20 changes), can I use this everyday at water changes the bottle says to wait 24 hours between applications and since I need to do wc everyday is it ok. <Can be used daily, continuously if necessary> Second question is I noticed that one of my discus has two small white spots on his caudal fin, treated with combo formalin and malachite green per directions for three days (whole tank) <!? VERY toxic... I would NOT place formalin in a biological system> with wc of 20% each day, also the carbon was removed. <Likely all your biological filtration/nitrifiers have been wiped out> However on the second day of treatment I noticed that the fish looked like they had Finrot and on two of them they appeared to have swollen abdomens, as well as red around the nose area. <Effects of formalin poisoning and nitrogenous waste exposure...> I did a 65% wc and replaced the carbon. My nitrites spiked to 0.3mg/l and the ph was at 7.8 which is normally 7.6. I should mention that the tank was setup in late Sept. and was cycled properly (AQUACLEAR 110) but I live in an area where we are experiencing more frequent power outages and I am not always at home so the time the filter is down is not always noted. I have a 75 gal, with two filters a BioWheel 330 and a AquaClear 110 the latter was the original and it was the one that I turned off (fear of media had become anaerobic) after an outage of 4 hours in late Dec. <Likely so> which meant the BioWheel was only cycled for about 3 weeks and on its own. I Have since put some filter media in from a well established tank on Tues. of this week can't find BioSpira even on the Marineland site says error when click to buy. Could this and the combo of the ammonia (that is in tap water) spike caused this problem in my tank with my fish. <Yes> Could it be a bacterial infection. <Is this a question?> This is all the symptoms that my fish are displaying dark colored, clamped fins, as of today they don't look swollen in the abdomen, Finrot looks a little better gave 1 treatment of parasite clear tank buddies by jungle active ingred. ( Praziquantel, Diflubenzuron, Metronidazole and Acriflavine) <... for?> and redness around their nose area. What to do next I haven't done anymore Rx only added salt <? On Symphysodon? A poor idea> and have kept lights off and feeding sparingly they haven't seemed to have lost their appetite at all. Thanks in advance. <Uhh, I'd stop pouring in medications (you're killing these animals with same) and invest your money and time in educating yourself... There are quite a few good Discus books about, and some useful information on the Net re the genus. Ours: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/discusfish.htm and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia, FW  1/27/08 Dear Crew- <Greetings.> I have a 30 gallon freshwater tank with 2 Bio-Wheel filters. My current livestock consists of 2 parrot fish, Pleco, sword tail and a barb. I set this tank up a Christmas time and I am having a VERY hard time with the ammonia.. My ammonia is reading about 4 and the nitrate about 2. <Seriously...? Ammonia above even 1 mg/l is basically lethal to fish, and you're running at 4 times that! Not good. Almost certainly you added too much stuff. An aquarium takes 6 weeks to mature. It's not 4 weeks since Christmas. Moreover a 30 gallon tank is WAY too small for the types of fish you have. Swordtails and barbs are both good choices, but Parrot Fish (by which I assume you mean those mutant cichlid hybrids) are not community fish and are best on their own. They are also (like virtually all cichlids) both messy and sensitive to poor water quality. Some barbs (e.g., Tiger Barbs) are fin-nippers and will harass fish as unwilling/unable to swim as Parrot Fish. Your Plec -- if the common variety -- gets to 40 cm or so in length, and isn't viable in anything less than a 55 gallon tank in even the medium term (expect full size within 2 years!). In short, I suspect you didn't actually do any research before buying fish, and just bought a bunch of things you liked. While that's a fine approach when shopping for cut flowers or potato chips, it's not really viable in fishkeeping.> I have done partial water changes, and have even changed all the water. Tests go down, but are never at "0". Any suggestions you could give me, my fish would appreciate. <The water itself isn't the issue, but the fact there's too many fish, likely receiving too much food, kept in a tank with an immature filter. If I was shopping with you at Christmas, I'd have bought the tank, set it up, and the used a bacteria-culture product to jump start the biological filter. I'd then have installed a small number of suitable fish, perhaps a trio of Danios or Peppered Corydoras, two fish that tolerate the cycling process well. Water changes and nitrite tests would keep me busy, and I'd be giving the fish a small pinch of food *every other day* to avoid serious ammonia poisoning. After 2-3 of weeks, I'd expect things to be looking good on the nitrite test results, and if so, I'd add a trio more Danios or Corydoras, so I had a nice school of whichever species. And so it goes on -- picking small, hardy species appropriate to my aquarium.> Do you think it could be the Bio-

Ammonia, FW, reading   2/22/08 I have read the q&a section of your site <Have read your msg. here... the Q and A is not where you need to peruse...> and could not find what I was looking for. I have a 55 gal. aquarium with about 1-2ins of gravel. An AquaClear Power Filter with Chemical, Mechanical and Biological Filtration. Artificial Plantings and Decos. bought at PetSmart. Set-up tank 12/31/07 without fish. Readings: Amon.-O 1/5/08---Amon - 0.5 PH - 6.5 PH - 7 No2 & No3 - O No2 & No3 - O On 1/9/08 I added 6 Danios for cycling - Amon. Levels stayed at 0.5, <... this is toxic... There should be no fishes present> PH stayed at 7, No2 & No3 stayed at O until 2/12/08. Was in constant contact with a knowledge salesperson at PetSmart (I thought) due to the Ammonia level not going above 0.5 and any rise in the No2 % No3. He told me not to worry about it and the fact that my tank is 55gal., it will take longer to start cycling. <This is so> On 1/24/08 he told me it was ok to add more fish. <Was there still measurable ammonia present? Still toxic> He suggested 3 swordtails & 1 male gold/honey Gourami. (Total now 10) On 2/4/08 noted 1 Danio missing and never found to this day-searched everywhere including gravel. Salesperson told me that it  was probably a weak one, died and was eaten. Still telling me the Amon. level was ok even though I kept telling him of my concern. No2 & No3 still at O. <... trouble> On 2/10/08 he told me the cycle must be complete and that I could add more fish. He suggested 6 Australian Rainbows. 3 female & 3 males (Total now 15) On 2/17/08 Amon level- 1, PH-7.2, No2 & No3 - O <...> Had been doing 15% - 25% water changes every week, rinsed foam (2/10/08), replaced carbon (2/13/08) and then replaced foam (2/20/08) Last water change was 2/17/08 (25%) Still no change in Amon, Ph, No2 % No3. Am really concerned and don't want to lose any fish but thinking it may be too late. <Have you read on WWM re FW cycling?> On 2/21/08 noted tiny bit of tail fin on a Danio missing. It is eating fine and swimming fine. Also noted that the Gourami stays pretty much by itself now. It's not eating that well and its' movements are strange. At times when it's swimming forward it looks like it is hopping forward instead of a smooth forward motion. As you can tell, I am new to this hobby and want to have a healthy tank. <You should have read, been reading... not listening to a lone "sales clerk"> What is happening? I am thinking that the tank didn't cycle when I was told it did and may be cycling now with all of these fish in there. What can I do? Is there any hope for my fish? Should I stop feeding and changing water? Please Help asap Thank you for any info. you can give me <... Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwestcycling.htm and the linked files above, particularly Ammonia... I would be very careful re feeding anything much here, and immediately seek out and use BioSpira (A Marineland product) to establish cycling here. No more fish for now... Bob Fenner>

Wheels? <They're not mature yet, so give them a chance.> Could it be that this tank was previously used for saltwater? (it was bleached and air dried for about a year) <Not an issue.> The water tests "0" before adding to the tank. <Indeed they would be. Tap water has good water quality. The tricky bit is keeping good water quality when the fish are in the tank, and that's where time and understanding come into play. There are any number of fishkeeping books out there, and your local public library or bookstore will have a range for you to read. Do read some of the "101" articles we have here, such as this nice primer: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwset-up.htm There's no real mystery to fishkeeping, but there is a distinct way of doing things you reject at your peril!> Would the use of a canister be helpful here? <Not as such, no. Some fish will need to be returned though. And time... you need time...> I do appreciate your time. Thank you, Dawn <Happy to help. Welcome to the hobby, and keep reading. Cheers, Neale.>

Ammonia in Tap Water 1/26/08 Hi I have searched your site for a answer to my ammonia problem but haven't found an answer. <I assure you, it is here.> I have a seventy five gal with two filters a BioWheel, and AquaClear with 8 discus I have Mardel ammonia as well as liquid test kits. Ammonia level is at caution I do and have been doing 50-90% water changes with no results stumbled upon your site and saw that maybe it would be in the tap, <Yes> had already did a 90% change and then read to check the tap my tap after the 20 min. wait was 1.5 how can I remedy this as I don't want to leave the fish in 10% of the water for too long feel the ammo would get to the fish quicker please help? <You have chloramine in your water. Read the link below along with related FAQ's. Do look into Kordon's Amquel. Storing and aerating the water for a week or more will do the trick also. Good luck, Scott V.> http://wetwebmedia.com/water4maruse.htm

Inexplicable (?) ammonia readings -12/14/07 Hi Crew, <Leah,> Let me apologize in advance for a lengthy question. I've received help from you before, and I am really hoping that you can help explain the current ammonia emergency I seem to be having in my tank. I've read several threads and FAQs, but nothing I see explains my extreme ammonia readings. I have 2 small honey Gourami and 3 small clown loaches in a 20g tank running a 20-40 Whisper HOB plus an under-the-gravel filter (and if the fish all pull through this they're going in a 55g in January). <Ah, am glad to see you plan on buying a bigger tank. Clown loaches are WAAAYYY too big for a 20 gallon tank. Adults are big fish, and even in a 55 gallon tank they're going to be pretty cramped.> The tank with Gourami only was running for over 6 months with no trouble before buying the loaches. I didn't qt the loaches and thus learned my lesson. They gave my tank ich. I treated with Rid-Ich+ for 10 days, which ended about a week ago. The treatments seems to have been effective (fingers crossed) but it also seems to have killed off my biological filter. <Used as directed, aquarium medications shouldn't harm the filter. The filter is filled with bacteria, whereas the Ick parasites are Protozoans. What kills the one is normally harmless to the other. So I'd be looking around for other factors.> I started getting ammonia readings around 1 or 2 on the last day of treatment. I did daily 50% water changes, but there was no measurable effect on the ammonia. After 2 or 3 days, I grew very worried--why wouldn't water changes result in an immediately lowered ammonia reading? <Depends on where the ammonia is coming from. Potentially you could have ammonia in the water supply. Infrequently, this happens, and when it does, water changes dump ammonia in the water. Another source is Chloramine, used to sterilise tap water. Dechlorinators not designed for Chloramine break it into Chlorine (which they neutralise) and Ammonia (which they do not). If you've switched brand on dechlorinator and you happen to have Chloramine in the tap water, you will suddenly have an ammonia crisis. Likewise, if your water supplier has suddenly started adding chloramine to your tap water but your favoured brand of dechlorinator doesn't treat it, then again, elevated levels of ammonia will appear in the water. Other sources of ammonia include overstocking, overfeeding, and under-filtration. Filters need to be maintained, and if they're excessively clogged up, their ammonia processing ability declines.> I bought a product called Ammo Lock and began using it. The daily ammonia readings grew even higher. <Ammo-Lock is essentially a one-shot tool for removing ammonia from tap water. It has no impact on constant ammonia production, e.g., by your livestock or from some dead animal decaying in the tank. It is almost never the solution to an ammonia problem.> Yesterday I spaced out several big water changes, resulting in changing at least 100% of the water over the course of the day, and the ammonia stayed squarely at 4. Finally in the evening I did one big 80% change, and the ammonia lowered to 1--but by the morning it was at 4 again. I did another 80% change, resulting in a reading of 1--and in six hours it was at 4 again. I did another 90% change, resulting in a reading of .25 to .5--and in five hours it was over 4 again. I am, to say the least, frustrated. These readings just don't seem possible. <I agree, this is odd and severe. The first thing is test the water. Test it straight from the tap, and then after dechlorination. If there's ammonia in the tap water, that's one problem identified. If the ammonia appears only after dechlorination, then the problem is chloramine plus the wrong type of dechlorinator. If both tests are negative, but there's ammonia in the aquarium, then the ammonia source is in the tank: the fish or decaying protein (which could be food or a dead animal). In either case, the solution is to remove that source, by [a] reducing the stocking density; [b] increasing the biological filtration; [c] removing any dead animals in the tank; or [d] feeding the fish less often.> I should add that I haven't fed the tank for 2 days. <Good.> My pH is 6.4 to 6.8, nitrites are 0, and nitrates around 10. Also, I have a 10g tank with 6 Rasboras in it, which is running a 10-20 Whisper HOB and a 70 Aquaclear HOB (the Aquaclear is running to seed it with bacteria for the 55g coming in January). Yesterday I took the unhealthy biological filter pad from the 20g Whisper and switched it with the healthy media filter from the 10g Whisper (they use the same size biological filter). No change in ammonia. This morning I removed the 70 filter, which has been running on the 10g tank for about 8 days, and put it on the 20g. So the 20g is running with one established bio filter pad and one partially established 70 filter. No improvement in ammonia. How is it possible that I do an 80% to 90% water change, and the ammonia spikes back up to 4 in a matter of hours? Where is it coming from? <Assuming not in the tap water as ammonia or chloramine, then one of these: too many fish, too much food, dead stuff decaying.> There's only 5 small fish who haven't eaten in 2 days. (And they seem perfectly fine--I can only assume this is the result of the Ammo Lock, which I have replaced with every water change in proportion to what I take out.) I wonder if either I am getting false positives (I'm using a salicylate test from API, the makers of Ammo Lock), <Possible. Take some water to the pet store and have them test for ammonia.> or maybe its a case of what I've read online about under-the-gravel filters that trap toxic waste and release it in the water. <Doesn't work that way. Undergravel filters don't magically produce ammonia. Ammonia comes from protein, and protein is either live animals (fish) or dead animals (fish food). Plants contain tiny amounts of protein so don't produce much ammonia even when dead and decaying. 'Toxic Waste' covers a range of chemicals. Undergravel filters are said to produce nitrate; assuming this happens, that nitrate is largely harmless and certainly doesn't magically become ammonia.> But I am good with vacuuming the gravel. I will be so grateful to hear your opinion on what I'm doing wrong and how I might fix this. Perhaps the worst part of this story is that on the 17th I leave town for over a month and a house-sitter will care for my tank. I so want these fish to make it until I get back and can set up their new 55g that I've already bought for them. Thanks in advance for your help. <I hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings -12/14/07 One possible source might be this: I used to have lots of copepods or other tiny shrimpy things living in my gravel, but the Rid-Ich+ seems to have killed them (the bottle says it will kill invertebrates). I'm not seeing their bodies when I vacuum the gravel, but maybe there's a ton of them decaying beneath the under-gravel filter. Should I try to take it out and check? <Certainly sounds plausible. There's nothing wrong with taking apart an undergravel filter for a good clean. In fact, it should be done every year or so. Remove the gravel to a bucket and clean (in stages if need be) using aquarium water or lukewarm, dechlorinated tap water, just as if you were cleaning a filter sponge. With the gravel remove, clean the filter plate and siphon away any detritus. Because u/g filters need to be maintained in this way, they're somewhat out of fashion these days compared with easier to maintain canister and sponge filters. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings -12/14/07 Thanks for the response, Neale. I have indeed tested my tap water, but it contains no ammonia. My dechlorinator (Stress Coat) treats both chlorine and chloramine. Ammo Lock also treats both chlorine and chloramine, in addition to ammonia. <All sounds fine.> For this reason I've been using only Ammo Lock and no Stress Coat for the past few days. <I'm not a big fan of Stress Coat. It doesn't really do anything essential in the average aquarium.> I didn't want to use two dechlorinators at once, but maybe this is part of the problem? AL says it treats 7.0 ppm chlorine and 5.0 ppm chloramine; SC doesn't give numbers on the bottle. <Ammo Lock should work adequately well on its own; no need to supplement with Stress Coat.> Last night I tested some water from my 10g both with and without the addition of some AL, and it was 0 ammonia in both cases, so I think the test works and is not affected by the AL. Last night I also bought a small Zeolite cartridge for the under-gravel filter, and this morning was the first morning that the ammonia level stayed where it was when I went to bed last night (still close to 4). I assume this is because the Zeolite actually removes ammonia as opposed to binding it. <Zeolite binds with ammonia in a _reversible_ way up to its capacity, after which it does nothing. There's no need to use Zeolite in most aquaria, but in this instance it may be useful. To actually have any effect you need quite a lot of the stuff unless the tank is very lightly stocked. The small cartridges are largely a waste of money. Seriously, you need about a litre volume of the stuff (i.e., a 10 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm) for about 10-15 gallons of aquarium space. It is hugely inefficient compared with biological filtration, which is why it's only useful in exceptional situations, such as tanks with less than pH 6.> But I know this is only treating the symptom. I've removed rocks and plants to see if some animal or bug or something fell in the tank and died, but there's nothing in there. Just 5 hungry fish, and lots of java fern. Nothing has happened in that tank except for massive water changes. Considering all this, do you have any other ideas about the source of the ammonia? <Nope. There's really only two places ammonia comes from: organic sources, i.e., animals dead or alive, and inorganic sources, i.e., ammonia in the tap water.> Just because I'm feeling so desperate to get the fish out of this sick tank, I have considered the idea of setting up the 55g tank before I leave for vacation, and running it with all three of my HOB filters (10-20 Whisper, 20-40 Whisper, and 70 Aquaclear) plus the under-gravel plate. My thinking is that, if it works, it will not experience much of a cycle and will leave the house-sitter with a more stable system. But if it doesn't work, and if the 20's cycling problem is only imported into the 55, then the house-sitter would be left with a 55 tank experiencing ammonia spikes and thus she'd have to deal with way bigger water changes than she'd need to for the 20.... Any opinions on this? <You might ask a retailer if you can "holiday" your fish. Some will do this, either free of charge or for a small fee. Depends on your relationship with the retailer. Do also check all filters are working, and optimise for biological filtration. Remove junk like carbon, and I don't think Zeolite is going to really help here. If I was using Zeolite, I'd fill up a big box or canister filter with the stuff. You need A LOT to do a job. I'd also clean the tank from top to bottom, removing anything even remotely dead or decaying. And don't feed the fish!> Again, thanks so much. <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/15/2007 Sorry to keep writing back with more questions. I think setting up the 55 might be a bad idea--I should wait until I get back and have time to monitor it. I'm in the middle of scooping out gravel in order to remove the under-gravel filter and clean it. Since I have two HOB filters running on this tank, would it be ok not to re-install the under-gravel? Would that significantly decrease my biological filtration? <Difficult to answer this question without knowing the size of the tank. It doesn't matter how an aquarium is filtered, provided the total filtration is at least 4x the volume of the tank in turnover per hour. So if the HOB filters cover that, you may not need the undergravel filter. But my instinct is to say NO, do not remove the undergravel filter. A clean u/g filter works very well, and in my experience at least as well as a couple of small, easily clogged HOB filters. If you have physically removed the ammonia source by cleaning the gravel, you should find the ammonia level drops to zero very quickly. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/15/2007 I'll give it a try and clean the gravel filter today. Any opinion on setting up the 55? I would have only 3 days to monitor it before leaving on Monday.... <Tough call. Moving a mature filter to a new, bigger tank should cause no problems and in fact improve environmental conditions. The bacteria don't care where they are provided the water chemistry is the same. But if you'd prefer to take things slowly and check for leaks, water chemistry, etc., then leave the 55 gallon tank until you return. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings  12/16/07 Hi again (Neale?), I had hoped to write back with good news, but things don't seem to be improving in my 20g tank with the ammonia issues. I cleaned the gravel in old tank water, and replaced about 90% of the water. I then put everything back it--gravel, two rock decorations, and some java fern attached to rocks with twisty-ties. For about 5 or 6 hours the ammonia stayed at .25 and I was optimistic, but last night it started to slowly creep up and this morning its at 4 again. <Very strange. If this was me, I'd empty the tank 100%. No gravel, no rocks, no nothing. Fill with water. Install filters and heaters. Put in a couple hiding places for the fish, such as the Java ferns, though thoroughly clean these under a running tap to wash away any dirt. Return the fish. Switch off lights. Leave tank running 24 hours and see what happens. If the ammonia returns, then the source is almost certainly too many fish/not enough filtration. If the ammonia stays at zero, as it should, either seriously deep clean the gravel or else install brand new gravel. At this point, you need to eliminate possible sources of ammonia. Since dead animals in the gravel is one of the options, checking things this way would help.> I am consider 1) removing all the gravel and replacing it with new gravel; 2) setting up the new 55 tank today; or 3) moving all the fish (two honey Gourami and three small Clown loaches) to my 10g tank for the month I am away (it has 6 Rasboras in it). <I'd go with [1], though at least setting up the 55 gallon tank might have some mileage. Moving the fish to the 10 gallon could be sensible if the ammonia refuses to go down, but for anything more than a couple of weeks you don't really want to cram this many fish into such a small tank.> In any case I have only 2 and 1/2 days to monitor the situation before I leave. <Always the way! Things go wrong just before a vacation.> I really appreciate your help. (PS--I didn't get your email about the UGF until I had already put the gravel back in without the UGF, so that is not in the tank, but I could put it back in today since I'm removing the gravel again.) <For now, remove the UG filter as described above and see what happens. Assuming the tap water is ammonia-free, and the HOB filters are adequate to the task, then an "empty" aquarium with no gravel should be safe and ammonia-free, even if the fish aren't happy about the lack of decor. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings  12/16/07 Thanks again, Neale. I have removed all gravel and put back in the java fern. There is 100% new dechlorinated water in the tank. I'm going to let it sit for a few hours to acclimate to room temp, and then I'll put the fish back in. Instead of having them in a bucket, I put them in the 10g while I worked, and to be honest the clown loaches seem to like it in there. It's got a ton of java fern in it, and they're out swimming around in it, not hiding under a rock like they used to do in the 20g. So, I was wondering what you think about putting only the two Gourami in the 20g and leaving the clowns in the 10g for the 3 and 1/2 weeks I'll be away. I hate to move them again--it really wigs them out, whereas the Gourami will swim right into the net. <Hmm... depends on the size of the Clowns. I'd not like to see 3" Clown loaches in a 10 gallon tank for any length of time. While they might be fine, I'd prefer to see how the ammonia levels do in the big tank, and then act accordingly. If it's a toss-up between a healthy 10 gallon and an ammonia-laced 50 gallon tank, then keep 'em where they are. But if the big tank settles down, as I think it will, then moving the Clowns back to the 50 gallon tank will be the wiser choice. At the end of the day this will have to be your choice based on the happiness of the fish, their size, and the water quality in the big tank. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings  12/16/07 Cheers to you, too, Neale -- I do think I'll need a drink at the end of this day.... <Heh!> I've moved the Gourami back over to the 20g, and I'm going to wait and see what happens in 24 hours. (The tank with the ammonia issues is a 20g, not a 50, although I have a 55 sitting on my coffee table that I was planning on setting up after vacation.) This afternoon I'll get some fresh gravel from the pet store. The loaches are still in the 10g--I'll decide what to do about them tomorrow. I am leaning toward, as you suggest, putting them back in the 20g if the ammonia calms down. <I think that would be the ideal move, but if the ammonia is still above zero, then keeping them in the healthy 10 gallon tank would be the safe option. I've been in your situation, and had to keep overly-large fish in a small tank simply because it was the safest place for them. While your Loaches will be fine there for the short term, the problem for us here when recommending this sort of thing is some people will read this as saying "Clown Loaches can be kept in a 10 gallon tank". Which they can't, at least not for anything other than the short term.> I guess I have some lingering worries about there being bacteria issues. But then again I did switch filter media 2 days ago. In an attempt to manage the ammonia crisis, I took the bio filter pad from the 10g's filter and switched it with the pad on the 20g's filter. So now the 10g's filter is running with what I thought was the "bad" bio filter pad damaged by Rid-Ich+, and the 20g has a "good" bio pad from the stable 10g. But now I doubt that this was ever a bacteria problem, since switching the pads has had no effect on either tank, leading me to believe that both pads are equally stable. <Precisely so. Filter bacteria are basically quite tough and difficult to kill once established, and fish medications are almost all safe to use with biological filters.> And you advised me that Rid-Ich+ shouldn't wipe out my bacteria when used as directed. I think most clues point to the ammonia problem being attributable to an ammonia source and not a bacteria failure. <Does seem probable, but this is all speaking without experimentation. Removing the gravel and then seeing what happens should clear this up.> In any case, I'm not doing anything except water tests for the next 24 hours. I do apologize for all these emails and kind of abusing your patience and the very generous wetwebmedia.com services, but it's been really invaluable to have someone knowledgeable to correspond with throughout this whole situation. Thanks again! <Glad we could help, and I hope everything settles down. Enjoy the holidays! Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/20/07 Well things settled down for about 30 hours, and then the ammonia began to rise to .25. <Very odd.> I am not sure whether this may reflect the loss of all the bacteria in the old gravel, and thus maybe it will settle down on its own, or if there is still yet another source of ammonia in the tank that I haven't identified (just java fern, rocks, and two cave decorations in there), <If the undergravel filter was the principle location of biological filtration, then cleaning/replacing the gravel would have the effect of allowing ammonia (and nitrite) to go up for a while. At least until the canister filters come up to maturity and compensate. As for sources of ammonia, the plants certainly won't be a factor. Plants remove ammonia directly as a source of nitrogen for protein synthesis. It is hard to imagine rocks or ornaments could produce ammonia, and certainly not if sold as "aquarium safe".> or if there is after all a bacteria problem (which seems unlikely since I'm running the filter pad from the established 10g on the 20g--albeit the 10g contains only 6 Rasboras, so maybe that pad didn't have a large enough colony to take over on the 20g.) <In this case, the mature filter media will quickly inoculate the clean media in the filter, so that the tank should fully "cycle" up to a full biological filtration capacity in a week or less.> Due to the time difference, if you get this email before I leave, it will likely be in the morning for me. <Well, I was away for a few days, so only now able to answer this question.> So, my question is, if the ammonia just won't get under control, and you had to get the fish out of the tank, would you 1) move them to the 10g or 2) set up the 55 running with all three filters I have? <I'd move everything to the big tank, attach the mature filter to it, and remove everything from the big tank that I wasn't 100% sure was safe. In other words, I'd happily leave it empty of gravel, with maybe just the heater, a flower pot for a hiding place, and a plant or two.> The 10-20 HOB has the "bad" bio media pad, the 20-40 HOB has the "good" bio media pad, and the new 70 HOB has only been running for about 10 days to get seeded with bacteria. The fish would be six small Rasboras, two 1 inch honey gouramis, and 3 clown loaches all under 2 inches each. <Do-able, but perhaps not ideal. Too much in the 10 gallon tank could cause its own problems.> Would you use the java fern from the 20g in either tank? Could the plants be part of the problem? <I can't see how, but to eliminate the possibility, I'd remove the plant to a glass jar filled with water and place it somewhere sunny. In other words, treat it like a pot plant. It'll be fine kept thus for a few weeks.> Thank you again, Leah. <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/20/07 Hi again Neale. I wonder if it would make any difference in your assessment of the situation if I tell you that there is a discrepancy now between the API liquid test and the Mardel ammonia monitor that hangs in the tank. The monitor shows no ammonia, but it only measure free ammonia (I believe that's NH3 as opposed to NH4?). Now there's no Ammo Lock in the water, so if the ammonia is the non-toxic sort, then it's not because of any chemicals I added. The API test measures both NH3 and NH4, and it is the slightest bit green--it was almost hard to tell, so I tested the water from the 10g to compare them, and the 10g is definitely a lemon yellow while the 20g's water is slightly green-tinged, seeming to match the .25 color strip on the chart. Just thought I'd add that, because I only started using the API test during the current situation. Before I relied only on Mardel monitors, so the fish could have been in these same water conditions many times before but I wouldn't have known it because the Mardel monitor doesn't seem to reflect the change I'm currently experiencing. <Hello Leah. In-tank pH and ammonia monitors have a fixed lifespan after which point they stop being accurate. The Mardel one apparently needs to be replaced every 6 weeks. So I'd not place too much store on any values offered by that device if it is older than that. Personally, I find these devices a bit of a waste. Anyway, all ammonia is toxic. It doesn't matter if it is ammonium (the stuff produced by the fish, and the form of ammonia present in acidic tanks) or ammonia proper (which the fish waste turns into under alkaline/basic water conditions). While reading around your problem, I came across a very interesting article on ammonia-removing products and ammonia test kits, published by the manufacturers of an Ammo Lock-type product called AmQuel. http://www.novalek.com/kordon/articles/truth_about.html If your fish are otherwise happy and healthy, it might be that your test kit is either past its "best before" date or is reacting adversely to the Ammo Lock. High levels of ammonia (above 0.5 mg/l) tend to produce very obvious signs in fish: lethargy, poor colours, loss of appetite, outbreaks of whitespot and Finrot, and so on. If these are not present, I would be very keen to test out the test kits. I'd do a few big water changes that would flush out the Ammo Lock, and then I'd use a different (new) test kit to test for ammonia, perhaps asking the pet store to do it. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/20/07 I'm really sorry for the constant updates, but as of 7 PM Hawaii time tomorrow I'll be bound for the mainland, and I can't really ask any questions after that--the fish are on their own. The ammonia is still creeping up--it's at .5. I am leaning toward setting up the 55 for several reasons: 1) all the fish in the 10g would be overcrowded, risking an ammonia situation in that tank that arises after I leave; 2) all the fish in the 55 would be under-stocked, and lots more water means more dilution of ammonia and a more forgiving system; and since the house sitter may only come by every other day, I feel like there's less chance in the 55 of a sudden spike that would kill the fish in that time; 3) my 10g filter is running what I thought was the "bad" filter pad damaged by Rid-Ich+, so I don't know if the 10g tank can handle an overload of fish, and although I don't fully trust any of my filters now, I feel like all three running on an 55 tank might have time to get themselves back in line before the ammonia level even becomes readable. I will have the house sitter test the water, and if things get bad I will give her instructions on how to set back up the 10g. My follow up question is what stuff should I bring over from the 20g: the gravel seems ok, its new; the plants I'm not sure about, maybe they're contributing to the problem?; the 70 Aquaclear HOB needs to go on the 55, it was running on the 10g for about 10 days before I moved it to the 20 to help out with the ammonia issue; and lastly the 20-40 Whisper HOB is running the "good" filter pad from the 10g, but I wonder of something in there is causing the ammonia. I checked it--its slimy, but not full of dead copepods or anything--but could anything else in there be dumping ammonia in the water? <I think your plan is basically sound. If it was me, I'd not risk having house-sitters doing water changes and so on. I'd simply empty the 55 g tank of everything but the bare essentials: a filter, a heater, a flower pot or two for hiding places, and maybe some plastic plants or something else inert and 100% safe. I'd leave the 10 gallon tank (with the Rasboras?) alone doing its thing. I'd then ensure the house-sitter gave very infrequent meals, perhaps once every 3-4 days. That would minimise the amount of waste in the system. I tend to NOT clean biological filters before going away on vacations unless they are obviously clogged and poorly performing. Best to leave the bacteria alone in my opinion. Cheers, Neale.>

Disregard previous emails: here's what happened  Re: inexplicable (?) ammonia readings 12/20/07 Hey Neale. <Leah,> After fretting over this yesterday afternoon (sorry for the barrage of updates) I returned home to find the ammonia creeping still higher to .50. Having changed the gravel completely, I can only conclude that the problem is either 1) something inside my filter producing ammonia; <Seems improbable.> 2) something in the java fern or the stones they're tied to producing ammonia; <Again, improbable.> 3) something in the plastic rock decorations producing ammonia; <Very improbable, assuming aquarium-safe to begin with.> or 4) a lack of bacteria. <Often the case with immature tanks, but as I understand it, this isn't the case here.> Yet none of these seems plausible: 1) took my filter apart, nothing in there but some green slime which I thought was where some bacteria lived, but I cleaned out some of it from the intake tube; <Hmm... healthy filter sponges (or whatever) should have nothing more than brown detritus, basically decaying plant matter and fish faeces. The smell should be earthy but pleasant, like soil. Fungi and saprophytic bacteria look whitish, while blue-green algae is very obviously that colour and has quite a nasty musty smell. Anything that clogs up the sponges is bad, though the degree to which this matters depends on the quantity. As a rule, gently cleaning out sponges by squeezing them in buckets of aquarium water once every 1-2 months should do the trick nicely.> 2) the same java fern and stones, bought from a pet store for aquariums, were in my 10g causing no problems; <I really can't see this being a factor.> 3) the plastic decorations are also made for aquariums; <Ditto.> and 4) the bio filter pads were switched, so it seems both pads work equally (I should add that these tanks have run with no measurable ammonia ever for 2 months [the 10g} and almost 4 months [20g]). <Sounds fine.> Yet, the "good" bio filter pad was indeed running in a 10g tank with only 6 Rasboras, so maybe it wasn't prepared for the Gourami and clown loaches. I figured that if this is the case, dumping all 5 fish in the 10g would be a bad idea and would cause an ammonia rise after a few days. <Broadly agree, but healthy biological filters adapt to increased loads remarkably quickly, certainly if only small numbers of extra fish are added at a time.> If none of my filters are 100%, but they're all at least partially seeded with bacteria, then the right thing to do seemed to be to set up the 55 with all 3 filters. And at least with that much water, an ammonia spike would come on slower--if they're all in the 10g it'd kill them pretty quickly--and maybe the bacteria will have a chance to catch up before the ammonia becomes measurable. <Agreed.> I am using the 20-40 filter from the 20g, but I haven't added the java fern yet on the chance that it's the problem--do you think it'd be safe to add it back? <Should be fine.> Should I clean that filter any more? <No; overdoing the cleaning will only stress the bacteria population.> I'll show my house sitter how to test the water and set the 10g back up, just in case things go wrong in the 55 (by the way, the fish love it in there). Is there anything else I can do in the 12 hours before I leave Hawaii to make sure this 55 is as stable as possible? <Have said what I'd do in the other messages leading up to this one. Sorry I'm behind schedule answering, but I've been away. Cheers and good luck, Neale.>

Re: disregard previous emails: here's what happened... FW cycling...  12/27/07 Dear Crew, <Leah,> I hope this email gets to Neale, because I finally have good news. I got your last emails a few days ago. Please don't apologize for being away and not answering earlier--I totally abused the "send" button the night before I left Hawaii as I quickly threw together a 55 gallon tank. But I've been on the mainland for 10 days now, and the tank has been pretty peaceful. I won't speculate on whether it is out of the woods yet, but I do think the fish are much safer in the 55 than in the 20, and I am tentatively optimistic that maybe they'll all be ok when I get back on the 13th. So thanks again for all your advice, and happy holidays! Best, Leah <Well this all sounds promising. All else being equal, a 55 gallon tank will take significantly longer (a factor of 2.75) to go "bad" than a 20 gallon tank. So simply trading up in this way reduces -- dramatically -- the potentiality for problems. Or at least will give you much more time to spot and remedy any problems as they develop. In the meantime, minimise feeding, do regular water changes, and hope for the best. Good luck, and happy holidays yourself! Neale.>

FW, ammonia, Molly size Qs   11/28/2007 Hi- <Howdy> I am a beginning aquarist. I bought 1 platy and 2 mollies (Silver and Dalmatian) to start my 10gallon tank. I didn't have an ammonia test at the time (stupid I realize now) and the mollies quickly developed ich and died. The platy is still alive. I decided that I would just keep the platy for now, wait a month, or until the cycle begins and then gradually add more fish. My sister in effort to be nice to me bought me 1 HYPERLINK " http://www.liveaquaria.com/product/prod_Display.cfm?pCatId=1055" Black Lyretail Molly, 1 Creamcicle Lyretail Molly, 2 Zebra Danios and a sail as a surprise for me. I wasn't ready for that many fish- but now I have them. I have read many times that zebra Danios are to be kept in groups of 5 or more. Should I buy more Zebras? Would that be overcrowding my tank? <I would hold off on adding more Danios... As you state... it's getting crowded, and your livebearers may well have babies> Also, how big do the Creamcicle and Black Lyretail Mollies get? <In such a small tank... likely about two inches in length. In larger systems, about twice this> I have been reading a lot of websites and it seems that everyone has a different answer (especially with the Creamcicle one). <You can look up the names under the word: Mollienesia... the genus... and see that various species, likely sphenops in this case, do grow to larger sizes in bigger settings> I have decided to do frequent water changes to counteract the huge ammonia spike. Is this the right thing to do? <Is one way to go... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwn2cycfaqs.htm and the linked files above.> Help! Sincerely, Bea <Bob Fenner>

Re: My story and questions... Arowanas, CITES & Ammonia   11/22/07 Neale, <Andy,> Thank you very much for the quick reply. That's what I really like about you guys. Quick and straight forward. Some people may take your advice the wrong way, but you're just being honest and I take it as constructive criticism. <Good oh.> Your reply really gave me a wake up call. I should really stop bringing home fish that attract me from the LFS and start planning a goal for the tank. <Exactly.> That's not something many others would say. <Perhaps not.> I always had the mentally of aggressive fish with other aggressive fish would be a balance but I guess not. <Doesn't work like that.> I will be trying to find good homes for my fellow friends since I am not capable of providing tanks for all the different individuals. I really hate to see them go, but it must be done. <Quite possibly.> Just a few more quick questions, and I'll try to stay out of your hair as much as possible. As of current, do you know if/are freshwater stingrays and Asian Arowanas still illegal in CA/USA. I'm getting contradicting information on this issue and can't find it in Department of Fish and Game web site. <They are NOT legal in the United States. The situation is this: Scleropages species (Asian Arowanas) are listed on the CITES appendix 1. This allows for trade only if the animal in question is captive-bred or otherwise certified to not be reducing wild populations by its sale. So in Europe, you certainly can buy Asian Arowanas. It costs thousands of dollars, and there's paperwork to sign and electronic chips in the fish, but there is at least a trade in captive-bred fish. In the US, Scleropages are further controlled by the Endangered Species Act in addition to CITES, and this prohibits any sale of any listed species regardless of whether captive-bred or wild-caught. Until such time as the ESA is amended to exclude captive-bred specimens of listed species, Asian Arowanas will not be legal within the United States. You can read an FAQ on the topic of pets here: http://www.fws.gov/international/permits/pets.html and specifically on Scleropages here: http://www.fws.gov/permits/faqs/FaqB.shtml#bonytongue > As for the 170 gallon tank, does one Jardinei or Flowerhorn and a Scarlet Pleco (L-25 Pseudacanthicus sp.) sound reasonable to you? <Sounds fine. If you find this works and all your fish are happy, you might well be able to add another catfish, just not a Plec. Arowana tend to be more tolerant of bottom dwellers than midwater or upper-level fish. In any event, start with a few fish, see how things work in terms of nitrates and social behaviour, and then act accordingly.> As for the 55er, what's my best way to correct the circulation issue. Due to it being a concealed tank with pre-cut slots on the top, I am unable to add another hang on filter or external power filter. Should I just modify the Emperor 400 with extended intake tubes to the side corners? <I'd simply add two or three marine aquarium powerheads. There are some nice units with magnetic holders so you can attach them wherever you want in the tank. A friend of mine has some of these called 'Hydor Koralia' in her reef tank and they seem to work very well.> I suppose internal power filters or Wavemakers/water pumps might work, but are very distracting when viewing the tank. Another step would be to do some cutting/drilling work, but I want to leave that as a last resort due to the disturbance it would do to the tank. <Indeed.> What's your recommendation here? <If all else fails, add another canister filter. No single addition to your hardware will have so many benefits: water quality, aeration, circulation, and current for fish to swim into. Powerheads and airstones make viable alternatives, but they don't improve filtration.> Another question is for human ingestion of ammonia in drinking water. Reading many FAQ's from WWM crew (mainly BF) dislikes the idea of ammonia in our tap water. <Ammonia is toxic and we certainly don't need to consume it, and adding it to aquaria is obviously A Bad Thing. On the other hand, as with everything, it's the dose that matters. Trace amounts won't do humans any harm.> Yet, recently I received another e-mail from my water company stating, "There are no current standards for California for Ammonia. Health Implications Ingestion of large doses of ammonium chloride has been shown to cause headache, nausea, diarrhea and failure in glucose tolerance. However, ammonia is not an immediate health concern, and there appears to be little risk to humans from the ingestion of ammonia in drinking water. There is no evidence that ammonia is carcinogenic. However, ammonia is a source of nitrates and may compromise disinfection efficiency and filter performance. Ammonia is not currently regulated by USEPA. Canada has no guideline for ammonia. WHO has a non-health-based guideline based on avoiding consumer complaints." <Standard answer really. What they're saying is since there's no provable connection between low ammonia concentration and health problems, they aren't going to get sued, and so aren't bothered either way. Given the other problems California has to deal with in terms of water (i.e., actually getting enough to serve the population) I'm certainly sympathetic to them not sweating over the small stuff.> From what I get of this, our water if fine for ingestion? What do you think? <I'm not a doctor (well, I am, a PhD, but what I mean is I'm not an MD!) so I can't really give advice here beyond saying ammonia isn't a good thing to have in water at least from a fishkeeper's perspective. Ammonia is definitely toxic to fish and has been comprehensively proven to be so in laboratory conditions. Even as little as 0.5 mg/l causes death in some species and weakens others to the extent of reducing resistance to diseases such as Finrot. On the other hand, if you have human health worries about your water supply, that's something to discuss with a medical practitioner rather than an aquarist!> Welp that's it for now. Thanks a lot for your time. Reply is greatly appreciated. Andy. <I hope this helps, Neale.>

Ammonia test strip question - 11/20/07 Hi Crew, <Leah,> I saw one white spot on the tail of one clown loach. Unable to decide if it was ich, I decided to be proactive and treat with Rid-Ich+. The spot was gone within 24 hours, and no other fish developed any other spots, and no one seemed itchy or otherwise uncomfortable. I began to wonder if the original spot had been ich at all, but I intended to treat for a week to be safe. I removed my carbon filter, did a daily 25% water change and used a half dose of Rid-Ich+, although I later read conflicting reports online over whether half doses are effective. <Depends. Sometimes half-doses work acceptably well, without putting sensitive fish at risk. More often though, the salt plus heat method works better and more safely for treating Ick on Clown loaches, Mormyridae, etc.> I treated through day 5. Today was supposed to be day 6 of treatment, but I noticed that my Mardel ammonia test strip had gone from plain yellow (0.0 ammonia) to a kind of off-yellow. It's hard to describe, and it does not match any of the other colors on the test strip, which grow from pale green to dark blue-green. It looks for all the world as if the Rid-Ich+ has slightly stained the test strip. Is this likely? <Certainly possible. If the nitrite level is zero, I'd assume that's the problem here. If the nitrite isn't zero, then perhaps there's something else going on.> How reliable are these strips, compared to other kinds of tests? After 5 days of half doses of Rid-Ich+, do you think I've harmed my good bacteria? <No.> This morning I did a 40% water change with dechlorinated water, and no meds. I also replaced my carbon filter. When I return home this afternoon, I will put in a new ammonia test strip and see if it stays yellow. (I'm waiting until the afternoon because I don't want any remaining meds to stain the new one.) Do you think I should take any other actions? <Not really, no.> I have an ammonia locking agent, and something called stress-zyme that is supposed to help replace good bacteria. <You shouldn't need either of these things in a stable aquarium. Traces of ammonia in your tap water should be removed by any decent dechlorinator, and the ammonia produced by your fish gets used by the filter bacteria. Bacteria supplements are, in my opinion, more about selling stuff to hobbyists that actually doing anything useful.> Unfortunately I will be unable to observe the tank again until the afternoon, but I can check my email and drop by the pet store on the way home if you recommend buying a different test kit. Thank you very much, Leah <Hope this helps, Neale.>

Fresh 50 Gal Ammonia Problem - 10/07/2007 Hello, First off, I've been using your site for reference and it's awesome, very informative! Okay enough with the flattering. I have a 50 gallon, freshwater setup, two filters, one of them a dual filter, aerating blocks in the bottom, and river rock as a substrate, as well as artificial plants and plenty of hiding for my fish. I set up the tank about a week and a half ago. My first mistake, was buying three cichlids to help with the biological balancing, and a betta. The cichlids are killing my betta, so I have removed him and placed him in quarantine, where he seems to be doing quite well. <Mixing Anabantids (gouramis, Bettas, etc.) and Cichlids is almost always a bad idea unless you know a specific combination will work. They're too similar in some ways (shape, territoriality) yet asymmetrical in others (labyrinth fish are less aggressive and have not such strong fighters). There are some exceptions: angels and lace gouramis for example make a superb combination. But otherwise, best kept separately.> Anyhow, all my levels in my tank are where they should be, with the exception of the ammonia. <Assuming it isn't an inorganic source (i.e., from the tap water) then your filter isn't working adequately for the task you've set it.> I bought a PSI test kit that has tests for everything, it seems fairly reliable. The ammonia is staying consistently at 1.0. I have added three doses of Ammo-Lock as instructed on the bottle, and of course it's still testing positive because it's only converting ammonia rather then removing it. <Hmm... not sure it works like this. Ammo-Lock and similar products are for dealing with inorganic ammonia sources. To confirm this, draw some water from the tap and then do an ammonia test. If the ammonia is in the water, your test kit will register it. If there's no ammonia, try again, but this time add your dechlorinator. If your water has chloramine, but your dechlorinator doesn't neutralize chloramine, then ammonia will suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere. It's actually come from the breakdown of chloramine by the dechlorinator into chlorine and ammonia. If both these tests are negative, then you don't have an inorganic ammonia source. The only remaining explanation is ammonia from organic, i.e., the fish, decaying food, etc. In this case, Ammo-Lock won't make a blind bit of difference and you need to scale up your biological filtration. As a broad rule, community tropicals need a filter with turnover 4 times the volume of the tank per hour; i.e., a 20 gallon tank needs a filter with turnover of 20 x 4 = 80 gallons per hour. For cichlids and catfish such as Plecos, go for 6x the volume of the tank, since these sorts of fish are bigger and messier. Marine aquarists typically use turnover levels as high as 10x the volume of the tank.> My fish seem to be doing okay, the cichlids are lively, eating well, and don't seem sick, but I know the ammonia levels should be at zero. <Chronic ammonia tends not to kill hardy cichlids outright, but what it does do is make them much more sensitive to Hole-in-the-Head, something that takes months to become obvious to the fishkeeper, by which time it is very difficult to treat. Sensitive cichlids (Apistogramma, discus, Tanganyikans, etc.) can be killed quite quickly by even fairly low ammonia concentrations.> I've done a 50% water change as well, and really don't know what else to do. I'd like to keep stocking my tank (the cichlids will be moving out, too aggressive, going with a peaceful community.) I really haven't a clue about getting this ammonia reading down to zero, and don't want to add fish until I know it's safe. <As I say, first establish if the ammonia is coming with your tap water, or whether it comes from the aquarium. Once you have the answer to this, you can act accordingly. If the ammonia comes with the water, then treating with ammonia-removing dechlorinator should work (try different brands, some are better than others). If the ammonia isn't in the water, but comes from the fish, then either removing some fish or increasing filtration will be the two easiest way forwards. You might also check the filter is working properly as well. If it's terribly bunged-up or the air pump needs a new diaphragm, then remedial action might do the trick.> I'm sorry if these questions were redundant, I did some searching and thought perhaps you'd have something more specific to my situation. Thanks for your time. <Hope this helps.> Desiree <Cheers, Neale>

New Tank Problems Debating the Next Step... FW... mis-mix, new tank, ammonia...    9/9/07 Hello. I've done quite a bit of research in these last two weeks and have found your site to be the most informative and hopefully helpful. Our situation is probably not an uncommon one, but knowing that doesn't make it any less stressful. Two weeks ago my husband decided to invest major money in a 20 gallon aquarium. Of course since he had kept a few goldfish alive in a small tank years ago, he thought he knew what he was doing. I tried to research, but he didn't give me any time. He bought the tank and set it up on a Saturday night. He wanted to get fish 24 hours later and I tried to convince him to wait but the most he would wait was 48 hours. <Mmmm, hmm> During that time I researched the fish he wanted to get and found out that they were cichlids who would need a larger tank or to be an only child virtually. This did not jive with his idea of a tank full of pretty fish so without consulting me he decided to change to buying what he thought would be smaller more peaceful fish, and he bought 9! Mistake number one over stocked tank. Mistake number two, too many fish introduced at once. Mistake number 3 fish that didn't necessarily go together, <Yikes!> 2 Kissing Gouramis, 2 Tiger Barbs (which I discovered need to be in a larger group to get along well and not stress out each other or others) 2 Silver Dollars, 1 Bala Shark, 1 Albino Rainbow Shark and 1 Silver Tip catfish. <Some mix now! The last fish isn't even freshwater...> We then proceeded to Mistake number 4 overfeeding, he fed them everyday and probably more than he should have. Mistake number 5 was probably the wrong testing kit. Although he wouldn't listen to me and anything I found out on the web, he completely believed the LFS people. They sold him a little testing strip kit, <Notoriously inaccurate, imprecise> and although we read about the nitrogen cycle in the tank info, and knew we had to test for ammonia, since ammonia wasn't listed on the test strip we assumed that the PH and ammonia must be the same thing. Not once did the LFS people mention ammonia or testing for it. <Dismal> For several days the fish seemed okay, and according to the little strip nitrate and nitrite were okay and PH was 6.5. We did do a small water change and added the conditioner again on day 4 and all was fine. Then we began to notice the one Tiger Barb constantly bullying the other to the point of him hiding and shaking. The gouramis also seemed occasionally stressed by this fast aggressive little guy. Finally we started seeing little white spots on the gouramis and dollars and the more aggressive barb started floating funny so we removed him for a day or so and treated him with Melafix, <...> which perked him right up. I researched the spots and discovered it was ICH so we bought copper safe <!> and dosed the tank once but had to remove the filter so that the medication would absorb. During the removal of filter for the first time it ripped. Have you noticed I've stopped counting mistakes at this point. <Yes... and I must commend you... for being so level-headed and such a good recounting> The white spots did seem to fall off the fish but in my reading I knew that we needed to continue to treat the new water we added for up to a month and to raise the temp to 82 to shorten the cycle of the ICH and catch it at it's most vulnerable. Since we were treating the ICH and Mr. Barb seemed better we added him back to tank. The next day though (this is by now day 8) we noticed the water started getting murky. <Cycling...> We weren't sure if it was the treatment we added or no filter to keep things moving or the natural cycling process. We then noticed the fish sitting on the bottom from time to time not moving much. However the apparently ineffectual little strips we had from the pet store kept telling us that the nitrate and nitrite were zero and the PH was in normal 6.5 range. We did a small water change and decided to not add any more CopperSafe just in case that was the problem. <Has to be tested for (copper) to prevent poisoning from overexposure> We also added the filter back but had to replace the pad that had ripped (Mistake Number ???) because there went any good ammonia eating bacteria we might have accumulated. At this point my husband actually started asking me to see if I could find out what was wrong. <Yay!> Apparently research could have a use after all. The fish were starting to gasp, alternating between laying on the bottom and hovering under the surface. With some more research I found from some helpful people that the ammonia was probably our biggest problem. ICH could be worried about later but the ammonia would kill our fish quick. This person finally informed us that the PH and ammonia are NOT the same thing and we needed a separate kit, all of $5.00. We bought this kit the evening of day 11 and found our ammonia was halfway up the chart on 1 By this time our fish were really gasping, even our catfish and Bala were swimming funny when they had seemed the least affected. On this site I found a recommendation to do a huge water change so my husband did that and also siphoned some of the gravel as he had just bought a siphon for the first time as well. That's when he could really see the amount of waste and food that was contributing to our ammonia. He also added AmmoLock to the water as well as the conditioner this time. The fish perked up a little, but within a few hours were listless again. However it was late at night and I was gone out of the house, so he didn't do another check like I would have suggested. When I got home at midnight I thought I would ask him about it in the morning and he would tell me he had done another check, and then I would have him do another water change. However, when I woke up he had gone to play golf. I also discovered one of the fish was missing, which, when he returned from golf he told me was due to a power outage we had in the middle of the night. He thinks the albino made his way near the filter when it was turned off and somehow got out of the top because he was on the floor this morning. With him gone and no information I did a test myself and found ammonia still at .50, and the fish were gasping, so I did a 30 percent change adding the conditioner and AmmoLock. Two hours later they weren't looking any better. Ammonia still said .50 so I attempted a 50 percent change. Then he came home. I told him that I had done a 50 percent change but he thought I meant that morning, so about 2 hours later, while I was gone, he did a 50 percent change. I think all of this change and the ammonia finally drove the fish over the edge, because within 2 hours of this last change, the 2 dollars, the Bala, the catfish, and one Barb all lost the fight. The 2 gouramis and remaining barb didn't look so well either so he removed them for awhile and decided to do another big water r change, still with the AmmoLock and conditioner, and clean the gravel really well. He then waited and checked the ammonia and it was down to .25. I did finally buy a separate nitrite kit so will test that too instead of believing the zero the little strip test tells me. So now for the questions............. Do we put the 2 gouramis and one barb back (even though they are iffy)? <Mmm, can... I would... along with a fresh pack of a product called BioSpira...> Do we try to continue to cycle with this tank as is if even one fish makes it and then let it go for a good solid 6 weeks before we even think about adding another fish as we should have done originally? <Likely a good routine> If all fish die do we put a new fish in immediately to keep the tank cycling or do we not subject any fish to this crazy toxic tank and clean it our and start fresh? <Perhaps the latter would/will be best for peace of mind> Thank you for reading this novel. This aquarium was not my choice, and if it had been or if I had been able to have any input, I would have thoroughly prepared ahead of time and hopefully sidestepped most of these mistakes. But either way, I can't stand to see a living creature suffering and I really don't want to waste such a huge investment financially and emotionally. Any help is greatly appreciated. Rea <Your husband... and the aquatic livestock in both your care is indeed fortunate to have someone as yourself... Intelligent, curious and caring... to look out for their welfare. Unfortunately by the time you discovered the ammonia issue (to be expected) in this small, crowded, ich-infested, mis-stocked mess... doing water changes to dilute the metabolite also forestalled/forestalls the establishment of cycling... Do please keep reading, culturing that husband... and put together a more sustainable mix going forward. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia levels 9/6/07 Hi guys/girls, <I'm a guy,> I wrote about 3wks ago...thanks for your advice! So when I previously wrote, my ph had crashed and I found my water cloudy white and foamy. Got the ph problem solved. Now I can't seem to get the ammonia levels down, ever since I wrote last. It's very high, been using Ammo lock, but can't get it down. <Ammo Lock doesn't make ammonia go away. All it does is remove ammonia from water *out of the tap* that contains small amounts. To manage ammonia in the aquarium, where it is constantly being produced by the fish and other animals, you need a biological filter OR a chemical filter (Zeolite).> I've had the tank around 6-7 weeks. It's just a small 6gal and I have just two tiny fish; an Endler's and Otocinclus; perhaps the tank's still not fully cycled. <Indeed not.> Just strange since there's only two of them in there. <Not really all that strange.> I was doing 20% water changes every 2-3 days. Since the ammonia's high, I suppose I should do a change every day? <I would. Otocinclus are EXTREMELY sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, so I wouldn't be placing much money on that fish lasting long.> I've also been vacuuming the substrate 1x/wk. <Largely redundant. But if it makes you feel better, sure.> Question about my substrate, I have sand, maybe coral sand (around 2 1/2 inches deep.) Don't ask me why I have sand. <Nothing wrong with sand. I use it myself. But there's a big difference between silica sand and coral sand. Silica (or silver) sand is chemically inert. Coral sand is calcareous and raises the pH and hardness. While your Endler's guppy won't care either way, your Otocinclus will, being a native of quite soft/acid water conditions.> Bought it on suggestion of LFS, wasn't aware of what substrate to buy :( From what I read, seems that gravel is a better bet for freshwater? If yes, why so? <Not better/worse -- difference. On the plus side, silica sand at least doesn't affect the water chemistry, fish like digging into it, and plants root readily in it and seem to like growing in it, possibly because of the dysaerobic conditions that develop a few cm below the surface. On the downside, big fish make a mess swishing it into the filter, and organic material can decay anaerobically under deep beds of sand, releasing toxic gases. Never seen this myself, but on paper at least, its possible if you don't take precautions. Gravel has some pluses and minuses itself. The good: it is cheap and only big fish can move it around. The bad: its boring and burrowing fish hate it, to the point where they can damage themselves trying to dig into it. Plants aren't wild about it either, unless it's backed up with something more nutritious, like laterite. Now, coral sand is whole different kettle of fish. Coral sand is used exclusively in freshwater tanks where plants *aren't* grown but hard water/brackish water fish *are* being kept. It's the standard substrate for Malawi and Tanganyika cichlid aquaria for example. Standard tropical fish (tetras, gouramis, etc) don't like it though, because it raises the pH and hardness.> I also feel like I'm not getting enough of the waste sucked up when I vacuum, and perhaps that's leading to the high ammonia levels? <No, not much stuff gets into the substrate, and even if it did, it would make a difference. The ammonia is related to how much protein (in food) you put in the tank. Where that protein decays in the gravel or the filter or a fish makes no odds. Nitrogen is nitrogen is nitrogen.> Would you suggest switching to regular gravel? <If you have coral sand, yes; if inert silica sand or similar, not unless you want to.> If not needed, I'd rather not. The Oto seems to get stressed very easy, so I'd rather not take him out of the tank if possible. <He's a schooling fish, and is nervous because he's frightened. Within the next month (which should be long enough for your filter to finish maturing) buy 2 more Otocinclus!> Any advice is very appreciated...thanks!!! Vanessa <Hope this helps, Neale>

Re: Ammonia levels 9/6/07 Got your reply Neale, thanks so much. What I meant about the Ammo lock is, I'm using it in conjunction with water changes, but yes definitely it won't remove the ammonia. Will do another change today. <Good.> More questions about my sand. I'll have to find out from LFS what kind of sand it is exactly, before I decide if I should switch. I read on your site the following about sand: "My suggestion for fine sands is to use an inch or less (aesthetic and prevents nutrient accumulation, but supports less life) or a minimum of 3-4" (some risk of nutrient accumulation, but supports more life that better processes these nutrients, also better denitrification). In either case, I would avoid any stirring or major disturbance of fine grained substrates. Such action can cause major disturbances in water quality." So, when I read that, I assumed my vacuuming and stirring was causing the ammonia spikes from waste; changing water quality. <Possibly, but it's important to realise the ammonia comes from the protein you put in the tank. At the end of the day, whether the aquarium is completely empty or filled with plants, fish, sand, and corals is neither here nor there. 10 grammes of protein will make the same amount of ammonia, regardless. It might take longer for the protein to decay into ammonia in an "empty" tank than a busy one where it's metabolised by the animals, but the amount of ammonia produced will be the same.> And about the following, did you mean it would 'not' make a difference? Just confused. <Yes.> Lastly, you mentioned 'organic material can decay releasing toxic gases. Never seen this myself, but on paper at least, its possible if you don't take precautions.' Being the sand is 2 1/2", perhaps I should make it around an inch instead, to prevent more accumulation? Sorry for being naive about this. As for precautions, was thinking of getting some waste reducer; not sure if this is suffice. <I'm assuming you're reading the above from sometime on marine tanks, since denitrification isn't a big deal in freshwater aquaria. Anyway, in a freshwater tank there are three ways to keep sand "safe". Firstly, you use burrowing fish, like loaches, Corydoras, earth eating cichlids. These dig through the sand and remove bits of food and also turn the sand over, keeping it aerated. The second thing you can do is install lots of plants. Plant roots transport oxygen into the sand, and in doing so, prevent anaerobic decay. If you've ever looked at the mud at the bottom of a pond, it's quite gooey and black because of the lack of oxygen. This anoxic state makes the mineral ions more available to the plants. To live there, the plant roots carry oxygen down with them, sort of like a breathing tube. Some of this oxygen escapes, and aerates the mud. We can use this in fish tanks. Finally, you can add Malayan Livebearing snails. These fantastic little creatures burrow through the substrate, eating up every scrap of decaying material, and also aerate the sand, like earthworms on land. I *always* use these snails in my tanks. They're totally harmless to plants.> Thanks again for all your help. Your website's great!! Vanessa <Hope this helps, Neale>

Ammonia in aged water, FW  9/5/07 This one really has me stumped. My mother set up a 30 gal tank 3-4 wks ago and added a 2" fantail goldfish. He's doing fine. I didn't know any of this until recently when she mentioned it. Out of curiosity I tested her water since I had the test kits. Her ammonia (right after a 20% water change was .5, nitrites about 1 and nitrates 10 (yes, still cycling, I know). She lets the water sit for a few days in a tub before doing water changes (25% a week). She has well water (same as I do) but is in another town, there's no added chlorine or anything else as far as I know. The PH straight out of the tap is 7.2 and O ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates. The fish tank water has a PH of 7.8. From reading your sight that tells me it's a *good thing to let it sit because of the dissolved oxygen, etc. But-the problem is the aged water has an ammonia level of .5. <Unusual... I would check your test kit here first> That doesn't make any sense to me and I didn't have a good answer for her as to why. We tested the tap and it was zero ammonia, then let a 5 gal bucket of water sit for an hour with a bubbler in it and tested it. The ammonia was already .5 in the bucket water and it had only sat for an hour! I understand there's toxic and non-toxic ammonia? <Mmm, yes... ammonia/ammonium (NH4/NH4OH) at higher pHs is much more toxic than lower pH ammonia, NH3> Do you think that's where the confusion lies? Is my test kit (Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Freshwater Master Test Kit) be reading the total ammonia including the non-toxic? <Yes and no... the state of the ammonia at this high pH is the more toxic> This is confusing. Or is her aged water somehow getting ammonia in it by sitting? <From? A kitty litter box nearby? I hope you two have your water checked, certified for human consumption... I would NOT consume water with 10 ppm of NO3...> It was brand new bucket used only for water that we let it sit in. I hope you can help. Is she adding ammonia to her fish tank with every water change? The little goldfish looks great and the water is super clear if that makes a difference. Thank you for your time. I hope you can shed some light on why aged water would all of a sudden have ammonia when the water straight out of the tap doesn't. Mitzi <I suspect the readings are spurious. I'd check the checker. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia in aged water-possibly algae in well water  9/7/07 Hello Crew (Bob), Concerning the ammonia readings in aged water (but not fresh from tap over at my mother's house). I did buy 2 more test kits and those kits showed the identical results as my original liquid test kit. <I see. Thank you> So I made some calls and did some thinking. I'm going to update you in the hopes that it may help someone else with well water. I believe the reason for the ammonia reading in only the aged water (not fresh tap water) was because my mother had algae in her well/well water. <This could do it, yes> Possibly because of major flooding here in Oklahoma the past 6 months. The water straight out of her tap showed '0' ammonia, yet when the water sat for an hour or more the ammonia started rising. I believe it was because the algae particles from the well started dying as soon as it came through the pipes and sat in a container and caused the ammonia. Does that make sense? <It does> It made perfect sense to me. We poured a bottle of Clorox bleach down her well the other day. Evidently that's not an uncommon practice amongst well owners (who'd have known?). <Is a good move> The man at the water dept said the bleach should dissipate within 24 hrs or so. I went over to her house today and tested a bucket of water she'd had sitting out for several hours. There was '0' ammonia! Great news! So I think that solved the problem. I'd have never thought of something like that and I wonder how many other fish keepers using well water have trouble cycling their tanks for the same reason. She was pouring in water with ammonia in it. Keep in mind the ammonia only showed in her aged water, not straight from the tap. It really had me stumped and I'm so glad to have figured it out, so it seems. Does chlorine actually dissipate after about 24 hours? <Most types of sodium hypochlorite, yes... there are other versions, and additives that make some "bleach" last longer in a bottle..> I'd like to make sure from you. I bought her some Kordon's NovAqua+ to use with any water changes until I find out for sure that chlorine dissipates quickly. <Also a good idea> Interesting update and I really hope it helps someone else. Mitzi <Thank you for sharing. You've no doubt saved many people grief... and livestock! Bob Fenner>

Ammonia problems! Five gallon, goldfish...  -- 08/31/07 Hi! <<Hi, Danielle. (My daughter's name by the way.) Tom here.>> First off, I want to say that this is a great site! <<Thanks, Danielle. Glad you like it!>> We bought a 5 gallon mini bow tank back in May from the LFS. Picked up 2 gold fish and a little frog. <<Danielle, I can't begin to tell you how much too small a five-gallon tank is for ANY Goldfish. 25-30 gallons is more appropriate for the fancy varieties and figure 50+ gallons for Commons, Comets, and Shubunkins. (Now, after you've caught your breath, picked yourself up off the floor and stopped disparaging the parents of the individual that allowed you to buy Goldfish for a five-gallon container, we can get to the details.)>> Everyone was great for about a week and then the fish started dying. <<Not unexpected though I'm sorry to hear this.>> Took a water sample to the LFS and they said to do a 50% water change, that the ammonia was high (2.5), but the nitrates and nitrites were 0. <<Not that your fish stood a chance, Danielle, but a 95%-100% change would have been my recommendation'¦daily. The tank hadn't 'cycled'.>> Bought my own test kit and kept an eye on all readings. <<Excellent.>> After 4 more fish died, I realized that my LFS was missing something so I did some research and learned all about cycling a tank. <<Something the folks at the LFS apparently had never heard about?>> Wish I would've known about that first! <<Indeed.>> Anyway, went to a Petco and they gave me some gravel from an established tank. I placed it evenly throughout the bottom of my tank and let it stay there for about 2 months. <<A good move. Not optimal but still good thinking on your part.>> Reading on 8/10 showed nitrite 2.0, nitrate 10., ammonia 1.0 and ph 6. I assumed my tank was cycled. <<Nope.>> We took our sons to a county fair and they won 2 goldfish. One is small about one inch and the other is about <<?>> inches. Well, I placed them in the (I thought) cycled tank. The next day I tested the water and now the readings are nitrite 0, nitrate 5., ammonia 2.0 and the ph is 7.5! <<They won't make it, Danielle. Even trace amounts, say 0.25 ppm of ammonia, is deadly. You can't possibly keep Goldfish alive in a five-gallon tank. They produce too much ammonia/waste for a five-gallon tank to sustain.>> I did a 50% water change. I'm guessing that I put in too much for the tank and that it wasn't fully cycled. <<Correct on both counts.>> How can I not lose these fish? <<Realistically? You can't keep from losing them. (Don't get me wrong. We've worked folks through worse but, the bottom line is that they had far bigger tanks.) A five-gallon tank has virtually no stability. Conditions can 'go south' in a few hours with a tank this small. That said, and given the fact that you've written to us (which indicates to me that you care), no more fish until we work out what you need to keep your pets healthy and thriving. Okay?>> Would doing 50% water changes daily be okay? <<I don't like coming off like a horse's patootie, Danielle, but you'd need to do 100% changes perhaps three times a day to stand a chance. Beside their waste products, Goldfish (like other fish) excrete ammonia from their systems through their gills -- very specialized gill filaments called lamellae. Without proper cycling for beneficial bacterial growth, room for dispersion/dilution and adequate filtration, your Goldfish might as well be living (?) in a septic tank -- with about the same chance for survival.>> Yesterday was the last time that I fed them. I read that I should wait a couple of days. Is this okay? <<Less feeding is better given the situation, Danielle. Not 'the' solution but a good idea nevertheless.>> Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated! <<Inclined to take a shot at it, Danielle? Get a large Tupperware-style storage bin, or something similar, and fill it with dechlorinated, i.e. conditioned, water. Move the fish to it. They'll be better off than they are now and you won't have quite as many headaches. :) Purchase an aquarium of about 30-gallons, or larger, and start the cycling process. (I'll tell you of another 'trick' in a moment.) Goldfish won't need a heater but they will need lots of filtration. Double or triple the size of the filter that the manufacturer claims it will serve. Goldfish need 7-12 water exchanges per hour. GPH is what you want to look at, not tank size. So, for a 30-gallon tank, figure on a filter that handles, minimally, 230 gph. (There's about a 10%-15% loss from the manufacturer's claims.) Decorate the tank as you'd like but use a dark (black?) substrate. (There's a reason for this.) Once the tank is up and running, the 'trick' I suggested is BIO-Spira from Marineland. It's somewhat pricey but you can -- in fact, must -- add the fish to the tank within hours to preserve the live bacteria the product contains. (Should be added to the filter chamber versus the tank.) A long-winded description that I'll be happy to go over with you in shorter 'bursts', Danielle, but that's what you need to do. (Save the five-gallon tank for a Betta. Wonderful size but he'll need a heater (Hydor 'Theo' -- 25 watts) and a sponge filter (quite inexpensive).)>> Thanks, Danielle <<'Information overload'-time, Danielle. I realize this, which is why I'd like you to write back with specific questions you might have, if any. A lot to digest, certainly, but Goldfish can live for 20 years, or more, in the right environment. Best regards. Tom>>

Re: ammonia problems! (follow-up)   9/1/07 Hi Tom, <<Hi, Danielle!>> Thanks for the fast reply! Maybe having your daughter's name got me faster service, lol! <<It didn't hurt! :) >> It would be nice if the LFS gave accurate info. <<In a 'touch' of fairness, Danielle, solving problems with fish/aquariums isn't the main thrust of their jobs. They're there to move merchandise, period. A shame, really.>> After I wrote to you, I did some more reading on the site and started doing 95% water changes. I have done 2 so far in the past 4 hours. Ammonia went down to .25 but from what you've told me, I'll be doing this everyday for the rest of the goldfishes' lives! Not fair to them and too much work for me! <<Good to hear about the decreased ammonia levels, Danielle. As you now know, even .25 ppm can be/is deadly but it's a far cry from 2.0! Good job and I certainly do agree that both you and your Goldfish will need relief from the water changes. A larger, cycled aquarium will do just that.>> I actually went out and bought a 92 quart plastic tub the day the kids won them to get them home from the fair (was 3 hours from our house, didn't want them to not make the ride home). Is it okay if I keep them in there for a day or two until I can get to the store to get all my supplies? <<Absolutely! Nearly tripling the size of the container they're in now will help a lot. You don't want to get lax about their care, obviously, but you'll certainly be giving yourself and your pets a 'leg up' on the situation.>> Again, thank you so much! Danielle <<You're most welcome. If you have any more issues/questions prior to making any substantial purchases, please get back to me/us. Hopefully, I've given you -- along with the information you've found here at WWM -- plenty to make an informed decision on how to go about this. No need for 'guesswork'. The better informed you are, the less chance that someone will pass off 'bum' information on you once you're in the store. Lastly (?), if you're in doubt about ANYTHING, don't make the move! From here on in, informed choices/decisions are going to be the key to success in our hobby. My best to you and your family'¦and fish! Tom>>

Ammonia in uncycled FW tank, needs to read -- 07/18/07 Hi, I think your FAQ's site is great. <Me, too.> However, I am a new fish tank owner. The tank is 29 gallons and I am looking to stock with fresh water tropical fish. The instructions that came with the tank said to add fish the first week of set up then a 1/3 the second and 1/3 the third week. So I did. Now I am down to 2 Dalmatian mollies. The ammonia levels are off the chart and the national pet store told me to use chemicals. They don't work to bring the ammonia down even a little. What do I do? I don't want the last two fish to die as well even though they have survived these conditions for 2 weeks now? Please help, the store keeps giving me bad advice. <Do large partial water changes (up to 90% if the ammonia is high) daily to dilute the ammonia. Watch out for nitrites to appear and act accordingly. Add some old filter material or refrigerated live bacteria like BioSpira to your filter. Search WWM for cycling a tank, nitrogen cycle (e.g. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwestcycling.htm) and mollies (e.g. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/mollies.htm) and their needs. Don't add any more fishes until you tank is cycled. Cheers, Marco.>

Urgent Ammonia, FW  7/11/07 Hi, great web site and you have helped me successfully in the past, so firstly thanks. <<Thanks and, let's see if we can do it again! (Tom here, by the way.)>> I am at a loss and need your help urgently again. <<Been there myself once or twice.>> My 50 gallon tank finished cycling last week the levels were 0 ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 40 Nitrates and I had finally got pH down to 7.0. <<Nitrates, as you're no doubt aware, are far too high but all else looks good.>> I have a community freshwater set-up with live plants. <<Okay.>> I have 8 Platies all pairs, 19 Rasboras (mixed), 2 CAE, 1 male and 1 female (Golden), and 4 young angel fish (sex unknown). I also have 5 baby Platies in a segregation tank within my community tank. <<The CAE's are going to become problematic as they mature, particularly where the Angels are concerned. They lose their taste for algae and develop a taste for the slime coating/flesh of other tank mates, especially slower moving, tall-bodied species like your Angelfish. Not your immediate issue, I understand, but it definitely will become one if you keep these animals. They can/will kill tank mates. Just a head's up.>> I had lime scale build up in my filters pipes so I expelled it into the tank, I have done this before with no toxic fall out. <<Not where I would have 'expelled' it but shouldn't be a problem.>> Soon after cycling the filter failed and all the hard work seemed undone. <<Not what you want to have happen, that's for sure.>> Ammonia levels spiked off my testing chart so I did filter maintenance and cleared the gravel of as much waste as possible, reduced feeding, started treating water with ammo lock and aquarium salt. <<The salt wasn't going to be overly beneficial in this case but water changes on a massive scale would be.>> Did 15% water change, left 2 days retested, still high did 25% water change, left another 2 days, still high did a 50% water change retreating water as before as necessary. Still off the chart I tested my tap water which was negative for ammonia so that's not the problem. <<When I suggest a massive change, this is on the order of 90%+ and possibly more than once per day. 'Detectable' levels of ammonia are lethal and your levels are, by your own admission, off the chart. No time for partial measures. Fish are highly stressed but none have died yet! Levels won't drop. I don't know what else to do. Should I empty tank completely starting from scratch? I can't find the cause of the ammonia spikes. <<The ammonia isn't 'spiking' in the normal sense of the word. It simply isn't going away because you haven't attacked the problem vigorously enough. You can't just let the tank sit after a big change. You need to re-test within hours. If ammonia's detectable at that point, change the water again, BIG TIME, until levels are undetectable. Hardcore as this sounds, you won't have a fish left otherwise.>> I have recently had the introduction of snails in my tank ( not by choice ) currently only 3 as far as I can tell, can they be polluting the water? <<You've got, as of your writing, 30+ fish in a 50-gallon tank. The snails are contributing virtually nothing compared to your other livestock. Now, I confess some confusion about your filter here. Did it temporarily quit pumping? Did it die completely? Was a new filter purchased or is the old one up and running again? What I'm getting at is that your beneficial bacteria shouldn't have taken such a hit that your ammonia levels went ballistic if the filter media was preserved in either the old filter or after being transferred to a new filter. You could possibly have spiked a bit but not on the order that your sharing with us now. I'm surmising that a new filter was purchased and the old one tossed out, i.e. you started re-cycling from square one. The only thing that makes sense to me.>> HELPPPPPPPP!!!!!!! <<Regardless of what transpired filter-wise, you absolutely MUST stay on top of the water changes'¦fanatically! If you can, find a local LFS that carries BIO-Spira from Marineland. Addition of this product will all but instantly cycle your tank and, hopefully, save what you can of your pets. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Best of luck. Tom>> Re: Urgent Ammonia, FW   7/12/07 Thanks for your fast response. <<Happy to do so, Victor. (I'll enclose my "quotes" for readability.)>> 'Nitrates, as you're no doubt aware, are far too high but all else looks good.' Yes, nitrates should have been 20 or below. <<On the money.>> 'The CAE's are going to become problematic as they mature, particularly where the Angels are concerned.' The CAE'S are a female and male pair who have grown to 4-5 inches since the onset of my tank and have no problems with my other fish including the angels. They are already over a year old and still not a problem; maybe I got lucky as I have read all the bad press but never experienced it to date yet. <<Please do keep an eye on them, though.>> 'The salt wasn't going to be overly beneficial in this case but water changes on a massive scale would be.' I heard it aids breathing and stops pathogens that can attack when fish are stressed! <<Easy, Victor. Your first point is correct but to a limited degree. Same with your second point. I probably would have tried just about anything, myself, under the same circumstances but I don't want to give the rest of our readers the idea that salt is some type of 'silver bullet' given the situation you were/are faced with. No criticism here whatsoever and I apologize if it was construed as such.>> 'The ammonia isn't 'spiking' in the normal sense of the word. It simply isn't going away because you haven't attacked the problem vigorously enough.' Last water change was 75% this morning and I manually removed all snails I could see. <<More on a par with what I'd like to see you going after. Good job! Now, increase it to 90%+.>> 'You've got, as of your writing, 30+ fish in a 50-gallon tank. The snails are contributing virtually nothing compared to your other livestock.' Yes, but the angels are young/small and I intend to rehome one/two of them as they get bigger. Rasboras don't take much mid-tank space and Platies don't grow too big (although I will be rehoming at least two - four soon as a neighbour is getting a tank and will probably take the baby Platies as well) with the CAE'S taking the bottom of the tank between themselves. <<Not an issue of stocking, per se, Victor. It's the collective contribution of ammonia to your system that I was referring to. Each and every one of your fish is adding ammonia regularly. Some fish will rid their systems of ammonia through 'waste' while others actually expel ammonia from their systems via specialized cells in their gills. Regardless of the means, your system's getting inundated by sheer numbers alone.>> 'I confess some confusion about your filter here.' The filter seemed to stop pumping so I assumed it got blocked maybe from the lime scale discharging, so I did normal filter maintenance as in any trouble shooting guide and it began working AGAIN, however this did involve losing some of the beneficial bacteria medium in there!!!! <<Glad to hear that you saved the expense of a new filter but you lost more than 'some' of the bacteria. Sounds like you lost almost all of your bio-colonies. Quick point here. If you rinsed your media in tap water, don't. Always rinse in used tank water to protect the colonies. Losses will be minimal.>> 'If you can, find a local LFS that carries BIO-Spira from Marineland.' Thanks, will do ASAP. Since last water change ammonia has dropped to between 6.0 - 8.0 !!!!! <<Then, do another water change and another and another.>> But, at least it's coming down. What do I do next? ARRRRRRRRRRG. <<'Broken record' time but stay the course with massive water changes. In a brutal nutshell, if you sucked your tank dry and left your fish flopping in the substrate, they wouldn't be in any worse danger than they are now. It's that plain and simple.>> I can't believe at those levels my fish are still alive! <<Nor can I, frankly.>> I have not lost any fish nor do I intend to. Seeing my fish gasping at the top and losing their appetites is not a good sign though. Is a 95% water change my next step? <<Absolutely! Test your water afterward and, if you get a reading of ammonia, do another 95% change.>> I was reluctant to do a major change from get-go because I did not want to raise my pH levels again as I researched that makes ammonia worse. <<Good for you for researching! (To clarify for everyone reading this, 'ammonia' exists in two forms that we hobbyists are concerned with. Ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4). At lower pH levels, ammonia takes the form of NH4 (ammonium), which is less toxic to fish. As pH rises, it converts to NH3 (ammonia), which is lethal to fish.) Your concerns are understandable, Victor, but we're already up to our 'behinds' in alligators, if you see what I mean, and a big one has us in his teeth!>> No fish are showing external signs of ammonia poisoning yet. Let's hope with your advice we can nip this in the bud before I do!!!!! <<If the fish are gasping at the surface and losing their appetites, they're showing signs. No time for 'half measures'.>> Thanks in advance Victor <<You're welcome and I want to hear back from you, Victor. Tom>> Re: Urgent Ammonia, FW   7/12/07 <<Hello, Victor.>> Wow , what a roller coaster ride! <<I can only imagine!>> I did a 90% water change before waiting for your reply & tested the water after, the results were 4.0 at last. <<Funny hobby, ain't it? We're pleased with this, in its specific context, and yet folks are panicky (rightly so) if their water tests at 0.25 ppm ammonia.>> Fish did not seem happy though so I watched for a while , was not impressed so another change (90%). However, both these times I dispensed with the ammo lock, water conditioner, aquarium salt and another test revealed 2.0 we are on our way :). <<Here I would not dispense with the water conditioner, Vic. You mentioned that your tap water tests 0 for ammonia but any chlorine must be dealt with. Best to add the conditioner. It won't hurt and will undoubtedly help.>> Will leave till morning & continue your aggressive water changes till near to normal and then treat as would with usual water conditioners. <<In something of an ironic twist, you will reach a point where 'some' ammonia, over a very short term, will be of some assistance in getting the bio-colonies re-established. We can't starve them completely or they won't populate the tank/filter media adequately to reach a state of equilibrium with the bio-load. The bacteria will, ultimately, take care of any trace ammonia.>> Fingers crossed no dead fish and after I get the BIO-Spira from Marineland, a cycled tank at last & yes, I will keep you posted with pictures if you like :). <<I would, indeed. Not out of the woods yet but it's sounding a lot better. Only time, and good care, will tell how much 'damage' was done.>> Many thanks & hope I did not sound too defensive in my last post. All your advice is taken with appreciation. <<Understood and taken as such, Vic. Thank you. Keep up the good work!>> Vic/ <<Tom>>

Re: URGENT AMMONIA- Update!   7/13/07 Hi Tom, <<Hello, Vic. How goes it?>> Just got your last reply :) <<Good.>> Been doing water changes 80-90% every four hours and on my last change I re-added the water conditioners and ammo lock as the reading was holding steady at 1.0 for ammonia. <<We're seeing daylight, Vic!>> The reason I excluded the conditioner before was because I was changing the water so often it seemed pointless putting it in at that point. <<Understood but the conditioner eliminates chlorine almost instantly. Stick with it.>> Oh, just in case you missed it ammonia reads 1.0 & holding (yippee!!) <<No, Vic, I didn't miss it and, I'm happy for you!>> Should I continue water changes and, if so, at what level now? <<Back off to 50%, Vic. Let's let Nature kick in here a bit. The beneficial colonies need to feed in order to populate the tank. Keep the tests up, though. You'll be 'flying blind' without them.>> I have also purchased some live bacterial matter from my local centre and am adding that straight into the filter. <<Excellent. Every little bit'¦>> So far things seem to be on the mend. Anything else you think I should consider at this point? <<Yes. Here is the spot where you should consider going back to the use of aquarium salt. Go easily with this and don't consider it long-term maintenance. Just until we get you back to 0 ppm Ammonia. Aeration is also going to be very important. Your fish and the beneficial bacteria both need this.>> I will keep you posted & am very grateful for all your assistance ... <<That's what we're here for, Vic. You're doing the 'hard part'! I'm just supplying info. :) >> Thanks Victor <<My best to you and, keep me posted. Tom>>

Re: URGENT - Ammonia, the follow up, I am still worried :(  7/13/07 Hi, Tom or whom ever responds from the WWM Crew :) <<It's me, Vic.>> I have been relentlessly changing my water to the point where my water conditions are this: Ammonia 1.0 Nitrites 0 Nitrates 20 PH 7.8 I'm using 1 teaspoon of Aquarium Salt per 10 Gallons of water. <<Okay.>> Water conditioner every change as instructed and same with ammo lock. <<Also good.>> The problem is my fish seem to struggle after about an hour after each water change, (75%) at the moment, even though my ammonia seems to have stabalised at 1.0 for the moment. <<Still too high, Vic. We need to get this down even further.>> Are my fish showing signs of permanent gill damage, or am I missing something? <<You're not missing anything. I told you that time would tell. Apparently, it's beginning to tell'¦>> I have read research and they do not show the normal external signs of ammonia poisoning, red gills, etc.... <<What happens is that the gill tissues swell which inhibits the oxygen uptake and also inhibits the expulsion of ammonia from the fish's system. It may not exhibit itself in 'textbook' fashion, though.>> They appear to be OK otherwise!!!!! No fish loss, to date, despite all my problems. <<Glad to hear this, Vic. Have you increased the aeration of the tank? Even dropping the water level to let the filter outflow disturb the surface water will help. Airstones/air wands are another source.>> I am getting very demotivated and depressed. <<Take a breath. You've gotten 'slammed' and everyone here knows it. Focus on one thing. Whether all of your fish make it, or none make it, you'll have done your best. You can't do more than that. We don't have all of the answers. (A lot of them, perhaps, but not all.) You and I knew we were in for a fight from the get-go. You got my 'best' and you gave it yours. Don't quit or get discouraged. 'Ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.'>> Even my water heater failed and now I'm keeping hood down, lights on all night and am going to rush out in the morning for a new heater. Don't know how much more bad luck my fish can take. <<They're resilient, Vic. Can't say that you haven't had a hard way to go, however. Jeez! Stay with the water changes and, if you can find it, AmQuel from Kordon's to 'lock' up some of the remaining Ammonia.>> Victor... <<Don't give up, Vic. Tom>>

Re: URGENT! Ammonia - Tom, good news :)    7/17/07 Hi Tom, <<Hello, Vic.>> I thought I would let you know how I am getting on. <<I'm glad you did.>> Firstly, I am currently doing water changes at 35% twice daily and my water conditions are: Ammonia 0.50 <<Would love to see this at 0, obviously, but a far cry from 8.0! :) >> Nitrites 0 Nitrates 20 pH 7.4 <<Anything above 7.0 is going to keep the NH3 up and NH4 down, unfortunately.>> Secondly, (a) I have planted the tank more heavily. <<Very good.>> (b) I am no longer using Ammo Lock as I have researched that it slows down cycling by killing off some of the Beneficial Bacteria in the filter. Although, rest assured I am continuing to use Water Conditioner every water change. <<Also, very good.>> Also, I discovered my water filter was losing pressure, even though it was only 4 months old and, I believe this was the cause of my problem from the start! <<Could be, Vic. You brought this up at the very beginning.>> So after days of trouble shooting I took the motor back to my LFS and had it replaced. Before going to replace the motor I put all my original filter cages, which housed any "beneficial bacterial matter" into warmed and aired aquarium water. <<Sounds like you're after my job, Vic. Well done!>> The filter was running again with the new motor installed within half an hour. <<Excellent.>> I am now very optimistic and the oldest of my Platy fry has now been released into general population and is doing well. <<Just what I like to hear!>> Still no fish loss to date, so fingers crossed and touch wood I will find any long term damage to my fish will be minimal. <<My fingers are crossed with you, my friend, and, if all of your fish make it (good Lord willin'), you will have re-defined 'good luck'!>> Once again thanks for all your time and support, I will keep you updated once things are looking 100%. <<I'll look forward to hearing from you, Vic'¦with that 100% report!>> Victor <<Best. Tom>>  

Re: Urgent - Ammonia. Tom; the conclusion! (Amended)   7/28/07 Hi to all the WWM Crew and Tom, <<Well, Happy Friday, Vic!>> I promised to keep you posted as to how I got on with my 50 Gallon Freshwater Set Up... so here I am with the final update. <<Let's see what you've got for us.>> Firstly, my water conditions are: Ammonia 0 <<Very good!>> Nitrites 0 <<Also, very good!>> Nitrates 10 <<For the third time, very good!>> PH 7.4 I gave back to my LFS, 2 Pearl Scale Angels (to avoid overcrowding, now that my tank's planted more heavily) only to find, as luck has it, I was left with a pair of Veil Tail Angels who have since bred!!!! <<Now what were we saying about overcrowding, Vic? :) >> Also my 6 Platy Fry are all doing well. The first of which to go into my main community tank I have called Tom :) <<I think I'm starting to blush. Thank you.>> Most importantly I have lost no fish to date :) <<That's great, Vic! I do believe in Guardian Angels for fish, I do believe in Guardian Angels for fish'¦ :) >> So as a great BIG thank you for all your help and time over the last few weeks. As promised I am attaching a photo of my Freshwater Set Up, which you can feel free to post if you like. <<We will, indeed. (Very nice job, by the way.)>> Keep up all the good work as many marine hobbyists would be lost without your site. <<Very kind of you to say so, Vic. Rest assured that we'll continue to give it our best.>> Best wishes for the future. <<And mine/ours to you, my friend.>> <<Tom>>

Quick questions about recovering from ammonia poisoning, and necessity of gravel  (Neale's go) -- 04/22/07 Hi Crew, <Hello!> I have two quick questions--I had an ammonia problem a month or so ago (100% taken care of now) and I was wondering how much this has reduced the life span of fish that have survived...is the damage permanent or can they recover completely? Do the damaged cells regrow or are their gills permanently compromised? <In theory I suppose its possible that some damage was done, but don't worry about it. Fish are surprisingly good at healing damaged tissues, certainly much more so than humans. They routinely grow back fins and even quite substantial flesh wounds.> Also, do you have any resources I can look at regarding whether gravel is necessary for a fish tank? <Interesting question. Gravel as such isn't essential, and it is quite common not to use gravel at all in certain aquaria, such as breeding tanks and quarantine tanks. However, most fish object to having no substrate underneath them *if* the glass is left shiny and bare. Fish *do not* like light coming from underneath them.> I have a bio-wheel and bio-balls for the bacteria, but does your average Cory catfish need it to feel at home in the tank? <Corydoras far prefer soft non-calcareous sand. That's how I keep mine. They keep it spotlessly clean, and you only need half an inch depth. They plough into it, spewing the sand out through their gills while they hunt for food. It's adorable!> I think it's easier to keep the tank clean if you have no gravel to get the food stuck in, but I'd put it back if the fish actually miss it. <If you have a thin substrate of sand it won't get dirty. Sand is too compact for faeces and food to sink into, and the catfish will turn it over constantly removing any live foods that might wriggle into it. I find sand actually easier to keep clean than gravel. The downside is that it can get sucked into the filter if you have large fish swishing the sand into the water column with their big tails (my Panaque catfish does this all the time!).> Thanks for any help you can offer! <No problems. Neale> Allison

Quick questions about recovering from ammonia poisoning, and necessity of gravel (Tom's go) -- 04/22/07 Hi Crew, <<Hi, Allison. Tom with you.>> I have two quick questions--I had an ammonia problem a month or so ago (100% taken care of now) and I was wondering how much this has reduced the life span of fish that have survived...is the damage permanent or can they recover completely?  Do the damaged cells regrow or are their gills permanently compromised?   <<Good question, Allison. First, fish can certainly recover from a tangle with ammonia exposure/poisoning but, to hedge my bets here just a little, it would depend greatly on how big the problem was that we're talking about. A minor exposure would likely cause the gill tissues to become irritated and, perhaps, somewhat swollen. Stressful, of course, but not irreversible. Moderate exposure would certainly cause the gill tissues to swell resulting in hampered breathing and reduced excretion of ammonia -- through specialized gill tissues -- from the body. Skin, eyes and gills would likely be irritated to the point of potential damage. If concentrations of ammonia were to build up to significant levels, internal organs would be irritated/damaged. A major 'episode' would render the question, pretty much, moot. The fish would either die of suffocation or internal poisoning from ammonia build-up. Even if the fish didn't succumb immediately, the damage could be so severe that it would be best to euthanize the animal.>> Also, do you have any resources I can look at regarding whether gravel is necessary for a fish tank?  I have a bio-wheel and bio-balls for the bacteria, but does your average Cory catfish need it to feel at home in the tank? <<Sure! Us. To start, remember that nitrifying bacteria inhabit all parts of the tank and the substrate is no exception. Gravel will, of course, provide more 'surface area' for the bacteria so, from that perspective, it does provide a useful service. (One that shouldn't be under-emphasized, I might add.) Now, to what I think you're really getting at, no, you don't 'need' gravel/substrate in your tank. Corys are non-stop scavengers and will do so with, or without, gravel in the aquarium. In large part, its use is for aesthetic reasons only. People typically don't like bare-bottom tanks. Fish couldn't care less, by and large. Yes, there are some fish that lay eggs in 'nests' in hollows in the substrate but I don't think that's your point here.>> I think it's easier to keep the tank clean if you have no gravel to get the food stuck in, but I'd put it back if the fish actually miss it. <<Your fish won't 'miss' gravel, Allison. Corys will stay just as busy in a bare-bottom tank as they will in a tank with gravel in it.>> Thanks for any help you can offer! Allison <<I hope did help, Allison. Any more questions? You know where to find us. Best regards. Tom>>

Nessler's Rgt. concern   4/21/07 Hello Crew, <Howdy> I work at a LFS and regularly recommend Amquel and Wardley products. The warning labels on these products and many others warns against use with Nessler's reactor test kits. <As they should...> I know many of my customers use the test kits and have received odd readings when testing their tank parameters. It also becomes very annoying when customers have no idea what chemicals or kits they are using. My question is how likely is that additives effect test kits. <Very...> What is the likelihood of a reaction happening when someone is using too many additives. <?... Am not following you here... The Nessler's Reagent will/can give false readings in a test vial... for ammonia... with water that has been treated with certain water conditioners (containing PVP...)... but this/these false readings are not "in the tank"... the test water should be discarded... not poured back in...> ( I have a customer who insists on adding 6 different additives to his freshwater tank every week.) Thank you for your time and patience.            Ann <Mmm, please refer them here... Not a good idea... we are in agreement here. Bob Fenner>

New water Caused Fish Loss   4/16/07 I have a 55 gallon freshwater tank.  For the past few weeks, after I feed the fish, the excess food that was not sucked up by the 100 gallon filter I have on there, fell to the bottom and started to collect around the decorations in the tank.  I did what I could to remove 90% of it, but it sticks to everything in a glob.  My water tested fine for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and the pH hovers at right around 6-7.  Yesterday, I was topping off the tank the way I always do and the tap water had no odor, but within 30 minutes of adding it to the tank (I only added 1 gallon and it was treated with tap water treatment) all of my fish went to the top of the tank and were gasping.  Within an hour, I had lost all 20 of my fish, including 2 Cory catfish and one lace cat. The rest were for my kids and were fancy fish, and mostly tetras of various kinds.  My 2 snails made it!  Within that first 30 minutes and all day yesterday, the tank was emitting a VERY STRONG Sulphur smell?  I tested the water after all the fish died and the only thing that was elevated was the nitrates?  I have Nitrazorb in the tank at all times and have never (in 5 years) had a total loss.  What would be causing the Sulphur smell and how do I fix it.  I have since moved my snails to my cichlid tank and they are doing fine.  I topped of the cichlid tank with the same 1 gallon of water and have had no issues at all?   Any ideas?  I'm planning on draining all the water tomorrow and rinsing the rocks, etc...Basically starting from scratch on that tank to avoid a total loss again.  The kids were devastated.  Any help you can suggest would be greatly appreciated. At a loss!? Shay Einhaus < OK, Stick with me here. I think I can explain what is going on here. It may be a little confusing but I think I know what happened. Excess food that is not removed from the tank  is broken down into ammonia. This is deadly to fish. In an acidic pH like the one you described, there is no ammonia. The ammonia is bound up with an extra hydrogen molecule to form ammonium. This is less toxic and loved by plants. When you topped off your tank the water was probably alkaline and shifted the pH from an acidic to basic environment. All that ammonium iron then reverted to ammonia and you had an ammonia spike that started to "burn" the fishes gills. This caused all your fish to rush to the surface, since they had less active gill tissue the were starving for air. This didn't happen in the cichlid tank because it is already at a high pH so all the waste is an ammonia and the new water didn't change the pH. I would make the following recommendations. Only feed your fish enough food so that all of it is gone in 2 minutes once a day. Remove any uneaten food. Food going into the filter does not count as gone. It is out of site but not out of the system and is still affecting your fish. Get rid of the Nitrazorb. This effects the biological filtration. When the resin has expired and can no longer absorbed any additional nitrogenous wastes , it will cause the toxins to rapidly accumulate for no apparent reason. Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are all part of a normal aquarium system. I would recommend that you use Bio-Spira from Marineland to add the additionally bacteria needed to properly breakdown the wastes in your aquarium. Check the water you are adding with the water that is already in your aquarium or at least remove some of the old water to reduce the waste before adding any new water.-Chuck>

RO/DI question with freshwater tanks, tap trtmt., ammonia  3/26/07         I have read through alot <There is no such word> of things and I am really confused.  I have 3 freshwater tanks set up, and found out I have ammonia in my tap water. <... appreciable amounts? Unusual... I would contact your "water board"... See your utility bill> I have done alot <...> to remove the ammonia before adding water to my tanks and have ended up with 4 dead and 1 with fin and tail rot now.  I have decided to get a RO/DI unit. I do understand that I need to put stuff back into the water, and most likely will be using R/O Right by Kent.  What I don't understand is the issues with the ph.  I know I need to bring the ph to what the fish are used to and make it stable, but I am not sure what products I need to use. <Just simple aeration... letting time go by... about a day> Also, I do not understand what I need to do with GH or kH. <You can add sources of such hardness back... the Kent et al. products do this> I have not gotten the RO/DI unit yet and do not want to use it until I know what I am doing, so I do not lose any more fish. If I could have someone give me a simple list of what I need for the proper ph and to make it stable again, and what or if anything I need to do for the kH and GH.  I have the following fish (not in same tank) 1 African cichlid, 2 angelfish, 1 algae eater and 1 male Betta with 7 Neons. Thank you for your time. <Actually... I would NOT buy/use such physical means of cleaning your source water... if the "ammonia" was all you're concerned with... I would use a simple dechloraminator, and store new water ahead of use... as detailed over and over on our site. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsubwebindex.htm Peruse the areas of Set-up and Maintenance... Treating Tapwater, Ammonia... For your potable uses, I would certainly have your water checked professionally... and likely use an RO device (as we do). Bob Fenner>

Fishless Cycle Mistake    2/12/07 Good Day, <And to you> I'll make this short and sweet.  I was attempting to fishless cycle my 29 gallon tank which  contains Ecco-Complete Cichlid Sand for substrate and an Eheim 2215 filter.  I purchased "clear ammonia" from Shaw's and added 8ml to my tank; <Yikes... this is a BUNCH... too much ammonia presence actually kills all life... including nitrifying bacteria... I imagine (though barely) that too many pizzas would kill even me!> however, I neglected to give the ammonia the "shake test" before I added it to my tank.  (I know, big mistake)  Of course I shook the bottle and it foamed indicating that the ammonia contains surfactants, and now I don't know what to do.  Please help? <Oh!...> The tank is empty besides the 40 lbs of Ecco-Complete Cichlid Sand.. and of course 29 gallons of water.  I have carbon in the filter that is only a week old.  Could that help take care of the surfactants? <Mmm, yes> I realize that I may have to empty my tank and rinse everything, which, of course is very frustrating.  If this is what you recommend, Is there a way that I can keep some of my bacteria alive through out the process.  Many thanks! Dan <I would likely dump, rinse and re-fill this tank... If you have the patience... you could try waiting a few weeks, testing (for free ammonia) and trying a test fish or two... Bob Fenner>

Re: Fishless Cycle Mistake   2/13/07 Good Morning: <Daniel> I just wanted to clarify a point with regards to my fishless cycle question.  Yes, 8ml is a lot of ammonia; however, I did some research on the ammonia that I used and found that it only contains 2% ammonia.  8ml of this product brought my ammonia to 3ppm, 2ppm shy of the recommended 5ppm.   <I recommend no more than 1 ppm, but good point... this is quite a dilute solution commercially> I ended up draining the tank and cleaning everything with water that I treated with prime in an attempt to save as much bacteria as I could.  I went out and bought a product called "Austin's Clear Ammonia", and after checking with the manufacturer to make sure the product is pure I'm starting the entire process again. <Better by far to "start" with an organic source of ammonia (protein)... food... that will provide a steady supply...> With the help of a nasty filter cartridge from a locally owned trusted LFS <Ah, good> I'm hoping to put some fish in it soon.  Thank you so much for your help!  Your site is simply awesome! <Thank you for this follow-up, clarification. Bob Fenner>

Cycling....  Where's My Ammonia? - 02/11/2007 Hello WWMC: <<Hello, Barb. Tom with you.>> Wonderful site and I don't think I've seen a Q&A/Forum site for fish where the answers have been so non-judgmental and knowledgeable!  That is GREAT for beginners like me.  The hobby is difficult enough without having others shame you out of it when you're looking for answers or help.  So again, thanks for being such a great group :) <<Thanks, Barb. Speaking for all of us, we appreciate your comments. We do, indeed, try to bear in mind that what we sometimes take for granted isn't always 'clear cut' for folks new to the hobby.>> I did check your search engine but couldn't quite find what I was looking for.  I set up a 30 gallon freshwater tank at Christmastime and started researching the cycle, fish compatibility, etc.  Honestly?  I became terrified to do anything. <<Understandable. Kind of falls under the category of 'information overload'. So many things that you want to get right and not enough 'hands on' experience to know that what you're doing is correct. We've all been there.>> I knew that just running the water through the filter would not start the cycle. <<For what it's worth, Barb, a long way down the road, the tank would have, in fact, cycled doing just that. Airborne ammonia is more plentiful, from the viewpoint of scientists, than most people realize. In reality, it's one of most abundant nitrogen-containing compounds going.>> I didn't want to needlessly harm or even kill live fish.   <<Bless you for that.>> I searched my area but could only find ammonia with surfactants in it for cleaning and no LFS carries BioSpira :(   <<Raw seafood like shrimp or even regular old fish food would do it, as well, though not as quickly.>> 3 weeks ago, I put my son's Betta into the tank.  Alien Slug Fish (my son is 6) lived quite contentedly for 2 weeks.  8 days ago, I went to the fish store and picked up 6 gold Danios and 2 blue gouramis.  Into the tank they went with the Betta.  Everything is fine.  Too fine!  And herein lies my great confusion! <<Well, let's see if I can clear the confusion up!>> My father in law brought me 2 Master test strips to make sure parameters weren't too deadly.  However, they only showed PH, hardness, nitrite, chlorine, not ammonia or nitrate.  I tested with the first one on Day 3.  The nitrite showed at .5 ppm.   <<Bacteria have established themselves. No bacteria, no nitrites.>> I tested again on Day 5.  The nitrite showed at .25.  I did a 15% water change just because....  The fish were all happy and eating and not losing colour.   <<Sounds good so far.>> I became so paranoid about the veracity of the test strips, I took the day off work yesterday and bought a Hagen ammonia test and a Hagen nitrite test (the test tube type).  I checked the water yesterday afternoon, last night and this morning.  Ammonia has been 0 all three times and nitrite has been .1 all three times.  How is this possible?  Did the Betta kick start the cycle when I wasn't testing for the first two weeks?  Am I nearing the end of the cycle already???  Did I mess it up completely and the fish are in danger?? <<As I mentioned earlier, Barb, a tank will cycle by itself. Not quickly, typically, but it will cycle. The Betta provided an additional source of ammonia which 'fueled' the population increase of the bacteria already present. In short, you actually added Alien Slug Fish on the 'downward' slope of the cycle. My guess? The region you live in has higher concentrations of airborne ammonia than might generally be found elsewhere. Regions near large populations of livestock generally account for the highest levels but winds can carry ammonia for very long distances. There are a large numbers of other sources of ammonia as well.>> I've posted on some forums and I keep getting told that the Betta did nothing for the cycle as he's too small in a 30 gallon. <<Only partially true. He wasn't a huge contributor, certainly, but a source is a source, as it were. All fish produce ammonia so your other responders weren't completely correct in suggesting that the Betta 'did nothing' to promote the cycling process.>> But then, I also get that no one has a clue how I could have low nitrites without going through an ammonia spike.   <<The ammonia did spike, Barb. You just didn't see it. Nitrites are the by-product of the Nitrosomonas bacteria processing the ammonia. Like I said, no bacteria, no nitrites.>> I do NOT want to add any fish until I know this cycle is complete!  The tank was set up to home a blood parrot and 2 undyed jellybeans and being hybrids, I understand they don't do well in an uncycled or cycling tank.  Please help. <<Keep testing the water. When both ammonia and nitrites are undetectable and there are nitrates present, you're home free. Control the nitrate levels through regular water changes since the fish you've mentioned aren't particularly tolerant of high nitrate levels, either. Strive for readings below 10 ppm on these.>> Any and all suggestions or information is very welcome. <<I'd say you're in pretty good shape here, Barb. To keep the volume of information from overwhelming you, pick one area to research and concentrate on that. Lots of times there will be additional items of interest that are covered along with the primary topic. Just as a diligent reader will look up an unknown word in the dictionary, if you run across something unfamiliar, look it up. The more knowledgeable you become, the less intimidating things will seem.>> Thanks so much. Barb <<Happy to help, Barb. From all of us, welcome aboard! Tom>>

High Ammonia Levels  1/20/07 <Hi Cheryl, Pufferpunk here> I'm from Woodinville WA where we had a nasty wind storm that took out over 1,000,000 people's power for a week (or more).   <My biggest fear, with 9 tanks running.> Of course no one here had generators at the time (or could get one if they wanted to) and we never knew we would be without power for so darn long....(we have a generator now for the future...which I hope I'll never need.) <Always good to be prepared.> I was able to save all but 1 fish, by insulating the tank with blankets and doing water changes every 8 hours during the outage then after the power came back on, treating for fungus/parasites first--then bacterial infection. I lost the one fish. I ended up basically starting over after 25 years as far as an established tank goes.  I have a wet dry system, with a full load of fish and I now have high ammonia levels. I have been struggling with this since Dec. 21st. Its been about 6 weeks and it doesn't seem to be getting better. < :o( > I have been doing partial water changes aprox. every 2-5 days, (depending on how bad the ammonia level is). <Very toxic--should be 0 at all times.> I am using StressZyme each time, to add bacteria, also AmmoLock every other day because the levels are showing very high even after the water changes. I bought some Amquel but it didn't seem to do anything except make the tank smell nasty. So far the fish seem to be OK with all this. The water right now is very cloudy looking. Today's level was at 6-ppm (not good) So  I did a massive water change (80%) hoping to bring it down some. <Should be doing these daily.> From all I have read I am not sure if I should add AmmoLock or not. Any advice is appreciated. <Forget about all the above products you are using.  StressZyme contains no live bacteria, so you're basically adding waste to a tank that can't handle the waste already in there.  The ammonia-removing products you are using are preventing the good bacteria from developing, because it is starving it from it's food (eats ammonia), so it can't complete the cycle.  Find a shop that sells Bio-Spira (may be difficult to find).  This is the ONLY product that contains the LIVE bacteria found in an established, cycled tank.  DO NOT LET THE STORE SELL YOU ANYTHING ELSE!  To change ammonia to a usable, non-toxic form, use Prime as a dechlorinator.  Until you are able to get the B-S into your tank, you must do huge, daily water changes (80-90%), to get your levels down to 0.  When you do get B-S, add it directly to your filter.> My 6 clown loaches are 25 years old now and I'd hate to lose them after all this time.  I've had them longer than the husband! They are sensitive little creatures and I'm sure this is stressing them all out.  It certainly is stressing me out! <Yes, scale less fish are more sensitive to ammonia/nitrites.  Folks don't believe it when I tell them the longevity of these beautiful, entertaining fish.  They must be fantastic sight!>   The setup is a 75 gallon fresh water tank with a Tricon trickle wet dry system, aprox. 20 fish total. <Hmmm... not nearly large enough for a school of huge 6 clowns, plus 14 more fish!  The clowns should be around a foot long by now.  That would require at least a 200+ gallon tank.> Any further help is appreciated. <You should consider an upgrade.  The overstocking is a big part of your problem here, as the tank can't catch up with the bioload all those fish are producing.  Get that Bio-Spira ASAP & in the meantime, huge daily water changes are in order.  See:  http://fishstoretn.com/bio_spira.html  ~PP>   Cheryl

Bio-Spira & Stunted Clown Loaches  2/1/07 <Cheryl> Thank you. I had heard about Bio-Spira from another fish group and called a store (that's far away) yesterday that had it.  I'll pick it up today.  I did another large water change last night and I will do a water change  before I put the Bio-Spira in. <For some strange reason, this is a difficult product to find.  As well as it works & the fact that it is the ONLY product that successfully instantly cycles a tank & brings back a crashed system (although they claim not to use it for this--I have), I think every store should carry it.  Just be sure to ask if it has ever been out of refrigeration.  I went to a shop that had some sitting on their counter.  They insisted it was fine there & they had been selling it that way for months.  I had them read the package & even though it had been sitting on that counter for a month (totally dead) they put in the fridge for future sale!!!> My 6 loaches I bought when they were tiny babies and they have all lived happily up till 2 years ago in a 40 gallon tank. The under gravel system (actually I had one custom made at the 12 year mark)  finally gave up on it after 23 years and I did up grade to the 75 gallon wet dry trickle system. The last 2 years had been super great, no problems at all. Not till the dreaded power outage. FYI my  loaches are nowhere near a foot long. Loaches grow very slowly. Maybe if they were in a bigger tank to begin with, they may be that large now, but I doubt it. My biggest 2 are half that size, aprox. 6 inches. the rest aprox. 4 inches. Very beautiful fish. I hope to have them around another 25 years (then I might need a bigger tank!) <I'm not too sure of their longevity but I think you're approaching the mark.  Too bad they're stunted though... would have been stunning at that size!  ~PP> Thank you very much for your help.   Cheryl

Problem with ammonia, FW   1/17/07 Good Morning, <<Afternoon now, Linda. Tom here this time.>> I took your advice and added Bio-Spira last night (enough for a 90gal tank) . I did a 50% water change prior to adding the product. How long should I wait for results before doing another partial water change? <<BIO-Spira contains live bacteria, Linda. They're munching as we speak so give them something to munch on. Without a source of ammonia, the bacteria will die off.>> If ammonia levels are still high and I have to do another change should I add more product?    <<Linda, this product isn't a 'conditioner' or 'blocker'. It contains the beneficial bacteria that actually 'feed' on ammonia and nitrites. Exactly what you want/need in your aquarium. To answer your question, though, if a water change is required, add more of the product to the filter.>> Last night after the partial water change then after two 50% changes the day before I was still getting toxic ammonia levels.   <<This will change quickly. 50% changes won't, normally, do it, Linda. For toxic levels you really need to look at 'massive' water changes, in the range of 90% or better. This depends, of course, on how 'toxic' the levels are but, in this context, 'massive' is 75%+. Since you've added the BIO-Spira already, a water change would be counter-productive. The beneficial bacteria occupy all areas of the tank, the filter particularly, but all surfaces contain these. Water changes, necessary as they are, strip some of the surfaces of these bacteria. Something you'll need to bear in mind when routine maintenance is the norm. That is, you never want to 'over-clean' your tank once it's cycled. When you vacuum the substrate, for example, don't vacuum more that 1/3 of it. Take this in steps.>> This fish still don't appear to be stressed and I haven't lost anyone yet. <<That's exactly what we're looking for, Linda. No one gets 'lost'.>> Thanks, Linda <<Sorry to dive in on Jeni's (PP's) post to you. (She can yell at me later. :) ) In spite of all of the information, relax and don't 'over-think' this. Far too easy to do when it starts to seem overwhelming. Trust me, it's not, and in no time you'll wonder why you worried. (Acting on something, in this hobby, is sometimes worse than doing nothing. You're on the right track so let things take their course.) Tom>>

Re: Problem with ammonia  1/17/07 Okay, thanks Tom. <<Happy to help, Linda.>> I'll let nature take it's course and stand down for a while.   <<Easier said than done, isn't it? :) >> The guys at the LFS told me that Bio-Spira is good stuff also.   <<Glad to hear that. You should be as well. Someone there knows his/her stuff.>> Thanks for the help and advise. <<More than happy to be of assistance. You know where to find us...>> Linda <<Tom>>

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