Algae eaters dying

ChemTG

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Hi all,

We've used this website a lot for setting up our first tank for a rescue betta, though my husband did have tanks back in the pre-Google days when all this information wasn't at your fingertips. So we've learned a lot over the past few months but have been having a bit of a problem-- all our algae eaters die. Here's what our setup looks like:

Tank age: 6 months
Tank size: 23 gallon
Tank mates: 1 betta
Tank decor: live planted with driftwood, a few pieces of slate, and a bit of an algae problem that's killing the plants
Nitrogen cycled: Yes
Water changes: 10-30% every 7-10 days, depending on chemical tests
Water temperature: about 77F

We started with some nerite snails, but the tank wasn't cycled so they did not make it. The issue here was definitely our novice excitement getting too many animals too fast.

We made sure our tank was cycled and stable for a few weeks (ammonia and nitrite at 0 ppm, nitrate under 40 ppm) then introduced 3 otos, as the fish store near us told us they do better in groups. These guys lasted a couple weeks then slowly died off. We never even found the last body.

The people at the aquarium store we go to (highly reviewed, no complaints about unhealthy fish that I could find) suggested it's a pH problem. Also suggested that the otos usually like things on the more acidic side anyway, so that could have been the problem, as could the fact that otos are pretty fragile and we see a lot of posts that in the first 6 weeks for otos there's a pretty high mortality rate. We sit a bit basic usually (7.2-7.6) so we monitored our KH/pH in case the live plants/algae were causing pH spikes through the day. They were a little (a swing of 7.2-7.4 morning to afternoon) so we adjusted our carbonate and waited about a week for everything to stabilize.

Then we got an albino bristlenose pleco. The woman at the shop and the internet agree that these are really hard to kill, so we were like, PERFECT for us. It died in less than a week. Here are my current chemical readings (post-pulling out poor dead Kebab, so the ammonia is a little higher than usual tests). I use a liquid test kit:

pH: 7.6
KH: 50-100 ppm
NH4+: 0-0.25 ppm (usually zero, this is because of the new fish introduction on Monday and fish death today I believe)
NO2-: 0 ppm
NO3-: 0-20 ppm

The pleco should be fine with these values (pH 5.5-7.6 is a fine range for them according to the internet), though the pH still looks a bit high in general. We give a 2 hour adjustment period floating the bag in the tank before putting the fish, but I did just read that it's better to do a slow water exchange as well when introducing the fish so we'll incorporate that in the future. The betta doesn't seem to care about any of these fish really and there were no signs of violence on the bodies or ever in behavior.

So... what do you think, community? I'm currently leaning toward needing to adjust my pH down to about 7 and add some water introduction steps into our acclimation procedure. Is there anything else I'm missing that you see? Do you have suggestions for how to adjust the pH without shocking the betta and killing the one sweet scale baby we have been able to keep alive? Sorry for the crazy long post, but it's been quite an ordeal getting to this point and we'd really like to get some algae eating scale babies to help keep our tank pretty and our plants growing.
 

86 ssinit

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All you’ve read about ottos is true. They are a hard to keep fish they need a well established tank. One with micro-film and algae growing in it. What did you try to feed to the ottos? As to the pleco how did you acclimate it to the tank? They usually are pretty sturdy. Ammonia at .25 isn’t terrible you would have noticed the fish having problems. What is your filter and how often do you change water. Thing with plecos is they have a large waste load.
 

SM1199

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Lots of things to unpack here. I don't want to discourage you, just giving you a heads up!

Otos are indeed very fragile because of the way they are sourced. I like to argue, however, that once you get through the first week or so, the issue is no longer coming from where they were sourced, but rather what is going on in your own tank.

It actually is not as important that the pH suits the fish, for most freshwater species. And yes, I do include otos in this group. I had a group of 6 indestructible otos in pH 7.6-7.8 and I never lost a single one, and had them for about a year before rehoming them when I took down my tank.

That being said, the issue is not the pH itself, but rather the pH swing. Most on here will argue that you should NOT try to balance the pH (sorry to say, since I know you're into chemistry!) but rather just keep the pH stable at exactly where it is from your tap. Dechlorinate and temp-match the water. Put water in fish tank. Done. This is because those pH balancers only work to a certain degree before they stop being quite so effective, and then the pH swings. This is because pH balancers are buffers, and buffers have a specific capacity that, once exceeded, makes the buffer dramatically less effective. It's not easy to get a consistent pH in a fish tank unless you just keep it exactly as it is out of the tap.

Otos live off of algae. Yes, they are little, but they eat A LOT of algae, and need it to just survive. Most will not eat algae wafers. Some, but not all, will eat veggies, but it shouldn't be their main diet.

Taking the two above points into account, this means you need to have a mature, algae-filled, chemically stable tank before you introduce otos. A lot of people were amazed at how I had 0% mortality rate on my otos, and that is because the tank was large, stable, and algae-filled before I introduced them! A couple months before I rehomed them, I introduced a bristlenose pleco - a tiny one, less than an inch long - and my otos suffered because they were now competing for algae. I moved the pleco and they were all round-bellied and happy otos again.

For the pleco, it's hard to say because they definitely should be a hardy fish. It is possible it was diseased or had internal parasites when you acquired it, which is not your fault at all.
 

Beneful1

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I haven't had the greatest luck with Otto's either. I started with 4 almost a year ago when I first set up this tank, added a couple and then over a few months was down to 1, so I just bought 4 more a couple of weeks ago and so far so good. Everyone else in the tank is doing fine
 
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ChemTG

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All you’ve read about ottos is true. They are a hard to keep fish they need a well established tank. One with micro-film and algae growing in it. What did you try to feed to the ottos? As to the pleco how did you acclimate it to the tank? They usually are pretty sturdy. Ammonia at .25 isn’t terrible you would have noticed the fish having problems. What is your filter and how often do you change water. Thing with plecos is they have a large waste load.
We got the ottos after we had quite a bit of algae in the tank. It's all over the plants and quite a bit on the walls of the tank. They were very obviously eating it, you could see their tracks in the algae, they weren't fully cleaning the walls. Our ammonia sits at 0 most of the time, unless I'm pulling a dead fish out 5 minutes before. :(

Water changes weekly, about 10%. More if the nitrogen load seems high, but it's pretty low and stable. The pleco didn't even make it to the first water change, only 6 days. We floated his bag for about 2 hours before releasing him and he was happily making his way in laps around the tank until this morning when I couldn't find him, I eventually spotted him dead in a corner.

Lots of things to unpack here. I don't want to discourage you, just giving you a heads up!

Otos are indeed very fragile because of the way they are sourced. I like to argue, however, that once you get through the first week or so, the issue is no longer coming from where they were sourced, but rather what is going on in your own tank.

It actually is not as important that the pH suits the fish, for most freshwater species. And yes, I do include otos in this group. I had a group of 6 indestructible otos in pH 7.6-7.8 and I never lost a single one, and had them for about a year before rehoming them when I took down my tank.

That being said, the issue is not the pH itself, but rather the pH swing. Most on here will argue that you should NOT try to balance the pH (sorry to say, since I know you're into chemistry!) but rather just keep the pH stable at exactly where it is from your tap. Dechlorinate and temp-match the water. Put water in fish tank. Done. This is because those pH balancers only work to a certain degree before they stop being quite so effective, and then the pH swings. This is because pH balancers are buffers, and buffers have a specific capacity that, once exceeded, makes the buffer dramatically less effective. It's not easy to get a consistent pH in a fish tank unless you just keep it exactly as it is out of the tap.

Otos live off of algae. Yes, they are little, but they eat A LOT of algae, and need it to just survive. Most will not eat algae wafers. Some, but not all, will eat veggies, but it shouldn't be their main diet.

Taking the two above points into account, this means you need to have a mature, algae-filled, chemically stable tank before you introduce otos. A lot of people were amazed at how I had 0% mortality rate on my otos, and that is because the tank was large, stable, and algae-filled before I introduced them! A couple months before I rehomed them, I introduced a bristlenose pleco - a tiny one, less than an inch long - and my otos suffered because they were now competing for algae. I moved the pleco and they were all round-bellied and happy otos again.

For the pleco, it's hard to say because they definitely should be a hardy fish. It is possible it was diseased or had internal parasites when you acquired it, which is not your fault at all.
This is definitely encouraging, not discouraging, thank you! So about the pH swing, though-- how do you keep it from swinging without adding buffers? We've got tap water (we dechlorinate and add some bio-agent since it's a relatively new tank) with basically 0 bicarbonate in it, so we started supplementing with a bicarbonate buffer to get our KH up to the recommended value and prevent pH swings from morning to afternoon due to photosynthesis from the live plants/algae (store-bought, I decided against spiking our tank with baking soda ;) ). Or do you mean that it's ok to add the carbonate itself in, but don't try to adjust the pH because it will vary with each water change?

As I commented to the other very helpful person (and thank you guys, so much-- we're really frustrated with this), we have a bit of an algae problem. We could see the tracks they were making through it (nerites, ottos and pleco), and they're not getting it all.

Any specific suggestions on adjustments we could/should make prior to trying another fish? I feel so bad about losing them, I really would love to find the problem and fix it before trying again. I think it makes sense what you're saying about don't try to adjust the pH... Maybe our acclimation procedure then?
 

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Maybe retry netrite snails or amino shrimp. Amino shrimp are supposed to be great cleaners and if they are bigger the betta may leave them alone. But mainly the issue is why are you growing algea? How long is your lights on? Do you get any sunlight hitting the tank? You can put fish in to try to combat the algea but you need to find what is causing the algea first. You are essentially just putting a bandaid on the issue. Just my 2 cents. Love that you are doing your research on the issues.
 
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ChemTG

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Maybe retry netrite snails or amino shrimp. Amino shrimp are supposed to be great cleaners and if they are bigger the betta may leave them alone. But mainly the issue is why are you growing algea? How long is your lights on? Do you get any sunlight hitting the tank? You can put fish in to try to combat the algea but you need to find what is causing the algea first. You are essentially just putting a bandaid on the issue. Just my 2 cents. Love that you are doing your research on the issues.
Thank you! That's really a good point. Our light is on 10-12 hrs/day, as we try to feed the betta twice a day evenly spaced and (I think? I'm guessing here, really...) he needs the light on to see the pellets? And it doesn't seem like we should be switching it on and off on him? Maybe we could try 8 hrs and just leave the blue light on so we get to see him sometimes since that 8 hours is when we're at work?

The algae started when we were worried about the nerites getting enough food and put in some algae pellets. Then the nerites died, we didn't put anything else in for about 8 weeks while we made sure the tank was stable. I might be totally wrong about how these pellets work, but the algae it exploded since then. We scrub the walls and the plants as best we can when we do a water change, but it's definitely killing our plants... and we want a few more fish anyway since we have a 23 gallon for a single betta. Should no tank really need algae eaters to keep it down? I thought algae eaters were kind of a thing you needed in a tank in general (though yes, we are at a point where the algae is a PROBLEM, not a regular level).

Thanks again for the input!! This really makes me feel like people care and we'll figure out our issues and keep our babies happy and healthy.

EDIT: Oh, and we also put some fertilizer pellets in for the plants, which probably helps the algae.... but the plants need them too. :/
 

86 ssinit

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Pic of the tank may help. As to acclimating them I float the bag and add about a half cup of tank water to the bag every 15 min for an hour. Pic just to see how much algae and how many plants. What type of filter and is there a air pump. Just a guess but if to many plants and algae at night they would be eating the oxygen and you may need a bubbler. For the lighting try setting time timer for 2 settings. Go 4hrs on 4hrs off and 4-5hrs back on again. This way let’s the plants grow but not the algae.
 

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I'd retry some snails now since you said last time you chalked the deaths up to the tank not being cycled. Since the tank should be cycled now. Shrimp might work though I'd be careful about considering them. I'm planning out a nice tank that I'll be including some Amano in but they seem like they're a bit more fragile than snails. Definitely pop into the shrimp section and get advice on shrimp before trying.
IIRC messing with the kH and gH will also raise the pH in most cases. If your tapwater has livable pH for your fish & inverts than just let their pH be that and specifically that so that new water is the same pH as the old water. If the pH of the tank is different from tap then introducing water slowly might help. Though >15% changes shouldn't swing the pH too much unless there's a big difference between tank and tap.
Algae control doesn't require an algae eater. The issue can be controlled by controlling the necessities of algae life, light and nutrients. I believe fishlore has an article on doing that somewhere.
 

SM1199

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This is definitely encouraging, not discouraging, thank you! So about the pH swing, though-- how do you keep it from swinging without adding buffers? We've got tap water (we dechlorinate and add some bio-agent since it's a relatively new tank) with basically 0 bicarbonate in it, so we started supplementing with a bicarbonate buffer to get our KH up to the recommended value and prevent pH swings from morning to afternoon due to photosynthesis from the live plants/algae (store-bought, I decided against spiking our tank with baking soda ;) ). Or do you mean that it's ok to add the carbonate itself in, but don't try to adjust the pH because it will vary with each water change?

As I commented to the other very helpful person (and thank you guys, so much-- we're really frustrated with this), we have a bit of an algae problem. We could see the tracks they were making through it (nerites, ottos and pleco), and they're not getting it all.

Any specific suggestions on adjustments we could/should make prior to trying another fish? I feel so bad about losing them, I really would love to find the problem and fix it before trying again. I think it makes sense what you're saying about don't try to adjust the pH... Maybe our acclimation procedure then?
I've used straight dechlorinated tap water and nothing more from the four different places I've lived in in the past three years, and none of my fish have ever had problems. I have never tested for anything other than pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Maybe I just got lucky, or maybe it's just not necessary. I know certain plants, fish, and inverts need certain minerals to thrive, but most can get what they need from their diet (especially beginners), and that most people will only test parameters beyond nitrogen and pH when troubleshooting or keeping finicky shrimp/plants, but that's where my knowledge on the topic ends :D Maybe someone else can chime in on this part!

I think you might have better luck looking into the source of your problem algae, specifically lighting strength and timing. What power and type of lights do you use? How long do you keep them on every day? Lower light strength and shorter photoperiod will often decrease algae levels. I would recommend decreasing photoperiod first, since it's the easier of the two to alter. Depending on your set-up, you can alter light strength without buying new lights. If you have it so that your lights are above a glass lid, you can put an opaque plastic sheet on top of the glass lid and under the lights to dim it a little, or if you can adjust your light height, you can raise it up a few or more inches to disperse the light more.

Nerites are fantastic, and I do think you should have another go at them. Mine have been hanging around for over a year. The thing is, they usually won't crawl on hard-to-reach surfaces, like plant leaves, at least in my experience with my nerites. They do a fantastic job on the glass and hardscape, but will not touch my plant leaves.

Amano shrimp do the exact opposite. They will not eat flat algae off of surfaces like glass, but they will eat long filamentous algae that is growing off of leaves.

So depending on your algae issue, you definitely have options!
 

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I don't really have much experience of these fish, but +1 on not altering the pH. I've kept fish outside of their pH range fine.
 
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ChemTG

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Picture of the tank below. This is 1 week after a water change where we scrubbed down surfaces:

20191110_183125.jpg


Filter is an AquaClear 50, have it set about halfway in flow rate (66.6-200 gph in a 23 gallon tank -- should be at least 4x turnover/hr without creating a really strong current at the highest setting). The lights are integrated in the lid of the tank, blue and white light options. I'm not sure what the power is, though. You can see the tracks from Kebab through the algae I was talking about (rest his soul). It gets no direct sunlight. So I think at this point, I've got a few take-aways:

1. Don't touch the pH!
2. Maybe stop adding the bicarb buffer to the tank? Like you mentioned above, we didn't test anything other than pH and nitrogen or spike in buffer until the people at the store suggested pH swings from morning to afternoon could be killing the ottos-- and this did bring the pH up from ~7.2 to ~7.6 which would be expected from adding carbonate.
3. Down to lights on 8 hrs/day, get a timer for it and try light cycling.
4. Circle back to nerites after the tank evens out post-pleco death. Even though they're big ol' poop machines and we stupidly added gravel instead of sand. :)

Any other suggestions or thoughts on why the fish other than Tzatziki (pictured above) keep dying? I really appreciate this amazing community, you guys and gals are all so awesome!
 

86 ssinit

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Nice looking tank. Yes lots of algae. Must be the light. Try the timer. Also take the anubias in the gravel out and attach it to the bottom of the wood with the rhizome out of the gravel. It will die if it’s buried. Put it in one of the holes in that peice of wood. Nice peice of wood. Lots of holes to put different anubias in.
Yes leave the ph alone the fish will adjust. Both flourish excel or api co2 booster will remove the algae. Also try flourish comprehensive as a plant fertilizer.
 
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ChemTG

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Thank you! We just picked that fertilizer up instead of in-ground pellets, coincidentally-- I just haven't put any in because I was worried I'd spike algae growth even more. And now I know why my anubias wasn't growing-- we got it before the log (found it on Vancouver Island at a shop out there that had a lot of nice driftwood). Thank you for your feedback! I'll definitely look into Fluorish Excel and API CO2.
 

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I might of missed something but there is no mention of supplementing the Pleco or Oto's with food outside of algae. I have no algae in my tanks, but I daily provide all my Oto's and Pleco's with blanched zuchinni, cukes, soft carrot, algae wafer, Bug Bites Pleco Formula, good for Oto's too. For success you must supplement, you know they are eating when their bellies are fat not flat. I agree don't try to change your PH the fish will acclimate to what you have. Your algae looks mostly to be on the glass.. I would just clean it manually and cut down on your light time until you find the sweet spot. It's still a tank that is evolving. That tank would look good with some crypt's! Anubia's aren't fast growers and are known to get algae on them before other plants as well.
 
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ChemTG

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You are correct, we haven't been supplementing, except for the nerites when the tank was brand spankin new. Thought the algae on the walls and, though you can't see in the picture well, on the wood/stone and plants was more than enough because they're weren't getting through it. Another person I talked to today suggested the ottos could have starved because they can only get nutrition from some types of algae, so we'll do that in the future as well as have a slower water change during acclimation. I've learned so much!! I hope it helps my next sweet little scale baby.
 
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