Help! Tiny Free Swimming White Worms In Aquarium

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by Elise1981, Jun 14, 2018.

  1. Elise1981New MemberMember

    I turned on the lights in my 50 gallon aquarium and found tiny white worms swimming in the water column. The tank is fully cycled with parameters of ammonia:0 nitire:0 and nitrate: ~20. I previously had these worms in the aquarium and cleaned out everything completely (new substrate, decor, tank, and filter media). I cleaned the canister filters by running diluted bleach through them and rinsing them many times and leaving them to air dry. I have recycled the tank which took several weeks and to my dismay found the worms had come back. I need help identifying the worms because I want to determine the best way to get rid of them. They do not stick to the glass or decor, they are very tiny and swim by wiggling their body.

    Last edited: Aug 2, 2018
  2. bgclarkeWell Known MemberMember

    If they are free swimming, they are most likely detritus worms.
    I've had them in tanks where I was unable to properly vacuum the substrate.
  3. Elise1981New MemberMember

    Thanks! I wasn't sure because whenever I've read anything about detritus worms people talk about them sticking to the walls. Do you have any suggestions about getting rid of them?
  4. IHaveADogTooWell Known MemberMember

    They are detritus worms. I'm almost certain.

    Detritus worms are unsightly, but they are not harmful to your aquarium or fish. In fact, they're actually a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

    These worms live in just about every aquarium. But most of us never see them. There are generally hundreds, even thousands of these worms in the substrate of an aquarium. They live in the substrate and help break down organic matter such as fish waste, uneaten fish food, and decaying plant matter.

    If you are seeing them in the water column, it could mean you are overfeeding your fish, so the detritus has an excess of food. Or it could mean that you have a water quality problem and the worms are trying to swim to higher water and get above whatever it is in the water they don't like. But most often, it's overfeeding or under cleaning that causes them to boom.

    DO NOT try and exterminate the entire population. That would be a mass die-off in your tank, and would cause your ammonia to go through the roof. Like I said, there are thousands of these worms living in your substrate. Thousands of worms dying will cause such dangerously high ammonia levels that your fish will die too. What you can do is a good large water change and a heavy cleaning with your gavel vac. You will not get all of them, but you will get a good amount. Then, reduce the amount of food you feed your fish, or how often you feed them. Over time, the detritus population should level itself back out.

    Alternatively, you can get some smaller fish with smaller mouths and they will eat the detritus worms. My neon tetras like to eat them. So do my pea puffers. I hear shrimp like to eat them, too.
  5. Elise1981New MemberMember

    Thank you for your quick response! I have considered these causes but this tank houses axolotls which I hand feed earthworms so it can't be overfeeding. The tank is well aerated and I do weekly water changes of about 50% so I'm just frustrated that I'm still having this issue. As for the substrate I only have a very thin layer of sand. I will consider getting some small fish such as guppies or shrimp but the problem with that is the axolotls will eventually eat them.
  6. IHaveADogTooWell Known MemberMember

    I did not realize this was an axolotl tank. Please, do not get any fish for this tank. Fish will think your axolotl's gills are worms, and will nip at them.

    Since axolotls produce a lot of waste (they poo a lot), that could be what the detritus is feeding on. What kind of filtration do you use?

    Also, do you have a water test kit? In an axolotl tank, there are no fish to act strangely if an ammonia spike or something happens, so the detritus worms may be the only indicator you have that you need to test your water. I know you did a 50% water change... but lets just say for example that you had an ammonia spike and your ammonia level reached 4.0. If you change 50% of the water, you only got rid of 50% of the ammonia. So even after that water change, your ammonia level would still be 2.0, which is still way too high. So you really need to know where your levels are before doing a water change, as that can kind of guide you on how much water you need to change. I'm not saying this is absolutely the problem, but it might be, and the only way to find out is to get a water test kit and test your water.
  7. Elise1981New MemberMember

    I do have a test kit and I have been testing it every day since the axolotls were put back in. The ammonia and nitrite have remained at 0 and the nitrates don't get above 20. I have a Penn Plax 500 and 700 canister filters running on the tank. I also have java moss and moss balls to help with nitrate levels. I know that there is a lot of debate about using feeder fish with axolotls so I have never used any although I have considered using ghost shrimp (after a quarantine period) as other people have used them successfully as a supplemental food source.
  8. IHaveADogTooWell Known MemberMember

    I hate to say it, but you might have to just keep fighting these worms with the gravel vac. Because that should be adequate filtration. You aren't overfeeding. Your water parameters are good. The worms are living off of axolotl poop.

    If you wanted to do a full sterilization of the tank, you could, but you would have to temporarily move the axolotl to another tank (or a bin), remove all substrate and everything, clean everything with bleach, wash the bleach off of everything with water, let everything dry, rinse it with water again to get excess bleach, let it dry, rinse a third time because there's still bleach residue, let it dry, then set the tank back up, and let it cycle again for another several weeks before re-adding your axolotl.
  9. Elise1981New MemberMember

    Since I have previously tried sterilization with bleach and the worms ended up coming back I've been trying to find other solutions. Do you have any experience using a UV sterilizer? Or would you recommend one?
  10. jdhefModeratorModerator Member

    I do not think a UV sterilizer would kill off the worms. I think it is more for killing water born pathogens (and algae).

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