Insanely high ammonia levels, unsure why?

Discussion in 'Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle' started by sophi, Jul 22, 2015.

  1. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    This is just not my week with fish it seems. I had my platy get sucked up into the filter (the intake fell off somehow and I didn't realize it until it was too late :( ) and unfortunately she passed, and then I had a cherry barb go missing. And my betta, Lewis, continues to rip his tail by being clumsy around his tank. Sigh. /rant.

    Anyways, I finished re-setting up my 20 gallon on Sunday morning. I basically had to tear it down and redo everything, so I was in a bit of a rush to get it done. I kept my fish and the plants in a 10 gallon w/ the filter while I set it up, so the filter was constantly running therefore I had a strong, years worth of good bacteria going into the new tank. So I got everything set up properly, plants planted, filter running, and moved the fish over. I will admit and say it was probably overstocked for a new tank (6 cherry barbs, 2 juvenile platys, 5 glowlight tetras) but there was nothing else I could do really. However, the filter was put on the new tank so I had a strong colony of bacteria moving over, plus the addition of plants from the cycled tank should have been enough to manage the ammonia levels. I've done this before in the past with no issues and no fish lose, so I didn't expect any problems. However earlier tonight, I tested my ammonia levels and they were the highest I've ever seen. I use the API liquid tests and it was showing 8.0 Ammonia. I didn't check Nitrite because I panicked and begun an immediate 80% water change. I was going to retest the water when I wake up and do any needed water changes.

    Now I'm left wondering how on earth it got that high in the first place. I 100% understand how cycling works so I know ammonia is to be expected in the start, but I never have actually seen it get that high. And I'm not even sure what could be causing it to sky rocket like that. The filter is meant for a 20-30 gallon tank and was cycled for over a year, so it should be powerful enough to help cycle this tank easily. I know the bacteria still needs time to grow throughout the tank, but I thought the filter + all of the plants would manage my levels until it fully cycled. I've done this twice with the same fish, filter, and plants before and the highest ammonia levels I ever received was 0.5. The tank finished cycling within a week.

    The weird thing is, my fish didn't seem affected. I did notice that they were hiding and staying on the bottom more, but I figured they were just stressed from the move. That could of been signs of ammonia poisoning, but overall they acted normal. No gasping, no red gills, and they were eating and swimming normally. The only reason I was intrigued to test the water was because of the normal ammonia smell you get when a tank first starts up. I'm honestly shocked they even are alive after having those kinds of ammonia levels. :S I feel pretty terrible that I put them through that.
    I'm still in shock honestly. And now I'm worried that the cherry barb that I had mentioned early (it went missing and I haven't been able to find it) might have somehow gotten lost in the tank and died, therefore is contributing to the ammonia spike? I've looked for her everywhere but couldn't find her, so I had assumed she jumped the tank and my dog... well... got to her first. But now I'm wondering if she's stuck somewhere in the driftwood maybe, or even buried somewhere and is just rotting. I have no idea, and I've already set up my tank too much to tear it down again looking for a fish. :( And usually I keep Amano or Cherry shrimp in there to help clean up (in case something like this happens) but these parameters would instantly kill them. I have 2 nerite snails in there so they possibly might find her if she is indeed in there, but I'm not sure. These levels, they are absolutely insane guys. Ugh. I had basically planned on doing daily 50% water changes if needed and dosing Prime every 24 hours, but if I continue to get these extremely high ammonia levels, what should I do? I feel like removing the fish would only worsen them since I don't have a cycled tank to put them in. But now I'm worried they'll end up dying from ammonia poisoning.

    Gah I'm freaked out still. I just can't believe it got that high and they somehow survived. Is there anything else I can be doing or any guesses as to how it spiked that insanely high in less than 3 days?

    If it's any help, the substrate I'm using is a bottom layer of ADA Power Sand and Amazonia Aqua Soil. Not sure if that could be releasing ammonia or not..
  2. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    Have you tested your tap for ammonia? I would do that first.

    If it is 0, I would guess that fish is rotting somewhere in your tank. It shouldn't be that hard to find it if you lift out each ornament and thoroughly inspect it.

    I don't know about the sand and soil you are using....

    Keep doing your large water changes for now until you figure out the source.

  3. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    My tap water is 0.5 Ammonia, 0 Nitrite, 0 Nitrates, but the filters have always managed to cycle out the ammonia so all my tanks show 0 Ammonia. As far as the fish goes, I literally have no clue where she could be. I checked the driftwood and couldn't find anything, and she's not hiding in the plants. The thing is, I don't smell anything other than ammonia... so I'm really not sure what to think. I have 2 snails that should find her if she's in there though.

    Just tested my water again and this is crazy. Even after an 80% water change, Ammonia is 4.0 and Nitrite is either 2.0 or 5.0. However, my fish still are acting unaffected, so I'm assuming the Prime is basically saving them at this point.

    This is crazy though. I really have no idea what could be causing this. :( The smell of the tank is a little better, but still has that ammonia smell. Not as strong as yesterday though. At this point, should I be doing larger water changes than 50%? Or if I continue doing 50% and dosing Prime, should I be okay?

    Last edited: Jul 22, 2015
  4. Dom90Fishlore VIPMember

    I recommend doing like a 75% water change and double dosing Prime. Also pick up a bottle of Stability to help re establish the bacteria.

    Sent from my iPhone using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum

  5. KarenLMWell Known MemberMember

    If your fish has been missing for a couple of days now, she has probably been consumed by the others in the tank.

    I lost a cory a while back and a week or so later the skeleton showed up.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the missing fish - she probably had very little to do with the ammonia spike.

    Edit: I second buying a bottle of BB to help the tank along.
  6. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    Okay thanks guys! I think Petco carries that so I'll run over there now and pick some up. I'll dose it once I finish with the 75% WC.

    After dosing this stuff, will I need to continue doing large water changes everyday? I've never used this before so I'm not sure if removing that much water everyday would slow the process down?
  7. Dom90Fishlore VIPMember

    Yes it probably would so just follow the instructions on the bottle and use it simultaneously with Prime to lock up the ammonia and nitrites to protect the fish.

    Sent from my iPhone using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum
  8. KarenLMWell Known MemberMember

    As Dom90 says, read the instructions and dose accordingly.
  9. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    Awesome, will do. Thank you both so much!
  10. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    Did about a 70% water change tonight and added even more plants. Literally just about every inch of the tank is filled with plants at this point lol. I dosed the 3rd round of Stability and am continuing to use Prime every 24 hours. I'm not sure if this is a good sign or not, but the tank had a very unusual smell today. It still had that funky, very strong smell you get with new tanks, but it had like... erhm, almost like dog/cat urine smell as well. Not sure if it's that Stability stuff that's causing that but that is really the only change. Still getting these high levels, but hopefully the tank finishes it's cycle soon. :( I'm beginning to think it may be the substrate that is releasing all of this ammonia. There is no other explanation as to why the levels are so high unless I had numerous dying fish in there, which I don't. My little buddies are staying strong as ever and still aren't showing any signs of poisoning or stress.

    I will test the water again in the morning, but last night I tested it and still had 4.0ppm ammonia and between 2-5ppm nitrite. I will also check nitrates later to see if they're beginning to pop up.
  11. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    I would be adding in Stability directly to the filter every day if you're not even twice a day. It won't hurt to add in more. You are still in the middle of cycling. Are you saying you had those levels after the 70% water change? If so, I would do a couple of back to back water changes like that and get your numbers way down.
  12. Dom90Fishlore VIPMember

    Agreed, I add the Stability directly to the filter while I'm cycling, I think it cuts my cycling time down a bit.

    Sent from my iPhone using Fish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum
  13. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    Good idea, I'll start adding it directly to the filter then when I dose it.

    These levels are very odd. I was receiving those insanely high levels for a few days, but last night my levels were 4ppm ammonia, 0 nitrite, and 10-20 nitrate. I did a 40% water change and dosed Prime and Stability. Where these ammonia levels are coming from is beyond me. I've been feeding my fish sparingly to reduce waste, doing nothing smaller than 50% WC every other night (aside from last night) and adding those chemicals. Where on earth is the ammonia spike coming from?
  14. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    I'd re-test your tap water sophi, its possible its higher now and you might want to use bottled water for a short time.
  15. Mark321New MemberMember

    Prime does sometimes give a false positive when testing for ammonia using the api test.

    I just tested my water (I did a PWC and dosed with prime 4 hours ago) for ammonia, using api test kit and nutrafin test kit.

    Api 4PPM
    Nutrafin 0PPM.

    A google search for 'api ammonia test prime false positive' will give lots of info.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
  16. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    Its not so much that its a false positive as the ammonia really hasn't gone anywhere. Its that it is now in its non-toxic form temporarily as ammonium. Once Prime wears off though it will no longer be "false" so its good to know how much is in there even if detoxified. It also helps guage whether or not you need to keep using Prime.

    API gives total ammonia readings (including ammonium) and Nutrafin only give free ammonia which is why you see such a difference.
  17. Mark321New MemberMember

    When I first came across the false positive thing, I let some tap water sit for 36 hours.
    Nutrafin test 0PPM
    API Test 0PPM

    I then treated the same water with Prime and tested an hour or so later.
    Nutrafin Test 0PPM
    API Test 2-4PPM

    As an aside, my Brother-In-Law is a professional fish breeder, purely his opinion, but he's remarked to me in the past that pretty much all hobbyist level test kits are naff. Doesn't stop me using them though!
  18. KarenLMWell Known MemberMember

    The test kits are not as accurate as really expensive equipment, but the liquid kits are better than strips and give us a general idea of what is in the tank.
  19. sophiWell Known MemberMember

    Sorry for the late reply. Had a crazy past few days and didn't get around to doing any testing. I am keeping up with the water changes though and dosing Prime every 24 hours. I stopped Stability since it said only use for 7 days. I think that helped, because the smell of the tank is becoming slightly more pleasant. No dead fish still and I don't even think it's affecting them at this point. I was reading a lot about high ammonia spikes, and a few people said that substrates can release a lot of ammonia and ammonium. Supposedly, ammonium isn't harmful to the fish? I've never heard of that term before but it's very odd for me to be getting these high readings and not have any of my fish showing signs of stress. I do think it's the substrate that is leaking ammonia but I guess it's not the type of ammonia that is bad? I have no idea. I'm just glad my fish are still alive and well.

    I'm still a bit hesitant to add anything else to the tank, but I might have to soon regardless of if the tank is fully cycled or not. My 2 male cherry barbs randomly started fighting after having them be peaceful towards one another since I've had them. The small guy is pretty beat up, so I've got to go and grab another female to throw in in hopes they stop fighting. I hate to add more fish when it's not ready, but I don't have a choice. I think the poor guy might get beaten to death if I don't. Why do fish make things so complicated lol.

    Anyways, I will get back in the morning with test results. I want to let the tank sit for a bit since I just finished performing a small WC. I'll retest the tap as well and see if there's any changes. What leaves me confused though is why I still have signs of ammonia, even when I've got a good level of nitrates showing. Very odd to have ammonia and nitrate, but no nitrite. I've never encountered this before, so it's leaving me quite confused. I'm wondering if my API test has gone bad or something... even though it doesn't expire til 2017. ._.
  20. CindiLFishlore LegendMember

    Its understandable that you may need to add another fish to help out your others.

    As long as you have ammonia and/or nitrite readings I would continue adding stability in daily.

    Ammonium isn't harmful to the fish but the amount of ammonia vs ammonium is dependent on your ph. The higher the ph the more ammonia you have that is toxic. As ph drops, ammonia becomes harmless ammonium. Because you are dosing prime daily this is what is keeping your fish safe. As long as you have any levels of ammonia, continue to do this.

    Its not unusual to have some ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates while cycling. It just shows you have populations of ammonia and nitrite converting bacteria, just not enough. Sometimes people have nitrates in their source water too, so always a good idea to test that too.

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