Need Help Fixing Mistakes

skywalking

Hello! I'm having some trouble with the cycling in my aquariums. Here's background info for context:

I've had my current aquariums for about 2 years, and have been keeping fish for about 3 or 4. I'm aware of the nitrogen cycle, but did not quite understand it when setting up my tanks. On top of that, the majority of my fish were 'rescues' from friends who no longer wanted or could care for them. When I got my own apartment I got a 75 gallon for my friend's 1 year old featherfin catfish. We ended up moving from our parents houses to our apartment in 3 days and I had no time to cycle the 75 gallon. I have never actually figured out how to cycle a tank prior to having fish in it, which is my biggest regret, and I have had a year of fish dying one after another. I definitely got multi tank syndrome and have ADHD and bipolar disorder so I bit off more than I could chew and then couldn't maintain it, and I would prefer if criticism was limited.

The problem I'm having is that I've had the 75 gallon tank stocked with 12 platies and the synodontis for nearly two years, and with two testing kits I still get 7.6-7.8ph, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate, and either 0 or 0.25 or so ammonia. I do water changes every other week and use prime and stress coat regularly. The tank is at about 76 degrees and has 1 marineland filter of the appropriate size. (I'd had two but one died and I haven't been able to replace it. I'm looking into getting a canister filter.) I am now down to 5 platies and some babies and my catfish. The platies are getting older for sure, and every round of babies has disappeared after about a month or two. I'm not planning on replacing them, and instead I want to get african cichlids, since they seem like they would be a better match for the hard water. I have noticed in all of my tanks, though, that there are tiny white round bug like things that will cling to my bettas and tetras, and that all of my fish that have died have displayed dropsy, eye cloudiness, and slow developing swim bladder disorder. I feed dry food but am figuring out how to transition to soaked food and frozen food.

At my disposal I have 2 20 gallon long aquariums and the 75 gallon, a 10 and 20 gallon spare tank, etc. I know there's almost no possible way to cycle the tank with the fish in it safely. Would my catfish do okay in the 20 gallon for a week or two while cycling the big tank? Should I try to get a 40 gal or something in the mean time and cycle that and then move him over and cycle the 75? He's incredibly shy and I worry it would be too stressful/difficult to get him out of the tank and into another. He's between 7 and 9 inches long. I guess I'm at a loss of how to help my fish and fix my manic mistakes. I'm not sure what info would be most useful but I'm happy to answer questions and provide pictures/etc. Thank you for your time!
 

SparkyJones

Hi skywalking,

"We ended up moving from our parents houses to our apartment in 3 days and I had no time to cycle the 75 gallon." when did this happen? Really recently, or a while back?
from what i gather, you have a tank running all zeros and fish deaths and wondering if the tank is cycled or not.

first off, let's be clear, there is absolutely a safe way to cycle any tank with fish in it. BUT, the simple fact that your fish are surviving in it, means it's cycled. if it wasn't none would survive the ammonia for more than a few hours after it starts building.

the problem with fish dying isn't likely to be the cycle...
Well here we go.
to get zero nitrate readings, these things have to happen.
1. a very understocked tank.
2. a heavily planted.
3. anerobic denitrifying bacteria in the tank in anoxic zones.
4. never overfeeding.
5.Nitrate removing media
6. really crazy cleaning and water change practices.
7. a combination of a few of the above.
8. Bad testing solutions/expired tests or bad testing practices for testing.

and finally 9. no cycle at all, brand new water that just had a fish put into it and there is no bacteria at all to break ammonia, in which case, ammonia is just gonna keep rising from .25ppm

as far as your "tiny white round bug like things that will cling", could be aquatic lice, could be amphipods or copepods. again, if you have no cycle, they won't survive there either. Even if the white spots are Ich, they also would need the fish and a cycle to stay alive. Most likely it is copepods, which is why I think your cycle is fine.
Generally, nothing will survive, at pH7.6-7.8 the ammonia is most all ammonia at that pH and highly toxic to the fish. .25 is enough to kill, .50 will kill, your ammonia is a 0 also. prime isn't going to save your fish from ammonia by waterchanging ever couple weeks. so it's not the prime binding the low ammonia level and the tank not being cycled either, it has to be cycled by what you described.

your test results don't make sense unless something on that list or a combination of them is at play here as to why there's no nitrates. The proof is in the pudding, and your pudding says the tank is cycled, so what's wrong with the fish that keep dying......

Stress is the most likely culprit. if the platties are breeding, and breeding regularly, this takes a lot out of both male and female. breeding is a high caloric activity. add to it, I dunno, A higher or lower than normal GH or KH,,,,,calcium or carbonate depletion, maybe phosphates or magnesium.. and it's a stress box for fish that will run down their immune systems and just deteriorate them and open them up to things they normally could fight off.

I'm not sure what's going on with the fish deaths, but much like your mystery 0 nitrates, maybe it's a combination of factors causing stress and the fish are dying, and not necessarily the cycle.


A picture of these white round bug like things might be helpful if you can get a good one someone here I'm sure can identify them.
Also if you have a fish pet store near you, if you could take a water sample and have them test it, see what they say on it and compare against the test you do. might help some to determine if you are actually running zeros or there's a bad testing procedure or just bad test kits.

seriously though, your tank has to be cycled at this point unless you just started using it again and the fish have been there just a couple hours tops.
 

skywalking

Hi skywalking,

"We ended up moving from our parents houses to our apartment in 3 days and I had no time to cycle the 75 gallon." when did this happen? Really recently, or a while back?
from what i gather, you have a tank running all zeros and fish deaths and wondering if the tank is cycled or not.

first off, let's be clear, there is absolutely a safe way to cycle any tank with fish in it. BUT, the simple fact that your fish are surviving in it, means it's cycled. if it wasn't none would survive the ammonia for more than a few hours after it starts building.

the problem with fish dying isn't likely to be the cycle...
Well here we go.
to get zero nitrate readings, these things have to happen.
1. a very understocked tank.
2. a heavily planted.
3. anerobic denitrifying bacteria in the tank in anoxic zones.
4. never overfeeding.
5.Nitrate removing media
6. really crazy cleaning and water change practices.
7. a combination of a few of the above.
8. Bad testing solutions/expired tests or bad testing practices for testing.

and finally 9. no cycle at all, brand new water that just had a fish put into it and there is no bacteria at all to break ammonia, in which case, ammonia is just gonna keep rising from .25ppm

as far as your "tiny white round bug like things that will cling", could be aquatic lice, could be amphipods or copepods. again, if you have no cycle, they won't survive there either. Even if the white spots are Ich, they also would need the fish and a cycle to stay alive. Most likely it is copepods, which is why I think your cycle is fine.
Generally, nothing will survive, at pH7.6-7.8 the ammonia is most all ammonia at that pH and highly toxic to the fish. .25 is enough to kill, .50 will kill, your ammonia is a 0 also. prime isn't going to save your fish from ammonia by waterchanging ever couple weeks. so it's not the prime binding the low ammonia level and the tank not being cycled either, it has to be cycled by what you described.

your test results don't make sense unless something on that list or a combination of them is at play here as to why there's no nitrates. The proof is in the pudding, and your pudding says the tank is cycled, so what's wrong with the fish that keep dying......

Stress is the most likely culprit. if the platties are breeding, and breeding regularly, this takes a lot out of both male and female. breeding is a high caloric activity. add to it, I dunno, A higher or lower than normal GH or KH,,,,,calcium or carbonate depletion, maybe phosphates or magnesium.. and it's a stress box for fish that will run down their immune systems and just deteriorate them and open them up to things they normally could fight off.

I'm not sure what's going on with the fish deaths, but much like your mystery 0 nitrates, maybe it's a combination of factors causing stress and the fish are dying, and not necessarily the cycle.


A picture of these white round bug like things might be helpful if you can get a good one someone here I'm sure can identify them.
Also if you have a fish pet store near you, if you could take a water sample and have them test it, see what they say on it and compare against the test you do. might help some to determine if you are actually running zeros or there's a bad testing procedure or just bad test kits.

seriously though, your tank has to be cycled at this point unless you just started using it again and the fish have been there just a couple hours tops
The fish have been in the tank for 2 years. We moved in january 2020. The readings don't make sense to me either, which is why I got two test kits. I thought the first one was a dud. I'll post pictures of the test later when I get home. The white dots are definitely not ick, and lice sounds about right. They move on their own and swim around a lot.
I have a fair amount of brown algae and don't agitate the sand as much as I probably should when doing water changes, so anaerobic bacteria could be something. There are no live plants, only aquarium wood and some ceramic decorations and plastic plants. Also the water is very very hard. White spots on every cup and dish kind of hard. I'll take a sample of water into my local lfs soon and get a reading.
However if my water is that hard and my ph is that high, should I realistically consider trying to rehome my fish and shelf the hobby until I move? I don't want to but I've been doing my best to care for them and losing bettas and platies left and right (and even a gourami at one point) has been very rough. I have had this one at a time fish loss in all 3 of my tanks, so I have wondered for a long time if the water here is the culprit.
Thank you for the response!
 

SparkyJones

The fish have been in the tank for 2 years. We moved in january 2020. The readings don't make sense to me either, which is why I got two test kits. I thought the first one was a dud. I'll post pictures of the test later when I get home. The white dots are definitely not ick, and lice sounds about right. They move on their own and swim around a lot.
I have a fair amount of brown algae and don't agitate the sand as much as I probably should when doing water changes, so anaerobic bacteria could be something. There are no live plants, only aquarium wood and some ceramic decorations and plastic plants. Also the water is very very hard. White spots on every cup and dish kind of hard. I'll take a sample of water into my local lfs soon and get a reading.
However if my water is that hard and my ph is that high, should I realistically consider trying to rehome my fish and shelf the hobby until I move? I don't want to but I've been doing my best to care for them and losing bettas and platies left and right (and even a gourami at one point) has been very rough. I have had this one at a time fish loss in all 3 of my tanks, so I have wondered for a long time if the water here is the culprit.
Thank you for the response!
depends on how hard the water is, if we are talking heavy calcium/magnesium, or we are talking heavy carbonates. if KH is 4 or better that's good. if GH is 20 or higher, thats bad, if either are down below 2 it's bad. and if either are abouve 20 it's bad.

That said, your pH seems alright, normally if Nitrates were an issue, you get carbonic or nitric acid forming and pH would drop considerably as the acids build up. So I dont' think it's that.
I dont' think it's lice, I mean it could be, but more than likely it's copepods or amphipods. the lice thing is more about goldfish and outdoor ponds but possible it is....
generally, the lice stays on the fish, lays eggs on the fish and the eggs will drop off. if they are hitching rides and you see them moving and swimming around, it's likely copepods and not a big deal

Is the marineland filter like a penguin Hang on back? and if so do you change the filter pads/ cartridge/biowheel and throw them out or just rinse them in the old tank water good and put them back?

thinking your reoccurring deaths are due to you changing the filter media out and reducing your bacteria. Like 80% of your tanks bacterial filter is in the filter media. is this possible? you'd get a temporary ammonia and nitrite rise after a water change and filter pad change until the colony resizes back up in the filter, in roughly 30 hours after a water change. it would be a small rise, your biological filter would be running at about 10-20% off the tanks surfaces, and handling some of it, but if your colony is sized for a few fish and you cut in down by 80%, it's the same result until the colony is back up to speed.

maybe the zero nitrates are a red herring. bioload may be small and you might have anoxic zone under the sand in there doing some denitrification.
 

kansas

Is your catfish big enough to eat your platies?
 

SparkyJones

Is your catfish big enough to eat your platies?
I had one before, similar size, they have small mouths and really don't bother live adult fish, even much smaller than them unless they are starving.. and they will eat dead fish carcasses. they prefer to chill in the shadows and skulk about in the dark when the lights are off to scavenge but aren't really aggressive to other fish. It absolutely would pick off the babies or shrimps that could fit in it's mouth in the dark but not going out of his way to chase them down, just if he happens across them and the opportunity is there, and leave no trace of them behind. I actually assumed he figured out that's what's happening to the babies just getting picked off by the catfish one here or there.

They seem really shy with the light on, they are really active and comfortable in the dark though and really work the tank over with the lights out.
 

skywalking

I'm pretty positive the catfish is eating the babies and I'm fine with it. Also I misunderstood and thought lice and copepods were the same thing so I appreciate the clarification. The filter is a hang on back, and I was told a while ago not to change or rinse the filter pad so I don't even look at it. As the number of platies in the tank dropped it kind of escalated, somewhat exponentially, so the population halved over the course of a year. At first it was one platy every couple of months, and now it's once a month or so that another will drop off. The tank is about two feet deep and I work with a lot of chemicals and sticky substances at work so I get very paranoid about putting my hands in the tank and getting a deep clean with the python.
 

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