spiny eel can't breathe...help!!

  • #1
I have a 55 gallon tank that a friend gave me last year. It had 3 bala sharks, 1 pleco, 2 zebra danios, and a spiny eel. I added an orange cichlid (the bala sharks were only 4-5 inches long at this point). The orange cichlid would turn white when he couldn't breathe and therefore I began to learn about ammonia and oxygen/water levels....lots of research, dead fish, water chemistry, and filter info later.....

I have a fluval 250 filter with charcoal and the white cylinder-shaped things as well as sponges in it. One bala shark about 8 inches, one pleco about 12 inches, 2 zebra danios, and a spiny eel. There is also a powerhead and a few plants that grow slowly but steadily. The tank has had continuous ammonia problems, but I thought it was from overpopulation - through my learning process I killed my blood parrot cichlid and 2 bala sharks so I thought this would solve the problem. Now my eel is at the top of the tank gasping for air again. All the other fish are totally fine, color is good, breathing easy. I put water conditioner and ammonia neutralizer in - enough for the size of the tank plus a little. This does not seem to help. I don't have a test kit for oxygen levels or nitrate levels, but the ammonia level is at about 0.25. I don't know why the eel is struggling and no one else. Help!!!
  • #2
most water conditioners also neutralize ammonia and nitrite, so you don't need to be dosing with both. Perhaps the combo is creating a reaction?

if there are ripples on the water, then the gas exchange is occurring, so it wouldn't be a lack of oxygen. If you are having constant water quality issues then that's an indication that your filtration is not getting the job done. Based on the size of the fish, my money is on the filtration being weak.
  • #3

I would say your biggest problem is that your tank is way overstocked. Which would be the root cause for the ammonia.

I would highly recommend getting rid of the Bala's since they get 14" and need to be in groups of 5+ and the pleco since they get 24"+ and are some of the dirtiest fish you could ever get.

I would also recommend a high quality diet such as New Life Spectrum THera+A. A high quality diet provides better nutrition for your fish and is more thoroughly digested thus creating less waste. I can tell you for a fact this is true, I used to feed my Colombian sharks strictly Aqueon sinking pellets and there was mess all over the place, then I switched to NLS and boy what a difference.

I would also recommend at least 30% water changes every day using Prime to dechlorinate and neutralize the ammonia for 24 hours.
  • #4
You still have the danios? I've been told they should be in groups of 6 or more. Maybe if you rehome the sharks and Pleco you can have a nice school of Danios later on as well as some tetras or other schooling fish that won't be food for any big guys. If you like Plecos I'd look into a Bristlenose they stay small (about 5") and are super cool. They seem to tolerate most other fish and don't get bullied. I have an albino BN Pleco and he's my favorite by far

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  • #5
Hello and Welcome to Fish Lore!

I hope you enjoy the site!

Best wishes for your fish.



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  • Thread Starter
  • #6
Just to be clear, right now I only have 1 bala, 1 pleco, 2 zebras, and 1 eel. I definitely will get smaller fish whenever these ones get replaced - my friend was the brilliant one that got the huge fish. I realize it was overstocked, but I thought that this was a reasonable amount of fish? Also, how do I know if my filter is working, or how do I gain better filtration? Last time I was at the store I bought some bags of specifically ammonia filtering media (I have an ammonia test kit and have had consistent ammonia issues), which I will put in next time I clean out the filter. Other than that, what do I do to improve filtration?
  • #7
You would have to upgrade your canister to another Fluval 205 or a single 304 or 405. That's if you want to stay in the Fluval family. Your current filter is only good for 40 gallons of water even with a HOB its still not even close to enougb with your current stock or even a fully stocked tank.

As far as the zeolite goes. Make sure you replace it every three weeks or your ammonia will spike again.

Honestly large water changes are the best thing for your fish until you get a another/better filter.

  • #8
I used a fluval 305 with my 55 gallon it will definitely help your issue. Add a bubbler if you don't already have one, just to increase the flow of oxygen through the water
  • #9
Welcome to FishLore!

Are you using ammonia removers or ammonia detoxifiers?

The problem with ammonia removers is that by removing the ammonia there is no food source to feed the ammonia converting bacteria you want to develope in order to cycle your tank. (The bacteria will mainly live in the ceramic cylinders BTW).

Also as mentioned, a 205 is too small to properly filter your tank. It just doesn't filter enough gallons per hour.
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  • #10
um, about the filter...checked the actual canister, and I have a fluval 405 not 205. Sorry about the confusion!

As for ammonia detox, I just put conditioner in with new water - other than that I have been using an ammonia neutralizer only when ammonia levels go above .25

I also got a bag of ammonia-clearing rocks that are supposed to go in the filter, but I sprinkled them (only 1 bag worth) on the bottom of the tank because I didn't have time to get the whole filter out.
  • Thread Starter
  • #11
Also, I do have a large powerhead, so there should be tons of oxygen in the water...the weird part is that only the eel is gasping - all the other fish are totally fine. Could his gills have been damaged in previous ammonia issues? The biggest ammonia spike I had killed 2 bala sharks - the eel hasn't really eaten since then and is now gasping. Could he just be hurt in some way?
  • #12
You will probably have an ammonia spike in a few weeks unless you get them out of there. They only hold for a few weeks then it will leech back out.

The 405 is plenty of filtration but the large fish will keep your ammonia up since even that filter can't keep up with it. A better solution rather than zeolite is more biomeidea. Having more media for the bio stuff to attach to and will be able to handle the bioload better.
  • #13
If you can't keep enough biomedia in your filter, you can just put filter sponges in your tank. I'm not kidding; it looks a little funky but it helps . Just make sure they're not huge honkin' ones; you want a fairly high surface area/volume ration on those sponges so you don't get anaerobic bacteria in the middle. Is there any way you can get a picture of your eel, preferably with a closeup of his gills, and post it on the thread? It might help people diagnose your problem. Also, if you can get a few more live plants, even if your fish eat them eventually, it can help a bit with keeping the nitrates from getting too nasty too quickly.
  • #14
I should also ask...what exactly kind of cichlid is in there?
  • Thread Starter
  • #15
There's no cichlid anymore
1 pleco (10")
1 bala shark (6")
2 zebra danios (2")
1 spiny eel (7")

405 filter, powerhead, 1 amazon sword plant, 1 large anacharis, 2 small plants

How would I get more biomedia into the tank? Right now there are 2 sections of the cylinders and 2 sections of charcoal - should I change that ratio, or should I just put the cylinders loose in the tank?
  • #16
I would switch out at least one of the carbons for more biomax.
  • Thread Starter
  • #17
I will get a pic of the eel next time he is next to the glass and I can get up close - I can't see anything wrong with his gills, he looks perfectly fine and normal - no discoloring or swelling or disintigration at all.

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  • #18
ok - I'll switch 2 bags of charcoal for another section of the cylinders. thx!
  • #19
Agreed, honestly you could do all biomeidea and it wouldnt hurt anything. It would help a lot actually.
  • #20
The eel is gasping at the top because of the Ammonia in the tank, not because it doesn't have enough oxygen. The stock of this tank could be the problem this. Too much waste and not enough water changes can cause this. When do you do water changes and how many do you do?

My best recommendation for this situation is to -

1) Start doing regular daily Partial Water Changes until you see these signs of ammonia poisoning start to disappear. Also, stop using the ammonia neutralizer. As said above, the neutralizer can be more of a problem than help. If you can, go out and get a bottle of Prime as your conditioner, it works great in these type of situations (Besides being a water conditioner, it as well helps detoxify Ammonia and Nitrite for 24 hours < enough time in between each daily PWC.

2) Get a Liquid test kit. Do NOT get test strips <- Strips are highly inaccurate and give false results each time. With a liquid test kit, you will be able to monitor your water parameters in this period of getting the tank back in order. I personally recommend getting the API Master Freshwater test kit. It's worth it's money and it's quite accurate; many aquarist use it - even experts.

Once you get this all under control, get rid of the Pleco and Bala. From what you have given, they are far too big for this tank. Also, if you plan on keeping the Danios, add to their school. They are a schooling fish and need at least 6 of their own kind.
  • Thread Starter
  • #21
all right - thanks everyone, especially sharkdude - really helpful answers! I'll add to the cylinders and get a liquid test kit. Thanks!
  • #22

Feel free to ask any questions we will be more than willing to help.
  • #23
Thinking about a stock list you could both afford and pull of I have come up with this:
1 Rainbow Shark
15 Longfin Blue Danios(or zebra or leopard)
1 Bristlenose Pleco
A pair of Pearl Gourami
Spiny Eel
  • #24
Well, recently I had a 2.0 ammonia spike and none of my fish were harmed. (including my Arowana and my green terrors who laid their eggs during the spike!)I did 50% water changes with Prime every day for a week(definitely invest in this product, saves lives.) and my water quality returned to normal. I don't know why a .25 amo level would have your eel gasping.. Maybe your water just needs a week of cleaning, try it!!
  • #25
Any amount of ammonia will kill fish. Some are more susceptible than others to its negative effects.
  • #26
and yes there is a cumulative effect. Fish that are regularly subjected to poisoning are weaker than those that are not.

I have a hard time believing the fish are spawning in water with a 2 ppm ammonia concentration. I think the test was inaccurate.
  • Thread Starter
  • #27
thanks for the list of fish, I'll look into some of those. How does one go about getting rid of a bala shark? I would like to get some fish that will not outgrow the tank, but I don't want to kill them!
  • #28
Your lfs should take him. If not you could try Craigslist or aquabid. You need to have 50 posts to sell on here but I honestly don't think that anyone here would buy it. Also monster fish keeper forum is a specialized large fish forum so you might have luck dumping them.
  • #29
First step is to get rid of the extra producers, then establish the cycle and filtration. Daily water changes will help. I'm not sure if its been mentioned yet but the eel is much more susceptible to the amonia, that's why hes the weakest. If the bala gets to uncomfortable he may jump tank so becareful, I garuntee he can break the lid lol. Best of luck to you and the fish, keep us posted. After its all setlled we can help with the restock.

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