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Aquarium Start Up and Follow Up... More than Bacteria

Online Aquarium Fish Magazine | Aquarium Start Up and Follow Up... More than Bacteria

Recommendations for the Beginner Aquarist
By Mary Reyes from Loyola University Chicago

It isn't a secret for experienced aquarists that there is much more to tank well-being than the infamous nitrogen cycle. Once the beginner aquarist finishes understanding the nitrification process and is able to assimilate that without it, fish cannot be kept successfully or under healthy conditions, there are a couple more concepts to be understand to make sure his or her tank inhabitants will continue to thrive.

This article I am writing is directed to the beginner aquarist. Because after the whole time you spent trying to understand how is it that bacteria deal with the fishy waste, it is horrible to figure out the hard way that you did something which can compromise the precious stability of your tank.

Ok, you read the article about the aquarium nitrogen cycle and you understand the concepts involved well.

Do you have a liquid test kit?
Many beginners know about the cycle because they were vaguely told about it at the fish store or because they read it online. However, they do not always have one. The liquid aquarium test kit is a vital thing to have ready at home, even with a cycled tank because without it, there is no way to know the status of your tank water. A recommended test kit is the Freshwater Master Test Kit by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals.

Are you cycling with fish?
If you were one of the unfortunate custumers that went to the fish store and where told: "here take this tank and these fish, they will be fine" your tank isn't cycled, in which case you have a limited number of options. As you read in the article about the nitrogen cycle, fish produce harmful ammonia and nitrites which are fatal for your fish. If you don't want your fish to suffer an inhumane and painful death, you can alleviate their suffering and maybe prevent their death by daily 50 percent water changes with conditioned, dechlorinated water until the tank finishes cycling. At this point, there are several things to take into consideration:

What conditioner to use?
One of the most recommended water conditioners is called Prime by Seachem (although there are other conditioners that do the same, this is one of the most popular). Prime works by neutralizing heavy metals, removing chlorine, chloramines and also by neutralizing ammonia and nitrite toxicity for 24 hours (enough time for your next water change). Water conditioners like this do not "Lock" the ammonia; they just make it non-toxic for your fish during this period of time also allowing the tanks bio filter (nitrifying bacteria) to use it. This is important whenever cycling a tank with fish, because products like these will protect them but will not interrupt your cycling process.

What about ammonia absorbing products?
There is an important difference between ammonia "detoxifying" agents such as Prime and ammonia "locking" or "absorbing" products such as Ammolock. The latter do not detoxify ammonia but rather absorb it or lock it, making it unavailable to bacteria. What this does is prevent your tank from cycling, because by removing ammonia you "starve" the bacteria vital to the nitrogen cycle, which will have disastrous results. Said products will have to be continuously used, wasting money, time and risking the stability of the tank.

Bottled Bacteria
If you do not want your newly acquired fish to go trough the stress and pain of the nitrogen cycle or do not have fish yet but have no patience for the fishless method of cycling there is another way also described in the nitrogen cycle article.

BioSpira by Marineland (also see nitrogen cycle article) is a form of the bottled bacteria and is now being reformulated on a new product that does not have to be refrigerated called Tetra Safe Start. This is basically bottled nitrogen cycle bacteria. You add it, wait an undetermined period of time (reports of a period of time varying from 24 hours to 7 days) and the tank is instantly cycled. Whether you're using one or the other there are things to take into account. If you're using BioSpira you need to be aware that it needs to be kept in special conditions. It needs to stay cold, but not frozen because if it freezes or it's left at room or hot temperatures the bacteria will die (be careful with your shipping). This was the main reason for being reformulated into Tetra Safe Start which does not need to be kept cold and is more often carried by many local fish shops than BioSpira. There are not many reports about the successfulness of Tetra Safe Start since it just came out in the market, but the few people that have used it in the Fish Lore forum said it worked.

Other Types of Bottled Bacteria
There are other products that claim to add, introduce or help the beneficial bacteria we are so desperately looking for; some of these are under the names of Cycle by Hagen, Stability by Seachem and Stress Zyme by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. The information is the labels of said products tends to be often vague and misleading so we need to look at the experiences of other fellow aquarists.

Stress Zyme and Stability are products still in debate amongst hobbyists. No one really knows what the exact ingredients are and most of the people in the forum have come to the conclusion that they are either dead bacteria or a nutrient package that helps you just speed up the cycle a little bit.

Now, Cycle by Hagen is another product you need to be aware of. It indeed has "bacteria" on it, but is it the right kind? This topic is much debated on many forums and many hobbyists seem to think it doesn't work very well.

Ok, you've got the right kind of bottled bacteria and are ready to add it? Wait! First take a look at the water conditioner you're using...

Prime is an excellent water conditioner but there are several reports of people in the forums that Bio-Spira and bottled bacteria in general do not work with Prime. Even though Prime only "detoxifies" ammonia and nitrite, it still seems to be incompatible with Bio-Spira. So, if you are using Bio-Spira or Tetra Aqua Safe, a water conditioner that focuses on chlorine, and chloramines like Aqua+ by Hagen, is what we are looking for.

Fishless Cycling
You will find the information on fishless cycling in the nitrogen cycle article.

If you are a person that found out about the fishless method of cycling before buying any fish, and already read the nitrogen cycle thread where the method is described, I have one recommendation:

Do not let the levels of ammonia and nitrite stay off the charts for too long, this will only slow down your cycle. When there is too much ammonia or nitrite in the water, the bacteria will attempt to reproduce but sometimes there isn't enough oxygen for the process to continue so the cycle slows down.

Done with cycling?
Ok, you're done with cycling and happy you don't have to carrying buckets of water every day or spending a lot of money on bacteria (sounds funny right?). A couple weeks later you see that your filter "needs" to be replaced. Halt there!

Most of the beneficial bacteria is present in the floss part of your filter. By changing it completely you will throw your tank into a mini-cycle because most of the bacterial colonies have been thrown away along with the filter pad. Filter pads should be swished around in old tank water from a water change, every week to be cleaned. If they are cleaned in tap water the chlorine will kill the precious bacteria.

The filter of your tank should only be replaced when it is literally falling apart, and the process for doing so is by placing the new filter in the tank several weeks in advance, to allow bacterial colonies to develop before adding the new one.

A few last Fishy Recommendations
After all of this, we really want to make sure that we keep doing things right, right? Well, a few more recommendations will get you on your way:
  1. DO NOT believe everything you are told at the fish store. Some of the people working there have no clue of what they are talking about so do your own research when you have a question.
  2. The rule "1 inch of fish per gallon of water" is more of a guideline than a rule. Example; an 18 inch common Pleco will not fit on an 18 gallon aquarium. They need at least a 55 gallon, preferably much larger.
  3. Flakes aren't the only food. Give your fish a varied diet.
  4. DO check your water parameters often
  5. DO quarantine your live plants and fish in search of parasites, snails...
  6. DON'T change all of your water at once.
  7. DO change 25 percent of your water every week and vacuum your gravel
  8. DON'T keep your aquarium lights on 24/7
  9. DO get your fish vitamin supplements. They will help them thrive.
  10. DO keep basic fish medications readily available in case of an emergency
  11. Wash your hands before and after you put them in the tank.
  12. DON'T wash your decorations or gravel (or filter as already mentioned) in tap water, or with any kind of soap or detergent. It will kill the bacteria.
  13. DO have a quarantine tank with a filter pad sitting in your main tank (to get bacterial colonies in it) in case of a disease outbreak.
  14. Don't add cold water to the aquarium when doing a water change. Get the temperature as close as possible to the temperature in the tank.
  15. DO log in to Fish Lore forum in case you have any questions!
  16. And last but not least... enjoy fish keeping!
This article was developed by me Mary (Alessa) with the help of the invaluable experiences from the Fish Lore forum threads and members. Thanks to Mike for giving me the chance to do this "beginners checklist" and to the FL Forum members for their knowledgeable and caring advice. Without it, neither this article nor my fish keeping hobby would be successful.

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