Good Bacteria & The Nitrogen Cycle - ProBiotics for your tank!
When someone hears the word “bacteria”, they normally associate it with sicknesses and other ailments. However let it be known, that not all bacteria is bad. There are “good bacteria” even in the foods people eat (i.e. yoghurt) but because of word association, these bacteria are labeled as “ProBiotics”. Aquariums also contain “good bacteria” and they are in fact responsible for keeping the aquarium water clean and suitable for fish through their role in the Nitrogen Cycle.
What Is The Nitrogen Cycle?
For anyone who has had an aquarium the words “Nitrogen Cycle” are nothing new. Although most fish hobbyists have some knowledge of the nitrogen cycle, many do not know and understand how it actually works. By better understanding the nitrogen cycle process and its effects on the overall health of your aquatic inhabitants, the fish hobbyist can easily maintain a healthy aquarium. The hobbyist must simply make sure that the right conditions are always present for this cycle to stay in balance.
There are three stages that make up the nitrogen cycle:
- The first stage of the cycle begins when fish or invertebrates are introduced in to the aquarium. Their respiration; feces; urine; as well as any uneaten food, are quickly broken down into either ionized ammonium (NH4) or unionized ammonia (NH3). For the fish hobbyist the focus is on the unionized ammonia due to the fact that it is highly toxic to fish and invertebrates. Any amount of unionized ammonia is dangerous, however once the levels reach 2 ppm (parts per million), the fish are in grave danger. Low levels of ammonia will burn the gills of fish and cut off their oxygen supply. Ammonia usually begins rising by the third day after introducing fish. The goal is to keep ammonia to its lowest level possible where 0.0 ppm is ideal.
- The second stage of the cycle is when ProBiotic bacteria nitrosomonas begin to oxidize the ammonia, in the process creating another chemical by-product called nitrite (NO2). This part of the cycle usually begins after ammonia begins to decrease. Many people believe that ammonia is less toxic then nitrite but some fish are tolerant of ammonia in certain levels, where nitrite at any level will affect the health of any fish. Again, the goal is to keep nitrite to its lowest level possible where 0.0 ppm is ideal.
- In the last stage of the nitrogen cycle, ProBiotic nitrobacter bacteria convert the nitrites into a less toxic chemical called nitrates. Nitrates are not highly toxic to fish in low to moderate levels, but nitrates affect most inverts. Over an extended period of time however, nitrates can become toxic. Partial water changes will keep the nitrate levels within the safe range. Every hobbyist should test their aquariums on a weekly basis during the first 6 weeks and then on a monthly basis to ensure that their nitrate levels are not becoming too high.
Now that the three stages have been identified the key for success in fish keeping is testing the water for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, taking action immediately when problems occur. You must make sure that you keep a regular maintenance schedule and do regular water changes. Water changes are extremely crucial due to aquariums being closed systems. Water changes are also important because it is the only effective process to remove these toxic by-products especially, nitrate. There are over a thousand of different fish species; each species is unique and have different tolerances for water quality. The only rule that we can state is to test your aquarium water parameters and to keep each by-product to the lowest possible concentration, zero being ideal. So let’s break down what to do and what not to do.
Your first step is to begin testing for ammonia three days after introducing your first specimens. Then continue testing every day until the ammonia begins to decrease. Once you notice that the ammonia begins to decrease then continue testing every other day until your ammonia reaches zero. If at any time fish show signs of distress, such as rapid breathing (gilling), clamped fins, erratic swimming, or gasping at the surface for air, take immediate action to lower the ammonia level. Chemicals additives such as Big Al’s Bio-Support, Cycle, Prime, or Ammo-Lock will quickly neutralize toxic ammonia.
Your next step is to begin testing for nitrites about one week after adding fish. Continue testing every second or third day, until it reaches zero. If at any time fish show signs of distress, such as rapid breathing or hanging near the surface seemingly gasping for air, test for nitrite. If levels are elevated perform an immediate 25 – 50% water change and test daily until levels decrease.
There are things that you shouldn’t do when your levels are elevated. Do not add more fish! Wait until the cycle is completed or when both ammonia and nitrite levels are back to zero. Do not change your filter media, as the ProBiotic bacteria are growing there and trying to colonize the media. Don’t disturb them until they have become well established. Don’t overfeed the fish. Remember that anything going into the tank will produce waste. You can control this by turning your filter off for 5 – 10 minutes while you feed your fish. Put in a small amount of fish food and observe your fishes eating habits and make sure that all food that is given is consumed. Any uneaten food should be taken out of the aquarium immediately with a siphon or a net.
By understanding the nitrogen cycle and by following these simple steps the fish hobbyist can enjoy a well-established successful aquarium in the comfort of their home or office.