- This topic has 5 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 10 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
April 18, 2008 at 6:35 am #1419arcprolifeMember
Hi Again- sorry to keep asking questions- you guys are the most helpful 🙂 and I want to do things right.
Anyway- my tank is now three weeks old and I keep testing it twice a week and everything is great. PH 8.2, Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, and Nitrate 0 or 10, specific gravity 1.023, and alkalinity 3.5., and temp. 77
My question is when should I expect an ammonia spike or something to be off.
doesnt this need to occur for it to cycle. should I test everyday. I was wondering if all is well can I put in the clean-up crew at 4 weeks. I thought live rock helped cycle faster.Last question the nitrite test has a high range and a low range test, I have only seen you post the perameters for the high range. Do I need to do both? thanks againApril 19, 2008 at 7:49 am #4143Pete GiwojnaGuest
All of your aquarium parameters look great for a new aquarium that is cycling, and it’s possible that your biological filtration may have completed the cycling process, especially if you are using live rock and live sand. As you know, the porous interior of pre-cured live rock houses a considerable population of both aerobic nitrifying bacteria and anaerobic denitrifying bacteria, and this can provide the aquarium with some limited instant biological filtration ability and therefore help accelerate the cycling process. Live sand likewise contains both Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas nitrifying bacteria, which helps speed up the nitrogen cycle by providing the necessary "seed" bacteria to kickstart the whole cycling process. But the use of live rock and live sand, or pre-aged saltwater, will not eliminate the need to cycle your aquarium entirely. You will still need to provide a source of ammonia to feed the beneficial bacteria and build up a sufficient population of the "good guys" in order to handle all the wastes produced by your seahorses, and you will have to monitor the aquarium closely while it cycles in order to determine when the process is complete.
So, if you have been feeding the nitrifying bacteria in your biofilter by providing them with a source of ammonia — say hardy, expendable fish such as damsels or mollies, for example, or perhaps decaying cocktail shrimp instead — or adding the ammonia directly yourself, drop by drop, and your ammonia and nitrite readings are at zero, then it sounds like your aquarium has indeed cycled and is ready for the cleanup crew.
But if you have not been providing a substantial source of ammonia for your newly established aquarium, the ammonia and nitrite readings are staying at zero simply because there is no bioload — nothing to produce ammonia in the first place. In that case, the cycling process really has yet to begin.
You are quite correct, sir — you want to see a nice high ammonia peak when first cycling your aquarium in order to build up a large population of the Nitrosomonas bacteria that feed on the ammonia, followed by a correspondingly high spike in the nitrite levels to promote a large population of the Nitrobacters that consume the nitrite. So you don’t want to do anything that will reduce the levels of ammonia and/or nitrite in your aquarium while the population of beneficial nitrifying bacteria is becoming established.
Take care not do anything to remove ammonia and/or nitrate from your aquarium while it is cycling initially and the biofiltration is becoming established. No chemical filtration media of any kind, including nitrate absorbers, should be used while the aquarium cycles, nor should you perform water changes or operate your protein skimmer or ultraviolet sterilizer until the cycling process has been completed. Protein skimming, UV, water changes, and the use of chemical filtration media can actually prolong the cycling process and reduce the numbers of beneficial nitrifying bacteria that build up by depriving them of food.
In short, if you can advise me what sort of ammonia source you are using to feed your beneficial nitrifying bacteria, then I can give you a better idea of how far along your cycling process is and how much longer you may have to wait before the biological filtration is fully established and you can begin stocking the tank.
Low levels of nitrates are harmless to marine fish in general, including seahorses. We want the nitrates to remain below 20 ppm in our seahorse tanks at all times, and ideally below 10 ppm, if possible. But providing you won’t be keeping live corals that are compatible with seahorses in your aquarium, then you normally needn’t be concerned about monitoring nitrates at the low end of the range. Once your aquarium has cycled and the biofiltration is fully established, you only need to test the nitrates to make sure that they remain between 10-20 ppm. However, while the aquarium is cycling, testing nitrates in the low end of their range can give you an idea of when the Nitrobacter population is peaking and converting all of the available nitrite into nitrate, so it’s a good idea to check low end nitrates during the cycling process for this reason.
Best of luck cycling your new aquarium, arcprolife! Get back to me as soon as possible regarding the source of ammonia you are providing, and we’ll have a much better idea of how things are progressing.
Pete GiwojnaApril 19, 2008 at 8:51 am #4144arcprolifeGuest
well I sure am glad I asked. I am not using an ammonia source(though I will add one of your suggestions) I thought it would all come from the live rock and sand. Thanks so much, now I can get things moving:woohoo:
Also, quick question- my live rock has tiny white things that look like feather dusters. The tops are round not fan like and I see the tube section but they keep coming in and out of the rock. Are they good or bad. Thanks so much
Post edited by: arcprolife, at: 2008/04/19 06:10April 20, 2008 at 3:37 am #4146Pete GiwojnaGuest
Yes, sir, sometimes you can cycle a new aquarium simply by adding sufficient live rock and/or live sand. There will normally be some die off of the encrusting organisms on the live rock, and the resulting decay is often enough to provide the ammonia that’s needed to sustain a burgeoning population of beneficial nitrifying bacteria. But precured live rock from your LFS may not experience a significant die off, and therefore cannot always serve as the ammonia source while the aquarium is cycling. If you have never observed an ammonia spike in your new tank, then that is the case with your aquarium, and you’ll have to provide another source of ammonia to feed the biofilter and build up as large a population of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter anaerobic bacteria as possible.
The fact that there hasn’t been an adequate ammonia spike and an ongoing source of ammonia to nourish the beneficial bacteria in your new tank may have set back the cycling process a bit, but it should recover quickly once you begin providing ammonia, and there are a few things you can do to further accelerate the cycling process. For instance, you can increase the aeration and the temperature in the aquarium while it is cycling. The beneficial nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter sp.) that convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate are all aerobic or oxygen-loving microbes, so their population will increase faster if there is a high level of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium. Adding an airstone to provide better surface agitation and promote efficient aeration and oxygenation while your tank cycles should be helpful.
Secondly, I would raise the temperature in your aquarium to around 80°F while it cycles. Bacteria multiply faster at warmer temperatures, so raising the water temperature should help stimulate faster growth of the beneficial nitrifying bacteria as well. (Don’t forget to reduce the aquarium temperature back to normal once it’s finished cycling so that it’s optimal for your seahorses.)
There are a number of different ways to seed the tank with bacteria initially and feed it with ammonia so cycling can proceed. Two popular methods are the fishless cycle, which I recommend, and the use of hardy, inexpensive (i.e., expendable) fish to produce ammonia and cycle the aquarium. Often used for this method are marine damselfish or mollies, which can easily be converted to saltwater. Both are very hardy and generally survive the cycling process, but I find this method to be needlessly hard on the fish and exposing them to the toxic ammonia and nitrite produced during cycling certainly causes them stress. Damselfish are far too aggressive and territorial to leave in the aquarium afterwards as tankmates for seahorses. Mollies are a possibility, but they really look out of place in a saltwater setup.
So all things considered, I recommend cycling your tank without fish. It’s really very easy. To use the fishless cycle, you need to add something else that will increase the ammonia level so the nitrifying bacteria can build up. I like to use a piece of cocktail shrimp (regular uncooked eating shrimp from the grocery store) or two and leave this in the tank to decay during the whole cycle. The decaying shrimp produces plenty of ammonia to kick-start the cycling process.
After about 3 days after you add the shrimp, you will notice a spike in ammonia levels until the Nitrosomonas bacteria build up enough to break down the ammonia. When that happens, you will notice the ammonia levels rapidly dropping. (If for some reason your ammonia does not hit the top of the charts initially, you may want to add another piece of shrimp.)
The byproduct of ammonia is nitrite, and during this stage of the cycling process, as the ammonia falls, you will have a corresponding increase in nitrites until the population of Nitrobacter bacteria builds up. Nitrite levels will then fall as the Nitrobacter convert the nitrite to nitrate.
It is important to use your test kits every day or two when cycling your tank this way in order to monitor the progress of the process. As described above, normally at first you will see a rapid rise in ammonia levels with no detectable nitrite or nitrate. Then, as Nitrosomonas bacteria begin converting ammonia to nitrite, the ammonia levels will fall and nitrite readings will steadily rise. Nitrite levels will peak as the ammonia drops to zero. Next, Nitrobacter will begin converting the nitrite to nitrate, and your nitrite readings will fall as the level of nitrate rises. Finally, after the nitrites also read zero, you are ready to stock your tank. At this point, your ammonia and nitrite levels should both be zero, nitrates will be building up, and algae will usually begin to grow. This will tell you that your biofilter is active and functioning properly, and that you can now safely begin stocking the tank. It generally takes about 3-6 weeks to cycle a tank this way from scratch. But if you’re using live rock and live sand, along with pre-mixed, aged saltwater, you can expect a much faster cycle. Just monitor your tank as suggested above and you’ll know when it is safe to add your cleanup crew and begin stocking the aquarium.
In short, a few of the things that are known to accelerate the nitrogen cycle and establish the biofiltration more quickly are to increase the aeration/oxygenation in the new tank, raise the temperature of the water to allow the population of nitrifying bacteria to grow faster, and to feed the biofilter with ammonia you add to the water drop by drop.
Many times the best way to accelerate the cycling process is to feed the biofilter directly with ammonia drop by drop, as described below.
The best way to accomplish this is to feed the nitrifying bacteria directly with ammonia that you add to the tank drop by drop yourself, which has a couple of worthwhile advantages. First of all, the amount of ammonia you add daily is far greater than that the amount of ammonia hardy damsels or mollies can produce nature’s way as waste products. The excess ammonia means the bacterial colonies can grow faster and produce much larger populations of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria by the time the cycling process is complete (Cow, Jan. 1999). The result is that your tank cycles faster, typically in 10-21 days as opposed to 4-6 weeks for more conventional cycling methods, and the tank can ordinarily be stocked at capacity once the cycle is completed (Cow, Jan. 1999). As an added bonus, there isn’t the unpleasant odor of putrefaction that can sometimes become a major annoyance when using decomposing cocktail shrimp as the ammonia source.
To cycle your tank this way, simply add ammonia drop by drop, keeping track of how many drops you’ve added, until it produces a reading of ~5 ppm on your test kit (Cow, Jan. 1999). Then continue to add exactly that many drops of ammonia each day thereafter until you begin to see detectable levels of nitrite. Then once nitrite readings begin to appear on your test kits, cut back the amount of ammonia you add to 1/2 the original amount, and continue to add a half dose of ammonia each day until the cycle has finished and you stock the aquarium (Cow, Jan. 1999).
It is important to use your test kits every day or two when cycling your tank to monitor the progress of the process. One benefit of fishless cycling method is that it produces an immediate ammonia spike, which accelerates the cycling process accordingly (Cow, Jan. 1999). So at first you will see a rapid rise in ammonia levels with no detectable nitrite or nitrate. Then, as Nitrosomonas bacteria begin converting ammonia to nitrite, the ammonia levels will fall and nitrite readings will steadily rise. Nitrite levels will peak as the ammonia drops to zero. Next, Nitrobacter will begin converting the nitrite to nitrate, and your nitrite readings will fall as the level of nitrate rises. Finally, after the nitrites also read zero, you are ready to stock your tank. At this point, your ammonia and nitrite levels should both be zero, nitrates will be building up, and algae will usually begin to grow. This will tell you that your biofilter is active and functioning properly, and that you can now safely begin stocking the tank (Fenner, 2003b). It generally takes anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks to cycle a tank this way from scratch using the fishless cycling technique (Cow, 1999).
When cycling your tank with this method, it is advisable to perform large water changes (70%-100%) before adding any specimens to the tank in order to lower the elevated nitrate levels it produces and correct the pH (Cow, 1999). Otherwise, it can be difficult to bring the nitrate down to manageable levels again after the tank is stocked. Ammonia is a powerful base, so adding ammonia changes the pH of the water substantially, making it more alkaline (Warland, 2003). A large water change will reduce nitrite levels and lower the pH back to normal after the tank has cycled.
When changing the water, avoid using dechlorinators that also sequester ammonia, the so-called ammonia quellers, since we are relying on high ammonia levels to feed the bacteria colonies. When performing water changes during a fishless cycle, stick with simple chlorine neutralizers that don’t affect ammonia levels (Cow, 1999).
Not just any ammonia will do when cycling the tank this way. The ammonia used for this purpose should be free of surfactants, perfumes, and colorants (Cow, 1999). ACS grade ammonium hydroxide is best but may be hard to find. Pure or clear ammonia will do nicely and the best places to get it usually hardware stores or discount grocery stores. Many times it’s the off-brands or little-known, no-frills generic brands that work best (Cow, Jan. 1999).
When you find a likely candidate, be sure to check the ingredients on the bottle of ammonia. The good stuff will simply say Clear Ammonia (or Pure Ammonia or 100% Ammonia, or Pure Ammonium Hydroxide), and list no additives (surfactants, coloring agents, perfumes, etc.; Cow, 1999). If the bottle does not list the ingredients or lists added ingredients like those specified above, pass it by and take your search elsewhere. When in doubt, administer the shake test. Shake the bottle vigorously — ammonia that contains surfactants will foam up, but the good stuff suitable for fishless cycling will not (Cow, Jan. 1999).
When cycling the tank this way, it’s important to remember that the high levels of ammonia involved are toxic to all fish and invertebrates, so you cannot use ammonia to establish the biofilter if there are any inhabitants present in the aquarium (Warland, 2003).
Best of luck cycling your new aquarium and building up an enormous population of nitrifying bacteria to carry out the biological filtration, arcprolife!
Pete GiwojnaApril 20, 2008 at 9:51 am #4147arcprolifeGuest
Thank You so much I cant tell you how awesome all your advice is. I wanted to make sure copepods and amphipods arent hurt by the ammonia.
Also have you heard of the red copepods I think there coldwater but the hatchery guy threw them in when I ordered the white ones. How long would they live in the tank if i fed them as a treat.:unsure: thanks again I cant wait to get this part over-there’s so many questions.
Post edited by: arcprolife, at: 2008/04/20 05:52April 21, 2008 at 9:53 pm #4148Pete GiwojnaGuest
Yes, sir, it’s possible that the copepods won’t appreciate the ammonia spike and may suffer a setback while you are cycling the aquarium (most invertebrates are highly sensitive to ammonia and nitrite). But, as we have been discussing, it’s important to get a nice high ammonia spike when you are cycling a new aquarium in order to build up a large population of the Nitrosomonas bacteria that feeds on the ammonia. If there is no ammonia in a new aquarium that’s devoid of fish and invertebrates, the beneficial nitrifying bacteria in the live rock or the biofilter that feed on the ammonia will begin to starve and die off and their population will be reduced to very low levels. This in turn will greatly reduce the bioload that the aquarium can support when it is stocked. So we need to build up a large, thriving population of Nitrosomonas bacteria by providing them with plenty of ammonia during the cycling process. It’s not a big deal if many of the copepods die off while the tank is cycling — the decomposition of any copepods that don’t survive will provide additional ammonia and thereby help to further the cycling process. And once your tank has finished cycling and the biological filtration is fully established, the pod population should quickly rebound.
I’m not familiar with the red copepods you mentioned, so I can’t say how long they may survive if you add them to your tank as a treat for the seahorses. If they are cold water copepods, I don’t know how well they would survive the thermal shock of being transferred from the cooler temperatures they prefer into a tropical aquarium. But as long as they are still alive and kicking for a couple of minutes, that should be long enough to attract the attention of a hungry seahorse. Just don’t add too many of them at once. You’ll want to keep a close eye on them and promptly remove any of the cold water copepods that expire before they get eaten, so that they don’t begin to degrade your water quality.
Best of luck cycling your new tank, arcprolife!
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