The Nitrogen Cycle
Nitrogen is everywhere in this world. As it turns out, nitrogen gas makes up around 78% of our planet’s atmosphere when measured by volume. The nitrogen cycle refers to the way nitrogen breaks down. Bacteria and other single-celled organisms turn atmospheric nitrogen, called N2, into a form that is biologically usable. That process is called nitrogen fixation. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria we care about live in water.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this science lesson has to do with fishkeeping. Just put the water into the tank, and then the fish, right? Well, nothing’s ever that simple unfortunately. The first step of the nitrogen cycle is to turn the atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Ammonia will kill your fish if they’re not strong enough. After the ammonia byproducts comes nitrites, and these too will kill weaker fish. Finally, at the end of the process, comes nitrates, which supports life. And now your fish are safe.
The nitrogen cycle should take about 30 days. In that time, you’re going to want to stick to hearty fish like one of the Gourami variants. Gold Gouramis, Moonlight Gouramis, and Pearl Gouramis are excellent choices of species when you’re starting a fresh nitrogen cycle. Once the nitrogen cycle has completed you can broaden your selection of fish, but be careful; you still have to make sure your fish are compatible with each other.
Don’t let your Fish get ‘Ichy’
Have you heard of Ich? It’s short for ichthyophthiriasis. What a mouthful! Ich is also known as white spot disease. This disease is a parasitic disease, and it shows up, unsurprisingly, as white spots on your fish’s skin. In most situations, Ich shows up from stress. Stresses such as temperature changes, or even just being bagged up to take home, can cause Ich. You could purchase a perfectly healthy fish, only for it to develop Ich on the drive home. If your fish doesn’t show spots after you’ve had it for 5 days, you’re in the clear – for now. You’ll still have to watch for Ich whenever there’s a shock, like a sudden temperature drop.
What to do About Ich
Chances are, you’re going to have to deal with Ich at some point in your fishkeeping hobby. So, you’d probably like to know what to do once the infection shows up. When you face Ich, you’ll need to wait for the parasite to fall off and start to replicate.
Ich has three stages. The Trophont stage is when symptoms are showing on your fish. What’s happening during this time is the parasite is burrowing under your fish’s mucus coating, and forming a cyst. That cyst is the reason you can’t treat the infection as soon as it shows up; it protects the parasite from treatment.
After the Trophont stage comes the Tomont stage. This is when you can begin treatment. During this stage the parasite floats for hours in the water, looking for a plant or something to attach to. Once it’s attached it starts dividing and replicating inside the cyst, so you’ll need to act fast.
Finally, if you miss the Tomont stage, the Ich enters the final stage called Thermonts, or the swarmer stage. In this stage, the new parasites are looking for new hosts. The good news is, they’re on a time limit. If they don’t find a host within 48 hours, they will die. That means, while drastic, you have one final chance to get rid of the Ich. If you leave the fish tank empty during this stage, you’ll kill the swarmers.
Watch the Temperature
Tropical fish don’t need heaters, unless you’re living somewhere extremely cold. Tropical fish, like goldfish, prefer the temperature at 76-79 degrees. Up into the mid 80’s is ok, but don’t let it go higher or your fish are going to suffer. The big problem you’re going to face the most is in the summer, when your house gets warm.
When your house gets warm, your aquarium gets warm, then your fish get warm, and at best, sick. But remember Ich? If the water gets warm and you drop the temperature too quickly, say hello to a new wave of the parasitic infection. Having an aquarium chiller is a fantastic way to manage your aquarium’s temperatures. If you didn’t get the chiller, just keep your air conditioning running. Take steps to keep your house cool you’ll be able to keep your aquarium cool, and your fish happy.
The first question everyone asks is “Can I drop some ice cubes in the water?” You have to be careful with this. If you drop too many ice cubes at once, the temperature will fall too quickly. The other issue is what ice is made of: water. If you put too much ice in, you could over-fill the tank on accident. In addition, water from the ice may not be treated properly for your tank environment, and these changes will stress fish. You’re definitely going to want to have some sort of plan here in California, where even beach cities can reach 100 degrees in the summer.
Watch your Water Levels
It might seem odd, the idea that you can give your fish too much water, but it’s true. Fish still need oxygen, and if you fill your tank all the way to the top, they won’t get what they need. You want to make sure there’s an air gap between the surface of the water and the lid of the tank. This allows air to reach the water surface, and for the water to absorb oxygen. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be a big gap, so if you only fill your tank to 95% you’re in the clear. Another nice thing is this number is good pretty much regardless of the tank size. As you get into a larger tank, that air gap automatically gets bigger. The crucial moment to be cautious is when you’re refilling water lost from evaporation, so just fill it slowly so you can stop at the right level and the tank will be just fine.
Don’t let the Water Become Acidic
Acidic water is never a good thing. Have you seen what acidic water is doing to the great barrier reef? Your fish won’t like it any more. Make sure to monitor your aquarium’s PH levels with a test kit. Once every couple of weeks should do the job. If the test kit comes back as a yellow color, you’re looking at acidic water. Remember, the more fish you have in your tank, the more carefully you have to monitor the water. Even when the fish “go to the bathroom” in the water, they’re contributing to the acid levels in their environment.
Safe PH levels are 7.0 and above. If the water is falling below 7.0 you’re going to want to drop an alkaline buffer in the tank to raise that PH measurement back to an appropriate level. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about your water having too high a PH level, also known as being alkaline. Bigger, better filters will help with your PH levels but no matter how good your filter is, make sure you remember to test your water.
Don’t Skimp on the Filter
You might be tempted to save money on your filter, since it’s one of the pricier parts of an aquarium setup, but you’ll be making a mistake. You can never have too much filter, but if you don’t have enough, your fish will suffer. If the filter can’t do its job, you’ll have to work extra hard to keep your fish alive.
Air Pumps Partner with the Filter
In addition to your filtration system, you should consider using an air pump. Air pumps, as their name implies, pump air into the water, which has a few benefits. If you use an air-stone type air filter, it doubles as a tank decoration. The bubbles created by your air pump will move the water around, which the fish like. Of course, extra air in the water will make it easier for your fish to breathe. One other big benefit of an air pump is as a backup. If your filter dies, your air pump will keep your fish alive until you can replace that filter. Imagine you’re at work, and you don’t know the filter has malfunctioned. Without an air pump, you will probably come home to dead fish. With an air pump, you’ll come home to say hello to your fish swimming happily along, and with enough time to replace the filter.
You may have heard the phrase “One is none, two is one” before. Enter backup air pumps. These pumps operate on batteries, and you can attach them to your aquarium in an event such as a power failure, or, somehow, your filter and air pump both die. They’re not a long-term solution, but they’ll give you time to correct the problem, or get your power back, or whatever the situation requires. A backup air pump is like an insurance plan. It’s a lot cheaper to get a backup air pump for your aquarium than it is to replace your fish.
Do not Spray
When you’re cleaning the outside of the tank, or the area around the tank, do not use any spray-based cleaners or air fresheners. An air pump will suck in those fumes and push them right into the water your fish live in. Even if you don’t have an air pump, the chemicals can still settle into the water naturally.
Consider Hiring an Aquarium Service
Fishkeeping is a fun, engaging, and rewarding hobby. If you’re looking to get into this wonderful world, a good way to start is to hire an aquarium service. Companies like Aquatech Aquarium Service can help you set up your aquarium, answer any questions, and then provide ongoing service to make sure your fish are as happy as a clam. If you’ve got questions, or you’d like Aquatech to help you, call (310) 993-2183, or drop a line through email.