From Jeff Snyder@1:345/3777 to All on Fri Jul 23 06:05:00 2010
What Is The Nitrification Process?
Another "How-To" By Jeff Snyder...and he ought to know! :)
One of the saddest things which can happen to a novice tropical fish
hobbyist is something like the following:
It is your child's tenth birthday; and so you decide to purchase a gift
which will be both enjoyable, as well as educational -- an aquarium. After talking a short while with an employee at your LFS -- Local Fish Store --
you decide to buy a ten-gallon complete setup, along with ten guppies.
Rushing home, you and your child excitedly add the undergravel filter, the gravel, plants and other decor to the tank, and then pour in the water,
making sure to add the proper amount of dechlorinator, as you were
instructed to do by the store employee. Having done that, you add your bag
of ten guppies, turn on the aquarium light, and then you both sit back to
enjoy the wonderful aquatic world that you have just created.
All seems well at first, but several days later, you notice that some of the fish are breathing quite heavily. Some even appear to be darting towards the surface of the water, while others appear quite listless. Within a week's
time, all ten guppies are dead, your child is crying, disappointed, and
never wants to see another fish again, and you are wondering what in the
world you did wrong.
While a number of different factors could have led to this unhappy scenario, the most likely is that your fish died from ammonia poisoning; because unbeknownst to you, you did not allow your aquarium to age properly before overloading it with livestock.
This aging process is a result of what is known as the nitrification cycle.
The nitrification cycle is a biological process whereby ammonia is converted into nitrite, and then the nitrite is converted into nitrate. If the process were to continue, the nitrate would then be converted into free nitrogen
So the next question is, where does the ammonia come from? Ammonia normally results from fish breathing, as well as from the decomposition of fish
feces, uneaten food, and other organic matter -- or detritus -- which
settles in the gravel bed, or which is collected by an external filter. As
we have seen, ammonia is extremely lethal to your aquatic pets.
But, in an established aquarium, we have some "helpers" whose job it is to
rid the aquarium of this dangerous ammonia. Unknown to you, and unseen by
you, there are certain types of bacteria which live within an aquarium environment -- on glass surfaces, on the surfaces of your decor, within the substrate, (gravel, sand), inside your filter tubes and filter media, etc. These bacteria -- which are called nitrosomonas and nitrobacters -- break
down, or oxidize, the ammonia into nitrite, and then the nitrite is broken
down into nitrate. Similar to ammonia, nitrite is also extremely toxic to
your fish, while nitrate is less so, but must still be removed from your aquarium in some fashion. Most aquarists rely upon weekly, partial water changes in order to maintain the nitrate at a safe level. Others rely upon special techniques such as NNR, or Natural Nitrate Reduction.
However, the key point that I wish to emphasize here, is that the
nitrification cycle occurs in an already-established aquarium. A brand new setup -- such as the one that I described at the beginning of this article
-- is not an established aquarium; and as such, the population of these beneficial bacteria -- nitrosomonas and nitrobacters -- is extremely low, if not altogether nonexistent. As a result, over a period of a few days, the ammonia level will skyrocket, and your fish will end up dead.
So, how do we overcome this problem? Quite simply, we need to jump start the nitrification process. There are several ways to accomplish this, as I
One method is to "plant" your aquarium with the necessary bacteria by obtain rocks and substrate -- gravel/sand -- from an already-established aquarium. Perhaps you own such a tank, or maybe a fellow fish hobbyist does. If you
use this technique, a word of caution is in order. Before accepting rocks and/or substrate from such a tank, make absolutely certain that the donor aquarium does not have an infestation of ick, anchor worms, snails, or any other aquarium malady, as otherwise, you may be introducing the problem to
your own aquarium.
Another method which some aquarists use to establish their tank with these beneficial bacteria, is to purchase a vial of "seed" bacteria. While many
LFS sell this product, I question the reliability of using it, due to the simple fact that these bacteria are aerobic, meaning that they require
oxygen to live. If a vial of seed bacteria has been sitting on a LFS shelf
for weeks, months, or longer, one must wonder how many of the bacteria are
even still alive.
The third -- and most common -- method that is used to establish an aquarium
is simply to exercise restraint, and patiently wait for the nitrification
cycle to naturally establish itself on its own. This can take anywhere from
a few weeks, to a few months at best. The way that this is accomplished is
by purchasing just a few hardy fish -- such as platys for a freshwater aquarium, or damsels for a marine tank -- and not by overstocking your
aquarium from the start. The idea here is that a few hardy, fish in a large volume of water will be better able to endure the rising ammonia and nitrite levels, while the nitrosomonas and nitrobacters are establishing themselves
in the tank. Once these bacteria begin to take hold in your aquarium, you
can slowly begin to add other fish, until the recommended bio-load is
One important point that you need to remember here is that the level of beneficial bacteria that is in your tank is constantly in flux. In other
words, the population of bacteria will expand, or decrease, depending on how much food -- ammonia and nitrite -- is present in the aquarium, which itself
is determined by how much organic waste is in the tank. In other words, if
you have three fish in an established aquarium, and then you add three more fish, the level of bacteria will grow in order to compensate for the
additional waste which is being added to the tank. At the same time, if you have an aquarium which holds twenty fish, and then you remove fifteen of
those fish, the population of beneficial bacteria will decrease, because
there is not enough food to support them all. The main point that you want
to remember is that you do not want to suddenly add a large number of new
fish to your aquarium; you want to gradually add them over time.
It is also important to remember that stirring up your gravel bed too frequently, or too deeply -- such as with a gravel washer/vacuum -- can
upset, and even partially destroy, your beneficial bacteria population. For this reason, it is a good idea to vacuum your substrate in shifts, doing one part one week, and then another area the next week.
One final, important point that is also worth mentioning, is that the aforementioned bacteria are very sensitive to certain kinds of fish
medications and chemical agents. In short, if you are not careful, you can completely destroy your population of beneficial bacteria without even realizing it, which will result in the ammonia level skyrocketing once
again. The lesson here is to always remember to read the instructions that
come with fish medications and other chemical agents which you may choose to add to your tank. Make sure that you fully understand how it will affect the biological balance which you have achieved in your aquarium.
Now that you have understood the nitrification cycle, I hope that this knowledge will help you to enjoy your tropical fish aquarium for many years
Jeff Snyder, SysOp - Armageddon BBS Visit us at endtimeprophecy.org port 23 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Your Download Center 4 Mac BBS Software & Christian Files. We Use Hermes II