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FAQs on Freshwater Aquarium Water Quality 4

Related Articles: A practical approach to freshwater aquarium water chemistry by Neale Monks, In praise of hard water; How hard, alkaline water can be a blessing in disguise by Neale Monks pH, alkalinity, acidityTreating Tap Water, Freshwater MaintenanceFrequent Partial Water ChangesEstablishing Cycling, Freshwater Filtration, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for BeginnersIn praise of hard water; How hard, alkaline water can be a blessing in disguise by Neale Monks, The Soft Water Aquarium: Risks and Benefits by Neale Monks

Related FAQs: FW H2O Quality 1, FW H2O Quality 2, FW H2O Quality 3, Cloudy Water , Aquarium MaintenanceTreating Tap Water for Aquarium Use, pH, Alkalinity, Acidity, Water Hardness, Nitrogen Cycling, Establishing Cycling 1, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Phosphates, Freshwater Algae Control, Algae Control, Foods, Feeding, Aquatic Nutrition, Disease


:(  (FW; 6-gallon tanks; no good for fishkeeping) -10/31/08
I have a question about causation.
<About what...?>
Currently, I have a two-and-a-half month old tank (cycled with purchased bacteria and the platy) with one male platy, one male guppy, and one male swordtail. I used to have another male guppy, but he died of dropsy with very little warning.
 <Do check water quality and chemistry, as Dropsy is a symptom of organ failure, not a disease as such.>
After his death, I was worried about possible bacterial causes but decided not to bombard my fish with more medicine (went through two bouts of Ick and one of fungus in such a short time before -- caused by stress from fighting guppies)
<Hmm... not sure I follow your logic here; you need to use medications as/when required, and unless you're a vet, it's not a good idea to make judgment calls. For what it's worth, "bacterial causes" is shorthand among less experienced aquarists for "could be anything", so again, do understand that secondary infections almost always follow water quality or water chemistry issues, so check those before doing anything else. When fish fight they can indeed damage one another, but the Finrot or Fungus problems come along precisely because the water quality is low. Bacteria in the water invade the wound because the fish's immune system has been weakened.>
so did several 25 % water changes for a week or two.
<Always wait 4-6 weeks after dealing with death/disease before adding new livestock. It takes that long for some diseases to become apparent, so the only way you can be sure you have thing sunder control is to sit back, wait, and see what happens.>
The other fish seemed fine so I bought the swordtail. He's been in the tank for two weeks and seemed generally fine and well-adjusted although very mellow. This morning, he was up at the top of the tank gasping for air with gills moving very rapidly, though the other two fish seemed fine.
<Swordtails are fish from relatively cool, very clean water. For example you will stress them by keeping them above 25 C, and on top of that they're sensitive to ammonia and nitrite. They also need hard, alkaline water. So it is essential to check the temperature, water quality, and water chemistry before doing anything else.>
I did a 25 % water change just in case. He did eat today but seemed to get progressively worse throughout the day. There seems to be some kind of grayish white film on his gills now and he has protruding eyes, though not the type of bubbly pop-eyes I've seen before (maybe this comes later). I'm planning to treat him with Maricyn tomorrow (as soon as I can buy it) if he is still alive, but I am wondering what could have caused this, if my other fish are in danger, and if any new fish I may purchase may also be in danger.
<It's almost certain the tank is "bad", not the fish. Please review conditions in the aquarium as instructed above.>
Other relevant information: I can't afford a quarantine tank, I keep the water lightly salted, the tank is only 6 gallons, and I don't test water levels.
<Six gallons is TOO SMALL for any of these fish. Sorry, end of story. None of them will do well in here, and Swordtail has the proverbial "snowball's chance in Hell". Just look at a Swordtail: it's a big, streamlined fish that darts about. It is OBVIOUSLY a fish that needs space. To stick it in a 6-gallon tank is like keeping a Cheetah in a bird cage. Unless you are an expert fishkeeper, do not bother with a six gallon tank. It is too small for anything other than a male Betta. That's it. End of discussion. Any further chats about filters and medications is all shouting at the wind because this tank WILL NEVER hold fish safely or happily. Feel free to berate your retailer for selling you the darn thing, but the flip side to the story is no aquarium book or reputable web site would ever have said such a tank would work either. So your lack of research has led to your unhappiness and the death of some fish. Your move.>
The platy has been in there since day 1, so I believe it's safe to say the tank has cycled. I change 25 % of the water and shake up the gravel once a week or sooner if I see any signs of distress, change filters every 2-3 weeks. My apartment tends to be on the warmer side, so the tank is usually around 80 degrees -- does fluctuate some during the day and at night.
<Too hot for Swordtails.>
Since you are probably going to tell me to test my water levels, what is the least expensive, easiest-to-use tool for doing so?
<You need, at minimum, a pH and a nitrite test kit. But frankly unless you're prepared to upgrade the tank significantly, to, say, 20 gallons if you want Guppies and Swordtails, then this is good money after bad and all the fish are going to die anyway.>
Thank you! Sad Fish Owner
<Done my best. Sorry I can't offer anything nicer and more uplifting, but this just isn't going to work, no matter how hard you try. Hope this helps, Neale.> 

PH -FW husbandry  10/29/08 Hello, you have all helped me in the past and I want to thank you very much. Unfortunately, I had to come back with another question. <OK, fire away.> I have aquariums for a few years now and still come across things I am not sure of. My problem is, three weeks ago I sold my house and bought another. I had to move 4 tanks, the sizes are, 29 gallon, 55 gallon, 100 gallon and a 125 gallon. I am happy to say, so far I didn't lose any of my fish. <Well done.> My problem know is the PH it is much higher than at my other house. At the old house it was 6.8 here it is 8.0. <Really much less of a problem than you'd imagine. Provided you acclimate the fish gently (across an hour or so) and keep an eye on them afterwards, you should be fine.> When I brought my fish here I slowly got them used to the water here so they where fine, still are from what I can tell. I just want to know if that PH level will be OK for all my fish, or should I lower the PH. If I should lower the PH I don't want to use any chemicals I would like to do it naturally. I am hoping the fish will be fine at the higher PH. <pH doesn't really matter all that much, and most fish can adjust to anything between 6 and 8. What actually matters is the hardness, as that's the thing that affects fish directly. Because pH is easy to measure we tend to use it as a "first glance" of what's going on with water chemistry, but it's always important to remember that it doesn't get to the heart of the issue. Because soft water usually has an acidic pH (6-7), and hard water usually has a basic pH (7-8), the fact you're seeing a change in pH from slightly acidic (6.8) to somewhat basic (8.0) from old home to new suggests the water HARDNESS has changed significantly. The new place likely (but do check) has hard water. (This assumes you're not using softened water from a domestic water softener, and you shouldn't use it; domestic water softeners produce funky water with strange levels of sodium and other salts not really helpful to fish keeping.)> I do 30% to 50% water changes a week. (with the move I brought about 20% of the water from each tank) Today I checked my water the A/N/N levels are at 0, but the PH is still 8.0 <If the fish are fine now, you're likely going to be fine. Broadly speaking most community fish do equally well in hard water or soft water. There are problems with some (livebearers particularly) when it comes to keeping them in soft water, but that's about it.> Here is the list of my fish: (I will be getting larger tanks soon, working on a 500 gallon) 125 gallon, 5 blood parrot fish, 3 silverdollars, 2 bala sharks,1 irr. shark, 2 clown loaches, 2 peacock eels, 1 gold severum, 1 common pleco 6 female jelly bean parrot fish ( going into 29 gallon/ just setting up carpet had to get installed in that room) <All just dandy in hard water.> 100 gallon 6 male jelly bean parrots, 1 gold severum, 1 green severum, 1 common pleco <Likewise.> 55 gallon 3 angel fish, 2 blood parrot fish, 2 cory cats, 1 black ghost knife <Apteronotus do prefer soft water, but it's not that big of a deal.> Like I said they all look great at this time, but I am worried about the long term affect the high PH will have on them. Should I change it? Or will these fish be fine? Thank you for your help. Tina <Suspect you'll be fine. Enjoy your fish! Neale.>

Re: pH (freshwater stocking, adaptability) 10/30/08 Hello, Thank you for your quick response!!! And YES, the water is hard here. I am glad to hear that all should be OK with the higher PH. All the fish still look and act great, I will be watching them even closer for the next few weeks. Thank you so much for your help, Tina <Happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Snail tank water quality issues... 10/23/08 Hi everyone, <Hello,> I have a 10g tank set up for 4 apple snails. I'm pretty sure they?'re P. bridgesi. Here's the set up. Hydro Lustar Sponge filter I hooked to a Rena Air 3 pump and an air stone so I get 40GPH. Rena Air 50W heater set to 77 degrees F Standard aquarium gravel and some fake plants and décor Limnobium Spongia floating on top <All sounds good, but do remember Apple Snails will not live more than a year if kept warm all year around. It's difficult to accommodate this in the aquarium, which is why aquarium specimens rarely last a year in captivity, compared with 3-4 years in the wild. You could try removing them to a bucket of muddy water in early summer and then slowly remove the water, encouraging the snails to become dormant. Store them thus for a few months. Some aquarists have got the snails to go dormant by cooling the tank to around 18 C or slightly less, and when the snails stop moving about leave the tank running like that for at least a couple of months. Sure, this sounds like a lot of work, but full grown (tennis ball-sized) Apple Snails are very impressive.> Everyone seems happy, but here are the numbers: NH3/4=0, NO2=0, NO3= 5.00, pH=6.8, KH=40, GH=25 <Slightly on the acidic side, but not critical.> Mainly what I'm concerned about is KH and GH. I'm concerned that these aren't high enough to support good shell growth and protection. After reading the FAQ section, I tried putting 3 small pieces of Cuddle bone in the tank, but after 24 hours the numbers are the same. <Cuttlebone isn't really what you want here. Instead try using a Malawi Salt mix to harden the water. You can make your own, very cheaply, literally pennies per water change, using marine salt mix plus two things from the shops. Here's one mix, per 5 gallons/20 litres: 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) 1 teaspoon marine salt mix (sodium chloride + trace elements) Give you don't need incredibly hard water, even 50% the dose listed here should work just fine.> I know better than to mess to much with things like pH, because stable is better, but one of the snails appears to have a small area of pitting in his shell and I don't want it to get to a level where it's harming him. Also, I'm nervous that an entire 4? cuddle bone in a 10G tank will throw the whole system out of whack. So, if you guys have any hints on what to do, or not to do for my snails, I'd appreciate it. <Take the cuttlebone out and replace with the mix listed above. Note that sea salt alone isn't the thing, but the combination of mostly Epsom salt, a bit of baking powder, and a bit of salt that does the hardening.> Thanks, Laura <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Snail tank water quality issues... 10/23/08
When you say, slowly remove the water, do you mean until there's no water in
the bucket?
<Pretty much. There's really no sure fire way to keep Apple Snails alive for their full lifespan in captivity. As I say, almost all die within the first year or so. So I'd recommend reading up on Apple Snails (there are numerous web sites as well as an excellent book by Perera & Walls) and experimenting. Breeding Apple Snails (if you want to) is easy, so you'll soon get dozens of youngsters to play around with. Bear in mind what the aim is -- getting the snails to "aestivate" -- and work from there. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Snail tank water quality issues... 10/23/08
Sorry for the trouble but I was re-reading your answer and want to be sure. In one place you say baking soda and in another you say baking powder. Baking powder has (usually) crème of tartar in it. Which did you mean?
<Ah, my mistake. Baking soda: sodium bicarbonate.>
<Sorry for the confusion. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Snail tank water quality issues... 10/23/08
One last thing, I promise. Do you think I should use this solution in my other two tanks as well? One is a 10g with a Crowntail Betta, and the other is a 55g with 5 African Clawed Frogs.
<Shouldn't be necessary for these fish. Neither Bettas nor Frogs particularly need hard water conditions. So if they're happy now, leave 'em be. The "magic potion" you're making is all about making water harder and more alkaline. Snails like that sort of water, as do certain types of fish: livebearers, goldfish, Rift Valley cichlids, Central American cichlids and so on.>
Thanks again!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Follow up on Snail tank water quality issues...  10/25/08
Hi again,
So, I changed the water yesterday and replaced it with the Malawi Salt Mix you recommended. The water certainly got harder and I thought everything was ok. Then, this afternoon all of the snails were racing about with their siphons out. I tested the water. The numbers were:
And no chlorine.
Thinking GH of 300 might be too high, I did a water change and used the Salt Mix at 50% the dose per 5g, then tested again. pH came down to 7.8 but GH and KH remained largely unchanged. The snails stopped racing about but they all are stretching their siphons farther than I've seen before. They're not going to the surface, mind you. Just stretching them out. I don't know what else to test. Do they not like the salt? Am I worried for nothing?
Thanks in advance.
<Hello Laura, It's unwise to completely change all the water at once. Forgive me if I didn't make that clear. What one normally does when changing water chemistry is to stick with your normal water change routine (e.g., 25% per week) but with each new batch of water that goes in, add the salt mix. So over the weeks the water will steadily become harder and more alkaline. In any case, if the snails aren't at the surface "gasping", and are otherwise active and feeding normally, I wouldn't be too concerned. Going by your numbers, a 50% dose should be ample. Cheers, Neale.>
Ok, thanks.
<Most welcome. Cheers, Neale.>

Pollutants, FW   10/20/08
Hi, Hope your day is going well!
<Yes, thank you.>
I am setting up a freshwater aquarium with no live plants and all hardy fish. I know that after the tank is cycled properly and the tank is not overstocked ammonia and nitrite should not be much of a problem, but I know that nitrate is.
<Nitrate shouldn't be a problem in most freshwater tanks. 50 mg/l is acceptable for most community fish, with the exception of cichlids and Mollies, and unless you have really bad tap water, regular water changes should keep the nitrate concentration in the safety zone.>
One of the reason for water changes. But I would like to know if there are other contaminants I need to test for and be concerned about such as phosphate, silicate, etc..
<None of these matter much. Regular water changes, between 25-50% per week, should keep things in good shape. Do try to avoid causing water chemistry changes, and in particular if you're in a soft water area, buffering pH can be important. Read here:
And then follow up with the linked articles.>
I know there are certain type media out there that help with absorbing these but just want to know how concerned I should be about which ones.
<Most of these fancy media serve little/no purpose in freshwater tanks. Fast growing plants, including floating plants, do a much better job anyhow.>
Thank you,
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Pollutants  10/20/08
thanks Neale, and here is a really dumb question. I understand how bacteria turn ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, and I know the bacteria needs sufficient room to grow and flourish. But I have read before that we need as much area as possible for good bacteria to grow. Doesn't the amount of ammonia initially put out determine the amount of good bacteria that will grow?
<Not really. When cycling an aquarium, ammonia concentrations as "low" as 0.5 mg/l are ample. A bit more may speed things up a bit, but if you're cycling with fish, there certainly isn't an advantage to letting the ammonia concentration go up.>
In other words, up to a certain point can't there be too many places for them to grow?
<I can't see how this would cause problems, though yes, for the first couple of weeks some of the filter media will be only sparingly populated by bacteria. But all things being equal, you should find the bacteria multiply very rapidly, filling up the biological media within weeks. For this reason, you install full filtration capacity from the word go. In practise the things that limit filtration are not just availability of media, but also water flow rate and oxygen concentration. Bigger filters move more water, carrying more oxygen, and that's, in part, why they do a better job. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Pollutants  10/20/08
Neale, Please tell me if play sand would be ok for Corys.
<Some people have used this. You do need to check it's smooth and also lime-free. For the former, run some between a finger and thumb: if it feels prickly, that's bad. To test for lime, add a few drops of acid (such as vinegar); if there's fizzing, there's lime, and that's bad.>
I know you mentioned silicate sand but I think play sand is not quite as bright (which is what I want so my fish colors will show better).
<Really makes little difference in terms of colours. I have Peacock Gobies in a tank with silica sand and their colours are just fine.
It all depends on the plants providing shade, and slight differences in the colour of the sand are hardly worth risking using the wrong sand.>
Also, please tell me the minimum amount of sand substrate that I can use with a tank with no plants in the substrate that is still good for the Cory.
<1-2 cm should be ample. Enough to keep the rocks stable is important, and if you're using heavy rocks that could smash the glass, I'd recommend putting a gravel tidy between two 1 cm layers of sand to prevent the rocks slipping down and hitting the glass.>
Also I have read I should slope it from back to front for a better visual effect. Do you think this makes a big difference?
<Can't say the visual effect is all that impressive, but having the sand slop does mean dirt falls to the front where you can easily remove it with a siphon or turkey baster.>
Thanks, James
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Pollutants 10/21/08 Can't the bacteria only spread so much? <Bacteria will spread to wherever they can...> Why is it important to have more space for it to grow if it may not all be taken up with bacteria growth? <It's important to make sure the filter has sufficient surface area (i.e., biological media) for the size of the tank and its livestock. You also need adequate water turnover to ensure the bacteria get enough oxygen, and that water is pulled through the filter fast enough the ammonia is processed quickly enough not to harm your fish. Beyond this, it's maybe time to take a microbiology degree! Cheers, Neale.>

Water Chemistry Changes  8/30/08
Good Day Crew,
2 quick questions: After 4 months in a fully cycled 55 gallon freshwater tank the PH of 7.0 went to 7.2 - 7.4. Now after 8 months it seems to jump around from 7.0 - 7.2.
<This isn't too serious, but would suggest a lack of carbonate hardness. Grab a carbonate hardness ("KH") test kit and check your water. For the standard community aquarium, something like about 5 degrees KH works well. Anything below 3 degrees KH tends to be a bit flaky when it comes to pH stability.>
After 8 months the Nitrate of 10 is now reading 20. I've done 25% water changes without any decrease in Nitrates. (Ammon. & Nitrites have always stayed at -0-)
<Nothing wrong here. 20 mg/l nitrates is fine for all but the most sensitive freshwater fish. So unless you're planning on keeping, say, Mollies or Eartheater Cichlids (both notoriously sensitive to nitrate) I wouldn't worry.>
My normal routine is a 15% weekly water change. I haven't added any new fish or decos and change filters as suggested by manufacturer.
<You may decide to up the water change per week in due course to around 25% per week though this entirely depends on how stable the pH stays and how low the nitrate level remains. In an heavily stocked tank big water changes become very useful. But otherwise, carry on as you're doing and you should be fine.>
My filter is an AquaClear and use API master testing kit also done on a weekly basis.
Town water is -0- for Nitrates and PH is 6.8 - 7.0
( ? diatoms still in tank after 1 year)
<Do you mean the diatoms are on the glass? That's quite normal, especially in tanks with low lighting levels (really anything less than 2 watts per gallon). Depending on the tank, you may choose to add some type of diatom-eating animal; I'd recommend Nerite snails for this, but they can't be combined with nippy or aggressive fish.>
Is any of this stressful for the fish? Have 14 fish in tank.
<If the fish are happy and healthy, don't worry about it.>
Thank you for any info you can give me.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Minerals in water (2.5 gallon stocking... NOT!)   8/30/08
Howdy! This is Michelle, and I have a quick question about minerals in a fish's water. Everything I have found on the internet concerns adding minerals to a fish's water due to deficiencies, but I have the opposite problem: where I live, the water is rather sulfuric due to the mineral deposits around the aquifer. I do not know of a way to extract the sulfur from the water, and I do not believe that de-chlorination will fix the problem, even though both chlorine and sulfur are related non-metals...so, should I just use bottled water to run my 2.5 gallon aquarium? I will be adding basic, hardy freshwater fish: guppies, neon tetras, or possibly just a bubble-eye goldfish. Would they be able to withstand sulfuric water? Thank you so much for your time and advice!
<Hello Michelle, the short answer is that you shouldn't keep ANY fish in a 2.5 gallon aquarium. Period. End of discussion. Too many people try this, and don't for a second think about what this means. Two and half gallons is a small bucket. Imagine keeping a school of Neons in there. Obviously impossible because there wouldn't be space for the six or more fish you would have to keep. Goldfish are a total non-starter: they get to around 20 cm/8 inches at minimum, and putting three or more of these GREGARIOUS fish into a 2.5 gallon bucket is cruel (and long term, WILL kill them).
What I would suggest you do is two things. Firstly, sit down and read a book about keeping fish. No fish, except perhaps a male Betta, can be kept in 2.5 gallons. I don't care that they make tanks that size... as Phineas Taylor Barnum famously said, "there's a sucker born every minute" and in this case anyone who buys a 2.5 gallon tank expecting to keep Goldfish in it has, I hate saying this, qualified as someone who hands cash to a salesman without getting anything useful in return. For Goldfish, the minimum tank is 30 gallons for three healthy specimens. Smaller tanks are for unhealthy specimens, particularly bored and lonely and unhappy single specimens. Secondly, once you have returned this 2.5 gallon piece of trash to the store, you'll upgrade to at least a 20 gallon tank. That won't cost you much more up front and will be a gazillion times easier to stock and maintain, so long term will save you money (and be much more fun to keep and watch). I'd then be looking at livebearing fish, perhaps Platies or Limia spp. or, if you have a 30 gallon or more tank, Swordtails or Mollies. Livebearers have evolved to live in mineral-rich waters and should thrive under such conditions in a way most other fish in the trade will not.
If you were feeling adventurous you might also consider some of the family Goodeidae, such as Ameca splendens or Xenotoca eiseni, robust if somewhat feisty fish from the same part of the world.
Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: minerals in water (2.5 gallon stocking... NOT!) 8/30/08
Ouch. Well, thank you. Um...that's leads to another problem. I'm in a college dorm and we are only allowed to keep a 10-gallon or less aquarium. Is that still too small and cruel for fish, or are there some fish you would recommend for that tank size?
<Hello Michelle. There are two ways to answer this question. The first is: What can you put in the 2.5 gallon tank you have. The second is: If I get a 10-gallon tank, what can I keep? Answering the first question; as stated, 2.5 gallons is (practically) useless for fish. But you could certainly keep shrimps and snails. Cherry Shrimps are fun, colourful, active, and breed; watching the baby shrimps being carried about by the mothers and then grow to maturity is quite lovely. Among the snails, there are quite a few nice small snails out there, like Nerites, that don't breed and come in lots of interesting shapes and colours. Looking at a 10-gallon system, yes, there are fish. You essentially need to pick small (ideally less than 1.5 inches long) species that don't move much. Neon and Cardinal tetras look great, and if you keep one fish per gallon, and you'll have a lovely system if you fill the tank with plants and a few Cherry Shrimps and Nerite snails. But you've got a problem with water chemistry: Neons and Cardinals don't really like mineral-rich water. You could go with a 50/50 mix of dechlorinated tap water with de-ionised (mineral-free) water. But that's a lot of hassle. I'd instead recommend a very small livebearer species, possibly Endler Guppies (as opposed to Fancy Guppies) but even better than those would be Heterandria formosa, the Least Killifish. This is a tiny fish, the males barely an inch long. They're hardy, do well at luke-warm temperatures (around 18C/68F is ideal) and in a tank with lots of plants you'll quickly find some babies to rear. They aren't widely sold in the shops, but easy enough to obtain online via biological supply houses. You could alternatively add a bit of salt to the water (say, 3 grammes marine salt mix per litre) and keep brackish water gobies. Bumblebees are nice but fiddly to feed, so if you can find Chlamydogobius eremius (the Australian Desert Goby) go with that one because it's not only prettier (in my opinion) but much easier to maintain and breed. I hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: minerals in water (2.5 gallon stocking... NOT!) 8/30/08
thank you so much!
<Most welcome. Cheers, Neale.>

An overfeeding incident 8/13/08 Dear Crew; I hope you have all been having a wonderful summer. <It has been great! Merritt here today!> It's been some time since I have written, things have been pretty good thus far. A couple of nights ago, I went to feed my Harlequin Rasboras, and noticed the tub of flakes was empty. I fed them some blood worms instead, my five year old son then informed me that he had fed them, and had been doing so for many nights, and by accident, and dropped all the flakes into the tank. <Ahh!> In the morning, I of course awoke to an algae bloom. I removed all the decorations, vacuumed the substrate, did a 50% water change, and found one of the two flying fox I have dead. I did not change the filter. Things are looking a lot better, but I was wondering, when can I do another water change?, and would cleaning the filter or putting in one new element, i.e. sponge, be a good option at this point? <Right now your tank is overloaded with waste from the uneaten food. Just do more 50% water changes, and wash the old filter to get rid of any uneaten food and try to vacuum the substrate with the water changes.> I am not sure why the flying fox died, overfeeding? I think my water is toxic, and wonder if I should clean the whole tank and start again? I was just about to put in a few more Harlequin Rasboras that I have in another tank, it also appears that my Malaysian Trumpet Snail have all died also. I am so sad, my beautiful tank has turned into a dark and gloomy place, and I don't know what my next step should be. Any help you could offer me would be greatly appreciated. <Don't get give up on your tank. I have had the same problem, really! You are going to lose fish, but if you can keep up with water changes, vacuuming the substrate and add AmQuel, you should not have to start the tank over.> Thank you in advance. Charlie, and her grounded son Ben <You are welcome! Merritt A.>

TDS vs. PMDD -- 7/30/08 Dear Benjamin, <Hans> I'm using pea gravel for my substrate. I did vinegar test for my substrate, and I think it is fine. The rocks are not bubbling. Recently I tested some of the pea gravel to a bucket and left it for 3 days and did not show any changes in ph and kH. <Good> I also have few bog woods in the tank. And yes, you are right!.. I tested the water and it has a TDS value of 593! By the way, I've recently bought an RO unit for my tank and a TDS meter. <A good choice, given your trouble> Thus, currently I have got ph=7; and kH=8, which according to the table shows a desirable co2 level. Since I have got a good read-out from the ph-kh-co2; I think it is time to move on to fertilizing the plants. Judging from the last read-out (TDS=593), I have done 2 water changes. and now, ph=7;kh=8;CO2=??(should be OK according to the tables) but I still have a TDS value of 467. I know that a TDS meter measure total dissolved solid, but I do not know what or which solids does it refer to.. Does it means that I have enough macro and/or micro elements in the water? <Hard to say...in your case, probably a lot of carbonates, metals...> Does it also means that I do not have to add fertilizer such as PMDD? I would assume that by adding PMDD dose would increase TDS. <With RO you will need to add buffers and fertilizers, but I would wait to fertilize until you have the KH under control- keep your variables limited. Once your hardness and pH are both in their proper places, begin to tinker with other factors> Many Thanks.. Hans. <No trouble!> (I'm new to fresh water planted aquaria. Unlike most people I guess.. Im started off with marine and has had great success with my tank with the help of your crew!!, thus I really mean MANY MANY thanks to you all!) But I still think fresh water planted aquaria is more challenging than marine. It is the growth rate that fascinates me. <Understood...truly beautiful, often under-appreciated or unknown ecosystems. Best wishes for your tank, Benjamin>

Guidance on Water Analysis   -- 07/10/08 I would like to ask for your guidance on what components of my well water would need to be analyzed in order to use it for my Bettas. <As with ANY freshwater fish, the minimal test kits are pH and nitrite. The pH gives you a first-pass approximation on water chemistry, and nitrite tells you about the water quality in the aquarium. There are other tests you can use, but these are the two best ones to start with. Bettas are almost completely indifferent to water chemistry, and will do well between pH 6-8, 5-20 degrees dH.> I am presently using bottled water for my many Bettas. Using bottled water has been expensive over the years. They are all in 5 gal. filtered, heated tanks and until recently seemed to be thriving. When I noticed signs of stress I started checking water quality and found everything was good. I also began using PolyFilters to see if that would improve things. Nothing changed so I decided to check the PH for each bottle of water and found it varied from bottle to bottle. (from 7.5 to 8.2) When I started using this water two years ago the PH was pretty constant at 7.5 so I never suspected the water. <Sounds a complete waste of money in my opinion. No need for Polyfilters, though use them if you want. I'd be keeping them in plain tap water, with dechlorinator of course.> All of this to say that I would like to use our well water for these fish because I am paying a fortune for bottled water that doesn't seem to be very reliable. I originally decided to use bottled water because the well water is hard with a PH of around 8. This week I inquired about having the water analyzed at a Lab. and I was presented with 28 pages of possibilities. I just have no idea of what analysis should be done and was hoping you could give me some guidance on what to have checked. <Right. Now, what you need to measure is pH, general hardness, and carbonate hardness. Your local pet store will certainly have these test kits in stock, and many stores do the tests on the spot for a nominal fee (here in England, often one pound). With that data you can compare your well water with the tolerances of Betta splendens, which are broad. pH 6-8, 5-20 degrees dH, 3-12 degrees KH would all be fine. Do see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWsubwebindex/fwh2oquality.htm > The following may help. We live in a rural community outside of Ottawa, Ontario. We are on a 4 acre bush lot. There are no agricultural or industrial properties close to us. Our well is drilled. It is 149 feet deep, mostly through limestone and shale. It has no colour, or odor. We have it tested yearly (most recently June of this year) and it is 0 for all of the things humans need to be concerned about for drinking water. This may be perfect drinking water (if you are not prone to kidney stones) but I know that the requirements of fish are different so any thoughts on what should be checked/analyzed would be very much appreciated. If everything checks out and I am able to use the well water do you feel I should dilute it with RO water because it is so hard. <None of this really means much in fishkeeping terms. Fish obviously thrive in waters unfit for human consumption (e.g., the sea). But it's likely you have standard issue hard water that's been filtered through limestone or chalk. Contrary to popular myth, such water can be very good for fishkeeping: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWsubwebindex/fwhardness.htm > Your help with this would be very much appreciated. If someone has a chance to get back to me please respond to the cc'd e-mail address as well as I will be on vacation for a few days. Thanks again. Jeanette <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Guidance on Water Analysis 7/10/08 What a relief I was thinking that I would need a fairly involved analysis of the water chemistry. Unfortunately I do not have access to tap water so well or bottled are my only options. Thank you so much for simplifying things for me. I certainly won't miss paying for or lifting the many bottles of water I use each week. Thanks again Jeanette <Hello Jeanette. By "tap water" I really meant whatever water you get supplied to drink and wash with. If it's fit for that, it's fit for fishkeeping -- assuming you choose species that tolerate whatever the local water chemistry is! One other thing: if you're going to change water chemistry in the tanks from Brand X bottled water to local well water, do so in stages across a few days (maybe 3-4 days) so the fish can acclimatize safely. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Guidance on Water Analysis  7/12/08 No worries I plan to introduce the new water very gradually. <Cool.> Just want to mention how wonderful it is that you (and everyone in the crew) give the same care and consideration to a Betta or goldfish question as you do to one concerning an expensive or rare fish. <Never thought of it that way. But thanks for the kind words!> Thanks again. Jeanette <Most welcome, Neale.>

One more question, Neale, if you don't mind... Water quality, test strips...  -- 07/10/08 I got the test strips that you suggested before (thanks for the tip about cutting them in half!). My readings are 20ppm for nitrates, 0 for nitrates, 300ppm for total hardness (GH), 300ppm for total alkalinity, and 8.8 for pH. In an article I read on WWM the pH should be 8.1-8.3. My tap water tests the same as above (right when it comes out of the faucet and after sitting for awhile), so I'm not sure if the high numbers are completely my fault. Should I be worried about this and work to lower the pH? Thanks for answering my unending questions. Jasmynn <Jasmynn, this can be short and sweet: Unless you're an expert fishkeeper, leave the pH alone. Almost all fish will adjust to a steady pH, even if it is slightly outside their optimal range. (By way of example, the water in Southern England has a pH around 8, yet lots of people keep Neons, Angelfish and so on without problems.) What fish hate much more is a pH level that fluctuates. Adjusting pH safely involves altering hardness, specifically carbonate hardness, as well. Otherwise the results are too unstable because you have to constantly add just the right amount of pH buffer. Add the wrong amount, of delay a water change for a few days, and the pH can suddenly change, severely stressing your fish. So unless you can soften water (not using a domestic water softener, but by, for example, diluting with rainwater) there's no point worrying about pH. Your pH value is very high, but this is indicative of a very high level of alkalinity. Remember, the pH itself doesn't matter: we measure the pH because it tells us something about the water chemistry. While certainly far from ideal if you were keeping freshwater fish from soft or moderately hard water environments, hard water fish (like Mbuna) and brackish water fish will not be fussed at all. Quite the reverse in fact; the high alkalinity will be positively beneficial to them. Cheers, Neale.>

Milky jelly like substance, FW...  -- 04/26/08 Hi. I have looked all over trying to find an artical or something about what I am having problems with. I have this clear sort of milky looking jelly like substance in my freshwater tank. It is on my rocks, my artificial plants and even on my water pump. Is it something that is going to start growing on my fish? I looked at them very closely, and do not see anything growing on them. Could this be mold? I am very confused and worried. I have had no problems with my tank until i put a handful of run of the mill gold fish in, of which, i only have one giant one left. If this is algae of some kind, can i put algae killer in with a tank cleaner, or will it kill my ugly little guy? <"White gunk" can be all sorts of things, but the three most likely things are these: Firstly, fungus. There's small amounts of fungus in all tanks, and in their place they help with the nitrogen cycle, breaking down organic matter into the ammonia the bacteria can further process into harmless nitrate. But if you have too much decaying organic material, the fungus can get out of hand. It typically looks like an off-white, cotton-like thatch of fibres. It is harmless, and in fact some fish (such as Scats and Plecs) will simply eat the stuff, but it is a sign that the tank is basically dirty and poorly maintained. So you need to remove the organic material from your tank much more thoroughly. The second option is bacteria. These are caused by similar things but look like off-white threads, often forming quite long bunches rather than the fuzz typical of fungus. Again, in itself such bacteria don't do any harm, but they are a sign of poor management. Finally, snail eggs. These look like small (0.5-1 cm) patches of jelly. Only some aquarium snails produce eggs of this type, most notably Physa spp. "tadpole snails". Scrape and remove as required. These snails are harmless for the most part, though they will definitely eat certain soft plants and in large numbers can be a nuisance. From the sounds of things, your problem is most likely bacteria caused by poor cleaning of the aquarium. Stripping the tank down, scrubbing everything, throwing out anything too far gone (like gravel), and then re-building the tank would be my choice of attack. If you do this, take care to keep the filter media bacteria alive by keeping this stuff in a bucket of aquarium water. Given we're talking about Goldfish here, the key factors are very likely overfeeding, under-filtration, and overstocking. As we say repeatedly, Goldfish need tanks upwards of 30 gallons, and the filter should offer turnover of not less than 6 times the volume of the tank. Water changes should be 50% weekly. Anything less than these recommendations is likely to cause real problems with aquarium management. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: water quality article, FW   4/26/08 Hi again Bob (or whoever else can help with this one), So in researching the pH and hardness aspects of water chemistry I have found the following: fish like to live in a certain pH depending on where they are from; <Indeed, though among freshwater fish at least some variation is normal.> alkalinity, as related to buffering stabilizes pH; <Correct.> high pH and hard water go hand in hand often; <Almost always.> a rapid change in pH is not appreciated by livestock. <Can be fatal even.> What I have not found however is what exactly it is that happens to the fish when kept in the incorrect pH. <The further you keep a fish away from its optimal pH range, the more likely problems become. The precise nature of those problems varies. Neon tetras for example will live perfectly well at pH 8, but they cannot breed. Guppies, on the other hand, when kept at an acidic pH simply become very sensitive to Finrot and fungal infections. All this said, pH is relatively unimportant compared with hardness and carbonate hardness. General hardness relates to osmosis, and this affects how easily a fish gains or loses water with respect to the water. Carbonate hardness is related to pH stability. So in general, aquarists keeping freshwater fish should not worry about pH any more than simply knowing what it is and making sure it is stable. Instead, they should focus on general hardness (degrees dH) and carbonate hardness (degrees KH) as these are substantially more important. If you have a high carbonate hardness you will automatically have a high pH, so this issue alone takes care of conditions for livebearers and hard water cichlids. Note that the converse isn't true: acidifying water doesn't necessarily reduce its hardness! Lowering carbonate hardness doesn't necessarily reduce the pH to acidic levels, but once you have lowered the carbonate hardness, reducing the pH using (for example) peat becomes possible. Of course you now have to deal with stabilising the pH, which is where pH buffering compounds come in. Water with high carbonate hardness is self-buffering, but water with low carbonate hardness is not, and can experience very sudden pH drops.> I may have missed this in the FAQs, am rereading, but if you know of a good paper, article, text etc. where to find this I would greatly appreciate this. In the alternative if you can tell me that is also great. The articles already on the site, both yours and Neale's have been very helpful but I would like to expand upon them. Thanks, Forrest. <This information should be in the "water chemistry" section of any decent aquarium book. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: water quality article (RMF, please comment if required) -- 04/26/08 Thanks Neale, and as I am now "talking" to you, I wanted to say that your articles on the topic, both that I have read on WWM and elsewhere are always wonderful and informative. <Very kind of you to say so.> Regarding Osmosis and hardness, I can't believe I didn't put that together right away. Thank you, as it stands most of my "good" books are all in the marine end of the spectrum, My freshwater ones are more deserving of the title "pamphlet" I shall change this when I go to the fish store on Tuesday. <In very basic terms, the two disciplines are identical, though of course freshwater fishkeeping doesn't (usually) involve the issue of salinity. In marine aquaria, the salt is the dominant issue as far as osmosis goes, but in freshwater, the other "salts", i.e., hardness, assert themselves. The effects are subtle, and to some degree freshwater fish have evolved to deal with variation. They have to: heavy rain or periods of drought will dramatically alter water chemistry. But there certainly are fish, particularly hard water fish, that have little tolerance for variation. Rift Valley cichlids are the classic examples here.> I will look at the selection and try to find some good ones. Thank you again, and if you have any recommendations specifically I'd love to hear them. <There's a book called 'The Interpet Manual of Fish Health' or something like that, and it's my absolute bible for water chemistry and fish health issues. It's very readable but also very detailed. Availability of this excellent book varies, but on a good day you can get a used copy online for very little. I picked up my copy for the equivalent of about $3. What I like about this book is that it explains *what* pH changes do, and *how* ammonia and nitrite harm the fish. Of course not every aquarist needs to know this stuff; provided they look after their fish properly the theory doesn't matter. But for the aquarist who likes to dig a little deeper, it's a great read.> Thanks, Forrest <Good luck, Neale.>

Suds in the Aquarium -- 4/15/08 My question is...what would cause your tank to be full of bubbles on the top of the tank? All of the sudden when we changed our filters the next day we got up and the whole top of our tank was filled with suds ( they looked like someone had poured dish soap in the water). Do you have any suggestions on what we could do? We don't want to loose all of our fish. Thank you <Plain bubbles in the water stuck to the glass, rocks and other ornaments can be caused by a variety of things. If the bubbles go away after a day or so, then don't worry about them. Changes in water temperature can cause bubbles to appear because of the differences in solubility of gases (warm water holds less gas than cold water). When a filter is cleaned, it often goes from having low turnover to much higher turnover because the pump is having to work against less "gunk" in the media. Result: more bubbles if there's splashing or a venturi fitted to the outflow. Now, froth at the top of the water is rather different. Froth is slimy or soapy to the touch, and unlike bubbles, can indicate a problem. Typically, froth comes from mixing air with organic materials. The mechanism is the same as the protein skimmers used in marine aquaria. In any case, it usually means there's too much organic matter in the water, often food, but potentially stuff like dead algae as well. The solution is to scale back food and to aggressively clean and/or water change the aquarium. This should eliminate the foaming, and from then onwards keeping the tank cleaner should keep the foam away. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Suds in the Aquarium  4/16/08 We did a water change and its seems like the suds at the top are getting worse...what should I do next???? <Difficult to say without knowing what these suds are. A photo would help. In any case, here's what I'd do: 1. Put water from tank into a bucket. 2. Put fish in there; cover with a towel or magazine to stop them jumping out. 3. Switch off and unplug heater; when cool, put someplace safe. 4. Switch off filter. Disassemble. 5. Put the biological media into a shallow basin of some type, just covered with water from the aquarium so that the bacteria stay happy. 6. Remove all the remaining water from the aquarium and deep-clean the aquarium as far as possible. 7. Pay close to attention to the substrate! Remove and rinse under a tap (assuming this system doesn't have an undergravel filter). 8. Wipe the glass, rinse off ornaments under the tap. Basically clean EVERYTHING. 9. Put everything back together again, remembering to add clean dechlorinated water. There's no need to put "old" water back into the tank, assuming that the water chemistry and temperature of the old water is much the same as the new water that's gone in. Half-emptying the bucket with the fish, and then topping up with "new" water from the fish tank is a nice idea though, as it lets the fish acclimate to any slight differences. With luck, doing this should wash out whatever was making the mess in the first place. Cheers, Neale.>

Foam in New Freshwater setup 4/7/08 Hi Crew, I know I've been asking a lot of questions lately, but I'm just setting up a new 55 gal Malawi tank, and I've been having issues with water quality. I set up the tank say 4 days ago. I put flagstone in it to increase PH. It's been at around 8.4 (according to the inaccurate strip tests.) My water is VERY soft, and from the tap its around 6.4 PH. My major problem is that my water is foamy. The airstones create foam at the top of the tank, and the filter (whisper HOB) is even worse. Watching the water spill from the filter creates thousands of tiny bubbles in the water, that collect on the surface, and they don't go away! I've been told it's due to poor water quality, but I've tested Ammonia (0) Nitrite (0) Total Hardness (Immeasurably low) and PH (8.4). I need a good test kit for more accurate results, but I cant figure out what's up with the foam anyway. Any help would be greatly appreciated, as always. Regards, Ben <Hi Ben. Normally if you're finding a lot of foam in a freshwater aquarium, then the problem is almost certainly eutrophication. In other words, a mixture of high levels of nitrate/phosphate together with a burgeoning population of algae and other microbes. You've perhaps seen a similar foam if you've ever walked around a polluted river or lake. In any case, the solution is easy enough to grasp in principle: reduce the amount of "pollution" in the water and things should get better. However, I think you may have some other problems at work here. I'm assuming there are no fish in the aquarium yet? I hope so, because soft water simply isn't acceptable for Malawi cichlids. Remember, the issue with Malawi cichlids isn't pH -- they are actually fairly tolerant of a range of pH values from about 7.2 through to over 8.5 -- but the carbonate hardness (measured in degrees KH). Why? Because it's the carbonate hardness that keeps the pH steady, and *that* is what Malawi cichlids want. The precise value doesn't matter, it just shouldn't move. This is why I tell people not to focus on pH-up or pH-down products if they don't tell me what their carbonate hardness is first -- if they're messing about with pH and not carbonate hardness, then they clearly don't understand water chemistry. So let's rewind a little. Adding rocks to aquaria isn't an acceptable way to raise carbonate hardness. It's too slow, and too unreliable. It's easier and cheaper to mix your own Malawi Salt mix, and then add that to each batch of water. Do 50% water changes per week, and this method will not only keep the nitrates low but also raise the carbonate hardness. As if by magic, when you get the carbonate hardness right, the pH will settle down at the right level too! There are many DIY recipes for Malawi Salt mixes on the web and in books. One I have to hand is this: Per 5 gallons/20 litres 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) 1 teaspoon marine salt mix (sodium chloride + trace elements) I think doing things this way will help. Soft water foams more easily than hard water, as you may recall from chemistry class at school. That's why laundry detergents (at least here in the UK) recommend different dosages depending on your water chemistry. Cheers, Neale.> Re: Foam in New Freshwater setup 4/7/08 Thank You Neale, I really appreciate all your help you've given me lately. It's really wonderful that people like you are out there that just want to be helpful to others. It's truly refreshing. <Thanks!> Anywho, yes there are no fish in the tank yet, and probably wont be for some time! <Maybe so...> If I had to venture a guess, I'd say my pollutants came from the used tank I bought not being scrubbed enough. There was a lot of pollen in it! I think I will do a 50% water change and gravel vacuum to see if that helps. <Yeah, I'd break it down completely, and simply scrub everything you can, and throw out what you can't. It's a lot easier to do this now than once the fish and rocks are installed.> As far as the Malawi Mix is concerned, is this something that needs to be tuned to my specific chemistry, or will the recipe you gave me kind of balance things out to a good KH and pH? <Pretty much takes care of everything all by itself. If you have hard, alkaline water in your area (outside of the domestic water softener, if you use one) then perhaps a 50% or even 25% dose will work. But otherwise don't worry about it. Carbonate hardness settles the pH at about 8.2, and doesn't raise it much above that. So you can't easily "overdose" the stuff. It isn't like salt vs. salinity. Do take some time out to buy/borrow a book about Malawi cichlids. All this will be explained, and it's useful to have it on hand.> Regards Ben <Cheers, Neale.>

Water quality.... 03/26/2008 I have mollies - 2 female and one male in a 10 gallon tank - just found 3 fry 2 days ago and they are in a crib <Congrats on the babies. But 10 gallons is well below what I'd recommend as even adequate for Mollies, let alone idea. Mollies are big, high metabolism fish and they like to have space to swim. A 10 gallon tank just isn't going to cut it in the long term.> Frequent water changes have kept these guys happy for quite some time (all play and eat, and argue from time to time) but my question is water quality has been perfect until about 2 weeks ago- dip stick now shows nitrate and nitrite - daily water changes and testing- with conditioners and salt cannot seem to fix this?? <Neither salt nor water conditions would impact water quality. Why should they? Rather, the fact your fish are [a] growing and [b] multiplying is meaning that the bioload on the aquarium is going up. In other words, you have more fish in the tank now than you did X months ago. So it may well be that the filter system that worked back then is overloaded now. Too many fish, too little filtration, and too much food are the key issues.> If all fish are bright happy and making fry - should I stress? <Yes; these are warning signs that conditions are deteriorating. Long term, without correction, things will only get worse.> My oldest black female has always been anti- social, she pretty much lives behind plants and the filter but always comes out to eat or to say hello if I walk up to the tank. <"Saying hello" and being "antisocial" are things humans do, not fish. This fish is likely bullied by the other fish, and the only place she can hide is behind the plants. She's unhappy. Likely because the tank is too small. It's very important to think about animal welfare in terms of how animals work, not people. Much cruelty gets done by people who treat their animals as if they were human beings.> (I used to watch her like crazy for signs of illness - but she never has gotten sick- and she loves people - just hates other fish) <Female Mollies don't "hate" other Mollies, they're a non-territorial, gregarious species. But male Mollies certainly are aggressive, and should only be kept one to a tank unless you have a lot of males in a very big aquarium. Your tank is too small for Mollies, hence social problems. The fault is with your fishkeeping, not the fish.> Babies are also happy, eating and chasing each other Is it futile to expect that I can ever get this stupid strip to stop turning pink??? <Not rocket science. Read the WWM articles on freshwater filtration, water changes.> Thanks so much... Melissa <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Water quality.... -03/28/08 Neale, <Melissa,> I appreciate your taking time to reply to my email; i had no idea was being cruel by keeping 3 / 2 inch fish a 10 gallon tank, this tank was inherited and i have always been given a inch per gallon rule of thumb. <The "inch per gallon" rule is a hopeless source of confusion. It is completely contextual and depends on various factors. For example: twelve Neons and one adult Oscar are about the same size, 18 inches, but quite obviously the Oscar needs a much larger aquarium. Another example: Bristlenose Plecs and Giant Danios are about the same size in length, around 4-5", but one of them is sluggish and doesn't move much, while the other is hyperactive and needs lots more swimming room. Yet another example: two tanks containing 20 gallons of water, one deep and narrow, the other shallow and broad. Which can hold more fish? The second tank will hold many more fish than the first because the surface area of the aquarium is essential for oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange with the atmosphere. In other words, make your decisions on whether a fish will fit into a given tank by thinking about the needs on the fish rather than simply locking yourself into believing in the rather useless "inch per gallon" rule.> While i realized that this isn't "rocket science" i am fairly new to this hobby and trying to be proactive and to learn to properly care for my fish. <Very good.> There are many who don't bother to research or ask for help, but rather replace dead fish for 3 bucks at PetSmart. <Indeed. But I can't do much to help those people. What I *can* do is give solid advice to those who ask for it. That advice might not be welcome, but it comes from 25 years of fishkeeping and a background as a zoologist.> Sorry to have wasted your time with my problem fishkeeping - <Not wasted my time at all. Happy to help.> Also, i am quite aware of the consequences of animal welfare as i am a licensed veterinary professional -( however i have not had training or experience working with fish ). <Very good. There are some differences between fishkeeping and, say, keeping a dog. One of the key things is that fish don't really adapt their behaviour to the home. A dog builds its social life around its owners. Fish don't; their social lives pretty much get determined around how we arrange the aquarium in terms of space, tankmates, hiding places, etc. If you're keeping Mollies then, what you have is a species that lives in relatively open habitats where the males fight with one another to monopolise access to the more gregarious females. Expecting them to "play nice" in a small aquarium is unrealistic. Its a bit like someone who gets a Border Collie but doesn't want to take it on long walks to use up its energy: the results will be bad!> I spend quite a bit of my time educating owners on the proper care of their pets - i often have to remind myself that not everyone has discussed this very same topic over and over, day after day. I sought your advice because i was concerned; and because you offer your advice as a service - <Service, yes. But remember we don't get paid for this. I answer a dozen messages a day, and that takes a good hour of my time. I do this because I want to and because I can help people look after their animals better. I suspect you are merely reading my direct British English as harshness. Sometimes Americans find British directness and irony difficult to handle. If that's the case here, I apologise. No ill-will was intended. Merely clarity.> And yes; i also realize that fish are not people - i personify their behavior out of affection and in an attempt to explain it to someone who cannot see it- weather or not my molly actually saying hello is not actually related to the quality of care i provide. It just pleases me to see her get excited. <Ah, but you misunderstand me. I talk to my fish all the time, and get excited when they respond to me in some nice sort of way, like becoming tame enough to hand feed. I have nothing against people appreciating fish as pets. Quite the reverse. But it *is* important not to let that slip into fuzzy thinking about their behaviour that hides latent problems. So when someone says that their fish is "shy", does that mean it really is a shy animal, or is so bullied it won't leave its hiding place?> The same way it pleases you to be so knowledgeable. <Ouch.> Next time i will be sure to seek the advice of someone who enjoys giving it with tact. <There are certainly plenty of other places to get advice. The quality of that advice is variable though. Here at WWM you get people who are at the top of their game, and many of us do this for a living, as I do, writing books and magazines. For what it's worth, I think you're overreacting here. Looking over my response nothing there seems particularly rude or tactless. Direct, yes. Remember: my first priority is the fish. Making you feel better is secondary. If I somehow made you feel unhappy, then I apologise. But rather than dwelling on that, look over the advice I gave. The tank is too small for this sort of fish. Water quality is poor, and long term that will make the fish sick. At least one fish is apparently being bullied. Put the animals, not your feelings, first. Their lives are in your hands, and the most I can do is tell you what needs fixing in my (yes) expert opinion.> I will also be sure to let others know just where they can go to find helpful, objective advice. <Please feel free to do so. We already receive literally hundreds of queries every week, and all those people get top-notch advice from experienced and professional fishkeepers. Very few of those people seem to be unhappy, and I get more than enough "thank you" notes and follow-ups to tell me I'm doing a good job.> Cheers, Melissa <Cheers, Neale> - I have to wonder if this is the first time someone has taken issue with one of your responses?? <Nope.>

Re: Ick, planted aquaria  3/26/08 Hello All, I have a well established FW Live Plant & reef aquarium both of which I started with RO/DI water years ago, and adding the appropriate additives daily. Water changes with RO/DI as well. I want to start another, live planted aquarium. If I started with de-chlorinated tap water would this be a problem, or should I utilize RO/DI? Thanks, Matt <Depends on the plants of course but few aquatic plants want very soft water. In general, 5-15 degrees dH general hardness suits most aquatic plants. You also want to have at least some carbonate hardness (3+ degrees KH) simply to moderate against pH swings through biological activities, including photosynthesis. On top of this you will need to check the pH and carbonate hardness so that you can measure the CO2 fertilisation correctly. In other words, you're going to need to mix tap water and RO water to get the right sort of water your fish and plants want. Cheers, Neale.>

FW, water chemistry, buffers  2/17/08 Dear wetwebmedia.com, Hello, I have a question. Have you ever tried tetra easy balance? If so, is it any good. It said it stabilizes the pH of the water. Does this mean it corrects the pH and makes it 7.0? Thank you for your help. ~RK <Greetings. I have not used this product, but used correctly pH buffer additives can work well, and some would argue that in soft water aquaria particularly they are essential. HOWEVER, please let me make two points I make repeatedly here at WWM. Firstly, fish don't care about the pH; what matters to them is hardness and the *stability* of the pH. Inexperienced fishkeepers erroneously focus on pH, I suppose because it is easy to understand. They read that (for example) Neons like a pH between 6 and 7, so they go buy a pH 'down' product to acidify the water in their tank because the pH is currently 7.5 or 8. Given that a pH-adjusting product doesn't change the hardness, the osmoregulation stresses on the fish remain the same, and all the aquarist has done is forced the fish to now have to cope with a sudden change in pH. In fact outside of breeding Neons couldn't care less about the pH provided it is somewhere between 6 and 8; what really matters to them is that the pH stays at one value, day-in, day-out In other words, it is much better for your fish to experience a constant pH that *isn't* optimal than have to put up with a constantly changing pH that swings between the optimal value and some sub-optimal value (which it will, if you don't also change the hardness of the water). Secondly, inexperienced aquarists should NEVER play with water chemistry. It's simply too complicated a topic to breeze into without any knowledge. By all means have a read of the articles here at WWM, in particular these: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwh2oquality.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsoftness.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwhardness.htm Once you've digested these, and feel ready to manage the water hardness while understanding where pH changes come from (and how to stop them) then go ahead and set up an experimental tank with water chemistry different to your main aquarium. Go slowly, doing regular pH and hardness tests and adding only a few fishes to begin with so you can ensure that the aquarium is operating stably and efficiently. Otherwise, in almost all situations, aquarists are better off choosing fish that THRIVE in their local water chemistry conditions without the need for buffers or water softening. This way you can use big, frequent water changes without worrying about whether doing so is expensive or likely to cause a sudden change in the aquarium environment. A 50% weekly water change for example will dilute just about every problem an aquarist is likely to have to deal with. Check the General hardness as well as the pH of your local water supply. If you have soft water, then Rasboras and Tetras are the way to go. If you have hard water, then Livebearers and Rainbowfish will make a better investment. Barbs and Catfish are somewhere between the two, and will do well in either provided extremes are avoided. As a general rule, hard, alkaline water is by far the best for less-experienced aquarists and suitable for the widest variety of aquarium fish. Soft water can quickly become a nightmare to manage if you don't keep an eye on issues of overstocking, buffering, acidification, etc. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Water Chemistry Question, FW...  2/13/08 So, oddly enough, I'm a chemical engineer and relatively well versed in all things chemistry related and yet I find myself emailing you folks to get some advice on what I should do with my tank. First, the background: I bought my 55 gallon (200 L) tank in the late spring of last year. At roughly the same time I added approximately 15 neon tetras (love these fish!) I put in a bunch of live plants that I thought would do all right in my lowish light tank. Things were just fine for about a month until brownish strings of algae started appearing on the plants and there was an absolute explosion in the number of snails. So, I started adding an algaecide. This seemed to do the trick at first, though it was obviously a problem for the snails. Then, with little warning my tank was absolutely swamped by a green water bloom. This bloom persisted for pretty much the rest of the year as I tried a bunch of different strategies suggested on the internet. During this time all the plants died except the Java Fern and one other, the name of which escapes me. The snails were also entirely eradicated as were 2/3 of the tetras. I have no idea where they went. Their bodies were simply gone, though I do occasionally find snail shells when I vacuum the substrate during a water change. Then, only a few weeks ago I finally figured out the combination required to deal with the problem. Basically, if I did a 50% water change, followed by filtration with a heavy charge of diatom powder in the H.O.T. Magnum I purchased followed by a double dose of the algaecide, I could completely remove the algae bloom. Frankly, I know I haven't permanently fixed whatever the cause of the problem is but at least I know how to deal with it if and when it re-appears. Now, the current problem: Thinking that I could actually work on making my tank look attractive, I decided to replenish the tetra's back up to their original number, put in a few live plants (Anubias and Vallisneria) and add a new type of fish. So, being something of a fool, I bought six red platys and decided to not bother with the whole quarantine thing or that part about where you slowly introduce the tank water into the water the fish came in. Now, two days later, I have a problem. The tetras all seem to be fine at the moment but the platys are a different matter. I've already lost one (who doesn't really look like there's anything wrong with him other than being dead) and at least one and possibly more are either dead or on their way out. At least one platy is showing signs of bacterial or fungal infection (which is weird because he seemed fine last night). I did a bit of research on the internet (which I know I should have done BEFORE I bought the platys) to see if I could figure out what's wrong, besides maybe the fish being sick when I got them. As near as I can tell, Platy's and Tetra's can be kept together in a community tank, but they aren't a great fit. It also occurred to me that maybe the water wasn't right for Platy's. So, in addition to buying gear for a hospital tank I also bought a comprehensive water test kit and tested everything that seemed relevant. Here's the data: Temperature: 77 F (25C) pH: 7.5 Ammonia: 0.004 ppm Nitrate: 0 GH: 3 KH: <1 CO2: 2-4 ppm Anyhow, looking at these numbers and what I've read on your site (and a bunch of others) it seems to me that I've got a tank chemistry that's not going to favor the growth of plants and is going to be difficult for any fish besides those adapted to soft water conditions with minimal alkalinity to live in. My inclination (besides removing the Platy's until they're better or dead) is to add a combination of magnesium and calcium salts to the water to get the Total Hardness up and then very very carefully add some baking soda or crushed coral to the filter to get the buffering capacity up into a range that's better for the live plants. So, what I'm hoping to get from you folk is some suggestions on what you think I should do. -Aaron <Aaron, your water is very soft; in practise that means that water chemistry is unlikely to be very stable. In addition, fish that need hard/basic water conditions (e.g., Platies) aren't going to do well. Paradoxically perhaps, soft water fish (like Neons) tend to do better in hard water than hard water fish do in soft. As a broad rule then, community tanks work better at a neutral to slightly alkaline pH with moderate level of hardness (around 10 degrees dH), and at least 5 degrees KH carbonate hardness so that water chemistry is stable. By that I mean the pH doesn't drop between water changes. Plants also tend not to do well in very soft water, and some plants won't tolerate it at all. Some plants remove bicarbonate as a source of carbon, and this will mess up your pH level even more by reducing the buffering capacity of the water further. Now, you haven't stated (or I've missed) whether this very soft water is what you have out the tap or what you're producing with an RO filter, or even if this is coming from a domestic water softener. As an FYI, domestic water softeners produce soft but saline water that isn't really suitable for fish. What these devices do is remove the temporary hardness (the stuff that makes lime scale) but replace that with sodium salts. What you get is water unlike anything fish naturally experience. It is much better to use hard/basic tap water and keep hard water fish than to use domestic water softener under the illusion you're creating a "soft water aquarium". If your water is this soft out the tap, then you need to harden the water. You can either make your own hardening salts or buy them from an aquarium shop (as "Malawi Salt"). One recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), and teaspoon marine salt mix (sodium chloride + trace elements) per 20 litres. This is for really hard Malawi water though, and for general aquarium fish you would likely need only 20-50% that depending on what you were aiming for. Experiment a little until you get a nice set of water chemistry values. Since these minerals are cheap and easy to use, this isn't much of a hassle. Do remember not to dramatically change the water chemistry of the tank all at once though: do it slowly across a week or two as a series of water changes. I suspect that once you've nailed the water chemistry, the random problems you're having with fish won't recur (though they will certainly need to be treated this time round). Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Water Chemistry Question 2/13/08 Hi. Thanks for the fast response. I live in the Pacific NW and we're "famous" for our very soft water. Most cities here are serviced by open air reservoirs fed directly by snowmelt and rainwater. I believe I read somewhere in one of the FAQ's that I could breed Discus in tanks filled from tapwater (once properly cycled and adjusted) with minimal fuss if I wanted. I shall try hardening the water a bit and see if that helps. -Aaron <Hi Aaron. Soft water can be very useful for certain fish and is very typical of the Amazon Basin for example. But in the aquarium you're fighting against acidification, and that makes water that lacks carbonate hardness problematic. So providing a little extra carbonate hardness especially can make a huge difference. It will be trial and error though until you get exactly what you want, but once you've established how much of each salt to add to the water, the "world's your oyster" when it comes to fishkeeping. Neutral, slightly soft to moderately hard water is the champagne of aquarium waters! Cheers, Neale.>


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