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HELP! fish dropping like flies

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HELP! fish dropping like flies
Old 06-26-2010, 10:54 AM   #11
 
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OK, let's see what we can do to help. First thing, it is quite common to have issues vastly different from tank to tank. What may have "worked" once may not work a second time due to varying water parameters, different fish (Some fish are "hardier" than others, or physiologically they function differently), substrate, if there are plants or not, etc...so don't let that bother you. But there are some guidelines to ensure success.

An aquarium is an unique closed system. The fish depend upon the water for life as we depend upon air; but our air is (for purposes of this discussion) limitless--even in our homes, there is "fresh" air constantly coming in, unless you manage to have a completely sealed room. This is quite the opposite in the aquarium; the water is finite, and the fish cannot escape from that water no matter what may occur chemically to the water's physical properties. In nature, the fish can move elsewhere in the stream or lake if the temperature falls or rises, of something toxic enters the water; not in the aquarium, where the ration of fish to water is vastly higher than it would ever be in most natural systems. This is important to understand for all aquarists, because when we cause a change to the water it can have drastic consequences. And changes to the water usually affect the physiology of the fish. As one small example, when the pH of the water changes, the fish must change the pH of its blood to match, because water is constantly passing through the cells of the fish--we call this osmosis--and the fish has to regulate its pH. Same with temperature, and so on. This is why sudden fluctuations in these things can be dire for the fish.

I suggest using your tap water for the reason you give; a pH difference of .2 is not worth the fuss. And use a good conditioner [more on which below]. A comment on no conditioner with bottled water--that may or may not be sensible, depending upon what is in the bottled water. I won't get into all that as you're going with tap now. And as for the chlorine previously, yes, that works but only with chlorine. Chlorine forms a gas and it dissipates out of water. Letting water sit for 24 hours will cause most if not all of the chlorine to dissipate out. Vigorously agitating the water will dissipate the chlorine quickly, which is why some water boards have stations along long water routes to add more chlorine--the chlorine added at source dissipates out as the water travels through the pipes.

But nowadays there is usually more in tap water than just chlorine. Many places use chloramine, which will not dissipate out like chlorine, but instead is connected with ammonia. I am not a chemist and can't fully explain the scientific connection, but the only way to remove chloramine is with chemicals such as in a good water conditioner made for the aquarium.

Tap water may also contain ammonia, in some areas it is very high. Nitrite may be present, and/or nitrate. It is good to test the source (tap) water for all these before first using the water, just so you know the water properties and what has to be done (if anything) to handle it. I would never consider using tap water without a conditioner; even if it is OK today, there is nothing to stop the water supplier from adding something to combat bacteria or whatever, and you may not always know in advance. I speak from experience.

Ammonia at 4 is going to have a negative effect on the fish. They may live through it, but internal damage can occur which may manifest itself weeks or months later. This goes back to what I said at the start; the fish is trapped in the aquarium and anything in or added to the water is going to have some impact. If you had a molly and a platy in an aquarium and the ammonia rises, the molly will almost certainly die within days, but the platy may survive. Mollies are highly sensitive to ammonia, which is why those who add them to new tanks frequently have them die. We tend to label fish like the platy in this example "hardier" but that only goes so far.

Corydoras: I have maintained dozens of species over 20+ years, and I can assure you that they are very sensitive to water parameters and water conditions. They do not tolerate medications or salt. In my view salt should absolutely never be used with corys in the tank, and medications must be very carefully selected. I can honestly say that the fish with which I have had the most problems with respect to disease and health issues have been the corys. They are usually the first to get something, the first to die from it, and the first to show stress and even die from medications. Most of the catfish are like this too.

You asked about conditioners: Most handle chlorine, and now most handle chloramine. So this is basic. Depending upon what you have in your source water, one of these may be sufficient. However, many (but not all) will also detoxify heavy metals, and this includes iron, copper, zinc, manganese, nickel...and any or all of these may be present. Usually in "trace amounts" because these minerals are toxic to humans too, so water boards will monitor and treat their water accordingly. But the level of copper for instance that is accepted for humans--1.3 ppm is considered "OK" for humans--is quite a bit higher than what a fish can tolerate--copper above .002 ppm can kill fish. So metals in the tap water may be higher than fish will tolerate. A conditioner that handles heavy metals is advisable, and most will.

Beyond that, I don't worry because I have heavily-planted aquaria and thus ammonia, nitrite and nitrate is not going to be a problem and I know none of these are in my tap water. But without plants, any of these can be problematical. A conditioner that detoxifies ammonia is a good idea, and several include this property. One that also detoxifies nitrite and nitrate is probably good in new aquaria without plants, and to my knowledge the only one that does all this is Prime made by Seachem. Some aquarists use it regularly; I wouldn't because I don't want all that "detoxifying" in my planted tanks. Given that you are starting a new tank and thus will have ammonia and nitrite issues, Prime is a good choice at least until the tank is cycled. Or if these forms of nitrogen occur in your tap water.

Nitrate is less harmful and most advise keeping it below 20 ppm, and a regular weekly water change of 40-50% will normally achieve this--unless nitrate is in the tap water.

This is getting lengthy, so I'll stop. IF you have further questions, don't hesitate.

Byron.

Last edited by Byron; 06-26-2010 at 10:59 AM..
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Old 06-28-2010, 03:25 PM   #12
 
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"there is nothing to stop the water supplier from adding something to combat bacteria or whatever, and you may not always know in advance."

I have well water NOT municipal water - so nobody is adding anything to it... although it is VERY hard - we're always having issues with calcium and lime build up which is another reason I was using bottled water... trying to avoid getting hard water 'crust' in the filter and whatnot

but I obviously can't afford to use 5-10 gallons of bottled water every day or every other day during this cycling process - so I'm using tap water now and I went this weekend and got a bottle of Prime

so far so good with my one last cory *knock on wood*

oh and the ammonia is not at 4 in this tank (it's usually at .5)
it was at 4 in the betta bowl which is why I put the betta in this tank - I just assumed it would be better off in there with MUCH less ammonia - and he was doing much better until he up and died :/

I do have a couple questions though:

1. if this fish doesn't make it, how do I continue with the cycling process without having to start from scratch (or am I basically nowheresville at this point anyway with zero nitrites/nitrates?)

2. I assume at some point I will have to change the filter cartridge on this thing... won't THAT send me back to square one?

thanks so much for all your help :)

oh sorry - one more question:
I noticed a suggestion of a sponge filter... if I'm thinking of the right thing, that is run on an air pump?
the air pump I have is just 10 gallon as it's just being used for an airstone which was originally bought for a 10 gallon tank... will that work if I'm using the sponge as a secondary filter or would I have to get another air pump?
I'm pretty well tapped out at this point - I've already gone WAY over budget and I don't even have fish yet :/

Last edited by brandelion; 06-28-2010 at 03:38 PM..
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Old 06-28-2010, 03:41 PM   #13
 
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As long as there is a source of ammonia--from even one fish--the nitrification bacteria will appear in numbers sufficient to handle the amount of ammonia (and then nitrite). If the ammonia goes, then the bacteria will die, in a matter of several hours. You would then be basically at square 1, yes.

As for the filter cartridge, it may need rinsing (if it is dirty and begins to clog it becomes ineffective) but replacement of filter media is something I only do when it literally falls apart and won't function. Rinse filter media (cartridges) in tank water to remove the debris but not kill the bacteria--though your well water having no chlorine (if I read that correctly) wouldn't matter, but why risk something else, use tank water from a water change.

I would use a good conditioner with well water unless you know it contains no heavy metals (iron, copper, zinc, manganese...), and obviously one that detoxifies metals (not all do).

The well water has a pH of 8, and you said it is hard--any idea of the degree of hardness? Betta and corys are soft water fish, and while they have some adaptability the water may be too hard for them; calcium causes kidney blockages and other issues. Are these your first fish with this well water, or have others lasted over fairly long periods?
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Old 06-28-2010, 03:52 PM   #14
 
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come to think of it I always used bottled water with my bettas (until this one went into the 20 gallon) although that was probably a good 50% bottled water too :/

other than bettas I haven't had any other fish at this house (with this water)

the filter cartridge is looking pretty dingy - if I recall in the past on my old aquarium I changed the cartridge out once a month! so what you're saying is that unless the thing is falling apart I should just swish it around in a bucket of water I removed from the tank during a water change?

what happens when it is falling apart and I finally do have to put a new one in?

how would I go about finding out what other minerals would be in my well water? I have absolutely no idea what may be lurking in there - all I know about for sure is calcium and lime because it screws up my plumbing :/
I don't drink the water myself - I cook with it but for drinking I'm strictly bottled water
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Old 06-28-2010, 05:48 PM   #15
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandelion View Post
come to think of it I always used bottled water with my bettas (until this one went into the 20 gallon) although that was probably a good 50% bottled water too :/

other than bettas I haven't had any other fish at this house (with this water)

the filter cartridge is looking pretty dingy - if I recall in the past on my old aquarium I changed the cartridge out once a month! so what you're saying is that unless the thing is falling apart I should just swish it around in a bucket of water I removed from the tank during a water change?

what happens when it is falling apart and I finally do have to put a new one in?

how would I go about finding out what other minerals would be in my well water? I have absolutely no idea what may be lurking in there - all I know about for sure is calcium and lime because it screws up my plumbing :/
I don't drink the water myself - I cook with it but for drinking I'm strictly bottled water
Filter: don't know what type, but if by cartridge you mean some sort of "pad" then it will work until it falls apart. The water has to flow through the filter media, otherwise it is not doing its job. If the water can force itself around the media, the media is either clogged or worn out. Carbon and other substances in cartridges will give out quickly, depending upon the aquarium (fish load, water, etc). But some of this stuff isn't necessary anyway. We may have more (I or others) when we know the type of filter.

Re your water, you can have it tested by the fish store for hardness, but probably not much else (unless they are quite good). A lab could test for iron and metals. Public water supplies are naturally monitored for these things, so out of our tap with municipal water we are usually safe--touch wood.

I would be concerned over your hardness, and certainly get that tested. Ask them to do GH and KH if they will, and definitely get the numbers, not some vague "fairly hard." Hardness has an impact on pH adjustment in addition to being critical for some fish. Now that I know you've never had fish in this water previously, I am more inclined to think the hardness may be very high, and neither betta nor corys are going to like that. But let's get the numbers.
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Old 06-29-2010, 06:22 AM   #16
 
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the filter I'm using is the one that came with the kit (an aqueon quiet-flow power filter) it has a white rectangular pad-like cartridge that slides into it

I saw that somewhere along the way you (I think) suggested a sponge filter... if I'm thinking of the right thing, that is run on an air pump?
the air pump I have is just 10 gallon as it's just being used for an airstone which was originally bought for a 10 gallon tank (THIS tank is 20) will the 10 gallon pump work if I got a sponge as a secondary filter or would I have to get another air pump?

as soon as I get a chance I'll take some water to the fish store and ask for those tests - if the water is hard, is there anything I can do about that or would I just have to choose fish that would be ok with the hard water?
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Old 06-29-2010, 09:00 AM   #17
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandelion View Post
the filter I'm using is the one that came with the kit (an aqueon quiet-flow power filter) it has a white rectangular pad-like cartridge that slides into it

I saw that somewhere along the way you (I think) suggested a sponge filter... if I'm thinking of the right thing, that is run on an air pump?
the air pump I have is just 10 gallon as it's just being used for an airstone which was originally bought for a 10 gallon tank (THIS tank is 20) will the 10 gallon pump work if I got a sponge as a secondary filter or would I have to get another air pump?

as soon as I get a chance I'll take some water to the fish store and ask for those tests - if the water is hard, is there anything I can do about that or would I just have to choose fish that would be ok with the hard water?
OK, just rinse that filter pad out maybe weekly when you do the partial water change, in tank water to avoid killing the bacteria.

I like sponge filters, they create minimal water movement and do a good job of keeping the water clear by removing suspended particulate matter. In planted tanks under 50g they are the best filters in my opinion. A small sponge filter would do the job, and the air pump should handle it.

Before going into lengthy details on water softening, let's get the numbers. There are natural processes that help, depending upon the hardness.
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Old 06-29-2010, 12:42 PM   #18
 
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awesome :) thanks so much for all your advice!!
I won't get to get the water tested for hardness until the weekend (I live 30 minutes from the nearest pet store) but when I find out, I'll come back and let you know
one more question - eventually at some point it will have taken all the rinsing it can handle and the cartridge in my current filter will need to be replaced - how do I do that without losing all the bacteria??
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Old 06-29-2010, 01:36 PM   #19
 
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Originally Posted by brandelion View Post
awesome :) thanks so much for all your advice!!
I won't get to get the water tested for hardness until the weekend (I live 30 minutes from the nearest pet store) but when I find out, I'll come back and let you know
one more question - eventually at some point it will have taken all the rinsing it can handle and the cartridge in my current filter will need to be replaced - how do I do that without losing all the bacteria??
When it is no longer working, you replace it and obviously the bacteria are gone. But by the time that occurs the tank will not be "new" but established, and in established tanks there is normally far more bacteria on the plant leaves, gravel grains, decor, tank walls, filter tubes, etc. than in the filter media. Bacteria colonize all surfaces covered by water and provided they can obtain oxygen from the water and ammonia (or nitrite) is available, they will live there.

The pad will be useless when the time comes that water can get around it. They sometimes shrink in area as they are rinsed repeatedly, or they develop "holes" etc. At that stage chuck it.
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Old 06-29-2010, 01:49 PM   #20
 
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cool - that's what I figured :) just wanted to be sure before I go ahead and screw something up hehehe
now if I could just get this cycle moving - fingers crossed this last fish survives!! :)
if not - will I just be able to continue putting food in in order the keep the ammonia up or is there something else I'll need to do if I find myself fishless to keep from having to start from scratch??
sorry I'm so full of questions - just trying not to screw up any more than I already have :/
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