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post #1 of 8 Old 05-20-2012, 10:47 PM Thread Starter
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Self Sustaining Aquarium

SSA-Self Sustaining Aquarium

Hi guys,
so i have been trying to start a self sustaining aquarium for some time now and i keep failing so i would like anyone with any professional advice or experience on this to help me out please. I started out my aprox 1/2 gallon tank(picture attached) with 1 plant(not sure what it is but i know its from petco), some gravel, two ghost shrimp, and 1 snail. After countless hours of research i thought i knew everything i needed to begin my SSA, but as soon as i had put my invertebrates into the tank, i knew i had rushed the cycling system. Not realizing the important role of bacteria in the water, i figured i would just put some algae wafers into the water to feed the invertebrates and everything would be fine till the algae started to grow. about half a day after they were placed into the tank, they all started to stay at the surface and its where they stayed a few days after that as well. This made me think there was a lack of oxygen in the tank, but i figured they are getting their air from the top, and soon the tank will balance it self out- Boy was i wrong.

so in the end they all died and baffled as to how to even approach this matter i went to a local petsmart, and the lady told me there were no nitrates in the water, and the ammonia was high(we figured from the dead fish) so she suggested i buy two additional plants(amazon sword plant) and place them in the tank because they require low light and will provide more oxygen for the fish. She also said to buy a bacterial supplement. So i came home and replaced all the water, de-chlorinated it, put in the 3 plants, put in some bacterial supplement, and now im at the point of what do i do to start again.(picture of new plants in tank attached)

I know now to wait until bacteria and algae begin to grow in the tank before adding any invertebrates(going to wait a week and a half) but doesn't the bacteria need ammonia from the waste products of the live organisms to grow/sustain the load when the new invertebrates are placed in the tank?, and also how would i balance out the oxygen levels? Anything else i should know about that i didn't mention?

My goal for this new tank with more plants in it to sustain 2-3 ghost shrimp and 1 snail

i find it amazing how much work is put into this but i really became inspired to do this after i saw how amazing the eco-sphere(Ecosphere Associates, Inc.: Closed Ecosystem, Self Contained Aquarium) looked. Im very sure this is all possible because of how many guides there are online with successful stories of making SSA's, So PLEASE HELP!

*The attached picture with the snail in it is the before tank, the tank with only plants is the new tank*
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post #2 of 8 Old 05-21-2012, 07:19 AM
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You mention fish in your original post a couple of times.
1/2 gallon would maybe support a few tiny shrimp, but it will NOT support any fishes for very long at all.
In such a small volume of water,temps and water parameter's will be unstable, and depending on light source for plant's,,this too could heat the water.
Were it me,, I would have a read of Diana Walstad's book regarding natural planted aquarium's.
This is as close to self sustaining aquarium as you are going to get in my view. (easy to care for, few water changes.)

The most important medication in your fish medicine cabinet is.. Clean water.
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post #3 of 8 Old 05-21-2012, 07:50 AM
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It's pretty much impossible.....
Those "ecospheres" are shrimp torture chambers, they don't last very long.. It's been observed after each moult the shrimp get smaller and smaller due to not enough food.
The best self sustaining environments involve going to a shallow creek and taking some mud and water from there-smells horrible yea. But you get all the life forms needed.
I would not put a snail in a half gallon of water, it'd either grow huge or reproduce too much depending on species...
Shrimp, the thing about them is that they are omnivores, and they NEED some sort of animal product, ie a sinking pellet must be supplemented to keep them healthy. (and if you are adding something you will have to be removing water).
You are attempting to create the bottom of the ecosystem, but shrimp are also dependent of animals above them, they are like aquatic decomposers.
Snails would be easier in a slightly larger tank.
In a well planted tank and with such small animals there shouldn't be any worries over bacteria needing to grow, I suspect something else did them in.
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post #4 of 8 Old 05-21-2012, 10:07 AM
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This is generally a bad idea. More of a marketing ploy than anything else. Plants are not always giving off oxygen. At night they actually use it. Also, water changes do more than just take bad substances out, they add good stuff too. Without fresh minerals the plants will die off soon as well.
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post #5 of 8 Old 05-21-2012, 04:34 PM
look for oxygenation type plants like water milfoil or hornwort they produce higher levels of o2. personally i wouldn't go tall with a small surface area.i would go short with maximum surface area but any how 1/2 gallons shouldn't exists in the trade.

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4x1.5x1.5 planted tetras,harlequins,
otto,WMM,2 types of celebes rainbows,rcs,amano, bamboo,red ramhorns,MTS
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post #6 of 8 Old 07-06-2013, 11:45 PM
i do hope your still paying attention to this thread.

i'm not so much looking at a shrimp tank to be self-sustaining, but one that could include fish.

our nitrogen cycle (the overly simplified ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, nitrogen) bacteria can reduce it to nitrates, plants can use the nitrates. everything i've come across plants want nitrates to be about 40 ppm

in the wild, aquatic wild, everything starts with phytoplankton. (if you ignore bacteria have to move the nutrients into the water first - but we have the bacteria from our nitrogen cycle to help us out there)

phytoplankton feed zooplankton, zooplankton feed our fish.


there are hundreds of zooplankton in the world that are suitable for all shapes and sizes of fish. today, the market shows 4.
-rotifers - unlabled species
-moina - unlabled species
-daphnia - pulex
-daphnia - magna (expected default your going to find)
-copepods (we're rather large by this point, far to big for me to consider use for a self-sustaining tank - so i'm not counting it in the list)

rotifers are tiny, but little inherent nutritional value, only from the phytoplankton they eat.
after rotifers moina exist, but these may not be available to you due to the country you reside in.

daphnia, either species, pulex are over 3mm. manga are 5mm for adults.
you need a fish that looks at these species with a mouth big enough to eat them.

moina and daphnia have significant inherent protein content as food
moina are about 1/4 the size of daphnia, magna species


one lady i spoke with had a single 4" fish with a carnivore tendency that ate all the daphnia in her tank within 3 mo. (30 gallon)

so you've got an idea how much a single 4" fish will eat.
you've got an idea of how large a fish is to eat daphnia.
an idea of tank size requirements.


bacteria doesn't complete the nitrate cycle in our freshwater tanks. but plants can directly take in nitrates. plants also process CO2 and add O2.

plants (i'm hoping) will provide sufficient hiding for zoo plankton.

the smallest omnivore with herbivore tendency i have heard of is the flag fish (Jordanella floridae)

strictly herbivore fish are drastically larger, at 4" being the smallest i have ever seen. herbivores also consume a considerable quantity of plant matter (2 reasons to have a larger tank)

and then there are detrivores, (blackworms & snails)

i'm hoping plant eaters will give the zooplankon a better chance, i'm hoping detrivores the fish can eat will take the load off the zoo plankton. ...

with 2 flagfish, i'm hoping a 40 gallon breeder will be large enough. if not, something is going to give and the whole thing will fall apart and everything will die.

and aim for a PH of 7.5, this won't hide all of the ammonia in an ammonium form, but should be high enough, so any sudden changes there isn't enough to ammonium to kill your tank by spontaniously turning into ammonia, ... a PH of 6.5 ... a sudden change to 6.7 your going to have dead fish all over if you have enough ammonium present, ... and our test kits don't test for ammonium. i lost half my fish this way before i figured out what was going on.


ghost or cherry shrimp for a self-sustaining idea is another way to go, ... make sure you have sufficient algae growing and cut out everything else in the above equation. this could be done in a much smaller tank.

Last edited by Flear; 07-06-2013 at 11:56 PM.
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post #7 of 8 Old 07-15-2013, 07:35 PM
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I'm myself trying to get my 20 gallon to be self sustaining. It has taken me 5 years to get it where it is. My advise is a little bigger is better, easier to control. Once you add your substrate and let it cycle, by feeding an empty tank. Add live plants, let them do their thing. When you see little white specks scurry around in your tank and on the glass, that means you have a healthy aquarium. They are called Copepods, and Amphipods. Very important to a self sustaining aquarium. Add some shrimp, and feed accordingly. At the stage I'm at now, all I do is add water accordingly when it evaporates.

be careful though, I went away for two weeks and came back with hydras, they killed all my shrimp, and most of the amphipods. So now I have a 20 gallon hydra tank.

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
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post #8 of 8 Old 07-15-2013, 07:43 PM
Copepods are rather large for fish for a 20 gallon don't you think ?
why not daphnia or the elusive moina, or the popular rotifers ?

smaller food for a smaller fish that can handle it. (or whatever critter is your "top of the food-chain")

damn, sorry about the hydras :(

i'm really considering when i get the 40 gallon tank up i want to fill it with water only from the local stream.
i got it to culture greenwater, had a few passengers along for the ride, ... dono if they're still alive in my greenwater culture

Last edited by Flear; 07-15-2013 at 07:46 PM.
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aquarium chemistry , invertebrates , self sustaining aquarium

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