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-   -   'Toxic' levels of ammonia, fish are fine? (

jentralala 11-05-2012 03:33 PM

'Toxic' levels of ammonia, fish are fine?
After cycling my 35 gallon tank, adding Eco Complete substrate, and some live plants I added fish. Everything looked to be good, I was using an old test kit (I don't even remember the brand, it came with the tank (used purchase), and had blocks for the water, and packets of powder) and the readings showed everything was good. Well my sister (doesn't live with me) recently bought a tank and I gave her the old test kit and got the API Master test kit. It shows my ammonia levels as off the charts, but my fish are fine and dandy and happy. I was very shocked and honestly panicked. I did a 50% water change and vacuumed my gravel (no high amounts of fish waste, and just a bit a plant debris floating around). I tested the water again and it still read as very high ammonia. I don't want to just say 'oh, the kit is wrong', but what is going on?

I have 4 pearl gourami, 1 male, 3 females. 4 flame tetras (I know the number is low, I've been slowly adding them so as not to overload the system) and 3 kuhli loaches (again, I know I need a few more :/...) Any advice as to what I should do? I'm really worried but my fish are just dandy. I only feed what they can eat in a few seconds, 2 or 3 times a day.

Byron 11-05-2012 03:40 PM

Some other data is needed. What are the water parameters, specficially pH? Do you have live plants?

I don't have the API ammonia kit, so can you give us the number? And did nitrite and nitrate show up, and if so, what numbers?


jentralala 11-05-2012 04:01 PM

My Ph is at 6, Nitrite at 0, and my Nitrate is somewhere between 5 and 10. I have it about moderately planted with anacharis in the back corners, a large piece of driftwood, a small piece of driftwood, water lettuce, and wisteria. Plus some duckweed that's floating around.

jentralala 11-05-2012 04:02 PM

Oh and the Ammonia was showing up at the 5 marker...It was a pretty dark green. I'm still pretty panicked about it.

Geomancer 11-05-2012 04:43 PM

In acidic water I believe some (but not all) Ammonia becomes Ammonium which is less toxic to the fish.

Some water conditioners, like Prime, all bind Ammonia into Ammonium. The test kits though can't tell the difference.

Byron 11-05-2012 06:34 PM

Yes, the "ammonia" you are seeing in the API test is obviously ammonium which is basically harmless to fish. In acidic water, ammonia converts into ammonium automatically. As long as the pH does not rise above 7 this will cause no trouble. However, that does not mean we should ignore it, as it shouldn't be there.

You have named some fast growing plants, which I would have expected to keep ammonia at zero and nitrates low (5-10 is fine). May be time to ask more questions. Which water conditioner? Any substances other than the conditioner being added to the tank? Before this became noticed, how often were water changes done and what volume of the tank?

I would cut back on the feeding. Once a day is more than sufficient (except for fry that need more). And missing a day or two each week won't hurt. I never feed on water change day (shouldn't feed before any disturbance inside the tank), and normally one other day is missed too. I'm really not suggesting this is the cause, but it may contribute and the additional food isn't necessary. Hungry fish are healthier.:-)


jentralala 11-06-2012 12:26 AM

I use Seachem's Prime to condition the water, and I do weekly 20% water changes, and stir up the gravel every other water change. I'm trying to get my plants to root and I'm scared of messing with the substrate too often. I will definitely cut back on feedings to once a day and skip on water change day. Is there anything I can do to fix the problem?

1077 11-06-2012 06:26 AM

Well, cutting feeding's to once a day, (see that no one else is feeding also) possibly larger weekly water change for a few week's ,and addition of more plant's, will all help considerably.
I am with Byron,,I would not expect to see ammonia in cycled,moderately planted aquarium.

beaslbob 11-06-2012 11:50 AM


Originally Posted by jentralala (Post 1299574)
Oh and the Ammonia was showing up at the 5 marker...It was a pretty dark green. I'm still pretty panicked about it.

As I understand it you have low ph, high ammonia and yet fish seem to be doing fine.

Dechlorinators and ammonia locks can result in those conditions.

The api ammonia test kit measures total ammonia not just the dangerous free ammonia.

Seachem (I think) has an ammonia multitest kit that measures both free and total.

What happens one adds the ammonia lock, locks up the ammonia, panics and adds more ammonia lock and still measures ammonia. All the while the ammonia lock is also locking up oxygen and can suffocate the fish. Which you luckily have not reached.

High carbon dioxide also results in low pH.

If you're worried about the ammonia I would get the multitest kit just for piece of mind. From what you say I'll bet a poped pop corn kernal the ammonia is all locked up and safe.

With the4 anacharis in the any free dangerous ammonia should be consumed rapidily.

So I would basically do nothing. Stop the water changes and just top off what evaporates. Cut down a little on feeding and see what happens. I think you will find the ammonia will drop down in less than a week, pH will rise, the fish will be more active, and the plants will grow faster.

But that's jut my.


Byron 11-06-2012 01:48 PM

I do not advocate fewer water changes, or at any rate, fewer than once a week and changing 1/3 to 1/2 the tank volume. There is nothing so beneficial as a water change, and many suggest doing one at any sign of trouble. There is of course always the exception, I cover that in my article on water changes.

On to the pH. What is the tap water pH [remember to shake the water briskly before testing to outgas CO2]? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a pH of 6 in a tank with soft water fish. But we need to understand how it is getting there.


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