Q. Why are my fish hanging around the top of the water in my aquarium?
A: This is usually a sign of low oxygen content in the water. You need to increase the surface agitation with better filters and/or more air stones in the water. If your aquarium filter has slowed down, it is time to clean it to increase the flow rate. This can also be a symptom of too many fish in the aquarium; maybe it is time to thin out the herd. It can also indicate higher levels of ammonia and nitrite in the water. This can especially be common during the initial break in period of the biological filtration system. You may have to do a partial water change if testing shows these levels are above 0.0 PPM. If water movement and conditions test out fine, the surface breathing could lastly be an indication of a gill parasite like gill flukes or the beginnings of “ick”, a very common parasite problem. Obviously, a good parasite treatment will be required to correct the problem.
Q. My fish have tiny white dots on their body and fins. What should I do?
A: This is usually an indication of one of the more common external parasites. In freshwater aquariums, this would be Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, in a marine aquarium it is Cryptocaryon irritans. This is more commonly called “Ich” or “Ick”. The small cysts are attached to the fish and look like small salt crystals on the body and the fins. Unfortunately for the fish, these parasites also attach to the gill membranes, causing scarring and possible suffocation if left untreated. The cyst is just one stage of the parasite’s life cycle and will eventually fall off to rest in the substrate, where it multiplies and then releases a free-swimming stage to re-infest the fish. It is this free swimming stage that can be killed with proper treatment. Luckily, there are external parasite and Ich medications available to treat this illness. The freshwater treatments will use dyes or formalin for the treatment. Carbon must be removed during the treatment that may last for 2 to 3 weeks as the parasites “hatch” from the mature cysts. Most marine treatments involve copper-based treatments that cannot be used in the presence of invertebrates. This requires their use in “Fish Only” aquariums or quarantine-hospital aquariums. Sometimes, raising the water temperature to 90 F for a few hours every other day can also treat the parasite infestation. There are reef safe treatments now available, though most will require that you turn off any protein skimming.
Q. How often should I feed my fish? The instructions say 2 to 3 times a day.
A: Most fish will be fine with one or two small feedings a day. Some will only require feedings every other day. When you give feed, you should feed an amount that is TOTALLY eaten within five minutes. If you see uneaten fish food after this time, you used too much. Smaller fish will require daily feedings, while larger fish can easily go a day or two between feedings. Overfeeding is possibly the greatest contributing factor to poor water quality and, subsequently, poor fish health.
Q. What is the best temperature for my fish?
A: This can depend on the type of fish you are keeping. Most tropical freshwater fish will be fine between 74 and 78 F. Many Discus keepers raise the temperature to 85+ F, while Goldfish would prefer the temperature in the lower 70’s. Most marine aquariums will be maintained between 76 and 80 F. The real issue is to maintain a constant temperature, and this will require the use of an aquarium heater. Most heaters will maintain within a degree or two of the set temperature. Larger fluctuations can stress the fish and make them ill.
Q. What do they mean when they talk about biological filtration?
A: This is actually the most important type of filtration in the aquarium. Biological filtration consists of the development of beneficial bacteria, the nitrifying bacteria, that will convert the very toxic ammonia wastes given off by the fish (and other bacteria). This involves two types of nitrifying bacteria: the first converts ammonia to nitrite, then the second bacteria converts this nitrite to nitrate. Nitrate levels are then controlled with frequent partial water changes. Ammonia or nitrite levels above 1 PPM can be deadly, while nitrate levels can approach 100 PPM before you will see obvious displays of stress in the fish. Ideally, you want to keep the nitrate level below 40 PPM for most freshwater aquariums. In the mini-reef aquarium, it is best to keep nitrate levels below 10 PPM.
Q. What is biomedia?
A: This is a generic term used to describe material that is used primarily as a site for the development of the nitrifying bacteria of the biological filtration system. In a canister filter, it is usually a very porous granular material, while in a wet/dry filter, it is usually plastic bio-balls. Marineland has developed the Bio-Wheel to provide biomedia for their power filters. A massive amount of surface area per volume is one of the keys to good biomedia used in canister filters. Material in wet/dry filters are designed to provide good flow over their surfaces and prevent clogging. Biomedia that is located in a wet/dry filter or the BioWheels will also be more efficient, since it is exposed to the atmosphere with higher oxygen levels. When cleaning biomedia, it is best to just rinse it in water from the aquarium. Otherwise, you will destroy the beneficial bacteria and have to start your biological filtration from scratch.
Q. My water supply switched from chlorine to chloramines. What do I have to do?
A: Many city water companies are switching to the more potent chloramines to control bacteria in the water supply. While standard dechlorinators work fine with chlorine, if used with chloramine, they only neutralize the chlorine part, leaving very toxic ammonia. Products designed to neutralize chloramines will also contain chemicals to neutralize the ammonia. Make sure your water conditioner clearly states it neutralizes chloramines (AmQuel, AmmoLock II, Prime, etc). Be aware that many test kits will still show the presence of ammonia, but the neutralizer binds up the ammonia in a non-toxic form.
Q. My fish has a red sore on its body with a fuzzy ring around it. What is it?
A: Your fish has a bacterial infection with an associated fungal infection. This is also called “ulcer disease,” or more correctly, haemorrhagic septicaemia. This bacterial infection can become contagious and should be treated with one of the Gram Negative antibiotics (Furan-2, Maracyn 2, etc.) or with natural products like Melafix or Pimafix. The fuzzy ring is a secondary fungal infection that will also be controlled with the antibiotic. This is deadly if not treated.
Q. I just cleaned my power filter and suddenly my water is cloudy! What can I do?
A: This sounds like a very typical “bacterial bloom”. While this results in clouding of the water, it usually will not affect the fish and water quality will still test fine for ammonia and nitrite. Believe it or not, but you actually cleaned too much. When you cleaned the filter, you actually removed too many of the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that were growing on the filter media. You did not mention a water change/gravel vacuuming, but ideally you would want to avoid doing both of these maintenance activities at the same time. Some filters are designed to just change one part of the system at a time, or else have permanent biomedia that should only be rinsed in water from the aquarium. This “cloud” could also indicate that you have too many fish for the filter/aquarium and it is too easy for things to get out of balance. It might be time to plan that bigger aquarium!
Q. I want to be ready for common problems. What products should I keep on hand?
A: The Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” is especially useful in the aquarium hobby. Possibly the most common problem you will encounter will be a parasite infestation. You will want to have a good parasite treatment (Maracide, Ick Guard, Rid Ich+, etc.) available. Be aware that most of these treatments will require the removal of the activated carbon, so you will want more carbon available for after the parasite treatment. For a reef safe parasite treatment, No-Ich Marine is one of the best treatments. Bacterial infections are less common, but to be ready for them, have a treatment ready (Melafix, Maracyn II, Furan-2, Pimafix, etc.). Equipment breakdowns always happen late at night, so it is a good idea to have a spare air pump, pump impeller and 0 for the aquarium to get you through the emergency.
Q. How often should I add aquarium salt to my aquarium?
A: Most aquarist use between one or two tablespoons of aquarium salt per 10 gallons. While this can provide needed electrolytes to the water, you want to avoid adding too much salt. Be aware that when water evaporates from the aquarium, the salt and other minerals are left behind. Ideally you want to “top off” evaporation loss with pure water from a RO unit or DI column. Only add more salt when you physically change water. If you remove 5 gallons of water, add enough salt for 5 gallons to the new water or aquarium.
Q. I use an aquarium magnet cleaner. Can I leave it in the tank between uses?
A: You will want to remove it from the aquarium to prevent any rusting of the metallic magnet. This rusting could release toxic components into the water. Also, by removing the magnet, you prevent the development of bacterial and even algae colonies on the case material. The algae magnet should last much longer if you remove and clean it between uses.
Q. What can I do when the power goes out at my home?
A: A properly set up aquarium should be able to survive a short (under 6 hour) outage with few if any problems. The most immediate need will be oxygenation of the water. This can be accomplished with a battery-operated air pump. (The Silent Air B11 battery-operated pump actually plugs into the wall socket. If the power goes out, it automatically starts up, you do not have to be home at the time.) If you do not have a pump available, agitate the surface with your hand or net every few minutes. If the room temperature starts to quickly drop, you might want to wrap the aquarium with insulating material or an old blanket. If you have a gas water heater, you can fill plastic containers (2-liter pop bottles) with warm water and float them in the aquarium. Do NOT add the warm water directly to the aquarium water. This could upset your water chemistry.
If the power is out more than 3 hours, it is best to remove and clean any filter systems. The trapped detritus in the filter can quickly start to “rot” without water movement and will release toxic wastes into the aquarium when the power comes back on. Once the power comes back on, it is a good idea to do a partial water change to improve water quality after this stressful event (to you and the fish!). You might want to consider purchasing a gas powered generator to keep the aquarium running during power outages, especially if your area is prone to frequent outages. The replacement cost of the aquarium inhabitants (both monetary and emotional) can easily be worth the cost of a generator.