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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

`D` The Short & Sweet Of Cycling a fish tank

 The Short & Sweet Of Cycling a fish tank

 This post is in the process of being updated.  Please feel free to read it anyway and come back anytime to observe the changes.

The Nitrogen Cycle in the world around us:
Schematic representation of the flow of nitrogen through the environment. The importance of bacteria in the cycle is immediately recognized as being a key element in the cycle, providing different forms of nitrogen compounds assimilable by higher organisms.
Courtesy of:

The Nitrogen Cycle in an aquarium:
Fish, invertebrates, fungi, and some bacteria excrete nitrogen waste in the form of ammonia (which converts to ammonium, in acidic water) and must then pass through the nitrogen cycle. Ammonia is also produced through the decomposition of plant and animal matter, including fecal matter and other detritus. Nitrogen waste products become toxic to fish and other aquarium inhabitants at high concentrations.

 Courtesy of:

There are two primary methods one uses to Cycle an aquarium:
1) Traditional (Cycle With Fish)
2) Fish Less (Cycle Without Fish)

Traditional Cycling:

Fairly simple.
Fish choice: Any fish from the Danio family If you don't like Danios Here is a great link to choosing your Stater Fish.

What you are looking for in a starter fish:
- Very hardy,
- Very cheap,
- Easy to either take back or euthanize when cycling is completed.
- 3 - 5 of them running around a tank is fun to watch.

PROS - Traditional Cycling
Fun to have something to watch while your tank cycles.
Progression through the phases of the cycle is very consistent.

CONS - Traditional Cycling
You will have to get rid of the fish if they aren't consistent with your long term stocking plan once cycle is completed..
Constant Feeding
Constant Water changes
Buying fish you possibly may not keep is an additional cost to setting up the tank.
Any fish used for cycling has the possibility of bringing with it disease that might effect the new fish you buy.
Once Completed you can only add a few fish at a time because the BB (Beneficial Bacteria) must be grown for each set of additional fish added to the aquarium.  (Once cycle is completed then you typically add fish wait a week, then add more, repeat...etc)
Some consider this method not very humane to the fish.

Fish Less Cycle:

PROS - Fish Less Cycling
Can often be Faster
No Water Changes
No possible contamination from fish used to cycle tank.
Once completed you can add a lot more fish at one time since the BB (Beneficial Bacteria) Levels are very high.
Considered to be most Humane way to cycle a fish tank.

CONS - Fish Less Cycling
Can occasionally become "Stuck"
OH and did I mention it is

My personal feelings on either method is I do which ever I am in the mood for.
Once you have at least 1 tank set up you can "Instant Cycle" where you use the media from one tank to cycle another. But once again the risk of disease is present in this method. I strongly recommend not using other peoples water or media to accelerate your cycle because you never really know what is in someone else

If you do decide to use fish to cycle your tank a lot of LFS will take fish on trade in and will give you a store credit even several months later. Or it doesn't matter with Giant Danios (or any such inexpensive fish) cause they didn't cost you much to begin with (You can give them back to the LFS for free and you are only out of a few bucks!!)..Here is a great link for "Cycling With Fish"

Otherwise do a "fish less cycle". It is faster and safer. No chance of diseases from prior fish. Only down side to Fish less is you don't get anything to look at while tank is cycling...:(

Good link for Fish less Cycle:

Here is the Page Referenced above in its entirety written by "Loachaholic" as it appears in "Aquatic-Hobbyist":

Aquatic-Hobbyist fishless cycling

* First, let me state that this will not be a scholarly article about Nitrobacter, Nitrosomas or the hows and whys of the nitrogen cycle. Many more learned men and women than I have already covered that ground, and done it much better than I ever could. I have included some links at the bottom of this article. PLEASE read them for more in depth information.
* Second, this is an article intended for FRESHWATER TANKS ONLY!!! If you are beginning a marine tank, please refer to other sources.
* Third, relax!! This sounds complicated but it isn't. Think of it as a chemistry experiment. You have no fish in there, so the only thing you can kill if you make a mistake is some bacteria. Don't get hung up on exact readings on your test kit - the only the reading must be exact is when you reach zero.

My intent is to give concise, step-by-step instructions for fishlessly cycling a tank. A few caveats on fishless cycling: This isn't a quick-cycle method; it still takes 3-8 weeks for the tank to cycle - sometimes more. The only really reliable way of quick-cycling a tank that I am willing to recommend is to move the filter sponge, gravel, ornaments and/or plants from an existing tank, and even then some cycling time will be needed. Take your time. This initial cycle is one of the most important steps in ensuring that your experience with this tank will be a good one.

What you need:

* Aquarium.
* Substrate (usually medium to small gravel, but can be of your choice).
* Filter and filter medium.
* Heater.
* Thermometer.
* Dechlorinator/Dechloriminator (be sure it's not something that "neutralizes ammonia" or you'll get false readings on your ammonia tests).
* Tests for ammonia and nitrite (nitrate is handy, too, but not necessary).
* Pure ammonia (also called clear ammonia). Check the ingredients - if it has anything other than water and ammonia (fragrance, surfactants, etc.) it's not the right kind.


* Rocks, wood or other decorations such as sunken ships, bubbling treasure chests, etc.
* Plants - real, plastic or silk.
* Lighting (not optional if you have plants).


Set up the aquarium, including substrate, filter, and heater, and fill with water. Be sure to dechlorinate the water. Turn everything on. Add your plants and decorations.

Set the heater to keep the temperature of the water up in the mid to high 80's.

Provide extra aeration if possible. Aeration in a body of water only happens at the surface. To increase aeration, keep the water surface moving. With an outside hang on-the-back power filter, you can lower the water level a couple of inches so that water falling from the filter outflow makes a bigger splash. If the sound of the splashing makes you nuts, don't do it. An airstone and small pump works, too.

If you have access to materials from a SAFE source (not your fish store), see if you can get a cup of gravel, a used filter sponge, a decoration - anything that has been in an established aquarium a while - and put it in your tank just before you start. This will speed up the process, but is not necessary.

Now You're Ready:

Keep the filter running at maximum capacity throughout the cycling process.

Do not change water or clean anything in the tank during the cycle - it's not necessary and you might disrupt things. Besides, once the fish are in there you'll change water often enough. Enjoy your hiatus. If the water level gets too low, you may top off the tank with dechlorinated water.

Put 3-5 drops of pure ammonia per gallon in the tank, or enough ammonia to make your test kit read 4-5. Now fire up your computer and start researching the fish you want to put in there once the cycle is finished - you are done for now.

Test ammonia levels every day. When the ammonia reaches 1, add more ammonia to bring the level back to 4-5. Continue to put ammonia in the tank until the ammonia level goes to zero within 8-12 hours after the ammonia is put in. Once the tank shows the ability to lower the ammonia level in this time interval, a sufficient population of bacteria is resident in your tank and you're halfway there. This part usually takes about two weeks, but can take as long as four weeks.

Now test for nitrites. They should be VERY high. The nitrites will probably exceed the highest limit of your nitrite test. This isn't a problem, if course, because you have no fish to worry about. Continue to add enough ammonia each day to bring the ammonia level to 1 or 2.

The high-nitrite stage seems to last forever. It seems to me that Nitrobacter (the nitrite-consuming bacteria) grow more slowly than Nitrosomas (the ammonia-consuming bacteria).

When the nitrite drops, it will drop rapidly. When the test reads zero for 24 hours or more, your tank is cycled. This is the payoff for all your patience.

Keep adding ammonia until right before you add fish. Then adjust the heater down to a liveable temperature and do a very large water change (at least 90%). (Remember, to add dechlorinator.)

Recommended reading on fishless cycling:


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