Nitrogen Cycle in Aquarium

The single most important factor when keeping fish in any environment is health.

We love our pets and want to interact with and enjoy them for as long as possible.

The worse thing that can happen to your fish is it becoming ill and/or dying as a result of an infection.

The good thing is if you know what you’re doing, these sets of events can be avoided with proper aquarium maintenance.

In general, there are many factors involved in keeping your environment in great shape.

One of the initial  things you should consider is nitrogen cycle regulation inside your aquarium.

The principles behind this biological cycle are fairly simple.

However, striking the perfect balance and executing the whole process is what’s difficult, yet it shouldn’t be.

Once you are provided with great information you will be on your way to becoming the master of any situation.

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Understanding demand for nitrogen cycle

All living creatures need food to survive; fish are no exception.

They eat and produce waste that stays in the water.

Additionally, everything that’s left uneaten brings even more pollution.

Typically their natural habitat isn’t much of a problem since there is more water per fish for pollution to happen under regular circumstances.

However, the space in your typical home aquarium is too small to support your fish with water staying clean after a while.

Every fish tank produces waste as a result of uneaten food, decaying plants or other living organisms within the tank, or simply fish waste.

The waste produced decomposes and creates ammonia (NH3), a compound made of nitrogen and hydrogen.

Although it’s not toxic to most mammals, it’s highly toxic to fish, even in miniscule concentrations, hence, you need to make sure any ammonia is efficiently dealt with or you risk serious illness, which will lead to the death of your fish.

The best way to get rid of ammonia is to build colonies of bacteria that will decompose ammonia and convert it into much safer and less toxic by-products.

This is done by creating a nitrogen cycle (nitrification cycle) inside your aquarium.

The basic principles behind nitrification process

In general, in order to start the nitrification process, you need to do the following:

  1. Create ammonia or introduce it into the tank.
  2. Wait for beneficial bacteria to start decomposing the ammonia and create colonies to deal with future ammonia. The by-product of this process is called nitrite, which is still highly toxic to fish.
  3. Another bacteria starts to convert nitrites to nitrates. Nitrates are not toxic to fish in reasonable concentrations.
  4. Keeping nitrate levels low in order to maintain the balance in the aquarium.

Creating ammonia inside the tank

The nitrification cycle starts when the waste produced by inhabitants of the aquarium is released into the water.

The waste produced is broken down into ammonia, which is toxic to fish and will gradually lead to death.

If the water pH is alkaline, the ammonia is even more dangerous to fish as it can kill them very fast.

This is important when starting the nitrogen cycle as there is more than one way to start it.

Nitrogen Cycle with Fish

Start the cycle with fish inside the tank, a method is often used, but has a significant set of drawbacks.

When the fish are introduced inside the tank, they can adapt poorly to the new water conditions, which can lead to stress.

Additionally, the newly introduced fish could be exposed to high levels of ammonia until the tank is fully cycled.

This can lead to death and illness, so it’s better to cycle the tank first before introducing the fish into it.

Nitrogen Cycle with Fish Food

Start the process using fish food; it can be done by dropping food (flakes or raw) into the tank.

You can drop food regularly and measure the ammonia levels until the results are satisfactory.

Nitrogen Cycle with Pure Ammonia

Start the process by adding 100% pure ammonia by dropping it into the tank in order to complete the cycle.

The amount of ammonia you should drop varies, but in general, 5 drops of pure ammonia per 10 gallons of water should suffice.

Keep the process running until you get nitrate production.

Nitrogen Cycle with Materials from Cycled Tank

Start the process by using materials from an already cycled tank, which is the fastest way.

Simply use material that already comes from an established aquarium since it will contain colonies of beneficial bacteria.

Add flake foods to keep the ammonia coming.

Once the nitrates are present, the cycle is completed.

The only drawback is the fact that material from other aquariums can contain unwanted bacteria or other harmful pathogens.

Developing beneficial bacteria that oxidizes the ammonia

As soon as there is ammonia inside the tank, the Nitrosomonas bacteria will form and oxidize it.

When ammonia is eliminated, the by-product of this process, nitrite, is left.

Nitrite is still highly toxic to fish and needs to be dealt with in order to make the environment satisfactory for healthy fish keeping.

Converting toxic nitrites into non-toxic nitrates

This process is the final stage of the nitrification cycle.

By this point, a beneficial Nitrobacter bacterium turns nitrites into nitrates.

Unlike ammonia and nitrites, nitrates are non-toxic to fish in low to medium levels.

However, you should always take care that nitrate levels are safe or they can cause severe problems if extreme levels are reached.

The best way to battle high nitrate levels is to simply change the water regularly.

You can also add live plants to the tank, as they will consume nitrates and keep the overall level lower and nitrate levels safe.

Understand your nitrogen cycle

Nitrogen cycling is quite easy to understand, but as everything else, making it work perfectly every time can be a little tricky.

The best bet is to take it easy and follow the general guidelines when setting up the new tank.

Please share with us your experience by commenting below.

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