Nature Wonders 4

Nature's Wonders 4


By Jim E. Quarles
Part 4


So far we have covered a rather thorough discussion of the Nitrosomonas and their characteristics. Now we will move on to the other half of the team, Nitrobactor bacteria, and their importance to the aquarist.

There are several characteristics of the Nitrobactor which need to be understood before you can evaluate any of the various products and procedures used to deal with (NTS).

Earlier, we mentioned that Nitrobacter have evolved the metabolic pathways to produce energy by combining nitrite with oxygen. Unlike the Nitrosomonas, however, Nitrobacter are not dependent of just one food source.

Nitrobacter can also derive energy by consuming complex organic compounds. This lack of total dependence on nitrite has not required the Nitrobacter to develop the ability to become dormant when starved of nitrite. Nitrobacter do not have ability. In addition Ntrobacter are not nearly as efficient in oxidizing nitrite as the Nitrosomonas are in oxidizing ammonia. This lack of efficiency also explains why it takes so much longer to eliminate nitrite as compared to ammonia from a new tank.

Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas share many of the same characteristics including: chemical toxicities, light sensitivity, increased efficiency after adherence, slow reproductive rate, strain variability and the requirements for trace elements.


Now we will describe the inevitable consequences of starting a new tank. It is much like a battle for control of the environment in which you want to display your fish. In this first battle the hobbyist takes no action to prevent the occurrence of (NTS).

Within minutes of adding the first fish, invertebrate, or piece of live rock, these organisms begin releasing ammonia and other organic waste into the aquarium water. Although not intentionally added, millions of heterrophic or our common forms of bacteria were already inhabiting the aquarium. They were even in the empty aquarium before the water was added. Remember, these bacteria are everywhere! They were in water used to fill the aquarium. They were in every bubble of air pumped into the water, every grain of sand or gravel used, and every speck of dust in the air which came to rest on the water's surface.

Within minutes, these heterotrophic bacteria begin feeding on the organic waste present and released their own ammonia as waste, into the aquarium's water. Within minutes millions of common bacteria originally present begin to reproduce. They will continue to double their numbers every 20 minutes so long as ample organic waste is present.

Within hours ammonia levels become detectable on the more sensitive test kits. Within days ammonia levels reach highly toxic levels. Fish behavior changes with poor appetite, rapid breathing, and gasping for air. Within one week the lethal ammonia levels exceed the highest level the test kit can measure, and every fish in the tank is either dead or close to it. Over the next several weeks any new fish added to the tank will meet the same fate.
Finally, a slight trace of nirite registers on the nitrite test kit. This low level of nitrite indicates that a very small populaton of Nitrosomonas has finally begun removing some ammonia and producing a nitrite as their own waste product.

However the number of Nitrosomonas present are very limited and mostly free floating cells. The ammonia levels will remain constant at lethal levels, nitrite levels continue to rise very slowly and any fish left in the tank will continue to die.
Finally, ammonia levels begin to fall and fall quickley to safe levels. Fish continue to die. Now however it is determined that nitrite is at lethal levels, and exceeding the highest level of the test kit. Any fish left are so stressed out from the previous ammonia exposure that they quickly succumb to the toxic nitrite.

Over the next several weeks, sometimes months, nitrite levels remain high and fish continue to die.


Many of the commercial products already available have proven to be ineffective. And most of these products sold in aquarium stores cannot even be used as seed cultures. Most such products are nothing more then a mixture of richer organic media containing a wide variety of different bacterial species, including anaerobic varieties. In most of these products the smell of rotten eggs is hydrogen sulfide, and are toxic to the very bacteria you are trying to establish.


Under laboratory conditions there is no problem in culturing large numbers of the most desirable strains of Notrobacter. The problem is how do you package these cultures for the hobbyist to use?

Only real way to assure that cultures are safe and viable is to order them fresh form the laboratory. One company now provides this service Precision Aquarium Testing at 4779 S.E. Glen Ridge Trail --Stuart, Fl. 34997--the telephone number is 1-407-9522 and a fax number is 1-407-221-8669

This laboratory can provide you with both "Sure-Start." freshwater or marine cultures. Considering the time saved and the cost of cycling a new tank using these fresh products is low in cost and totally dependable.

Of course you can do it the old way. JUST WATCH YOUR FISH DIE!

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