IN THE NEWLY INSTALLED AQUARIUM
By Jim E. Quarles
THE SECOND HALF OF THE TEAM
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
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.
THE BATTLE FIELD & AND THE
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.
SO WHATS A HOBBYIST TO DO WHEN
STARTING A NEW TANK?
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
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
Of course you can do it the old way. JUST WATCH YOUR FISH DIE!