Everything Fishy: FishNotes

Most of the information below is excerpted from the 1997 edition of "Keeping Murphy Out of Your Aquarium". but some contributions from other fishkeepers and new items are here too. Murphy 2003 will have a lot of additional research, new disease diagnoses and treatments based on what's currently coming in on the fish. I'd like to test some of the new products that have entered the market, but welcome emails from aquarists that have tested them. Between local aquatics maintenance and the online store, I don't have the time to test as many products as I'd hoped to, and it's greatly slowing the new edition. Let me know if it's OK to put your name in the credits, online and/or in print..

For those that already own Murphy, or are considering buying it, the next edition will be an ebook, maybe with a print option, maybe not, but by going electronic I can have color photos of disease symptoms, and not have an expensive to print book to try to keep in print. People don't buy fish books often, they just buy fish.

Part of my research includes answering questions by email, so I stay current on what is going on in aquariums all over, not just in the DFW area. Some of the questions also had answers in them. If you have a cure for a problem, send it. I'll add it, and give you credit, or leave it anonymous, as you choose. Some of the products Everything Fishy carries were located or developed to answer needs that were turning up in my email. Here are some excerpts, problem and 'cure', from the most common emails I receive.

Since these are actually quotes, the replies are my opinion, so read it as email over someone's shoulder. If you wish to submit a question please include: pH, ammonia and nitrite test results, the age of your tank (how long it's been set up), water change frequency and last water change date, a complete stock list, and specifics about the problem. Sometimes the meaning would be lost if I ****'d out a brand or company name. This page contains 'experience and opinion'.

The FishNote page is kept online by Everything Fishy. Click here for links to product pages.

Worms, Hydra

Cloudy Water

Nitrite, More New Tanks

Hole In The Head Disease

HITH, a success story

Green Water

Unexplained Hard Water

Fishless cycling, dead fish prevention

Salt Water Dip for Ich, Parasites, Fungus, or 'I don't know what's wrong with this fish.' Chinese Algae Eater Bloat January 2010 Betta Care and medicine Tips for 1 gal bowl, winter.

Low pH, chemical causes.

New info Erratic swimming followed by death.

Quarantine Procedures 2006

Live plants and my fish...

What kind of fish do I have?

Temperature Conversion Chart: Fahrenheit to Centigrade.
Aquarium Dimensions / Gallons / Liters for standard size tanks.

Links to other aquarium sites

My quarantine procedure for newly purchased stock:
1. All fish take a brief dip in 2-3% saltwater solution (recipe). 2% for loaches and silver dollars, 3% on gouramis, tetras, etc. 3% will burn the skin off of a scaleless fish, but on normal fishes, eliminates the possibility of gill flukes. Limit exposure to 2 minutes max, or when they roll over on delicate fish, and yes, that's the silver dollar, piranha, clown loaches, etc.
1/1/2006 note from someone dipping rasboras:
I recently used your recipe for aquarium salt dip which states 2 tsp per 2 cups, which resulted in an instant shock/ death in my Rasbora fish ( within 5 seconds). I immediately removed him and put him in fresh water, which revived him, but I can now see blood under the skin by the gills. All other sites have called for 1 tsp per gallon for salt baths, a recipe I use regularly with my Beta with good results. Your recipe must be a typo or misinformation. I thought you should know so that you could correct this so others don't make the same mistake.
My note follow-up: if the fish have ich, I really do use 2%, and I haven't had a problem. But I was cautious the last time I dipped rasboras, after receiving this note and only left them in about 30 seconds, as they did not have visible ich. Mine all lived. We all have to make our judgment calls, and we are either right or wrong. If we are wrong, the fish die. If I am wrong and fail to adequately prevent the spread of disease, a LOT of fish die. Not just a couple. My quarantine is aggressive. After my fish get to a customer tank, they generally die of old age, several years later.
2. Tank temp: 83 degrees. The only time I don't quarantine at 83 is when I'm doing swordtails. They really hate heat. So I quarantine them at 70 or 71. (limits summer quarantines on these.)

3. Good biological filtration with zero carbon. This way if I have to medicate the tank I don't have to worry about the carbon being old enough not to remove the meds.

4. Usually the saltwater dip nails ich, fortunately. If they are clearly infected, I try to keep them in a tank without gravel, on a sponge filter, and dose accordingly. CopperSafe or Clear Ich if the ich doesn't seem to be too bad. I encountered a tougher strain of ich early in 2002 that was immune to those products, and am working on getting the correct medicine for the website. What I ended up using then was Formalite, but the manufacturer is gone. Of CopperSafe and Clear Ich, Clear Ich is better. Takes 3 days, lights out all the time. CopperSafe added after the Clear Ich is done, if the tank has already been infected. For 7 days during ich treatment dose with tetracycline as well. It will handle ES, which is becoming far too common, and is too fatal once you can see symptoms.

4. All cichlids get dosed with metronidazole, period. BUT metronidazole combined with an ich treatment can be fatal, and it can't combine with tetracycline either. So first week, ich treatment as needed and tetracycline. Then cichlid quarantine tanks get a partial water change and filtration with fresh carbon (usually Fritz brand) after the first week of quarantine. When I'm sure all of the other meds are out, I remove the carbon, and dose the tank with metronidazole. in stock on the website. Never combine metronidazole with tetracycline treatment, since metronidazole and tetracycline neutralize each other and so neither one works together.

5. If fin rot is present, Melafix seems to be safe in combination with either metronidazole or the Ich treatments. Seems: I've tried it many and haven't killed any fish.

The key things are excellent filtration, (see tips on my Murphy page) appropriate water quality, not changing pH. I adjust the tanks to match water on incoming fish before I add the fish. I use as few aquarium products as possible. The fewer chemicals I'm mixing, the less likely I'll have negative interactions. Good luck,

Alice Burkhart

Chinese Algae Eater with Bloated Stomach. Jan 20, 2010

After losing a number of quarantines of chinese algae eaters, part way through the quarantine as I was quarantining a dozen in a bottom level 10 gallon tank, and the tetracycline gel was killing the bio-filter, I quit trying it in a 10 gallon. I had a vacant 55 gallon when I bought fish this summer with an outstanding strong bio-filter in a deep undergravel bed. So I bought a dozen chinese algae eaters, a few rainbow fish, and dropped them all in. I did not do a saltwater dip - the best thing about buying fish in August is the relative scarcity of ich, and for now I have a little formalite left if I do have to dose. Fed a combination of romet pellets soaked in Gel-Tek tetracycline. There actually was enteric septicemia present - one of the rainbow fish exhibited symptoms, so I bumped the temp up to 83, and extended the medicated feed quarantine to about 10 days. All of the algae eaters did beautifully. I delivered several to customers and the remaining 3 went into different post-quarantine tanks at my house. Lo and behold one of them got belly bloat. I had been attributing this to the failure of ES quarantine over the last couple of years, but I was sure that wasn't it. Searched the Net and found other complaints, with treatments ranging from dipping in epsom salts to feeding spinach. Just about to do the epsom salt dip, I put my hand in the tank with the bloated CAE. It felt COLD - the daytime temp was 72. Checked the other tanks with his 'litter-mates' - they were slender and the water was warm. so I turned the heater up on the tank with the bloated fish and did nothing else. His bloat went away within a week, it has now been over a month and he appears to be a normal, healthy active CAE. So. My assumption is that when night time temps are dipping down too chilly they cannot properly digest and excrete the waste from their food. I am sure the night temps on that bottom tank were dropping below 70 for at least an hour or so, given its location. CAE with a bloated belly - chinese actually means a very WARM part of Southeast Asia. Turn up the heat!

Bettas (especially in the winter)

9-25-00 Thank you for the prompt reply. This is the first time I've made a purchase from your business, and so far I'm really impressed!
I'd still like to purchase the medicine chest 2. Can you tell me the best way to measure the medicine for smaller increments? I just lost one of my bettas today, and it was absolutely terrible. My betta is in a one gallon tank (kind of a triangle shape, by Topfin). There's no bubbler, or filter (just the plastic grate in the bottom). I have aquarium rocks and a plastic plant in the aquarium, but nothing else. I clean the tank once a week, or sooner if it looks cloudy. These are the first fish I've ever had. I thought a 1 gallon tank would be big enough, but is it? Do they need a bubbler? A filtering system? A heater or a light? I thought they were doing okay, until the one I've had the longest died. I feel terrible and I don't want it to happen again. Can you suggest any books on keeping bettas in small containers? I really appreciate your help. Thanks.
Murphy (Technically Keeping Murphy Out of Your Aquarium) is part of the medicine chest you ordered. The smallest tank it deals with is 10 gallons, but I think you'll find a lot of the information very basic and useful. Especially if you move up to a 5 or 10 gallon tank in the future.

There really aren't books on keeping bettas in small containers, but I can give you some quick tips in this email.
Your 1 gallon bowl is much more generous than most people's tiny vases. It's better.

  • 1. Keep the container in a warm area. Bettas are very tropical fish and do not like chills.
  • 2. Add a live plant to the bowl. Not a fancy one from the pet store, they're too picky about light and will die. Instead, if you have a plant of the large-leafed ivy called pothos, take a cutting about a foot long and submerge it in the water, to provide him with cover, oxygen, and a minimal filter. It is not poisonous if he eats part of it either. If you don't have pothos, and have a peace lily, rinse the dirt off its roots, trim them a little, and put them part way into his bowl. Again, it's a little bit of a filter and an assistant oxygen source.
  • 3. Feed every other day or daily, but not more than once a day unless you want to do a water change more than once a week.
  • 4. Bubblers, filters and air stones have one disadvantage in winter: they cool the water. Bettas need it 70 degrees or above. With winter well on its way, I don't recommend adding anything that will chill him, and a 1 gallon is too small to put a heater in.

On medicine dosages. First, look up his symptoms in the first aid section of Murphy. The easiest products to use will be the liquids. Maroxy, though, has a dosage of 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) per 10 gallons. This would make a dose for him 0.25 ml. I will include a sampling syringe with your order. You might use it to measure small doses of the liquid medicines. An eye dropper would be even better with the Maroxy. I mention this because the most common problem I've seen with bettas, especially in fall and winter, is fungus, and Maroxy treats it.
Coppersafe, if you should need it, is pretty easy, because it's 1 teaspoon per 4 gallons, so 1/4 tsp for his bowl.
The tablets: It's a matter of cut and guess, but they start out large, so you're not trying to cut a tiny pill in half. One case where bigger is definitely better. The safe zone on these is fairly flexible, so a variation in dosage wouldn't be too bad. But definitely, before adding any medicine to his bowl, I'd secure a houseplant cutting and put a plant in. The antibiotic tablets do lower available oxygen when they are working, and the plant will help add oxygen for him
One advantage with bettas: They can come to the surface and breathe. They are a labyrinth fish with a channel for air in their heads, not exactly lungs, but close enough for them to survive incredibly bad conditions. I'll ship your order tomorrow unless you write back and tell me you don't want it. Thank you for shopping with Everything Fishy.

2004 Alice's Editorial Note: Thank the powers that be for Melafix, which is much easier to dose down than Maracyn, to treat fin rot in a small bowl. It is also more effective. It's on the site and way past the experimental stage. I like this product.

Initial Problem: The perils of feeding live food: Hydra, small worms, organisms large enough to see that don't belong in your aquarium.

My Reply: I can't tell you exactly what they are, but this should take care of them:1 tsp white distilled vinegar per 10 gallons, one time. (That is teaspoon,....) Supposedly this will wipe them out overnight. It absolutely works on hydra, (the only other cure for hydra being deadly for fish.) I don't know how they got in your tank either. My 2 thoughts are live plants or live food.

A couple of hours of pH dip probably won't bother your fish, but I can't guarantee that, especially without knowing your tank pH. There are risks. There are larger risks in the formal remedy found in an aquarium atlas. Vinegar is safer, and is neutralized by the buffer in the tank, so there is no toxic medicine to remove afterward. Medicines that will kill parasites and larger invaders are nearly always toxic. The vinegar alters the ENVIRONMENT for both fish and parasites. The fish are larger, and stronger, hence, they live.... (So far I don't know of any deaths related to this treatment.)

I never saw these little guys until I fed my fish some frozen cube food and a few guppies. I will never do that again! Not to mention one of my biggest and colorful cichlids got bloat after eating a few guppies. I learned a very valuable lesson there! One thing that really sucks about not being able to feed guppies anymore - some of my fish grew very quickly and colored up quite nice. Any recommendations on food that will do the same as live food?


Avoiding introduction of unwanted species is difficult if you feed live food. I feed freshwater guppies to my marine tank, and occasionally marine frozen brine shrimp to my freshwater tank. Pests from one can't live in the other environment. I occasionally allow mosquitoes to breed in a fairly clean bowl of water outdoors, then net their offspring and feed them to my aquariums. All of these live foods do produce color, without contamination. I'm sure there are others.

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Cloudy Water, White. Additional Info

(u/g filter)Here's My Problem : I can never seem to be able to keep my water from being cloudy. I have a 30 gallon tank with undergravel filter and above tank filter, I do regular water changes and vacuum the gravel, there are 10 tiger barbs, 4 swordtails 1 pleco in the tank.

Stop vacuuming all of your gravel during water changes. Continue doing a 25% water change monthly, lift debris from above the gravel, but do not vaccuum for your next 2 water changes. After that, vacuum only 25% of the bottom's surface each month. The cloudiness is your bacteria frantically trying to multiply after water changes. Also, rinse the media from your above tank filter in water you removed during water changes, don't change the media, don't rinse in hot chlorinated water.
You will have a clear beautiful tank in time. Good luck, AB

(External Filter) Types of Fish : Mollies, Tetras, Bleeding hearts
Here's My Problem : I just purchased my first aquarium about 5 weeks ago. I added only 6
fish to get the process started. The water clouded up and then cleared up about two weeks after I added the fish. About four
days ago, the water clouded up again but worse then before. It is so cloudy i can't see any of the fish. Last night I changed the filter and added a few drops of chemicals to clear the water and nothing has happened. It is still just as cloudy. How can I clear the tank up?

Stop changing the filter, don't do any water changes, and don't add any clarifiers. The cloudiness is from multiplying bacteria, and your fish need the bacteria. It will house in your floss or sponge media, so it is critical that you not throw those out or rinse them in hot water. Rinse in dechlorinated cool water or just leave them alone. The tank will clear and cloud, clear and cloud several times as the filter grows back. When the filter is fully established the tank will be beautifully clear for years. My page has some more info. Good luck, AB

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Cichlids and pleco, High nitrites. Additional Info

Tank Size in Gallons: 20 . Types of Fish : african cichlids, 1 large pleco
Here's My Problem : I have about...11, 12 african cichlids in my 20 gal high tank. Recently,
the temp of the water dropped to 71, 72, where it was normally at 80 or 81. This happened over
a day, and it I raised it back up over a number of hours.
THANKS, ALSO, I had high levels of nitrites, so I have been doing water changes daily for
about...5 days, I added a medium size pleco and he produces a lot of waste- could that be the
reason for high nitrites? two or so cichlids have been having red gills.
please help me with both problems! THANKS!

Reply: Stop vacuuming the gravel and your nitrites will drop. Also, stop changing the cartridge in your filter. Instead, rinse it in dechlorinated water, or water removed from the tank during your water change. The pleco doesn't belong in a tank with high nitrites, but if they start dropping he might survive. The red gills on the cichlids are probably due to nitrite poisoning as well. Reducing feeding may help.Using a small amount of Fritz-Zyme, Stress-Zyme, Tank-Safe or Cycle wouldn't be bad, but use 1/2 of the label dosage, and only use it one time. (Weekly, as the labels recommend, may starve your biological filter.)

Does Start Right also drop the pH of your water to around 7.0? African cichlids require a pH of 7.6 to 8.6. Do not raise your pH suddenly or they will all die. Do check the pH on your tap water and if it is 7.6 or over, but is lower after dechlorination, switch dechlorinators, so that your water changes will gradually raise the pH. Fritz Chlorine/Chloramine Remover or Zip Drops are what I use but they are hard to find, only small stores carry them. Stress-Coat is my third choice. You can add rock salt or free-running salt from the grocery store. My africans love it and are breeding. I need to know exactly what is in Start Right, too many people are using it, and they seem to have low pH. Write back if you have time. Good luck, AB

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New Tank Additional Info

Types of Fish : Tetras-neon, yellow, 2 other types that I can't remember names of.
Swordfish-2, Hermit Crab, Plecto-algae eater, Chinese algae eater, Zebra danios, 2 silver dollars, 2 hatchetfish.
Here's My Problem : My fish tank is only 1 month old. The problem I have is that my water is always cloudy. Sometimes the water appears to have a greenish tinge to it. I am not sure if that is due to the type of tank and glass (I have a 44gal pentagon tank). I am not so worried about the green tinge as I am about the cloudy/hazy water. I have checked my ammonia levels and they are well below danger levels, my pH is around 7.4 ( I have tried to bring this down but I don't want to add too many things to the tank)

I do have alot of live plants and about 20 fish (the fish are all less than 3/4 inch.) I have done partial water changes about every two weeks also. One of the main reasons I am concerned is that I lose 2-4 fish a week. I am not sure if they were sick prior to introducing them into my tank or not. I had 3 mollys and two of them gave birth to frys and then died. I had 2 kissing gourmais and one dwarf and they all died within days of a water change. Could this be due to the fluctuation in water temp (My heater got goofed up during the change and the temp spiked up to 84 degrees). The other thing I notice is alot of brown algae on my filter, I have one of those that sits on the side of the tank and filters the water through a bag filled with charcoal. Is this caused by decaying plant matter or is it something I need to worry about? I don't have a problem with green alsge since my algae eaters are good about cleaning that up. So bottom line is how do I clear the water up, get rid of the brown algae and keep my fish from dieing? Thank you for your help.

Reply: I think you are going to like this answer. During water changes, change no more than 30% of your water. Don't change the floss or sponge media in your external filter. If you do not have floss or sponge in your external filter, you need to put some in. Instead of throwing it away when it's dirty, rinse it in water removed from the tank. You're going to like the results in a couple of weeks. Wait at least 2 months before replacing floss or sponge. (Do 1 at a time if you have 2.) Don't replace your floss or sponge AND do a Large water change at the same time, allow a couple of weeks in between. Or toss your (dechlorinated water rinsed) old floss or sponge in the tank when you put the new one in the pump. It will look tacky for a week, but help keep your fish alive. Good luck, AB

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HITH disease, 10 year old, 55 gallon aquarium, nitrite 'low'

Types of Fish : Red oscar, pleco catfish, shovelnose catfish.
Here's My Problem : My oscar, who is approximately three years old, has what appears to be HITH disease.There are two deep craters on one side of his head that have been there at least a year. There used to be another oscar in the tank.
The oscar also has a damaged tail fin from srapping with the other oscar almost two years ago.There is a chunk (not real deep) missing from this fin and it has not grown back. Will it eventually grow back or will it remain this way?

Reply: In a 10 year old tank, your nitrite shouldn't be low, it should be non-existent. You may be changing your filter media too frequently and have an insufficient biological filter. This can cause difficulties in healing, and may be why the chunk missing from the Oscar's fin hasn't grown back.

HITH is a mysterious disease. It may or may not be caused by a bacteria or virus. I have treated cichlid disease and hexamita successfully with Hex-A-Mite in the past. But, according to the books I've read, advanced HITH may be caused by a diet with insufficient vegetable matter in it, in other words, a vitamin deficiency. It is most common in cichlids, gouramis, and surgeon fish or tangs in marine tanks. A romaine lettuce leaf suspended in the tank on a vegetable clip, once a week, with the waste removed after it starts to spoil, can allow your fish a choice in diet that may take care of the vitamin deficiency. Romaine has more vitamins than iceberg, etc. Good luck, AB

Note: There's a reason I have no independent research on HITH. I've kept fish since 1983, but have never had a fish with HITH. I do tend to toss a frozen green bean, a zucchini slice, or a piece of romaine lettuce in the tank every couple of weeks. I get behind on maintenance and my nitrates top the chart (over 100 ppm), sometimes once a month. My tanks are a long way from perfect. I have old fish and young fish and in-between fish, especially in gouramis. But I've just never had a case. AB

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A Hole In The Head successful cure

1/28/00 Sent in by Shannon Callister, in Walla Walla, WA. Used by permission.

Tank Size in Gallons: 55g
Types of Fish : tankmates are 2 mature angels, one blue gourami, a couple silver-tipped tetras, couple rasbora hets, couple small plecos -- that's it. Everyone else is healthy.
My female pearl gourami (have had her over a year) has had a past bout w/ hole-in-the-head (from which she recovered) but has otherwise been healthy. (she currently has an eye fungus, not related to HITH)

Shannon's notes:
On the HITH recovery, I did so many things I'm not sure which worked, but I have my suspicions...

1) put her in the hospital tank with some metronidazole, didn't seem to do anything. By the time I got her in that tank, she wasn't eating, and her hunger strike continued. I tried everything to get her to eat -- frozen food, blood worms -- I think she ate just enough to keep alive, but not much.

2) added salt, raised the temp, tried an antibiotic, which didn't do anything of course.

3) read the discussion boards a lot, was particularly interested in some messages out there that talked about apparent miracles brought about by radical, frequent water changes, and how HITH can be instigated by water conditions, including high nitrates.

4) tested nitrates in the big tank, they were fine.

5) I was so concerned about her not eating and appearing so listless, that I finally did a huge (50%) water change in the big tank, and put her back.

6) She seemed visibly energized being back in with the gang, it was quite noticeable.

7) I did a 50% water change every other day for the next week. She was eating after the second change, and after a week the eroded areas were regenerating. I cut back the water changes a little, to about 25% every other day, and she continued to heal until she looked completely normal.

It's possible the metronidazole killed the parasite, if there really was one, I don't know, maybe that set her up for recovery, but moving her back with the other fish and the ensuing apparent mood change that seemed to get her eating, together with the radical water changes seemed to have made the ultimate difference. Pretty weird...

thanks again for your help! Shannon

Shannon, Thank you for letting me put this up. Alice

Fishless cycling. The idea came from somewhere, but I can't say it was mine first. I have found the technique very useful when I have to sterilize a tank to remove disease. First I run a small amount of bleach through the empty tank, with pumps, heaters, etc. on. (I use about 1/4 cup for 30 gallons. It doesn't take much.) Then I rinse thoroughly, dechlorinate heavily, add a culture from a healthy tank without disease, (I did use a houseplant in one testing tank) and add a small amount of ammonia. If the tank will be heavily stocked I add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ammonia per 10 gallons per day. Average stocking 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ammonia per 10 gallons per day. I haven't the patience for the eye dropper.

Thanks, Alice. I did locate the article I was looking for. It can be seen at http://www.tomgriffin.com/aquamag/cycling.html
Thanks so much for your response. Ann

I wondered if that could be done. I had considered purchasing ammonia standard through a chemical company, since it would be purer than household ammonia & I didn't want residual perfumes, coloring agents, etc, but I never got around to it. I generally start my tanks with a large culture from my 40 gallon long anyway, so break-in is almost non-existent, but for people that don't have another tank for a culture, this is great. Thanks for sharing the link. AB Ammonium Chloride for fishless cycling.

Fishless cycling & clearing up possible parasite at the same time

Here's My Problem : I have a 15 gallon tall eclipse tank with an additional undergravel filtration setup. I had the tank running for about 8 months with no real problems and I introduced two kissing gourmis to the tank. Immediately my other fish started to get sick. I changed all the water, thinking the tank chemistry might be off. They also died. Before I change the tank again is it possible I missed something? Is it possible for the tank to be contaminated with something I don't know about? Do you have any suggestions?

Reply: I have a moderately sane suggestion. Yes, the tank is probably contaminated, probably with a parasite but it could be bacterial. Since there are currently no fish in it, and you want to maintain the biological filter, you might try this.

Cycle the tank with plain ammonia, without clarifiers, coloring agents, etc. If you can find it, it will cost about $3.00.
Also, if you don't have an eye-dropper, buy one. When you get home, turn the tank heater up and get the tank to 90 degrees. Leave the heater set to maintain that temperature. With the eyedropper, add about 30 drops of ammonia. Do this once a day for the next 9 days. Any parasite or bacteria present that feed on fish should be starved out, but your biological filter should be intact, and thriving. Test for ammonia and nitrite before adding fish. Do not change the cartridges before adding fish. Never change both cartridges at once. Good luck, AB

Everything Fishy carries ammonium chloride for fishless cycling. I've been running tests for months determining dosage, culture required, etc. If the tank has a partial culture, and the fish are dead, this is definitely the way to stop killing fish while establishing or maintaining the biological filter.

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Unexplained hard water
Tank Size in Gallons: 30. Types of Fish : 6 serpae tetras, 5 cory cats, 2 small plecos, 1 small blue gourami
Here's My Problem : I set up a 30 gallon aquarium in September, and added my first fish (5 serpae tetras). It took about three months for the ammonia cycle to finish up, and only then because I added some stress zyme. Initially I had filled the tank with conditioned tapwater; the hardness was 2-3ppm. In the mean time I have carried out partial water changes on a monthly basis, and kept the tank very clean, but the hardness has increased dramatically. It is now over 30 ppm, and (coincidentally?) I've lost a cory cat... I have not lost before now, even during the terrible ammonia peak. My plant is also starting to die off. I would really like to get the water back down to 10-15 ppm, but I am not sure how. I tried a water softener pillow in my filter (as a local aquarist advised me) but I must have used it wrong, because the water could not go through it, and my filter almost backed up. Any advice would be appreciated.

Reply 1: I don't see salt on your chemical list, but it definitely causes hard water. Some stones can dissolve in the tank as well. Seashells will do it, and raise pH quite dramatically too. (Proper pH 7.0 drops pH below 7 in water with a KH below 10, it takes mine to 6.8 too.) The hardness will kill your cory cats, otocinclis, and some other fish. Write back and tell me about your gravel and decorations. Please leave your first message attached as well. Thanks, AB

Message 2: Thank you for responding so quickly to my message... as far as my tank decorations go, I have only Dowell aquarium gravel (which says on the bag that it will not alter water chemistry, some supposedly aquarium-safe rocks I bought at PetsMart, and a piece of driftwood (weighted with slate) that I got from a reputable aquarium shop here. The only other thing in the tank is my aquarium plant (which was doing incredibly well, and now seems to be dying). I keep the tank as clean as possible, so I'm not sure what could be causing the problem. Thanks for any feedback...

Reply 2: An aquarium is a closed system, so the hardness had to come from somewhere. If you add no salt of any kind, either your gravel or one of your rocks is leaching. The wood should be safe enough. Finding out which is leaching is somewhat more difficult. You'll need a couple of clean jars and a KH/GH kit. You can test the gravel easily. The rock you may need to break a sample off of, or you can test the gravel and if it's ok you can just remove the rock. Fill the jars with water from your aquarium, test KH & GH, record your results. Add gravel to one, 1/2 a jar worth. Add your rock sample to the other. Cap and retest KH and GH in one week. The one that goes up is the guilty party. Good luck, AB

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Green Water Additional Info
10 Gallon containing: 2 Mickey Mouse Platys, I had 3 but 1 jumped out this week, 4 Neon Tetras 2 Corydoras Catfish
Here's My Problem : I have a persistent green water problem and I'm not sure what to do about it. This has been going on for about 2-3 months. When I change the water it clears up but within a few days it is so cloudy I can't see more than a couple of (fish or inches, online editor cut it off.) Thank you

I think you're doing 2 things too often.

Feeding: Once a day is fine, every other day is fine. Twice a day is a bit too much and feeding the algae.

Cleaning the tank/large water changes. I'm familiar with the Aquaclear mini. Since the fish are alive, I'm assuming that you haven't changed your sponge. This is good. Rinse the sponge in cool dechlorinated water, but don't change it. Do change the carbon packet, once a week if you like. It will help filter out the algae. When you do your water change, change about 25% of your water at a time, rinsing the sponge in water removed from the tank. This will leave more bacteria in the water to maintain its clarity. Good luck, AB

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Salt Water Dip

Ich appears differently on different fish. On platies, it would probably look like white spots. On guppies, if they are silvery, it would look like clear bubbles. Fungus can either look white & furry, or be in blobs. Some fish fungi aren't really fungi at all, they are bacterial. When you aren't sure whether it's bacterial or fungus, you can treat with both Maroxy and Maracyn.
Since fungus often forms a secondary infection to bacteria, and vice versa, that's what I usually do if I treat at
all. I am attaching saltwater dip instructions. They work on most parasites and may benefit during an attack of fungus or bacteria as well. If you want to write back, please leave your first message attached. Good luck,

Without knowing the species of fish I cannot recommend a medication. I can tell you this non medicine initial treatment.

First, do a partial water change. Clear the tank of decorations & lift water from 2" above the gravel, where the ich larvae are swimming. Remove 25-30% of your water. Replace with clean dechlorinated water. Turn the heater up a little. You need to raise it a degree every 6 hours until you get it to 83 degrees. Prepare a container well rinsed, (plastic bowl will work) Put in it
dechlorinated water, plus free-running or aquarium salt, 2 teaspoons per 2 cups water. Net your fish out & let them swim in the water for 2 to 10 minutes each. Put them back in the tank, pour this water down the drain. The ich that were on the fish will be in the salt water. Do NOT add salt to your tank instead. That leaves the ich in the tank, where they can reinfect your fish.

Before you medicate your tank with any medicine, remove new carbon. Carbon is that over one week old can stay, since it won't remove your medicine. Newer than that should be removed, or wait the necessary number of days before treating.

Coppersafe or Clear Ich don't actually kill ich on the fish, but they kill some free swimming ich larvae, and the larvae of many other parasites. It is safe for most fish, and combined with a temperature increase and saltwater dip, is a good product. Clear Ich will work without the saltwater dip, or in addition to it, and actually will kill ich on the surface of the fish. Clear Ich also takes care of a peculiar swim bladder problem that only affects corydoras catfish. (Warning: Malachite green will kill catfish, plecos, and many silver fish. A full strength dose will even kill tetras. It does however kill ich on the fish.)

A strain of ich resistant to Coppersafe and Clear Ich appeared in my tanks in spring of 2002. Formalite finally took care of it, after it resisted methylene blue, Coppersafe and Clear Ich. I now own a UV light that can be connected to a quarantine tank. I have not been able to locate Formalite for the online store, but it will be there when I find a wholesale source.

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Low pH. Additional Info

: 30 gallon tank, stocked with 2 Cory's, 3 white clouds, 1 betta, an algae eater, serpae tetra, 2 black neons, and 1 lemon tetra. For many months my aquarium has been fine and staying at normal levels of all water tests. However, recently the PH level has decided to be ever diminishing. Now I cannot seem to get the PH level to stabilize and stop turning acidic. The tank is 7 months old. pH is currently 6.4.

The 11 fish are fed Betta bites, typically flake food and sometimes brine shrimp. The tank has aquatic plants. Filtration is Undergravel and Power Filter. I test for Ammonia, Nitrite, and PH. I do a quarter water change monthly. The temperature is at 76-77 degrees. Tank is cleaned monthly Chemicals used: Leaf Zone-plant fertilizer, ACT, Stress coat, & Proper PH 7.0

You have a couple of factors at work. Your tank is turning acidic due to time, stocking, and proper pH 7.0. (6.4 is moderately acidic, 8.4 is basic or alkaline.) I assume that you are lowering the pH of new water added during your water changes to 7.0. Now that your tank is maturing, this is not necessary, and the diminished carbonates after lowering the pH, are allowing the co2 in the tank to turn the aquarium's water acidic. The Murphy page has more information on pH decline in aging aquariums. I encourage you to check it out. I also encourage you to use dechlorinated tap water without adjusting the pH for your next couple of water changes. The pH should bounce back very nicely. Good luck, AB

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Twitchy, erratic fish, head damaged or missing at death. In non-catfish species the disease generally infects the brain. However, it can mimic dropsy, with severe abdominal bloat (abdomen filled with clear, brownish liquid). In catfish, sores, loss of appetite, general debilitation followed by death. The bad news is: this bacteria can live in a fish's body for 200 days. If the fish does not get sick right away, but develops an injury in the next 200 days, instead of just dealing with the injury you are dealing with a fatal condition, as the bacteria get the upper hand. After the initial outbreak in one tank, I've been dealing with mildly injured fish that die. Now I know why.

The good news: once exposed, if the fish doesn't get sick, it does develop some immunity, although an injury or stress can undermine the immunity. The other good news, the bacteria seem to become non-contagious below 71 degrees (can be tough to do in a house) or at 83 degrees. In a tank without fish the enteric septicemia bacteria are supposed to die within 24 hours. Being very conservative, I raised a tank temp to 86 and added ammonia (fishless cycling) for about 1 week at that temperature. (The biological filter can tolerate 83, 86 degrees, even higher as long as oxygen is available.) The african cichlids I put in afterward have shown no signs of exposure to enteric septicemia. Follow the links at the end of this practical article to see all the scientific facts I found in their original form, from the original sources..

Enteric Septicemia in catfish. It has different symptoms for different species, but this disease does have a name!

Enteric Septicemia symptom list by type of fish, as of 4/12/00.

  • If the fish were small, such as neons, cardinals, rasboras or guppies, they would first exhibit darting and erratic swimming, followed by death, with the body appearing to have had the head bitten off.
  • Cory catfish stop eating, fins erode similar to fin rot, eyes may darken, and move around very little for the 2 weeks or so prior to death. A day or 2 before death, red marks or sores may appear on albino catfish, or be visible on the bellies of other cories. I could find no other markings on the dark catfish I have lost.
  • Medium sized fish such as barbs or red tail sharks often exhibit flashing or darting behavior in the hours just before they die, but have no visible symptoms.
  • On a clown loach, no visible signs. No discoloration, no erosion around the mouth, not even a red gill. Lack of desire to eat, great desire to hide from light, inability to control swimming pattern so it tucks itself under a rock. Death.
  • Large fish such as bala sharks (4 to 6 inch size) may exhibit red streaks on the body and gills, but in a more all-over pattern than with septicemia resulting from an injury, forinstance, all fins, and the belly marked with red lines.
  • Very large fish (7 inch gouramis) may exhibit dropsy for a period of a month or 2, be contagious during most of that time and continue to eat. The dropsy will not respond to conventional treatments such as Maracyn 2.

Tank Stats on someone else's tank: Dying Rasboras and Red Tailed Shark Tank: about 50 gallons (180 litres), filtration: external carbon/sponge, tank is 7 weeks old, pH 7.2, temp 80 deg F; flourescent light, 14 hours a day on timer, aquatic plants in tank. Water Changes: 10-15% weekly, Tank Cleaning: cleaned filter once, "vaccumed" twice in this time. Fish, 9 remaining: swordtails - 3 adult, one 4 month old baby, redtail shark x 1 (now deceased), corydora julii x2, bronze corydora x 1, harlequin rasboras x 4 (two now deceased). Food: Wardleys Total Tropical flakes twice a day and Wardleys Spirulina Tablets every other day. Occasional freeze dried worms.Chemicals: Sera-aquatan water conditioner, Sera-nitrivec biostarter when setting up the tank, Also use salt.

Problem: I have lost two harlequin rasboras and one red tail shark this week. The only strange thing I noticed was the redtail shark racing around madly, hit a rock then hid behind the heater and wouldn't come out. The next morning he was dead

Turn your tank temperature up to 83 degrees.

I am testing Tetra Anti-Bacteria medicated flakes (tetracycline) on a bala shark that appeared to be dying. They seem to be working. I have a clown loach that won't eat, so I've moved him (and his buddy) to a clean, empty, established tank at 83. If I can slow the multiplication of bacteria long enough to get him to eat, I may manage to save him. 4/12/00 I lost the clown loach (who never ate) and the bala, who ate for about 2 days. I fed the Tetra AB for 7 days. I have not had a new definite case of ES since feeding it. The fish already exhibiting symptoms when they started the food did die, more slowly, but they did die.

You may treat sick fish that are still eating with a medicated food containing one of the products referenced in the following articles. Since these are designed for farm-raised dinner table catfish, I can't give you a commercial product name yet. Here are links to the article by the University of Florida. And one by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. The SRAC's is a pdf file.


How my tanks got infected with enteric septicemia. 9-21-98, I picked up 4 rosy barbs for my daughter at Petsmart and I guess they had it, but I lost one fish at a time, so far apart, initially, that I chalked it up to aggression. I also had a chinese algae eater from Petsmart, and a couple of other fish from other sources. I start tracking an infectious disease from the first fish I saw the symptoms on, usually the first death. While there were a few other fish in that tank, some of them are still alive and well, although they have doubtless carried this gram-negative bacteria to the other tanks they are in. The first rosy barb died on 10-19-98, no spots, no ragged fins, no reason. The other rosy barbs went 1 at a time, the first 3 with a little erratic swimming followed by death, while it multiplied in the tank. The little neon tetras in with them looked like their heads were bitten off. On 7-2-99 I salt water dipped the last barb, who had dropsy symptoms, and put him in a goldfish bowl. I dipped the barbs' tankmates and moved them to my 29 and 40 gallon tanks, but the disease traveled on those fish, even though they weren't sick, and they stopped dying. My 29 gallon quarantine stays at 83 degrees, but gets quite crowded in summer, and enteric septicemia seems to have been living in one fish at a time, killing very, very, sporadically, since then. (I believe I have lost 6 to 8 fish so far.) One article says this gram-negative bacteria can live in the brain, kidneys, and another organ of fish for 200 days, but at the same time, most fish seem to develop an immunity. As a consequence, while I'm not putting potentially exposed fish out of their misery, but my tropical freshwater fish aren't moving to any tank they aren't already in. (My african cichlids are safe since I never put tropicals in with them.) So far, deaths have only occurred in the quarantine tanks and one school tank, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'm distributing medicated food to any customer I gave a fish to out of one of my large tanks. On empty tanks with good filtration, the bacteria should die out within 24 hours. So by the time 7 days of medicated food are complete, the tanks should all be safe. The bala shark ate the medicated food for 2 days, and died after 5 days. I've also stepped up water changes, as well as turning heaters on.

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Live Plants -- and, yes, this is definitely my opinion. (Partly formed by my red tailed shark, red hook silver dollars, gouramis, and other plant-eating fish, whom I am very fond of.)

Here's My Problem : what are some benefits and cons of live plants vs. those fake ones.pothos ivy in rockwork, 30 gallon high

In my opinion, live plants provide snack food for the fish, supplementing their diets with real vitamins, etc. The biggest disadvantage is that if you don't have enough light, many live plants turn into dead plants and the floating leaves and debris can contribute to an ammonia problem. My favorite live aquarium plant is a cutting off of the house plant, pothos, which is a large leaf ivy. It does very well, even in new aquariums, the cutting can be just laid in the gravel with a rock to anchor it, and dying leaves are rare, easy to spot, and easy to remove. It requires less light than many aquarium plants, and doesn't come with pond snails. Good luck, AB

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What kind of fish do I have?

If you don't mind me asking, what kind of fish do you have? Haven't decided on what I want... Have been thinking about Discus but I understand they do not get alone with other species of fish, so I have not decided.... Thx again, L

Some of my aquarium photos are on http://www.everythingfishy.com/aquarium.htm Realize that I do aquarium setup and maintenance for a living, so I have to stock a fair number of fish or buy them when the price is high and the fish are sick and will need quarantined and treated. If I stock some, it knocks 2 weeks off of delivery.

My personal freshwater tanks are: (as of 11/10/99)
a 40 gallon long, (set up in 1995) with a geophagus jurupari, red tailed shark, 2 clown loaches, 2 red hook silver dollars, 3 bala sharks, 3 angelfish (left over from a customer special order), 4 red eye tetras, 1 zebra danio, a handful of platies (whose babies supplement the diets of the angels and some of the other fish), a chinese algae eater, 2 otocinclis who are probably in grave danger, 2 dojos, 1 female moonlight gourami that's about 7" long, 1 gold gourami who will be 7" long (but is new to being the
small (3") fish in a big pond, she's a bully from a customer's tank), a pleco, and a pair of dwarf gouramis. There are photos from a couple of weeks ago on the aquarium page.

There are a lot more fish in it today than there were a month ago. I had to clear tanks to make room for incoming fish, so I just put the balas, the dojos, the pleco, the otocinclis, and the pair of dwarf gouramis in yesterday. I also put the gold gourami in yesterday, as a trade in for a slightly mellower dwarf. I only get away with this stocking level because the tank is 4 years old, I do 14 gallon water changes every 3 or 4 weeks, watch the pH, and never vacuum more than 25% of the gravel. The only filter is the u/g with 2-Hagen 301 powerheads. Any fish going into this tank has a couple of weeks quarantine, since these are my personal babies, and I get deeply offended if they get sick. Notice: no barbs in this tank. With the angels' trailing fins, they are a forbidden fish. No really small fish, (except the otocinclis, who are taking their chances). The other 4 zebra danios have disappeared, probably into the geophagus stomach when he ran low on ghost shrimp. I put 25 to 50 ghost shrimp in once a month, so the fish can hunt and supplement their diet. There's a lot of cover, because I have a lot of bottom feeders, and not a huge amount of open swim area. Plants are mainly the houseplant, pothos, because it holds up better with the gouramis than little plastic plants. Gouramis eat plants by the way, and they will nip the leaves off of anything, including plastic, if there is algae on them.

30 gallon high, african cichlids: 3 electric yellow labidochromis, 1 female albino zebra, and 6 or 7 baby melanachromis johannis. That's it, and when the johannis grow some more, I'll have to move them out. I've been trying to breed yellows, with 3 other fish I keep at a neighbors. We determined that hers were all female, so I went and got 3 more, and ended up with all females again. I'm trying to find 2 males now.

I also have:

a 10 gallon livebearer tank with mollies,
a 10 gallon with neons and a couple of corydoras cats,
a 10 gallon with 3 dwarf gouramis, half a dozen glowlight tetras, 5 cory's, a dojo or 2 and a couple of otocinclis,
a 10 gallon with feeder guppies & platies, to feed the reef,
a 29 gallon with some yellow high fin platies, silvertip tetras, more corydoras cats and dojos, and 2 male dwarf gouramis,
a 10 gallon with 40 or 50 baby african cichlids, growing up to go visit the pet store I think,
a 10 gallon testing 3 gold gouramis to see if they will eat snails, (so far, not so good),
and a 10 gallon with a teenage pair of m.johannis that seem to be doing a mating ritual.
The only live plants are houseplant cuttings. All of the fish in my 40 eat plants, and most of them need some in their diet, so I do keep those in there, and the fish eat them. Real aquatic plants are an expensive snack, and they have all been eaten, leaving only their snails behind. Romaine lettuce on a clip also works for a supplement. Have fun. AB
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Celsius / Centigrade

70 deg

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Links to other Aquarium Sites:

DFW Fishbox - Hobbyist forum, My favorite

Aquaria Central Do It Yourself Page

Age of Aquariums (has great photo index)

Species info: fishbase.org -- GREAT research tool

The Krib -- the Classic - these notes are still solving mysteries today.

SaltBiofilter.com , A Technical Aquarium FAQ

New to me Saltwater Info page - I like their ich treatment. SeaSky.org

FINS - Fish Information Service

The Tropical Tank - UK - Nice page, good info.

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FishNotes is still under construction. Aquatics information, photographs, articles Copyright © 1999 - 2018 by Alice Burkhart, All Rights Reserved.. Keeping Murphy Out Of Your Aquarium is © Copyright 1997, 1998 by Alice Burkhart, All Rights Reserved. Cover Photos by Andrew M Burns. Top of Page