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Heavy breathing, half clamped tail fin, rubbing on wood/plants

Discussion in 'Dwarf Cichlid Health' started by TCMontium, Apr 12, 2018.

  1. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    These are the only symptoms on my Dicrossus. Today morning, 12 hours ago (I live in EU) I noticed one sitting on a leaf, which just seemed like extra sleeping (since dicrossus sleep like that), but now all the dicrossus are showing those symptoms and even green neons are breathing heavyly and dashing through from time to time.

    The tank was set up a week ago with old tank water and RO water. pH is around 5.0-5.5. I knew this kind of "poisoning" was caused by high ammonia (or nitrites?), but in low pH ammonia shoulnd exist, right?? Nitrite and nitrate tests show zero too. Since all the ammonia is in form of ammonium in acidic water, the question is: Can ammonium cause this? Or is the some other chemical in the water? (something that lowered pH too much maybe?)
  2. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    Now that the effect of photosynthesis on pH was mentioned on Apistogramma Megaptera, I suppose a pH spike could have also occurred in my aquarium. I do not have many plants, not many at all, but the lights were left on for around 24 hours since I fell asleep without turning them off. So, doubled duration of light exposure could have raised the oxygen levels while lowering the carbondioxide levels in water, causing a pH spike, maybe higher than 7.0, which causes ammonium to turn into ammonia. This sounds like the only logical explanation so far. But there are 2 things boggling my mind about this hypothesis:

    1- I did leave lights open for 24 hours or more in other aquariums, which had way more plant life inside with equal fish population density and water parameters. But they were in fact older (ot "mature" aquariums with external filters and gravel, as opposed to fine sand and no filters in this new tank. So, I guess bacteria colonies were much bigger in those aquariums, which consumed ammonia.
    2- Can just 2-3 handfuls of salvinia and 2 roots of small to medium sized echinodorus use up that much co2 and produce so much o2 to cause a pH spike from 5.0-5.5 range to over 7.0, in 100 liters of water with just 2 15W T8s? That sounds very impressive if it is possible. I never measured a pH higher than 6.2 in any aquariums of mine even with more plant density and 14-16 hours of HO T5 or powerled lighting...
  3. gerald

    gerald Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    If the tank has enough plants to cause a noticeable effect on pH, then it also has enough plants to effectively absorb nearly all of the ammonium / ammonia output from your fish. And If a filter or airstone keeps the water surface moving, you probably wont get any plant-induced pH change anyway, because the CO2 and O2 will be kept in equilibrium with the air above the water. Yes ammonium ion (NH4+) is toxic too, but fish can tolerate a LOT more of it than un-ionized ammonia (NH3). Also, floating plants with a dry leaf surface like Salvinia and Limnobium are less likely to affect pH because they take most of their CO2 from the air, not from the water.

    The fish might be suffering from a parasitic disease rather than ammonium issues.
  4. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    I don't have a filter or air stone. The water movement is minimal, limited to the circulation caused by the heater turning on and off.
    Since there really isn't enough plants to absorb much of neither ammonium nor co2 in the water, I am lost. Maybe my dennerle 5/6 in 1 stick tests are just not measuring correctly and there was a nitrite spike… Even that sounds very unlikely, but there are no "likely" options anyway.
    It definately isn't a parasite since all the dicrossus and neons were showing same symptoms at the same time and they turned back to normal after 60% water change. This kind of a "poisoning" never happened to me before. Now I will buy an ammonia/ammonium test. If the same thing happens I will be able to know for sure if ammonia or ammonium really somehow was the problem.
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  5. dw1305

    dw1305 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Hi all,
    That is a possibility. You can largely ignore the pH changes due to photosynthesis, they occur in all vegetated waters.
    The test kits won't be very accurate, I'm not a great fan of test kits. Because the fish recovered after the water change it sounds very much like it is a water quality issue.

    The combination of a relatively new tank set-up, sensitive fish, no filter and few plants makes raised ammonia/ammonium levels by far the likeliest option. I'm not an advocate of regarding non-cycled/cycled as a binary concept, but this tank isn't really "cycled".

    Personally I would add an air powered sponge filter immediately, particularly because you don't have many plants. If it was a filter sponge that has been active, that would be better. I store a spare sponge in all the tanks, it doesn't have to be in the filter to pick up microbial activity, it just has to be wet.

    It may be the fish remained more active, because the lights were on, and that higher metabolic activity over-whelmed the small amount of biological filtration capacity you have. Also the lower levels of the tank water may have become de-oxygenated (due to the lack of water circulation), because you don't have any other site for nitrification to occur.

    If all the substrate was new as well? there may just not have been a robust microbial assemblage, capable of dealing with fluctuating fixed nitrogen levels.

    cheers Darrel
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  6. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    Yes, the tank is not cycled at all, there definately isn't enough bacteria to turn the ammonium into nitrate fast enough so there isn't ammonium building up in water. I do 50% water changes ever 4-5 days and feed minimal to counter it. It worked for several other new setups and bare bottom "aquariums" until now. The reason I wasn't finding ammonia poisining a possibility was the low pH of RO water plus acids from catappa leaves and mangrove roots. I was expecting ammonia to stay in the form of ammonium, which isn't supposed to cause these symptoms on fish even if it builds up (I don't know the limit up until there is a problem of any kind, or even if it is harmful to fish to begin with. Even when I search for "ammonium fish health" all the results mention harms of ammonia, not ammonium…).

    If ammonium (not ammonia) is harmful for fish health in "small to mediocre" concentrations and can cause these symptoms, then I have just been gambling with new setups for all these years. I wish I could see an article or at least a mention of ammonium's effects on fish health.
    I will add a small external filter for water movement and to create extra surface for bacteria. Maybe more water changes (60-70% every 3-4 days) will help too like it does in discus growout tanks and such other sensitive acidic/soft/pure water fish tanks without much bacterial surface.
  7. dw1305

    dw1305 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Hi all,
    All tanks are different and it may be that the long light period and the soft water allowed the pH to climb and NH4+ be converted to NH3 in this case, which hasn't happened in your tanks before. Personally I wouldn't ever rely on low pH as a mechanism for detoxifying ammonia.

    There is quite a lot of work showing that low dissolved oxygen levels make NH3 more toxic, the reference would be "Increased Toxicity of Ammonia to Rainbow Trout (Salmo gairdneri) Resulting from Reduced Concentrations of Dissolved Oxygen", I probably have some recent references at work.

    I like "belt and braces", so plenty of dissolved oxygen and plenty of plants (including floating non-CO2 limited ones). We usually talk about BOD as the measure of pollution, I can't measure BOD directly, but I know that if I have a lot of dissolved oxygen a system can deal with a large bioload.

    I tend to just use conductivity as a proxy for both hardness (and nutrient content in conjunction with the "Duckweed Index"), because if you have very low conductivity you know that you don't have much dKH, because you just don't have many ions of any description.
    Water changes, or a Prime type water conditioner, both work, but plants are much more effective.

    cheers Darrel
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  8. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    Well... I have bad news.

    I added new fish yesterday morning. Today, a few hours ago, I spotted some of the Dicrossus doing the same rubbing and tail clamping motions. Also they "twitch": they shake their heads really fast like they are trying to get rid of something on their head. They mostly rub on catappa leaves or fine sand bottom. Only 2-3 of the Dicrossus are showing these symptoms right now. Other 3-4 of them aren't acting like them. Green Neons aren't rubbing or twitching either right now. I made a 50% water change right after observing these behavior on one Dicrossus today, but they still act the same even after the water change.
    The fish I added yesterday are 6 adult Biotoecus opercularis, 6 Nannostomus eques and 2 Farlowella. None of them act out of order (except being very pasif because of being new).
    I bought a Sera aqua-test box liquid test kit and measured NH4/NH3 levels. The resulting color is yellow, it shows the ammonium/ammonia levels to be 0 mg/L. So I have no ammonium/ammonia, no nitnites and less than 10 mg/L of nitrates in the aquarium. Does this mean Dicrossus and some tetras have parasites for sure? Maybe "skin flukes"? Their gills do not seem out of ordinary to me.
    Would photos help even though they don't seem any different from normal except the clamped tails? Should I just buy and use a parasite medicine for "flukes" right away?

    It seems weird to me that the fish were acting normal for 6 days after a 50-60% water change. Can a major water change help against symptoms caused by parasites?
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  9. dw1305

    dw1305 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Hi all,
    Arghhhhhhh, I'm not being funny, but why did you add new fish to a tank that doesn't have robust biological filtration? and why are you adding fish that haven't been quarantined?

    Both are sure recipes for disaster.
    Throw the test kits away, or at least treat the results with some scepticism.

    I'm not anti-testing per se, but I look after a lab with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of analytical equipment in it (AAS, IAE, GC, HPLC), and technical staff who can use them, and it still isn't always possible to get accurate and reliable levels for all the parameters we might be interested in.

    The fish are the most sensitive indicators you have of water conditions.

    Scientists who are interested in water quality use a <"Biotic index">, basically scores derived from the known pollution sensitivity of the invertebrate assemblage. If you have a water sample from a stream, with-out any stone-flies (Plectoptera) etc. in it you know that water conditions have been sub-optimal at some point in the recent past.

    Your Dicrossus are your Stone-flies, and they are telling you that you have water issues, and almost certainly ones that relate to DO and nitrification. If your fish have parasites or have damaged gills from previous high ammonia levels they may show symptoms before they would if they were entirely healthy.

    cheers Darrel
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  10. gerald

    gerald Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Sounds like parasites are a good possibility in this case; maybe flukes or protozoans. Can you add some floating plants like Limnobium, Salvinia, or Duckweed, at least as a temporary measure to keep NH3/NH4 as low as possible?
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  11. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    I have ordered the fish before the Dicrossus and tetras showed the symptoms. I have 5 more tanks but none of them are empty, I had to put them in the biggest one with the least amount of fish, which would be fine if the existing fish didn't start acting like this.
    Biological filtration isn't supposed to be needed in the water parameters, bioload and frequency of water change this aquarium has.

    Even after a 50-60% water change and usin Amtra CLEAN (ammonia and nitrite remover, like Prime is) the same Dicrossus induvidials are rubbing against objects. Green Neons are shaking ever so often. Biotoecus, eques and Farlowella are normal.

    Even if I did measure ammonia/ammonium to be 0 mg/L, then did a major RO water change regardless of that, and then used an ammonia remover how are you still so sure that I have an ammonia problem? What makes it obviously a DO problem and definately not a fluke/parasite problem?
  12. TCMontium

    TCMontium Member

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    I added salvinia and duckweed from another aquarium yesterday, there is an area of 50*35cm covered in floating plants right now (total surface area is 80*35). There are also 2 echinodorus, a few branches of hornwort and a H. leucephala. I am going to do another 50% change today regardless of if there is some miracle DO in water or parasites.
    Can I just use any external parasite medicine or is there parasite species specific medicine types? Or pH specific medicines that I cannot use in acidic and pure water?
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  13. dw1305

    dw1305 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Hi all,
    OK that makes sense, but you really need a tank that doesn't have any permanent inhabitants.

    I don't have a quarantine tank in the normal sense of a bare tank. I have a planted, filtered tank (with no permanent inhabitants) where I store spare plants, bits of wood, filter sponges, Asellus, Black-worms etc and I can then use it for unexpected fry, fish that are being bullied etc.

    I buy very few new fish, but if I do buy new fish, they go in the spare tank for 6 weeks.
    I don't know where this advice came from, it maybe theoretically correct, but it isn't true in practice.

    You can have tanks with little traditional biological filtration, if you have "plant/microbe" biological filtration, but as soon as you have a situation with only a few plants and a non-cycled filter you are in real trouble, unless you have a continual drip water change with quite a large water volume turn-over.
    No that is the whole point, you can't tell what it is. It could be parasites, it could be ammonia/DO issues, it could be a combination of parasites and water quality, it could be a combination of gill damage from the earlier incident and parasites, it could be a combination of all three factors.

    In science you try an design experiments with only one variable, I like to exclude water quality as a variable by using established tanks with a heavy plant mass, regular water changes and a reasonable amount of flow.

    I knew from my "day job" that you could use a combination of plant/microbe filtration and high dissolved oxygen levels to treat really polluted waste (landfill leachate) and from there it is a short conceptual leap to using the same techniques in aquariums to maintain high water quality.

    cheers Darrel
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