Ammonia and the Nitrogen Cycle


With some fish, high ammonia levels are a horrible problem. It is astonishing, though, that Flowerhorn fish have good tolerance towards high ammonia levels in a water system. However, in order to optimize your Flowerhorn’s potentials and beauty, good water quality management is essential. The nitrogen cycle is a big part of water quality management, and understanding it will truly help increase the success level of your tank.

All organisms excrete ammonia as waste. Proper waste management is crucial in order to maintain a healthy living environment. In aquatic environments, aquatic organisms excrete ammonia into their own living system. The nitrogen cycle takes place throughout a mature system in a man-made tank. In this environment, nitrogen products are recycled by different colonies of beneficial bacteria into different forms. The highly toxic forms of these nitrogen products are ammonia and nitrite.

In a matured fish tank system with a well circulating nitrogen cycle, many other toxins, mainly ammonia, are converted into harmless nitrate, nitrous oxide and nitrogen gas. This cycle will make sure that the nitrogen level in the water is in check, hence, maintaining it below the toxic level in your fish tank.

Normally, in a newly set up tank, the nitrogen cycle may not yet be mature, which means it may not be a complete one. There will be a surge of ammonia and nitrite in the water system (New Tank Syndrome) mainly due to amount of food the fish are fed and the wastes that are produced. This may cause your Flowerhorn to die if the ammonia level in the tank reaches the toxicity point. This is commonly known as ammonia poisoning. For a new tank, frequent water changes are advisable even if there is a proper bio filtration system in your new tank. It normally takes about 1-2 month’s time for the cycle to stabilize, then less frequent water changes are necessary.

While the surge of ammonia in your tank is a problem for your fish, it will encourage the growth of nitrifying bacteria, Nitrosomonas sp., to process the ammonia into less toxic nitrite. The resulting surge in nitrite will encourage yet another group of nitrifying bacteria,Nitrobacter sp . to convert them to even less toxic nitrate. Nitrous oxide and nitrogen gas will then be produced with the help of other bacteria and aquatic plants. The complete nitrogen cycle will normally take 1-2 month’s time to mature and fully stabilize. After this period, a healthy population of beneficial bacteria will then be able to work on harmful ammonia and nitrite in the water system. Nevertheless, the number of fish and the amount of food given to those fish is an important factor in contributing the amount of ammonia in a system. Too much food will be a problem for you fish. Moreover, you must be moderate when it comes to the cleaning of your bio-media filters. If your system is too clean, the beneficial bacteria will be eliminated. Partial water change and constant removal of excess food and solid waste from the filters are crucial to the health of your tank.

Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate kits are available at abundance in your local fish store. Proper handlings according to the instructions of these kits is essential.


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