Frustrated With Tank Parameters

candycornhappy

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I apologize for the long post. I figured that the more info I gave, the more likely someone can help me figure out the problem!

I’m getting so frustrated that I don’t know what to do. I’ve been having fish tanks for a good 20 years now but my axolotl set up is giving me nightmares. I got word from a friend at the beginning of October that the separator broke between a male and female axo and that she needed a new home for the male immediately. We frantically set up a tank and put in a few handfuls of red lava rock from my father’s ancient highly stable aquarium. Waited a few days (as long as we could) and then put in the male axo. He’s 4.5 years old and the tank (was) a bare bottom 20 gal with large rocks, some lava rocks and lots of hides. The temp is kept around 66 F. We did 20-30% water changes every 2-3 days to start. I would vacuum up all of the debris every time I changed the water. We dechlorinated the water we put in and matched the temp. All the parameters were fine and low for about 2 weeks. Then, suddenly the water got cloudy. We assumed this was a good thing like a bacteria bloom. After a week, the water was still cloudy. In fact, it was even more cloudy. We could hardly find our axo. Then, little skinny white worms appeared on the glass. Then, little fat slug planaria appeared on the bottom of the tank. Then the nitrites spiked off the chart. The test couldn’t read it it was so high. For several weeks we did daily water changes. Each day, the nitrites would spike to 2ppm and then the water change would bring it down to .5ppm or less. Also, green slimey debris appeared every day whether I fed the axo or not. We went to the pet store and got chemi-pure for the filter as recommended by the axo owner there. We were told that the slimey debris was literally mold that would progress very fast each day because of the high nitrites. Then, one day about a week and a half after adding chemi-pure, the nitrites were at 0. We were relieved. The green debris stopped appearing too. Then, after 4 days, the ammonia started to spike. Just a little spike, like 0.25 ppm. Then we woke up to another cloudy tank. I’ve been doing water changes every other day since, with the ammonia rising up to about 0.5ppm every few days. And now we get a daily influx of black debris rather than green slimey debris. It gets so bad that he kicks it up when he walks around that it lands on him when he stops moving. A few days ago when I lifted up a decoration to use the syphon under it, it started spewing debris out of the leg of it. So I pulled it, put in a ton of larger than axo head sized rocks and a different piece of décor hoping that the increased surface area would help. But now I can’t vacuum up 100% of the debris because of the rocks. I’m so tired of the whole thing. He eats every time I offer food (every 3 days or so) and acts like a happy axolotl. Oh, also, our tap water is 7.2 on the pH scale. Something in his tank drops it to 6.0 (or less, that’s how low the scale goes) by the next day. Kind of a large difference. We think it might be the dechlorinator or the chemi pure? His previous owner never changed the water once and her tank cycled in one month. But I can’t imagine just letting the ammonia and nitrites burn him without doing anything. How do we fix our tank? It's like the cycle is going backwards or restarting.
 

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Keep doing daily water changes for now. Do you have a filter on the tank?
 

LSuzuki

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OK, clearly something is going on in your tank that is outside of your experience. It is not fun to be puzzled unexpectedly.

Some of this is theoretical knowledge (to me), since I have never kept fish in an area where the pH was lower than 7.6. Must be nice - so many South African cichlids you can keep. :happy:

Do you have a nitrate test? Nitrate will lower the pH. It is also rather bad for axolotls - they are much more sensitive to it than most fish. I am wondering if you have very soft water with low buffering capacity so that the nitrate could be dropping the pH. If that is the case, large water changes will help keep. It is highly recommended to have a nitrate test kit with axolotls, even though most fish keepers don't need to bother testing for it.

Axolotls are a lot of bioload for a small tank. Either a good filter (at least 4 times the tank size in gallons per hour) or a bare tank (so you can keep it clean easily) and large daily water changes are necessary.

The lava rock concerns me, since when you say lava rock, I think of something with sharp edges. Sharp edges are a no-no with axolotls - if they panic for any reason, even just a little startle, they are likely to hurt themselves. (Since you had these in fish tanks and have been keeping fish for years, I figure you would know whether or not these rocks affect pH. Likewise for the other decorations.)

Could the black debris just be axolotl poop? Depending on what they eat, their poop may be compact (and easy to get out of the tank) or loose (and go everywhere). Regardless, I've only seen it black in color.

Since you didn't mention a filter, I'm guessing you don't have one on that tank. If that is the case, axolotl poop could be causing the ammonia spikes. If this is so, I recommend getting a good canister filter, seeding the filter media with some of the rocks from the tank, getting the other rocks and any rough or unnecessary decorations out so it is easy to clean, and wait for the tank to cycle. Keep up the water changes as necessary.

Good luck! :happy:
 

candycornhappy

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Keep doing daily water changes for now. Do you have a filter on the tank?
Yep, we have a hang over the side filter. That's where the chemi-pure pouch is housed. The filter is turned down low to reduce turbulence.
 

fish4all

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I have heard this before from a couple people before. Sometimes it fixed itself, other times the culprit turned out to be the decoration or the rocks or something else that was added from a well established tank.

Sometimes a well established tank will have a balance that is keeping some rather nasty stuff under control. Be it slime mold, black algae or something else. The decoration, more often than not, had some holes that harbored the nasties.

I would remove the lava rocks, they have served their purpose seeding the tank. Don't just discard them, put them in another tank or container and see what happens. If you see the same things then you have your cause. If not then it is time to try another decoration and test the same thing.

Only other thing I can think of might be the water from your friends tank brought along something that was in check in theirs but throws your tank out of whack.
 

candycornhappy

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OK, clearly something is going on in your tank that is outside of your experience. It is not fun to be puzzled unexpectedly.

Some of this is theoretical knowledge (to me), since I have never kept fish in an area where the pH was lower than 7.6. Must be nice - so many South African cichlids you can keep. :happy:

Do you have a nitrate test? Nitrate will lower the pH. It is also rather bad for axolotls - they are much more sensitive to it than most fish. I am wondering if you have very soft water with low buffering capacity so that the nitrate could be dropping the pH. If that is the case, large water changes will help keep. It is highly recommended to have a nitrate test kit with axolotls, even though most fish keepers don't need to bother testing for it.

Axolotls are a lot of bioload for a small tank. Either a good filter (at least 4 times the tank size in gallons per hour) or a bare tank (so you can keep it clean easily) and large daily water changes are necessary.

The lava rock concerns me, since when you say lava rock, I think of something with sharp edges. Sharp edges are a no-no with axolotls - if they panic for any reason, even just a little startle, they are likely to hurt themselves. (Since you had these in fish tanks and have been keeping fish for years, I figure you would know whether or not these rocks affect pH. Likewise for the other decorations.)

Could the black debris just be axolotl poop? Depending on what they eat, their poop may be compact (and easy to get out of the tank) or loose (and go everywhere). Regardless, I've only seen it black in color.

Since you didn't mention a filter, I'm guessing you don't have one on that tank. If that is the case, axolotl poop could be causing the ammonia spikes. If this is so, I recommend getting a good canister filter, seeding the filter media with some of the rocks from the tank, getting the other rocks and any rough or unnecessary decorations out so it is easy to clean, and wait for the tank to cycle. Keep up the water changes as necessary.

Good luck! :happy:
Nitrates have never ever been a problem in his tank, especially since we've been doing either daily water changes or water changes every 3 days at the least. I've never had the test show anything at all for nitrates.

I'm not sure why everyone is assuming I don't have a filter... We have one that cycles 100 gal per hour on a 20 gal tank. :happy:

He's never had a problem with the lava rock at all. Do you think I should remove all of the rock?

My biggest concern is that it's been 2.5 months and his tank isn't cycled. It's doing odd random things.
 

candycornhappy

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I have heard this before from a couple people before. Sometimes it fixed itself, other times the culprit turned out to be the decoration or the rocks or something else that was added from a well established tank.

Sometimes a well established tank will have a balance that is keeping some rather nasty stuff under control. Be it slime mold, black algae or something else. The decoration, more often than not, had some holes that harbored the nasties.

I would remove the lava rocks, they have served their purpose seeding the tank. Don't just discard them, put them in another tank or container and see what happens. If you see the same things then you have your cause. If not then it is time to try another decoration and test the same thing.

Only other thing I can think of might be the water from your friends tank brought along something that was in check in theirs but throws your tank out of whack.

Wow! Really? Damn, we used my dad's rock on other tanks in his house before and never had a problem. Unfortunately, we don't have any other tanks in my apartment to put it in so we'd have to just take it out and save it in a bin. We only used a little bit of the water from his initial tank so I'm not certain that's it. I didn't trust water that hadn't been changed or dechlorinated!
 

LSuzuki

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Nitrates have never ever been a problem in his tank, especially since we've been doing either daily water changes or water changes every 3 days at the least. I've never had the test show anything at all for nitrates.

I'm not sure why everyone is assuming I don't have a filter... We have one that cycles 100 gal per hour on a 20 gal tank. :happy:

He's never had a problem with the lava rock at all. Do you think I should remove all of the rock?

My biggest concern is that it's been 2.5 months and his tank isn't cycled. It's doing odd random things.
We assumed you don't have a filter since you were so thorough about listing all of the other important pieces of information. :happy: (I have heard of people who successfully and safely have unfiltered fish tanks.)

If the rocks have sharp edges, they should go. Axolotls don't have scales. Consider also any little holes that his toes could get into - if they have sharp edges, they will cut his toes. With axolotls, it is just a matter of time before they do something unexpected, like, try to go through an opening that is obviously too small for them.

"Odd random things" - good description of an axolotl. :happy: However, the axolotl tank should cycle like any other tank. I strongly suggest getting the rock and everything except the hides out, removing the chemi-pure, and waiting until the tank behaves. Then just add things back in and see it anything changes. (I expect things will settle down shortly.)

Note on things like chemi-pure: Maybe it is safe with axolotls, maybe it isn't (I don't know either way). Many products that are safe with fish are not safe with axolotls. Also, from what I've read, some axolotls are sensitive to things that others are not, such as aloe in tap water conditioner. (Mine don't have a problem with it.) So best practice with axolotls is to ===> use as few chemicals or additives as possible, and just keep the water quality good with regular water changes using a simple dechlorinator (i.e., no ammonia handling products unless you have chloramine to deal with, and then use something with a good rep among axolotl owners like Prime.).

Good luck! I hope things settle down soon so you can enjoy your axolotl friend!
 

candycornhappy

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We assumed you don't have a filter since you were so thorough about listing all of the other important pieces of information. :happy: (I have heard of people who successfully and safely have unfiltered fish tanks.)

If the rocks have sharp edges, they should go. Axolotls don't have scales. Consider also any little holes that his toes could get into - if they have sharp edges, they will cut his toes. With axolotls, it is just a matter of time before they do something unexpected, like, try to go through an opening that is obviously too small for them.

"Odd random things" - good description of an axolotl. :happy: However, the axolotl tank should cycle like any other tank. I strongly suggest getting the rock and everything except the hides out, removing the chemi-pure, and waiting until the tank behaves. Then just add things back in and see it anything changes. (I expect things will settle down shortly.)

Note on things like chemi-pure: Maybe it is safe with axolotls, maybe it isn't (I don't know either way). Many products that are safe with fish are not safe with axolotls. Also, from what I've read, some axolotls are sensitive to things that others are not, such as aloe in tap water conditioner. (Mine don't have a problem with it.) So best practice with axolotls is to ===> use as few chemicals or additives as possible, and just keep the water quality good with regular water changes using a simple dechlorinator (i.e., no ammonia handling products unless you have chloramine to deal with, and then use something with a good rep among axolotl owners like Prime.).

Good luck! I hope things settle down soon so you can enjoy your axolotl friend!
Yeah, I totally forgot to mention the filter. Oops. I figured I'd left somethings out, it's hard to remember to mention everything! I know over the side filters aren't as good as canisters. But over the side and under gravel filters are the only things I've ever used!

Ya know, I have absolutely no idea if our water has chloramines. I've just been using a dechlorinator that takes care of everything just in case. Is there a test kit/strip for chloramines? Should I just switch to prime? In my last place, we were on well water. It was perfect water too. The fish loved it. We had angels, kribs, and other cichlids breeding like crazy. So I'm actually pretty new to the concept of dechlorinators.

We'll take out all of the rocks when we change his water today. :happy: Do you recommend anything for the pH? Maybe removing the chemi-pure will help. When we change his water, our tap water is 7.2. In the tank, when mixed it becomes 6.8. By the next day, it's 6.0 or below. I know they like just above 7 right? He seems okay despite it. But I'm sure not happy about it!

Thank you for all of the help/advice!
 

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Easy way on chloramine in tap water - ask the local fish store. Also, it should say on the web site of the municipal water supplier. Also, I believe your can request a written water report from your municipal water supplier

I assume the pH isn't dropping in your fish tanks the same way? This is puzzling. If it isn't the water and it isn't nitrate, then it must be something in the tank. I would expect there is plenty of surface current from the filter, right? Is it open, or do you have a cover? (CO2 can lower pH, but I can't imagine you axolotl is producing THAT much.)

Usually "acceptable and stable" pH is much superior to "optimal pH on average but bouncing all over" pH. If you do decide you need to adjust the pH, search this forum carefully for products or approaches that are safe for axolotls. I'm not sure what an acceptable low pH is for axolotls, since that is a problem I don't have. (Very high pH here.) What pH was he living in at his old home?
 

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Easy way on chloramine in tap water - ask the local fish store. Also, it should say on the web site of the municipal water supplier. Also, I believe your can request a written water report from your municipal water supplier

I assume the pH isn't dropping in your fish tanks the same way? This is puzzling. If it isn't the water and it isn't nitrate, then it must be something in the tank. I would expect there is plenty of surface current from the filter, right? Is it open, or do you have a cover? (CO2 can lower pH, but I can't imagine you axolotl is producing THAT much.)

Usually "acceptable and stable" pH is much superior to "optimal pH on average but bouncing all over" pH. If you do decide you need to adjust the pH, search this forum carefully for products or approaches that are safe for axolotls. I'm not sure what an acceptable low pH is for axolotls, since that is a problem I don't have. (Very high pH here.) What pH was he living in at his old home?
I actually don't have any fish tanks other than the axolotl right now. When we moved into an apartment, the owners were concerned about the weight of my tank (100 gal) since I'm not on the 1st floor so I gave them to my parents for safe keeping. They were fine with the 20 gal axolotl tank though.

I will have to ask our water supplier about chloramines, thank you for the info!

I was sold a pH buffer by the pet store that also recommended the chemi-pure. Now I'm wondering if this buffer is good at all since the chemi-pure wasn't the best recommendation. :confused: I don't really use it though. I figure while I'm doing daily water changes, there's no point. I'm more worried about getting everything else stable first!

Oh, and we have a glass lid but it's never shut all of the way because we have a fan going to cool his water. Just shut enough to keep him from getting any "bright" ideas... apparently, when the last owner moved him, he jumped out of the bucket. The last owner had extremely hard water with a pH of 7.6. They only live about 20 mins away too.
 

LSuzuki

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Get a cup of water and leave it out overnight, and see if the pH drops. I know the water suppliers try to get the pH close to neutral, esp if the pH is naturally low (since they don't want pipes deteriorating faster than necessary.) I read something about it a long time ago, but I can't remember what they added. Around here, the water comes out of the tap at around 7.6 and then rises to 8.2.

Aha! Googled a bit and found something I'd forgotten! Low pH can stall a cycle. That could explain the weird cycle issues you have been having. See down at the bottom of the instructions in this link Ammonia Instructions For A Fishless Cycle - 19627

If your water is naturally low pH, you may want to do something, but it would be best to start a new thread with a title that will get the attention of keepers with the same issue as you have. That is, if you can't find it with a quick search - there have to have been other people with the same problem. :happy:
 

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If your water is too soft, a low Gh & Kh, its ability to buffer wild ph swings is limited.
 

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What sort of hang-on filter do you have? They vary widely in many respects. Some are in the running for the best filters available, while others (without modifications) are essentially useless. Providing us with the brand and filter media used will help in working out your issues.

Cole
 

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Get a cup of water and leave it out overnight, and see if the pH drops. I know the water suppliers try to get the pH close to neutral, esp if the pH is naturally low (since they don't want pipes deteriorating faster than necessary.) I read something about it a long time ago, but I can't remember what they added. Around here, the water comes out of the tap at around 7.6 and then rises to 8.2.

Aha! Googled a bit and found something I'd forgotten! Low pH can stall a cycle. That could explain the weird cycle issues you have been having. See down at the bottom of the instructions in this link Ammonia Instructions For A Fishless Cycle - 19627

If your water is naturally low pH, you may want to do something, but it would be best to start a new thread with a title that will get the attention of keepers with the same issue as you have. That is, if you can't find it with a quick search - there have to have been other people with the same problem. :happy:
Okay, so I tested the water overnight in a cup. Out of the tap was 7.2 and more than 12 hours later, it's still 7.2. We've removed the chemi-pure and all of the rock. Maybe the pH will rise again. :happy: I also removed as much of the debris in one cleaning as I could. Should be able to remove the rest when I change his water today.

That's really interesting about the pH slowing the cycle! The only thing left that could be messing with the pH now would be the dechlorinator. I think? So maybe I'll pour a bit of it into the cup and test the pH again tonight. But maybe the rock or the chemi-pure were the cause and it will rise back up to allow the cycle to continue normally. *crosses fingers*
 

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What sort of hang-on filter do you have? They vary widely in many respects. Some are in the running for the best filters available, while others (without modifications) are essentially useless. Providing us with the brand and filter media used will help in working out your issues.

Cole
Let's see, I just checked and it's a general Top Fin one from petsmart. Heh... nothing fancy. Do you need the model? It's up against the wall and under a lip of a counter. I'd need to pull the tank forward to be able to read it.
 

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If your water is too soft, a low Gh & Kh, its ability to buffer wild ph swings is limited.
I have a friend who has hard water with lots of lime (I think that's what she called it) build up. We don't have that problem so I think we may have softer water. Should I get a hardness test?
 

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Here are some pictures of him. The dark photo was from today and the bright photo was from a while ago. He hates having the light on so I only turn it on very rarely! Hope these show up. I've never posted photos before. :blush:
 

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Cole Grover

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What types of filter media do you have in there? That's actually more important than the brand. Some filter brands (Tetra's "Whisper" is notoriously one of them) are basically useless in establishing biological filtration, because the lack any suitable medium (a plastic grid, ceramic rings, etc.). Not being terribly familiar with the current t models offered as Petsmart' s in-house brand, you'll have to check it out. I know that in the past, they essentially had a floss/carbon cartridge and that's about it. Some models then added some sort of sponge thing, that may have been useful in providing your nitrifying bacteria with a home, but the directions always said to wash it regularly (and people like to follow directions), negating any such benefit. I'd say, yes, unless you remember what's inside your filter, you should certainly check. It may not be doing the job you bought it for, and thus your current suite of problems.

Hope that helps,
Cole
 
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LSuzuki

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I have a friend who has hard water with lots of lime (I think that's what she called it) build up. We don't have that problem so I think we may have softer water. Should I get a hardness test?
Why pay for a test kit when any fish store on the same water supply can tell you for free. :happy: If it is just that you have very soft water, the buffer they sold you may be the right product for the job. What product did they sell you?
 
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