Problems with Ammonia (Urgent)

Shaxx_on_a_Sax

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As the title says, I've had some recent issues with ammonia in my 40 gallon breeder tank. For the past couple of months I was getting small ammonia spikes every week or so, usually right around a water change. With that came some bad algae growth, and eventually I had to remove both of my axies from the tank because one of them had their gills start to bleed (she's fine, I caught it early so she didn't get really hurt), I started a round of stability to help the beneficial bacteria colony in my tank, and I completely cleaned out my chiller inside and out to remove all the debris and algae I could.

After a week it looked like everything was stable, so I added both of them back in. Fast forward five days to today, and I have a reading of 0.5ppm ammonia in the tank. They don't seem like they're stressed at all, but I still added a large dose of prime to detoxify the ammonia (~3mL). It's been super frustrating since I've tried just about everything to reduce the ammonia at this point (adding more filtration, adding more plants, stability, etc.) and nothing has worked.

What do I do here? The odd thing is that my nitrites don't increase at all and my nitrates only increase a small amount (probably because of the plants), and yet my ammonia is still going up like the tank is still brand new.
I know the water in my tank evaporates a lot because it's hot right now, but I don't know if I should just dismiss it as the ammonia becoming more concentrated in a smaller amount of water or still treat it like a serious issue.

Parameters Today:
Ammonia: 0.5ppm
Nitrites: 0ppm
Nitrates: 20ppm
 

Murk

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Hm, sounds like a curious case.

There are a few questions that immediately pop to mind. If you could answer those that would be great.

- "Uusually right around a water change". Do you mean before or after a water change? Before would make sense, since the level will usually go down after a water change.
- "With that came some bad algae growth" Frankly, I don't associate sudden algae growth with ammonia. Was it regular green algae (either on surfaces or hair-like)?
- " one of them had their gills start to bleed" ...Like, actual bleeding? Or rashes/reddening of the gills. Again, actual bleeding is not something I would expect from ammonia burns (at least not in an early stage).
- "my nitrates only increase a small amount" do you have an indication of high much it increases over, say, a week? In a well-cycled tank, especially with regular ammonia spikes I would expect some solid nitrate increases.
- "because it's hot right now" any temperature increases? I know you have a chiller, but still.
- And in general: What kind of substrate do you have and what & how do you normally feed? Could there be any left-over food, poop or decomposing plant material be hidden somewhere?

I'm just brainstorming here, so some of the questions could be nonsense. I can think of a few explanations so far:
- What water test do you use? It could be your ammonia readings are simply not accurate. Algae growth and especially bleeding gills could easily have another cause (like a snappy tankmate). Seeing how the axolotls do not seem stressed, maybe your ammonia is fine but your test is outdated/inaccurate.
- Could you do test your tap water? It's rare (and not OK), but not unheard of for tap water to have some ammonia - in which case water changes clearly wouldn't help.
- Could there be a source of ammonia hidden somewhere? Like, a rotting earthworm can really do a number on otherwise fine tanks. I wouldn't expect this to last months, though.

Thanks.
 

E. Sylvanus

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I second testing your tap water, from personal experience. I moved last year, and couldn’t figure out why I was having issues with ammonia in my new place. Nitrite was 0, and I had nitrates, but my ammonia stayed around 0.5ppm. Even with frequent (sometimes daily) water changes, I couldn’t get it down. After testing the tap water on a whim, it turned out I do have ammonia in my tap water, so all my water changes were just putting more ammonia into the tank. Anyway, all that to say it’s definitely worth checking on it.
 

Calgarycoppers

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What is your maintenance routine for water changes?
How often?
What percentage?
What are you cleaning? stirring? moving? i.e filters? substrate? decor?
How many and what kind of filters do you have?

What do they eat?
is your tank full or only partially?
Any other livestock in the tank?
 

Shaxx_on_a_Sax

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Ok, sorry I didn't get a chance to reply yesterday.

I did test my tap water, and found no signs of ammonia in it but around 10-20ppm of nitrates. The algae I had was greenish algae, but it seems to have mostly died after I ran the chiller backwards and with vinegar for a couple of days and removed any substrate with algae on it.
The most I've seen my nitrates go up to is around 40ppm, but it hasn't gone that high recently. I just assumed the plants sucked all of it up, but I'm not so sure now.

My substrate is fine aquarium sand, so most of the debris come to the top and I try to spot clean to the best of my ability. I did look at some water wisteria that wasn't doing so hot, so it might be the plant decaying. I'll take the two stems out and see if that helps.

As far as maintenance goes, I cleaned 30% (10 gallons) of the water every week, and made sure to stir up the sand once or twice a week as well. I did have to rinse my filter media in the used tank water (NOT tap water) a few times over the past few months because of the algae problem, and I have three filters running in the tank (two fluval 30g & 50g HOBs, and one 50g sponge). I try to prune and trim leaves whenever I see brown spots or yellow leaves, but work and stress makes that a bit difficult at times. Last week I only cleaned 20% (7 gallons) to see if I was taking too much water out of the tank.

The axolotls (Riven and Umbra) eat large nightcrawlers once or twice a week, and nothing else besides the plants lives with them. I don't think they're too stressed out, but I know Riven was swimming around the tank a lot last night

I ran another water test just now. 0.25ppm ammonia, 0ppm nitrites, and 40ppm nitrates. So it looks like the beneficial bacteria are still alive, but the ammonia reading is stubbornly staying at 0.25. I'm seeing some plant debris here and there, could I just have to be extremely vigilant about cleaning the smallest leaf when it comes up?
 

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Murk

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Oh yeah, with two axolotls and weekly 30% water changes, I wouldn't expect to see the nitrates level increase much.

To me, it sounds like you have a cycled tank (nitrates are produced, 0 nitrites), a solid maintenance schedule, a clean-looking tank and healthy-looking axolotls... so besides the ammonia reading, it seems there's not really a problem?

I'd wait one or two weeks, maybe even skip the water change. See if the ammonia and nitrates increase.
- If after two weeks the ammonia has increased and the nitrates haven't, your tank has a problem with its cycle.
- If after two weeks the ammonia hasn't increased and the nitrates have, you have a good cycle and the 0.25 reading is weird but likely harmless.
- If after two weeks both the ammonia and nitrates have increased, you have a good cycle but also a big source of ammonia hidden somewhere that you would need to find.
- If after two weeks neither the ammonia nor the nitrates have increased... uh, well, I think that's unlikely, but it would be good, I guess.

It sounds sensible to me, but others might know better! :)
 

Shaxx_on_a_Sax

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Ok, so it's been a week and I've dosed with stability to be safe. The readings at the end of the treatment were Ammonia at 0ppm, Nitrites at 0ppm, and Nitrates at 20-40ppm. Yesterday I did a water change and added the axolotls back into the tank on Sunday and tested the water again today. Ammonia: 0.5ppm, Nitrites: 0ppm, Nitrates: 40ppm.

So the ammonia AND nitrates went up after a water change. I guess there's a large source of ammonia somewhere in the tank, but I don't know where that would be. I'll take a turkey baster and just take out anything that doesn't look healthy, should I change some of the substrate too? Should I do another water change, and if so how much? 50%?

Edit: just after I posted, I found the large source of ammonia this time. One of them pooped inside one of the rocks I use to anchor my plants and I didn't see it. The ammonia is still in the tank though, so should I do another small water change just to be safe?
 
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