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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).

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Why is My Aquarium Water Cloudy?

We often receive questions about fixing cloudy water in a hobbyist’s aquarium or the water appearing to turn a different color. While not all environments have crystal-clear water and a slight tint to your tank isn’t necessarily a bad thing, water that is noticeably “tinted” or cloudy can be a symptom of an underlying issue in your aquarium. The color of the water can tend to point to a certain problem even if you haven’t yet tested the water quality. In fact, it may even be telling you what exactly you should test for next!

Why is my aquarium water green?

Planted TankThis is probably the most common and the simplest to diagnose. More often than not, green water is the sign of an algae bloom. Algae-eating fish or other critters won’t usually eat this type of algae. The algae, usually a single-celled form, is suspended in the water. The most common cause I see for these blooms in aquariums especially is high phosphate levels and this will be the first test I will always recommend. Phosphates come into the tank most often from the source water; if your water source is well water especially, phosphates may have leeched in through the soil or through nearby farms or gardens where fertilizers may have entered the groundwater. The phosphate levels may not be high enough to affect our health but in the aquarium, they can build up to levels where they are fertilizing the algae blooms and possibly causing other issues to sensitive fish and invertebrates. If you suspect this may be happening in your aquarium, grab a phosphate test kit to test both the aquarium and your source water. If the source water has phosphates, switch to a different source like RO (Reverse Osmosis) filtered water. Filter media can also help remove the phosphates already in the aquarium and regular small frequent water changes with phosphate-free water will help cut them down.

Another cause for green water may be lighting although this will affect algae on the surfaces of the aquarium as well as the water itself. If the lights on the aquarium are on for too long (over about 8-10 hours per day), this may be overfeeding the algae naturally in the water. Also, if the bulbs are older than about 6-8 months, the spectrum (“color”) of the light itself will degrade to a more yellowish color that isn’t as useful to healthy plants but will still feed the nuisance algae. Try decreasing the duration of the lights or getting new bulbs if either of those apply. If the bloom still hasn’t gotten better, test the phosphate!

Why is my aquarium water cloudy?

This is the other very common colored-water question. Usually, the water is white and milky. Whenever we hear this, the next question will always be “How long has this tank been set up with fish?” or “Have you restarted this tank lately (removed more than a third to a half of the water)?” A milky white cloudy water color to the water is a sign of a bacteria bloom which usually happens during the Nitrogen Cycle Cycling Process of a new tank or if a tank is becoming reestablished after a large water change, medication cycle or other event. This cloudiness will usually clear up on its own; try to resist the urge to do water changes since this will only make the Cycle last longer and take longer for the bacteria population that needs to grow to take care of this on its own. You can test the water during this time to make sure everything else is normal, keeping in mind that while a tank is Cycling, you may see spikes in Ammonia and Nitrite.

Why is my aquarium water yellow?

Yellowish water is usually simply dirty. This is usually a result of overcrowding or overfeeding and may also be a sign of harmfully high Ammonia and/or Nitrite levels. Test the water to see if this is the case and take a good look at the stocking levels of your tank compared to its size and filtration. If you have four goldfish in a 10 gallon aquarium, it is overcrowded and the waste they produce is polluting the water. If you have two large Oscars in a 55-gallon tank with one small power filter, it is overcrowded and underfiltered. Take a look at your feeding routine too; you may be feeding the tank more than it needs and the leftover food (or the waste the fish produce after pigging out) could be fouling up the water. To fix this cloudiness, consider getting a large tank or cutting back on the fish you have in it, invest in a larger, more powerful filter, and consider if you need to feed the fish less. A filter media with carbon or another chemical neutralizer can help remove the organics that are polluting the water as well.

Why is my aquarium water brown?

This one straddles a fine line. There are some environments known as “blackwater” systems where this is actually a good thing and completely natural. These environments are usually in forested areas without a lot of water flow. The leaves, wood and other organic matter in the water releases a substance known as tannic acid that dyes the water brown…this is the same thing that makes the tea you drink turn brown. Some fish that live in these environments actually need this kind of water chemistry and there are additives and materials available to help aquarists create this kind of system. If you don’t have these fish and don’t want a blackwater tank however, it can be an unsightly nuisance. This usually “accidentally” comes about from driftwood in the aquarium that hasn’t been properly pressure-treated or is too soft and replacing that wood will get rid of the source of the color. Carbon in the filter will help with this as well to remove the color and organics from the water. Keep a careful eye on the pH if you are seeing your water turn this tannic brown to make sure that the acids aren’t lowering your pH too far.

These are the most common questions we get about the color of the water in an aquarium. If you are seeing a different “color” or if the solutions here aren’t resolving the problem in your tank, give us a call or comment below and we’d be happy to help you figure it out!

For additional information – check out this article addressing a specific question from a That Fish Blog reader – Clearing Cloud Water.

 

Aquarium Decoration Ideas – Fish Bowl Designs & DIY

Our first blog on Do-It-Yourself aquarium decoration ideas seemed to get so many creative juices flowing that we’re back with some more ideas, tips and examples. In the first blog, we covered some general ideas for how to look at different objects as possible aquarium decorations. This time, we’re going to get more specific based on some of the most common questions from your fellow hobbyists. I created a few different looks after raiding my kitchen cabinets for inspiration using a 2-gallon glass aquarium and a 1-gallon glass bowl but you can adapt the same ideas to aquariums of any size.

Hershey Bears Betta Bowl

Hershey Bears Fish BowlI’m personally a huge hockey fan and have done an NHL Philadelphia Flyers-themed betta in the past using gravel and a plant in their colors. For this one, I kept it pretty simple and used a glass pint glass I had for our local AHL team and my personal favorite, the Hershey Bears, as well as some plant substrate in different shades of brown. Since the logo on the glass is pretty solid, I left the glass empty except for some substrate in the bottom. The glass is sitting on the bottom of the bowl itself and I added the substrate around it to keep it in place. Read More »

Understanding the Active Ingredients in Multi-Purpose Aquarium Medications

Sick fishIn the first two parts of this series, we discussed anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic ingredients but there are multi-purpose aquarium medications that are available to aquarists treat more than one symptom. Also, we often see more than one type of infection at a time as one can lead to another. Parasites may lead to bacterial infections at the wound site, and secondary fungal infections may occur as a result of a bacterial infection. These ingredients listed here may be effective for more than one type of disease or outbreak.

Acriflavine:

Acriflavine is used as an active ingredient to treat a number of conditions. It is an antiseptic that has been shown to be successful in treating fungal infections on fish as well as to treat some bacterial and parasitic infections. It can be used against two of the most resistant infections in the aquarium hobby: Oodinium (parasitic) and Columnaris (bacterial). Acriflavine is generally used for infections based in the slime coat and skin of the fish, not for “larger” parasites like Ich or worms.

Formaldehyde/ Formalin:

Formaldehyde is well-known as a preservative, especially for scientific specimens, but it is also used in medications and diluted solution of formaldehyde gas are found under the name Formalin. Formalin by definition is usually about 37% formaldehyde. Formaldehyde and Formaline are both used to treat fungal infections and some parasites – including the notorious Ich – but can be dangerous, especially to invertebrates (after all, parasites are invertebrates). Most formaldehyde-based medications work better as a bath or dip instead of being used to treat the entire system, and any of these medications should never be used with invertebrates that you want to keep alive. Formalin also depletes the oxygen in the water very quickly, so the water must remain well-aerated, especially when the concentration is high and water movement is low, as in a dip. Some of these medications can also be used to keep fish eggs fungus-free.
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Understanding Active Ingredients in Anti-Parasitic Medications

white spotIn Part 1 of our blog “Understanding Active Ingredients in Antibacterial Fish Medications“, we discussed active ingredients primarily used to treat bacterial infections. Next in this series is anti-parasitic medications. These ingredients are used to treat for different types of parasites.

Parasitic infections or infestations in aquariums can be internal (inside the fish or invertebrate) or external (on the outside of the animal, on tank surfaces or in the substrate), as well as microscopic or large enough to see with the naked eye. Use caution with these medications as most may also destroy sensitive fish and invertebrates.

Copper:

Copper has long been one of the “go to” medications for parasite treatment in aquariums, especially for treatment of “Ich”, and protozoan parasites. Copper sulfate is the most common form in most copper-based medications but chelated copper treatments are also available as a potentially safer alternative. Copper-based medications are usually used to treat parasites and even some algae outbreaks, but since it is a heavy metal, it can be very dangerous to invertebrates and some fish.  Monitoring Copper levels during treatment is extremely important, to maintain effective levels, and to prevent disastrous overdoses. Even after treatment is over and most of the copper has been removed using carbon or another filter media, residual copper can be left behind in the aquarium.

Fenbendazole:

Fenbendazole is the active ingredient in many dewormers. It is used most commonly to treat mammals including cattle, sheep, and other livestock but is also used less commonly for reptiles, amphibians and fish. It is effective against internal parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and others but for aquarium purposes, it is usually used to eliminate planaria (a type of flatworm), calamus worms (an internal parasitic worm) and hydra (related to corals and anemones, usually seen on the glass or rocks). This is regarded as a very strong medication but is one of the few considered reliable for these parasites.

Garlic GuardGarlic (Allium sativum):

While not an actual “medication”, I include garlic because it is a very popular nutritional supplement that has been proven to be helpful in recovery and treatment for some diseases. It is an appetite stimulant in many fish and can help encourage even finicky eaters to feed. Garlic is also a power antioxidant that has been shown to improve a fish’s own immune system and help them fight off a condition on their own. Some believe that the garlic may “taste” bad to the parasite and cause them to fall off of the fish, but it is more likely that the fish is able to fight the parasites off on its own because of the extra nutritional boost it receives. Although garlic extract from any health food store can be used in aquariums, formulas manufactured specifically for aquarium use are generally best and often also contain Vitamin C or other vitamins and minerals. At any rate, this homeopathic herbal additive is not a true medication, has no measurable side effects, and is beneficial as a supplement for most freshwater or saltwater fish.
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Understanding the Active Ingredients in Antibacterial Aquarium Medications

My poor clownfish has a bacterial infection behind its right eye.Understanding what a medication contains can often be as or more important than understanding what it treats. I’ve compiled just a few of the most common active ingredients found in many of the most popular aquarium medications. This list is not all-inclusive but may hopefully help to unravel the why’s and how’s of some medications.

Remember, some of these active ingredients have more than one use and the medications they are in may be marketed for different uses. Antibacterial medications may be included in anti-parasitic medications and some anti-parasitic ingredients may also be useful in fungal infections but the uses I’ve listed are the most common or most effective in the aquarium trade. Always remember to properly diagnose conditions and diseases before medicating and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any medications.

Part 1: Antibacterial ingredients in aquarium medications

These ingredients of common bacterial fish medications are used to treat different types of bacterial infections. Some are broad spectrum, general medications while others are geared towards Gram-negative or Gram-positive bacteria only.  The Gram designation refers to a testing system named for the scientist who developed it, Hans Christian Gram.  Known as Gram Staining, bacteria samples are treated with a purple dye under microscope, the bacteria who accept the dye, and turn purple are Gram-Positive.  Bacteria that do not accept the stain are Gram-Negative, and appear pink.  These two groups are the largest two types of infectious bacteria.  If you try a Gram-Negative medication, and it is ineffective, then you may need to switch to a Gram Positive medication. Some antibiotics may also kill off the beneficial bacteria in the aquarium, as most nitrifying bacteria are Gram-Negative, and will affect the biological stability of the system.

Amoxicillin/ Ampicillin/ Penicillin:

The “-cillins” have been well-known for decades as popular treatments for human infections, but some aquarium medications are also made with these active ingredients. All three derivatives are used to treat bacterial infections. Amoxicillin is the most broad-spectrum of the three and treats Gram-positive and Gram-negative infections. Ampicillin treats some Gram-negative infections but is most effective on Gram-positive bacteria. Penicillin is used for Gram-positive bacteria. Aquarists who are allergic to Penicillin or any other -cillin derivatives should use extreme caution if using these medications in their aquarium.
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