Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Explanation of the Nitrogen Cycle

Here is a brief explanation of the nitrogen cycle.

When your tank is just set up and no fish are in it, there are a few tiny bacteria floating around in the water. These bacteria eat ammonia.

When fish poop, they produce ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to fish. However, when you add fish to the tank and they start pooping, the bacteria start eating the ammonia & reproducing more bacteria that eat ammonia. So what's the problem? Well, remember that at first there are only a very few bacteria, so when you add fish to the tank, you are suddenly adding a lot more ammonia than those few bacteria can handle. Eventually the bacteria will have reproduced enough times that there are enough of them to handle the ammonia, but until then, the ammonia just builds up in the tank until it kills the fish. The fish usually die before the bacteria has multiplied enough.

Once there are enough bacteria to handle the ammonia, any fish that have survived will be OK, since there won't be any more ammonia, right? Wrong! When the first bacteria eat ammonia, they produce nitrites. Nitrites are just as poisonous to fish as ammonia. However, just like with the ammonia, there are a very few nitrite-eating bacteria floating around in the water. Eventually they will grow and reproduce enough to handle all of the nitrites that are a by-product of the ammonia-eating bacteria, but until then, just like with the ammonia, the nitrite will build up in the tank and kill the fish.

As you might suspect by now, after there are enough nitrite-eating bacteria to eat up the nitrites, these bacteria also produce a by-product. It is called nitrate. Nitrate, however, is only poisonous to fish in very large quantities, which is why you should change 25% of the water in your tank once a week. This keeps the nitrate level low enough that it doesn't harm the fish, and everyone lives happily every after!

The end.

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