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Author Topic: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms  (Read 1912 times)
Goldiegirl
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The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« on: December 27, 2010, 08:20:58 PM »

We know harmful and beneficial byproducts inhabit our tanks, but do we know how these things come into existence and what causes them? After doing much research, I've compiled this information into a simple format that even the beginner aquarist should comprehend.  Wink

The cycle begins when goldfish are placed in the tank. Their poo and uneaten food begin to decompose at the bottom of the tank, as well as any dead or decaying plant pieces. Now in the natural environment, the ratio of fish to water space is much lower than in a small aquarium. Even a very large tank is small compared to a giant lake. So waste products and plants do not in general affect the overall conditions of big bodies of water. In a tank, these products quickly accumulate and destroy our beloved pets. How? Fungi and bacteria convert the waste into something very bad called AMMONIA. Ammonia can be ionized or unionized. The ionized form can be found if the ph is below 7. It is not in any way harmful to fish. However, the unionized form is found if the ph is above 7 and is VERY toxic to fish. Ammonia is said to be the #1 killer of all aquarium fish. Signs of ammonia poisoning include:

1) Torn, ragged fins
2) Bloody streaks in tail as well as blood hemorrhaging on the body
3) Listless as well as bottom sitting
4) "Flashing" and rubbing on gravel and other objects
5) Gasping at the surface
6) Clamped fins

Yeah, it's that bad. When signs like these are spotted, they are sometimes mistaken for diseases and illnesses. Inexperienced owners often treat with the wrong medications, which only deteriorates water parameters and usually pushes the suffering fish over the edge. When signs like these are spotted it is imperative to test the water first. Ammonia is dangerous if it can be detected using a tester kit. Rule of thumb: If it is detected, it's dangerous. Black patches/spots are often seen as a sign of healing after a bout of ammonia poisoning. To eliminate the awful presence of ammonia from your tank, it is imperative to do regular water changes. 50% weekly is recommended.

Nitrosomonas (a type of bacteria) shows up and begins to eliminate the ammonia. Sounds good, right? Well Nitrosomonas has a bad side effect because it has a byproduct called NITRITE. Nitrite is also very poisonous to fish in very low measurements. Signs of nitrite poisoning are often similar to those of ammonia poisoning:

1) Bloody streaks in fins
2) Blood hemorrhaging on belly (at this point, it is very likely you cannot save the fish)
3) White patches (burns) on body
4) Clamped fins
5) Flashing

To counter the effects of nitrite poisoning, it is helpful to do a large water change and add a .3 concentration of salt, which absorbs nitrites around the gills. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it is better to keep the tank clean regularly than to stress later when your fish come down suffering.

Nitrobacter (another bacteria) comes along and turns the nitrites into NITRATES. Nitrate is harmless to fish unless it is found in quantities of over 40ppm. Then it causes rapid oxygen depletion, making it unable for fish to breathe. Nitrates are useful because live plants in the aquarium can feed off of them. Once nitrates start showing up on your water test, it means your aquarium is cycled.   Smiley Cycling the aquarium provides a constant parameter monitor, and in turn provides you with healthy fish.

Understanding the nitrogen cycle can help you to be the best fish owner possible.

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Hanna
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2010, 08:27:36 PM »

Thank you GoldieGirl, just asked for a sticky on this one.
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Goldiegirl
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2010, 09:17:52 PM »

Thanks Hanna!  Cheesy If anyone feels the need to correct or add anything, please don't hesitate.
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Nossie
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2010, 10:54:53 AM »

Awesome article! Smiley I already gave you karma for something else, so I'll have to give you some more asap for this! xD

May I just add that there can be some symptoms on nitrate poisoning as well, for example, the fish may start hovering by the surface, not wanting to move much. And it also has a direct impact on their immune system and may even cause buoyancy problems! Water changes are important!! D:
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Goldiegirl
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2010, 06:03:34 PM »

Thanks Nossie! And good point about the nitrate poisoning; should have put in something about that. Here goes 'cause it's too late to edit. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning can include:

1) Lethargy
2) Gasping at the surface (caused by lack of oxygen)
3) Buoyancy issues (trouble rising or sinking)
4) Bloody streaks in fins (also from lack of oxygen)
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Andrea
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2010, 12:54:06 AM »

Yes sticky please Smiley This is so incredibly important to know!

I reckon Sunshine was starting to get some nitrate poisoning from the 22L tank, she had the first two symptoms Goldiegirl pointed out. Lucky within a few weeks of her showing this, I was able to move her Cheesy Now I just gotta get Clemie out of there!
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Nossie
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2010, 09:41:53 AM »

It would go really well with Hanna's "tank requirements"-thread, so both would really need to be stuck! Grin
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OrandaLover
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2010, 10:28:33 AM »

Yes, thanks Goldiegirl! Karma!
STICKY STICKY STICKY please!!!
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Goldiegirl
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2010, 08:55:18 PM »

Awww thanks everyone! Had I understood the importance of the nitrogen cycle about a year ago, I probably wouldn't have lost so many fish due to uncycled tanks and bad water (and especially medication for diseases they didn't have). Perhaps this will help someone to prevent making those same mistakes I did.  Cheesy
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scrivens345
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Re: The Nitrogen Cycle: In Simple Layman's Terms
« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2011, 05:58:41 AM »

Ammonia is a problem because it has a large dipole moment( caused by a lone-pair of electrons in the outer orbital) making it readily soluble in water ( which is a very good polar solvent)

whereas the desired product "free" Nitrogen is non-polar and is not readily soluble

[image]


[image]



For similar reasons we need to constantly oxygenate the water as oxygen is NOT readily solvated in the absence of plants

[image]



  CO2 is much more soluble than oxygen
[image]
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