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Bottled Nitrifiers Work
by Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec
DrTim's Aquatics

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If you are ordering nitrifying bacteria from the internet, make sure the company you are placing the order with is shipping the bacteria in temperature controlled/protected box during the coldest and hottest times of the year. You might have to pay a little extra, but it will ensure you get a viable product.

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At DrTim's we pay close attention to the weather and ship to our customers at every level (distributors, stores, hobbyists, etc.) in styrofoam boxes with gel packs or heat packs (depending on the time of year).

Some people thing that nitrifying bacteria must be kept cold all the time, but this is not true. The easiest way to think about how you should handle nitrifying bacteria, is to treat them just like fish in a bag. You wouldn't leave a bag of fish in your car in direct sunlight, so don't do that to your bacteria. They'll do fine in your vehicle for the ride home, without any special container or gel ice (assuming the inside of the car is not freezing or over 110°F!!).

Consumers have some responsibility

- Assuming the bottle of nitrifying bacteria contains the right mix of species and the bottle has been handled correctly before the consumer bought it, we're home free and everything should work, right! Well, not exactly. Consumers do have a responsibility/role in making sure the nitrifying bacteria works. The consumer is the last link in the chain. Over the years I have spoken to many customers and the few that have not had a perfect experience using nitrifying bacteria fall into a few groups:

1 - The group that decided not to add the nitrifying bacteria until the ammonia (or nitrite, especially) concentration is off the scale. These people tried to save a little money but in the end they pay a lot more. They stocked the tank heavily and are feeding a lot and now they (and their fish) are in big trouble. The problem is that the correct species of nitrifying bacteria are sensitive to high levels of ammonia or nitrite. I will address this in more detail in another article but published results show that a major difference between the traditional nitrifying bacteria and the correct one for the aquarium are that the traditional nitrifying bacteria are for sewage treatment situations which have much much high concentrations of ammonia and nitrite. The aquarium species of nitrifying bacteria do not tolerate these high levels of ammonia or nitrite.

So if you're experiencing ammonia or nitrite levels of 5 ppm or higher you need to do a water change before adding the nitrifying bacteria. Adding the nitrifying bacteria at the beginning gives them the best chance for success because they are not inhibited by high concentrations of ammonia or nitrite.

2 - The next problem group is those people that overdose with ammonia removing chemicals. Overdosing the various types of these chemicals inhibits the nitrifying bacteria. Yes, some manufacturers say this is not possible, but the results from talking to many hobbyists with problems getting nitrification to establish along with my own research say they are wrong. If your ammonia level is high the safest thing to do is change some water - don't just add more chemicals (double or triple dose). And definitely don't start adding more of another chemical. I have had more than one hobbyist who has bought (or maybe it is more correct to say 'been sold') so many chemicals solutions to add to their new aquarium that it is a wonder anything can live in the 'water'. Keep is simple - use one brand of ammonia-chlorine-chloramine remover (yes, I recommend DrTim's Aquatics AquaCleanse), add the nitrifying bacteria (One and Only, of course) and a few fish (one medium sized fish per 2-3 gallons) and feed a little 2 or 3 times day. Monitor ammonia and nitrite and you'll see they stay out of the toxic range and after a few days you can start to increase the numbers of fish.

This is a lot easier than changing water each day, netting dead fish and having a lousy experience setting-up your aquarium.

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3 - The group that plays it safe. They don't add a nitrifying bacteria mixture but they think that's ok because they also don't add fish or ammonia during the start-up period. They just wait two weeks or so and then figure everything is cycled and ready to go. Of course, they have done nothing but extend the cycling period two weeks. The system needs an ammonia source whether from fish or ammonium chloride to feed the bacteria and get nitrification started.

This group could have fishless cycled their new tank using pure Ammonium Chloride. For information on this quick and safe way to cycle your tank, read the Fishless Cycle article.

4 - The last group is those that decided their fish were sick and dosed the tank with antibiotics along with nitrifying bacteria during the cycling period. Just to be clear - nitrifying bacteria are bacteria and antibiotics will kill them too. I have had more than one customer call us to say they're having problems getting their tank cycled only to learn, after much prodding to tell us everything they did, to say "well come to think of it my fish looked sick so I also added this antibiotic".

Nitrifying bacteria mixtures do work. But like everything else there are reputable brands (based on real science) and there are cheap, worthless brands. Also, just like fish and corals, nitrifying bacteria are living organisms and can be killed or drastically harmed by poor conditions or mistreatment.

Applied correctly and treated well nitrifying bacteria mixtures in a bottle work and can dramatically reduce new tank syndrome and get your tank up and running with no hassles. Good fishkeeping.
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