If you recently added an aquarium on your own or are doing research into the topic, you may have come across this term. It’s often vague and confusing and is most commonly used to sell some sort of aquarium “treatment.” Symptoms of “new tank syndrome” include milky or cloudy water, and sudden fish loss. The thing about new tank syndrome is that there is no such thing. The above conditions are indicators of a chemical process that happens in ALL NEW FSH TANKS. In fact the process (called cycling) is so common it is probably happening in your glass of water or the water in your toilet right now. This is an overly simplified explanation of cycling but essentially what’s happening is as follows.
Clean, new water is added to your tank. Most commonly tap water or filtered bulk water. This water has a very low amount of a certain group of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria “eat” ammonia and toxic waste produced by living organisms. As soon as fish are introduced to the tank they begin to produce theses waste chemicals in large quantities. The small amount of bacteria in the water can’t keep up and the water quickly becomes polluted with the excess toxic waste. (Within 3-5 days usually) This is when fish loss occurs. The levels of ammonia and nitrite in the water are so high that the water cannot support life. Luckily the bacteria love this. They start eating all the toxic waste and reproducing. Their numbers explode and they set up permanent shop in the gravel bed, filter material, anywhere they can grab on and still contact the water. At times, the amount of bacteria in the water is so great it can be viewed with the naked eye. The white milky or cloudy haze commonly described is actually the bacteria holding on to each other to try and establish a permanent residence.
In time excess bacteria die off and the tank is left with a very powerful biological filter capable of processing toxic fish waste as quickly as its produced. This process takes about 4-6 weeks on its own. It CAN be sped up by adding a larger number of living bacteria at the beginning. The problem is, although very hardy these bacteria do need to be kept alive. Most products available to the public have at best very low live bacteria count and contain mostly de-chlorinator. Importing live bacteria into a new tank is possible, but better left in the hands of professionals.
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