Welcome to DrTim's Blog page.  Please feel free to add comments and make suggestions for other blogs entries - we want to help you be successful.

Nitrifying Bacteria Mixtures Work - Provided ...

Posted by DrTim on 1/12/2014 to Cycling a Tank with One & Only
You read or hear from “experts,” that nitrifying bacteria mixtures don’t work so don’t waste your money. That statement may have been true 10 years ago but is not today. I will explain why. But first let me acknowledge that I do manufacture and sell a mixture of nitrifying bacteria. However, unlike every other company selling these products, I have been conducting research on nitrifying bacteria for nearly 20 years, did my Ph.D. on nitrifying bacteria in aquaria and have published my work in peer-reviewed, scientific literature. No other company can make those same claims. So I ask you: whose bacteria would you rather buy? A brand developed by a scientist (who is also a life-long fish hobbyist) who is published, and has been studying and developing nitrifying bacteria for aquaria for nearly two decades, or one of the brands that has a big marketing department behind them?

Let me explain why some mixtures work and why you still hear that “they don’t.” 

The right bacteria are different – for years there were only a couple of brands of nitrifying bacteria mixtures on the market. They contained the traditional species mixture of nitrifying bacteria and they did not perform very well. This soured many long time hobbyists and store owners on nitrifying bacteria mixtures, and it is hard to change someone’s opinion. My published research showed that the bacteria responsible for nitrification in aquaria were new species that had never been identified or cultured (subsequent research by other university researchers confirmed and extended my findings). My discoveries led to the development of BioSpira® (trademarks are owned by their respective companies) and later to DrTim’s Aquatics® One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria. Many companies now claim their mixtures now contain these bacteria, but they offer no proof and for years, some even denied my research was valid. So one needs to be careful trusting their claims.

Nitrifying bacteria can live in a bottle for a while. Many think that nitrifying bacteria cannot live in a bottle and will say the reason is because nitrifying bacteria don’t form spores like other bacteria. This is a half-truth. Nitrifying bacteria don’t form spores, but that doesn’t mean they can’t last in a bottle (think about it – if nitrifying bacteria could not survive poor conditions, how would they have survived for millions of years?) They can live in a bottle but under optimal conditions, and the time period is about one year. The nitrifying bacteria don’t die in the bottle; their activity level drops and eventually it becomes so low that there is little measurable positive effect when they are poured into the aquarium water. Provided the nitrifying bacteria in the bottle were not subject to bad environmental conditions (see the next paragraph), they can last about one year in a bottle.

No special preservation chemical or substance has been demonstrated to extend this time period. Refrigerating the bacteria is the only thing that has been shown to measurably extend their shelf life.

The solution for the hobbyist is to make sure the bacteria you buy has an easy to understand date label on the bottle. At DrTim’s Aquatics, we label each bottle with an easy to read “best by” date.

Nitrifying bacteria are sensitive to environmental conditions – even when the bacteria in the bottle are the correct species, there are certain environmental conditions that harm and even kill the bacteria while they are in the bottle, leading to their inability to accelerate the establishment of nitrification. The first condition is being exposed to temperatures outside the range they can survive. If the liquid in the bottle freezes, the nitrifying bacteria are killed. It doesn’t matter the brand – freezing kills the nitrifying bacteria. High temperatures may can kill or damage nitrifying bacteria.

Unfortunately, the normal way aquarium products are distributed is awful for nitrifying bacteria. The process is that a pallet of product is shipped by a common carrier to the distributor’s (or chain store’s) warehouse. The product is not shipped in any special containers to protect against heat or cold and the truck is not temperature controlled. Once at the warehouse, the pallet is checked in and stored in the warehouse without any temperature control. The product can be in a warehouse in the middle of Texas or Arizona in the summertime, or Chicago or upstate New York in the wintertime – neither are great conditions for nitrifying bacteria.

When an order is received, the bacteria are packed just like filters or pumps – without any temperature protection. In fact, some distributors pack their trucks on Friday and leave them outside all weekend so they are ready to leave very early Monday morning. Think about the temperature in the trailer of a truck left this way in the Midwest in the wintertime – it does not matter what’s in the bottle, chances are high the nitrifying bacteria are not going to survive.

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.

At DrTim’s, we pay close attention to the weather and provide the option to 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 think 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, but they’ll do fine in the car 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 – they shouldn’t assume 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. They are the last ones 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 higher 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 (and double or triple dose) with a chemical. 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 it simple – use one brand of ammonia-chlorine-chloramine remover (yes, I recommend DrTim’s Aquatics AquaCleanse), add the nitrifying bacteria (One & Only, of course) and a few fish (one medium sized fish per two to three gallons) and feed a little two or three 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.

3) The group that plays it safe. They don’t add a nitrifying bacteria mixture, but they think that’s okay 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.

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.

Header

11 Comments

Arnold Kreger
Date: 4/3/2014
Dear Dr. Tim, Thanks very much for your lucidly written essay. I believe that anyone thinking of cycling his or her aquarium by using a commercially available mixture of nitrifying bacteria should read it. P.S.: You might want to correct the words "Keep is simple" to "Keep it simple" (a minor "typo" located in line #10 of the ca. 16-lines-long paragraph which begins with "2) The next problem group.....etc." DrTim - thanks for the comment and pointing out the typo - it's been fixed.
dave
Date: 4/20/2014
if i am oingto add 20# more of dry rock would putting in more one and only help in making it live quicker thanks DrTim replies - Yes add One & Only would make it live fast as the bacteria would settle into the rock crevices and flourish there. It will take more time for the rock to start growing the encrusting organisms and color up.
Michael
Date: 5/27/2014
Hi Tim, I am building a new 140 gallon reef tank. I have about 130 pounds of dry rock and am ordering the package from TB Saltwater to complete my new system. Will your 1 and only work with this approach? DrTim's replies - Yes it will. How fast depends on how many fish you put into the system and how much One & Only.
Pat Worsley
Date: 7/6/2014
I know you say to turn off your protein skimmer to use the one and only but for how long do I need to keep it off? I love the product I used it when I started my seahorse tank. DrTim replies - When using One & Only we recommend turning the skimmer/UV off for 24 to 48 hours. For all other bacteria turn-off the skimmer/UV for 6 to 8 hours but turn-on ASAP if water starts to cloudy.
David Deden
Date: 7/11/2014
Does you product also provide the anarobic bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrogen gas ? DrTim replies -- One & Only does not contain these type of bacteria only nitrifiers but our waste-away bacteria does.
Heidi C.
Date: 1/5/2015
I just cycled a new 38-40 gal tank for my 4-5" growing goldfish,"Fishard". We just love this wonderful fish. I was working on that darned thing fishless for 6 weeks with no results on the very high nitrite/ammonia levels (ammonia was always lowest on API). So, I added 4 Tbsp. of aquarium salt. A few days later, after a week-10 days I saw a slight change only. So, I added (at about 8 weeks) the same amount of salt. I waited 3 days, tested, and all levels were perfect. I moved the fish to the tank last evening. I think that may have been too soon. I decided to research again a bit on the salt, and realized my fish may be in big trouble with such a high concentration of salt! I researched again and found I could slowly remove the salt with about a 10% daily for about a week or so) conditioned water change, then a few at 20-25% and all should be well. Do you think this is a good idea? Should I take that fish out to his old tank while I fix this? Do I even need to fix it? I kind of think so. I just bought some "One & Only" for FW. You say on another page here, the O&O can be added to water in certain minimum amounts and with water changes. This may be required as needed during this correction phase since removing the salt may start to change the nitrite/ammonia levels back towards the the higher levels, especially with an ammonia-generating goldfish! Nitrites have not been a problem in the other smaller tank. Am I correct to take this action or not? I need to add that with that second application of salt I also added a bit of the old tank's gravel with a little of the older water and may do a bit more of that before adding the O&O. So I do not really know if the salt was the only thing that straightened out the tank. DrTim Replies - Goldfish can withstand and, in fact, like a little salt in their water. They do not do well in pure water. So it if doubtful the salt level is too high. So many things were happening at the same that is is impossible to say what really kicked the cycle in. It could have been the salt or just time. As for 'fixing it' - again not sure you have a problem. You are flying blind here. The only way to know if the salt is too high is to measure it but in any case you do not have to take the fish out while you are doing small water changes if you decide to lower the salt level.
Harold
Date: 2/1/2016
I had writtten a comment on One and Only and stated that I had not added enough to my 65 Gallon Tank. From that I purchased a 2oz. bottle rather than the 4oz by mistake. I didn't want to rate it until I added 2 oz.s more to see results. I did add and the results came out as well as it would have with the 40z bottle. The 2oz would have taken too long so I pushed it ahead by added more. When you use this product just make sure you purchase enough to see results. My Ammonia came down though the Nitrite is 5.0. I will do a water change today. Take your time when starting up your tank and let things work. The ocean wasn't made in 30 days. After you balance the tank out, wait a while and still monitor.
Jim
Date: 3/27/2016
Can your One and Only be used to recycle and remove the unwanted ammonia and nitrites with fish already in the tank? I'm re-establishing the bacteria and would like to do so with fish in the tank.
DrTim's Aquatics
Date: 3/27/2016
Yes, you can add One & Only to a tank with fish already in it. One & Only is completely non-toxic and will bring down the ammonia and nitrite already in the tank
JIm
Date: 3/28/2016
Thank you for replying to my question on use of One and Only in a tank with fish. Follow-up question: My ammonia level is roughly 0.25ppm when testing and my nitrite is showing 0 ppm. When I add the One and Only, do I need to add ammonia chloride as well? This is so I know exactly what products I need to purchase. Also, are there be any other products I should be purchasing for ongoing tank maintenance while I'm purchasing? If you can email me I would appreciate.
Jim
Date: 3/29/2016
I have a 20 gal tank with a Marineland Penguin 350B Power Filter system with tropical freshwater fish. When stepping through the AquaCleanse, First Defense and One and Only process, so I understand correctly, do I remove the filter pads and leave the bio-wheels in or leave everything as is and just apply the products as described?

Add Comment


Information
Browse By Category