THE AQUARIUM NITROGEN CYCLE


Speaker 1: Hey everyone, Corey from Aquarium
Coop. Today we’re going to learn about the nitrogen
cycle. I feel like I haven’t done a video like this
and I explain it kind of a different way, that type of thing, and then we’re also going
to answer this question, how does bacteria actually colonize? Just from talking with you guys all the time,
I feel like some of you are very visual learners, so we’re going to go ahead and do that today
and show it in a physical representation and hopefully this will break down easy enough
that you might not understand why it works, but you understand how it’s kind of working
in what you need to know about it. So stay tuned. This is the best video I’ve ever done because
I get to eat candy. I’m kind of an evil genius here. I devised this whole video as a ploy to buy
a pound and a half of peanut butter M&Ms. But I needed color coded things, right? It’s the only way I could tell my wife I’m
buying way too many peanut butter M&Ms. All right, for this demonstration here, we
have three bowls. What this represents is ammonia, nitrite,
underlined with the I, that’s the second step, nitrite, and then the third one, nitrate. Now, we’re going to represent, luckily for
me, we’re going to represent ammonia with these yellow colored peanut butter M&Ms. We’re going to represent nitrate with brown
colored peanut butter M&Ms and lastly, we’re going to represent nitrate, the last in the
steps, as blue peanut butter M&Ms. So, what happens? Your fish is going to go to the bathroom,
we’re going to grab some of these. There it goes, went to the bathroom. What we need to have happen next or maybe
I should back up a moment and say ammonia, we clearly have a Mr. Yuck face here. Ammonia is bad for your fish. Leads to burning of gills, can lead to fin
rot, can lead to lots of bad things for your fish, right? So the next step we need is bacteria. We need at least some bacteria that’s going
to eat this and make it into nitrate, so the goal would be we’ve got something in our aquarium,
whether it’s an additive, maybe it’s live plants, maybe it’s just time on our side,
and eventually, we’re going to get something that can eat ammonia and turn it into a brown
one, a nitrate. So there we go. We’ve processed some from here to here. Now, typically, what happens in your aquarium
when you’re just starting is we’re going to eat another ammonia and we’re going to make
another nitrate until eventually, we took out two more, we’ll add two more. We probably look something like that, where
we’ve got some ammonia in the tank and we’ve got some nitrite in the tank, but at about
this time, we start gaining another bacteria that will process into nitrate. Nitrite itself is half as toxic as ammonia
and more potent than nitrate, so that’s why we get a half Mr. Yuck face. He’s only going to half die in this. We’ve got a lot more leeway for air in this
nitrite, even though it’s still bad. Typically, what’ll happen is we’ve got some
ammonia, we’ve got some nitrite here. Eventually, we’re going to get the bacteria
that can consume that, then we’re going to get some nitrate there in the form of a blue
peanut butter M&M. We get the smiley face for that because the
bacteria’s done its job all the way from ammonia, we use bacteria, we made nitrite, then we
used bacteria again to turn this nitrite into nitrate. Notice the difference between the A and the
I. If you get those confused, it can be very
hard, especially if you’re new to fish keeping. Ideally, what’s going to happen. We’re going to process some more ammonia,
we’re going to make some more nitrite, some of that’s going to get eaten, we’re going
to make some more blue ones which is nitrate. And the goal would be, when your tank is cycled,
so you’re tank is cycled, you’ve eaten up all the ammonia, we make some nitrite when
we do that. We’ve eaten up all of the nitrite and we make
some more blue ones and that is nitrate. When nitrates get in excess amount, let’s
say we had a whole bunch of those. The only ways to remove that is either a,
water changes, which I’m going to represent that by me eating them. Because that’s what the humans do. We water change, we eat them. This is the best video I’ve ever done because
I get to eat candy. Maybe we should do some more water changes,
hold on. Yeah, definitely changing more water. And water’s blue, right? That’s why I made them blue. But anyway. So we’re taking them out. We can also use live plants to do that. Live plants will also consume the nitrate,
which is helpful. We took some out because we changed water. We can take some more out because we had plants
eat them. Now, what happens in a well established tank? Typically, what’s going to happen is, we get
some ammonia and that’s going to get eaten up right away, we get some nitrite, that gets
eaten up right away, and we end up with two blue ones, which is nitrate. Now, if we have the ultimate cycle where we
also have plants, two of those got eaten. Now pretend it’s Monday morning, I’m feeding
my fish. Here’s five parts ammonia, five parts per
million ammonia, it instantly gets eaten up, hopefully by our bacteria. And we make four parts per million nitrite
and hopefully that instantly gets eaten up as well and we make three or four five nitrate. The goal would be, oh man, over the course
of a day, the plants ate those, so we had a perfect system running. That is the goal, but we could have fish in
there that don’t allow that, maybe they eat the plants, that type of thing. Maybe we don’t know how to grow plants yet,
so we could always come in, do our water change and improve it. Now, a lot of people like to keep this always
at zero and you can. If you’re running a fish only tank, you can
do that. But you can see here, every time you feed,
you’re going to kind of build some of these up, so a lot of times people do is let that
build up over the course of a week or two and they’re feeding their fish and eventually
they come in and do a 50% water change, we take about half those out and we reset back
to there, okay? I think you guys can now understand, we take
ammonia which is very toxic, we use the bacteria, that makes nitrite, notice the I there and
the eye, he only has one eye that hurts. He’s only moderately happy. We use another bacteria and we make another
nitrate. Notice the A there, he’s super happy, and
then we figure out are we going to do a water change or are we going to use plants to take
that out of the water. Easy enough. Now that process could take weeks or months. It could also be very quick if you get a cycled
filter from your local fish store, maybe you buy some live plants, maybe use an additive,
those types of things. And we call that process, the nitrogen cycle. All right, that’s how you cycle an aquarium. That was almost dangerous. I almost lost all my brown M&Ms. I would have been out of nitrites, video would
have been over. Then we have question number two of the video,
how does bacteria colonize? What? All right, we’re going to talk about that. Most people think that bacteria lives in their
filter and that is true, it does live in your filter, but it also lives on your gravel,
it also lives on the glass itself, so on the sides of this bowl if these were aquariums,
they would be all along the sides, so when you change water, we’re killing the bacteria
that’s on the glass. Everything, decorations, wood, rock, everything’s
going to have some bacteria. Now, here’s where people’s logic goes wrong
in my opinion. We are going to change these, we now understand
how the nitrogen cycle works. We need to make these represent different
things, so let me get the nitrates out of here and write some new cards. Now you can see our three bowls are now three
different things. In bowl number one, this is the biggest bowl
I have, this is a canister filter. In bowl number two, we have the sponge filter. And in bowl number three, we have aquarium
décor, the aquarium glass, the gravel, all those types of things, okay? For this demonstration, we’re going to use
the yellow M&Ms. Why? Because they’re in my free hand. What happens is the fish go to the bathroom
and let’s say you have five fish, okay? You feed them and they go to the bathroom
five parts per million or whatever, right? So this is just waste. All right. Now we can see here, there’s a lot of room
left in that bowl and tomorrow, they go to the bathroom five times and the next day they
go to the bathroom five times again and again and again. Eventually, you’re going to see that we’re
out. Now it’s time to do a water change or whatever
we were going to do and you can see here, we had a lot of room left in that canister
filter, right? Okay. Now, let’s imagine that we didn’t have a canister
filter, we had a sponge filter and the fish go to the bathroom five times a day, five
times a day, five times a day, you get the point. Until eventually, we have that much waste
that’s been processed by that sponge filter. You can see it’s a smaller bowl. But the bowl’s not full. Okay, I get that. The only time this is going to come into play
is if we were to exceed this bowl, which we’re not going to do. Here, we’re spending a lot of money, or at
least a decent amount of money and we got a much bigger capacity. We have a bigger bowl, we bought this big
bowl. The sponge filter, lesser capacity, not as
big, in fact, it fits in it with room to spare. But if we’re not utilizing it, this bowl’s
just big enough or just fine. Same thing, if we don’t have that big of a
load, actually aquarium décor, so let’s say we got a rock, we’ve got the glass, we’ve
got gravel, we’ve got plants, that kind of stuff, it’s going to process waste and have
bacteria on it as well. We do that every day and eventually you’re
going to go, well wait a second, now no filter at all and we had enough bacteria to handle
that. How is that possible? It’s just the way bacteria works. So now imagine that we have an aquarium and
we’ve got rocks and wood and gravel in it and some plants. We have a sponge filter in our aquarium because
Corey says those are good and so I bought one. Then, I have a big canister filter, too, because
the internet says that’s the best thing, so all of these are my aquarium now, right? I’ve got three of them. What actually happens? Most people would think that this happens. My aquarium has almost no bacteria at all,
my sponge filter is not really doing anything and my big expensive canister filter, well,
I paid a lot of money for it, so clearly, because it’s the biggest, it collects the
most. The reality is that this is what happens,
okay? I now have three bowls. My fish go to the bathroom and we have established
the go to the bathroom five times a day. One, two, three, four, five. Okay. Then tomorrow, they’re going to go to the
bathroom. You’d think, well don’t you start here? Nope, we start here, because this is where
free space is left to colonize, so one, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five. And we do that a whole bunch of times, right? We keep feeding our fish, they keep going
to the bathroom. Pretty simple, right? You got it. Get the rest of these in here. So let’s say our bowls look like that. Sure. Now what would happen if we didn’t have the
sponge filter? We take this out. Well, the load that these were handling would
just get split up between whatever was left, right? Huh, okay. So you’re telling me I could have worked without
that sponge filter at all? Definitely. Same thing, if we had taken this canister
filter off, we’re going to end up splitting that load between these. There you go, that’s also a working aquarium. Then, this is what spawned the whole video
for me. People keep moving sponge filters or they
move a filter and their tank is cycled, right? The problem I run into is that they don’t
realize how much bacteria you’re bringing over. People see cycled as a binary thing, it’s
either yes or no. Really, it’s a number, so is it five? Is it 500? Is it 5000? But a cycled sponge to someone is just a thing
when really, we need to think about it like money. Oh, you have money? How much? Is it $5? $50? $500? Same thing with bacteria, we need to think
about how much bacteria do we have. Let’s imagine that we have all of these things
going on, right? We’ve got some bacteria everywhere, right? We’ve got bacteria in our canister filter,
we’ve got it in our sponge filter and we’ve got it in our aquarium décor, rocks, that
type of thing. Now we set up a hospital tank and you go,
well, I’m going to use this sponge filter. What happens? We have this much that we can handle. It’s roughly about one third. If we had nine neon tetras in this tank and
we take the sponge and we put it into a different aquarium, that aquarium will be able to handle
three neon tetras. It doesn’t instantly cycle that aquarium,
it brings three neon tetras worth of bacteria. Now, the good thing is is when you do have
some bacteria, it replicates a lot faster. It can actually double everyday, so today
we might have only had that much bacteria, but tomorrow we’ll have that much and the
next day, we’ll have even more. Eventually, in that new tank you just set
up, you’ll have quite a bit of bacteria. That’s a good thing, right? Yeah. But people so often think that just because
they took it over, day one it started like this. It doesn’t, it starts with whatever it was. Meanwhile, since we would have taken this
out of the tank, we established all the other bacteria’s going to colonize on different
surfaces, and my point is this. My point is more filtration is more capacity,
they’re bigger bowls, right? If you have five canister filters, you have
five really big bowls. But, if you’re only doing a bowl full of M&Ms
every week, you don’t need five gigantic mixing bowls. You just need one that can handle this. I think we get led with fear. We’re afraid we’re going to run out. It’s like, you visit grandma’s house and she
got way too much food, got way too much candy because she doesn’t want anyone to go without,
right? We end up having too much. Same thing in our aquariums. We’re so afraid we’re going to hurt our fish
that more filtration is better and this statement gets said a lot. You can never have too much. That’s true. If I have 50 bowls, I can hold a lot more
M&Ms. The reality is we might have wasted a lot
of money and space buying bowls when maybe two was enough, because I had one bowl that
was maybe three quarters full and the second bowl was empty. I didn’t need bowls three, four, five, six,
and seven. But we’re led by fear, so that is how I answer
the question of what is the nitrogen cycle, we established that. We’ve got ammonia and we use some bacteria,
that makes nitrite, and then we use some bacteria, and the last step, it makes nitrate, and then
it’s our job to water change or use plants and that means you get to sit back and eat
some peanut butter M&Ms. That’s a good time. I hope that helps and I hope that helped break
it down for you. I’ve got a mouthful of peanut butter candy,
it’s amazing. I definitely got to figure out more videos
I can make with candy, because that’s a good excuse. Thanks for watching guys. Hope you enjoyed it. Share it around to anyone that’s new in the
hobby. I think it really helps explain how it goes. So yeah, we’ll see you in the next one.

Comments 22

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  • can we use activated carbon in nitrogen cycle?

  • this is the best fish channel on the internet

  • Okay I know this is a dumb question but can you buy the bacteria and added to a new tank that's already have fishes in ? Because I would like to turn my nitrite into nitrate asap.

  • You are the best 🐠🥰
    Thank you so much ☺️
    Appreciation to the max 💐

  • I really want m&ms now.

  • How do we add bacteria?

  • Thank you so much for this video. It has been very helpful.

  • thanks that really helped a lot I'm a new aquarium with 4 goldfish and 1 betta and I had a very bad ammonia spike 2.0 per million and I did a 50% water change and I got it back down thank god but now I understand the cycle so thanks. I'm a subscriber and well I have to say you are very helpful

  • Could I just watch for increased nitrite and nitrate levels to know when to add more ammonia drops (im using dr. tims ammonia chloride) ? My test strips dont have ammonia tests and I dont wanna buy the API master test kit until I finish these.

  • So just eat the fish instead. Problem solved. Now how to feed the plants? Also can I add birds to my tank?

  • Best explanation

  • Cory ty for making this info simplistic.

  • When you do a water change and add 50% water back with just some treatment does that disturb the cycle at all?

  • My ammonia is through the roof after I added some new fish. I thought my tank was cycled I’ve been changing water often and adding ammonia detoxification meds to prevent my fish from dying. It’s been almost 2 weeks. When will my nitrates go up? Or how can I get them up?

  • I’m just starting out with my first tank and your videos are helping me out so much! Thank you for making these videos which are easy to understand and are very helpful!

  • Hey, is your real name Cory or is that your nickname on YouTube, short for Cory Dory?

  • I tried following your advise and the m&m’s made a mess in my aquarium, it got all clogged, I mean WTF?

  • I tested for ammonia nitrates and nitrites and all three are showing up as 0 and I have fish and shrimp dying what is going on that I should look at

  • I'm about half way through the video, just finished the summary of the nitrogen cycle and wow it was made simple and understood, thank you so much for all your help and support with new aquarists 🙏👍😀

  • I have live plants and do water changes and my nitrates are still high.
    How do I control it.

  • Thanks, your vids rock, you saved my frustration, and money

  • I may get a larger tank and set up a nice plants one.
    For my Mystery snails.

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