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FRESHWATER VELVET - (Piscinoodinium pillulare) & COSTIA (Ichtyobodo Necatrix)
FRESHWATER VELVET - Piscinoodinium pillulare (also incorrectly known as oodinium which is a similar marine infestation)
Also Information about COSTIA (Ichtyobodo Necatrix)
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
Velvet (Piscinoodinium pillulare) is a flagellate parasite with chloroplasts, while ich is a ciliate, both have similar life cycles, but unlike ich, velvet can use its chloroplasts during dormancy to survive (which is where controlling light can help), but in a full blown infestation, the parasites get their nutrients from the host and are NOT dependent on their chloroplasts.
This is an area of some controversy as some old school methods claim light and salt (sodium chloride) will treat and cure velvet.
HOWEVER this has been proven false along with the assumption that this is a parasitic algae (due to having chloroplasts), this too is not true as this is a flagellate protozoan.
This parasite is MORE RESISTANT to higher salt levels than ich (Ichthyophthirius multifilis) and uses the chloroplast to produce nutrients (via chlorophyll and light) when a host is not available or to supplement nutrients derived from the host.
It should also be noted that Marine Oodinium parasites do NOT have chloroplasts.
More Salt in Aquarium Uses:
Aquarium Answers, salt in freshwater aquarium
What Are These Parasites?
Piscinoodinium pillulare are flagellate protozoa, single-celled organisms that move around by thrashing their whip like flagella.
There are many species of flagellates that are part of the normal intestinal fauna of fishes, and many more kinds of free-living flagellates make a living in the mucus of fish gills and skin, without attaching themselves or causing trouble, but even some ordinarily harmless ones can become pathogenic in stressed hosts.
Piscinoodinium pillulare is not harmless; it puts down a root like extension and can burrow into the skin or gill tissues.
Giardia lamblia is a similar flagellate protozoa in humans that can cause severe acute diarrhea which may lead to a chronic diarrhea and nutritional disorders.
Look for fish that scratch or ‘flash’ their bellies in attempts to scrape their gills against stones or gravel.
Rapid respiration or fish that hide or sink to the bottom and clamp their fins, in classic symptoms of malaise. Velvet moves fast, faster than Ich.
If you're unwary, you may not realize the fish is being attacked by Velvet until it begins to lose its glossy shine and seems to have patches of yellowish to golden-brown or rusty-colored varnish (which is where the term ‘Velvet’ came from). If you turn out all aquarium and room lights and point a flashlight at the fish, this will make Velvet more visible.
Velvet can also settle out in the gills, where it will send down a root like extension into the gill lamella and dissolves cells then absorbs their contents. This causes extreme gill itch and swelling. In really serious infections, the gill cover may also become swollen. Fish can be killed by Velvet in a few days, either directly from suffocation in the Gills or from secondary bacterial infections.
Copper Sulfate is one of the more effective treatments, as it kills both dormant (destroying the chloroplasts) and kills the free swimming stage as well.
Methylene Blue (this should be used as a medicated bath, buffered with other ingredients, or used in a hospital tank, not as a direct treatment in a display tank) is also very effective and has the added bonus of being a hemoglobin transfer agent for the blood just when the fish need it most.
Acriflavin, especially when concentrated (such as in Super Velvet Plus), and to a slightly lesser extent, malachite green and formalin are also useful. Acriflavin can be used with Copper Sulfate to increase effectiveness without increased stress to the fish
This is why the Medicated Wonder Shells are one of the best treatments for FW velvet.
These medicated blocks contained buffered Copper, Acriflavin and Methylene Blue, three of the better treatments for this infestation along with malachite green. These blocks also add electrolytes and calcium, both essential to good healing.
Medicated Wonder shells can be boosted with a 1/2 dose of ParaGuard or 1/2 dose of Cupramine or CopperSafe in difficult cases
Another possible treatment choice is Quick Cure, although I have not found this quite as effective for true FW Velvet as it is for Ich or Costia.
30 minute, twice daily medicated baths using Methylene Blue and possibly one teaspoon of sodium chloride (salt) per gallon are also very helpful for the treatment of Velvet (and related flagellate parasites as well).
For further information about the use of Methylene Blue, please see this article about chemical treatments:
“Aquarium Medications; Chemical Treatments including Methylene Blue”
Back to lighting, this may help with low infestations just like salt does with ich in low infestations, but in a full blown infestation, just like salt, it is overrated.
I have witnessed this first hand in my Aquarium maintenance business, even with lights off!
Velvet Treatment Resources:
*AAP CopperSafe is a stabilized copper
*AAP Cupramine Copper Treatment from American Aquarium
*Kordon Methylene Blue
*AAP Super Velvet Plus; Acriflavin
*AAP Medicated Wonder Shells
*How to perform a Medicated Fish Bath
Costia is a single cell microscopic parasite that attacks the skin of fish. It is a flagellate similar to velvet, however without the chloroplasts. It destroys the skin, in mild cases the skin appears cloudy (again similar to Velvet), in severe cases the skin is open and bleeding. The epidermis (skin) clouds up in in random areas of the fish, then comes off, often leaving bloody patches (although secondary bacterial infections can leave nodules).
It usually attacks fish in a poor state of health or living in poor water conditions or in overcrowded conditions. Secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections can occur at the open sore area.
Costia can only survive on fish. As well, Costia usually inhabits the gill and skin and once attached to the host it destroys tissue at that site. This is why when found in the gill, Costia is so devastating, when present in great numbers Costia will destroy gill tissue.
In very small numbers Costia presents little problem (symptoms for minor infections include sloughed off scales), however in poor water conditions Costia can kill rapidly.
Costia can survive in temperatures greater than 86 degrees F.
A common symptom of Costia is for "cloudy and milky" patches to appear on the fish.
Costia is often and mistakenly blamed on scratching, flashing and similar in fish, however although fish with a Costia infestation may flash/scratch this is not a very clear sign of a Costia infestation and is more likely early symptoms of velvet, Ich, Shimmies (livebearers, mollies in particular) or simply stress from poor water conditions similar to shimmies which is most often caused by improper mineral/electrolyte levels.
Luckily, if what one thinks is a Costia infestation is actually Velvet, treatment is similar as above for Velvet (although I have found 27% formalin plus malachite green based formulas more effective for Costia and Acriflavin & copper less effective for Costia).
Ich (Ick) Identification and Treatment
Costia is more common in aquariums when fish are under stress (often new fish can present an opportunity for a Costia Infestation).
For true Costia infestations, clean water with good parameters (ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, GH, KH) are a MUST.
This includes maintaining positive mineral ions of calcium and magnesium which in turn maintains a healthy Redox Balance that is so woefully misunderstood by many as to its importance in treatment and prevention of many diseases including Costia.
The Importance of Redox Reduction/Balance for a Healthy Aquariums
The use of medicated baths containing Methylene Blue OR Potassium Permanganate (PP is usually more effective for true Costia versus Velvet).
Then treat the aquarium with either Quick Cure or Kordon Rid Ich Plus for moderate to serious infestations. Please do not confuse Organi-Cure with Quick Cure by the same company, these are NOT the same product and as per our extensive testing/use Organi-Cure is NOT an effective substitute.
For mild Costia infestations, Copper Sulfate or Medicated Wonder Shells can work.
Costia Treatments (links/resources):
*Jungle Clear Water Potassium Permanganate
*SeaChem Cupramine Copper Treatment from AAP
*Medicated Wonder Shells
While some web sites recommend acriflavin and copper for Costia, my tests have shown that these two chemicals are much more effective for Velvet (which are often similar in appearance), while products containing formaldehyde are more effective for Costia.
My suspicion is that those who claim effective treatments for serious Costia infections with either copper or acriflavin actually have a Velvet infestation,
One important note about Costia (& Velvet) from my experience, and while anedotal, it is still worth mentioning and that is I have found the Costia responds best to treatments containing formaldehyde such as Quick Cure or Rid Ich Plus. HOWEVER IF treatments that that are normally effective for Ich infections such as standard Rid Ich, Super Ich Plus, Herbal Ich Attack, etc. that do NOT have formaldehyde or similar aldehydes (although pure formaldehyde is more effective than aldehydes) are failing what you may think is an Ich infestation, this may be Costia.
While the above method of identification is a poorly scientific diagnosis method, I have observed this with clients and their aquariums over the years on many occasions where they thought that they had an Ich infestation and upon my arrival found that it was not the case, rather it was Costia (or occasionally Velvet) and a change in treatment to Quick Cure often achieved immediate results.
It is also noteworthy that Costia resists drying. Empty tanks, nets, even dried nets, scrubbers, and hoses can transmit infective Costia from one tank of fish to another.
Finally Costia can occasionally look like Sporozoa (or vice versa) due secondary bacterial infections common to Costia that then leaves nodules, however the best visual diagnosis of Sporozoa (aka and more correctly known as Apicomplexa) are whitish translucent areas, not caused by slime form on the skin.
Another unfortunate way to often differentiate the two is that Costia is generally easily treated with the above mentioned remedies if caught reasonably early, however Sporozoa is usually fatal and the only reasonably successful remedy is Nitrofurazone, which can be combined with ParaGuard 2 if uncertain what you are treating.
Product Resource: Nitrofurazone (Furan 2)
*AQUARIUM MEDICATIONS, treatments, how they work, and which ones to use and not to use.
For information about Aquarium Ich; Ichthyophthirius multifilis and Cryptocaryon irritans treatment, identification, and life cycle, please visit this site.
For information about Saltwater Oodinium (velvet):
*MARINE OODINIUM (Amyloodinium Ocellatum)
*The Skeptical Aquarist-Flagellates
Other Recommended Reference/Products Sites
Aquarium Lighting; Complete Information Understanding what makes for correct lighting is very important, even for fish only aquariums!
UV Sterilization, UVC Sterilizer Use
The use of ultraviolet sterilization is one of the more important tools in aquarium disease prevention and a balanced Redox
*Aquarium UV Sterilizers; TMC, SunSun, more
*UV Replacement Bulbs for Aquarium, Pond, Purifier
The above product reference sells only the best germicidal, hot cathode, low pressure, high output UV Bulbs!
*Everything Aquatic; Aquarium Forum, Member Blog & Forum Board
For a friendly, knowledgeable, aquarium forum with in a family atmosphere.
SunSun HJ-1542; replaces Via Aqua 1300
This pump replaces the Via Aqua 1300 and other copies such as by AquaTop as the Premier Power Head Pump for Aquariums, Ponds, Fountains, Wet/Dry Filters. This pump is submersible with Mag drive & ceramic shaft
USNEA; USING USNIC ACID AS A FISH REMEDY FOR TUMORS AND MORE.
How Usnic acid and Mucilage which are both found in Usnea lichen can be used as effective alternative aquarium and pond fish treatments.
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
Scientific name: Usnea barbata Usnea is a lichen of the family Parmeliaceae that grows in damp temperate woodlands and contains usnic acid (C18H16O7). I have found it effective for bacterial (some gram negative and most gram positive), fungal and even parasites such as ich.
The other active ingredient (besides usnic acid) is mucilage.
As a natural antibiotic it has also proven effective against gram positive bacteria, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis (making Usnea a great alternative to Isoniazid).
Scientists believe that usnic acid works by disrupting cellular metabolism, either by preventing the formation of ATP which is the cells' energy source or by the stopping the action of oxidative phosphorylization. Usnea may also be a better choice than the drug metronidazole (as per human studies) for parasites and anaerobic bacterial treatments in aquariums.
Usnea contains potent antibiotic properties on gram positive bacteria and antifungal agents that are broad spectrum and effective against all gram-positive and tuberculosis bacterium. As well, the Usnic acid found therein has shown antiviral, anti-protozoal, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killer) activity.
It is also noteworthy that Usnea is edible, with no known toxic side effects from ingestion in animal and human studies and as well is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
More information about Usnea;
Test tube studies have suggested an anti-cancer and an anti-viral activity for usnic acid. This may also make Usnea useful for the hard to treat aquatic viral disease; Lymphocystis (which is usually not fatal in otherwise healthy fish). The human studies can also be transferred to fish for tumors. I personally have not tested this enough as of writing this article, but based on human studies and the few tests I have done, Usnic acid shows promise here.
Here are preliminary results based on my tests and tests on humans or veterinary application that can be extrapolated to fish:
- Topical treatment. This is where there is a lot of evidence is for usefulness. This has been shown in human and my own treatments to be very useful for wounds (many Native Americans used Usnea as a compress for battle wounds to prevent infection and gangrene). The anti-infection properties make Usnea a useful and more potent alternative to Melafix for injuries or similar damage.
- Gill infections: due to the Mucilage (gluey substance produced by most plants and some microorganisms) contained in the Usnea it has been shown to have healing properties in areas of respiration.
This is another area where Usnea can and does “shine” in its possibilities and now proven usefulness. Due to the healing properties of mucilage, Usnea is an effective tool in treatment of ammonia burns to the gills, especially used immediately after exposure (such as shipping).
When used along with proper mineralization (such as calcium ions). Usnea can also be used after injury from Flukes or a fish that is found “outside an aquarium” due to jumping in re-establishing gill slime and function.
Further Information Resources:
Fish Osmoregulation; Proper Mineralization
Aquarium Chemistry; Calcium
- Digestive problems: which is an area where much human research also has shown significant effectiveness.
Usnea can be a replacement for Neomycin or Metronidazole for use in digestive diseases, possible swim bladder infections and even possibly Dropsy (although there is limited evidence of usefulness for Dropsy as of yet).
With intestinal Problems, Usnea (usnic acid) has been shown to have similar properties to Metronidazole.
- Tumors and cancers in fish, especially Carp Pox which is very common in Koi and Goldfish and often appears as tumor like growths, usually "whitish" although sometimes the same color as surrounding scales (this is more likely a tumor)
-VERY Preliminary results so far.
- Pond Treatment; I have rather unscientifically thrown handfuls Usnea (after observing ponds in forested areas that have Usnea fall naturally in the pond have low disease incidence including parasite), and observed fast healing of injuries vs. doing nothing (admittedly this is anecdotal, not a scientific study).
This may prove effective for Anchor Worms as well due to PROVEN anti-insect properties of Usnea
- Streptococcus; although there is not much use in fish studies for this, in human/veterinary culture studies Usnea shows an ability to kill gram positive Streptococcus pathogens. My recommendation is to use Usnea in a 30 bath (possibly with Methylene Blue) while treating with Erythromycin in tank.
In severe cases Usnea might be combined with Erythromycin in tank.
Streptococcus Treatment Links:
*Kordon Methylene Blue
*API Erythromycin Pro
Further Information, See: Aquarium Answers; Streptococcus
- Fish Tuberculosis (of which few good alternatives available to aquarists)
See this article for further reference: TB in Fish, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
- Symptoms of Lymphocystis:
- Whitish patches or irregular growths on the fish most commonly on the tail and fins.
- These eventually become quite large and give rise to the name Cauliflower Disease.
This remedy is still in the testing phase, but early results are promising. The Usnea Lichen is proving to be the most effective natural remedy early in my testing this lichen is boiled like a tea then added to the aquarium.
I boil one small sprig (about an adult thumb size) in 6 oz. of water and add this to every 10-20 gallons of water every day until cure is effective +2 days. Make sure to remove the Usnea sprig from the “brewed Usnea tea”, otherwise this will allow the tea/medication to spoil. I also recommend refrigeration after brewing of any unused Usnea brew.
1 tablespoon per 6 oz. of this preparation can also be used for a 1 quart bath as an alternative (This is my preferred Use of Usnea!).
Please see these articles for more about the use of baths for treating fish:
*Fish Baths, Dips, Swabs; For Disease, Ammonia, etc. Treatment
* Aquarium Disease Prevention; Quarantine
Please keep in mind that at this point I would consider this an experimental treatment, mostly in actual dose, so ANY positive or negative feedback is welcome, especially as per dosing effectiveness.
As to the actual effectiveness, there is enough evidence in my own trials and even more so in well researched human trials that this can and will be an effective treatment, the most effective dosing amounts is what is still the biggest question at this point.
I will also point out that my results have generally resulted in 25% success, HOWEVER this is from using Usnea as a last resort medication when others have failed, so this is actually relatively good number when that is considered. I will soon start using this more as a "first treatment" especially for gill injuries/infections/inflammation to find more results as to use of Usnea in mode of treatment.
Feedback from a few clients has been better when used as a bath, with often positive results when used for generally gram positive infections or even Fish Tuberculosis (I am not recommending this for human TB, please see a doctor for this).
The only dangers that have been established (in human studies) are in rare cases liver damage, which would make this a poor choice for dropsy.
If interested in some Usnea for your own trials, you can purchase Usnea near the end of this Organic Medications Article:
Aquarium Medications 4; Purchase Usnea
As for related Disease Prevention Suggestions; the use of UV Sterilization is a proven method of fish disease prevention not only due to removal of many water born disease pathogens, but by improving the Redox Balance and thus the Fish' natural immunity.
The key is a properly installed, quality UV Sterilizer, not one of the many Cheapie models such as the AquaTop PFUV-40 Hang On Filter.
With a quality UV such as the TMC Vecton or Advantage UV, it is also imperative to change your UV Bulb every six months for maximum effectiveness.
See these references and product links:
*Aquarium & Pond UV Sterilization
*Quality UV Sterilizers
*TMC Vecton or Advantage UV Sterilizer
*UV Bulb; Replacements
More About Usnea:
What is Usnea?
Aquarium Heaters; Review, Size, Heater Information
By Carl Strohmeyer- PAMR 38+ years experience
- Heater Overview
- Set Up Suggestions
- Heater Problems
- Types of Aquarium Heaters
Aquarium Heaters have come a long way since I first named this article, as many years back there were just the automatic (non pre-set) hang on the back heaters or the submersible glass pre-set (thermostatic) heaters.
Now even in the glass/quartz submersible heaters, they can vary greatly in size and accuracy of the pre-set and variances of 3 degrees Fahrenheit in either direction.
We have Titanium Heaters, Digital Heaters, as well as the popular relatively newer heater type; the under-gravel or “Mini” heater that has no temperature controls at all, and are simply meant to raise the ambient temperature in a Betta bowl or similar.
The above stated, the proper, correct use remains basically the same, so please read the entire article, including potential "heater Problems".
HEATER MATCHING FORMULA: (© Carl Strohmeyer)
As for heating requirements, I recommend 25 watts of heater for every 10 degrees of ambient temperature per 10 gallons you need to raise your aquarium temperature.
EXAMPLE: If your home is 68 degrees and you have a 40 gallon aquarium, to reach a temperature of 78 degrees you would need a 100 watt heater.
Often when heater problems occur it is due to the heater being of the improper wattage to meet heating requirements of an aquarium in the location it occupies. Too high a wattage can result in rapid temperature rises that can result in cooked fish if you make adjustment mistakes.
The above formula is a VERY accurate guide and I have used this formula for many years with no issues of under or over heating. In fact I have often witnessed less than honest retailers tell a customer that (for example) they need two 300 watt heaters for their 125 gallon aquarium when in reality ONLY ONE is required for the average room that is kept at 68 degrees during the cooler hours (usually at night while asleep).
So PLEASE be careful with stores or web sites that try and over sell you as to your heater needs as this can actually be problematic in case of a rare malfunction.
Also, if your room is warm (such as in summer months) you may end up with aquarium temperatures higher than your settings (example: a room that is 85 will keep an aquarium at 85 even if your heater is set at 78 F).
It is important of all heaters, regardless of type to maintain good circulation around the heater for the best results for temperature control and accuracy. I have used (& even designed my own) heater modules for in-line heater applications and I will be the first to admit these do not properly dissipate the heat, especially with titanium heaters.
Even though I really like the durability of Titanium Heaters, these types of submersible aquarium heater are best used inside the main display aquarium where the heat will dissipate more rapidly than in a sump or similar enclosed space. I have witnessed Titanium Heaters (of different brands) over heat and burn out when used in small sumps or heater modules. I recommend using a glass or quartz submersible heater in sumps or similar as glass submersible heaters do not seem to be as sensitive to this problem.
Another point is often when the ambient temperature is more than 25° F (14° C) under the desired temperature, the use of two appropriately sized* heaters often works better from my experience.
*By appropriately sized, I mean using the above cited formula.
As well, on the "top end", aquarium heaters are designed only for a top temperature of 90° to 95°F (32° to 35°C), so attempting to heat any higher will likely result in failure and even damage to the to heater.
- When ANY heater is to be initially used, you should place the heater in the aquarium for 20-30 minutes prior to plugging it in so as to allow the temperatures to equalize internally.
With low end Automatic Hang on the Back heaters make sure that the water is up to the water line, if too high or low this can cause heater failure or malfunction.
With pre-set submersible you need to make sure that the heater is submersed at least to the minimum water line.
Since Automatic Heaters generally do not have temperature pre sets, all inputs of temperature control on the dial should be made in increments of not more than ¼ turn, with 1/8 turn being better.
- With Pre-sets and digital heater controls, I recommend to not change temperature more than 4-5 degrees F per day if fish are present (this does not matter if there are no fish or other “creatures” present).
Also make note that temperature pre-sets are just a guide and that it is quite common to set a heater at 75 F and have the actual temperature be plus or minus 3 degrees F.
- If two heaters of more than enough "Wattage" are employed in a tank, I suggest adjusting each one individually over a few days time prior to running the heaters together.
An example would be two 200 Watt Heaters in a 100 gallon aquarium.
I have found that when two heaters are used for whatever reason (although usually for redundancy), it is easier to "set" correctly with one heater running at a time.
However if two heaters are used that require the combined wattage for properly heating an aquarium based on ambient temperature; both would need to be set at the same time, which often results in a bit of heater "ping pong" since even the best heaters are often off in their settings by a degree or two.
- Make sure a "drip loop" is employed with any heater installation so that the power cord coming from the aquarium or sump does go straight to the electrical socket; rather a loop (a 'U' in the power cord) is utilized that allows any water that can possibly follow the cord from entering the wall socket and starting a fire.
Many manufacturers of heaters will discourage the use of power strips for "Legal" reasons, however these can be safely used if properly attached to the aquarium stand or wall so that ALL power cords have a drip loop prior to plugging into the power strip.
Be careful with the use of extension cords as these can more easily allow water following the cord to enter the socket.
As well any coiled extension can allow over heating of insulation allowing for the possibility of a fire, so make sure to keep any extension cords from being coiled.
My suggestion, if an extension must be used, is to use a singe outlet 14 gauge or lower, heavy duty electrical extension cord. Make sure it is NO LONGER than needed (no unnecessary length), as well, I suggest a small bead of silicone around where both power cords connect to prevent moisture for getting in (since silicone does not adhere that well to the material used for power cords, the silicone forms an excellent gasket that is also easily removed when the need to disconnect arises).
- After you set up a glass or quartz aquarium heater, it is quite common to see condensation moisture inside the heater tube.
This is not a concern for alarm unless liquid is actually accumulating inside the heater tube.
I have witnessed this many times over the 4 decades I have kept aquariums professionally and sometimes it goes away and sometimes these few droplets of moisture seem to always be present when the heater is on. What I also know for sure is I have never had this shorten the life of any heater (out of 1000s used with my many clients aquarium).
POTENTIAL HEATER PROBLEMS
All heaters eventually fail, however how catastrophic this failure might be can be limited by correct use and correct information.
For me with literally 1000s of aquariums under my care, I can think of only two times a heater malfunction was catastrophic!! So my point is heater failure need not be a major concern if properly installed, maintained, etc.
HOWEVER we have a popular discount online reef and general aquarium supply outlet allegedly misinforming aquarium keepers in one of their videos (about fish feeding) that heater malfunction is one of the top two reasons for total aquarium failure.
This sadly shows a total lack of experience or use of mentoring by these persons (I myself was mentored by many & still am), but worse IMHO is this is irresponsible to scare aquarium keepers with such bad information.
This has led to another popular concept of late, heater controllers.
My question though is WHY?
Is the aquarium keeper purchasing a heater that is so inaccurate that this is the only way to keep a heater working correctly?
The facts are that even the best of heaters have some variances, but these are quickly figured out thus requiring a slight change in setting of the pre-set number. Example setting the heater at 78F results in 76F, so turning the heater up slightly to 80F keeps it at 78F; PROBLEM SOLVED!
Now if the reason for this controller is because of use of a heater in a separate module, this will only address the poor temperate regulation issue of using such a component creates, it does not address the aspect that these shorten an aquarium heater's lifespan due to poor circulation.
If the reason for using these controllers is to prevent catastrophic over heating, well I already addressed this incorrect assumption for a properly installed heater. Most failures, by a large margin, result in the heater simply ceasing function, so is the controller going to rush out and purchase you a new heater???
In the end, this so-called new new idea/trend strikes me as another version of the must have a RO/DI system over a good RO only system shilling myth to part you from your money.
By following some bullet points, catastrophic failures should be a VERY rare occurrence.
- Do not "over watt" you heater. By doing this, then a relatively rare "stuck on" heater occurrence happens, the potential for disaster is much higher.
Better is to use the formula I provided or even consider multiple heaters to reach the wattage that maintains correct temperature.
This is the NUMBER ONE reason for catastrophic failure
- Leaving the heater partly out of the water when changing water. This will damage the heater, often with the problem caused by this damage not showing up immediately.
- Not protecting the heater for destructive fish than can damage the heater such as by undermining a rock that then falls on the heater.
- Poor Water circulation around the heater.
- Poorly positioned heaters. While many heaters can be both vertical or horizontal, I have found that vertical is still best and with some poorly sealed heaters, A MUST!
- As pointed out later in "In-Line Heater Modules" section, these do not allow for optimal heater function. I do not care what brand, including DIY (as I too attempted to build one), these WILL AND DO lead to premature heater failure, although admittedly not always catastrophic.
- While a bit more subjective, as well as constantly changing due to new heaters constantly emerging; poor heater quality is certainly an issue.
So trying to save a few dollars by shopping at discounters such as Amazon, is not worth the potential problems. Stick with proven heaters such as the Via Aqua, Ebo Jager, Tronic, and others.
PRESET HEATERS; Thermostatic (Analog) Submersible Glass or Quartz Heaters:
The Thermostatic or Preset Heater has a built in analog thermostat (or a remote sensor, as is common in many titanium aquarium heaters).
These heaters may use a thermostat, usually monitoring the impedance of a thermistor (a resistor used to measure temperature changes in the aquarium, relying on the change in its resistance with changing temperatures), OR the potential across a thermocouple (a temperature sensor used to measure electric potential difference).
As noted at earlier, most Pre-Set Submersible Glass Heaters have some variances, however that said the biggest difference between different brands is not this variance, but in quality of durability, price, and even manufacture return policies.
I have used MANY different heaters over the years in my service business (the numbers are literally in the 1000s) and what often happens is the heater either ceases to work or the variance becomes greater. As well, many of the name brand Heaters are often no better with this than others.
An example would be the excellent Hagen Tronic Heater, which is an excellent and durable heater, but it is more costly than the Via Aqua, SunSun or other lesser known brands of often equal or even better quality.
Another problem I have found is that some excellent heaters such as the Ebo Jager have difficult return policies whereby I could not accept a customer return directly to me, rather I had to send these directly to their manufacturer all the while the customer was without their heater. This is the reason I ceased recommending these heaters for my clients (not because of frequent quality issues; but lets face it, even the best heater fails occasionally).
Recommended Quality Heater Product Resource:
There are many models of aquarium heaters available today that are available preset or with a temperature gauge on the side of the heater or on the control knob to help the aquarist set the temperature, most all of these heaters are completely submersible as well.
These Submersible Thermostatic Heaters should be kept under water or NO higher above water than the minimum water line mark that most of these heater have, generally about 2-4 cm below the top of the heater. There is some confusion that these heaters cannot be submerged totally, however I have never used or found a brand of Pre-set thermostatic glass/quartz submersible heater that this is a problem.
The aquarist should allow the heater to adjust to water temperature for 30 minutes before plugging in this type of heater to allow the thermostat to adjust. Use these settings on the dial as a guide to make fine adjustments, as they should NOT be depended upon for total accuracy.
Though some manufacturers make other claims, these gauges are at best accurate within two or three degrees Fahrenheit (one to one and a half degrees Celsius), and sometimes get less accurate over the life of the heater.
An aquarist should ALWAYS CHECK their heater for accuracy and not assume that because it is set at 78 F, it will stay at 78 F.
Pre-set Temperature Numbers:
It is not un-common for even the best of these heaters to be off from their “pre-settings” by a few degrees (sometimes several degrees). This does not have any bearing on how reliable the heater will be once set, only the starting point.
So for instance if your pre-setting takes a setting of 74 F to maintain 78 F (& 78 is what you desire), you should use the setting of 74 F.
Some heaters (such as older Ebo Jager heaters), had NO MARKINGS on the protected heater dial; you simply let the heater adjust to water temperature, then turn until the light comes on and make adjustments from there until your desired temperature is maintained. My personal opinion is this is a better method, but most persons like the preset numbers, despite these flaws, so most manufacturers have these settings.
I would recommend turning off all heaters when water is to be changed that would expose any part of the heater sensors or heating elements (which is usually most water changes).
I recommend waiting at about 10 – 15 minutes for water and heater temperatures to equalize before re-starting a heater after a water change
For Further Reference:
Aquarium Cleaning; Basic Steps
Submersible Heater Brand Suggestions:
I have been asked this question many times, so I will include my observations of common submersible heater brands.
Please note that while this is obviously subjective; with the many brands I have literally used and dozens if not 100s of each brand, I have had a reasonable amount of experience in this subject.
All three of these suggested heaters have accuracy that are more than good enough for most aquarium applications (+/- 1-2 F). In fact, the accuracy with these (and likely some others not listed here) is very close to many heater including Titanium that cost considerably more.
These suggestions are based on my professional use in my aquarium maintenance business going back to 1978 and literally 1000s of aquariums.
A final note is I am only naming those I have had a good experience with, NOT the bad ones!
*Ebo Jager (Eheim); Excellent and very reliable heater. One of the best if not the best.
The only negatives are price and a poor return policy when the rare defective heater does occur that requires the owner to ship directly back to Eheim/Ebo Jager while the aquarium keeper is without a heater for several weeks.
There were some quality issues when manufacturing changed, but this has been corrected according my friends active in the aquarium maintenance industry.
*Via Aqua & SunSun; While not as well known in some parts of North America, this heater IS well known & popular in the Western USA.
This heater is among the best in reliability (the Ebo Jager is likely the only more reliable heater), yet is one of the more affordable with a more gracious return policy when a defective heater does occur.
Product Resource Link:
Via Aqua Submersible Quartz Aquarium Heaters
*Hagen Fluval Tronic Submersible Heater: While I am not a fan of Hagen (in part due to their business practices), I have to admit this heater is darn good.
It is a reliable heater, albeit a little pricey compared to the Via Aqua, but just as reliable and quite accurate.
Generally most manufacturers of quartz/glass and titanium submersible heaters will state in their directions that the heater should be mounted in the aquarium vertically for the reason to keep water from compromising the seal at the top, this is really only a corporate liability statement as most well made glass submersible heaters such as the Via Aqua Glass/Quartz Heaters will be perfectly fine angled to fit in short aquariums or outdoor patio ponds.
I have mounted many submersible heaters for years in a sideways/horizontal mount without a compromise in the seal. This does NOT count for HOB economy automatic heaters which MUST be mounted on the back of the tank vertically.
However I do recommend a vertical aquarium mount whenever possible.
This is more of a sub-type of the glass submersible heater, however the manufactures of the these Digital Aquarium Heaters throw in more extensive digital control circuitry.
A few of the advantages over most glass submersible analog heaters (of which the vast majority of submersible aquarium heaters fall into this category) include:
*Run Dry Safety Shut-Off
*Double insulated heating element
*More accurate temperature control (variances under +- 1.0 F).
*Easy to read display the also displays aquarium temperature (via probe attached to this heater)
*HOWEVER from our use (& our "sister" aquarium maintenance companies), these heaters circuitry (such as the AquaTop) have failed at a much higher rate than the 3% or less that is considered "Good" for electronics.
So my current advice is to AVOID these heaters.
RESIN/PLASTIC COVERED HEATER
A Sub type of the Glass Submersible Pre-Set Heater the plastic resin covered aquarium heater. The Rena “Smart” Heater is a good example of this heater type. It has a low temperature variance with an LED warning alert system that flashes when water is +/- 5º F from set point. As well the SmartHeater works in any position, horizontal or vertical.
Another is the Stealth (by Marineland). This unique submersible glass heater has a hard plastic “Shell” which protects the heater from breakage.
However, please note that my experience with the Marineland Stealth Heaters indicate that they should also not be used in confined spaces or low water volume applications. I have also noticed (in part from feedback from others in the professional aquarium maintenance business) that the Marineland Stealth heater is not as accurate or as durable (generally in low flow applications) as the higher end Via Aqua Titanium Heater or the very high end Pro-Heat II Titanium IC Heaters.
My experience with the other Marineland submersible heater; the “Visitherm” has been worse with LOW accuracy/durability in varied conditions, at least the Stealth is accurate and reasonably reliable in higher flow aquarium placement applications.
TITANIUM/ STAINLESS STEEL/ REMOTE SENSOR HEATERS
Titanium and Remote Sensor Heaters such as the Via Aqua Titanium heater, both the earlier generation anaolog and next generation digital Titanium.
The advantage to these heaters is three fold;
One is that they tend to be even more accurate by having the sensor far from the heating element.
Two, besides improved accuracy of a remote sensor, the accuracy is further improved by the Digital electronics of the newest generation Titanium Heaters.
Three; the Titanium (and also Stainless Steel) heaters are much more durable and difficult to break especially with large fish such as Oscars.
These heaters also resist breakage due to aquarist mistakes such as leaving them on during water changes or dropping rocks on them (although Titanium heaters still can be damaged by leaving them on during a water change).
I think Titanium Heaters are your best choice for very large aquariums and for aquariums with large and destructive fish such as Arowanas, Oscars or even Turtle tanks (provided there is adequate water volume).
Also if accuracy of temperature control coupled with durability is important, especially with marine aquariums or Discus aquariums, the Digital Titanium is for you.
Titanium Heaters are NOT as good a choice for placing in confined spaces such as sumps, low water tanks (such as Viviariums) or filters such as the ReSun Internal Wet Dry Filter as Titanium heaters tend to easily overheat in confined spaces.
In the case of a sump, the reasons for spending extra for a Titanium heater which are impact resistance and the remote sensor are lost in this small space where the remote sensor is of little advantage and as well no fish are present that might damage a more fragile glass or quartz heater.
*Via Aqua Next Generation Digital Titanium Heaters
*ReSun Biological Internal Wet/Dry Filter
IN-LINE AQUARIUM HEATERS (or In-Filter Heaters)
The inline aquarium heater has come in and out of popularity in a few variations since at least the 1970s.
One form was the "heater module" in which to place your standard submersible heater inside of this "module". An example is the Lifeguard Heater Module which is the one I used the most; in fact I even designed one many years back to sell and utilize in my aquarium maintenance business.
Of late many other DIY versions have shown up on popular YouTube DIY channels
Another variation is the specific in-line aquarium heater such as the Hydor ETH pictured here to the left.
The third method (more similar to the first) is the use of canister aquarium filters with specific ports in which to place your heater.
This all said, all these methods have one thing in common from considerable use/experience on my part (as well as others who have been in the industry/hobby for some time), and that is these inline heaters often are NOT that accurate and more importantly cause heaters to fail at a much higher rate that more conventional aquarium heating methods.
This is why I stopped selling and making my own heater module as the failure rates and poor heating results were no better with my "invention" than others no matter how much I "tweaked it".
Part of the reason is the confined space does not allow for accurate temperature reading from the heaters sensors. As well this confined space often results in too much heat inside this unit that contains the actual heater/heating element, resulting in overheats and premature heater failure.
The bottom line is although on the surface this may seem like a good idea, in practicality it is a flawed idea that has been doomed to failure in every design I have tried or designed.
Unfortunately as with many already proven failed ideas, this one has once again been resurrected by a popular DIY YouTube channel. I think the problem is we have too many persons coming up with great ideas without any real practical experience, nor any research or willingness to learn from others who have much more practical experience (mentoring IMO is something I allowed myself to do in my early years, but seems to be a lost art from what I have seen and attacks made online).
If you desire this method due to large and destructive fish, consider a Titanium Heater.
If your reason is less equipment in the aquarium, consider placing your heater in a large sump system with much better circulation around the heater.
Of course this option is not possible to the majority of readers, so my suggestion is to simply hide your heater with decor, make sure to have a drip loop for safety, and simply realize that this minor inconvenience of a heater inside your aquarium is better than a failed heater or over heat of your aquarium.
One final issue with in-line heaters if used with an in-line UV Sterilizer, do NOT use together or at the very least use after the UV Sterilizer.
The reason? These heaters are notorious for having hot spots in the water just after the heater than can over heat a UV lamp and considerably shorten life, especially in low flow applications.
AUTOMATIC OR NON-PRESET HEATERS (Hang on the Back Heaters)
The Non-Preset or Automatic heater such as the basic Radiant Heater has a very remedial thermostat; or better they have metal contacts that are tightened by turning the dial (metal contacts installed on bi-metal lead, which are brought together with an adjusting screw).
When the heater is "turned up" or tightened, it turns on for longer periods of time. In other words these heaters are “automatic” not thermostatic as they do not go on based on water temperatures, rather the “time” it takes for a contact to “break” due to the tightness of the adjustment.
These heaters need adjustments between summer and winter.
Examples of this heater are the Radiant by Hagen, or even the old Metaframe heaters. Sometimes these heaters are all some aquarists can fit or afford on their tank (although Thermostatic heaters have come down in price a lot), but I have seen many an aquarist cook their fish with these, as subtle changes in the dial often over correct and a sudden ambient warm spell is often not corrected for.
With these heaters it is imperative that the water level is kept up to the proper level as marked on the heater or they may crack, it is also important to check these for seasonal variations (Summer/Winter), as these heaters adjust poorly for these.
These should not be used in a room or garage with wide temperature swings as they will not generally adjust properly. Adjustments with these heaters should be made at no more than 1/8 turn at a time then wait for about two hours before the next adjustment.
As with other heaters it is a good idea to place the heater in the tank and wait for 30 minutes before plugging in (although this is less important with these automatic heaters).
Adjustments should be made very gradually and it is easier to adjust these heaters if you start out at our near the desired temperature, otherwise you may be in for a roller coaster of adjustments.
OTHER AQUATIC HEATING DEVICES; Including Under Gravel Mini Heaters:
As for heating betta in a small tank or bowl, this can be difficult with even the smallest aquarium heaters as they tend to be less accurate in very small volumes of water.
One new method for heating bowls or small aquariums under 5 gallons are the Hydor Mini Undergravel Heaters.
These heaters are completely submersible, easy to hide in mini tanks and bowls and safe even under gravel. There is no controller for this type of heater, instead the Mini undergravel heater simply increases the ambient surrounding temperature a certain number of degrees based on the volume of water.
For example, the Hydor 7.5 watt Mini Heater will increase temperature 5 degrees F (2.5 C) for a 2.5 gallon aquarium.
Product Resource: Hydor Mini Undergravel Heaters
I have used (also for my clients) infrared reptile lamps or infrared heating elements placed in desk lamp over the tanks with the distance set according to the temperature desired (the infrared heating elements are generally more pricey and not worth the extra money for a fish, unlike a reptile).
The distance will need to vary based on ambient room temperature. The nice part about using these reptile infrared lights is that they do not interfere with the day/night cycle of the fish the way a white light or even a blue light will.
These are actually quite accurate when used correctly.
When choosing the right heater you need to factor your budget, tank size, fish size potential, ambient room temperature variation, and temperature sensitivity.
For example: a 10 gallon (35 liter) aquarium with platies and guppies would probably be fine with an inexpensive Automatic Heater, the same for a small Betta Tank. But if this tank was in say a shed where temperatures vary greatly, even this example would be better of with a Preset Submersible heater (for Bettas I have also used infrared reptile lamps in desk lamps to maintain temperature successfully while still allowing day/night cycles).
Another example would be fish such as Oscars; with Oscars I would recommend the stainless steel or Titanium heaters as these fish can get rambunctious.
A third example would be marine fish; marine fish generally are not accustomed to much if any temperature swings so a Preset (thermostatic) heater would also be suggested here.
Finally for any larger aquarium (40 gallon +), a Preset heater just makes more sense in my opinion.
Other Suggested Resources, Products
AQUARIUM AND POND INFORMATION;
Well researched and up to date aquarium and pond answers, help, and links
This article covers many aspects of Aquarium & Pond UV Sterilization from how, why, facts, myths, and maintenance including the importance of changing UV Bulbs regularly.
As noted above, changing these bulbs/lamps every 6-12 months is essential for a properly functioning UV Sterilizer
*Aquarium Silicone Sealant; USDA 100% Fish Safe
100% Fish Safe, USDA & Agricultre Canada approved.
The same CANNOT be said for Hardware Store brands!!
The above article is easily the most in depth and regularly updated on the subject of Aquarium Lighting to be found ANYWHERE on the Internet!
*Columnaris in Aquarium Fish (also Fungus)
As with the "Aquarium Lighting " article, this is easily the most in depth and regularly updated on the subject of Columnaris and Fish Fungus to be found ANYWHERE on the Internet!
*Power Head, & Water Pump Review; Aquarium & Pond
Another article from this website that reviews aquarium water pumps from a professional "hands on" prospective
Economy Submersible Aquarium, Fountain Pumps; SunSun JP-033
A better, UPDATED version of the Via Aqua 302 with SUPERIOR Performance, unlike other pumps sold elsewhere as a replacement
*Aquarium Information, Directory
API/Rena Filstar High Performance Canister Filters & Parts
Premium Canister Aquarium Filters
LED Aquarium Lights, Lighting
A unique web site with great insights into what determines the best in aquarium LED light fixtures
Lateral Line Disease in Fish (HLLE)? Lateral Line Functions
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience Updated 12/22/17
The Lateral Line in Fish as well as Lateral Line Disease or Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)
The lateral line is a sense organ that consists of a row of scales that most fish have along their sides, extending from their head to tail. Under these scales are a system of fluid-filled canals and specialized cells which transmit vibrations to the brain of the fish.
The lateral line helps fish to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water including predators and prey. The lateral line or similar organs in fish such as blind cavefish (which has rows of neuromasts on their heads) are used precisely to locate food without the use of sight.
Killifish can sense ripples caused by insects struggling on the surface of the water.
Scientific experiments with Pollack Fish have shown that the lateral line is also used for schooling behavior.
Lateral lines are usually visible as faint lines running lengthwise down each side, from the area around the gill covers to the area near the base of the tail. Sometimes parts of the lateral line are modified into electro-receptors (biological ability to receive and make use of electrical impulses), which are organs used to detect electrical impulses.
A Scientist in the 1960s named Sven Dijkgraaf argued convincingly that fish must use their lateral lines to detect water motion. This motion can be generated by the fish, water currents, or by some external moving object.
The lateral line in fish seems to have the ability of detecting the subtle movements of biological sources (prey fish or predator fish, for example) located some distance away. Many scientists believe that fish such as sharks can use these organs to detect magnetic fields as well.
HOW THE LATERAL LINE WORKS:
There are receptors in the line, called neuromasts, each consist of a group of hair cells, these cell hairs are surrounded by a protruding cupula (an organ that gives an animal a sense of balance).
Neuromasts may occur singly, in small groups called pit organs, or in rows within grooves or canals, where by these neuromasts are referred to as the lateral line system.
The lateral line system runs along the sides of the body onto the head, where it divides into three branches, two to the snout and one to the lower jaw.
These neuromasts are usually at the bottom of a pit or groove in the fish, which is large enough to be visible.
Skates, rays and sharks usually have lateral-line canals, in which the neuromasts are not directly exposed to the environment, but communicate with it via canal pores.
The hair cells in the lateral line are similar to the hair cells inside the others vertebrates inner ear (such as the cupula in humans where hair cells within the cupula sense rotational acceleration), indicating that the lateral line and the inner ear share a common origin.
Some active fish that are constantly swimming tend to have more neuromasts in canals than on the surface, and the lateral line will be further away from pectoral fins, to reduce the noise generated by fin motion.
The lateral line system, found in many fish, is sensitive to differences in water pressure. These differences are thought to be due to changes in depth or to the current like waves caused by approaching objects.
When pressure waves cause the gelatinous caps of the neuromasts to move, bending the enclosed hairs, the frequency of the nerve impulses is either increased or decreased, depending on the direction of bending.
A swimming fish sets up a pressure wave in the water that is detectable by the lateral line systems of other fish. It also sets up a bow wave in front of itself, the pressure of which is higher than that of the wave flow along its sides.
These near-field differences are registered by its own lateral line system.
As the fish approach an object, such as a rock or the glass wall of an aquarium, the pressure waves around its body are distorted, and these changes are quickly detected by the lateral line system, enabling the fish to turn or to take other actions.
Because sound waves are waves of pressure, the lateral line system is also able to detect very low-frequency sounds of about 100 Hz or less.
An adaptation of the pressure-sensitive system is seen in the modified groups of neuromasts called the Ampullae of Lorenzini (special sensing organs, forming a network of jelly-filled canals), which are found in sharks, rays and a few bony fish.
The Ampullae of Lorenzini are able to detect electrical charges, or fields, in the water.
Most animals, including humans, emit a DC (Direct Current) field when in seawater. This is thought to be caused by electrical potential differences between body fluids and seawater and between different parts of the body. An AC field is also set up by muscular contractions.
A wound, even a scratch, can alter these electrical fields.
DISEASES OF THE LATERAL LINE:
The usual progression in marine fish of MHLLE (Marine Head and Lateral Line Erosion) is usually the development of small pits around the eye and on the head and adjacent area.
As the ailment progresses, the holes grow larger, eventually connecting to become larger lesions, eventually extending back along the fish's lateral line. The fins and gill covering will also often erode in more advanced cases, although MHLLE is seldom fatal.
Yellow Tangs for an unknown reason progress differently; they tend to lose their vibrancy and lighten in overall color, followed fin erosion, usually beginning with the soft tissue between the dorsal fin's rays.
In general Marine Angels and Tangs (Surgeonfish) seem to be the most susceptible to MHLLE.
Vitamin, Immune System
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as Vitamin C and possibly Vitamin B complex are one very likely cause of degeneration from my experience.
Proper feeding of foods high in these vitamins such as Spirulina Algae will help in this case.
These deficiencies along with poor water quality (which often results in poor Redox balance) show the most evidence for being the major cause of this affliction.
More information about: Aquarium Redox
Recommended Fish Food Resources:
-Spirulina Algae Fish Food Flake
-AAP Custom Fish Food Crumbles by Fish Food Guru Clay Neighbors
Many have attributed high nitrates due to poor water quality as a possible cause, however although low nitrates are certainly important for long term health, I believe high nitrates play a minor role in how poor water affects HLLE in fish.
I believe from my own tests (as well as research) that the lack of minerals and vitamins in low quality water along with a poor Redox Potential are the main culprits. I have witnessed Yellow Tangs turn around with the addition of trace elements in client’s tanks that previously never supplemented them.
As stated earlier the use of products such as Spirulina Algae, high quality additives such as SeaChem Vitality (as a fish food soak), adding trace elements & complete buffers as well a simple and basic water changes using quality salts aids profoundly in maintaining proper mineral/vitamin levels in marine fish. This is especially important since marine fish constantly drink the water around them which makes their body chemistry very much like that of the water around them (somewhat of an over simplification though).
Also for finicky marine fish such as many Butterflies and Angels, the use of products that entice the fish to eat high quality prepared fish food that they might otherwise ignore is suggested; one excellent example is SeaChem Entice
A Great Resource for more about Marine Fish & how they drink water:
Aquarium Answers, Do fish drink water?
Aquarium Redox & rH
Another aspect of water quality, immune system health is the The Aquarium Redox Potential.
A basic explanation; simply put a correct Redox potential acts as an anti-oxidant clearing away free radicals much the way many vitamins such as A, C and others do. Many aquarists are unfortunately unaware of this aspect of the aquarium keeping even though many human studies have shown direct correlation to correct Redox and lowering of free radicals.
More in depth though is the potential affect of Redox as it relates to electromagnetism and rH (relative hydrogen). While this is still in the arena of theory, my personal observations lead credibility to this, and in fact both science and observation make oxidative stress the leading factor in HLLE in my opinion!!
Early results suggest healthy aquariums will have rH reading s between 23 & 26
Stray Electrical Current
Another theory is that an un-grounded aquarium can cause electrical fields that both interfere and degenerate the lateral line in fish. You can test this by using a pocket multi-meter on AC volts with a probe in the wall ground and a probe in the water.
HOWEVER, newer evidence does not seem to support this theory which quite bluntly from my experience makes sense as I have witnessed many broken or leaking electrical devices over years that I can actually feel the “stray” electrical current by holding my hand just above the water or if I have an open cut, YET the fish do not seem to be affected UNTIL one completes the circuit.
An example is a Pacu I witnessed that “bit” into a loose set of wires that a client had left hanging into the tank, all was fine until the fish “completed” the circuit.
My point is that there is NO completed circuit until you complete it with a ground, which you do when touching the water while standing on the ground.
For further information, please see this article: Stray Voltages Explained
Carbon and NPOC
Other HLLE theories include the use of activated carbon, however in admittedly non-controlled studies I have seen no difference in occurrence or cure with the use of carbon, however it is possible that many are not keeping up with trace elements, and have a poor Redox and then the addition of carbon might remove what little anti-oxidants there are in an aquarium, but I do not think one can safely state that the use of carbon will lead to HLLE.
Another aspect of carbon that is not really related to the above use of activaed carbon is "Total Organic Carbon" ( aka TOC). This the amount of carbon found in an organic compound and is often used as a non-specific indicator of water quality.
A general analysis for "Total Organic Carbon" measures both the total carbon present and the so-called "inorganic carbon", the latter representing the content of dissolved carbon dioxide and carbonic acid salts. Subtracting the inorganic carbon from the total carbon yields TOC.
Another common variant of TOC analysis involves removing the IC portion first and then measuring the leftover carbon. This method involves purging an acidified sample with carbon-free air or nitrogen prior to measurement, and so is more accurately called non-purgeable organic carbon (aka NPOC)
Total organic carbon; Wikipedia
This clearly may have a bearing on Redox and rH, thus this theory has merit in it based on my research and experience, however no confirmed scientific studies have confirmed this as a causative factor in HLLE.
Use of Ozonizers/Ozone Generators
Both my observations and those of others confirm that the use of an aquarium Ozone Generator is a factor in MHLLE disease.
I have observed on multiple occasions that HLLE will get worse when the Ozonizer is added and improve when the Ozonizer is removed.
This said, removal has not cured HLLE either, so it is only a factor in my experience.
Better to use a high dwell time UV Sterilizer such as the AAP/TMC Vecton models for germicidal use and only use the Ozone Generator for improving protein skimming ina protein skimmer designed to handle an Ozonizer such as the AAP V2 Skim Marine Skimmers.Product Resources:
*AAP Vecton/Advantage High Dwell Time UV Sterilizer
*AAP V2 Skim Professional Venturi Marine Aquarium Skimmers
Viruses, bacteria and parasites
Viruses, bacteria and parasites have also been blamed and once again I have not seen enough supporting evidence to support this theory as well.
Exposure to Copper is another theory, however once again since I used to use copper extensively over the years and have not observed any such correlation with normal use. This said, I would concur with this theory when copper levels exceed normal doses for long periods of time. I would suggest the use of Ionic Copper and not Chelated Copper.
Product Resource: AAP/SeaChem Ionic Copper
Finally another theory that does make sense based on my experience with 100s of marine aquariums (although not scientifically proven) are the lack of sunlight or correct lighting.
Proper lighting (or lack thereof) is another parameter for a healthy lateral line in fish.
Full spectrum lighting such as a combination 6,400 K or 20,000 K bulb and Actinic (UVA) bulb will help with this. The thought is that full spectrum lighting aids in the assimilation of certain vitamins, much as in humans and Vitamin D.
Please reference this very in depth article:
Proper Aquarium Lighting
The subject of HLLE is something unlike other fish maladies, even HITH in freshwater fish, where I have made certain changes and never had a reoccurrence of the issue.
So while I have good evidence, both science and experience based, I cannot state categorically what the exact cause and preventative actions are for HLLE.
My best guesses based on this experience and research is that nutrients/vitamins, Redox/rH, & lighting are the key factors to focus on.
* The Krib- Lateral Line Disease
*Hypothesis of Head and Lateral Line Erosion in Fish, Part 1
* Hypothesis of Head and Lateral Line Erosion in Fish, Part 2
*Hypothesis of Head and Lateral Line Erosion in Fish, Part 3
Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites
AQUARIUM AND POND INFORMATION;
Well researched and up to date aquarium and pond answers, help, and links. Based on 35 years of professional aquarium maintenance experience.
Saltwater/Reef Aquarium Basics
*Aquarium Chemistry; Saltwater & Freshwater
*Fish Nutrition Information
TMC Premium FSB Filters
Premium, second to NONE Aquarium Bio Filters, that with optional Oolitic Sand can also maintain essential aquarium calcium levels, alkalinity, & electrolytes that are important to ALL Marine life, Goldfish, African Cichlids, Livebearers & more
EcoTech Radion Pro Versus AquaRay LED Lights
A must read article for those interested in the science of aquarium lighting, and not desiring to follow the many lemmings in cut & paste aquarium forums
Hydor Smart Wave Controller
• Promotes a healthy reef aquarium or similar aquarium environment where wave action is desired by recreating natural currents found in nature
• Synchronous program for currents typical of barrier reefs and alternate for tides
Aquarium & Pond Plumbing Parts
Difficult to find or unique parts found nowhere else!
Including: T Water Diverters, Hose Barb Adapters, Couplings, & Reducers, Ball Valves, Swing Check Valves, Return Adapters, Intake Adapters
Tap water for my Aquarium or Pond? From Chlorine and Chloramines to Phosphates, Sodium, & TDS
By Carl Strohmeyer
Index (click to "Jump To")
- Chlorine & Chlorimines
- Inorganic Molecules; Nitrites, Nitrates, Copper, Phosphates, and Fluoride
- TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)
- Summary & References
There are standards for tap water quality, but that does not mean that these levels are safe for fish (or humans for that matter).
CHLORINE AND CHLORAMINES:
To start, most city tap water has chlorine (Chlorine (Cl2), Sodium Hypochlorite NaClO), which is an oxidizer (A chemical substance that gains electrons in a redox chemical reaction), but this can kill fish by burning their gills and poisoning their blood.
More about: Aquarium Redox Balance
Chlorine is not very stable and is easily removed with the many commercial "De-chlorinators" available, most using Sodium Thiosulfate.
Agitation of the tap water in a bucket or other container with an air stone connected to an air pump will generally remove the amount of chlorine generally added to tap water in a matter of hours if not at least a day. However, if chloramines are used, agitation will not work for removal.
Some municipalities use chloramines because they are more stable than chlorine (this is especially common in areas where water must be transported over longer distances due to non-availability of local water sources, such as in the Southwest USA or areas of drought).
Chloramines (NH2Cl) are a chemical compound of chlorine and ammonia and cannot be boiled out. It can't even be allowed to sit for a few days to remove the Chloramines before adding this water to an aquarium.
Chloramine is formed through the reaction of dissolved chlorine gas and ammonia in tap water. Chloramines can also be composed of two other formulas: dichloramine (NHCl2) and trichloramine (NCl3).
Chloramine passes through the gills of fish and enters the blood stream. There, it reacts with Hemoglobin, forming Methemoglobin.
In studies of some fish exposed to 1 ppm-Cl of monochloramine, then about 30% of the hemoglobin is converted into methemoglobin; the fish suffered from anoxia (low oxygen in their tissues) because they have lost some of their hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood.
In my experience, fish exposed to chloramine suffer immediate and often severe reactions from darting, to gasping, to immediate shock and death!
This is NOT the general reaction of exposure to chlorine, as fish generally do not show symptom of exposure to chlorine in normal tap water doses unless exposure is prolonged, and most de-chlorinators remove chlorine instantly/within seconds.
See a simple experiment in this article: “Aquarium (& Pond) Water Conditioners” (about three paragraphs down).
If your tap water has Cloramines, you will need to remove them chemically before adding the water to your aquarium. Standard de-chlorinators such as "Start Right" Water Conditioner will remove the chlorine, but leave the ammonia (NH3) for either your bio filtration or Zeolite (freshwater only) to remove. These basic de-chlorinating products are simple Reducers (sodium thiosulfate) and are quite safe, even overdosed contrary to some opinions floating around.
The vastly preferred products for use in conditioning water treated with Chloramines such as Amquel (or better Amquel Plus) or SeaChem Prime will remove the chlorine and neutralize the ammonia (and more).
Prime is made from Hydrosulfite salts which are basically non toxic reducing agents made up of bisulfites and hydrosulfites, aqueous solution, buffered at pH 8. As mentioned earlier, reducing agents are basically non toxic at reasonable doses to fish and aquatic animals.
A product resource for: SeaChem Prime
The chart to the right shows some common chlorine/chloramines reducing agents.
You will note that metabisulfites and bisulfites are efficient reducers, however it should be noted that some studies have shown these to lower dissolved oxygen levels. I have never had a problem with this due to the fact I always employ good circulation when ammonia, chloramines, or chlorine are a problem (actually good circulation should always be employed).
Also note, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also an effective reducer, which also goes along with many of my points for a Reducing Redox).
For much more information about water conditioners that will remove Chlorine and/or Chloramines, please read this article:
Aquarium (& Pond) Water Conditioners.
Other Methods for Chloramine Removal Include:
- Reverse Osmosis or Deionization Resins: reverse osmosis systems (where carbon is usually part of the pre-filtration prior to the RO membrane), the ammonia is partially removed by the reverse osmosis system. The extent of removal by the RO membrane depends on pH. At pH 7.5 or lower, reverse osmosis will remove ammonia from 1.4 ppm-Cl monochloramine to less than 0.1 ppm ammonia.
DI resin can then remove any residual ammonia.
This method is EXCELLENT for preparation of freshwater prior to adding a marine salt mix or for topping off aquariums prior to evaporation.
HOWEVER, it's not a good method for 100% use of water in freshwater aquariums as ALL important minerals are stripped from the water that freshwater fish need for osmoregulation (in marine tanks, the saltwater mixes provide these essential elements).
PLEASE read these articles fully before using this method for freshwater aquariums:
*AQUARIUM CHEMISTRY; Use of RO water in Freshwater Aquariums
* Use of RO, DI, Softwater in Aquariums
*PROPER OSMOTIC FUNCTION- ELECTROLYTES; Osmoregulation in Fish
- Carbon & Zeolite: as with thiosulfate (used in may water conditioners such as Start Right, Novaqua, Tap Water Conditioner, etc.), carbon removes the chlorine, however ammonia is not bound significantly by activated carbon.
Consequently, treatment of water with activated carbon will need to be followed up by some method of eliminating the ammonia such as the use of Zeolite. Zeolite is NOT for use in saltwater, however it can be an effective albeit SLOW method of removing residual ammonia from the previous Chloramines molecules.
A Product Resource for: Ammo-Carb, Ammo-Chips, Zeolite Products
INORGANIC CHEMICALS; Nitrites, Nitrates, Copper, Phosphates, and Fluoride:
Ammonia: As of the time of this article, there are no limits as per the amount of ammonia (either NH3 or NH4) allowed in tap water.
Reference: Ammonia in Drinking Water
Nitrites are allowed up to 1 ppm, yet at this level there can be some damage to fish gills. Methylene Blue (for nitrite and ammonia poisoning) can be used for treatment of nitrite poisoning, but it is best to avoid this. A good bio filter will generally remove trace amounts of this from tap water, as will products such as Prime.
Nitrates are allowed up to 10 ppm, yet at levels above 10- 30 (depending on studies) in human studies infants under 6 months can become ill and suffer symptoms such as Blue Baby Syndrome.
Also See these links for more about Nitrates:
Now this level has shown no ill effect in any fish studies I have seen, but levels above 20 ppm can harm some marine cephalopods.
It makes since in many marine aquariums too use RO water to mix up your salt mix or top off for evaporation so as to not add to "difficult to remove nitrates" in you marine aquarium.
Other "allowed chemicals" of note are Copper- 1.3 ppm, Phosphates (no standards) and Fluoride- 4.0 ppm.
Copper at these levels is not generally a problem with fish or aquatic invertebrates, but if you are already treating with copper sulfate or if this is allowed to accumulate in a reef tank this is something an aquarist should be aware of.
Copper levels above 5 ppm can start to become dangerous for some delicate invertebrates such as Acropora corals and levels above 25 ppm can be dangerous to fish. It also should be noted for copper, that in hot water in particular, copper can be also added to tap water via home copper plumbing.
As for Fluoride; I have not found conclusive studies on the harm of Fluoride to fish or other aquatic creatures, in fact trace amounts are necessary for coral growth in marine aquariums. So despite some over stated worries about Fluoride in tap water used in aquariums, this in one I would not consider.
As for Phosphates; many municipalities use phosphates to reduce the levels of lead that have been found in drinking water.
Phosphates create a protective film on the inside of the pipe, slowing the electrochemical processes that lead to corrosion.
Unfortunately for aquarists this can lead to extra algae growth, especially of Blue Green Algae (Cyanobacteria). This can be a real problem in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums without easy solutions.
I have used many phosphate sponges with mixed results, but I can say with certainty is that carbon will not remove phosphate, in fact some carbon may even add to your phosphate levels. Protein Skimmers in marine aquariums can remove some phosphates, but I have not recorded that much difference.
Water changes using RO water and then adding minor elements and electrolytes back in is another solution. In freshwater aquariums, Wonder Shells can help add these elements as well, but in saltwater the marine mixes have all the elements you need.
A resource for:
*“Wonder Shells – calcium and electrolyte replenisher”
*NPX Bioplastics Nitrate & Phosphate Reducing Polymer Media
TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)
Total Dissolved Solids basically is any minerals, salts, metals, cations (positively charged mineral ions) or anions (negatively charged mineral ions) dissolved in water.
This includes anything present in water other than the pure water (H20) molecule and suspended solids. (Suspended solids are any particles/substances that are neither dissolved nor settled in the water, such as detritus).
The TDS is equal to the sum total of cations and anions ions in the water. Generally the measurement of TDS is given in Parts per Million (ppm) being the weight-to-weight ratio of any ion to water.
There of coarse is a relationship to GH (General Hardness) and Redox, so too low or too high a TDS can be detrimental, depending upon the fish kept. With this in mind, the use of RO (Reverse Osmosis Systems which lower TDS considerably should take into consideration the re-mineralization of the water (again depending upon the fish kept).
Also Redox is affected when one uses RO (or DI) water, as the Redox of RO Water is generally too high (since RO water is more acid oxygen is left behind), as a highly oxidizing environment may be OK for short term, long term health considerations for fish (or even humans as per Redox Research) is not good.
For Further in depth information about Redox:
RO Machine Links:
Reverse Osmosis Water Filter
Aquarium Minerals for RO Water
The diagram below shows the relationship of TDS and Tap Water (from http://www.tdsmeter.com/)
Please Click on the Diagram Above to Enlarge
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests 20 mg or less of sodium per liter as the amount of sodium to strive for in drinking water, so anything over this amount is going to tend toward driving out certain minerals, albeit in small amounts, that are essential for fish, such as Calcium & Magnesium. As freshwater sodium level increases beyond this number, it will become increasing difficult to maintain a healthy/balanced GH/KH.
A sodium level that is over 270 mg/liter in freshwater is considered quite high and at this level maintaining the correct essential mineral ions will be very difficult in your aquarium.
It is for this reason a sodium softened water system should NEVER be used for ANY aquarium.
See: Softened Water; Home/Office Water Softeners Use
Before you go and rush out and use nothing but bottled water, please note that most bottled water is NOT suitable for fish when used 100% (it can be mixed or reconstituted).
Drinking Water in particular is generally RO water with some minerals added for “taste” (Spring Water is generally fine if it is true spring water). Not that there is anything wrong with RO or DI water, it is just they are devoid of VERY important electrolytes and trace elements needed for proper fish respiration and osmotic function, without which you may be worse off in terms of fish health than with slightly polluted tap water.
So please use the information in this article to improve your water quality and make wise choices as to your water sources.
Please read this article about Aquarium electrolytes and more:
AQUARIUM CHEMISTRY; CALCIUM, KH, AND MAGNESIUM IN AQUARIUMS
- For a more in depth article about Aquarium Test Kits, please follow this link:
AQUARIUM TEST KITS; what they are used for and their importance
- "Chlorine and the Reef Aquarium"
- For more information about U.S. government standards, please see this article:
“Drinking Water Contaminants”
- For a map of the U.S. showing the distribution of soft and hard water see: USGS: Common water measurements
Sodium Content of Your Drinking Water
An easy to read, excellent article!
Carl Strohmeyer copyright- 1/06/07
TMC V2 RO Filter systems; the very best you can buy with TDS meter (far superior to 4 stage RO/DI systems sold via Bulk Reef Supply, Amazon, or eBay that use the inferior cellulose triacetate membrane made by Dow):
Reverse Osmosis Aquarium Water Filters; with TDS Meter
*Aquarium Ich; Ichthyophthirius Multifilis and Cryptocaryon Irritans
*Complete Pond Care
*The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle; COMPLETE
*Melafix Dangers? Bettas, Gouramis
UV Replacement Lamps/Bulbs
For TRUE High Output, Hot Cathode, Low Pressure UVC Germicidal Bulbs, not the low output medium pressure bulbs commonly sold at Amazon or eBay