General Question

Mariah's avatar

What spurs the growth of bacteria in a fish tank (see details!)

Asked by Mariah (18398 points ) November 26th, 2012

I’m looking for a very specific answer here. It might be a stretch.

Those familiar with the intricacies of keeping a healthy aquarium know about the nitrate cycle. My understanding is that a new tank will have problems at first because of ammonia, but that bacteria will soon grow to convert it to nitrites, and then different bacteria will grow that convert it to nitrates.

What I want to know is, what prompts the growth of these bacteria? Is it the ammonia/nitrites themselves that feeds their growth? Or do they grow as a side effect of something else in the tank chemistry?

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9 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

Fish tanks are usually warm, wet and have plenty of food for bacteria. The same reason people have foot odor.

Mariah's avatar

Got that. So are you saying the number of bacteria will be proportional to other things, such as available waste to feed on, as opposed to ammonia levels? That’s what I’m really getting at here.

Mariah's avatar

I guess a better way to phrase my question is, do these bacteria actually feed on ammonia/nitrite or do they just neutralize it as a side effect of other processes? Sorry, again I know it’s a really specific and odd question.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I’m at school right now but I’ll give ya a good answer to this later tonight when I get home.

Mariah's avatar

Yay, thanks @uberbatman!

El_Cadejo's avatar

The short answer to your question is yes, these bacteria metabolize ammonia/nitrite.

Ok sooooo when nemo takes a poo in your take its in the form of ammonia (NH3). Nitrosomonas then feed on ammonia and oxidize it and releases nitrite (NO2). The job now falls to nitrobacter which consumes the NO2, and oxidizes it leaving nitrate(NO3). The NO3 must then be removed through either water changes/resins or from uptake by plants.

And here’s a pretty picture that illustrates what I said above.

I believe this was the question you were getting at but if I’m mistaken let me know and I’ll give it another swing.

Mariah's avatar

That was perfect, thanks so much!

El_Cadejo's avatar

@Mariah Anytime :) Do you have a tank? Whatcha got?

Mariah's avatar

Haha, I actually don’t have a tank, as weird as that will make this question seem. I want one, though. College makes it kind of hard.

I’ll PM you.

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