High Nitrates - 87 guppies in a 20gal - What the heck! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-17-2017, 10:54 PM Thread Starter
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High Nitrates - 87 guppies in a 20gal - What the heck!

I want to start out with - I did not put 87 guppies in a 20 gal tank, but I have adopted this tank as is. Yikes.

This lady was moving across the country and she couldn't take her fish with her. She told me she had a 20gal with some guppies and wanted to know if I wanted it. Well, of course I could take this burden off of her hands! lol

I get there and her 20 gal long has a TON of guppies!!! I couldn't imagine how she had them thriving so well! They are reproducing and they all looked healthy besides some tail nipping. Then she tells me that she doesn't really do water changes - yikes! She sometimes takes water from the top, but mostly just adding water when the level got low. No under gravel filtration, no airstone and she used a HoB filter (not sure what kind because she wanted to keep it). She has these chunky river rocks instead of gravel. No algae issues either!

I get it home with about 75% of the water. I start testing the water - no ammonia or nitrites. I'm shocked! But then the nitrates were really bad - 100-130ppm! So I start working at 25% water changes everyday. And every time I used the substrate vacuum, the tons of debris would fly really bad. So it was obvious that she didn't clean the bottom much at all. I did have issues with guppy fry getting sucked up because they would hide in between the rocks. Luckily, I siphoned into a bucket and was able to add them back. I also added some low light plants that I took from my 55gal planted tank in hopes that it would use up some of the nitrates. I also added a nitrate-absorbing material that could be added to my filter.

I did this every day for 2 weeks, which was very time consuming dealing with the fry. I tested the nitrates, but it wasn't budging. Tap water nitrates was about 10ppm. So why on earth are the nitrates not dropping? It had to be the massive amount of crap under these rocks, right? So I ended up spending 5 hours breaking down this tank, cleaning and re-assembling.

Netting up all of these guppies, including the fry, came to 87 guppies!!!! OMG! And I had to slowly grab the rocks a handful at a time to remove, because the fry had created a tunnel of hiding spots in them. Exhausting!

The debris left in the bottom was a disgusting layer. After cleaning and changing out 50% of the water, I finally got to 40ppm on nitrates! I was super thrilled with this. The large water change caused a mini-cycle for 24 hrs, but cleared up quickly.

The next day, my nitrates rose to 60ppm. What the heck! Still no ammonia. And I'm still surprised that I don't have any algae issues. So how can I keep the nitrates down with a MAJORLY HUGE bio-load? I have a HoB filter on this tank and because of the location of the tank in my house, I won't be able to change to a canister (no spot under the tank for it to be).

I would LOVE to take half of these guppies out and add to my 55gal, which has a very low bio-load and heavily planted. But I have an a-hole....I mean a red tail shark in the 55gal, and he loves to chase everything that moves.

Is it possible to keep this tank with this many guppies or do I need to unload a lot of guppies on craigslist to random people? Any other way I can lower the nitrates?
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post #2 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-17-2017, 11:23 PM
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Just an FYI regarding Nitrates - they are a byproduct of the Nitrite Oxidizing bacteria. Nitrite is a by product of Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria.
So, in your case you have a pretty strong beneficial bacteria colony which seems more than capable of handling the bioload of the fish. Unfortunately, it creates a lot of Nitrate.

As a small side note, last summer I did some experiments involving various bio media. At one point I was introducing over 70ppm of ammonia to the tank daily and within 24 hours the Ammonia and Nitrite levels were back to 0ppm. The down side - Nitrate levels were very much off the chart - estimated around 300-400ppm. The interesting twist was I had to do 100% water changes each day to keep the process going otherwise the beneficial bacteria simply stopped working.

Anyway, best of luck on working thru the situation.
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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-17-2017, 11:29 PM
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I'd suggest frogbit, or even duckweed (never thought I'd say that ), and then physically remove the plants as they grow. Water sprite is supposed to be another good nitrate sponge. I would just be careful about any possible fry hiding in the plants.


Also, in terms of getting rid of some of the guppies... I was under the impression that guppies are like rabbits; even if you get rid of a bunch of them, the population will easily restore itself.

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post #4 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 12:57 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Immortal1 View Post
Just an FYI regarding Nitrates - they are a byproduct of the Nitrite Oxidizing bacteria. Nitrite is a by product of Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria.
So, in your case you have a pretty strong beneficial bacteria colony which seems more than capable of handling the bioload of the fish. Unfortunately, it creates a lot of Nitrate.

As a small side note, last summer I did some experiments involving various bio media. At one point I was introducing over 70ppm of ammonia to the tank daily and within 24 hours the Ammonia and Nitrite levels were back to 0ppm. The down side - Nitrate levels were very much off the chart - estimated around 300-400ppm. The interesting twist was I had to do 100% water changes each day to keep the process going otherwise the beneficial bacteria simply stopped working.

Anyway, best of luck on working thru the situation.
Well, at least something is going well! lol But glad to know that's why the ammonia & nitrates are 0. Hopefully I didn't mess up the bacteria colony by doing a big rinse out of the glass and rocks. That would explain why I had a cloudy bloom for 24 hrs.

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Originally Posted by Trnt View Post
I'd suggest frogbit, or even duckweed (never thought I'd say that ), and then physically remove the plants as they grow. Water sprite is supposed to be another good nitrate sponge. I would just be careful about any possible fry hiding in the plants.


Also, in terms of getting rid of some of the guppies... I was under the impression that guppies are like rabbits; even if you get rid of a bunch of them, the population will easily restore itself.
Ugh duckweed!!! What a nuisance. I'll leave that as my last option. I don't mind trying out water sprite, though!

I honestly was just glad to add another tank to our house and I liked "some guppies." She literally said, "some." It wasn't until I arrived and saw how many there were. Now I see that I took on a big problem. lol They are definitely like rabbits, but hoping I can keep it controlled a bit better. I'm going to try to convince my husband to get rid of the red tail shark in our 55gal, so I can move some guppies over. That's his only fish because over a year ago, he said, "how come you get all these fish and I don't get any? Can I get just 1 fish?" And then he picks out a shark and names it...."Sharky." *SMH* Now it's at least 4 inches and bullies my community. Not sure how successful I'll be at that conversation. :/
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post #5 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 01:12 AM
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There are a few things to lower nitrates.
1. DO water change. Nitrifying bacteria does not remove nitrates from the water.
2. CLEAN/REPLACE filter cartridges. A lot of people ignore the filter, but all the fish's waste and other detritus accumulates there, so cleaning it may redce your level of nitrates.
3. GET plants. Floating, aquatic, or even terrestrial plants will remove some nitrates in the tank.
BTW when I say terrestrial, I mean plants like the pothos plant that you can stick in the filter, where it will grow roots and absorb a lot of nitrates (similar to a hydroponic set up)
Hope this helped
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post #6 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 01:17 AM
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I've used frogbit before, which is completely manageable thanks to its larger size. Maybe offer him the consolation of picking out a new fish, from an approved list of fish that you've picked out.

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post #7 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 01:39 AM
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If setting up another tank is an option, thats the way to go. Set up another tank, as large as you have room for and when splitting the guppies up, try to split them by sex. I raise guppies, and even if you were able to completely seperate the males from the females tomorrow, you're still looking at an astronomical amount of guppies still to come. Female guppies can have up to six batches of fry from being hit by a male ONCE! With that many in a tank, you can bet that every female that is old enough to reproduce is pregnant, and will keep producing fry for a while. Some strains eat their fry and though it may sound harsh, in your case, having a few of those strains would be a blessing. If you can unload some that would be even better. Its nice of you to help the lady out and take the fish, but this good deed could become a huge headache pretty quick.
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post #8 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 10:53 PM
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Buy some bigger fish for your 55, add guppies as needed, reduce cost of fish food, keep guppy population in control. They will just keep breeding, eventually you will need to cull them.
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post #9 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Sharper View Post
I'm going to try to convince my husband to get rid of the red tail shark in our 55gal, so I can move some guppies over. That's his only fish because over a year ago, he said, "how come you get all these fish and I don't get any? Can I get just 1 fish?" And then he picks out a shark and names it...."Sharky." *SMH* Now it's at least 4 inches and bullies my community. Not sure how successful I'll be at that conversation. :/
Just feed the shark some guppies. I would just put them all in there and let nature take its course.

When live gives you lemons make a lemon drop.
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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-18-2017, 11:39 PM Thread Starter
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Hubby has approved of finding a new home for "Sharky!" And then I'll move the males over into the 55gal. The Red Tail Shark wouldn't eat the guppies, but he'll chase them around until they are stressed to death. I wouldn't want them to go like that. What fish would you recommend that would eat the fry and leave the adults alone?
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post #11 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-19-2017, 12:39 AM
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Hubby has approved of finding a new home for "Sharky!" And then I'll move the males over into the 55gal. The Red Tail Shark wouldn't eat the guppies, but he'll chase them around until they are stressed to death. I wouldn't want them to go like that. What fish would you recommend that would eat the fry and leave the adults alone?
Im pretty sure a lot of community fish will take care of the babies. I would recommend a school of Zebra Danios, Rainbowfish, or Torpedo Barbs.

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post #12 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-19-2017, 03:53 AM
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Hubby has approved of finding a new home for "Sharky!" And then I'll move the males over into the 55gal. The Red Tail Shark wouldn't eat the guppies, but he'll chase them around until they are stressed to death. I wouldn't want them to go like that. What fish would you recommend that would eat the fry and leave the adults alone?
Diamond or Congo tetras, or praecox rainbows. I have observed the 1st and last eating guppies in my 55g, they are otherwise very peaceful.
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post #13 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-19-2017, 10:09 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the recommendations! I'll check out the LFS tomorrow.
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post #14 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-20-2017, 01:41 AM
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Most all community fish would eat guppy fry. I had a 75gal community tank filled with a few different tetra strains and rasboras, and all would readily take them
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post #15 of 19 (permalink) Old 06-23-2017, 01:37 AM
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She had some real tough bacteria in that tank of hers lol!! to control the bio load of all these guppies require a lot of bacteria.. put some pics I want to see the tank, unless you've already moved the guppies out.

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