No, there's nothing stirring the substrate... Should there be?
What are you running in the rear chamber as far as media? Are you treating tap water or using ro/di? And what's your maintenance schedule look like?
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It's the Fluval filter with the charcoal removed, just the sponge and ceramic media. Maintenance is topping off water as it evaporates, as my LFS told me that water changes in such a small tank could throw the whole cycle off. Is that good advice?
I find ottos to be hard to aclimate to new conditions and a 2.6g tank does not leave much room for error. We are not likely to find out why they died but can make some guesses. The N > 40 ppm is the first thing that caught my eye.
Even though the tank is 3 months old, we do not know how it was cycled and what kept the bacteria alive. An ammonia spike coupled with high pH in a nano tank is one possibilty. A WC with non treated water is another. Disturbance of accumulated mulm or non treated rotting driftwood is yet another. So would be a big difference in temperature.
In short, there is little information on the state of the tank to narrow the possible causes down.
Hm. I always treat my tap water before I add it to the tank. And I've been testing the water values nearly every day, ammonia has never been above 0... I did squeeze some gunk out of the sponge filter though, maybe some debris stirred up in the tank and bothered them?
With pH posted, ammonia would be less of a concern than with pH above 7.0
Is not uncommon for otocinclus which are still mostly wild caught, to do poorly as result of capture,shipping,and then acclimation to dealer tanks, and then acclimation to your tank or mine.
If the plants are doing well,and water parameter's are as posted,you may not be doin nothin wrong just fragile fish,stress,led to the oto's demise.
Nerites are sorta iffy also.
Some sources indicate that the nerites do better in slightly alkaline water with maybe some marine salt added at weekly water change.(shrimp's might not appreciate it)
Opinion's vary on keeping these snail's long term.
I do believe the tank is too small for anything but the shrimps you mentioned,and that the small tank was designed around.
I would perform weekly 1/3 water change with dechlorinated water and maybe try some ghost shrimp and see how they do before committing to the CRS.
All bet's are off if using buffer's that might cause fluctuating water parameter's for nearly all critter's.
Just need to get the tank and you into routine of regular replacement of a portion of water while resisting the urge to over feed possibly.
Personally,,i would opt for a tank of at least ten gal which would afford more room for maybe some small micro fishes and help keep water quality more stable.
Hope some of this helps.
This is all great advice. Thanks so much.
I will start doing regular water changes and try some ghost shrimp before spending money on cherries. Thanks again!