Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
In an average set up the bacterial live on all the surfaces.
50% in the filter media. Without water circulation (bringing them oxygen) they can die. In warmer temperatures, they will die pretty fast. In cooler temperatures they will live a bit longer.
25% on the pieces of substrate that are exposed to good water flow for oxygen and ammonia, but not directly in the light. So... on the under side of the top few pieces of substrate. Mixing the substrate will bury these. Aquatic plants can pump oxygen down through their roots and out into the substrate. But freshly transplanted, I would think they are not quite up to doing a really good job at this.
25% on all other surfaces- driftwood, rocks, equipment, plant leaves and stems... as long as it is out of the direct light. Wiping off the glass is not a problem at all. Wiping off rocks is not a problem. The surface area on a smooth rock is so low that there is only a small amount of bacteria growing on it.
The bacteria do not need to be under water, but in a humid location is good.
How to move a tank:
Clean the substrate and filter a week or so ahead of time. This gives the bacteria a chance to recover if needed.
Prepare enough new water for 100%+ water change.
Unplug, turn off all equipment. Filter: Empty the media into a bucket and add a small pump or bubbler. Something that will keep the water oxygenated.
Drain the best water into buckets for the fish. A little stress coat, or ammonia locking product may help. Put lid on the buckets, and keep them in a temperature stable location.
Gently remove plants, decor. Plants can go into buckets, a day or two without light is not a problem. Not the fish buckets, though.
Skim the top layer of substrate, about 5 grains deep. Keep this in a separate bucket with oxygenation (water circulation, or just damp, and keep the lid off)
The rest of the substrate can be cleaned as you lift it through the remaining water, or rinsed after it is out of the tank.
OK to use this opportunity to clean the glass, lid, etc.
When you put things back together do not use the water in the fish buckets. Fish under stress produce excess ammonia and stress hormones.
The bacteria-rich substrate can be placed as the top layer, or (if you are changing the look, and do not want this in the tank) placed in 3+ mesh bags (nylon stocking, other), hung on the tank sides where there is good water movement, and removed from the system over perhaps a month.
When in doubt, get some Nitrospira species of bacteria and add it to the system. Read the label. Do not waste money on anything else.
After: Skip feeding for a day. Test often, and be ready to do water changes.