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Best way to to kill detritus worm infestation?

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Hi All,

Need some advice on the best way to get rid of detritus worm infestation.

Two weeks ago my last couple of zebra danios died abruptly in my 10g tank, which was heavily planted with java moss and other assorted aquatic plants, and has been established and running for nearly 2 years. Did an API water check and pH was actually at 6, ammonia at 0.25, and nitrates/nitrates was 0. The pH of my local tap water (after dechlorination) is 7.2.

Seeing as there weren't any fish left, I turned off the filter pump... 24hrs later I noticed hundreds of tiny "roots" poking out of the substrate, waving gently even though there was no current. Did a bit of looking up and turns out they were detritus worms, to the scale similar to a video on youtube if you search "tons of detritus worms" (I can't post links yet). I left the tank as it was for a few days (without aeration) as I was busy with work, and everyday more and more worms emerged, scrambling and climbing onto the java moss and other plants. I'm not afraid of worms but even I found it very disgusting.

Over the past week I did what I could to get rid of most of the worms (and buried fish poo) through very vigorous siphoning of the gravel substrate during daily water changes. I have also quarantined the plants of the tank for 12hrs in a separate tub to shake out the worms that were hiding in the roots and driftwood crevices. I have also cleaned the filter and found some worms frolicking around. I then replanted some of the plants (cutting down heavily on the java moss) back into the tank. I left the tank to run for a day, and a quick API check several hours later revealed that the pH was now at 7.2 and ammonia was 0.

Thinking everything must be alright, I went to the LFS and bought 6 ember tetras + 2 corys yesterday. The fish settled in well, and I sprinkled a tiny pinch of crushed pellets, which were promptly eaten. but this morning I came to discover the tetras & the corys were all making trips to the surface to breathe every 2 mins.... and the worms are back in substantial numbers, poking out of the substrate! The corys had 0% interest in the worms.

I did a quick check and pH has dropped to 6.2 (from 7.2) overnight, and ammonia has gone up to 0.25. Thinking the drop of pH and the breathing pattern was probably lack of oxygen/ too much CO2, I did a 25% water change, and sucked up at least another 20 worms from the gravel.

The fishes seem to be doing fine at the moment, but I am pretty stressed about the worms that are still lurking, affecting the bioload and CO2. Also the daily thorough siphoning isn't really aligning with my intention to grow java moss and other plants.

What should I do? Should I:

1) keep up the daily 25% water change for damage control, and hopefully reduce the worm population as gently as possible?

2) evacuate fish, quarantine plants, blast the tank (and filter) with some copper-based treatment to get rid of the worms?

3) Same as 2, but discard substrate entirely?


Thanks for reading my incredibly long first post and I hope to hear from the experts soon.


- Java Moss
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Are you using CO2 on the tank?

Are you using an air stone or sponge filter by any chance?


No Planaria or Planaria Zero may help to get rid of the worms. I've never used the stuff myself so I don't know how well it would work. I did pick up a used tank with a bunch of detritus worms... haven't seen them since putting a pygmy cory and kuhli loaches in there, though. (cory came from same place as the tank... haven't had any luck yet getting more...)
 

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Thanks for your replies! I'm not using CO2 on the tank. I'm not using any airstone, but the tank has an overhead sponge filter unit, and that has been sufficient for aeration for all this time, with the output being a "mini-waterfall", splashing in and generating bubbles. (Perhaps I should get an additional airstone..)

I have two corys in the tank but I've not seen them actively consuming the worms - I can see the worms sticking out of the substrate as they waddle by. Maybe the corys are still new and have not figured out how efficiently decimate the worms yet.

It has been a couple of days and the fishes are still well, and I am doing daily 25% water changes in the morning. It still surprises me how the pH has persistently remained at 6-6.2 from overnight, even with the daily water changes at pH7.2.

Ok I might have spoken too soon.. the tetras are now coming up for air near the surface every 3mins, even though I had changed the water 25% this morning. I did a second 25% water change today (two hours ago) but they're now repeating that behaviour again. There's at least 20-30 worms poking their heads out of the gravel, so I guess there must be a shortage of oxygen. So frustrating.
 

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Second the "old tank" issue.

This method worked for me a while back. It's labor intensive, but I didn't loose any fish, and I didn't have to start over with a whole new cycle either.

I'd put the fish in a holding tank (big bucket is fine) for a few hours using half the low ph tank water and half clean so as not to shock them. Add a bubbler, in case this takes a while and/or it needs to run fishless overnight. Pull the plants, shake off underwater in the tank, and drop in the holding bucket too, along with any hardscape that will fit. Turn off the filter, but keep the media inside. If you don't try to sterilize everything, you can avoid swapping "old tank" syndrome for "new tank" syndrome. A few worms aren't really a big deal, but a zillion are, and so is the detritus buildup that's feeding their population.

Empty the tank water, and take the tank outside if it's not freezing where you live. Hose out the gravel. Get the guck (and worm army) rinsed out. If that is not feasible because of tank size or weather, try just partially filling the tank, stirring up the gravel like crazy until the water is black, siphoning it out and repeating until it's (at least mostly) clear. Bonus points if you dechlorinate the rinse water first to preserve the bacteria and totally avoid cycling the reset tank.

Fill it back up, trying to use water close to the right temp. Put the filter and heater back on, and it should be looking clear within an hour, though you might have to rinse the filter media out in dechlorinated water at that point.

Add back plants & decor. Test it. Run another hour, test again. Should be holding steady. If so, put back fish. If not, rinse that filter media again and run for a few more hours and retest.

Keep an eye on it for a few days, but if you preserve the good surface bacteria, even the 100% WC and gravel rinse shouldn't cause more than a blip of a cycle.

Consider getting MTS's for future prevention? They really do a good job keeping my gravel churned, making it easier to gravel vac out everything and avoid buildup. Of course, if you overfeed your tank, you will have a lot of them too, but somehow the snails bug me less than worms in the gravel.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hi MissCris,

Thanks for your advice!! I followed what you had suggested as close as I could, with some minor modifications:

1. One of the tetra didn't make it before I started the rescue. The rest of the fish were set aside in holding bucket with 50/50 old low pH water and dechlorinated tap water. I bought an air pump and bubbler and the fish loved it. The fish ended up living in the bucket for 3 days while I sorted out the tank. I did 50% water changes for the bucket daily, and gradually brought the pH up to 7.2 with baking soda. By the 2nd day all the fish ceased gasping for air and started swimming normally. Initially several of the tetras and one of the corys had "fuzzy eyes", but by the 3rd day this condition had completely went away.

2. Water was removed from main fish tank 100%, along with the filter and plants. With only the tank and the gravel substrate inside, I poured in 5% bleach and let it sat for 2 hours (I know it was overkill).. Within 10mins countless worms of different sizes can be seen squirming around in the tank (a sight that brought me indescribable joy), and at the end of 2hrs tons of white and lifeless worms were floating in the suspension. The tank was then rinsed thoroughly, and the gravel substrate was scooped into a separate "quarantine bucket". Both were rinsed repeatedly and left standing between rinses with dechlorinator solution, as I wanted to ensure both the bleach and worm debrii are completely removed.

3. Filter unit was disassembled and the cartridges were soaked in a bucket of dechlorinated water. Vigorous tapping of the filter cartridges and the sponges unleashed hordes of tiny wriggling baby worms (1mm). This washing process was repeated for another 5 times.

4. Plants were all relocated to a separate holding bucket, shaken vigorously, then replaced in another holding bucket.

5. On day 3 after ensuring that there was absolutely no bleach smell or worm carcasses in the fish tank and gravel substrate, I placed the substrate back inside the tank, filled it with dechlorinated water and re-attached the filter to let it run. pH initially started low but I adjusted with some baking soda to pH 7.2. I continued checking the pH every couple of hours, and was so happy that the pH maintained at 7-7.2 solidly and the tank water was finally getting buffered properly. Some of the plants and moss that were clear of worms went back into the tank (sans driftwood, which I think is hiding worms), and I left the tank running fishless overnight.

6. On day 4 after making sure the pH was still above 7, I decided to get the fish back in, with 25% of the bucket water in the main fish tank and the air bubbler. I continued the 2 hourly pH test and everything was fine! The fishes were swimming normally and took them a few hours to regain their normal coloration, but were otherwise very happy and active! I have since then added 6 neon tetras and all the tetras are schooling together happily. The corys are also very lively and active, scuttling among the plants and moss.

Thanks for helping me rescue my tank! Really appreciate it. :)
 

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Dog de-wormer will kill the worms with sometimes a single treatment, usually they're all gone within two doses. Other threads are out there that discuss this. It'll kill planaria as well. I don't know doses, you'll have to seek that out on your own. I'm pretty sure it's totally harmless to shrimp and fish though. Watched a guy on youtube add it to an infested shrimp tank, all the shrimp were fine after day two.

Bump: Took me a minute to find it, here's the video -
 

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Are you using CO2 on the tank?

Are you using an air stone or sponge filter by any chance?


No Planaria or Planaria Zero may help to get rid of the worms. I've never used the stuff myself so I don't know how well it would work. I did pick up a used tank with a bunch of detritus worms... haven't seen them since putting a pygmy cory and kuhli loaches in there, though. (cory came from same place as the tank... haven't had any luck yet getting more...)
Planaria Zero doesn't seem to kill detritus worms. Maybe it is only effective against some type of worms like planaria but I can't confirm that since I don't know if I have planaria or not before I dosed planaria zero.

There is one thing that I can confirm that planaria zero kills. It is the snails, bladder or ramshorn.
 

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Planaria Zero doesn't seem to kill detritus worms. Maybe it is only effective against some type of worms like planaria but I can't confirm that since I don't know if I have planaria or not before I dosed planaria zero.

There is one thing that I can confirm that planaria zero kills. It is the snails, bladder or ramshorn.

Seems to be hit or miss on what it does kill beyond planaria.
 
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