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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Nitrogen Cycle

By David Lass


While this may be old hat, I really believe that the Nitrogen Cycle cannot be over-emphasized in terms of its importance for successful aquariums. With new hobbyists, it is absolutely critical that they understand the process. To cover it quickly, the Nitrogen Cycle is the key to all life in an aquarium. Fish, decaying food, plants, etc., produce ammonia, which is very toxic to fish. Established bacteria convert ammonia to nitrite, which is slightly less toxic. A second group of bacteria converts nitrite to nitrate, which is much less toxic than either ammonia or nitrite.

Nitrate is removed from the tank by live plants, water changes and/or providing an anaerobic environment for a third group of bacteria to live, which convert nitrate into harmless nitrogen gas.

It is said that success at keeping a fish tank really gets down to success at keeping bacteria--the beneficial bacteria of the Nitrogen Cycle. This is absolutely true--and should be stressed often and early. Some folks say that they don’t have time for all that “scientific stuff”--well it’s not really that technical, and it is very important. Rick Preuss of Preuss Animal House in Michigan simplifies the Nitrogen Cycle by talking about “storms” developing in a new tank. The first storm is an ammonia storm, and then the nitrite storm and finally the nitrate storm. This is a helpful way to think of the Nitrogen Cycle.

As a retailer, you can dramatically reduce the problems that hobbyists, especially first-timers, have with the Nitrogen Cycle by passing out an information sheet that explains it. You also can help them out by giving or selling them filter material that has been “charged” with live bacteria, or selling them any of the excellent live bacteria products on the market today. Whatever you do, if you do not get hobbyists to understand the Nitrogen Cycle, they will never be successful keeping fish--and one more tank will end up in a garage sale, with the seller saying, “Fish are too hard to keep.”

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