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How to recognize if your aquarium is out of balance

Did you ever look at your aquarium and notice that the pH levels were off, or that the nitrates skyrocketed over night? Not likely! These things can not be seen. Tests are needed to determine the levels of the most life sustaining values.

Nevertheless, the behavior of aquarium fish can give us an early indication that something in our tank is out of balance.

Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Fish hover at the bottom of the aquarium with little or no movement. Red gills may also be observed. This may indicate that ammonia is present and possibly at lethal levels.
  • If your fish can be seen gasping for air at the aquarium’s surface, this is generally associated with high nitrite and nitrite poisoning. Nitrite poisoning inflames the fishes’ gills making it difficult to breathe.
  • Gasping, darting and irritated gills can be caused by low pH levels.
  • Frayed fins along with whitish deposits at the water surface and on the filter equipment may indicate high and rising pH levels within the fish tank.
  • Darting and fast breathing often indicate residual chlorine is in the water. The same symptoms may be observed with chloramine with the addition of the gills turning brownish.
  • Fish not eating, hiding, and showing discomfort generally indicates a low and failing water quality.

If your fish display any of these signs, test your water immediately and take corrective action.

Also see our post about general aquarium water parameters!

2 thoughts on “How to recognize if your aquarium is out of balance

  1. hi i have a salt water aquarium. the problem i have is that my tank gets large reddish marks on the glass! what causes this & what can i do as no matter how much clean it off it just reappears more or less over night.

    • If it is hard to remove and dark red/ purple, then it could be coralline algae. This algae grows predominantly on the rocks and glass and is quite desirable as it will retard the growth of the more unwanted algae species. It is a keeper. Another species that grows on the substrate/ glass and eventually covers all is the red slime algae. This algae is manually less hard to remove has an oily touch, tends to grow in sheets and can have a pungent smell. Giving the fast growth rate, this is likely what it is. Please use the site search for red slime to learn more about this algae.

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