Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is Amonia?

Ammonia in Fish Tanks

Ammonia has no place in a healthy aquarium. Along with nitrite, ammonia is often referred to by aquarists as “invisible assassins” in the fish tank. It is a colorless waste product of fish that readily dissolves in water.

Ammonia—What Is It?

Ammonia is a compound that is made up of hydrogen and nitrogen. In fish tanks, ammonia occurs in two forms—free ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4). The form which is present in the tank depends on specific environmental factors that exist inside the aquarium. The degree of toxicity suffered by tropical fish in tanks will also depend on the form of ammonia which is present.

How does ammonia enter a fish tank?

There are three possible ways by which ammonia can be introduced into a fish tank.

1. Through the tap water

Tap water is usually treated with chlorine to make it safe for drinking. Since chlorine is a relatively unstable gas, chlorine concentrations can drop below the levels which are required for disinfection. This is especially true when you live quite a distance from where the chlorine was added to the water. To prevent this situation from occurring, water companies are now using chloramine, which is made up of chlorine bound to ammonium. Compared to plain chlorine, chloramine is more stable and is a longer-lasting disinfectant.

Adding chloramine-treated tap water will unintentionally add ammonium to the tank water. There are also some tap water conditioners that release chlorine from tap water thus leading to the release of ammonia. If you are using a tap water conditioner, make sure that it treats both ammonia and chlorine, especially when tropical fish are already in the tank during water changes.

2. Organic matter decomposition

Decomposition of organic matter in the tank is another way by which ammonia can be introduced into the aquarium. All living organisms contain high levels of proteins. The building blocks of protein are amino acids that contain an amino group that is made up of NH2. Decomposition of animals, aquatic plants and microorganisms can eventually lead to the breakdown of proteins and to the release of ammonia into the tank water.

Overfeeding, decaying leaves, and fish waste can cause a rise in protein levels in the aquarium. Opportunistic heterotrophic bacteria which are present in the water, aquarium filters, and substrate, break down the proteins and release amino groups that can release ammonia into the water.

3. Digestion and assimilation of proteins by the fish population

Protein is an important nutrient for fish growth. It is used for building and repair of body tissues. In the process of digestion and utilization of protein by the body, there may be an excess or alteration of amino acids leading to the breakdown of these protein molecules in the liver.

Fish may re-utilize the products of protein to make new amino acids which can be used by the body or returned back to the blood where ammonia is excreted into the tank water via the gills of the fish.

Keeping tank water aquarium ammonia-free

Since ammonia is colorless, it is not safe to say that clear and sparkling aquarium water is clean and healthy. Thus, it is recommended to regularly monitor ammonia levels and keep it at zero.

A sure-fire way to know if ammonia is present in your tank is to use a test kit. There are two types of test kits—liquid and dip strips. Between the two, liquid kits such as API Freshwater Master Multi Test Kit, is much more accurate and reliable. Ammonia should never be detected in an aquarium that is properly cycled.

Effects of Ammonia on Tropical Fish

Ammonia is highly toxic to fish. It can irritate tissues and causes problems for parts of the fish which are exposed such as the gills where hemorrhage can occur in response to ammonia exposure. The gill tissue will undergo hyperplasia which is characterized by thickening and clumping of the delicate filaments. The condition will result in the reduced capacity of the fish to absorb oxygen from the water. The presence of ammonia in the blood also reduces the blood’s capacity to carry whatever oxygen is absorbed by the fish.

The thickening and clumping of the gills will reduce the ability of the fish to eliminate ammonia from its body leading to an increase in body ammonia levels that can eventually lead to damage of every cell in the fish’s body. Since the gills are the main route of ammonia excretion, affected fish will display a typical gasping response.

Ammonia is indeed a lethal component when present in aquarium water. In order to protect our fish population, we should try to keep ammonia at zero level at all times with regular testing and vigilance.

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