Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Recipe for a Healthy Axolotl Aquarium

Whenever the time comes to fully clean the axolotl’s aquarium, it’s an all hands on deck experience.

The axolotls need somewhere safe to stay during the process. Since turbulent water is stressful to them, we place them in individual containers with clean water instead of setting them in a recirculating aquarium where water flow would upset them. Where do they stay during this time? In the fridge, of course! Set at the least cold temperature, the refrigerator is actually therapeutic for axolotls and will often put restore a slightly “off” animal to good condition.

Returning the axos to their newly cleaned tank is not as simple as just putting in new water and putting them back. The chemicals used to make tap water clean for drinking can be toxic to aquatic life. We add water conditioners that lock up the chlorine containing molecules that are sometimes added to municipal tap water. We also add a little salt which helps animals maintain the right electrolyte balance. Then we start the system up and make sure it is running well.

The water in the aquarium must be the same temperature as that of the axolotl’s temporary containers. We give the axos plenty of time to warm up to room temp.

The axolotls go back into their home. But that’s not the end of the story either. New aquarium water needs to be colonized by beneficial bacteria. The nitrogen wastes produced by animals start out in a highly toxic form – ammonia. Beneficial bacteria in the filtration system digest ammonia and break it down, first into the less harmful nitrites and finally into nitrates, which is far less harmful. Eventually, nitrates can be further converted back into atmospheric nitrogen, but in most aquariums this step is never reached. Instead, partial water changes remove the nitrates – which make great plant food!

The nitrogen cycle is a whole story in itself, perhaps good for another blog another day. Meanwhile, we welcome the axolotls back to their tank after a short hiatus.

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