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55 Gallon Perfect Storm?


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Hi all!  I'm hoping for some guidance.  I've had 4 angelfish and an assortment of community fish (4 serpae tetras, an SAE, a red fin shark a clown pleco and 2 Cory cats). for a few years now, 2 angelfish in a ten gallon tank and 2 in a 20 gallon tall.  I recently moved and had the opportunity to buy a 55 gallon tank on Facebook. so I could give my angels more space   Well, after purchasing the tank, when I went to pick it up, I found out it came with 2 parrot cichlids, a Jack Dempsey Cichlid, another "smaller" cichlid similar to a Dempsey, and a Trinidad pleco, all decently large.  I donated the Dempsey and other cichlid to a local reputable fish store (That Pet Place: That Fish Place in Lancaster PA) because I knew they would be an issue with my angels but kept the parrots and the pleco.  I kept the tanks separate for about 3 weeks as a sort of quarantine process.  All seemed fine so I decided to introduce my fish to the 55 and planted the tank with an assortment of anubias, crypts, an amazon sword and other "low tech" plants from the old 20 gallon.  All was fine until last Friday night.  I noticed the parrots, instead of meeting me at the glass when I was at the tank, were not laying on their sides on the gravel.  First  thing Saturday morning I did a 30% water change, then tested the water parameters (probably should have done this first, but I forgot): pH- 8.0, Ammo- 0.50,  Nitrites 0.25, Nitrates- 20 and the temp is set to and remains around 75-78F.  While I had my hands in the tank to siphon water out of the tank, I noticed one of the parrots was swimming around even poking at my arm.  I also noticed what looks like ich on the side of the parrots.  So I finished the water change, and contacted the same store I donated the Dempsey to ask for guidance.  They told me to get API super ick cure and treat as directed.  I did so, and the ich seemed to have gone away, but now the fins on the angelfish appear shredded.

I checked the parameters again yesterday (pH- 7.2, Ammo- 0.25, Nitrite- 0.50,  Nitrate 40, temp 76F) and called the pet store again for guidance.  They said its probably a stress issue from adding the fish, so treat again for ich, but also treat with API stress coat to help replenish the slime layer.  I followed the directions on the bottles.  But when I went to check on the fish before I went to bed last night, all of the fish but the parrots (still laying on the gravel/ also still breathing, I checked) were swimming at the surface of the water.  Once again, I called the fish store and was told to add some air stones and drain some of the water to allow the filters to agitate the surface more.  I added the airs tones from my old 20 gallon and drained the water as directed which got the fish through the night, aside from one of the serpae tetras.  

Any idea what might be causing this issue?  For filtration I am using 2 Penguin BIO-wheel 200s, and have a 48 in Finnex 24/7 Planted+ light.  I'm at a loss, any recommendations would be appreciated.


p.s.  If I can figure out how to post some pictures, I will add them once ASAP.


EDIT: figured out how to add pictures (they were taken on my phone so apologies if the quality isn't great.

koi angel.jpg


big angel.jpg


parrot 2.jpg

parrot 1.jpg



Edited by Thom_Pranx
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you shouldn’t have any ammonia or nitrites in the water. it looks like the cycle crashed or was never properly there to begin with so take the steps to cycle it. in the meantime i would be doing 20-30% water changes every few days to keep the ammonia and nitrites down. how large are the fish? you may need to upgrade filtration and do more water changes if the bioload is too high. 

you may also consider rehoming or moving the parrots and the pleco to a different tank, the pleco gets too large to house in a 55g long term and the parrots may bully the angels. all of the fish you have seems like a high bioload for a 55g in general and will cause issues long term. experienced keepers can definitely pull it off but unless you are dedicated to keeping those fish in that tank, it would be better to give them their own set ups. 

in the meantime raise the temps gradually to 85/86 and dose with salt + ich x to treat the ich. 

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Thanks for the response!  At the very least, if I can get them healthy and under control again, I definitely want to keep my original fish.  Unfortunately since posting my original post, I found my clown pleco dead, so I may need to find another pleco that would work in the tank, but only once I get this issue worked out

As for size: the pleco is about 9-10 inches long, the parrots are about 4-5 inches tip to tail, the angels range from the smallest being around 3 inches to the largest being around 5-6 tip to tail, the redtail is about 5 inches, the SAE is about 5 as well.  The tetras and corys are about the average adults sizes.

Given that all of the tanks were functioning for years with normal levels before I introduced my fish to the 55, I'm thinking you're right, something caused the nitrogen cycle to crash.  how do you recommend I cycle the 55? Can I do that while the fish are still in the tank? Do you think That Fish Place will accept the fish if they have ich or should I make sure the ich is gone before I take the fish there? 

Also, any idea what might have cause the O2 to crash last night when the fish were all at the surface of the water? I currently have two new 4 inch air stones soaking in the tank so I can set them up with a better compressor for the 55. hopefully that issue is solved.

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The fish gasping at the surface was probably not O2 crashing. How much Othat is dissolved is mostly related to temperature. What you saw was likely hypoxia caused by the ammonia and nitrite in your tank.

Ammonia is excreted through your fishes gills, it is kind of how they pee. When ammonia levels are too high in aquarium water, ammonia cannot be exchanged through the gills. And then as the ammonia is oxidized to nitrite, the nitrite begins to oxidize hemoglobin to form methemoglobin which results in hypoxia and possibly sudden death.


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