WHY must a ceph tank cycle for "3 months"???

Discussion in 'Tank Talk' started by Joe-Ceph, Apr 28, 2008.

  1. Joe-Ceph

    Joe-Ceph Haliphron Atlanticus Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2006
    Messages:
    553
    Likes Received:
    12
    This site, and its contributors, have been a great source of information, and I'm grateful for all the painful trial and error that I've been spared because of your help. Please don't misinterpret the tone of my question as a criticism; it is a sincere attempt to separate fact from tribal lore. I've heard the reasoning for waiting 3 months to cycle a ceph tank, but this recommendation still sound more like tribal lore than science to me. For one thing, it doesn't take into account any of the factors that can affect cycle time, like the temp difference between a 60 degree bimac tank and a 73 (?) degree tropical tank, or the use of live rock vs a wet/dry filter for filtration. It just says "3 months". Is that a worst case scenario?
    For all other animals the cycle is deemed to be finished based on actual observations of the levels of contaminants. Why do cephs get a magic number of days instead? Isn't it true that if I can dump in the amount of waste an octopus would produce, and watch the contaminant levels quickly go to 0 as the bacteria do their thing, then I have proof that my biological filter is ready for an octopus, regardless of how long ago I started the cycle.

    Sure, an octopus produces a lot more waste than a reef tank, but not a lot more than say 150% of the octo's weight in fish, right? If I have a tank with say 12 ounces, total, of live fish living in it, and my filter maintains reef-like water parameters, then (assuming I remove the fish) isn't it true that my tank could easily handle an 8 ounce octopus? If my cycle gets to that point in six weeks, why wait six more weeks??? If I'm still not there at three months, why would it be OK to put an octopus in my tank?

    Am I missing something here? Does anyone have any actual experience that can either support or refute validity of the above water-parameters-based approach?

    Please don't get offended by my skepticism about the 3-month rule. I'm not challenging any people here, I'm challenging an idea. It would be a shame if this thread degenerated into hurt feelings and personal attacks. I'm just a wannabe octo keeper hoping to learn from the first-hand results of you experienced veterans.
     
  2. CuttlePhilly

    CuttlePhilly Cuttlefish Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2008
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    I'm raising Sepia Bandensis (cuttlefish), not octos, but the same suggestion seems to be made for them as well. I have to admit that I did not wait 3 months to add the cuttles to my new cuttle tank. It took 1 week after setup with live rock for ammonia to drop to 0, then 2 weeks for both nitrites and nitrates to drop to 0 (30 gallon tank, 25# live rock, 45# crushed coral substrate). That weekend (total of 3 weeks) I added 20 snails, 5 conch, 5 scarlet hermits, 1 sand star, and 3 types of macro algae to my tank then waited another two weeks. Even with the addition of living creatures, my levels all held steady. Then (total of 5 weeks) I added my cuttles. Again, no change in water parameters. The following week I added 1 brittle star and 10 tiny blue hermits. Now, two weeks after adding the cuttles (7 weeks total), nothing has changed with my water parameters and my cuttles are healthy and eating lots of live shore shrimp. I now have copepods all over my tank glass, the snails and hermits are all growing ridiculously fast, and the macro algae is taking root on my live rock. The stars seem happy too (though how can you tell?!).

    So while I've only had the tank running now for a total of 2 months, everything seems fine. I'll have to see if anything changes during the next month, but so far I am evidence that you don't have to wait a full 3 months to setup a tank. As a qualifier, I have a protein skimmer rated for a 100g tank even though my tank is only 30g, and I use a phosphate/nitrite/nitrate remover (from Fluval) along with activated carbon in my HOB filter. I also have an under gravel filter below a 4-6" layer of crushed coral, the combination of which nearly triples the biological filtering capacity of my 25# of live rock (for a total biological filter equivalent to 70# live rock). So providing an excess of biological and protein filtration may have helped to buffer my tank against the smaller cycles that other tanks may go through after adding living creatures. Also, I vacuum my live rock and crushed coral every 2 weeks to be sure nothing deadly begins rotting in there, though since the residents of my tank are ALL clean-up crew except for the cuttles, that may help too...

    So in sum, I too am skeptical of the 3-month rule. Perhaps it is said figuring that many folks wait only half the recommended time and is more of a plea for new aquarists to be patient. Really patient. And to not rush things so as to put a cephs life in danger. While I DID move fast, I also made sure the parameters were all spot on for a ceph from the beginning of setup and designed this tank and chose what to put in it specifically for supporting cephs and their messy eating habits.

    Anyone with a sad story about adding cephs to a tank too early and what caused their demise?
     
  3. Joe-Ceph

    Joe-Ceph Haliphron Atlanticus Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2006
    Messages:
    553
    Likes Received:
    12
    Thanks CuttlePhilly, that's just the kind of real-world report I was hoping for. Your tank sounds great, congratulations!

    Anyone else have a story?
     
  4. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2004
    Messages:
    4,887
    Likes Received:
    11
    there are others more qualified to speak to this than I am, but I think it's more of an empirical rule than anything: 3 months seems to reliably reduce the people who ask "my octopus is acting sick/dead/whatever" while people who make arguments like "I read on the internet that I only had to cycle a tank for a month" or "I got a bottle of this stuff that says it can eliminate the need for a cycle" or "I've kept tanks before and never had problems" as rationalizations not to do it. Someone (I think either DHyslop or Thales) graphed the levels of waste in a tank during a cycle process which seemed to support this observation.

    As far is I'm concerned, if you actually measured the levels, and interpreted the measurements correctly, and took everything into account, that ought to be a better a good tool. However, "in theory, theory works better than practice, but in practice, the opposite is true." People reading TONMO who wait 3 months of cycle time before getting an octopus and have proper filtration tend to have fewer cases of the octopus dying for unexplained reasons shortly after arrival. I don't think anyone's done statistics on this, but it has been observed as a trend. It's possible that this is partially because many of the people who don't want to wait 3 months are also too flakey to measure the cycle progress meticulously, and it's possible to be as reliably safe by being meticulous. But I'd say the best solution is to both wait for 3 months and carefully measure the water parameters frequently, so that you know if there's a cycling problem.

    Introducing a ceph or octopus seems to frequently change the balance of the tank by adding a big ammonia source, too, so probably part of the issue is that the tank has to not only be in a good, stable cycle, it has to be sufficiently well established that it can adapt to a sudden increase in ammonia fairly quickly. It's not clear how to measure that, although I suppose if, theoretically, you were wanting to be as scientific as possible you could add ammonia at about the rate you expected the octo to produce it, and stop doing that as soon as you introduce the octo, but see earlier comment about theory and practice.

    Really, the 3 month recommendation is based on the "it seems to consistently work better than other things people try, no matter how vehemently they suggest that their alternative method is better."
     
  5. cuttlegirl

    cuttlegirl Colossal Squid Supporter Registered

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2005
    Messages:
    4,891
    Likes Received:
    236
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    There is a difference between a cycled tank and a mature tank. It may not take three months for a tank to cycle (especially with live rock) but it can take three months for it to mature.

    See this thread for more information.

    http://www.tonmo.com/community/index.php?threads/8251/
     
  6. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2004
    Messages:
    4,887
    Likes Received:
    11
    thanks, that's a much better link than my blather above... but, uh, I was trying to say something kinda like that, mostly.
     
  7. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Architeuthis Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2006
    Messages:
    2,364
    Likes Received:
    7
    The tank I kept at my last job was set up and running for a month. Everyone kept giving me grief over there not being any fish. After explaining the cycle process a dozen times to each co-worker, I tested the ammonia and it was 0. Tested it again in a week, 0. I decided I would add a few tiny fish to get the bio-load going, knowing more than likely there would be a spike because the tank was not mature, and wouldn't be stable after adding fish.

    Dunt dunt duhhhhhhhhhh.

    Dead fish.

    Added a few more tiny fish.

    Again. Dead fish. Wasn't on my dime, but it sucks killing animals that didn't have to die because someone was impatient.

    Well, I think that got my point across to my co-workers and there was no need to say "I told you so".

    Nothing good happens in this hobby quickly. I used to be a pretty impatient person but I really wanted to make this hobby work out with the least amount of lessons learned the hard way. I think "new tank syndrome" is just about inevitable for a new hobbyist because so many want to take the advice they want to hear rather than listen to experienced people.
     
  8. Illithid

    Illithid Vampyroteuthis Supporter

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2006
    Messages:
    318
    Likes Received:
    0
    These remover medias work very well, and are part of the problem. Cuttlegirl refered to a "mature" tank, and she is exactly right. These medias do not allow the ammonia to spike as high as they should to grow the extreme amounts of nitrifying bacteria that cephs will need when grown. The "fast track" to ceph cycling would be to turn off the protein skimmer, remove the absorbing media, and throw in blue crabs or something equally as messy and hearty for 3 months. This lets the bio media "fill up" on nitrifying bacteria. Then when the tank calms down and has a good solid filtration base you can add in the cephs (remove the crabs too :wink:). The skimmer and media can be added then to help the filtration keep up with the growing ceph.
     
  9. cthulhu77

    cthulhu77 Titanites Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,642
    Likes Received:
    2
    Good advice above. Rushing into a ceph tank usually ends up in a crashed system and dead animals.
     
  10. CuttlePhilly

    CuttlePhilly Cuttlefish Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2008
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    While I don't doubt that some folks have had issues adding cephs to "immature" tanks, I still can't understand the logic of waiting 3 months for the ammonia/nitrite/nitrate-eating bacteria to grow to sufficient levels if the original cycle only took 3 weeks, especially if one makes the effort to over-provide substrate for denitrifying bacteria in one's tank. If bacteria grew at a linear rate, this line of reasoning would make sense, but bacteria grow exponentially.

    If, at the end of 3 weeks, I have enough bacteria in my live rock to eat all the decaying material in my tank (say i left my live rock "dirty" from shipping with most of the dead and decaying matter still on it), then in 3 weeks and 1 hour (assuming the bacteria replicate once/hour), I should have twice the number of bacteria (assuming there is an increase in bio-load to provide the bacteria with more food). At 3 weeks and 2 hours, I would have 4 times the number of bacteria. 3 weeks and 3 hours, 8 times the number.... Surely once you get a base-level of bacteria in your live rock, additional cycles should be short and fast (assuming you're not dumping VAST quantities of decaying matter into your tank and doing your best to take out what IS decaying in there).

    While philosophically I have no quarrel with the "wait 3 months" rule as a measure of safety for those with no previous reef-tank experience, I do have an issue with it from a purely scientific standpoint - unless there are bacteria or chemical reactions whose actions (or lack thereof) affect a ceph's health which we currently don't know about, don't understand, and haven't tested for. In that case, we, as a community, might start searching for those bacteria and/or chemicals so that we will know for certain what exactly makes a healthy ceph tank.

    I resubmit my call for actual stories from those of you who have lost cephs in immature tanks, especially if you were able to document the reasons for your ceph's death (or simply the symptoms he/she had prior to death). Timelines of your individual cephs' health would be mightily helpful. Let's solve some of these mysteries! :cuttlehi: :read:

    PS: I only started using the phosphate removing filter media after my tank finished cycling. I haven't used, and still don't use, ammonia-removing filter media - I rely on my 25# of live rock / 45# of crushed coral substrate to provide enough bacteria to remove ammonia. I have a 30g tank.
     
  11. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    19,078
    Likes Received:
    1,123
    Location:
    Gainesville, GA USA
    Reef/Marine aquarium keeping is still not a hard science. Our (Neal's and mine) first attempts with a saltwater tank were during the initial introduction of saltwater to the masses (commercially available synthetic salt is less than 50 years old, we are not - and No, we didn't start keeping aquariums at birth). We gave up the hobby and did not see the total change (absolute reversal of how to cycle a tank and what can be cared for) until a few years ago (roughly 15 years later).

    The standard "tests" we make today are STILL based on the very minimal water requirements from those first years and are not much different than those for a good freshwater system. We can't easily "test" for bacteria so we test for what bacteria does. In otherwords, we really don't know what is IN the water, we only know what is NOT there. The same "test" results were acquired from "dead" tanks with UG filters and bleached corals but you could NOT keep corals or seahorses or octopuses (and a large number of sensative fish) alive in those tanks. We are still in the learning process but the success rate has dramatically increased with the advent of live rock use and allowing a system to mature with many of the things we used to eliminate.

    New tank syndrome is not a new term and it applies to aquariums that "test" perfectly. Many of us have learned this the hard way. A 3 week old tank will experience it if all the substrate (rock and floor) is newly added. Some cheating can be successfully accomplished if all the substrate comes from an established aquarium. Variations of the amount of old/new substrate (again, I include live rock in the term) have met with different successes.
     
  12. esquid

    esquid Haliphron Atlanticus Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2007
    Messages:
    526
    Likes Received:
    0
    While you are correct in that bacteria have an exponential growth phase where they are capable of doubling population size every generation that is only one portion of the growth curve. Bacterial cultures grow in logarithmic waves based on the availability of their particular energy source, electron donor and carbon source. And what we want in our tanks is a culture of three different types of bacteria two of which use the waste product of one of the others as food. So in setting up a tank you twice have to wait for one species of bacteria to start outputting enough waste to cause a different species to transition from lag phase to log phase. That is why you see the waves of waste output of the different types of bacteria that we like to have in our tanks. And then the population levels of these bacteria oscillate in regards to each other until a balance is achieved. So even though bacteria are capable of replicating very quickly the overall process is going to take time because our pet bacteria need to be happy before our pet fish and inverts can be happy. (and yes i know i'm anthropomorphizing)
     
  13. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2004
    Messages:
    4,887
    Likes Received:
    11
  14. esquid

    esquid Haliphron Atlanticus Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2007
    Messages:
    526
    Likes Received:
    0
    oh those are soooo neat! between microbio, biochem and cell bio classes i've studied just about every one of those in the past semester. actually, my paper was on the ameboid crawling action of cells including leukocytes. and prions were on a final i took tuesday!
     
  15. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2004
    Messages:
    4,887
    Likes Received:
    11
    It's lacking in the plush T4 bacteriophage department, though :sad:.
     

Share This Page