Understanding Ammonia – Video on Ammonia Testing

What is Ammonia?

Ammonia, is often talked about by aquarium hobbyists however is never really understood by most.  Ammonia is a compond that is a part of the circle of life, specifically and scientifically speaking, the Nitrogen Cycle. All animals on earth produce ammonia as a waste product of their digestive system. The decaying process of living things also produce ammonia, so dying leaves on plants dead fish etc all produce ammonia. It can even be present in our tap water. Bacteria then take this compound and use it as food and as a result of that it is changed into other types of nitrogen compounds such as Nitrate and nitrite. plants or algae then are able to use these nitrogen compounds to synthesize amino acids and chlorophyll and basically make the plants stay healthy and grow. And then the cycle starts over again.

Ammonia is needed to start the “cycling process” of the nitrogen cycle in a new tank to ensure there is enough nitrifying bacteria to be capable to handle the ammonia produced by the tank’s residents waste and left over foods. (cycling a tank which we will talk about later.) Because aquarium tanks are basically small ecosystems  that have a very high density of tank mates compared to water (compared to the ocean) it is very easy for ammonia levels to concentrate and rise in your water. This is a problem because Ammonia is toxic to all animals (even humans) if exposed to in high enough levels.

Shrimps exposed to ammonia over time are more susceptible to bacterial infections, have poor growth, and can not tolerate handling and transportation well. Ammonia causes stress by affecting the gills, the organs, body, appetite, and immune system, making them easier to contract disease and infection. Any level above 0.02 mg/l (ppm) is considered harmful.

In general, ammonia is more toxic at higher alkaline pH values and as the temperature of the water increases. On the plus side, as for crystal shrimp keepers that have their ph consistently slightly acidic (6.0-6.6) have very little issue with ammonia being a threat to their shrimp.

This is why Ammonia Testing is very critical to any tank with living creatures in it! Testing should be done once every week or two to make sure the tank is in stable condition and your ammonia levels are as close to ZERO as possible. A well established tank should have enoughI personally use API master test kit to check everything to make sure all is well.

Here is our video on how we test our Ammonia Levels:



Removing ammonia in a non-emergency.

A healthy well maintained, established aquarium should have very little issues with ammonia. As nitrifying bacteria present in the tank will consume all the ammonia and convert it a less toxic compound called nitrite.

Plants are the most natural and easiest way to remove ammonia as the plants use it as a fertilizer to grow. This may be the slowest but safest way.

Removing ammonia in emergency situations.

  • Do a partial water change, this dilutes the ammonia in the water immediately.
  • Purchase ammonia filtering resin that soaks up ammonia while filtering.
  • Use a water conditioner that neutralizes ammonia. HOWEVER this may be dangerous to shrimp in high amounts. Sulfur based water conditioners can be toxic even in moderate amounts.