Written By : M Samy

How to Successfully Cycle an Axolotl Tank ?

How to Successfully Cycle an Axolotl Tank ?

To Successfully cycle an axolotl tank, you will first disinfect your tank with a mixture of water and vinegar and then rinse it , wash the substrate and spread it on the bottom, set up the decoration, the hidings, fill the tank, start the filter and clean it after 24 hours and then trigger the cycling process by adding or creating ammonia in the water, leave the filter running and monitor the water parameters.

What Does Axolotl Tank Cycling Mean and why is it necessary ?

How to successfully Cycle your Axolotl Tank

Axolotl tank cycling simply means preparing the aquarium water so that your axolotls can not only survive but also find ideal water conditions where the parameters remain stable so that they can live comfortably 

Technically, axolotl tank cycling is the act of creating a set of beneficial bacteria in the tank water so that they can help your mechanical filter to filter the water of microscopic particles like ammonia and nitrite and keep the nitrate level low.

Why Cycling your axolotls tank ?

Axolotl tank cycling is necessary because on the one hand the fragile axolotls also breathe through their skin, so they can absorb all the molecules and substances present in the tank water, which exposes them to absorb toxic molecules like ammonia constantly released in the tank due to axolotl or fish poop, leftover food or dead plant parts.

We must not forget that it is the water pollution of their natural habitat that is the main cause that pushed scientists to classify them as critically endangered species in 2006.

What will happen if you don’t cycle your axolotl tank ?

What will happen next is that the ammonia will serve as food for some of the good bacteria, especially those living in your filter or on the decoration or substrate of your tank.

These bacteria will then release Nitrite in the tank water which will also serve as food for other types of bacteria that will transform this Nitrite into Nitrate.

To summarize, all of these elements, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are toxic to axolotls known for their fragile skin and gills as well as their liver which is not as powerful to rid its body of these toxic agents, that is why your axolotl tank must imperatively go through a Cycling process which will control and stabilize the percentage of all these toxic elements as well as the PH and other factors and parameters, before introducing your axolotls into the tank.

What are the ideal water parameters for axolotls?

Cycling your axolotl’s tank aims to have the water have specific parameters due to the sensitivity and fragility of axolotls, here are the ideal parameters of the axolotl’s tank water:

  • The pH of the water must be between 6.5 and 8
  • Chlorine level should be zero, so 0 mg/l
  • General water hardness, less than <150 mg/l (GH) 6 – 18 ºdh 
  • Carbon hardness (calcium carbonate level) when you do the test (KH) 3° – 10 ºdh
  • Salinity of the axolotl tank water should be less than 5%, with a relative density of 1,000
  • Nitrite level, very toxic for axolotls and to be measured with care (NO2-), the maximum should be 1 mg/l (maximum), the ideal is 0 PPM
  • The Nitrate level should not exceed 20 PPM, and should not go below 5 PPM.
  • Ammonia and ammonium  (NH3/NH4+) 0% or 0 mg/l (0 PPM), in the worst case never more than 0.1 mg/l (0.1 PPM).
  • The CO2 concentration in the tank water must be less than 5 mg/l, the axolotl must have a well oxygenated water
  • The dissolved oxygen level in the water must be higher than 80% of the oxygen level because the axolotl also breathes through its skin.
  • The temperature of the water in the axolotl’s tank must be between 15°C /60°F and 22ºC /71°F).

Do You Have To Cycle your Axolotl Tank?

Absolutely yes , Can Axolotls live and thrive in an uncycled tank ? absolutely NO , your axolotl will certainly die in a few days ! you have to cycle your new axolotl tank because the filter alone will never be able to ensure the ideal water for your axolotls because quite simply, it does not have a mechanical process that can do the work of bacteria that recycle Ammonia, Nitrite and finally Nitrate so that their rates remain harmless for the fragile axolotl.

You have no choice, you must launch the filter and launch or trigger the cycling process and let the time to your new axolotl tank, a week, two weeks or even a month! Who knows, all you can do then is test the water, and when you have 3 successful tests, you can put your axolotls in the tank and continue the testing and monitoring three times a month to ensure the good quality of the water in your axolotl tank.

What do you need to start Cycling your axolotl aquarium ?

How long will the axolotl cycling process take ?

Is it really possible to cycle an axolotl tank in 24 hours ? The answer is definitely ” No ” . Don’t rush and don’t accelerate this process, your tank will be ready in two weeks if you quick start and speed up the cycling process by dossing directly ammonia in the water , but if you let nature do its work to get a better result, the cycling process can take between one and two months.

This will also depend on the size of your tank, the decoration and the substrate you use in the tank.

How to Speed up the axolotl Tank Cycling Process ?

This is the process of bringing in a media that you remove from an other axolotl tank filter and install in the filter of your new tank to trigger the creation and growth of bacteria in the new tank.

It would be good to use media from a sponge filter, you can also bring in some substrate or decoration elements from an aquarium where axolotls already live and install it in the new tank, make sure to transport these elements or substrate in a tank that contains water to bring in live bacteria.

You can also start the cycling process by adding liquid ammonia to the water in the new tank.

You can also use liquid ammonia to induce the creation of this colony of bacteria by using drops of Bottled Bacteria Products as a quick start, I talked about it in the article on this method.

Speeding up the cycling process with an air stone

The other way to speed up the cycling process is to install an air pump ( like Eheim Air Pump 400 ) and an air stone in your axolotl tank, this will create more oxygen in the water and will help the bacteria to multiply which will speed up the cycling process.

It is also known that axolotls generally love air stones, this decorative element will also help the filter to oxygenate the tank water which axolotls also like, but most of all, axolotls enjoy swimming on top of the air bubbles without forgetting that this will make your tank more attractive.

How to Cycle an Axolotl Tank Step by Step ?

These are the easy Steps to correctly Cycling Your axolotl tank :

When you finish preparing everything you need for your axolotl, I advise you to buy a Breeder type aquarium, they are long and are the most suitable for axolotls and to install shelters and live plants too. You will then follow these steps to Cycling your axolotl tank:

Step 1- Prepare your axolotl tank

Take your tank ( at least a 40 Gallon Breeder tank like the rectangular ones from Aqueon ( Amazon store )  , clean it with a mixture of water and a little white vinegar to remove all bad bacteria and microbes and then rinse it with plenty of water to remove all traces of vinegar.

Prepare all the elements of your axolotl tank, put the tank in its ideal place, away from sunlight, drafts, noise to avoid stressing your axolotl.

I assume that you have either recovered a used Media from a friend who already has axolotls, preferably those in sponge, or a solution like quick start to trigger the cycling process.

Start by cleaning with clean water and install the substrate at the bottom of the tank, you can add some ceramic noodles ( not necessary ) , which will quickly promote the rapid establishment of the bacterial colony. You can just add some to your Black sand substrate . You have to wash it at least 3 times to remove the dust .

Step 2 – Set up the tank decorations

It’s time to set up your new axolotl tank , start by cleaning all the elements of the decoration, the hidings and the living plants, the stones , the air pump and the pieces of wood… and install them carefully in the tank.

Once all the decorations are in place, check that your filter is working properly, install the used media that you have already collected from another axolotl tank into your filter, otherwise you will just use liquid ammonia , the best one is API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria to trigger the cycling process. 

Don’t forget to remove the paper on the Bio-Wheel before installing it in the filter (preferably Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel Power Filter, Category C for a 40 gallon tank),put the cover on the stem that goes into the water so that the filter cannot suck in or hurt your axolotl, install the old media or blue filter that comes with it, fill the filter with a little water, put the cover back on before plugging it in.

Step 3 Filling the Tank

Take a small container or bowl, clean it with water and vinegar, wash it with a lot of water, you will use it to fill the tank with tap water or mineral water if you doubt that the tap water contains too much limestone and especially too much chlorine because the chlorine will prevent the proliferation of good bacteria in the tank.

It is best to prepare this water well in advance ( 2 to 3 days before using it) by filling a clean and disinfected container with tap water and leave this water in the open air for two or three days to give time for the Chlorine to evaporate and the fine particles of lime to fall to the bottom of the container.

Fill your tank with this water using the bowl so as not to agitate the bottom of the tank and lift the substrate.

Note: If you plan to have two male and female axolotls and it is the breeding season, you should also install a barrier or separation in the center of the tank to avoid breeding if this is not your goal!

You can proceed to the installation of the lighting and the filtering system and make sure they are working properly. Let the water in the tank rest for about an hour after filling and then start the filter.

Step 4 – Triggering the Cycling process

This step is to be done if you have not found a used media that will start the cycling process. If you only have new media, the ones you bought with the filter, you will have to start the cycling process by adding fish food or axolotl pellets to the tank every couple of days, or add liquid ammonia to the tank or a small handful of fish food or even pellets from your axolotl.

You will actually cause the ammonia to form in the tank by letting this food rot to start the cycling process and to create colonies of good bacteria that will feed on this ammonia and nitrite as well as nitrate in the tank.

Step 5 – Stabilize the Nitrate level in the tank water 

Once you have finished the previous step and you find no trace of ammonia or nitrite in the water, you will then, before introducing your axolotl into the tank, monitor the nitrate level over a period of 3 days, to make sure that the Nitrate level is kept below 50 mg/L or between 5 PPM and 20 PPM so that your axolotl can live quietly in the tank water and so that the good bacteria find enough Nitrate to feed and to avoid breaking or interrupting the Cycling of your tank.

If the Nitrate level is too high in your new axolotl tank, you will replace 20% of the water in the tank and measure the next day to see if the level has decreased and if not, change 40% of the water and check again after 24 hours.

Be aware that living plants also consume nitrate, consider installing some in the tank of your axolotl.

Step 6 – Final checks and putting your axolotl in its Cycled tank

Once all the water parameters are stable, you can put your axolotl in the tank, but continue to observe and measure these parameters at least 3 times a month to make sure your nitrogen cycle is stable and you will take into account the food your axolotl is eating and the water temperature of your tank to keep your tank in balance.

What will happen in an ideal cycling process?

Cycling process is a breeding and control of good bacteria in the tank and in a well controlled process, this is what will happen in the tank of your axolotl:

About a week to 10 days, sometimes 2 weeks after adding ammonia in the tank, you will notice the disappearance of this ammonia and the presence of Nitrites in the tank water when you do the tests, this means that a colony of nitrosomonas bacteria is created in the water.

A week or 10 days later, a colony of bacteria called nitrobacter will settle in the tank, in the water, the elements and the media of the filters and this is what will happen with positive tests of Nitrites (NO2) which will be 0 PPM and the appearance of Nitrate (NO3) in the water.

after a week , or two , sometimes more than that ! and once the level of Nitrate stabilized between 5 and 20 PPM, you can introduce your first axolotl, wait 24 hours and introduce the other one while continuing to do the tests.

The same thing if you plan to introduce other fish in the tank, do it with a small number of individuals and wait one to two days, repeat the tests and add other tankmates, because once the tank has its new Nitrogen cycle, the bacteria remain young and not numerous and it will be necessary each time to adapt them gradually to the new elements or tankmates that you add in your axolotl tank.

How to add liquid ammonia in the tank to start the cycling process?

If you don’t have used media, fresh substrate or decorative elements from an aquarium where an axolotl used to live to introduce them in your new tank or media already used for an axolotl tank to insert it in your filter, you must use liquid ammonia, which you will dose with the water of the tank until you obtain a concentration of ammonia of 4 to 5 PPM (use API test kit for measurements).

Note: If you use a used media or old decors recovered in an axolotl tank, you will notice the appearance of Nitrate in the water which is a sign that the process of cycling is engaged and that the bacteria that will transform nitrites into nitrates and consume the nitrates after that begin to develop in the tank water

The test should be done within 2 to 3 days after the introduction of these elements in the tank or the used media in the filter and wait about a week to give the bacteria that consume nitrates time to proliferate and settle in the tank.

How much liquid ammonia should I add to my tank to start the cycling process?

For a 15 to 20 gallon tank, with 0 PPM of ammonia, add 160 drops of ammonia (remove 40 drops if you find 1 PPM of ammonia in the water, 80 for 2 PPM …)

For a 40 gallon tank (the one I recommend), with 0 PPM ammonia, add 320 drops of ammonia liquid (remove 80 drops if you find 1 PPM of ammonia in the water, 160 for 2 PPM)

You will then wait 24 hours and you will do the test, your goal is to bring the level of ammonia and Nitrite to 0 PPM, there should be no trace of these two elements in the water.

If the test is negative and you find traces of ammonia or nitrite in the water, repeat the process until you get the desired result, ammonia 0 PPM ? Nitrite 0 PPM.

Very important notes: 

1- When you do the test, do not mix the results of the Nitrite level which must be 0 PPM and the Nitrate level which must be between 5 PPM and 20 PPM, the nitrate will be the food of the good bacteria and it will have to be present in the tank of your axolotl but in the quantities that I have just quoted.

2- If you have turned on the lighting of your tank or added a heater to your tank to accelerate the proliferation of bacteria, you must remove them or turn them off to allow the bacteria to adapt to the ambient temperature and regular water of your tank, repeat at least three tests after that to make sure that the Cycling process is well triggered and remains active with the ambient temperature and without the heater and without the lighting

3- The tests must be conclusive the same day you introduce your axolotl in the tank, and if you delay to bring your axolotl, continue to add liquid ammonia and continue the tests until you introduce your axolotls in the tank because it is them and their food that will continue to produce the ammonia necessary for the stability of the nitrogen cycle.

How to know if your axolotl tank water is well cycled and ready to receive your axolotl ( The 3 Dose Test ) ?

After at least one to two weeks after the start of the cycling process, prepare your test kit and a bottle of Fritz pro Aquatics Ammonium Chloride Solution for Fishless Cycling, you will take and add to the tank water every day some of this solution (ammonium chloride) .

If when you measure the parameters with the test kit, you find that after just 24 hours Ammonia and Nitrites are completely consumed, know that your tank is ready to welcome your axolotls. Repeat the test at least 3 days in a row to be sure that the cycling process is well underway in the tank and that the water parameters are stable.

How do you ensure the stability of the water parameters of your axolotl’s tank so as not to repeat the Cycling process?

The principle is to test with a water test kit every week or at least 3 times a month to check the water parameters of your tank, but also to test immediately if you notice any signs of illness or disease in your axolotls. At the very least, you should check for :

Ammonia level in the water is 0 PPM (parts per million)

The Nitrite level must be also 0 PPM

The Nitrate level should not exceed 20 PPM but also should never go below 5 PPM to keep the good bacteria alive in the tank water because they are the ones that do all the work of cleaning the water of the fine particles and elements that your filter lets through and that is the principle of the Nitrogen Cycle in fact.

How to keep the Nitrate level in the tank low ?

The best way is to replace periodically, 3 times a month, an average of 25% to 40% of the water in the tank, you will judge the percentage of water to be changed according to the results of the tests or according to the dirtiness of the water in the tank. This will also vary according to the volume of water in the tank, the number of axolotls and live plants (live plants eat the Ammonia but remove the dead leaves), the quality of the substratum, the presence of tankmates or not, the hotter the water in the tank, the more will have to be replaced … etc

How to quick start the Ammonia source in the tank ?

When you buy and install a new tank for your axolotls, the level of Ammonia in the water is practically zero, and to start the cycling process, you can use a used Media (the best way is used sponge filter), that you will get from someone who already has an axolotl tank, ask him for a Media ( or blue filter ) that he just removed from his filter and install it in the filter of your new aquarium. This method will take one to two weeks for the cycling process to take place.

You can also sprinkle a little fish food in the water, but to quick start your Nitrogen Cycle, you can also add liquid ammonia directly into the water as a “Quick Start”, but this is before introducing your axolotls into the tank!

How to avoid breaking the Nitrogen Cycle in the tank ?

The concern is that if you break the cycle of your axolotl tank, you will have to restart the cycling process from the beginning and this will force you to find a temporary home for your axolotls.

To avoid breaking the Nitrogen cycle you must test the parameters periodically and never change more water than necessary!

The amount of water to change when you judge that your tank is dirty must absolutely depend on the results of the water tests you do!

Never change 100% of the water in the tank !! and you must never let your beneficial bacteria starve, that is to say, they must always have some Nitrate to eat in the water of the tank, the level of Nitrate must never go below 5 PPM and the ideal is 15 to 20 PPM.

Once the Nitrogen Cycle is stable, never introduce in the tank a new set that comes directly from an old tank!! it will have to be washed well before and then put in quarantine for a day or two by leaving it in a dry place.

When you introduce new tank mates into your axolotl’s tank, quarantine them before and during the first month, test them every 5 days in order to have an idea on the change of parameters and water quality in order to act accordingly by adapting the filters or by reducing the number of tank mates or by increasing the frequency and the quantity of water that you replace in the tank.

Finally you can isolate your axolotls and add a dose of API AMMO-LOCK Ammonia detoxifier to the tank to eliminate quickly excess Ammonia and Nitrite in the water if you feel that their levels have risen rapidly and you don’t yet know what the problem is, and once their levels have become stable, reintroduce your axolotls into the tank and solve the problem.

Final Thoughts

Correctly and successfully Cycling your axolotl tank will take some time, ideally you should purchase and prepare the tank and its components at least a month before you are going to bring your axolotls in, so you have time to start the cycling process, do some tests and make sure the water is perfect for your axolotls.

M Samy pet blogger and author at famillypet

About Author

Hey! Salim Makhloufi (alias M. Samy) here , Welcome to my Blog I'm an animal lover, especially pets and Really concerned about their well being ; I've been around and caring for all my life and Now ; a full-time Pet blogger at your service . My motto here at Famillypet is: "Pets First" ... Read More