Fishless Cycling

What is fishless cycling?

Cycling is the process required to regulate and maintain safe levels of ammonia, nitrate, and other elements in your tank. Shrimp and fish will naturally increase ammonia levels in an aquarium just by releasing waste, and which is toxic to anything living in your tank. Ammonia is converted to nitrite in a filtered tank, which is even more deadly! The solution to this is cycling – a properly cycled tank will have bacteria able to convert ammonia to nitrite, and nitrite to nitrate, which is perfectly harmless to your shrimp in lower levels. While traditional cycling uses and kills several fish or shrimp, in this guide we will outline the process of fishless cycling, which uses pure ammonia as an alternative to sacrificing shrimp, and is a quicker method which can generally be completed in 30-45 days.

What will I need?

Besides a tank and a water filter, you will need a freshwater test kit, pure ammonia, and a dechlorinator, all of which are generally cheap. Note that if your bottle of ammonia that contains any ingredients besides water and ammonia, do not use it!

Recommended: Freshwater Master Test Kit, DechlorinatorAmmonia

How do I cycle my shrimp tank?

The first step is to get your aquarium up and running, filter, heater, substrate and all. Note that you should have your heater set to around 80°F if possible for maximum bacteria growth. Once you have everything but the shrimp in your aquarium use your dechlorinator as directed, followed by your ammonia. Start by adding drops slowly and use your test kit to aim for 4ppm. Begin to test ammonia levels every few days until you see the level drop down to 1ppm, at which point you will want to raise it up to 4ppm again.

Once you’ve added your ammonia for the second time, start testing for nitrites daily. If everything is going smoothly, the nitrite levels will begin to rise. Continue checking daily and dosing ammonia to 4ppm while your nitrites are increasing, and once your nitrite levels are on the high end of your test kit’s scale, begin to test for nitrates. When the nitrates show up, you can be assured that the process is working.

Soon enough your nitrite and nitrate levels should be higher than your test kit can even measure for – at this point you’re going to want to replace about 50% of your tank’s water with dechlorinated water from another source. Keep dosing ammonia up to 4ppm, and soon you will end up testing your water and finding only nitrate, with all traces of ammonia and nitrites gone. Raise ammonia to 4ppm one last time, and if it is completely cycled to nitrates only within 24 hours, congratulations, your tank is cycled! The last step is to set the heater to an ideal level for your tank inhabitants (72 -76°F for Red Cherry Shrimp), and do a water change of about 70% – again with dechlorinated water from another source, then test to confirm nitrate levels are below 20ppm. You can now confidently move your shrimp into their new home!

Note: If there is a significant delay between cycle completion and the addition of your shrimp, dose 1ppm ammonia daily to keep the bacteria alive.