Dear Ms. Walstad,
Your book inspired me to get back into the aquarist hobby. I have previously given it up on two different occasions because I grew tired of the maintenance. But your low tech and low maintenance approach to a lush looking aquarium pulled me back.
I now have a 75 gallon tank with about 1.5 inches of potting soil covered by about 1.5 inch of small gravel that has been set up with plants and shrimp for a couple of months. I am currently battling algae by reducing the light and dropping charcoal in the filter. It's a young take with lots of different types of plants. Hopefully some will thrive and tip the balance away from Algae. I also have some water lettuce on order to help.
My real concern, however, are some worms that must have hitchhiked on the plants that I ordered on the internet. They resemble tubifex worms, but I believe they are different. Like tubifex worms, these are burrowing worms that wave back and forth above their holes. But instead of filtering the water, these worms seem to be eating the potting soil. I can see them “pooping” the potting soil underlayer onto the top of the gravel. I first noticed them by the soil mounds that they created, which look very much like prairie dog mounds. I do not think they are harmful to the shrimp and would not worry about them, except that they are turning my substrate inside out. Right now there are only a few, but when they multiply I fear they will destroy my tank.
I have googled various things to no avail. Do you know what they are and how I can get rid of them? Thanks.
Welcome to El Naural! Little different from High-Tech. Huh?
Fish are all you need to take care of your worm "problem". What you have are harmless aquatic worms, often called California Blackworms. They are related to tubificid, but do not come from sewage. Fish love them! I purchased live Blackworms from Wet Thumb Aquatics and kept them for awhile for my Rainbowfish. It was fun keeping them.
The worms do churn up the substrate. This keeps it aerated, which is a good thing in new tanks. If their activities are making the water cloudy, that can be a problem you might want to work on. Lower the water movement or get a good mechanical filter. I use the AquaClear 300 Powerhead with Quick Filter attachment to clarify water when I want to polish water after tank has been grossly disturbed.
Yes, the worms will turn the substrate upside down. I wouldn't worry about this, as it happens in some of my tanks.
Since you've got shrimp in the tank, I know that you are reluctant to add fish. However, in my opinion this is your best solution. Any chemical that kills the worms will almost certainly kill your shrimp.
Also, there are several other threads in the El Natural Forum on aquatic worms that you'll find by searching this forum for "aquatic worms". They'll have ideas on which fish are best. You might just have to add suitable fish temporarily. The right fish will get the worms in no time. That's because these worms are semi-aerobic. They wave their "tails" in the air to get oxygen. This is when a smart fish can get them!