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What the heck is this???

4846 Views 27 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  genetao
And how in the world do I get rid of it?

It seems to grow only on the hornwort, java moss and java fern. It doesn't grow on any of the anubias nor crypts. The thing that's strange about it is that when I try to pull it out, it disintegrates very easily, kind of like what happens if you throw tissue into the water. Any sort of disturbance to the algae breaks it up really easily. Given the fragile nature of this algae, I would think it would rule out thread algae or cladophora. But I'm a noob, so what do I know. The original reason I kept hornwort was because of it's fast growing nature and was suppose to out compete against algae. I didn't want to keep hornwort to help cultivate algae!

The hornwort still grows fast, and the rest of the plants look very healthy and lush. But for some reason, this algae seems to grow just as fast, if not faster. Its hard to pick it out without the algae disintegrating.

My tank stats:

10 gallon tank.

I use Seachem's full line of ferts including, Iron, Phosphorus, Nitrogen, Trace, Excel, Flourish and Potassium. I follow Seachem's recommended dosing amount and dosing schedule. Substrate is typical gravel. I follow the EI regiment and do a 40% water change / vacuum gravel once a week to reset the tank.

I do not use CO2, hence the reason why I use Excel instead. (CO2 is rocket science/voodoo to me).

Nitrates: Typically between 10-20 ppm, depending on whether the test was done before or after the water change.

Lighting: 35 watts total; 2 -10 watt 6500K CFL's and one 15 watt fluorescent tube (Hagen Aqua-Glo) on for 8 hours a day.

The otocinclus don't touch the stuff, nor do the amano shrimp, and neither does the nerite snail. In fact, I even put the snail on top the algae-infested hornwort, and in a few minutes, it just hops right off. I'm thinking that none of my clean up crew touch the stuff because the hornwort is floating at the surface? But if that were true, then the java fern and java moss should get a good cleaning at least.

I've had this tank set up for many months before this algae started rearing its ugly head. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance for your help.


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83 views and nobody knows?

Can somebody lend a noob a hand?
It looks like a hair type algae or thread.. but it falls apart when you touch it. I spent the last hour or so looking online for an ID, but havnt found anything on it.
If it breaks up so easily why not siphon it out?

It looks like the middle px of Rhizoclonium on this web site page

Hope you find out.
Xspy and Helgymatt, thanks for your efforts in trying to ID it. Helgymatt, I do have pretty decent flow in the tank. Let me explain. I have an AquaClear 30 on a dinky little 10 gallon tank. I have it set to the highest setting, at about 150 gph, which I think is plenty. However, I have a piece of plastic diverting part of that flow, so that it doesn't churn the water too much. The betta in there doesn't appreciate high flow.

Texgal, thanks for trying to ID and give me some leads. I tried siphoning it, and it does get some of it, but its not so fragile that siphoning gets all of it. Besides, I'm trying to figure out how to prevent it from coming back. I don't really want to be siphoning every 3 days just to get some of it out.

I thought it might be Rhizoclonium too, but none of the description fits this algae. According to the website it states:

"Strands of fine green or brownish threads which are soft and slimy."

This algae is not slimy at all. Actually when I feel it between my fingers, it feels like nothing at all. It almost melts away like a gossamer filament or kind of how cotton candy melts in your mouth.

"Cause: Low CO2. Low nutrient levels. General lack of maintenance."

There might be low CO2 because of the high flow, but I use Excel carbon. I religiously clean the tank once a week, doing a 35-40% water change / gravel vacuum as required by the EI method. I also dose daily according to Seachem's dosing schedule and amount. Most of the plants are epiphytes, which would take its nutrition from the water column. The only one that's not is the Crypt, but that's rooted in a pot of AquaSoil. So there should be sufficient nutrients.

"Removal: Increase CO2 levels and check nutrient dosing. Give the tank a good cleaning. Overdosing excel should also clear it. Amano shrimp will eat it."

I started overdosing excel and haven't seen a change yet. And no, the Amano shrimp are not eating it.

Also, the tank does not have a heavy fish load neither. There are 4 neons, 1 male betta, 2 ottos and 3 amanos. With a strong filter, lots of plants, and frequent water changes, I figured it would be a balanced system. And it was pretty balanced until about a month ago. Man I have so much to learn still.....:confused:

Thanks again for all your efforts everyone ^_^
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You don't need to be cleaning yoru gravel that much, especially with that few of fish. In most platned tanks gravel cleaning is not done much at all. Maybe in your case it is ok because you mostly have epiphytes??

I hope you get to the bottom of this.
Whoa really? I shouldn't be gravel vacuuming that often? That's news to me. I just figured that if I were doing large water changes once a week, I might as well be gravel vacuuming as well. I guess that's just part of my perfectionistic tendency, to make sure I have a sparkling clean tank. That was the original reasoning for me to get epiphytic plants, so that I can move them around when gravel vacuuming.

I do that to all my tanks except the nano tank with AquaSoil for substrate. The fish and shrimp hate it when I gravel vacuum.

Maybe I'll cut down on gravel vacuuming. That'll surely save more work on my part ;p

Thanks for the tip.

I'd still like to know what the heck this algae is and how I can stop it from growing.
Unfortunately, I can't ID the algae either. Any chance you can get a closer picture of it so we can see the actual strands?

I used to do a very thorough cleaning of my tanks, as well. Almost seemed compulsive. But when the plants grew in, it was not practical so I started doing what others had suggested, which is to gently hover over the substrate, getting just the debris on the surface. Never plunge into the substrate (that mulm becomes plant food much in the same way that leaves in a forest break down to fertilize the soil).

Once I started doing this, I found that I had fewer problems in general. It might also be because of the greater plant mass so I can't say for sure the learning to not over clean is what changed things, but I know it doesn't cause any harm.

I will still spot clean areas that I know need cleaning, such as close to my pleco's cave, but overall, I just do a water change and don't worry about the substrate. If the debris is light enough to stay in the water column, then the filters will get it. Many times my 55 amano shrimp will clean things off. Other fish, such as my 9 SAE's help. Anything that none of the fish will eat will decompose and fall into the substrate where the plants take it up.

I think the main key is to not over clean, but build up the plant mass in the tank. The more growing plant material, the more the plants will do the cleaning for you by feeding off of the ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and mulm.

As far as the cause of the algae is concerned, go back to the basics. Check to be sure your CO2 and ferts are dosed consistently and fully enough to not hinder plant growth, ensure good filtration and circulation (the betta will adjust to filter flow), and try to not run the lights too bright and/or too long.

Just like the common cold, we may not always know exactly which virus has attacked our bodies, but we still know what to do to relieve the suffering and to finally get rid of it. So you might be able to correct the environment that favors the algae by simply double checking the balance between the CO2, ferts, lighting and plant mass.
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Is your tank newly set up, or has it been going for a while?
I have the exact thing you're describing all over my moss...I've been trying to figure out what it is too. It's not clado or spyrogira. It most closely resembles rhizoclonium but like yours mine does not feel slimy. When I remove it it feels like nothing at all. My tank is also cleaned once a week with 40% water changes/algae removal and dosing ferts. It's certainly not from poor maintenance. I don't mean to hijack your thread but I'd LOVE to find out what this stuff is so I can get rid of it...

Good luck with your tank. If I find out what it is and how to kill it I will be sure to pass it along!
Hi everyone. Thanks for your response. To answer some of your questions:

Complexity – Thanks for trying to ID the algae. I’ve tried to get a closer picture, but then the picture is blurry because my camera can’t focus that closely. The pictures I’ve already posted are at high-res, and cropped to only show the algae. I’ll see if I can get a better close up. I’ll try your suggestion of hovering over gravel. Although, it’ll take a whole lot of restraint on my part to not want to dig into the gravel and siphon out the mulm. But the problem is, almost all the plants in my 10 gallon are epiphytes, (java moss, mava fern, anubias, hornwort), which means that none of the plants actually have roots in the gravel. So I’m thinking that periodic gravel vacuuming is still the way to go. Call me compulsive. The plant mass is already fairly high. Not overly-dense, but not sparse either.

I dose virtually everyday according to Seachem’s suggested amount. So I’d assume that the plants are all well fed. Well except for the anubias petite. They two of them seem to be exhibiting some sort of deficiency (possibly nitrogen) because the older leaves are yellow. But I do dose Seachem’s nitrogen too. Maybe my nitrates are too low? Too much vaccuming like you were saying? I’ll check my nitrates tonight when I get home.

As for “checking the balance between the CO2, ferts, lighting and plant mass” how would you recommend that I go about doing that? I just follow the typical recommendations of 8-10 hours of lighting, dosing using the EI method, and use carbon Excel instead of CO2. If you have a solution, I’m all ears.

Rockylou – I’ve had this tank setup for about nine months now. I’ve gone through a couple of bouts of different types of algae (brown algae, then thread algae) and won. Now I’ve got this algae, and don’t really know what triggers it or how to stop it.

Coley24 – Don’t hijack other people’s threads! No only kidding (Haha!) [smilie=l: I’m actually relieved to know that I’m not the only one who has this problem since I wasn’t able to find anyone else who has this algae doing a search on this forum. I’m baffled just like you. I think the fact that you and I are doing the same thing has to point to the reason why this algae is thriving. Maybe Complexity is right, in that we’re over cleaning???? Dunno. I’ll try NOT gravel vacuuming for the next couple of weeks, and reduce my lighting period to about 7 hours and see if that helps.

In the meantime, I’ve figured out a way to get rid of the algae, but its obviously a temporary solution, and by no means is a conventional way to go about ridding algae. Because this algae is so thin and frail, this temporary solution only works for this type of algae. Take the algae infested plant, or rock or décor or what have you out of the tank (you don’t want loose algae floating in your tank and laying claim to some other part of your tank), then place the infected plant in a jar of water. Cap the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously for about 20 or 30 seconds. Then open the lid, dump out the greenish water, rinse the plant, fill the jar up with more water, and shake again. After the second cleaning, the plant is pretty much algae-free. At this point, it seems to take the algae longer to come back, but it still does. It’s sort of a pain, and I hope to find the solution, but at least this works in the interim. I’ll post my results in a couple of weeks and see if reducing light duration and NOT gravel vaccuming helps. Good luck with your algae battle.

Thank you all for your moral support!
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Interesting way to at least keep the algae at bay while you're trying to figure out what's causing it.

Now that I know what plants you're growing, I'm questioning if the light is too bright. Each of the plants you listed, except hornwort, are very slow growers. They are known for getting algae as a result. I personally found it much harder to grow those plants than I have found growing stems.

This is my basic theory regarding the balance of ferts, CO2, lighting and plant mass.

There are three things that can affect a plant's growth: Ferts, CO2 and lighting. If any of these three things are out of balance from the others, then algae will be a problem.

The basic idea is to give each plant all the ferts and CO2 they need. Give both in excess (I prefer using the EI method with dry ferts). By ensuring the plants are getting all the ferts and CO2 they need, neither of these elements will hinder the plant's ability to grow.

Next is the issue of lighting. The lighting needs to match the plants you are growing. In your case, you need low to low/med lighting since all of the plants you are growing do not require bright light. If the lighting is too brights, then algae will grow.

That brings me to plant mass. I have heard some people suggest that if they are getting algae, that must mean there are too many nutrients in the water (too much ferts). So they decide to dose less, thinking that would improve things. However, it doesn't. All it does is hinder the plant's growth.

Here's my logic behind this. The numbers I'm using are simply used to convey the concept and should not be taken in any literal sense.

When a tank with low plant mass is dosed with ferts, the water column has a high concentration of ferts, but the plant only comes into contact with so much water. So with a low plant mass, there's a lot of extra ferts left in the water column:

So it would seem logical to reduce the amount of ferts being dosed. The concept is that the low plant mass will take in all of the ferts, leaving no extra ferts in the water:

However, I believe the plants are not able to come in full contact with all of the water so rather than getting all 10 ferts, it simply receives the reduced concentration of ferts in the water it does come in contact. The plant no longer receives all the ferts it needs while extra ferts are still left in the water:

The solution is not not lower the amount of ferts dosed, but to raise the plant mass. Now there are enough plants coming into contact with the water to take in all of the ferts being dosed. All of the plants get all of the ferts they need while not leaving extra ferts for algae:

Again, let me stress that this is simply my theory! I have no proof whatsoever that this is what really happens. I came to believe this theory based on the constant recommendation from others more experienced and knowledgeable to not reduce ferts (use the EI method), but to use "nutrient sponge" plants, such as hornwort. My theory explains why this is recommended. I've also found that when I have more plant mass in my tank, the water condition is much better and I have fewer algae problems. So I offer this theory for consideration.

I'm not sure if the reason you are growing those specific plants is because those are the plants you like best or because you're concerned that your tank won't grow stems very well. Or maybe you think those plants are easier. In truth, those plants can be difficult to grow, especially when that's all the plants in the tank. I have found stems to be much easier to grow!

Another plant you might like to try are Crypts. They are tough as nails and require very little maintenance (I have only had 1 Crypt melt on me, but it grew back quickly).

I can't say at this time that your over cleaning is removing necessary ferts from the substrate since you are not growing plants that are rooted into the substrate. The concern then shifts to removing/disturbing too much of the beneficial bacteria, causing the tank to go into mini-cycles. I know I did this to my tanks because I cleaned way too much.

I think the compulsion to over clean needs to be reviewed in your own mind. What is the real concern if you don't vacuum every speck of debris in the substrate? What will happen if you leave it? Will it cloud the water? Pollute the tank? Make the tank look unkept? And what are you receiving by over cleaning? Do you feel you are taking excellent care of the tank? Do you think it is necessary to clean tanks to that degree?

I think if you find the real reason as to why you feel the need to over clean, then you can take a hard look at whether the concern is truly valid. If you can change your thinking around, then you can see that over cleaning is not beneficial and can be harmful, while not over cleaning is actually better for the plants, inverts and fish.

I will say that my tanks are their cleanest when I have a high plant mass and just simply do water changes without messing with the substrate. The plants clean the tank for me. I now see the mulm as a good thing, like an enriched soil. Too sterile a substrate is not good. So when I see the mulm build up (I can see it where the substrate is up against the glass), I feel very good about it. I feel that I have a truly thriving tank, not a sterile one. It does not harm the water quality, the water is crystal clear, the fish/plants/inverts do fine with it and I'm not constantly disturbing the beneficial bacteria. Try to change the way you look at the mulm which will go a long way towards no longer feeling the need to over clean.

Whew! Did anyone really read all that? :blabla: [smilie=l:
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Whew! That sure was a mouthful Complexity ^_- I read it all, twice. Thanks for the in-depth explanation. You make some interesting points, and your theory on a higher plant mass touching more water is intriguing. I’ve been reading on the importance of a higher plant mass in a tank to combat algae. Not only does it soak up the nutrients, thus leaving algae with nothing, but I’ve also read upon another interesting theory of plants putting out a chemical called allelopathy. So that’s what I’ve been striving for. At this point, there’s not much of the substrate that does receive light, because virtually all of the substrate is being shaded by plants. My wife thinks it looks sort of like the Amazon River.

As for my lights, I have 3.5 watts per gallon because the “expert” at the LFS told me I should shoot for about 3 watts per gallon. So it may seem that I have too much light. But here’s the thing, in my 3 gallon nano, it only has 9 watts of light over it, and the hornwort and some other stem plants in it are growing this same algae. Where as my 2.5 gallon nano with 20 watts of light (which is more than double the amount of light of the 3 gallon) has very little algae. So I’m not so sure if excess lighting is the culprit. Besides in the 10 gallon that most prominently exhibits this algae problem, it has been running smoothly for several months without any algae! Same lights, (all bulbs less than a year old), same dosing regiment, same cleaning schedule, same Bat time, same Bat channel, same everything.

In the 10 gallon tank, this is actually the list of plants I have:
Anubias Nana
Anubias Barteri
Anubias Nana Petite
Java Moss
Java Fern

So I do have a couple of Crypts in my tank. I just didn’t list them because I didn’t think it mattered. The Crypts are planted in a small pot of AquaSoil Amazonia II and are thriving. These crypts have never experienced melt, although some of my other crypts have melted. In my 2.5 gallon nano, it started to melt when I first put it in the AS. But it came back, and grew great! Then, several months later, for some unknown reason, it just melted completely, and died. But I digress…..

I agree with what you are saying about stem plants growing faster and easier to grow. I actually have several stem plants in my other tanks but don’t have any in this tank (other than the hornwort) because I think stem plants grow too fast and require more pruning. (What can I say, I’m lazy). The whole reason I even have hornwort in there is to be the nutrient sponge. Well that and because it shades the slower growing plants (my wife calls it the canopy effect) like anubias and java ferns, so that algae doesn’t grown on them. And for the most part, it seems to work, except that algae is now growing on the hornwort instead!!!!!

As for water changes, I guess I’ve always thought of gravel vacuuming and water changes to be one in the same. That’s just the way I grew up knowing of water changes. You do water changes to clean the tank. And the most common practice now is to do frequent water changes because its better for the health of the fish. So for me, when I think of doing water changes, that also includes vacuuming. I figure it reduces the amount of nitrates, which is good for the fish. I mean, you’re suppose to clean the filter media every now and then to reduce nitrates, right? But I suppose I need to change two decades worth of thinking, and start shifting the idea of what water changes are; only changing out the water. I can leave the gravel vacuuming to be about once a month instead. And that’s cool with me, because its less work for me. And I actually like mulm, and use it to seed new tanks. I just don’t like seeing it float around when the substrate is disturbed. But I’ll change my ways. Thanks for your input!
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What a battle you are having! It's always hard when what you are fighting is uncommon.

Do you have a UV? Just wondering about the bacteria aspect.
Tex Gal, thank you for your sympathy :)

Nope, I don't have a UV light. Just an AquaClear 30 and water changes.

CUC consists of 2 otos, 3 amano shrimp and a nerite.

I guess having this algae is not nearly as bad, as say, having BBA or BGA. At least this stuff comes off pretty easy and doesn't destroy the plant leaves like BBA. I just wished that an amano shrimp, oto or nerite would eat this stuff....
The wpg numbers generally work as a guideline for medium sized tanks. Nanos and huge tanks, the numbers aren't very good. And, unfortunately, I'm not good at determining when the numbers become skewed.

However, in general terms, 3.5wpg is extremely high. My "high tech" tank has 2.88wpg, and I have to be very careful to limit the time they're on. I only run all 4 bulbs for 5 hours, and then turn off 2 of the bulbs for another 3 hours (1 hour 2 bulbs — 5 hours 4 bulbs — 2 hours 2 bulbs).

Also, when you get into that high of lighting, it becomes an absolute must that you have pressurized CO2. It's not a luxury; it's a necessity. Further, it's best to dose dry ferts as the Seachem line doesn't really offer the same ferts as you get with dry.

Nitrates are removed by just doing water changes. It is the bacteria that's in the substrate and filters. That bacteria is what converts the ammonia to nitrites to nitrates. Once converted, they are in the actual water column. Keep in mind that tests for all three are done with water only, not substrate.

So when you over clean the substrate, you are actually removing and disturbing the bacteria that helps to keep the water quality safe for the fish. You are removing the actual bacteria, not the nitrates. A water change without vacuuming removes nitrates. This is not to say that the detritus in the substrate doesn't matter. It has to be converted by the bacteria from ammonia to nitrites to nitrates. So, sure, when you vacuum, you clean that up. But it's best to let the bacteria undisturbed to do the job.

As far as having debris on top of the substrate, definitely vacuum that up. That's the point of hovering over the substrate. Just don't plunge the water changer into the substrate.

Is there any way you could run only half of the bulbs in your light fixture? If so, I'd do that with no noon burst. None of the plants you have require high light.

There are a number of plants that feed from the substrate, but don't require constant pruning. Creeping Jenny is a very pretty bright green (or gold, depending on the variety) with small leaves that grows pretty slowly in my tank. I've already mentioned crypts which I think are low maintenance jewels of a tank. There are others, but my preference for plants is different from yours (I'm getting high light, CO2 required, ferts required "red" colored plants most of all). I'm sure if you asked around, others can give you a very nice list.

I'm clearly no expert (and I'd love it if I'm wrong somewhere that someone point it out), but my best guess is that you do have a large imbalance. Too much light, too little to no CO2, too little ferts, too few plants with plants that grow too slowly. The one thing in that mix that I see way out of balance is the light. Drop it down at least in half (1.75wpg) and see how that does. I suggest more plant mass with plants that feed off of the substrate. And only vacuum the surface of the substrate without plunging.

IF you had faster growing plants, then the lighting might be fine. But not for the plants you have.

Do not take this as all being factual. It's just my thoughts given the situation. It would be nice if others would join in with their ideas, as well.
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Sorry for the slow reply. I strained my lower back about a week ago, and I’m still finding it difficult to be in a position in which I’m not in pain :(

In any case, thanks again Complexity for your thoughts. I did exactly what you recommended, and I lowered the amount of light in the tank. Originally I had:

1X 15 watt fluorescent bulb
2X 10 watt 6700K CFL’s

Which was a total of 35 watts. (It was a ghetto retro I made). About 10 days ago, I took out the 15 watt bulb. This left me with 20 watts of light (two 10 watt CFLs). Afterwards, I did a good cleaning, and removed all the algae. Then, I did a water change yesterday (but only one gallon at a time which was all my back was able to handle), and I still have that pesky algae growing on the hornwort. It wasn’t as bad, but it is definitely still there. The plants still look healthy, so I think I’ll stick with the lower wattage of bulbs. The only reason I even increased the lighting in the first place is because I was recommended to do so by a LFS guru.

The strange thing is that in the 3 gallon nano tank with only 9 watts of light, this very same algae is starting to take hold too. And 9 watts of light is very little in absolute terms, right? Its not like I’m over driving the nano tank with lighting. Heck, I even have some stem plants melting at the base because there’s not enough lighting. At 3 gallons, you can totally throw out the WPG rule, right? However, in my 2.5 gallon with 20 watts of light, I don’t have this particular algae growing at all. And finally in my 1.25 gallon Crystal Red Shrimp only tank with 10 watts of light, there is ABSOLULTELY NO ALGAE in this tank whatsoever!! It’s sparkling pristine, and all I dose is Excel and nothing else. With a tank this small, it would totally negate the WPG rule. Which leads me to believe that this algae is not very much affected by the amount of light. And still the amanos or otos don’t touch this stuff.

So to sum up:

10 GALLON – 20 watts – Strange algae still growing

3 GALLON – 9 watts – Strange algae has been growing

2.5 GALLON – 20 watts – Sparse amount of Green Dust Algae growing, but NOT this strange algae


Well I’m still at a loss. I guess if I don’t find the answer out, it’s not the end of the world. Removing it will just add to my water changes.

Thank you all for your help.
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If it is soft and breaks up easily, I would recommend guppies or other livebearers that graze on the softer types of algae. They should clean it up quickly.
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