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Nov 20, 2018
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If anyone can read about our situation and give advice we would be so grateful! We are new to the aquarium world, but our problem has stumped even the girl at the fish room who seems to know everything.

We have a 20 gallon tank and 2 weeks ago we put in it a Red Spotted Severum (3 or 4 inches long), a small snail and a bristlenosed Pleco. The Severum was extremely skiddish at first but becomes more brave each week. About a week into having him, we noticed he was swimming at the surface on his side. His water was 72 degrees, so we quickly did our research and added a heater. It's now at 80 degrees. We have a filter that I keep having to change. I usually rinse it in the sink and then change it to a new one after 3 rinses. It gets dirty and needs rinsing every 3 or 4 days, and it seems clogged up with something I put in this tank nearly a month ago, before these fish were introduced. We have Seachem's Flourite, a red gravel for the bottom. It was advertised as really healthy for the aquarium, but even though we rinsed it thoroughly when we added it to the tank it was incredibly dusty and has been a challenge to get the water looking clear again. We didn't use any water clearifier, just kept doing water changes and using the gravel vacuum. Even though the tank looks clear now, the filter still has a reddish brown substance all throughout it each time I look.

Also at the one week mark, we thought he might want a cave habitat so we have a large piece of driftwood that we rinsed with warm water and put in with the heater. We have a smoother, white pebbled gravel mixed in to the more jagged, red clay flourite. We have been adding bacteria nearly everyday for over a week. We feed him small pebbled bug bites, tropical formula for medium to large fish. He isn't so good at seeing the food coming down and the pebbles are so small, a good amount were going in the water and sitting - he wouldn't get them off the bottom when they fell, only ate the ones he saw come down. There are also some white, smoother pebbles we added with the flourite but the bottom seems a little intimidating to him.

3 days ago we woke up and tested the water just to check on everyone.

Our nitrates, nitrites and pH were all so dangerously high! pH was over 8, and nitrites and nitrates were both extremely high. Also, there was 3 small pieces of zucchini floating at the top we had forgotten to take out. They had a little mold or white stringy stuff and were super soggy. We raced to the store and got a smaller piece of drift wood to bring levels down, a moss ball, and more water. We boiled this piece of driftwood twice before adding it. We took out the 3 small java fern plants that seemed to be dying for weeks. We always use the reverse osmosis water from the fish store and we did a 25 percent water change that first night. Then yesterday our levels were still high, we did a 25 percent change, and today we tested and things are a little better but not great. We will do a 25 percent water change again tonight. Our pH is down to 6.4 or 6.6, nitrates at 10-20, nitrites at .25. Last night I took the large driftwood out, boiled it twice and put it back in.

We finally figured out the fancy light that we bought that pairs with the phone app just last night. For the whole time we've had them, the lights would sometimes change suddenly to something high or low and seemed to scare him a bit.

The snail is moving more than ever, the Pleco hardly ever moves even before all this, and the Severum is gasping rapidly. He is very hungry when we put food out but we don't want to feed him too much because of our levels. What could be causing this?

Was it the old zucchini?
Does he need a bigger tank for the amount of waste?
Have we changed the tank decorations or pH too rapidly?
Could our java ferns have been affecting this?
Our filtered water is room temperature and we put it directly into the tank so I can only guess that temperatures are fluctuating the past 2 days for the Severum until the heater reaches it. Maybe that's too much change, mixed with the light that was going on and off suddenly too.

We've changed the filter 2x since we got him 2 weeks ago.
Hi and welcome to the forum :)

How big is the tank (length x width x height)?
How long has the tank been set up for?
What sort of filter do you have on the tank?
How often do you do water change and how much water do you change?
Why are you using reverse osmosis (R/O) water?

What other fish are in the tank?

Can you post pictures of the fish, tank and filter?
If the website says the images are too big, set the camera's resolution to the lowest setting or post the images on an image hosting website and put the address/ link here.

How often are you feeding the fish?

Have you tested the water for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and general hardness (GH)?
If yes, what were the results in numbers?

Fish don't become skittish/ panicky from cool water and 72F (22C) is not that low and certainly would not have caused the fish to become nervous. 78F is a better temperature.

Poor water quality or chemicals in the water cause fish to become nervous and skittish.

Filter materials should not be changed unless they fall apart. If the local pet shop is telling you to replace filter materials then that is wrong.
If you have filter pads they can be washed out in a bucket of tank water and re-used until they break down.
If you have carbon (black granulated substance) in the filter that can be thrown out and left out unless there are chemicals in the water.
Most external power filters can have sponges cut to size for them and there are round sponges (from internal power filters) that fit on the intake strainer of most filters. These sponges can be washed every day if you like and will last for many years.

If you are bored and want something to read about fish, you can check out the following link.

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