Cycling The Axolotl Tank

You absolutely MUST cycle the water in the tank before putting your axolotl in there or it will get extremely physically stressed (from having to live with so many toxins) and may likely die. You should have your tank cycled already before getting your axolotl or else it will have nowhere safe to live. A cycled tank may be the most intimidating part of getting your axolotl tank setup, but once you get it figured out it’s not too hard. When you hear/read ‘cycling’, the cycle that is being referred to is the nitrogen cycle.

The cycle establishes a colony of beneficial bacteria that helps break down waste, and thus regulates the waters ammonia content. Remember, too much ammonia is toxic.

Overview; ammonia (which is released from axolotl food, feces, etc) is converted into nitrites, which are then converted into nitrates. Ammonia and nitrites are toxic. Nitrates are not toxic. That is the cycle.

Cycling a tank can take 6-8 weeks. The cycle is complete when ammonia and nitrites consistently test to zero parts per million, and nitrates are being produced regularly.

nitrogen cycle of an aquarium


What is tank cycling?

Tank cycling is a preparation and maintenance of your axolotl tank so that it is a healthy and safe environment for your Axolotl.

Why can’t I just buy a tank, add water and the axolotl?

If you skip the initial cycling process, you could kill your axolotl. Ammonia, which comes from digested food and left over food in the tank, will burn your axolotls gills.

What do I need?

Time, patience, a test kit, and more patience.

What is the goal of cycling?

To keep the tank as stable for your axolotl friend as you can. The goal is to grow good bacteria in the tank so you can get to:
-> 0 ppm Ammonia (NH3). 1 ppm = deadly. 
-> 0 ppm Nitrite (NO2). 1 ppm = deadly
-> and 5-40 PPM Nitrate (NO3). Higher = deadly

What happens during the cycle?

-> Decomposing food/plants + time = Ammonia (toxin)
-> Ammonia + good bacteria + time = Nitrate (toxin)
-> Nitrate + another good bacteria + time = Nitrite (toxin)
-> IT ALL TAKES TIME, so be patient.

How often should I test my water?

Test your water every other week. (API Fresh Water Master test kit)

How do I keep toxin levels down?

Do weekly water changes once your axolotl is living in the tank. Change 20-30% of the water each week. 40% if the tank is really dirty. Completely changing the water will break the cycle and throw away too much good bacteria.

Do live plants help?

Yes! Live plants eat ammonia! However, axolotls like to destroy plants. Trial and error is needed.

How long does the initial cycling take?

Six to eight weeks with established media from another tank. In extreme cases, months. Watch your levels with your test kit. Be patient.

Where does good bacteria live?

In the filter, on decorations, on the walls of aquarium.