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Brush Algae


  1. Photo by Erik Olson, of a 20g tank choked with red brush algae. Destroyed plants include (left-to-right) Ludwigia sp., Nymphaea sp., several Echinodorus parviflorus ``tropica'', Valisneria spiralis, Nuphar sp., Hygrophila difformis, Rotala macrandra, and Cryptocoryne wendtii. No doubt the fish would be covered in the stuff as well if they stopped moving.
  2. Novice plant tank questions
    by (Neil Frank) (7 Apr 1994)
  3. fw red algae & CO2
    by (Neil Frank) (Fri, 5 Apr 96)
  4. Black brush algae (RE: Aquatic Plants Digest V3 #560)
    by George McDonald <georgem/> (Wed, 7 Oct 1998)
  5. Red Algae
    by Neil Frank <nfrank/> (Fri, 18 Sep 1998)
  6. Red Algae
    by krandall/ (Thu, 17 Sep 1998)

Novice plant tank questions

by (Neil Frank)
Date: 7 Apr 1994

In article <>,
Thomas Narten <> wrote:
>In article <> (Glen W Osterhout)
>> >>I guess I should get the Dupla Fe test kit.  
>> >
>> >I would recommend Lamotte over Dupla. 
>> I know the Lamotte is better,  but it is a lot of $$$.  Isn't the Dupla
>> adequate for letting you know whether you have enough Fe?
>The Dupla test is probably adequate, but I'd still recommend the
>Lamotte. Look at it as an investment.  While the initial kit isn't
>cheap, refills will be. And you will be in the plant tank business for
>a long time, right? :-) I have the Dupla kit.  The ideal Fe
>concentration in your water is something like .1 ppm, which is at the
>very low end of what the dupla test measures (it goes .1 - 1 ppm).
>So, if you have any color, you've got enough Fe.  On the other hand,
>you'll quickly decide that you really want to know exactly how much Fe
>to add and how frequently (e.g, just how quickly your plants take in
>the Fe, etc.), which requires being able to accurately measure the
>concentration.  I have not been able to do that with the dupla kit
>because the colors are too hard to read.  I have the Lamotte nitrate
>kit with the color wheel. Even with it, it can be pretty hard
>sometimes to decide just which color matches exactly. But it is much
>easier than comparing with colored paper (which can be hopeless!).
>> >It usually takes three or four months for nitrate to build up.  You might 
>> >try some Tetra fertilizer - one of them contains some nitrate. 
>> I'm not talking about substantial levels:  I have a nearly undetectable
>> amount using the Lamotte low range test kit.
>I get less than .25 ppm according to lamotte, yet the test solution is
>never 100% clear. It looks clear compared to all the colors, yet if
>you look at the test vial at the right angle against a well-lit white
>background, I can always see a bit of a tint.  Straight tap water, in
>contrast, is clear.  Thus, I don't really have 0 nitrates, but I'm
>pretty close.  Maybe this is the ideal level, in that the plants are
>consuming nitrates at roughly the same rate as they are being produced
>(but that also suggests perhaps that my bio filter is too efficient,
>since plants prefer ammonium, but that's another story).
>> but nobody ever seems to carry them.  That red algae is very hard to remove
>> mechanically without damaging the plants.  I think I may try lowering the 
>> water level and leaving the upper leaves emersed for a few days.  That
>> make it easier to get the stuff off.
>This won't make you feel any better, but I was reading about algae in
>one of the back-issues of The Aquatic Gardener last night, and one
>article pretty much came out and said NOTHING is effective against the
>red brush algae.  Your best bet is probably to clip the affected
>leaves, though this is quite painful for the really slow growing
>plants like anubias, which seem to be what red brush algae like. :-( I
>had (still do a have bit, actually) a problem with it, but I just
>started clipping leaves as new ones came out and I don't really have
>what I'd call a serious problem now.
>Thomas Narten

This one must have slipped by the editor. :-)

There are atleast three remedies for red algae
1. Chlorox (bleach)
-- removing plant and treating with 5% chlorox (2-3 minutes)
-- removing inanimate objects and treating with > 5%, can be longer time.
-- pretreating plants as described above
2.  Copper
--treating tank (after removing fish) with 0.5 ppm Cu for 10 days
  remove Cu (say with complete water change) and return fish
3.  Red algae eating fish
--Siamese fox (Crossocheilus siamensis), as pictured in The Optimum Aquarium
  [Other varients of above (e.g. as pictured in Baensch Atlas) may not be
   as effective]
--Other fish, such as Tropheus (no personal experience, but described by
  some aquarists)

Neil Frank 
 \ The above does not represent OIT, UNC-CH, laUNChpad, or its other users. /

fw red algae & CO2

by (Neil Frank)
Date: Fri, 5 Apr 96

>From: Kevin Conlin <>
>Date: Thu, 04 Apr 1996 17:42:05 -0500

>Blatant speculation on my part (and clearly labeled as such).
>Baensch and others note that red algae seems to disappear with
>CO2 fertilization.  I was hoping that someone would come forward
>with data from real studies.  Somewhere there is someone studying
>freshwater red algaes for his PhD; would this person please step
>forward?  We won't make fun of you, really we won't.
- -------------------
I can tell you about references from the 70's and 80's, so I suspect that
there is even better stuff available today...

Back in the late 1980's when I first investigated red algae in fw aquaria, I
published a 4 part article on fw algae: FAMA (October 1986-January 1987). I
discussed red algae, CO2 and a variety of other topics.

Re: CO2, I derived information from 2 references:
Goldman. Carbon Dioxide and pH: Effect on Species succession in ALgae.
Science, October 19, 1973

Lemon (ed.) Carbon Dioxide and Plants. AAAS Selected Symposium (1984)

Here is a passage from my paper: 
"Red algae primarily utilize free CO2 and are naturally found in soft waters
of relatively low pH or streams where CO2 concentrations are relatively
high. Their native stream habitat explains why these furry epiphytes are so
tenacious and will not disattach conveniently from plants. In my experience,
the red algae are only found to be fully developed and to be grwoing
profusely in acidic conditions. In fact, when a local Raleigh aquarium shop
owner buffered the water to neutal in the store's front display tank, the
algae died back considerably. The change was not permanent, but supports the
notion that acidic conditions are needed for optimal growth. These
observations seem to contradict the advice of the Germans. They recommend
introduction of CO2 to suppress the growth of red algae

[As I indicated elsewhere, I never saw mature red algae in my tanganyikan
tanks where I suspect free CO2 shifted to bicarbonates]

The FAMA article also says.......
"It has been shown that the addition of gaseous CO2 or lowering of PH
stimulated the shift from blue-greens to green algae. This shift can occur
when stratified water conditions are artificailally circulated or
aerated.... causing CO2 to enter from the atmosphere."

Black brush algae (RE: Aquatic Plants Digest V3 #560)

by George McDonald <georgem/>
Date: Wed, 7 Oct 1998

	Having initially encounted BBA about 6 yrs ago with a well established 
75 gal tank, that was very densly populated with plants, driftwood, and 
gravel, with a modest population of tetra schools with several large 
Austrailian Rainbows as centerpeice fish.  This system runs lighting on 
timers, has W/D filter system, as well as E-Heim canister for mechanical 
filtering system combined tank water turnover was 3.75 times per hour, 
temp was a constant 78 deg (F).
	30 gal waterchanges were done monthly using collected rainwater, both 
Tetra Tabs for the graval fertilization and Tetra Flornina were used as 
directed.  Plants and fish florished, with the exception of PH (7.7 avg 
reading) this was a model system. The tank was a showcase for about 3 
yrs from its setup, plants grew out of the top of the tank and I dare 
say that I gave away at least 15 buckets of plants to others from it.  
Then one fine day the BBA arrived, the source of that arrival has never 
determined.  The BBA took over very slowly and was first noticed on the 
driftwood, it eventually found no surface in the tank that it would not 
adhere too.  Driftwood, spillway, rocks, graval and then plants in that 
order slowly were covered.
	At first I would remove it with a fingernail and actually pick out the 
graval that it would adhere too, many additional SAE 's were added, 
Plattys were added, flagfish as well none seemed interested in this BBA, 
no matter how hungry they got.  It eventually overcame the entire tank 
taking almost 2 yrs to kill all the plants, and pretty much seemed 
unkillable.  Even with weekly cleanings, taking hours to remove by hand 
the BBA, the only option left was a full nuking of the tank and all 
accessories.  Not one to go quietly into the that night, many many tests 
were done before hand most in bell jars using up everyones ideas.  The 
more I looked and asked the less I found out about this BBA as I had 
never encounted algae that was like this, and have many years of 
experience in the freshwater hobby.
	Observation of this algae was done for months, but a few things were 
quite evident.  It took about 3-4 weeks to attain full size from a small 
speck, it shed small furry type spores that would drift with the water, 
and wherever it landed would take hold and the cycle would begin again.
	A full tear down was done, over a two week period of time, driftwood, 
rocks and all internal tank components were submerged and soaked in 20% 
Clorox / 80% water solution, changed every other day.  All filtering 
elements, hoses were discarded, along with all graval and rocks.  
Filter, hoses, valves, sump, bioballs and all hose fittings were treated 
with the 100% Clorox solution.  Several tests were made before hand and 
found that BBA turned fully white within 24 hrs with this bleach level 
solution, and when reinserted into the tank, would not grow again.
	As the driftwood was rather special looking it was some kinda of cyprus 
bogwood roots these were given additional treatments of 100% clorox, and 
wirebrushed to remove the top layer of wood as that was the only way the 
spores could be removed.   Needless to say, all kinds of rinsing and 4 
days of drying in sunlight to rid it of any bleach traces, this was done 
for all wet components in the system, as well as all nets, cleaning 
pads, and brushes.
	Tank was reset up, new graval, hoses, filter elements added and cycled 
with some goldfish and that removed after the first week.  At the end of 
the week about 35 medium plants were added to the tank, and a few days 
later the former finned occupants were also added.  (Original tank fish 
were maintained in original tank water and then moved into a temp 
hospital tank, during the nuking process,  that never had any trace of 
BBA, and still doesn't)
	Observation was pretty constant, no sign of BBA anywhere was noticed.  
At the 22nd day of the new set up, the lights came on one morning and lo 
and behold, my two prized and expensive cyprus driftwood centerpeices 
had full blooms of young BBA all over them, all very tiny but obviously 
BBA youngsters within minutes they were removed from the tank.  To this 
day they have never been returned to tank water.
	It was an exasperating experience with many drastic measures taken (ie. 
UV water treatment for 3 weeks, Diatom filtering for days on end, 
assorted anti-algae treatments) lotsa advice was received but not much 
seemed to apply or work.  From some of these rather radical tests did 
find out some interesting things about this BBA:
It has shown to survive a temperature range to 40 deg (F) to about 125 
deg (F) as long as it has light.
Removal of light does not kill it it just suspends/retards its growth.
If a pile of it is removed it emits a real foul and pugnet smell 
If you were to squish it between your fingers it seems to feel oily in 
Old Gravel with BBA on it that was used as a covering on several outdoor 
window box planters, retarded or limited the growth of the assorted 
outdoor pansys that were normally planted in them.
Old gravel that has wintered outdoors on the ground, put into a 
contanier with aquarium water and left in the sunshine, will exhibit new 
BBA growth within 4 - 6 weeks.
Tests at a LFS of every algaecide that they had, showed at best only a 
mild retarding of growth.
Water PH quality does not seem to affect its growth or propagation.

	The amount of information on BBA is quite limited, as I am not an 
experienced biologist, but I can tell you this is some hardy stuff now.  
I did try searching the web, and was astonished at how many different 
kinds of algae that there is, and how little info showing a picture of 
the actual algae exists.  The possiblility does exsit that I might have 
found it searching the web, but didn't realize it.
	My primary concern has been how did it get into the system in the first 
place.   That answer has never been found, according to my logs, no 
plants or fish were added for 6 - 7 months prior to the outbreak.  But 
since then all new fish, plants and components like rocks or wood get to 
spend a least a month in the temporary aquarium prior to transfer into 
the main system.
	The only common elements with the tank was the use of Florina plant 
tabs (still in use) and Florina liquid (no longer used) and the 
driftwood, evidently the driftwood could not be cleansed of the original 
BBA infestation.  As I and a friend pretty much bought the entire 
shipment from our LPS of this driftwood, and his is still in use with no 
BBA this sorta rules it out as the source.  We no longer feed frozen 
anything to the tank, and have used assorted aquarian dry food products 
as primary feed for the fish.  As I tend to keep general logs of the 
aquarium, including testing, cleaning and inhabitants additions, the 
driftwood was fine for 15 months before the BBA showed up.
	Sorri for the length of this, but should anyone have any additional 
information on this subject, I for one would be glad to see it posted.  
When I first had this problem, I saw little written on BBA on this 
group, it seems to be more frequent as I now have been reading it for a 
couple of years.  Possibly someone can add some educational wise 
information (please keep in mind were hobbiest of aquariums) or some 
dectective skills to the origin of this stuff, and maybe even some thing 
that can really eradicate it.
George McDonald
(Delete NOSPAM. for correct email address)

 " My goal in to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am! "

Red Algae

by Neil Frank <nfrank/>
Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998

>What they
>all seem to have in common is that they thrive in situations of high
>nitrate and phosphate.

In my experience, red algae once established will thrive in an aquarium
with low concentrations of nutrients, provided that all are in excess of
all nutrients. This most often is a tank without lots of healthy and fast
growing plants. When the plants are not happy, they will not be able to
keep the N and or P totally out of the water column... or their
decomposition is constantly leaching nutrients into the water. In addition,
a tank CAN have happy fast growing plants (and little algae) WITH excesses
of N and P, provided that the water column is deficient in one or more
trace excess elements. Although this situation is less commonly seen, it
will not be a good environment for algae either. For higher plants to be
happy however, you must provide the higher plants with their own supply of
trace lements.... this can be via the substrate (out of reach for algae) or
thru period additions of TE fertilizer to the water... but just enough for
the plants to suck it ALL out and again keeping it out of the reach of algae.
Karen is right that most often red algae are found in tanks with high N and
P ... this usually signals a tank with generally poor conditions for
plants. This explanation may also be related to the observation that red
algae often attaches to slow growing or weak plants. The older leaves of
anubias and dying leaves of other plants are providing the algae with a
source of nourishment.

> I have some photos of some really attractive
>RED red algae in a soft water, low pH discus tank belonging to a friend.
>It was growing on some Bolbitis that was clearly deteriorating in the
>soft/acid water. 

This observation is interesting. I too have found some of the lushest red
alga Audouinella in soft/acid water. In fact, I have had it in my own
(pre-SAE) tanks. I speculate that they thrive in these conditions provided
that nutrients are available, including CO2 which may be more plentiful in
soft/acid tanks than alkaline (without CO2 injection.). BTW, Audouinella is
back in my low light/clown loach/Bolbitus tank despite the 2 SAEs. They
have grown old, fat and lazy (they are nowgoing on 5 yrs). I need to
replace them with a few young Crossocheilus which have the predicable
appetite for the furry epiphyte.

Neil Frank

Red Algae

by krandall/
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998

Steve Pushak wrote:

>If you have been unfortunate enough to get "black brush" algae, (furry
>short tufts) you can discourage the growth by keeping pH below 7. Its a
>marine algae and flourishes at high pH. 

Red algae are _not_ strictly marine.  While there the majority of the 4,000
or so species are marine, there are over 100 species of fresh water red
algae.  If you happen to have a species that is adapted to water with a
higher pH, dropping the pH may help get rid of it.  But there are other
species that will happily thrive at a pH of 6, or perhaps lower.  What they
all seem to have in common is that they thrive in situations of high
nitrate and phosphate.

Mark Fisher wrote:

>Seriously, though, the dreaded black brush algae is definitely a
>freshwater species.  The black/gray-green color is a characteristic of
>the freshwater red algae.  Marine red algae are red colored, due to the
>presence of the photosynthetic pigment phycoerthryin.  This pigment is
>greatly reduced in the freshwater species.

While this is generally true, I have some photos of some really attractive
RED red algae in a soft water, low pH discus tank belonging to a friend.
It was growing on some Bolbitis that was clearly deteriorating in the
soft/acid water.  I suspect that it was living on the nutrients that were
leaching from the dying leaves.   It was pretty enough that he actually
left in the tank for quite a while. (It did not spread beyond the sick

Karen Randall
Aquatic Gardeners Association

Up to Algae <- Plants <- The Krib This page was last updated 29 October 1998