Yucky Floating Debris in Betta Tank


Photo provided by reader JE. Here you can see all the floating debris suspended in the water. Is this detritus or something else?

Q: JE wrote,

I hate to be a bother but I can’t find any literature that describes what on earth is going on with my Betta Elton.

I’ve had him since October. He was a gift (from walmart) so we have had issues regarding fin rot. It wasn’t too bad just some freying ends on his tail. So that’s cleared up and I can see new growth on him. He’s also active and still has that classic Betta appetite. On to the issue at hand though.

He’s in a 1 gallon tank and I do a 75% water change every Sunday. So I did things as usual, along with my other two Bettas. I got home yesterday and noticed there was “stuff” floating EVERYWHERE in his tank. I checked the other two and they are perfectly fine. So I did another cleaning. I boiled and soaked everything. I seriously feel like I washed each little gravel stone individually since I cleaned them twice (and I’m very thorough). Threw in some Bettafix. So a 100% water change later and everything is fine. Until this morning.

Whatever it is, it’s back and his tank is just as full as yesterday! I have no idea what to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

I’ll attach some photos to give you a better idea on what I’m talking about.

A: Hmm. I’m sort of stumped with this one as it’s the first time I have seen something exactly like it. My initial thought was that it could be detritus (AKA mulm) or possibly even planaria. It’s very difficult to get a good look at it from the photos. Detritus is kind of like dust of the aquatic world. It’s made up of organic compounds (fish waste, food, shed skin, decaying plant matter, etc) and floats within the water. Usually it gets sucked up in a tank with a filter. In a tank without a filter, which from the photos it looks like yours is without, it floats or sinks to the bottom when there is little surface movement. It’s that fluffy grey/brown stuff we suck off our tank bottoms with out siphons at each water change. Planaria are tiny little worm-like organisms that live in water and frequently infest aquariums where fish are frequently overfed. They are very small and whitish and when you look closely you can see them wiggling around. They are harmless and generally go away when feeding portions are reduced. You probably would have noticed them wiggling so I doubt this is what is in your aquarium.

Detritus seemed very likely, especially since you were doing 75% water changes, which takes out most of the water but leaves most of the goop behind in the gravel. Gravel vacuuming is important because it’s the best way to remove all that detritus. BUT, and this is a big but… if you did a 100% water change and cleaned every rock and STILL had all that floaty stuff return the next day, then I just don’t see how it could be detritus. Detritus can build quickly, but I’ve never seen it get out of hand in a day.

This leads me to wonder if there is something you are adding to your tank or something in your home that is getting into the water. What additives are you adding to your aquarium? Which water conditioners are you using? Could the water conditioners have gone bad some how? (I haven’t ever heard of them going bad, just throwing it out there.) Is there a duct or something near the tank that could be blowing in dust or other particles?

I wish I could tell you exactly what is going on but this is really tough. I will, however, post your question on my Blog in hopes that others may be able to contribute. Please do let me know if you discover what it is. You have really piqued my curiosity.

Oh, before I forget. Bettafix, though mild, is still a medication and is best utilized for open wounds, soars or fin-regrowth. Since your Betta seems to be unaffected by the mystery goo in your tank, I recommend leaving out the meds. Extra additives just create more room for error and may create additional stress on fish that are already healthy.


Photo provided by reader JE. Notice the particulates floating in the water around the betta the day after a full water change. Any ideas?

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Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

16 Comments for this entry

  1. Erin says:

    I had a very similar thing in my tank, actually. It looked kind of like strings of dust. It definitely wasn’t planaria and it didn’t seem to be a bacterial bloom (but I had never seen one, so I couldn’t be positive). At first I thought it was from not rinsing the sand completely, but it came back quickly after a 100% water change and thorough cleaning. One thought is that it could be some colorless algae. Is the tank in a sunny spot?

    I’m not much help because I got rid of it by getting a filter, but there’s still some that sticks to the walls of the tank.

    For reference, the additives in my water are NovAqua, Amquel (both new) and some aquarium salt, so I doubt in my case it was because of those. Anyway, good luck figuring it out!

  2. Christie says:

    Strange stuff. Bacterial blooms look more cloudy than stringy and I’m with you that it’s probably not the water conditioners. I also use the AmQuel/NovAqua. Weird stuff. I’m going to post the follow-ups from the original writer.

    ~Christie

  3. Christie says:

    The following is an update from the original writer. JE wrote:

    Thank you so much for your input Christie.

    To answer your questions about water additives:

    I’m using Betta Plus water conditioner, from the same bottle that I used to do the other two Betta I have. Also, Elton’s Tank is absolutely identical down to the gravel brand with one of the other Betta fish I have. So the
    other tanks are completely clean and the fish are doing really well in them.

    I used the same amounts of conditioner and remedy in two of the tanks as well (one got a little tear on his tail when I netted him) and once again the other tank is clear.

    A little more information I’d like to add: I don’t have a gravel vacuum but I rinse the gravel every change in every tank with warmish water. Water changes are a big ordeal for me. I’m wondering if my thorough cleanings are the problem though. Am I disturbing the good bacteria by rinsing on every cleaning? I still don’t understand how the other two are fine but I thought I’d throw that out there.

    And for an update:
    So Tuesday I did a 50% change because I didn’t want to stress him out too badly with the constant water changing. Yesterday, I checked him in the morning and it was same old same old, stuff floating everywhere. By the evening I checked him out again and his tail had started rotting again! So by this time I’m really worried and I set up a small medicating tank. I gave him completely new gravel, followed the same water cleaning procedures
    and everything. Added the Bettafix and hoped for the best. He hates the tank and has been inclined to jump, but I have it covered. The amazing thing is the floating gunk is gone! There’s no sign of it and it already looks like his fins are healing! He’s still got his appetite and is active.

    I took some pictures of his fins just in case you can tell if the fin damage is rot or burn or something like that. Also, his “tank” is only a quarter
    of a gallon. How long should I leave him there before I try and introduce him back to his old home? Also, I’m wondering if I should replace the plants too or just give them another thorough cleaning?

    I really appreciate all of this! I’ll do anything to help Elton feel better.

  4. Christie says:

    Well, I’m glad to hear the gunk is gone. It sure was a strange thing. I looked at your new photos and agree that it does look like mild fin rot. Once a Betta gets fin rot, it’s not uncommon to have relapses. The new fin tissue is so fragile it often succumbs again. It may have been agitated by the whatever was floating in the water or from all the water changes. Of course, frequent water changes are good to keep toxins at bay but there can still be some stress involved with frequently being captured and exposed and reexposed to new water parameters. For example, the new water could have a slightly different pH or temperature and that can be adding to stress.

    Fin rot is a bacterial infection and Bettafix is more of an antiseptic then an antibiotic. It can can help heal wounds and torn fins but won’t necessarily kill the bacteria. If you find that it is helping, continue to use it. Fortunately, Elton’s fin rot is still pretty mild.

    Because your tank is so small and doesn’t have a filter running, cycling it by generating beneficial bacteria will be difficult at best. To answer your question, yes thorough cleaning and scrubbing of the gravel will disturb the good bacteria. These bacteria feed off ammonia, caused by fish waste. As ammonia builds, the bacteria will continue to multiply and consume the bacteria. These bacteria make their home primarily in the filter media (which you don’t have) and secondarily, in the gravel and on the decor (which you’re cleaning off). If you remove the ammonia with very large water changes the bacteria won’t have a food source and will die off. There are basically two options for betta tanks.

    1. Provide the necessities to cycle the tank (ammonia, filter, gravel, small 25% water changes). To do this you will also need to allow the ammonia to build, which is extremely dangerous to the fish. OR, you can keep the fish in another container and cycle the tank using the Fishless Cycling Method. Here’s how: The Fishless Cycling Method

    2. Or keep the Betta in a tank without a filter and do full 100% water changes before toxins build. Here’s more info on determining how long to go between water changes. Water Changes: Frequency

    As for when to put Elton back in his old tank. I would say if he’s no longer on any medication, go ahead and put him back. A separate hospital tank is really only necessary if he needs to be separated from tank mates to avoid spreading contagious diseases or is receiving medication that can harm the biological filtration.

    • Lisa says:

      I have had my Beta for 3 years now in a non filtered tank. I do water changes every week and all of a sudden the last three times I have this clear white floating slimy stuff.Two of the times I did a full tank change ,everything was fine , this last time the slime came back…….I have no idea what to do,,,,

  5. Anonymous says:

    Floating “gunk” in a bettas tank is often because the fish is over-producing his slime coat. This results in white coloured gunk on the top and in the water. If this is what is going on here, the only solution is a bigger tank.

  6. Anonymous says:

    i just got a beta last week…he doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite..eats only 2 pellets. Also, just noticed the same white stringy slime in his tank? What do i do?

  7. Christie says:

    There are virtually dozens of things that can stress aquarium fish but most are environmentally related. White floaty stuff free in the tank (as opposed to on the surface) may be a sign that your tank isn’t being filtered well enough. Was the tank cycled before adding the fish? When you have a few minutes, look over the Nippyfish.net main site to make sure that you are providing the basics your Betta needs for a smooth transition. It’s also quite possible that just isn’t used to his new environment yet. It often takes a betta 2 weeks or more to really start to feel comfortable in his new surroundings.

  8. Kuukikun says:

    I just got a betta a couple weeks ago, (his name is Arty) and his fins arent rotting as far as i know, but his fins are splitting. Any ideas to what it could be?

  9. Anonymous says:

    My new betta Tom has the same thing Elton had. I got him and Jason the same time, (4 days ago) they are both in their store containers, they're a gift. I've changed both of their water, (with conditioner) and Jason is fine. Tom is sluggish, hangs out at the bottom and has a tank full of white floaties. They seem to be coming from his gills. He's not eating and his fins are droopy, maybe even a little clumpy. I've changed his water 2x since this started, and the next morning it's just as cloudy. I tried Betta fix, it doesn't seem to help. He was so pretty, and hasn't even been gifted yet. (To my husband…) What else can I do?

  10. LiveToFly says:

    I've had a Betta named Skye for almost 3 years now without a problem. Just last week, I decided to buy another Betta (because I love them so much!) I brought my new Betta, Nimbus, home and put him in his tank. I've got the same thing going on with Nimbus's tank as you had with Elton's. That is essentially how I stumbled across your blog because I was googling the condition and trying to figure out what to do. I've never had a problem like this before (Skye has always been quite health…knock on wood!) and I'm not really sure how to treat it. Did you give Elton a filter? My other Betta is in a tank with a filter, but Nimbus is just in a gallon glass bowl (I tend to start them in the bowl until they get bigger and then I give them a larger tank) I've done 2 100% water changes since bringing him home but the next day the floaties always come back. My water is properly conditioned and at the proper temperature…I'm not sure what to do next!

  11. trainer81 says:

    I seem to have the same issue, white stuff floating around in Roxy's, tank. I use to have her in a half gallon and I noticed the same thing.

    Doing so I moved her into this new 3 gallon tank which she loves swimming around in. But here's the thing it's been 2 weeks I think the white stuff has returned!

    What I plan to do tomorrow is take a sample to my local Pet Smart and have it tested.

    I love her and the only issue we've had is ick until this problem came along. Poor thing just wants to play and wait for feeding time.

    Will let you all know,

    Jon

  12. Hi I noticed that my one gallon tank that hold my betta has white slimy stuff floating around with a lot of bubbles. Do I need to change his water ? I never noticed this before. Also, do I need a heater for his tank, I keep my apartment heated at 65 degrees.

  13. Wes says:

    Hi – I’ve got the same thing too. Can someone please tell us what’s going on with our tanks? Mine shows up after about 4-5 days after a full change and I have a 1 gallon tank.

  14. cazadora says:

    We are currently battling the same thing and have been for a few months. It also happened last year around the same time but didn’t last as long. It stopped as suddenly as it started with no change in cleaning procedures or anything else on our part. We wonder if it isn’t a seasonal change in the water supply?

  15. Amanda says:

    I had the same problem last night with my dogs water bowl which is strange I cleaned it well with boiling hot water and still within ten minutes those things were back on top some looked like worms and some had a oval shape does anyone know what this could be?

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