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Old 08-26-2009, 02:34 AM   #1
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Exclamation Just got started and have an issue with a choco chip star


What a terrific resource, I stumbled on it a couple hours ago and haven't stopped reading since! On to my issues:

I had a 30 gallon FOWLR for a couple years after college and had to give it up when I moved. I've wanted to get back into salt water ever since, and my wife got me a tiny little 5 gal hex set up for my birthday recently. Now, I understand that 5 gals is tiny, and I think I've done OK limiting myself. Here's what I've got:
10 lbs live sand
7 lbs live rock
3 red hermit crabs
1 chocolate chip star
1 red and white goby
will be adding a pistol shrimp to hang out with the goby soon.

I set up the sand a rock and cycled everything, my tests from this morning showed:
temp: 78
pH: 8.2
Ammonia .5 ppm
NO2: 0
NO3:15 ppm
SG: 1.02ish (I had to make my own hydrometer, so I can't claim scientific precision, but it didn't look out of the normal range)

I confess, the tank I used to have I inherited from a guy who set it up and never looked at it again, but it kept his percula clowns alive for 18 months before I got it, so I would call it established. He never tested it, and I was almost as bad, relying just on it's biological filtering (had lots of rock and sand) to get the job done and keep everything copasetic. As a result I don't have much experience testing water and understanding the results. Frankly, it seems odd to me that I have a nitrite level of zero and a nitrate level of 15, but that's not what I'm supposed to be posting about.

With all my tests in the green, I figured today was the big day and I headed down to my LFS (I've been reading the forums long enough to know a couple acronyms ) and picked up the crabs, goby and star. I used the measuring cup method to acclimate them. The crabs are happy as clams, the goby is a little freaked out and is hiding in the LR, which seems fine, but the star is having some issues.

Initially it looked fine, but after a couple hours it headed up to the top of the tank, curled its legs toward its back, and started to produce what looks like stringy mucus from the tips of its arms. I am concerned that it is a goner, and need some advice.


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Old 08-26-2009, 02:49 AM   #2
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don't know about the star, but how old is this tank?
5 gal is really small, and really hard to keep, u must be good haha

Thanks to AMD, HN1, Zero, partypalooza, thincat, and thominil who helped me in almost every questions. Thanks everyone!!!!!
46gal Reef
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Old 08-26-2009, 03:33 AM   #3
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Thats tiny man. Good luck with the star sorry I don't know anything. I heard once though that if you have your Star out of water it can seriously hurt it. Did you pick it up out of water?
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Old 08-26-2009, 07:18 AM   #4
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Give it some time as it is stressed. If you begin to see tissue falling apart (usually legs), like cheesy grating, then many times the stars won't make it. I recommend long acclimation periods with sea stars using the drip method of at least 4hrs.
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Old 08-26-2009, 11:16 AM   #5
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One thing that has kept me from getting a star fish is they do best in well established tanks mine are about 2 months old now so I have a ways to go before I feel comfortable putting one in, if I can find one I like that is reef safe.
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Old 08-26-2009, 11:29 AM   #6
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The problem with tiny tanks is that the smallest fluctuation is magnified. Any slight anything in the water will seem twice as harsh. I'd say let him acclimate more unless you see any major issues.
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Old 08-26-2009, 01:35 PM   #7
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Thanks for all the helpful posts!

Things are looking much better this morning. The star is moving around happily, and there are no more signs (that I can see) of stress.

I was expecting such a small tank to be a bit of a challenge; we'll see how I do.

I will keep an eye out for any further issues with the star, but things look good, thanks again!
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Old 08-26-2009, 02:37 PM   #8
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Homemade hydometer? You also have an ammonia reading which tells me that your cycle is not quite done yet.
How long have you been cycling this tank?
5g is a challenge, Watch out for the evaporation and add only fresh R?O water for the makeup.
Good luck and keep us posted.
Happy Reefing,
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Old 08-26-2009, 02:53 PM   #9
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Welcome to AA!

I'm glad to hear that the star is doing okay. As thincat said, I am concerned that even though you claim the tank is established it actually isn't. Any presence of ammonia is bad news. Meaning there's not enough beneficial bacteria to break it down into nitrite and then from there nitrates. How about finding a friend of LFS to keep the star while the tank gets stabilized? IME inverts are much more fragile than fish and will not tolerate any presence of ammonia/nitrite. You can pick up a cheap hydrometer at a LFS for around $8-$20. Your starfish won't appreciate any fluctuation with salinity or pH, so try to keep those parameters as consistent as possible.

5 gallons seems a little to provide a starfish with enough grazing room. You may need to supplement it's diet with meaty foods.

Keep us posted and let's see some pics We all like pictures...

Good luck and have fun!
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Old 08-27-2009, 02:11 AM   #10
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Update 2

Well, it has been another day, and so far everyone seems to be doing fine. The hermits are having a great time foraging for goodies (they eat what again?) on the LR, the star spent most of the day in the back looking a bit uncomfortable, but is moving around the tank again and isn't showing any physical (non-behavioral) signs of wear or tear, and honestly, I'm no expert on sea star behavior. The goby stayed hidden as well, not coming out to eat, but there's a pretty strong current in there to ferry the brine shirmp to him, and he has a terrific hiding place in the base of some of the LR which makes him hard to keep an eye on.

I just ran the water tests again after 36 hours with critters in the tank, and here are the new results:
pH: 8.2
Ammonia: .25ppm
NO2: 0
NO3: 20ppm

And here are some pics:
Picasa Web Albums -
The big picture

Picasa Web Albums -
Up close and personal

Finally, I realize that a homemade hydrometer may sound nuts, but it's a pretty simple tool that I calibrated at the LFS. It can't tell me what the SG is, but it can tell me if it is the same as the LFS. If it's off at all then I take some water in and let them check it out. So far, no problems salinity-wise (a whole 2 days, I know, pretty impressive). A long term solution it is not, but it was a fun little science experiment that I pulled together from stuff lying around my kitchen.

I guess I have one last thing to ask. How do I know if everyone is getting enough food? I feel like I can just watch the hermits, they seem to spend most of their time scavenging. And I am assuming that it will become easier to tell if the goby is eating once he is feeling more at home. The sea star? That's where I don't have a reference point. Also, I have at least 3" of sand in there, what can I do to help keep wee beasties that live in it happy?

Thanks again for all the great tips!

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