Dinoflagellates resemble bubbly snot more than the sticky cyanobacteria that are sometimes mistaken for them. They often decrease or vanish overnight and then return whenever the lights come on, based on the variety you have. They look bad, fight for spaces with corals, and are a certain indicator of instability in your tank.

When there are low nitrates and phosphates in the environment, dinoflagellates begin to spread. It replicates uncontrollably, suffocating the remaining residents in the tank as it goes. Dinos are feared by enthusiasts because, at times, they appear to be almost incurable.

Cleaning up dinos will take time, much as cleaning out cyanobacteria and algal blooms. To get rid of it, you’ll probably need to be persistent for many weeks or even months. I suggest you read this article to learn everything about the reasons behind dinoflagellates and how to get rid of them.

What Are Dinoflagellates?

In The Wildlife

Dinoflagellates are a kind of protist, a type of creature that can simultaneously perform the functions of both plants and animals. Some dinoflagellates get their energy from eating other protozoa, while others get it from photosynthesis. Some species can do both.

There are approximately 1,700 distinct varieties of saltwater dinoflagellates and 210 different forms of river dinoflagellates in their natural environments. They are an essential component of the marine food chain because they provide sustenance for different marine organisms. They are an essential component of the ecosystem in natural settings because of their role in maintaining balance.

In Your Reef Tank

Dinoflagellates may rapidly become a problem in the ecosystem of your reef tank. Dinoflagellates will swiftly take over the bottom of the tank if you do not provide a specialized ecology that supports their continued existence.

Dinoflagellates have the potential to produce up to a million new cells in only one ml of water in a very short amount of time. However, this capacity is highly dependent on environmental circumstances. The greater the population, the greater the risk that it may turn the water poisonous.

It may result in the death of various living forms that are contained inside your tank. Therefore, it is essential to exercise population control over dinoflagellates as soon as possible, preferably before they fill all available areas inside the tank.

How To Identify Dinoflagellates In Your Tank?

The most effective technique to solve your dino issue is to begin by identifying the species of Dino that has made its way into your tank. It has the appearance of brown snot that is defying gravity and has a gas bubble connected to the end of it.

If the snails or crabs begin to die in unexplained ways, you’ll eventually know that you have dinos. Dinos are feared in the hobby because they are harmful to invertebrates and may kill them.

The brown kind of dinoflagellate that is slimy and stringy and is called the Brown Slime Algae is the type of dinoflagellate that is seen in aquariums the most often (Dino). Most people that are into aquariums refer to it as “the brown threat.” However, not every one of them is brown. They are also available in the colors white, yellow, and several tones of green.

The utilization of a microscope is the only technique to identify dinoflagellates as being what they are. To speak in more precise terms, there are primarily four types of dinoflagellates that may be found in your reef tank:

  1. Ostreopsis
  2. Prorocentrum
  3. Amphidinium
  4. Coolia

You can identify whether you have dinos or algae by doing the following simple test:

  • Remove some water and debris from the tank using a scoop.
  • Put the murky water in a jar that is see-through and has a cover for it.
  • Give the container a good shake to dislodge all the loose particles that are floating in it.
  • A cotton swab or a filtering sock may be used to filter the water before it is transferred to a second transparent container.
  • Place the second filtered water jug in an area that gets plenty of sunlight.
  • Keep an eye on the water for any changes, particularly the recurrence of strands that resemble mucus.

After being filtered out for a while, dinoflagellates will come back together. The algae will continue to be kept apart. Therefore, you will know that you have Dino in your tank if you find strands of ooze.

What Causes Dinoflagellates In A Reef Tank?

When the levels of phosphates and nitrates in an environment fall to dangerously low levels, the population of helpful bacteria in the environment also falls to dangerously low levels. When this occurs, dinoflagellates begin to outcompete the beneficial bacteria for the little nutrients that are left. And they gradually take control of the situation.

Here are some reasons behind dino in your reef tank:

1. Too Much Filtration

We depend on physical filtration to eliminate particle matter so that we can maintain a clean environment for our tanks and ensure that the water is completely transparent.

The decomposition of even a modest quantity of organic material is necessary for the production of nitrates in the water column. This breakdown results in the formation of ammonia, which subsequently transforms into nitrite and finally into nitrate.

Furthermore, nitrate is of the utmost significance, not only for controlling dinoflagellate populations but also for developing and coloring coral reefs.

If the nitrate levels are showing zero, you may want to consider doing one of the following two things:

  • Reduce the frequency with which you replace the filter sock or sponge.
  • Reduce how often you use the protein skimmer. You might consider putting it on a timer and operating it for a total of 16 hours. The time should then be continually adjusted as required.

2. Lack Of Phosphate And Nitrate

If the anecdotal information is reliable, the absence of both nitrates and phosphates provides the ideal environment for dinoflagellate to take over. Here are some likely causes why nutrition levels might become so low:

  • Over filtering with filtering socks and proteins skimmers.
  • A large refuge containing macroalgae, which eat all the phosphates that is available.
  • Utilization of media reactors equipped with a general-purpose organic solvent.
  • A significant amount of biological filtration using a biopellet reactor.
  • Insufficient amount of food being provided.

3. Lack Of Beneficial Bacteria

This one is entirely anecdotal since we have no means of knowing the proportions of helpful bacteria in our bodies. Over the decades, enthusiasts have observed that when phosphate and nitrate levels are close to zero for protracted periods, dinoflagellate starts to emerge.

Food is necessary to grow good bacteria, which fuel the nitrogen cycle. Some of them eat garbage and decomposing fish food. Others eat nitrate, nitrogen, and ammonia. Therefore, when any of these are insufficient, the populations of helpful bacteria will decrease.

According to the notion, other kinds of bacteria or algae may begin to outcompete one another for the same nutrients if the proportion of helpful bacteria becomes too low. As a result, when food is scarce, dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria could well be superior scavengers. They may even take control of a tank as their numbers increase.

4. Too Much Light

Approximately 2,000 estimated dinoflagellate species of dinos found in reef and saltwater tanks are photosynthetic. Some species we encounter are so photosynthetic that your aquarium will seem free of dinoflagellates in the morning but will be filled by evening.

However, an epidemic of dinoflagellates is not caused by an excess of light alone. When I have excessive par over an extended length of time, green-hair algae and lawn algae breakouts occur. But as dinoflagellates begin their steady ascent in the aquarium, light plays an important role.

If you have any kind of algae issue, you should always perform these three things:

  • Decrease the photoperiod altogether. Reduce daily working hours from 10 to 6.
  • Whenever possible, switch off the red and green Led bulbs.
  • Whenever feasible, decrease the intensity of light by 50%.
  • Lowering the intensity and duration of the lights will not end the dino infestation. But it can help you get control of the situation.

5. Not Enough Feeding

The majority of us overfeed our fish tanks. This may result in particularly high levels of phosphates, which can drive the development of algae that is irritating. However, some people are so worried about unsightly algae that they fail to adequately feed our fish.

Phosphates will grow more quickly than nitrates if you increase the amount of food you give the fish. But that is not an ideal situation. Here is what you can do in such a scenario:

  • Increase the number of frozen meals you provide them since they have a lower nutritional density.
  • To aid with phosphate removal, you may want to consider establishing a refugium for macroalgae.
  • You might simply stop worrying about it and accept the fact that the phosphate level will be somewhat higher.

So, if the nitrate and phosphate levels are really low, the first thing you should do is raise the quantity and frequency of daily feedings.

How Do I Get Rid Of Dinoflagellates?

Dinos are not always a negative thing. They are an element of the environment if there isn’t a lot of them. However, they will make themselves known if we offer a very low nutrition tank with minimal biodiversity. The best technique to deal with them depends on how serious your situation is.

Dinos are a difficult pest to manage in the tank. Because they’re a part of the ecology, you will not be able to eliminate them. But you can maintain them in the aquarium by using a multi-pronged strategy.

1. Manual Removal

The very first thing is to get rid of it manually. Others may believe that they must take all the water and replace it, but this is incorrect. Replacing the water in the aquarium can exacerbate the process of eliminating dinos. Dinos flourish in nutrient-free tanks, and purifying water will remove nutrients, allowing dinos to thrive even more.

It is preferable to physically remove the dinos using a filter sock rather than altering the water. To achieve this, you’ll need an extremely tiny filter sock. A filtration sock with a 10-micron mesh is thin enough to trap dinos in your aquatic environment.

2. Increasing Nitrates and Phosphates

You may also remove dinos from the tank by raising the number of nutrients that are present there. You ought to raise the levels of nitrates and phosphates until they may be seen.

3. Get Rid Of Nutrient Reducing Media

It is also necessary for you to eliminate nutrient-reducing mediums such as GFO. Since GFO is present, dino outbreaks are not uncommon in many aquariums. This is because many tanks contain GFO.

When you remove GFOs from your tank, it will be much simpler for you to raise the nutrient level there and keep it at that level over the long term. Stop doing anything that takes away nutrients.

4. Keep Your Invertebrates And Fish Safe

When working with dinos, keeping carbon in the aquarium can help neutralize the poisons that dinos emit when they pass away. Your dish will be safe from harm if you do this.

5. Adjust pH

Change the pH of the aquarium as needed. To prevent dino blooms in your reef tank, a pH level of 8.5 is an ideal threshold to maintain. You may experiment with the pH over time to decide what setting is most suitable for your aquarium.

6. Control The Lighting

Because the majority of dinos get their nutrition from photosynthesis, we need to pay attention to how the lighting is arranged in the tank. If the lights go out, so do the dinos. You may wrap the tank in a dark drape or cover the top of the aquarium with cardboard that has been sealed with duct tape. 

The blackouts should persist for a minimum of three days. The use of blackouts won’t lead to the complete elimination of dinos. Rather, it will diminish their numbers to the level where you may begin using other strategies.

7. Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide should be added to your reef tank at very low concentrations. The standard recommendation is 1 milliliter for every 10 liters of water. The typical concentration of hydrogen peroxide, 3%, is utilized.

8. Use A UV Sterilizer

Invest in a UV Sterilizer of sufficient size and level of quality, and make sure it stays on around the clock. The UV sanitizer’s maximum efficiency will occur during the blackout. When it comes to treating with Ostreopsis, this strategy is the most effective.

What Should You Avoid Doing To Remove Dinoflagellates?

There are certain steps people believe can stop dinos from growing which don’t work in real life. Rather, these steps help dinos to spread more easily. Some of these are explained below:

1. Water Replacement

Dinoflagellates are like fluctuations in the water. The essential micronutrients that dinoflagellates require to grow are added by water changes, including iron, chlorine, and silicon. Thus, when the dinoflagellates have vanished from view, we must refrain from adding even the smallest amount of additional freshwater to the tank for a minimum of one month.

2. Usage Of Carbon Sources

When carbon sources are added to a reef tank that already contains dinoflagellates, the result can be hazardous. Within hours, the dinoflagellates will undoubtedly spread. The use of denitrifying bacteria isn’t prohibited. Although, in most situations, it is irrelevant.

3. Use Of Phosphate Absorbing Resins

In most circumstances, the use of ion-exchange resins causes a dinoflagellate invasion. Inorganic phosphate, which is necessary for the survival of microscopic microbes like chordates, heterotrophic dinos, parasites, and copepods, is rapidly released when we utilize these items. Numerous of these creatures pass away unexpectedly, making room for dinoflagellates.

Given this, high phosphorus aquariums with unchecked densities of dinos are becoming more and more common. This is arguably the worst-case scenario since it is frequently very difficult to restore the tank to a state of biological balance rather than just being unsightly and unpleasant.

4. Add Trace Elements

Avoiding any by-products, including iron, chlorine, silicon, or potassium, is of the utmost importance. In particular, potassium iodide is frequently utilized in SPS tanks.

5. Slime Blowing

Dinoflagellates secrete a sticky mucus that allows them to adhere to any substrate. It is simple and enticing to employ a pump to eliminate this slime from the rocks and sand in a reef tank.

Dinoflagellates are going to start colonizing new parts of the tank as a direct result of our actions, which will exacerbate the situation. Corals are also impacted, and we’ll soon observe strings of dinoflagellates adhering to the tips of their skeletons, particularly in regions with more water flow.

6. Using Oxidizing Agents

Unless we’re seeking to remove any prosaic dinoflagellate, we should avoid using an ozone generator, hydrogen peroxide, or any retail product without thoroughly testing with the dinoflagellates we wish to remove.

Most commercial treatments are useless against ostreopsis and may cause more harm by inhibiting the distribution of helpful microbes. It can also weaken corals and other creatures.

7. Swapping Fish

It makes sense that if the reef tank has an infection from dinoflagellates, we shouldn’t exchange even a single fish. If it’s a type of dino that can make pellicles, like ostreopsis, it’s best to wait at least 3 months before swapping any animals from the tank.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will dinoflagellates go away on their own?

Getting rid of dinos won’t be an easy operation. It is similar to controlling outbreaks of cyanobacteria and algae, which would normally take some time. A consistent effort over many weeks or even months is mandatory to eradicate it

What temperature causes dinoflagellates to die?

If you increase the temperature to 82 degrees Fahrenheit for one week, all the dinoflagellates in the tank will perish. The temperature change will have no impact on the tank itself. However, you need to use extreme caution around the other inhabitants of your tank. You must make sure that your fish and corals are fine with it. 

Do snails eat dinoflagellates?

Get some Conch Snails, Round Turbo Snails, and Nassarius Snails if the dino is already in the sand bed so that you may keep flipping it over. The Spiny Astraea Snail is, without a doubt, the most effective Dino-Eater you can ever find.

How do you tell if you have dinoflagellates?

Disturbing dinoflagellates is the method that provides the clearest distinction between different types of organisms. Dinoflagellates may be identified by their clumping behavior. They are most likely diatoms if they scatter like sand.

What do dinoflagellates feed on?

Dinoflagellates that do not produce their photosynthesis consume diatoms and other protists as food. They can also consume other dinoflagellate species. The Noctiluca genus is big enough to consume fish eggs and can eat protists bigger than its size.

How long can dinoflagellates last?

When the circumstances of their habitat become too harsh, dinoflagellates can develop resilient small cysts that may remain as fossils in the sand for as long as 100 years. Dinoflagellates have the potential to come back to life after environmental circumstances have improved.

Final Say

Dinoflagellates could appear in your aquarium if the phosphate and nitrate levels in the reef tank have both reached zero. Depending on the variety, they can cover the rocks, the sand bed, wavemakers, and any other area where they can find the light.

You can slow the spread of dinos by increasing the levels of phosphate and nitrate in the environment. Complete blackout might sometimes be of benefit in certain situations. You may also restrict their spreading by using correct filtering socks, an ultraviolet sterilizer, and maintaining an appropriate pH level.

However, as dinos are an integral component of the ecosystem, you won’t be able to eradicate them entirely. But it would be best if you used a multifaceted strategy to prevent them from appearing in your aquarium.

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