Black Beard Algae: Prevent and Destroy BBA in Aquariums


Black Beard Algae

The black beard algae (BBA) are also known by the name of “brush algae”. The name comes about due to its soft, slippery and furry nature. BBA belongs to the red algae family in the plant kingdom. When in its natural habitat, BBA appears as dense patches. In the aquarium, the BBA thrives mostly on tank plants and surfaces.

How can you describe it? The BBA is blackish-green in color compared to other red algae family members. You can always find it clinging on hard surfaces in the aquarium or growing on plants. Due to this stubborn behavior, it becomes extremely difficult to get rid of BBA by hand.

The algae are not harmful as such because some fish feed on it. The most common tank fish that consume different types of algae (including BBA) is the Florida Flag Fish and Siamese Algae Eater.

How do You Identify Black Beard Algae?

From its name, you can guess how black beard algae looks. It appears more or less the same as black stubble. If not controlled in time, BBA can develop into a very long flowing black beard. Sometimes it is referred to as black brush algae because of how it grows in the aquarium environment.

When you look at an image of the black beard algae at the onset of its growth, it looks much the same as tiny spots of stubble. Perhaps that explains how this type of algae got its common name. Every picture you will come across of the BBA will give you an impression of growing stubble. But in this case, the “stubble” seem to be growing on the surfaces of leaves or branches in the aquarium.

As time goes by, you will see a tremendous change in the manner with which the BBA grows. In a matter of days, it will turn from tiny spots of what looks like fuzzy stubble to flowing manes of dark hair. If you are not careful, you may mistake it for some hair in your fish tank.

Black beard algae grow on the edges of aquarium plant leaves where they can be seen in small spots. When not checked at the right time, they may spread to cover the entire leaf surface.

The sight of the BBA in the aquarium is not something to behold. In fact, you should never leave these algae to spread and cover all the surfaces within the aquarium. That type of negligence can cost you a fortune by the time you realize that your fish tank needs to get cleaned up.

More often than not, aquarium hobbyists or other people confuse the black beard algae with staghorn algae. The two are completely different even though they are both different forms of algae.

Drawing a clear line between the two is very important especially when it comes to controlling them. You can easily identify staghorn algae by looking at its branching and wiry strands. BBA, on the other hand, is identified from its single silky and smooth strands that flow like human hair. Although the two types of algae look so similar in appearance,  they have different structures.

Main Cause of Black Beard Algae

This is the question that is always asked by most aquarists. So, what causes the BBA? Black beard algae find its way into the aquarium from the contamination of decor items, substrates or plants introduced into your aquarium. At the same time, the conditions in the aquarium can make the black beard algae to grow rapidly and cover every section. This happens especially in those fish tanks that have reduced levels of carbon dioxide but have plenty of light. These two conditions are favorable for the growth and spread of BBA within the aquarium.

This form of algae can quickly take over every surface it can easily hold on if left unchecked. Take note that BBA thrives well in most of the unattended tanks at home or in the office. If you are the lazy type among aquarium hobbyists, it’s time you scheduled a routine checkup for your aquarium to ensure that it is free of BBA among other forms of algae.

As an aquarium keeper, you should make sure that there’s some balance in your fish tank all the time. Check the light, nutrients, temperature, pH, water quality as well as carbon dioxide levels. Also, ensure that you maintain regular water changes to keep the conditions in your aquarium favorable for your fish and unfavorable for BBA or other types of algae.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Black Beard Algae

Carbon dioxide is one of the factors that determine the survival of BBA in the aquarium.  Unstable levels of carbon dioxide in the tank are responsible for the growth and rapid spread of black beard algae. How do different levels of carbon dioxide contribute to the growth of algae in the aquarium?

Inadequate water circulation in the tank leads to a reduced amount of carbon dioxide in the tank. With insufficient or fluctuating levels of CO2 in the tank, BBA will find it easy to grow and spread if not controlled early enough.

Addition of sufficient carbon dioxide to the aquarium should be the first step to take if you truly want to control the growth and spread of BBA. Let this be your primary concern so your aquarium may remain free of all harmful algae.

If you are using injected carbon dioxide, your canister is likely getting depleted faster than it is supposed to be or you are injecting a low quantity of carbon dioxide. Whichever the case, you should ensure that the supply of carbon dioxide to your aquarium is in the right quantity to prevent the growth BBA or types of algae.

But if you are not accessible to the carbon dioxide injection then you need to think out of the box and find other appropriate ways of adding carbon dioxide to your tank. Regular changes in water can greatly impact your carbon dioxide levels and check on the growth of BBA.

The effects of BBA can become even more pronounced with the presence of live plants in your tank. It is advisable, however, to add liquid carbon to your aquarium in order to help raise carbon dioxide levels. A good example of liquid carbon that you may use is Seachem Flourish Excel. So far, this is the best source of liquid carbon you can rely on.

Seachem Flourish Excel is an example of liquid carbon that you can easily add to any aquarium to increase carbon levels. Even if it may not raise carbon levels to the required measurable amounts, you can rest assured that it will work against black beard algae. As a matter of fact, this is a perfect remedy for BBA in your tank.

Too Much Light is a Bad Idea

Nearly everything that dwells in your aquarium needs the light to survive. And one of those that cannot do without enough light is the algae. Keep in mind that the black beard algae are part and parcel of those living things that easily establish themselves in the aquarium. Therefore, the more light you supply to your fish tank, the faster the BBA spreads. This is should serve as a warning, especially when trying to eliminate the menace brought about the presence of algae in your aquarium. Plenty of light is not a good idea and it may make your work harder when it comes to eliminating BBA from the tank.

It is even worse where live pants are included in the aquarium. Since these plants add some ‘life’ to the aquarium, they can also provide an ideal platform for the growth and spread of algae. These plants require a lot of light to grow well and this can help the BBA to bloom as well.

Another way that you can make light available to the algae is by leaving the lights on in the aquarium for a very long time. For instance, if you leave the lights on from morning to evening, then you are giving the algae a green light to colonize your tank.

But you can change all that by simply taking into consideration a few steps that will cut back the time your tank is supplied with the light. Also, you can choose to leave the light off for a considerable amount of time as a way of stopping the spread of black beard algae.

A better way of controlling the amount of light in your aquarium is by use of an automatic timer. This device is important in regulating the time the light is on, especially for your fish tank. Even though you may opt to control the lights manually, you will likely make several mistakes here and there, unlike when using an automatic timer.

Can BBA Harm Your Fish?

Much to your surprise, black beard algae cannot harm your fish, snails or shrimp while in the aquarium. But why should you eliminate it?

Even though it is not harmful to fish, black beard algae can become unsightly especially when in the tank. This is because it appears as a black substance clinging on surfaces and plants making your aquarium look less appealing.

The stubborn nature of these algae spreading all over the tank is yet another reason why it should be eliminated before it changes the entire outlook of your aquarium. BBA tends to spread rapidly if the condition favors its growth.  And before you even know it you can wake up to find your aquarium looking different much to your displeasure.

When black beard algae spread in your aquarium, it can lead to the imbalance in nutrients and a change in the tank conditions. Also, this spreading can lead to the creation of an unsafe environment for the survival of your fish. If drastic measures are not taken in time, the affected tank can become very hard to maintain. This could lead to high levels of harmful substances or chemicals in the tank. In one way or another, your fish will get caught up in the menace brought about by the rapid spread of BBA in the aquarium.

Can BBA Harm Aquarium Plants?

The answer to this question is yes. The presence and widespread black beard algae in the tank can be detrimental to the survival of live plants in that environment.

However, the BBA will not eliminate the aquarium live plants directly as you may have expected. Also, these algae will not release some toxic substances that will leach all nutrients from the plant as a way of killing them. Instead, the BBA is known to be a slow smothering. Sooner or later, it will offset the balance in the aquarium and the plants will get affected the most.

A spot of BBA in the tank cannot pose any threat to the aquarium plants but when it covers the entire area that is where the problems start. The algae can spread and cover the whole plants, causing then not to photosynthesize or respire normally. If your plants cannot carry out these two important biological processes, then their chances of surviving will become slim. Apart from that, your aquarium live plants will find themselves competing for the same nutrients with the black beard algae and that is something else. If no solution is found in time, then they may end up dying out.

How to Eliminate BBA in Your Aquarium?


Eliminate BBA in Your Aquarium

As mentioned earlier, it is extremely difficult to remove black beard algae from the tank by hand. But the good news is, you can do it using a number of effective methods believed to eradicate BBA.  Here are a few ways you can get rid of BBA from your aquarium:

Use of Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) Bath

You can get hydrogen peroxide (3%) from the local stores near you and use it to remove BBA from your tank. What you will need to do is to soak any affected decor or aquarium plants suspected of having the algae for about 3 minutes in undiluted 3% H2O2. Once the affected plants or decor have been soaked enough, remove them from the hydrogen peroxide and rinse them thoroughly using fresh water. This procedure is simple and should not take much of your time to perform it.

Treat the Tank with H2O2

Treating the whole tank using hydrogen peroxide becomes practical where you are not able to remove every affected item in the tank for treatment. The method will not affect your fish in any way and within two weeks, you will have annihilated all BBA from the tank.

What you need to do is to take about 10mls of 3% H2O2 per 15-gallons of tank water or 20 mls for a 30-gallon tank for better results. Add the right amount of H2O2 directly to the aquarium. Repeat the same process once a day for 3 days and wait for the outcome.

In a few days, you will start seeing BBA changing color or fading. After one month you should expect to see no traces of black beard algae in your aquarium. Another notable change that you should expect is seeing your plants fading slightly for a while and then getting back to normal.

The rest of the aquarium living creatures will not be affected in any way and you will be amazed to find them completely unscathed. But if you are somehow worried about their well-being, then it is important to transfer them to another tank while treating their original tank.

Regulating the Amount of Phosphate (PO4) in Your Tank

Decaying substances could be a rich source of phosphate known to contribute to the spread of BBA in your aquarium. Most of these substances come from plants, fish waste and other organic waste available in the tank. Another source could the leftovers after feeding your fish with too much food. These leftovers decay and produce phosphate that helps algae to develop.

However, you can change all that by maintaining your tank in the following ways:

  • Remove all dead plant materials from the tank
  • Dispose of the dead fish, shrimp or snails as soon as possible
  • Stop overfeeding your fish
  • Change tank water regularly

Use of a well-functioning and quality aquarium filter can help in controlling the phosphate levels within your aquarium. That is why you need to ensure that your filter has enough water flow in relation to the size of your fish tank.

Introduce BBA Eaters to the Tank

Numerous species of fish, snails, and shrimps can feed on algae when introduced to the tank. These tank creatures can help in reducing the number of algae even though they may not be as effective as other methods. You may introduce the following to help eliminate black beard algae from spreading all over the tank:

  • Siamese Algae Eaters
  • Florida Flag Fish
  • Amano Shrimp
  • Ramshorn Snails
  • Cherry Shrimp

Bear in mind that these algae eaters will only turn to BBA if there’s nothing for them to feed on. Otherwise, they are somehow helpful when it comes to controlling algae in the tank.

Boost Carbon Dioxide Levels in the Tank

Even though CO2 doesn’t kill algae directly, it can help control it indirectly. CO2 promotes the growth of plants which eventually reduce some nutrients that make algae to thrive in the tank.

The addition of live plants in the tank is important in boosting CO2 levels. You may as well increase levels of carbon dioxide in the tank through the following ways:

  • Carbon dioxide injection
  • Seachem Flourish Excel or Liquid Carbon

Heat Treatment on BBA

Using heat to eliminate black beard algae is one of the best methods that does involve chemicals. This method allows you to boil all algae infected artificial plants or ornaments in the aquarium. Sadly, you cannot apply it to live plants unless you want to destroy them as well.

Take out all the items covered in algae and then add them to a container. Pour some amount of boiling water over the affected items and let them cool off. Likewise, you may boil everything in the container for about 10 minutes to kill all BBA.

How Do You Prevent Black Beard Algae?

It is very important for you to take preventive measures in advance in order to prevent growth and spread of algae. This is better than controlling them whereby there are chances of recurring long after eliminating them. Below are a few steps that will help you prevent an outbreak of algae in your tank:

Make sure that the new fish is quarantine and the water they came from is not mixed with your tank water. This way, you will be preventing the spread of diseases and parasites and reducing chances of black beard algae from infesting your tank.

Ensure that every new plant is cleaned thoroughly using H2O2 bath. This means that before you add a new plant to your aquarium, you should first clean it with hydrogen peroxide to prevent algae and a host of other parasites or diseases from getting into the aquarium.

You are hereby advised to use plants and fish obtained from reputable stores. Such stores have protocols and well-established methods designed to prevent the transfer of diseases or parasites to their customers’ aquaria.

Do not pick plants or animals from the wild and bring them to your tank. This would be ecologically harmful as well as not knowing what might be lurking on them.

Take full control of your light levels by not allowing them to stay on for a long time. Plenty of light can guarantee the growth and spread of black beard algae.

Add some live plants to your aquarium to compete for nutrients with the black beard algae. This competition can ensure that BBA does not get enough nutrients to grow and eventually they may end up dying off.

Perform routine water changes. This is done on 10 to 30 % of tank water for every one to two weeks. Water changes prevent the growth and development of black beard algae by increasing levels of carbon dioxide.

Install a powerful filter to your tank. A good filter will ensure that there is sufficient flow of water in the tank while helping regulate the amount of phosphate.

Ensure that the aquarium has enough carbon dioxide. You may use Seachem Excel to fight BBA and you can even use it to prevent any type of algae from infesting your aquarium

Final Thought

Black beard algae can wreak havoc on your tank if you don’t take precautions in time. With the right preventive measures, you can eliminate them, leaving your aquarium as good as it was before.

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