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The Reef-Face Team


Another Ich Article- A Survival Guide

One of the most common diseases in the home aquaria is "white spot", this is true for both fresh and salt water.

White Spot is caused by a parasite called Cryptocaryon irritans (for Marine white spot) and Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (for Freshwater White Spot).
The parasite is a type of protozoa which lives between the skin cells and those cells in the gills during one stage of its life cycle. Understanding this life cycle can help us understand why certain fish seem more likely to be affected by Ich and how it is treated.

Ich Life Cycle

For both the fresh and saltwater forms there is the same basic 3 stages of life.

1. The Parasitic stage- (trophont)- The parasite is embedded into the skin or gills feeding on tissue debris and body fluids.

2. The Reproductive stage- (tomont)- the now mature parasite leaves the fishes skin and gills and lands on the substrate. Here the parasite encrusts and becomes a cyst, the parasite reproduces asexually.

3. The Infective stage- (tomites)- when large amounts of offspring have been produced, the cyst breaks open, dispersing the large amounts of parasite into the water column. These parasites need to find a host as soon as possible.

The time span in which this happens over varies considerably between the 2 species and the environment they are in. This is where aquarists use nature to their advantage in order to get rid of the parasite.


The symptoms of Ich are the same or similar between freshwater and saltwater ich. If your fish was healthy and fat prior to the outbreak it has a high chance of survival if you act fast after seeing one of the symptoms. Just keeping the fish eating during the symptoms can up the chances of survival substantially.

Common symptoms:
• White Nodules that look like grains of sugar or sand on the skin
• Irritated gills
• Laboured Breathing 
• Lack of appetite

In later stages:
• Clouded eyes

It is important to note that the ich parasite tends to be more present in late afternoon to evening as there are suggestions that it is mildly photosynthetic.


Whilst researching the various methods of treatment for this article, I have come across an important fact; most of the treatments are to one of 2 things. They either build up fish immunity to prevent re-infection or to change the environment to prevent re-infection.

List of some treatments: All are tried at hobbyist's risk. Many hobbyists have their own opinions on various methods. The following are based on research and personal experience of myself and Luke. Fortunately, during our time at university Ich was something we were able to research extensively for an assignment.

- Hypo-salinity/Hyper-salinity (depending on whether Fresh or Saltwater Species)- Many fish cannot tolerate the change and should be done very slowly if attempted. It is important that the fish is watched for signs of stress. This is often done at wholesalers and importers. From personal experience, many marine fish are transported in hypo-salinity, some species such as blue stripe pipefish purchased directly from wholesalers maybe in a salinity of 1.017, this is apparently to reduce stress to the fish and help prevent ich. This method stresses the parasite to death when in the tomont and tomite stages. As for time scales of this, it varies massively dependant on the source of information that you use. Most suggest 2-4weeks after observing no spots on the fish. It is important to note that this treatment should only be done in a quarantine tank which has dimmed lighting, no substrate and something like drainpipe for cover. There is also evidence that a dip of fresh RO/DI water for marine ich or saltwater for Freshwater ich can work, although tolerances for this depend on species. 

- Increased Temperature- There is some schools of thought that increasing the temperature will make the lifecycle of the parasite burn out as it decreases the time for each stage. There seems little evidence to support this, although it is known that the cycle is quicker in warmer waters.

- Copper Based Medications- All forms of ich can be treated with copper based medications. This should be done in a quarantine tank that is dedicated for the treatment of Ich. The treatment of copper kills the tomont and tomite stages of the ich parasite. In the case of marine ich, the tank cannot be used for coral or marine inverts as copper traces will become present in the tanks silicon, this can be seen by a blue discolouration of the silicon. There is evidence that copper based treatments can reduce the fish’s immunity, and tends to be a “last chance saloon” for the fish. There are many treatments available on the market, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

- Garlic Based Foods- There is some evidence that Garlic can help with immunity of the fish. There are loads of foods on the market that contain garlic oil as enrichment. It can also be purchased in oil form. It is known that garlic can stimulate appetite and this is how many believe how garlic helps with the treatment of ich, as the fish eats it becomes healthier and can battle the parasite by natural means. This tends to be the secretion of mucus that prevents the irritation and prevents re-infection of the parasite into the skin. Garlic is often added to frozen foods for the training of mandarins to try and persuade them to feed.

- Other “natural” methods- Ich outbreaks have been seen in the wild, and as nature is this amazing force, often only the sick and weak will become prey to the parasite. In the marine environment there are a few invertebrates and fish that are known as “cleaners” which will feed on the various parasites. In particular the cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) and the cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus), can be used to help and possibly cure (in mild cases) ich. However, the purchase of a cleaner wrasse for ich treatment is unadvisable as the cleaner wrasse is also susceptible to ich and therefore might become infected itself. A cleaner shrimp however cannot contract ich and therefore a good place to start in treating mild ich cases. In one case a tang was showing signs of ich, 2 cleaner shrimp were added to the aquarium and within 5 minutes of them being added, the tang went to be cleaned having probably having never seen a cleaner shrimp in its life.

- The “Tank Moving Method”- This is a method I stumbled upon during my research into treatments and seems to be so simple, but should be effective if carried out clinically. This method involves regular water changes and 2 quarantine tanks. The method involves swapping the fish to a new tank every water change. When the tank becomes “empty” it is thoroughly cleaned and dried to remove any trace of the parasite in the tank. It removes the tomont and tomites from the water and is putting the fish into a “clean” tank of the parasite. It is labour intensive, but should prevent the life cycle continuing and no parasites re-infecting the fish in question.

I hope this gives you all the help you need in surviving Ich in your aquarium, and I think I have covered all the basic areas that will help you get a better understanding of those white blobs on your fish that can be fatal.


-“Fallow” tank method- this method is now often quoted in the treatment of ich in the long term. Although this method is logical in the sense that no fish = no ich assuming the life cycle of the parasite burns though, however it is not known how long the parasites can survive in cyst form therefore timescale is difficult to determine. Another critical part of this method is the infected fish during this fallow period. 1 QT set up is not enough to break the cycle hence method above. There is also evidence that although “spots” may not be present on the surface of the skin, the parasite could be in the fish gills or in the water/ on the substrate.


++ From this research, it is also important to remember that ANY water from an external source could contain the parasite, and this includes any within corals and invertebrates such as anemones, zoa and LPS and every addition could therefore carry a risk. Maintaining good husbandry including QT of all new additions (including coral and other inverts) could reduce this risk. Secondary to this, ther sessile form of ich could also be present of substrate of infected tanks and care should be taken to avoid the introduction of substrates of infected tanks where possible.++


As careful as we are in the aquarium setting, it is not always possible to prevent ich entering our systems, however it is important to remember some of these points when designing the aquarium system, a space for suitable QT or even just a spare tank and equipment to allow for cases can really aid in the battle of this disease.

A. Colorni (1985) Aspects of the biology of Cryptocaryon irritans, and hyposalinity as a control measure in cultured gilt-head sea bream Sparus aurata, Diseases of Aquatic Organisms Vol.1 pages 19-22

Pro, S (2008) Marine Ich/ Cryptocaryon irritans- A discussion of this parasite and the treatment options available Part 1 and 2 http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2003-1...ture/index.php


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Here is a temporary UV technique for ich:

This technique is simple: Keep a strong UV (such as 57 watts or more) and water pump in storage, and when you encounter ich then put the UV and water pump in a for a few weeks. When ich is gone, remove the UV and store it again. Has worked for me 5 times in a row, if I start using it as soon as any ich is seen.

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I run a uv constantly after an ich outbreak and haven’t had a problem since.

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UV will not cure the infection whilst in the body of the fish, what it does it kills the parasite as it is dropped into the water column

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It does as you say kill the parasite in the water column. I lost a few fish in my outbreak but the fish that survived this episode and any added since have been fine. I do also feed garlic mixed with my brine or mysis so that may also be a help as it’s known to boost immunity. In all honesty I also have bought another uv sterliser just in case my existing unit develops a fault, that’s how much I believe these units help.

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I have a Deltec 39W unit hard plumbed in to my system but have never turned it on. I run ozone via my skimmer and apex

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