"I found a test kit that I believe might work but I would like a second opinion just to be sure. It is the "tetra laborett master test kit"..on the description it says tests the "ph, carbonate and general hardness, nitrite ammonia, and carbon dioxide." Im a little confused"
Yes, the online Walmart description of the Tetra Test Laborette Kit is very confusing. Whoever wrote that forgot to press enter in between the two words to separate them on different lines. I used to own that kit and can say for sure that it does both ammonia and nitrite. Also http://www.amazon.com/Tetra-16628-Test- ... B0002563OK
says so too.
The downside to the kit is that after a year or two mine started precipitating out of solution. I did not trust the solutions to remain accurate when their active ingredients had started crystallizing and leaving the bottle. So I bought Jungle Labs 6-In-1 Test Strips because I was planning to use them for long term testing and test strips can't up and crystallize on you. http://www.amazon.com/6-IN-1-QUICK-TEST ... B000UWSB7C
I would recommend for a new fish tank owner to purchase ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate tests. Over time after your tank has finished cycling the ammonia and nitrite tests become less important because they are boringly and happily zero every time you test them. After the tank is stable the test you will use the most often is the one for nitrate so that you know when to do water changes. Test every week and if nitrate is 30 ppm or above, do a water change. If after a few years of everything running smoothly one day your fish get sick, you can go out and buy a new ammonia test kit. Unlike the one that has sat on your shelf for five years, you can bet on a new test being less likely to have expired.
Although to each their own. *shrugs* I have a Walstad style tank and no matter how long I let it go in between water changes the nitrate always stays between 0 and 20 ppm (the lowest amount on the strip) so I do water changes based upon how tannin stained yellow my water is looking. *nods* Another good reason to own a test kit is if your water is likely to change suddenly. My tap water is dangerously unbuffered at 0 degrees of hardness and 0 KH, so if the mulm builds up on the bottom of the aquarium, the water can swing from pH 7 to pH 5 and below in an extremely short amount of time. So I keep the 6-in-1 test strips around to measure pH, and I think other fishkeepers should not be afraid to test their water at the first sign of something being wrong.
"ammonia causes the nitrites..well that's what it sounds like from what I read about the ammonia cycle. So, is a seperate test required for both nitrites and ammonia?"
Ammonia is NH3. Nitrite is NO2. Nitrate is NO3.
When you add protein to the aquarium as fish food, the nitrogen in the protein is broken down either by sitting rotting on the ground or by being eaten by the fish and excreted. When the protein is broken down it is turned into ammonia, NH3. That's one nitrogen with three hydrogen molecules. At this point one of three things could happen.
1. Nitrosomonas bacteria could eat the NH3 and excrete NO2.
2. Plants could eat the NH3 and CO2 and using photosynthesis excrete O2.
3. The ammonia could sit there and accumulate.
One of those three things will happen to each individual ammonia molecule. If it goes the bacteria route then there is now an intermediate, nitrite (NO2) which is of intermediate toxicity in between deadly deadly ammonia and meh deadliness nitrate. Nitrite's kind of in the middle as far as how little of it can kill your fish. Anyway, continuing my story, that nitrite molecule then can do one of two things:
1. Nitrospira/Nitrobacter bacteria could eat the NO2 and excrete NO3.
2. Nitrite could accumulate.
(Plants don't eat nitrite).
So ammonia and nitrite are two different things and get processed in different ways. The three molecules of nitrogen all have different toxicities. Ammonia can kill fish at even 1 ppm (the fish often contract opportunistic diseases like ich that they wouldn't otherwise have been susceptible to). Nitrate starts to bother fish and make them susceptible to disease at about 40 ppm and above, although this is highly variable by species. Pond fish live in an environment where they have to learn to deal with nitrate or they'll no longer survive in that pond. Ocean fish and African rift lake fish have such a large volume of water to dilute nitrate that they can afford to be very susceptible to it and that susceptibility will never come up in the wild. Anyway, my point is, ammonia is more toxic than nitrite, and nitrite is more toxic than nitrate. Bacteria process ammonia into nitrite into nitrate. Plants eat either ammonia or nitrate but will not eat nitrite. Plants actually prefer to eat ammonium, NH4+ (an extra hydrogen proton on the NH3) preferentially over nitrate, NO3. It saves them some energy. Here's some more info on that if you're interested: http://theaquariumwiki.com/Plants_and_B ... Filtration
I think my long, rambly point is that ammonia and nitrite are not the same thing, and that ammonia does not spontaneously become nitrite. It has to be eaten by nitrospira bacteria to become nitrite. And if you use plants as a method to remove ammonia instead of bacteria (read Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad for more info) then you'll never see any nitrite at all.