Why should you grow your own live fish food?
Taking care of your freshwater fish can be a gratifying task, yet it requires attention to detail. Details like water chemical balance, temperature, environment, and plenty of other factors ensure healthy growth.
Naturally, a nutritious menu for your fish should also be a top priority. Most times, store-bought fish food does the job for you and your aquarium buddies.
There is nothing wrong with that. If it is a reputable and dedicated brand, store-bought food provides your fish with all the nutrients they need. Yet relying only on store-bought fish food is giving your fish the equivalent of stale hospital food repeatedly, forever.
It does the job, but why rely on store-bought when you can give your fish a delicious, gourmet three-course meal of disgusting, wormy, squirmy creatures?
Grow your own fish food if you’re concerned about toxic chemicals or lack of quality. Maybe you genuinely want to get elbow-deep in cow dung, then growing live fish food for your freshwater fish is an option for you.
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For quite some time, freshwater fish kept in aquariums would only get live food. With industrialization and mass production, flake food became an alternative, and eventually the norm.
It’s easy to see why—it makes the feeding process simple, as each of those flakes contains a dash of nutrients needed to ensure your fish thrive.
Regardless, flake food is not enough.
Suppose you want to meet the dietary needs of your freshwater fish. The best option is to offer live food. Live fish food provides high protein levels, allows for a variety in their diet, fills the gaps left by the flakes, and is a must if you intend to breed your fish.
Captive fish that regularly consume live prey have longer lifespans, brighter coloration, larger sizes, and general positive wellbeing. In short, all win and no loss.
Live fish food does not have the shelf life flakes have and needs to be purchased weekly or monthly, not to mention they are notoriously more expensive.
Plus, are you going to buy ugly water critters and worms? Really? They show up for free most of the time to make your life harder; why invest money in it?
Growing your own live food is cheap, easy, and effortless. Get ready to raise an entire community of critters (just to send them to mass slaughter).
Orange / Red Discus
Oh no! Ammonia tested positive? Here is something I wrote that will help: “How Do I Get Rid Of Ammonia In My Fish Tank Naturally?” Tap here to read.
Getting Started With Live Fish Food
Cultivating an insect infestation is not as hard as it might seem. Ask anyone with bedbugs. However, critters meant to be the live food for freshwater fish are a whole different ordeal.
The first step to consider is the size and species of your fish. Live prey is meant for carnivorous and omnivorous types. Amongst them, small varieties of live prey won’t be satisfying for large fish, and large prey may be too large for small fish to fit in their mouths.
Another factor is figuring out which live fish food you wish to grow. Amongst experts and hobbyists, growing multiple cultures is common. Of course, they all with slightly different environmental requirements.
Regardless of what little critter(s) you decide to grow, odds are you will need a sizeable container. Most plastic or glass ones will do, as long as they are leak proof, clean, and have not come in contact with strong chemicals.
The tools you need to grow your live fish foods are patience and compromise. You will also need a bit of hobby enthusiasm to get nasty, gross, and potentially squirmy things between your fingers.
Ready to grow and handle wiggly prey? Let’s explore the basics of the most popular insect prey for freshwater fish.
How to grow Daphnia and what to feed them
Daphnia…such a beautiful name evokes ancient nymphs or perhaps a Scooby-Doo character. Nothing is further from the truth. Daphnia are nothing more than water fleas.
Daphnia (SN: Daphniidae) are small crustaceans that share the name “water fleas” because, well, they look and hop like well, water fleas. They’re found in just about every corner of the world. Being found worldwide makes them part of the natural diet of many freshwater species.
Daphnia come in many shapes and sizes, from 0.3 millimeters to over 5 millimeters, making them ideal for large and mature fish but not a suggested pick for larval fish.
Daphnia live on algae, bacteria, and protists (protists: single-cell organism that is neither plant, animal or fungus).
You will need to grow daphnia food if you want to grow daphnia.
To do this, find a glass or translucent container (a small unused aquarium would work perfectly). This container should be placed near bright light but away from direct sunlight.
Add to the container lettuce, spirulina, or delicious farm animal dung. Fill your container with conditioned water and your choice of the mentioned ingredients. Let this mixture ripen a few days near bright light and then add your daphnia.
If you can’t get your hands on some tasty farm animal waste, active baker’s yeast used weekly should be enough.
Keep the water temperature at cool room temperature to ensure proper growth.
While not required, your culture will thrive under artificial light. Set the light timer for 12 to 20 hours of light.
Daphnia can reproduce sexually or asexually quickly, ensuring a rapidly growing culture if you meet the proper conditions.
If you are successful, in no time, your foul green water will be filled with ugly jumping water critters. Lucky you.
Daphnia Heaven – A pond covered with algae
How to (not) grow the live fish food, bloodworms, for your aquarium fish
A Bloodworm – (ugg)
With such a goth-friendly name, you’d expect bloodworms to be a blood-sucking monstrosity meant to install fear in your squeamish nightmares. Nothing is further from the truth. In reality bloodworm larvae have their bright red color thanks to their high hemoglobin content.
Bloodworms are the larvae of chironomid midges. Midges look somewhat similar to mosquitoes, but don’t bite.
Adult version of the bloodworm. Midge, Non-biting, Chironomidae.
creative common photo
They are well-known residents of freshwater ecosystems, providing food for various aquatic animals, including fish.
They can grow up to 6 cm (2.30 inches) in size, making them a rather large treat.
Naturally, these characteristics make them a long-time favorite food for captive freshwater fish, as they have simple needs and require little effort, yet are full of protein and rich in nutrients.
Do you want to add this gross looking larvae to your aquarium?
I have good news and I have bad news…
After doing a ton of research, I concluded that finding and harvesting bloodworms as a live fish food is not worth the effort to an average (read busy) aquarist. I could change my mind later, but for now, this is what I’ve decided.
What I mean by this is, either you put in a great deal of effort to find bloodworms or bloodworm eggs in your area or you can try to grow them in a bucket outside your home by hoping to attract the adults to lay eggs in your bucket water.
Growing them in a bucket at home might give you a dozen a week. But, a strong caveat: I suspect that if you live in the desert, like I do, you’re out of luck. Where I live (a high desert area), it’s hot in the summer (115 F is not unheard of here) and it is freezing in the winter.
I believe that the bucket method could grow mosquito larvae in my area (instead of bloodworms). Of course, that would be a different article section.
If you live in a wet area, you might try hunting for bloodworms. We don’t have ponds here, so no hunting for eggs or larvae will be happening.
Let’s be honest. It is so, so much easier to buy them live, online. Why spend the time and effort to find and grow them?
So, bottom line, buy live bloodworms online and have them mailed to you. This is realistic and much easier.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
P.S. I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but I find handling bloodworms fresh, frozen or dried to be extremely irritating to mucous membranes. Try not to touch your eyes after handling them, like I always seem to do.
Add live bloodworms to your aquarium:
How to grow brine shrimp as a live fish food
If you are past a certain age, or if you watch a lot of cartoons. Odds are you’ve heard of “sea monkeys.” Sea monkeys are small creatures in kits marketed towards kids, promising them they could hatch and grow their own little civilization. Sea monkeys were actually hybrid versions of artemia (brine shrimp), a group of primitive crustaceans.
The bad news is you can’t create an empire of sea people to worship you. You can grow artemia species into delightful live food for your freshwater fish.
It’s anticlimactic, but such is life.
Artemia salina is the scientific name of brine shrimp, one of the most popular live fish food for aquariums. Despite growing in saltwater, the species is safe to feed to freshwater fish. They are incredibly adaptable and can survive up to 30 minutes in freshwater. This gives plenty of time for your fish to eat their live treat.
Brine shrimp produce dormant eggs. These eggs are available in most pet shops and online. Just be careful to purchase eggs that are labeled as high quality and have a high hatching rate.
How to grow baby brine shrimp as a live fish food:
If you are just hatching baby brine shrimp, just about any container of a quart or more will work. If you are growing brine shrimp to adulthood, you’ll need a container of five gallons or more.
After picking your container, fill it with dechlorinated water because chloramine found in normal tap water will prevent the hatching of the eggs. Keep the container at room temperature. Bubble the water by connecting an air pump and an air stone to provide oxygen and water movement. Add one tablespoon of sea salt per pint (2 cups) of water. Your last step is to add brine shrimp eggs. An eighth of a teaspoon per pint of salt water will work. Brine shrimp eggs usually hatch within 24 hours.
You don’t need to wait much after that since small fish absolutely love eating freshly hatched brine shrimp. However, if you are interested in growing them to adulthood, you can always move them to a different tank, and slightly increase the temperature, to encourage breeding. Feeding them isn’t an issue either, as adding brewer’s yeast or cooked egg yolk works wonderfully.
Be warned, though. Brine shrimp like to live fast and die young.
How to grow brine shrimp to adults:
Here is my “down and dirty” take on growing brine shrimp from eggs to adults.
1. I have grown a LOT of brine shrimp. My information here on a lot of experience.
2. To grow baby brine shrimp, just follow the directions listed above. Remember the baby brine shrimp are tiny, so large fish won’t be able to see them.
3. I’ve grown brine shrimp to adulthood by using a large plastic tub filled with salt water. A small aquarium would also work. I purchased and used a saltwater hydrometer to make sure the salinity would stay in the correct range for brine shrimp to grow to adulthood. I made sure there was strong water movement by using an air pump and air stones. Feeding them a good portion of spirulina algae every day will get the job done.
4. If I remember right, it took 2 to 4 weeks to grow the brine shrimp to adulthood (It’s been 30 years since I last did this).
5. To keep the cycle going, I added more brine shrimp eggs to the water every 3 or 4 days or when I harvested some brine shrimp. You will get babies and adults using this method.
6. To harvest the brine shrimp, turn off the air pump to allow the egg cysts (shells) to fall to the bottom of the container. Then, to catch the brine shrimp, use a regular fish net instead of a brine shrimp net. This will allow most of the babies to fall back into the water.
How to grow microworms as a live fish food
By Stug.stug (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92879730
Were you surprised by the unusual cleanliness of growing brine shrimp? Don’t worry, nasty is back with a vengeance.
Microworms are the common name of a particular type of nematodes, specifically Panagrellus redivivus. They are tiny, almost invisible to the naked eye, but are an ideal food for fry. This is essential, as fry have a high mortality rate, and a rich source of protein can make the difference to whether they live or die.
Plenty of stores sell microworm starter kits, but you must make sure it’s any of the aforementioned panagrellus variants, as others have the potential to sicken your fish.
The requirements for growing this species are quite simple. First, any waterproof container with a lid is good enough, as long as you poke holes in the lid, to keep good airflow to oxygenate your culture. Despite this, ventilation should be done through small holes. Otherwise, the particular scents overflowing from the container will attract many undesirable visitors.
To establish the culture, you will require food for the microworms. There are several types of foods you can feed your microworms. An oatmeal/yeast mix is by far the most common pick. Cook the oatmeal in water to make a thick paste. Place the cooked oatmeal at the bottom of the container in a layer approximately one-half inch thick.
Next, add a light sprinkling of active dry yeast and mix it into the oatmeal carefully. Now you can add the starter microworm culture.
The yeast will grow on the starch as the oatmeal decomposes, and the microworms will feed on the yeast. After three to seven days, you will have microworms covering the top of the oatmeal and the sides of the container.
It will smell exactly as awful as it sounds, so keep it away from the kitchen or dinner table.
Harvesting your newly prepared fishy gourmet meal is quite easy—wipe the microworms onto your fingertip (sorry, but that just sounds gross) or a Q-Tip, then swish them into your aquarium.
If all goes well, your culture will survive from two weeks to a month while you enjoy the fragrant perfume of your culture!
Yeast For Microworm Culture
Feed microworms to your aquarium fish:
Conclusion? Live fish food possibilities are endless.
These four species are far from being your only options—hobbyist websites explore a plethora of viable alternatives, ranging from infusoria to ants, and anything in-between. Even regular mosquito larvae or fruit flies are a popular choice, as they are full of protein and nutrients.
As you can see, the world is full of possibilities when it comes to feeding your freshwater fish.
More articles I’ve written:
Why Are The Fish Dying In My Small Or Nano Aquarium And How Can I Stop It?
Illustrated – The 20 Best Freshwater Aquarium Fish For Beginners
Gold Nugget Plecostomus (2016) by Stan Bysshe. Original from Smithsonian’s National Zoo.