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What is Spirulina and benefits of Spirulina for fish

Brief Description

One of the most eagerly accepted foods that are given to herbivorous and algae eating fish has to be spirulina fish food. Malawi fish, plecs, snails will pounce on this food as soon as it is offered in the tank. It is available as flake, pellet or wafer making it a good choice for any size of fish.

Most of the prepared flakes or pellets will have traces of spirulina in the food; it is such a great additive to the food as it is recognized as a health booster as well as being full of protein. It is even being recognized now as a good additive to include in the human diet but what makes spirulina so special.

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is actually a cyanobacterium, more commonly known as blue-green algae, and is a very small botanical algae; only growing up to half a millimeter in length.

It is a free floating cyanobacterium that can be found in lakes with an extremely high pH and very hard water. These lakes are to be found in Africa, Asia and South America. The name Spirulina derives from the spiral structure of the algae as it twists round like a spiral staircase.

Use of spirulina as a food stuff goes right back to the Aztecs who would call it by the name of “Teocuitlatl”, which translated means stone’s excrement. This will be explained later in the article. It grows wild in Lake Chad where the locals still make it into cakes and use it as an additive for their soups. Flamingoes in the African Rift Valley lakes filter spirulina from the water as their main diet; flocks of these birds are sustained as the spirulina is so easily available in these waters. It is a very active reproducer so spirulina stocks are never really exhausted.

Spirulina is classed as a high protein diet as it consists of 60% vegetable protein that is very easy to digest and obviously contains no fat or cholesterol that is contained in meat.

It does however contain essential minerals and fatty acids that will boost the immune system of the fish. Unlike other algae, it is extremely easy to digest as it is composed of soft cell walls that are made from complex sugars and protein, using these algae should prevent a lot of the digestive problems that some fish suffer with when offered other greens or other algaes

The main benefits of feeding spirulina to your fish are;-

  • Feeding spirulina will increase and give a more uniform growth rate for your fish.
  • Spirulina will improve the digestion of your fish; more nutrition is also extracted from the food as there are no indigestible components.
  • Spirulina will boost the immune system of the fish, it will also aid in the prevention of swollen abdomens due to blocked intestinal passages.
  • Spirulina will enhance the production of special enzymes that break down digested fats into energy rather than letting them build up in the fishes body.
  • It has been proven that spirulina will bring out the coloration of your fish better; this is due to the carotene pigments that are found in the algae.

Spirulina is commercially cultivated to meet the demands of the market. This is achieved by using open channel ponds with paddle wheels to agitate the water. The main spirulina farms are to be found in the United States, Thailand, India, China and Pakistan.

The long term benefits of feeding spirulina in the fish diet has certainly passed on to the human diet, there are millions of people all over the planet who are regularly taking spirulina tablets to aid their immune systems, there is even ongoing research that it may well help control cancerous cells in the body, but obviously this still has to be proven.

Some interesting facts:-

  • Spirulina contains vitamin B12, this is normally only found in animals, and spirulina is only one of a handful of plants that contain it.
  • Spirulina is very large for a single celled plant; it is 100 times larger than most other algae and can be seen with the naked eye.
  • It reproduces so fast that harvesting these algae will supply industries for years, when a colony forms, they will adhere to each other to form one large clump, and this makes harvesting very easy.
  • Spirulina is related to sea kelp but it is not a salt water plant itself, it thrives in very warm water (even up to 60 deg C) with a pH between 8.0 – 11.0.
  • Certain spirulina species will still survive even when the lake or pond has evaporated, it will turn into a dormant state, its appearance will be a frosty white and as the cell structure turns into sugars it will have a very sweet taste, this is where the Aztec phrase “stone excrement” comes from.
  • It is believed that the manna mentioned in the bible was actually dried spirulina as it was described as wafers made with honey, and it appeared on rocks that were found by the Israelites.
  • As spirulina grows in environments that no other organisms can survive, it is found in a very hygienic state as there are no other organisms that will pollute the water around it. Therefore it can be classed as the most sterile food to be found naturally.
  • Some scientists believe that it is on the link between plants and animals. It does not have the rigid cell walls that are found in nearly all plant life, and the cells do not contain a nucleus. It still needs sunlight and chlorophyll to produce energy so this brings it back to the plant genera.
  • A close relative of spirulina is chlorella but this algae is much more plant based, its cell walls are very hard and indigestible unlike the easily digested spirulina.
  • All in all any keeper that decides to use this algal plant for feeding their live stock can only be on a winner, it has been used for many years with excellent results.

Information used when writing this article

Special thanks goes to local pet store in Kosice, Slovakia where we discussed the benefits of spirulina as fish food. We also used brochures by several fish food producers.

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