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Types and benefits of live food for aquarium fish

Brief Description

Live fish foods make a great supplement to the diet of your fish and some of these can be cultivated quite easily therefore providing a free food as well. Aquarists must always remember though, these foods should not be fed as the only items on the diet as they can lead to digestive problems in the fish, a main diet of flake, pellets or similar should also be fed as the vegetable content will keep the digestive tracts clear.

Because of the mentioned problems, I will only feed live foods two or three times a week, as a treat for the fish. Live foods can also be disease carriers so always purchase your starter colonies from a reliable supplier.

The main live foods come from various types of worms, so I will list these first and try to give tips on how to culture them.


I have an abundance of these in my back garden just waiting to be dug up for fish food, but this is not the case for everyone, so a simple wormer can be made from any kind of box or even an old fish tank. Just fill it with soil or compost medium, add some worms and they will form their own colony, ready to harvest in a month. The soil or compost must be kept moist at all times and will need renewing every three months. If using a wooden box, make sure there are ventilation holes to allow oxygen into the set up. Feeding the colony couldn’t be simpler, just sprinkle over some chopped up kitchen food waste for them to eat. These worms are suitable for larger fish and if chopped, smaller fish can be fed on them. Remember to clean then them thoroughly before use!

Grindal Worms:-

These worms are a very small variety, usually they will only grow to about half an inch, and this makes them ideal food for the smaller fish. When added to the tank it is quite common for them to hide in the substrate so they are ideal for bottom feeders.

A starter culture can be purchased from most fishing tackle stores or even online. Using a plastic container, add some compost or soil, with these worms it must not have a high peat content as they prefer more of an alkaline medium, make some ventilation holes in the lid, then add the worms.

The medium should be kept slightly damp at all times, so a light spraying of water every couple of days should suffice. Keep the container in a shady position, else the worms will bury themselves, and feed them on rotting vegetation. The trick to harvesting these is to remove some of the medium from the container, place it in another one & submerge with water. The worms should come to the top of the water where they can be caught with a net.

White Worms:-

These are very similar to grindal worms, but they will grow larger, anything up to one inch. They are harvested in a similar manner to the grindal worms, but I found that I had a higher success rate by feeding them with bread that had been soaked in milk. There is no need, feeding them this way, to add moisture to the medium. With these I found it best to keep creating new cultures from the mother culture in case things went wrong, simply just remove some of the medium from the container & restart another one.

Harvesting is really easy with these, they simply crawl to the top of the container, where they can be scraped off & fed to the fish.

Vinegar Eels:-

Vinegar eels are very small worms, so they make great food for fish fry. They can be compared to the size of juvenile brine shrimp.

Basically all that is needed to grow these is a normal glass jar, to this add a mix of water and cider vinegar (one part water to three parts cider vinegar). To this add a small amount of chopped apple to provide some bacterial growth for the eels to feed upon. Add your starter culture two or three days later to the jar, then just leave the jar somewhere – covered over but allow air in, while your colony feeds and multiplies.

To harvest these worms, a very fine sieve is required even as fine as filter paper, pour your liquid over it, retaining whatever goes through to put back into the jar. Rinse of the vinegar mixture, and then feed to the fish.

Mosquito Larva:-

These have to be the easiest food to culture out of all of them. Simply place a water container outside, add some edible kitchen waste into it, make sure it is placed in a mesh bag or something similar, fill the container with water and let nature take its course. As the food waste breaks down it will attract the mosquitoes, they will then deposit their eggs, which in turn will hatch out into larva.

Obviously this will not happen in the colder months, so try it out late summer, early autumn, as any spare larva can be frozen in ice cubes for future use.

Strain the water to harvest the larva, but as the container will have its own unique smell and look quite distasteful by the time you are collecting these, please rinse them to prevent any pollutants being passed into your tank.

As well as the above worms there are also crustaceans and insects that can be used, in fact in the summer I often add any ants I catch, into the tank as food. Brine shrimp has to be the most common live food given, here is a link on how to hatch and harvest these creatures: Raising Brine Shrimp.

Remember with brine shrimp that the more they develop, their nutritional value will decrease.

Copepods are an arthropod that many marine keepers will keep in a refugium, so that a colony will grow, safe from predators, and then these can be harvested for a food source to be added to the main tank.

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