Live Food is the best food you can possibly feed to fish. It's natural. It's healthy. It's a freakin' money saver. Most anyone that breeds more difficult fish (NOT guppies
) will tell you live food gives healthier fry, more successful spawns, and better coloration than any prepared food on the market.
Most live food is easily cultured at home and most require minimal care and attention on the hobbyists part. The following will be a general, in-a-nutshell guide to raising your own live food for your fish. As I'm in college now, I don't have a whole lot of cash, so this will be the cheap way raise live food also.
If you have a recipe you would like to share or have questions about any of the information here, please direct your discussion HERE.
Green water is essentially an algae that grows on suspended phosphates and silicates in the water column. It is a perfect food for the smallest of fry and is also great for feeding Daphnia and other live foods.
To start, fill a two-liter pop bottle or similar container 3/4 full with water from a healthy, established aquarium and add a teaspoon of crushed coral (aragonite, oyster grit, whatever). This will stabilize the pH and keep the culture from crashing. Add a small amount of Flourish Comprehensive, clean pure garden soil or something of the sort to the mix, loosely set the cap on top and place in a window. North-facing seems to be best because they get the most sunlight. Be careful that the water doesn't get too warm or it will kill the algae.
Give the mix about a week and it should get a green tint to it. To harvest, just siphon or dump about 3/4 of the stuff into a container and fill the bottle back up with aquarium water. The algae will produce for a couple of months before fizzling out and turning brownish or gray. At this point, dump the whole thing and start over.
Infusoria is a catch-all term for all of the microscopic life that inhabit probably every water source on earth. They are extremely easy to culture and make great food for very small fry.
Start as with the green water, fill a pop bottle about 3/4 full with aquarium water, add some dried vegetable matter (hay, rabbit food, dead plant leaves) to the water, loosely set the cap on and walk away. That's it! Give it a couple of days and it should get a brownish or grayish tint and shouldn't smell bad. After a week, the culture will probably start to stink more so dump it, clean it and start again.
A healthy clump of Java Moss is also a bonanza of infusoria for fry to munch on.
-Microworms, Banana Worms, Walter Worms-
Although these are three seperate worm species (actually, not worms but nematodes), they are all cultured in exactly the same way. Walters are the smallest, with Bananas and Micros larger, respectively. All are less than 1mm long, making them excellent staple food for growing fry.
The culture container can be a small tupperware container or anything like it. If it can hold food for us, it will work for the worms. Poke a bunch of pinholes in the lid for aeration. For the medium, mixed grain baby cereal, oatmeal or cornmeal all work well. Pour in enough water to make the mix soupy. It should be very wet, but shouldn't splash if you bump it. The medium should be about an inch thick, but it really isn't too important. Some will add a pinch of yeast to the culture, but honestly all it did for me was make the cultures stink. Mine grow just fine without yeast. Now add the worms from a starter culture.
After about a week, the worms should be crawling up the sides of the container, ready for harvesting. Just swipe a q-tip or toothpick in the mass of worms and swirl it in a container of aquarium water to clean them before feeding. The cultures can be maintained for a couple of months before you should restart them. Just add more baby cereal or water if the medium starts to get too wet or dry.
Vinegar Eels (again, nematodes) are the easiest food to culture for fry. They are smaller than Walter Worms so can be fed to the absolute smallest of the fry.
The culture container can be anything from a glass mason jar to a tupperware container, clear is best. Fill it 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full with a 50-50 mix of distilled water and apple cider vinegar. Add a chunk of an apple (doesn't matter which kind) or a spoonful of brown sugar to the mix and add the eels. Place them in a dark place and leave them alone. After a couple of weeks, a cloud should be seen moving around the medium. This is your vinegar eels. You can harvest them by swiping a q-tip through the cloud and swishing it around in a cup of aquarium water to remove the eels. Try to get as little of the vinegar into the water as possible.
The only maintenence you should have to do is replace the apple chunk or borwn sugar every once in a while. Cultures can produce for years without fizzling out.
Additional information provided by Burks
-Confused Flour Beetles-
Quite the name
. Actually it has nothing to do with them being confused. Google the name, it's quite an interesting story behind the name.
These guys are also really easy to grow. Take a container, larger is better, but not huge, and put about 3-4" of any type of flour in it. Poke some pinholes in the lid, add the starter aaaaand...that's it! Wait a couple of months and the culture should have beetles crawling all over it. The only maintenence is to gently stir the medium once a week to keep it from compacting.
The beetles themselves are about 5mm long with the larva about the same. Good food for about anything but the smallest fish.
Grindals are again easy to culture and great food for fish. They are anywhere from 1/4" to 1/2" long and are super-high in protein and fatty acids.
Long, wide, shallow containers work best for the worms. Fill it with an inch or so of peat moss or some other slightly acidic soil and mist it well. It should be wet enough to clump easily and only drip a few drops if you squeeze it. Place a piece of thin plastic on top of the soil and add the worms underneath the plastic. They will crawl up onto the underside of the plastic making them easy to harvest. I feed mine baby cereal, dried green algae (soaked for a minute to soften it), high quality dog food (again, soaked to soften) and really anything else like it. They're not picky. They should start reproducing quickly and you can probably harvest within a month of start-up.
Another excellent food and great for conditioning fish for spawning. Set up exactly as for Grindal Worms, but with a larger container. The medium should be slightly less wet, but that's the only difference. You can feed them the same things as Grindals, but I've had the best success with plain, unflavored yogurt. They totally demolish the stuff!
Now ideally, they should be kept in temperatures of less than 65F, but unless you have a spare refridgerator sitting around, that's kind of hard to do. I keep mine in my basement, which stays around 72F year-round and I've had no problems at all with them. I don't doubt that production would be higher at cooler temps, but they grow just fine for me without the cool.
Whiteworms are about 2-3 times as large as Grindals, so great for any size fish.
You'll occansionally see these at some pet stores, but not many. Honestly, you may be better off finding a good source to buy them from regularly than culturing them yourself. They are over a inch long and fully aquatic. They can be raised in any size aquarium, but I've found 20L work best because they are long and shallow. Fill it up with established healthy clean aquarium water.
Filtration and aeration are extremely important with blackworms. Sponge filters are best and the bigger the better. A couple of 60gallon sponge filters in 20 gallons of water will do nicely. Add an air stone or two hooked up to an air pump running at full bore. Like I said, filtration and aeration are important. They can be kept at room temperature without problems as long as it isn't too warm. Add a few strips of a paper bag or a burlap sack as a medium. This will just keep the worms from piling up and suffocating each other.
Maintenence-wise, perform large weekly water changes as you would any aquarium, but add the new water from an established aquarium. Tap water can easily kill blackworms. Even with all this maintenence, they will still stink like a garbage dump, so keep the culture away from civilization if at all possible. Twice-a-week water changes are even better. Feed them any sinking veggie-based fish food daily, but only enough that they'll eat within 12 hours. There are also Tubifex Worms and Dero Worms (aka Microfex) out there that can be cultured in the exact same manor.
Another Method linked to by Dr. Tran
Redworms, Nightcrawlers, fish bait, whatever you call 'em. Set up a long, wide container (3' by 2' is great) and fill it with clean topsoil. 6"+ is best. Keep is moist enough that it will clump in your hand, but not drip water if you squeeze it. Add the worms and that's about it. Feed them baby cereal, cooked pasta, dog food, grass clippings, leaves, fruit and veggies, anything at all. After a few weeks of feeding, you should notice small white dots on the surface of the dirt. These are egg capsules and will hatch quickly, producing hundreds of baby worms. They are extremely easy to maintain and are great for gardens and potted plants too.
There are several species of daphnia cultured in the hobby. From largest to smallest in size, Daphnia magna, Daphnia pulex, Moina macropoda, Ceriodaphnia dubia
. All are some of the best fish food out there. Culture is best in an aquarium with a good sponge filter running full bore. Set up with established aquarium water and pour in enough green water to make the water nice and green. Add the daphnia and let 'em go.
Daphnia are filter-feeders, so the better quality the green water, the healthier the daphnia. Keep an eye on the water, if it starts to clear up, add more green water. The daphnia will quickly starve without food. A good full-spectrum light above the daphnia will help the algae stay alive and extend the life of the culture.
Outdoor culture is a better option if you live in a place where it stays warmer year-round. Just set up a big tub of water and add Maple leaves. Maple is supposed to work best from what I hear, but most any leaves will be fine. They can be maintained like this year-round without problems, as long as it doesn't get too hot or cold. Also, you'll probably get some mosquito larva in the outdoor culture in the summertime. They are also an excellent fish food, just make sure you feed all the larva to the fish before they turn into the pests we all know and love (or not).
Brine Shrimp are the quintessential live food. They have been raised by aqaurists for years as food for fry and adult fish alike. There are plenty of specialized brine shrimp hatchers in the market that work fine for raising lots of baby brine shrimp. The bbs, called nauplius, are very high in fatty acids but quickly lose their nutrtional value as they get older. When they first hatch, they have a fat reserve that holds a huge amount of nutrients, but it is completely used up within a week. So the nauplius are far more nutritious for fish that adult brine shrimp.
Anyway, long-term culture can be a bit difficult. You essentially need a full-strength saltwater tank (specific gravity around 1.024), well cycled with a mature sponge filter. The temperature should be kept around 80F and a full-spectrum light is beneficial. Add the brine shrimp. They can be fed live marine phytoplankton (available at most saltwater reatilers), green water, or some other commercial feed. They must be fed well to reproduce and will reproduce quickly at adulthood. After about a month or so, you should have a good growth of brine shrimp, both adults and juvies ready to be fed to your fish. With regular water changes, brine shrimp cultures can run for years without problems.
If you're on a tight budget, big brine shrimp cultures probably aren't for you. I actually stick with the worms because they are higher in protein and essential nutirents than brine shrimp are, plus the worms are cheaper and much easier to maintain.
So there is is. A bunch of live food that your fish will absolutely love you for. Now, a can of good fish food runs about $10, if you're lucky. And you want to feed a variety of food, so prepared stuff can get expensive. Right now, I culture all of these except the brine shrimp and I spend about $8 a month on food and supplies for the cultures. Can't beat that!
So if you've never grown live food before, give it a try and I can guarantee that your fish will be healthier and happier. If anyone wants more info on a certain live food or wants info on one not listed here, let me know.
A really good book on live foods is Culturing Live Foods
by Michael R. Hellweg. A lot of the info here came from this book.
And finally, you can obtain starter cultures of these animals at most local aquarium societies and some at fish stores. Another good source is Aquabid.com. They have a big live foods section with a lot of knowledgable sellers.
Any questions? Let me know and I'll do my best to answer.