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Tropical Fish Foods

    Just like you can't survive by eating just hamburgers every day, fish need variety in their diets to thrive and to reproduce.  The following are some of the most common commercial and live foods in the tropical fish hobby.

Flake Foods:

   Some of the most widely used forms of flake foods are produced by Tetra (TetraMin), Omega, Hikari, and others.   Each company also produces specialized flake foods, such as those high in vegetable matter for herbivors (fish who primarily eat plants and algae).

    A good general rule is to make sure the flake food you buy is 45% - 50% protein.  If your fish our herbivores (plant eaters), then you wish to get a flake food that is higher in vegetable matter, algae flakes, etc.  You also wish to look at the amount of fiber and phosphates in the formula.  Fiber, because this helps prevent intestinal blockages, which are fatal.   Phosphates, because their accumulation in your aquarium from daily feeding will lead to algae problems.  Algae needs phosphates to grow.

Brine Shrimp:

    Frozen adult brine shrimp is an excellent food, although not as high in protein as newly hatched brine shrimp (nauplii), but the shells may help prevent constipation.  Once a fish has an intestinal blockage, this is usually fatal as metabolic wastes cannot be removed and their toxic levels increase.

    Do note that thawing the chunk of frozen brine shrimp in a small container and then spoon feeding your fish is the best and most enjoyable way to feed brine shrimp.  Frozen brine shrimp (actually they've also been called "sea monkeys") is readily available at most local fish shops.

    Live newly hatched brine shrimp (nauplii) is a great fish food and excellent source of protein.  For many species of fish, newly hatched brine shrimp is the first food for newly hatched fry fish.  I've also found that when conditioning adult fish for spawning, that regular feeding of newly hatched brine shrimp seems to help induce spawning.  Now this is a theory, not scientifically tested by me, but it almost seems that if the parents know there is sufficient food supply for fry, this helps them to decide to spawn, in addition to the protein that they get from eating the nauplii in their breeding conditioning.  Again, this is theory, but darn it...IT WORKS!!!

   Hatching live baby brine shrimp nauplii:

        This is not rocket science, but does take a few trials to really get a knack and the maximum yield.  In a quart jar add 2 tablespoons of aquarium or seasalt.  Most of the boxes/bags of aquarium salt will have brine shrimp hatching instructions on them.   After all of the salt is dissolved, vigorously aerate by adding an airstone, add 1/4 teaspoon of brine shrimp eggs, and put a light near this jar.  The light is necessary for the nauplii and it also produces heat.  Depending upon the temperature (78 - 80 F) the nauplii hatch in about 24-36 hours.  After 24 hours or so, remove the airstone and let the water settle.  After a few minutes, the darker egg shells will float to the top.  Also, nauplii are phototropic (gather near the light) so it will be easy to see them jiggle/swim and to remove them.

        Using some air tubing, siphon out the water into a funnel lined with a coffee filter or similar.  Be careful not to get too many egg shells and after a few times of doing this, you'll be able to siphon down to about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch of water remaining, without collecting egg shells.  After all of the water has drained out of the coffee filter, you'll have an orange spot at the apex of the filter that when you look at it, you'll see the movement of the nauplii.  Invert this filter into a cup or small container with FRESH water in it.  The nauplii immediately leave the coffee filter.   Using a pipette or eye-dropper, collect the nauplii and feed the fish.

    When feeding brine shrimp nauplii to fry fish, be careful to not over feed.  Using the eye dropper method helps control the amount you feed, but you can also use a tiny clean paint brush, to take some of the nauplii off the coffee filter to help control the amount you feed to fry, where there is the best chance you may overfeed.  Adding a small snail in the hatching try or fry tank (after all fish have hatched and are free swimming) will help to control problems from left over nauplii.

        If you do not get a large number of nauplii, experiment with a little more salt and a little less salt than your original batch to see if this is a factor.  Also note that there are differences between Utah eggs and those collected elsewhere.  Utah eggs (Great Salt Lake) have a higher salinity requirement.  Also, the age of the eggs will effect yield.  If you continue to have problems achieving a sufficient hatch of nauplii, return your eggs to your local fish shop and ask for help.


    Frozen bloodworms, like frozen adult brine shrimp are an excellent source of food for fish.   They are high in protein and should be thawed and fed the same way you feed frozen adult brine shrimp.  Frozen bloodworms are readily available at most local fish shops.

White worms:

    White worms (Enchytrae) are an excellent live food.  Caution to try to raise these in a more controlled medium is indicated, because white worms, like black worms and tubifex, have the possibility of carrying  bacteria and other harmful parasites.  There are many methods for culturing white worms.

    In a plastic container, add about an inch of a very damp mixture of 50% peat moss and 50% soil.  Add a starter of white worms and then a little food.  Food for grindals is either a little bit of Gerber's baby cereal or a few small pieces of dampened bread.  As with Grindal worms, white worms can be fed small pieces of moist bread, baby cereal or oatmeal.

Grindal worms:

    Live Grindal worms are an excellent source of food for killies, guppies and other fish.  Certainly for fry after they reach a size big enough to eat grindals.  This is usually after about a week to 10 days, depending upon the species of fish, after they've been eating brine shrimp nauplii.

    Grindal worms are a small worm than blood worms, black worms, & whilte worms.  They easy to culture, and to feed to fish.  In a plastic container, add about an inch of a very damp mixture of 50% peat moss and 50% soil.  Add a starter of grindal worms and then a little food.   Food for grindals is either a little bit of Gerber's baby cereal or a few small pieces of dampened bread.

    Store your grindal worm culture in a covered container and in a cool and dark place you will not need to cover the peat moss.  About every three of four days the food should be gone. As the worms finish up their food they hang around the food area and are ready for harvest. . Simply take a small sampling of the grindals that will be near the bread feeding themselves and feed these directly into the tanks.  I usually rest a micrope slide at an angle in the medium and against the side of the container.  Grindals are usually on it (if placed near piece of bread) and simply dip the slid in the tank and feed worms to fish.   Be careful to not overfeed.


    Microworms are an excellent first food for fry too small to eat newly hatched brine shrimp nauplii.. Setting up microworm culture is easy.  Add some Gerber baby oat cereal, or Cream of Wheat, into a small disposable plastic container  Add water and stir this into a paste. Add some dry baking yeast to this.  You want this a little thick, because when the culture matures, water being the waste of the microworms thins out the medium over time.  Add the microworm starter culture, medium included..

    In about 3-4 days microworms can be seen glistening (moving) the surface of the medium.. Scimm the suface with a toothpick and feed this directly to the fry.   In time, the culture will start to turn sour and have a lot of liquid, so you'll need to take a starter from this batch and add it to a new batch of medium

Vinegar Eels

    Vinegar eels (worms), like microworms, are an excellent food starter for fry too small to eat newly hatched brine shrimp. They may be even better, because they don't die & decay in water as quickly as microworms. They are also a little easier to raise, but harder to harvest than microworms. Take a half gallon jar and add a 50:50 mixture of cider vinegar and water. A small piece of apple (or apple core) is added, and then add the starter culture. In about a week, if you hold the jar to the light or look with a flashlight, you'll see millions of vinegar eels.. These cultures will go on for many months with little or no attention. To feed, remove vinegar eels with a baster and strain through a coffee filter.  Rinse and filter fresh watera couple of times to remove the vinegar, which will make the water in your fry container/tank become more acid..

Infusoria/Green Water

    Infusoria is a general name for microscopic organisms like protozoa, euglena, etc. that are excellent and most often necessary first foods for tiny fry fish.

    Starting and feeding infusoria, or green water, cultures is easy.  When you clean the algae off the glass of your aquarium, simply save this and any other algae you remove from the aquarium, and add some of the aquarium water in a quart to a gallon jar and place it in the strongest area of sunlight and where it will get the maximum number of hours of direct sunlight.  You can also add water from the little basin under your house plant, as this usually contains many micro-organisms that will flourish in populations in a green water culture.  Add to this, even if you have algae, a small piece of wilted lettuce or a dying leaf from a houseplant.  Putting in a few snails also helps to cultivate green water and prevent contamination.

    The water is green, because of the chlorophyll in and photosynthesis of the algae and the protozoan consumption of that algae.  Occasionally, you will need to start a fresh culture, using 1/4 of the water from your existing culture as the seed.  If the culture begins to smell too fowl, then it is time to start a new one and initial aeration with an airstone, will help retard the growth of anaerobic bacteria cultures that smell foul (same for aquariums and it is the anaerobes that make fish sick).

    Feeding green water is easy.  Simply put some in the water with your fry.  I also put some of the algae from the green water culture in their with the fry too.  I've seen this to work well with very small killifish and tetra fry, until they were large enough for microworms and vinegar eels.

Feeder Fish

    If you are going to raise cichlids and other larger fish, it doesn't hurt to have a tank of feeder guppies handy, or have a local fish shop that has these cheap.  Although there are commercially prepared foods that are formulated (many in pellets) to meet the nutritional requirement of larger species of fish, feeder guppies and baby feeder guppies are a great source of food for these fish, certainly if you have intention of spawning them.

    For those fish who are preditors, you can also try to feed pieces of squid, or when you open a can of tuna packed in water, you can feed small pieces of tuna.

Collected Live Foods

    There are many worms, bugs, creatures & critters you can collect in the wild and feed to your fish.   However, you need to compare what you can collect, with what your species eats in the wild from where it comes.  Not all fish eat worms.  A word of caution about collecting, in that if there is a disease, parasite, bacteria, etc. that is growing in stagnant water in the wild, you may introduce it to you fish.  It is usually best to try to collect, culture in more controlled (sanitary) conditions and then feed to fish.

    Mosquito larvae are a very good form of nutrition for fish.  This is certainly true of guppies, platy, swordtails, and killifish; all which are also known as "Mosquito Fish". 

    Daphnia (water fleas) are a food similar to brine shrimp (but are freshwater) and can also be collected at ponds.   Culturing is easy.  Put your collected sample in a gallon jar of water, throw in a small piece of lettuce and let sit in the sunlight.

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