Cichlid Room Companion

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Small live foods for Cichlid fry

By , 1996. printer

Classification: Captive maintenance.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1996-Mar-20 "

MrKillie - CichliMrKillie - Cichlid Room - Live foods for Cichlid Fry - on tonight!

MrKillie says: In tonight's session, I want to cover a range of small live foods that are a handy addition to the diet of growing cichlid fry. That are easy to culture, safe to feed and won't result in severe domestic strife if a significant other stumbles across them.

MrKillie says: Anytime anyone has any questions, jump in. I'm not an expert, in fact, I was a bit hard pressed to come up with a topic, but this one is something I seem to spend a lot of time at (to be fair, mostly for killies)

MrKillie says: the smallest, easiest and in some ways, most important live food for cichlid fry is algae. Cichlids fry do well in tanks with good 'crops' of good algae

MrKillie says: now, I have cultured a couple of algae, mostly by seeing where they crop up and moving it to the target tank, and adding fry.

Melissa says: Never had to fed my convict fry in their tank because it is covered in algae

MrKillie says: My favorites are a red algae that's sometimes called 'brush algae'. This works very well in Tanganyikan Cichlid tanks and grows on rocks. My other favorite is green hair algae, the kind that grows in clumps or sheets. Neither should be discouraged, and most require little or no work to culture.

MrKillie says: suspended algae is a bit of a different beast. I have gotten starter cultures of green water from other aquarists and raised them as well for fish, but to be fair, they're unnecessary for most cichlid fry.

MrKillie says: the next sized up live food that's worthwhile culturing are paramecia and rotifers. But, I put almost no effort into culturing either since I found a real easy way to keep them going. As follows: start with a starter culture in a jar on a windowsill. When you want to harvest, put in a drop of Liquifry for egglayers. If you observe, the paramecia culture will cloud up around the liquifry. The cloud are paramecia and rotifers.

Melissa says: Liquidfry is great for cultures like that.

Yog asks: How do I start the culture of paramecia?.

MrKillie says: A clever way to get a paramecia culture started is to get some of that dried Spanish moss that's sold for ornamental work like baskets and submerge it. Or steal some from a local biology class :). And if you aireate it, it won't smell.

Juliah grins.

MrKillie says: I'll get to how handy local biology classes can be, too some of us are too old for them these days :-(.

Melissa says: I almost took some when I was TA for a bio class but their paramecium culture wasn't great.

Yog asks: But what starts the paramecia?.

MrKillie says: it's there in some sort of restive state, I think. This particular technique works for me, and the Spanish moss lasts forever, if aerated.

Yog asks: how large of a glass do you put it in?.

MrKillie says: quart jar, 1/2 gallon jar, whatever you can find.

MrKillie says: Now, getting to larger food animals there's the vinegar eels. I culture my vinegar eels.

Yog asks: What is a vinegar eel?.

MrKillie says: a vinegar eel I believe is a form of nematode that lives in severely acid conditions (i.e. vinegar).

Yog asks: nematode?.

MrKillie says: right - microscopic worm.

Yog says: cool.

Yog asks: So like how large are they?.

MrKillie ponders.

MrKillie says: visible to naked eye, less than a millimeter.

MrKillie says: the Encyclopedia of Live Foods probably has more detail.

Yog says: Will my fish eat them? I have some Angels and a Discus.

MrKillie says: too small for adults.

Yog asks: But they would be Okay for fry?.

MrKillie says: yes, but probably too small for fry after the first few days.

MrKillie says: and I'll get to better foods for them in a bit.

Yog says: well that sounds good.

MrKillie says: vinegar eels aren't all that hard to harvest.

Melissa asks: Where would you get them? I have never seen them around here.

MrKillie says: I got my starter vinegar eels culture from Carolina Biological supply for like $2 and make friends with some killie keepers, they always have them :-).

Melissa says: Good price for a biological supply house.

Melissa grins.

MrKillie says: to grow, in a 1 gallon wide mouth glass jar put 1 quartered apple and fill with cider vinegar. Many folks dilute 50/50 with water, I don't, and my culture is been going for 5 years.

MrKillie says: I like glass bottles for vinegar eels rather than plastic ones. They seem more durable, since the culture will last forever.

Yog asks: How do you harvest?.

MrKillie says: the eels are phototropic, and live throughout the culture but will concentrate near surface to harvest. I shine a light near the 'edge' of the surface, then siphon off the cloud of eels and pour it through a coffee filter. I return the vinegar to the jar, invert the filter after it's drained, and pour fresh water through it. The water will be loaded with vinegar eels which you can baster directly at fry.

MrKillie says: I have used them a lot with apisto fry, which are fairly small.

Striper asks: how do you baster to the fry? what do you use?.

MrKillie says: a Turkey baster.

MrKillie says: a larger nematode is the microworm. It's terrestrial and lives on bacteria I believe.

MrKillie says: how I culture them: I use small 80z margarine tubs or 'Boston Chicken' side-item containers, with lids.

Melissa grins.

Melissa says: Must it be Boston Chicken containers? :).

MrKillie says: The container has about a 1/4" layer of dry baby cereal. I use Gerber mixed, Gerber high protein was the best but appears to be discontinued. The cereal is not dry - it is wet. Thoroughly wet, but if you run your finger through it, its not liquid. It'll sort of stand on its own. It's better to be a little wet than too dry though.

Juliah asks: Like mush?.

MrKillie says: mush-like.

MrKillie says: I use a fingertip full from another culture to start it. Keep the cultures in the 70's, and they'll last for a month or so. They start turning black and foul smelling as they go bad.

MrKillie says: to harvest, the worms make it easy in that they crawl up the sides of the container. I scrape them off with my finger.

MrKillie says: if you want a culture to go even faster, put a *few* grains of yeast in it. Bread yeast, 2-3 grains of it. It'll do even better.

Melissa says: eels -vinager, microworms -cereal.

Yog asks: How big are these microworms?.

MrKillie says: bigger than vinegar eels. On the order of 2x the size, to the naked eye.

Yog asks: So I could feed them to mid-sized fish?.

MrKillie says: No, too small. First food for fry. I've used them for cichlid fry for up to a week in age.

MrKillie says: now, the next few live foods I'm going to talk about are good for fry up to the time they're juveniles.

MrKillie says: I mean the annelidae, i.e., grindal worms and whiteworms.

MrKillie says: Grindal worms are a terrestrial worm between 1/4" and 1/2" in length (though 1/2" is a *big* grindal worm). Grindal worms are the easier of the two to raise.

MrKillie says: I keep my grindal worms in fish shipping cartons, I do better with larger cartons, but I've kept them in shoeboxes as well. They're in about 2" of dirt/peat moss mix that is kept fairly wet. if you were to squeeze a handful of the dirt, it'd drip Striper asks: did you say where you get them?.

MrKillie says: You get grindal starters from hobbyist sources.

Striper nods his head in understanding.

MrKillie says: look in the ads in the backs of the hobby mags.

MrKillie says: now, here's a few tricks with grindal worms.

MrKillie says: 1) feed well - 2x day.

MrKillie says: 2) make sure they eat all the food though, try not to overfeed.

MrKillie says: 3) I feed the gerber baby food, dry. I sprinkle it on the surface.

MrKillie says: 4) I keep the lid of my culture fairly loose so they can breath easily.

MrKillie says: 5) don't let it dry out.

MrKillie says: 6) I also try to keep a few earthworms in the culture to keep the dirt turned over.

MrKillie says: I'll get to culturing earthworms last.

MrKillie says: The dirt/peat moss mix, I heat it up in the microwave until it's steaming, in order to kill any mites that might be in it. I let it cool to room temperature before introducing the worms; The biggest problem with indoor worm farming of any sort is things want to get into that dirt. Especially house mites, which are a small, round brown insect that most fish don't eat. When the mites show up, think about starting a new culture.

MrKillie says: it typically takes about a month for a culture to start going. But they last awhile, esp. if you use the earthworms - a year isn't unusual for me.

MrKillie says: whiteworms I think are segmented, unlike grindal worms, so maybe they're not annelids, I forget They're harder to raise for one main reason: they don't like it warm. Above 70F and the yield really plummets.

Melissa says: That would be a big problem here.

MrKillie says: some folks do well with them in refrigerators. And at one point, all the Discus breeders thought that they were the only live food worth feeding.

MrKillie says: you can raise them exactly as I've described doing grindal worms, but you have to keep them cool. In addition, they tend to form 'wormballs'.

Yog asks: How do I start them?.

MrKillie says: you get a starter from someone else who's raising them.

MrKillie says: Anyway, it's better to put the food in as 'clumps' rather than spreading it evenly as you do for grindals. One other thing I know people do is soak white bread in milk, freeze it and feed the chunks to the whiteworm culture. That apparently works very well. But, I only played with whiteworms once or twice, and the grindals were much easier.

MrKillie says: ahh... I forgot to mention how to harvest grindals.

MrKillie says: To harvest what I do is, put a piece of glass on the culture, and put food on the glass. The worms will crawl up the glass. I scrape them off with a razor blade into a small cup of water, pour off the food that may be in it, and feed. For instance, I'm feeding about 40 one month old leleupi fry on grindals now. To give you an idea of how big a fry can easily consume a grindal. Whiteworms would be too big for that.

MrKillie says: but not, for example, when the leleupi is 2 months old.

MrKillie says: now, foods you can collect from the great outdoors.

MrKillie says: there are a *lot*. The easiest is the state bird of New Jersey, the mosquito. Mosquito larvae are a great food for fish, especially fry; to collect cleanly, set up a bucket outside. put a few grass clippings in it, or even better, a small amount of powdered milk and wait.

MrKillie says: you'll see small black 'rafts' of mosquito eggs. You can feed the eggs to your fry, who will nail the newly hatched larvae. Or, you can wait for the larvae to hatch in your bucket, and net them out.

Yog asks: But don't the larvae have terrible disease and stuff?.

MrKillie says: no, not if you trap them yourselves.

MrKillie says: you're probably thinking of tubificid worms like tubifex and blackworms.

Yog says: Oh yes that must be it.

MrKillie wouldn't harvest larvae from a roadside puddle, but the backyard bucket is fine.

MrKillie says: the other food that's popular to collect, and some folks culture them too are daphnia. Daphnia (there are a lot of varieties; magna, pulex, ceriodaphnia) are freshwater aquatic crustaceans.

MrKillie says: now, if you're at a university that does any environmental studies, if you're *really* lucky, they'll have a daphnia lab with lots of extra daphnia to get rid of. Most of us aren't though.

MrKillie looks wistful.

MrKillie says: So, you're either stuck collecting daphnia, which can be a pain to do, or culturing them. Daphnia can be found in various ponds. If the water turns green, there're probably daphnia in it at the height of the green-nees. However, if there are fish in the pond, unlikely you'll find many daphnia.

MrKillie says: you should try netting near the edges of the pond and looking to see what you see; daphnia will congregate near the surface, being phototropic.

MrKillie says: if you want to try your hand at culturing daphnia you need to ensure a steady supply of good quality greenwater.

MrKillie says: some folks raise them in backyard wading pools, that works o.k. and they use various arcane foods - rabbit pellets, leaves, dog turds are all things I've heard uses.

MrKillie says: if you want to raise them indoors, one system I've used to raise a few, was 4 painters buckets with greenwater in them and a 4' fluorescent light. The cultures will boom then bust, as the greenwater is consumed and the O2 level drops (hence their applicability to testing for pollution).

MrKillie says: but, you never get a lot of daphnia in a bucket, and you spend a lot of time futzing with buckets, starting new cultures, etc. Best to go the backyard wading pool route.

MrKillie says: there are lots of other live foods you can collect - bloodworms, cyclops, various freshwater shrimp. But, you have to be careful not to bring back any pests, like gill flukes .fish lice or real monsters like dragonfly larvae. If I had the room I'd try to have a few mosquito traps and a daphnia pool. That should be plenty, and if I use my water, I know it's clean.

Melissa says: Good way to get cyclops is in frozen daphina. The cyclops eggs survive and you will often get enough for a culture from a cube of the daphina.

MrKillie says: yes, if you want a daphnia starter, use a frozen culture, that's a good suggestion. Or find someone who is raising them. Doesn't take many to get going.

MrKillie says: o.k... tubificids.

MrKillie says: there are 2 main types, tubifex worms and blackworms.

MrKillie says: blackworms are fairly large, 1-2" long and are usually raised in duck ponds or food fish farms. They are, if clean and parasite free, an *excellent* food for fish.

MrKillie says: tubifex are smaller, 1/4->1/2", and *can* work with cichlid fry, BUT they are, in many cases, from badly polluted water, especially water with raw sewage in it. I avoid them but your fancy discus from the far east are all raised on them.

MrKillie says: two final live foods.

MrKillie says: earthworms. I keep my earthworms, the 'hybrid red wiggler' variety in large fish styros. I keep the soil fairly wet, in fact, it usually has standing water in the corners. I feed it non-meat leftovers; vegetable scraps, cereal, fruit.

MrKillie says: I know a fellow, the one that gave me my original starter, who routinely feeds yogurt to his earthworms, and he has very vigorous earthworm cultures. They will eat anything - ground up cardboard, you name it.

MrKillie says: another favorite is coffee grounds which seem to discourage mites and other things from living in it. If you have a good earthworm culture, you can find baby earthworms that are easily chopped.

Horus asks: would it be like gut loading crickets to feed your reptiles, where the cricket is the "shell" and the nutrition your animals get is what you feed the crickets? same for earthworms?.

MrKillie says: Earthworms are really mostly fat and protein and I don't believe retain much in their gut. They turn it into more earthworm very quickly.

MrKillie says: to harvest earthworms, just pick through, or if you want a lot of them scoop out a bunch of dirt and put it on a screen, like a good sized window screen shine a light on it, they'll crawl through the holes to get away.

MrKillie has heard of an Australian earthworm that gets to many feet long.

MrKillie says: another couple live foods, thought of 2 more I didn't mention.

MrKillie says: one is the Confus flour beetle. Again, available through hobbyists, and a very easy animal to culture. I kept mine in a plastic sweater box with about 1/2" of a mix of whole wheat and normal flour in it.

MrKillie says: the beetles are fairly small - about 1/8" of an inch. But what you want are the larvae - the beetles won't sink, and many fish won't eat them.

MrKillie says: to harvest, scoop out beetle-laden flour with a tea strainer, and sift the flour out, or wait for the larvae to crawl through the strainer. The hardest thing is extracting the larvae, who are a good size for many juvenile cichlids (and do *wonders* as a killi aphrodisiac, but this is a cichlid room talk...).

Melissa grins.

MrKillie says: *don't* let the flour get wet, it gets ruined.

MrKillie says: another live food, much harder to work with is the fruit fly.

Melissa says: Fruit flies = fun :).

MrKillie says: even if they can't fly, they can run.

MrKillie says: there's a lot of information on them - I did best using the media from Carolina biological, which may just be potato flakes and a preservative.

Melissa says: Cold works wonders for that.

MrKillie says: true, but that just increases the amount of work you need to do to deal with the flies.

Melissa says: I can tell you what the media is.

ARCAS says: are you a club snail member...... its a club with an alternate BS MrKillie says: no, not a member, not interested either.

ARCAS says: opps...

MrKillie asks: what is the Fruitfly media, Melissa?.

Melissa says: Well, here's a formula used in bio classes. Not the exact same as prepared but close.

MrKillie watches Melissa lag.

hoRUs thinks melissa has nice lags.

Melissa slaps Horus.

Melissa says: 625ml water, 20 grms agar, 125ml Karo syrup, 250ml banana, 20 gms brewers yeast and 10ml moldex.

MrKillie says: that's *not* what Carolina ships.

Melissa says: Oops.. that's the cooked.

MrKillie says: it's a flake like potato flakes. You can use Melissa's formula though, no problems.

Melissa says: Here's the dry.

Melissa says: Hmm.. can't find the dry.

Melissa says: Think I ripped that page out to turn in for class :).

MrKillie grins.

MrKillie says: anyway, I raise my fruit flies in quart mason jars. For a lid, I use the mason jar ring, and a piece of landscaping fabric.

MrKillie says: the black 'weed barrier' stuff that's porous so the flies can breath.

Horus says: snapple jars will work too, w/ nylon stocking attached via rubber band. Lots of ways; those quart jars last a while.

Melissa says: Sponges make great lids if you can find them big enough with small holes.

MrKillie says: also, when you mix the food up, add a few grains of bread yeast, the flies need it.

Melissa says: But not too much or the co2 from the yeast fermenting will kill them.

MrKillie says: as a food, the adults aren't so great for cichlid fry since they skitter along the surface of the water (fine for killies though). But the maggots will sink, and juvenile cichlids, along with other fish, love 'em.

MrKillie says: Finally, the last live food for tonight, and not much on it, the brine shrimp. Baby brine shrimp (aka artemia nauplii) are the only live food you really ever need with cichlids. Hatching is easy - see the various FAQ's. Nowadays, they're expensive, but that's just how it is; of course.

MrKillie says: if you start using some of the live foods I've mentioned tonight, you'll use fewer brine shrimp which is a good thing, since it looks like the price isn't going to go down.

MrKillie says: I think I've said enough (been going for over an hour), any questions?.

Juanmi says: Well Thanks a lot Matt, it was an excellent talk .

Horus says: Matt, thanks for the informative talk. I'm glad the word "killifish" didn't come up during the talk. :)


Kaufman, Matt. (May 27, 1996). "Small live foods for Cichlid fry". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from: