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Using Live Food in Your Home Aquarium

Updated on June 5, 2016

Getting the Facts

Feeding live animals can make some people a little squeamish. And understandably so. Watching little fish or snails bite the dust can be a little graphic, and might even be a little scary for small children. But, many popular aquarium fish are either omnivorous or strictly carnivorous. Flake food and freeze dried foods don't always provide the best nutrients for your fish. Sure you can offer these foods to your fish, they are after all convenient and readily available. But, there is really no supplement for feeding live food. It offers nutrients and gives your fish the opportunity to 'hunt' for their food.

There are, however, downfalls to feeding live foods. Some feeder fish and shrimp can carry diseases. This can be bad for the health of your fish and your aquarium. Some feeder animals, like shrimps, don't always have the best nutritional value for your fish since there isn't really too much to them. While there are ways around this they do add some hassle that the average hobbyist might not want to deal with.

There is a stigma that feeder animals are expensive. This depends on how you go about it. There are, of course, some stores that charge an arm and a leg for everything so naturally feeders purchased through these stores will be a bit pricier than if they had been bought elsewhere.

Ramshorn snails are a popular feeder snail. They reproduce quickly and typically remain at a manageable size.
Ramshorn snails are a popular feeder snail. They reproduce quickly and typically remain at a manageable size.

What Kinds of Fish Like Live Food?

There are a lot of different home aquarium fish that like to eat live food. The ever popular beta is known to go after worms and snails when given the opportunity. Many types of gouramis, a labyrinth fish like the beta, and tetras have also have been known to enjoy worms and snails. Freshwater eels and puffers are well known invertebrate eaters and it is not unusual for them to go after small fish. Have you ever heard the phrase 'big fish eat littler fish'? Its true. If a fish can fit it into its mouth it is going to try to eat it. This is something you should always keep in mind when selecting feeder animals for your tank.

It is simply a matter of finding out what kind of live foods your fish have a preference for. I have freshwater puffers that consistently go after snails and on occasion freshwater clams, but so far they have shown no interested in shrimps. This is not quite consistent with what other owners have experienced, many have found that they can't keep their puffers with any invertebrates or they end up with no inverts and very well fed puffers.

I recommend researching the food preference of each fish in your tank. It is also a good idea to ask the associates at your local pet store what they have been feeding the fish before you take them home. Though, chances are pretty good that they mainly feed out flake food. Once you have your fish acclimated to your tank try feeding different types of food. It is always a good idea to have your fish eat flake food, that way in emergency situations (weather, vacations, unexpected trips). The best way to find out what kind of live food your fish like is to experiment. Try snails, try shrimp. Even if your fish don't eat them what harm will some extra algae eaters be to your tank? That's right, none. Try some small minnows or guppies. If your fish don't eat them feeder fish aren't known for living that long so simply remove them from your tank once they head up to that big aquarium in the sky. Worms are often a popular choice. They are easy to feed and nearly all fish like them.

One thing that is important to keep in mind is that many carnivorous fish are nocturnal feeders. You might not see these fish eat, but it is possible for you to notice that you are missing a feeder or two in the morning.

What kind of food do you prefer to feed to your fish?

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What live feeders do you prefer?

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How Can You Make Feeding Live Food Easier on Your Budget?

You have discovered that your fish have a taste for snails. Your little fish are eating nearly five ramshorn snails each day! However will you be able to afford to feed them? This is simple, set up a feeder tank. Snails reproduce every quickly and produce a lot of offspring. All they need is good water quality and plenty of food. With any luck you will have a self populating culture of snails. This means that you will have a constant and consistent food supply for your fish. Snails will even reproduce in your main tank if your fish don't eat them all before they have a chance to lay their eggs. Just remember, snails will need a little calcium in their water to help form their shells properly. As soon as I started adding a little calcium supplement to my snail tank I had dozens of baby snails growing up and making baby snails of their own.

Shrimps are also known for coming home from the pet store with eggs. They can be cultured just as easily in a separate tank. A one time investment of 24-36 shrimp can lead to a lifetime of food for your hungry fish. If you have more advanced skills, the room, and the time you can easily set up a culture tank for feeder fish just like your snails and shrimp.

Culturing your own food sources is one easy way to insure that your feeder animals are not bringing anything unwanted into your tank. You can even control the nutrition that these feeders provide for your fish. For example, if you feed your glass shrimp flake food then they will be passing those nutrients along to your fish.

Over time the investment of a small feeder tank, a 5 to 10 gallon or more depending upon what you are culturing, will pay for itself if you are willing to put in the time to make it successful.

If you are going to go through the trouble of setting up a quarantine tank for your feeders then you might as well allow them to reproduce in that tank and use it for culturing purposes as well. It only makes sense. Snails are popular feeders for fish and require every little care. Algae discus and cucumbers are some of the more popular choices for supplementing their diet.

Worms

Many hobbyist are fond of digging up earthworms from their yards and offering them to their fish. As long as they are cleaned they can be an excellent food source for your fish. If you have smaller fish, or if your fish have smaller mouths, then you may have to cut up the worms before you feed them to your fish.

Bloodworms and black worms are also popular feeders. They are relatively cheap and can be bought from the local pet store. Many hobbyist choose to feed these worms using a turkey baster to insure that the fish they wish to eat the worms are able to get to them.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Feeder animals can bring in disease to a tank, it is a good idea to quarantine any living thing before adding it to your main tank
  • Fish often pick apart their prey, they don't always eat it in one bite, and this can be a little hard for some people to watch
  • Any feeders that are not eaten need to be removed from your tank as quickly as possible, once they die they will start to decrease the quality of your water
  • Adding feeders to your tank increases the bioload of your tank, even if it is only temporary
  • If you do not set up a culture tank then you will need to purchase feeders from your local pet store anytime you wish to provide your fish with live food


Culture tanks are great for snails and shrimp. This five gallon tank is able to house dozens of snails.
Culture tanks are great for snails and shrimp. This five gallon tank is able to house dozens of snails.

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