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Live Foods For Killifish

Killifish and many other carnivores in their natural environment feed on live foods like small crustaceans, worms, a variety of insects, and insect larvae.    Although a few species of killifish include algae into their diets, the majority of killifish kept by tropical fish keeping enthusiasts are carnivores that require live foods to keep them healthy and get them into breeding condition.

Many tropical fish keeping enthusiasts have some success switching their killifish over to flake foods but as a general rule, if you are not able to provide them with a variety of live and frozen foods, this species may not be the right choice for you.

A well balanced diet is important to all fish species, especially if you plan on breeding your stock and many experienced aquarists have opted to culture and raise their own food to meet the exact nutritional requirements of their fish.   If you are into breeding killifish or are considering it, you will either need a reliable source for obtaining live foods on a regular basis, or learn how to cultivate your own supply.

Although the following live foods are not exclusive to killifish, they are the most commonly propagated by tropical fish keeping enthusiasts.

  • Black Worms:

Black Worms are similar to tubifex worms and are one of the best foods you can feed to your tropical fish.   Black worms are rich in protein and nutrients, readily available for purchase, easy to raise, and can survive for indefinite periods in freshwater aquariums until eaten by your killifish.   Hardier than most other live foods, Black Worms are not prone to large die offs like adult brine shrimp or daphnia.

  • Bloodworms:

Bloodworms are actually the larvae stage of an airborne insect found in stagnant water ponds and pools.   They are so named because of their blood red color and are used by tropical fish keeping enthusiasts worldwide as a fish food.

Although live bloodworms are sold by some specialty fish shops, they are mostly sold in their frozen or freeze dried form.

Although live bloodworms can be raised in plastic containers with some garden soil, a dark room or closet is preferred.   Either way is a challenge.

First, collect the eggs from a stagnant water pond.   The eggs are gelatinous egg sacs that are usually attached to plants.   When the eggs hatch, they can be fed with powdered foods or farm animal (preferably pig) manure until they mature and can be netted in the dark, when they are most active.

To breed multiple generations of blood worms, allow a few of them to hatch into their adult (fly) stage and they will lay their eggs into the bloodworm container where the life cycle continues. Any escapees will head towards the nearest stagnant pool or pond to lay their eggs where you can continue to collect them.

Bloodworms are known to carry diseases and should be thoroughly rinsed several times to minimize any problems.

  • Brine Shrimp (Artemia):

Live Brine Shrimp are a good nutritional food source that are easy to propagate and are readily accepted by most tropical fish species including killifish.   Baby brine shrimp in particular, are high in protein content, replicate what the fish eat in the wild, and are a perfect food for juvenile and small adult killifish.

Some specialty fish shops carry live adult brine shrimp that are sold by the “scoop” or in small net fulls, but because they are so easy to raise, most aquarists hatch their own eggs for their fish.

Great Salt Lake Artemia cysts (brine shrimp eggs) are readily available in bulk, sealed, air tight containers.   They are best kept at a temperature of 40 degrees F which is why most hobbyists keep them in the refrigerator until they are ready to begin the hatching process.   A variety of brine shrimp hatchery kits are available online from a number of sources, or you can easily make one for yourself with some airline tubing, a small aquarium air pump, a liter or 2 liter bottle, and a small light or aquarium heater.

To keep a constant supply of fresh brine shrimp available, several cultures need to be maintained.   The video below is an example of how you can make a DIY hatchery that will provide a constant supply for fresh food.

Most suppliers of Artemia cysts will guarantee a 90 to 95% hatch rate.
Decapsulated brine shrimp eggs and eggs in different size increments are also available from suppliers. As a last option, you can also try feeding your killifish frozen brine shrimp.

  • Daphnia Magna:

Live Daphnia (Daphnia Magna) also known as “water bugs” or “water fleas” are an excellent live food source that can be cultured or collected from farm ponds.   They live in freshwater, are really easy to cultivate at home, will not foul the water, and will stay alive in the aquarium until your killifish are ready to eat them.    However, they should never be used exclusively as a food source because ingesting too many can act as a laxative to the fish.

Cultivating Daphnia at home is economical and provides a constant source of disease free live food.   Add the egg culture to some fresh aged tank water placed under a light source, and wait 48 to 72 hours for them to hatch.

Hatching Daphnia eggs:

Fill the culture tank with fresh, aged, (preferably green) water, from a healthy aquarium. (Avoid salty water)
Siphon water from the bottom of a healthy tank and collect enough organic matter to start the culture.
Add some pond snails, ramshorn, or corkscrew snails to the tank for cleanup.
Add live plants and a piece of driftwood if desired
Cover the bottom of the tank with natural, rock gravel (not the fake gravel you get from the pet store).
Add a length of rigid tubing to some airline tubing and submerse to create a slight stream of bubbles; just enough to dissipate any surface film in the tank.
Add a strong florescent light above the tank for a minimum of 20 to 72 hours and maintain a water temperature between 60 and 75 degrees F.
The Daphnia should be fed regularly and will reproduce quickly to provide you with an ongoing food source for your killies.

Most suppliers of Dry Daphnia Magna eggs will provide you with food for the culture, an instruction guide, and even a pipette to remove the Daphnia.

  • Drosophila Fruit Flies:

Many species of tropical fish in their natural environment subsist on a diet of insects and seldom if ever get them in an aquarium environment.
Drosophila Fruit Flies are a great way to provide live insects for surface feeding species like hatchetfish, butterfly fish, killifish, etc.   Although they can be purchased from some specialty fish shops, the best way to acquire a constant source is to raise them yourself.

Drosophila Fruit Flies are a flightless species that can be easily cultured in a soft drink bottle with a wide opening.   Purchase a commercial fruit fly medium or make some yourself from equal parts of crushed Cheerios and yellow oatmeal with a pinch of bakers yeast and water.   Put about 3 or 4 tablespoons of the mixture into the bottle with a pinch of yeast and shake up the bottle.    Add about 4 tablespoons of warm water to the bottle, plug the top with a cotton ball, and set it in a warm location for a couple of days to work.   Don’t stir the mixture.

After a couple of days remove the cotton ball and introduce about a dozen fruit flies along with something for them to crawl on into the bottle.   A wide strip of plastic from an old lawn chair cut to about 1 inch wide and long enough to reach the bottom will do just fine.

In about a week or two you will have adults ready for feeding.   Just remove the plastic strip and shake the adults into the aquarium.

The video below provides a quick alternative to the above method.

Flightless fruit flies, like Drosophila hydei or Drosophila melanogaster can be purchased from specialized pet shops or online from a variety of sources with a commercial medium starter and instruction sheet.

  • Grindal Worms:

Grindal Worms are small white non parasitic worms that are closely related to earthworms.   They are smaller than white worms, growing to a little over 1/4″ in length, and have a nutritional value of about 70% protein and 14% fat which makes them a valuable addition to an aquarium fish’s diet.

Grindal Worm cultures are readily available online from a variety of sources and are normally supplied with an information sheet, a medium mix, and instructions for growing the worms. A substantial quantity can be grown in a container as small as a shoe box.

  • Microworms:

Microworms are easy to grow, easy to collect, and make a great food for small tropicals and baby fry.   Many killifish breeders feed microworms to their fry as a complement to baby brine shrimp as an initial diet.

You can easily grow microworms in a small, wide, 2″ to 3″ high plastic container.   Mix some Gerber’s multi grain baby cereal with a little bakers yeast with enough warm water to form a thick paste that can be rolled into a ball and place it into the container along with the initial starter microworm culture.

Leave the culture in a warm location for a week or so until the growing medium breaks down and the worms are crawling up the sides of the container.   Harvested them by scraping them off the container walls as needed.

In about a month or so production will slow down and the medium will turn brown.   When this happens, start a new batch and dispose of the old culture.

  • Moina:

Moina macrocopa are a smaller version of Daphnia that grow to only 0.02-0.04 inch in size. They are a popular live food for fish fry and small killifish, and have a higher protein and lower fat content than Daphnia Magna.   Moina are cultured using the same methods that are used for Daphnia and are available online from a variety of sources.

  • Mosquito Larvae:

Depending on where you live, mosquito larvae are available seasonally or year round.  They can be collected from ponds, almost any standing water, or even cultured by placing them in a container of green water, but care must be taken to not allow completion of a full life cycle.   Few shops sell live mosquito larvae so they must be collected from slow moving water.

  • Tubifex Worms:

Tubifex worms are an excellent food source but they can carry diseases to your fish.   The tropical fish shops that do sell live tubifex recommend rinsing them thoroughly under cold running water in a shallow container to remove the nasty castings and keeping them refrigerated if they are to be used immediately.

If they are not being used immediately, they should be held in trays of cold running water which removes their wastes.

Frozen and freeze dried tubifex worms are readily available in most tropical fish shops.

  • Vinegar Eels:

Vinegar eels (Turbatrix aceti) are actually free living nematodes that eat the microorganisms in unfiltered apple cider vinegar, hence their name.   Their wriggling movements trigger the natural eating reflex of many species which makes them a frequently used first food for fish fry and adult killifish.

Vinegar eels are extremely easy to culture.   Just mix half apple cider vinegar with half apple juice in a bottle along with your culture and keep the temperature between 65 to 75 degrees F.

In a few days, millions of little vinegar eels will be swarming in the jar ready to be fed to your fish.   Vinegar eel cultures are more stable than microworms and can last up to a year or more, however a back up culture is highly recommended, especially if you are breeding your killies.

  • White Worms:

White worms reach a maximum length of 1″, are high in fat content, and are an excellent food source for all tropical fish species.   They are reasonably easy to raise under the right conditions and are not plagued by parasites like tubifex and black worms.

White worms need a moist substrate kept in a dark location at a temperature below 70 degrees F in order to thrive.   A three or four inch layer of a moist 50/50 mixture of peat moss and potting soil makes an excellent medium for growing white worms.   The moisture level of the medium is the most critical factor.   Too much water will crash the culture and too little water will dry out the worms.

The video below provides an alternate method for culturing white worms.

Because White worms are high in fat content, most tropical fish keeping enthusiasts do not recommend feeding them more than a couple of times a week unless the fish are being conditioned for breeding.

There are other live foods for killifish that tropical fish keeping enthusiasts feed larger species such as “red wriggler” earthworms, Scuds or Side Swimmers (Amphipoda), etc. but the main thing to bear in mind is that a variety of the above foods is key to good health and successful breeding practices.

2 Responses to “Live Foods For Killifish”

  1. Vinicius Paranhos Mattos says:

    Very interesting! If possible?
    I would like the value of a white worm to start. Shipping to 1044 S. Milite Trail, Zip code 33442, FL

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