Live Fish Food: Ultimate Guide to Types of Live Cultures

Live fish food is a type of fish food that is fed to fish in its live form. It triggers instinctual feeding habits of fish. The movement of live food, such as a wiggling worm, makes it irresistible for even the pickiest feeders.

While the majority of fish keepers feed exclusively dry aquarium fish food to their fish, professional breeders often incorporate live fish food as part of the fishes’ diet.

It is true that aquarium fish food that are manufactured by most leading brands are formulated to meet all of the basic nutritional requirements of fish. However, live fish food provides something that the dry pellet and flake food does not. Here are some benefits to live fish food, and reasons why they are necessary:

  • Fish that have been introduced from the wild are not accustomed to eating dry food. These fish will most likely require live food for a period of time. Some fish may be able to acclimate to dry feed and require live food indefinitely.
  • Newborn fry need to learn to eat dry food. However, when they see a small organism wiggling in front of them, they know it’s food by instinct. They chase after it and swallow it immediately.
  • Newborn fry of many fish species are extremely small. Due to their small size, they are mechanically limited in what they can eat. When finely crushed flake food is not small enough, live fish food may be necessary.
  • Adult fish that regularly eat dry feed may still need live fish food to breed. Even if the nutritional content is present in the pellet feed, sometimes they simply require the live food to convince them to breed.
  • Many live fish food contain a high percentage protein content, as well as other nutritional components. Due to the highest nutritional content retained in live foods, it is beneficial for various fish of different stages.

As a word of caution, live food can be a host to parasites, diseases, and contaminants. Only live food collected from a trusted source should be used. It is always better to cultivate your own live food when possible, since it can be better managed and controlled. In addition, cultivating your own live food is often more cost effective in the long term.

Types of Live Fish Food

This is a list of live fish food that are used in the aquarium hobby. Some are more commonly used than others. They are listed in alphabetical order, not by size.

Banana Worm

Banana worms (Panagrellus nepenthicola) are small nematodes that are approximately 1.5 mm in length. Due to their small size, they are great for feeding fry. Banana worms are very easy to culture. You can grow them on just oatmeal and yeast.

Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp (Artemia) is a saltwater shrimp. They are often available as brine shrimp eggs or Artemis cysts. These eggs can be stored for approximately 2 years in dry oxygen free conditions, and they can be hatched within a few hours by placing them in saltwater. They are only 0.4 mm in length when hatched, making them a great source of live food for fry. Adult brine shrimp reaches 10-12 mm in length. The adults can be fed to a wide variety of fish.

California Blackworm

California blackworm (Lumbriculus variegatus) is a species of worm that lives in shallow bodies of water such as ponds, rivers, and lakes. They are 4-10 cm in length they reproduce primarily by separating and regenerating its body. They are great for conditioning adult fish for breeding.

Copepod

Both freshwater and saltwater copepod species exist. Typically, they are 1-2 mm in length. Due to their small size, these crustaceans are suitable for fry feed.

Daphnia

Daphnia, also known as water fleas, are small freshwater crustaceans that are 0.2 – 5 mm in length. Many species of Daphnia exist, but some of the most common species are Daphnia pulex and Daphnia magna. Daphnia pulex is the most common species of them all. Daphnia magna can reach up to 5 mm in size, making them one of the largest species of Daphnia. Both species are widely used as fish food in the aquarium hobby and aquaculture.

Duckweed

Duckweed is an freshwater plant that grows in the surface of the water. The common duckweed (Lemna minor) grows very quickly, and it can be cultivated with very little effort. It is a good source vegetable protein, vitamins, and minerals. Not all fish will eat duckweed, but many fish including goldfish, koi, and tilapia will.

Earthworm

Earthworms such as red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are a great source of live fish food. Red wigglers reach 7-10 cm in length, making them suitable for medium to larger sized fish. Since they can be cultivated from compost, they can be a cost effective source of protein and lipid content. Studies have shown that earthworms can replace fishmeal up to 50% without reducing fish growth, according to Aquaculture Alliance.

Feeder Fish

Smaller fish such as goldfish are sometimes used to feed larger fish. Keep in mind that “feeder goldfish” available in stores are often housed in crowded conditions, raising the risk of introducing parasites and diseases.

Gammarus Shrimp

Gammarus shrimp, also known as scuds, are freshwater crustaceans that reach approximately 2 cm in size. They are often available in dried form in local fish stores. However, the live Gammarus can be cultured as well. Since they are scavengers, they will feed on anything from fish food to decaying leaves. The carotenoid that is present in Gammarus is known to enhance the fishes’ natural color.

Green Water

An abundance of phytoplankton makes the water green, hence green water. Green water in an aquarium is often despised and considered unsightly. However, in many natural ecosystems, green water form the base of the aquatic food chain. It supports small organisms such as invertebrates, larval fish, and fry.

Grindal Worm

Grindal worms (Enchytraeus buchholzi) are small annelid worms reaching approximately 7 mm in length. Due to their small size, they are suitable for fry. Grindal worms are very similar to white worms. They both grow in soil, and have similar feeding habits. However, grindal worms are smaller and prefer a slightly warmer temperature range.

Infusoria

Infusoria can be used to feed very small fry. An infusoria culture will consist of many small organisms such as Rotifers, Paramecium, Algae, Amoebas, Euglena, Stentor, and Vorticella. When the fry are too small to consume baby brine shrimp and other live food, infusoria can be used.

Mealworm

Mealworms are great for larger fish such as Arowana, Oscar, and koi. They are easy to culture and maintain. They can be grown on a simple diet of oats. However, by gut loading them, you can pass on more nutritional value to the fish.

Microfex Worm

Microfex worms, or Dero worms, are small aquatic worms is 1-2 cm long. They resemble blackworms and tubifex worms, but they are much smaller in size. They grow in clumps and feed on variety of decaying matter.

Microworm

Microworms (Panagrellus redivivus) are small nematodes that reach 1-2 mm in length. They are a great source of food for fry, and very easy to culture. Some oatmeal and yeast is all that they require. Due to the ease of culturing microworms, they are one of the most popular types of live fish food for fry.

Moina

Moina is a species of freshwater crustacean. They are similar to Daphnia, but smaller than most Daphnia species such as Daphnia pulex and Daphnia magna. They are only 0.5 mm in length. Due to their small size, they are suitable for feeding fry.

Mosquito Larvae

Mosquito larvae can be an inexpensive source of live fish food. Many fish eat mosquito fish larvae as a part of their natural diet, and they are nutritious. However, be sure to harvest mosquito larvae from a clean source. Mosquito larvae are often found in puddles and ditches, but these sources are often contaminated. In addition, be sure to use the mosquito larvae quickly, before they turn into adult mosquitoes. Once the mosquito larvae is collected, the rest of the container that held the water should be emptied completely.

Tubifex Worm

Tubifex worm live in muddy sediments of river and lakes. They are found in ditches and open sewers as well. They have been a popular source of live food in the aquarium trade for a very long time. However, since they are often harvested from polluted areas, they have been a common cause of parasite and disease. Therefore, it is important to obtain tubifex from a clean source.

Vinegar Eel

Vinegar eels (Turbatrix aceti) are nematodes that live in vinegar. Mature specimen will reach about 2 mm in length. Their small size makes them suitable as fry food. One advantage of vinegar eels is that they can survive in water for a longer period than other nematodes such as microworms. While microworms can only survive in water for 12 – 24 hours, vinegar eels will survive in freshwater for several days.

Walter Worm

Water worm (Panagrellus Silusioides) is a nematode that was isolated by Helmut Walter of Germany in 2002. Walter worms grow to about 1.5 mm in length, making them slightly smaller than microworms. They can be culture very easily using oatmeal and yeast.

White Worm

White worms (Enchytraeus albidus) are annelid worms that can be cultured in soil. They grow to about 2-3 cm in length, making them a good size for juveniles and adult fish. A well established white worm culture can be one of the best sources of live fish food since they are rich and protein and lipids. They are similar to grindal worms. Compared to grindal worms, white worms are slightly larger and prefer a cooler temperature.

Wingless Drosophila

Wingless drosophila (Drosophila melanogaster), or commonly known as fruit flies, can be a good source of live fish food. The wingless variety can managed easily and it can be cultivated relatively easily as well. Since many fish eat small insects in their natural environment, they will not hesitate to eat the fruit flies.

In nature, fish are opportunistic feeders and they feed on a wide variety of invertebrates and other living organisms. This is not a comprehensive list of live fish food. We are continuously updating this list. Please contact us for suggestions.

Where to get live fish food?

Many live fish food can be source from local rivers and lakes. Small invertebrates such as daphnia are very common in many regions worldwide. When harvesting these organisms, make sure they are from a clean source.

Local fish clubs may be a valuable source of live fish food. Many hobbyist keep a culture of live food such as microworms year-round. They may be willing to share a starter culture.

You can buy live fish food from retailers. Local pet stores is a good source of live food such as earthworms, mealworms, and wingless drosophila. For other types of live food that pet stores do not carry, look into online retailers such as Aquabid, eBay, and Amazon.