Aquarium Fish Nutrition (Proper Aquatic Nutrition)
What Ingredients are needed for Optimum Fish Disease Resistance, Growth and Health;
How to Determine the Best Fish Foods
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
The content of this article has been updated regularly, often monthly, to be as up to date as possible citing other's research too (including fish food expert Clay Neighbors).
In fact there are many otherwise good fish foods on the market that utilize excellent ingredients, but their failure to optimize ingredients and/or their preparation process often leaves these fish foods lacking, this includes many, if not most, of the popular so-called "quality" fish foods currently on the market.
Hopefully this article can educate readers as to all important aspects of what goes into an optimum prepared fish food diet. This way readers can apply this information to any fish food in an educated manner.
As while I certainly recommend many excellent fish foods in this article (as in the previous paragraph) as well as "pan" others, there are certainly many others that are not mentioned that might be excellent based on the ingredients along with any optimization of these ingredients as well as the order of the ingredients (it is noteworthy that all ingredients are listed in order of most to least).
However the reader may also find out that what they may have considered a top notch fish food is not quite as good as they thought as per poor optimization of proteins and especially energy levels which can cause renal failure or fatty liver disease over time.
There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes an optimal fish food.
The aquarist needs to understand that there are similarities and differences between fish and other animals.
For example; Fish get most of their energy needs from fat, however in humans carbohydrates are generally considered the better source.
Another point is amino acids (the building blocks of proteins); almost all animals have different amino acid needs.
For example; Cats need Taurine in there diet or they can suffer heart problems.
Back to fish; the wrong amino acids in any fish will lead to aquarium pollution (extra ammonia) from lack of digestibility and potential renal failure (kidney failure) in the fish.
Then there is the speed of digestion, some fish such as goldfish tend to have slower digestive tracts (I like to compare it to a horse, but there are major differences such as the stomach).
One similarity is that if too high a protein or the wrong protein diet is fed, the horse may colic, and in goldfish they will build up intestinal gas and infections including of the swim bladder or occasionally dropsy will ensue.
As for the stomach of goldfish (& other cyprinids), I would have to respectfully disagree with the TV show "Tanked", as although it is a rudimentary stomach, from what I see of the goldfish anatomy IS A stomach.
Reference: Do goldfish Have a Stomach; The Fish Vet?
But more importantly, regardless of which side you fall on the issue of whether or not a goldfish has a stomach; What is a fact is that this small or rudimentary goldfish stomach along with their long intestinal tract tends to loose moisture readily because of this small stomach and long intestinal tract.
So soaking dry goldfish foods is ESSENTIAL for prevention of bloating and gut Aeromonas infections. As well, too high a protein diet can cause issues, which is why a diet rich in slow to digest plant based material such as algae is essential (Spirulina is best), but low in certain proteins that require short intestinal tracts.
Here is a quote from a Veterinary University article:
"Goldfish use their long intestine to feed heavily on difficult-to-digest algae and organic detritus"
Back to other Fish: Another note about fish food is what carnivores need. Carnivorous fish often consume whole animals including intestinal contents, which often include plant material. A quality fish food for carnivores must include vegetable matter such as spirulina.
An important point about aquatic nutrition to think about is what is best for the fish is NOT necessarily what the fish eat most readily.
Many foods add ingredients that “enhance” flavor and use terms such as the “Rich Mix” to describe their product and claim that fish eat their fish food well, which is often true.
HOWEVER this is NOT an indicator of quality nutrition.
Think about this; when is the last time you have placed spinach and candy in front of a child and seen what one they will pick?
Or it has been shown in studies that most dogs will prefer cat food over dog food due to cat foods more “rich” ingredients, yet in these same studies dogs fed a diet of cat food are destined to an early death due to renal failure.
Along this same line, if I offer TetraMin at the same time as a vastly superior food such as Spirulina 20 Fish Food Flake, in most instances the fish will prefer the TetraMin. However this does not prove superior nutrition in the least and in fact is the reason I generally only feed one type of fish food at a time so that fish cannot “pick and choose” what they eat and ignore a nutritional part of their diet.
This is an important point as well in the fact that many quality fish foods such as the before mentioned Spirulina Flake or Aqua Master ultra premium fish foods do NOT have added enhancers (why add these and lower nutritional value) and thus often take longer for fish to accept when first offered, but in the end I have found that well over 90% of fish will eventually accept these fish foods when that is all that is offered.
*Spirulina 20 Premium Fish Food Flake
*Aqua Master Ultra Premium Fish Foods; from Koi to Tropical
Another common practice is to artificially add colors that add no nutritional value (and may even be detrimental) just to look “pretty” or appealing to the aquarist. Some brands of Fish Food Flakes such Aqueon Fish Foods have colors of their fish foods that are attributed to the actual ingredients in the formula (such as Marigold Powder, Chili Powder, Spinach, etc.).
This method is preferable as it helps to bring out the natural colors in your fish, while keeping them energetic and healthy.
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HERE ARE A FEW BUILDING BLOCK INGREDIENTS:
Eggs (whether fish or even chicken) has one of the higher protein qualities. Which makes hard boiled egg crumbles an excellent food source for fry.
Other essential Amino acids include (essential, meaning amino acids that cannot be produced within the fish’ body from other nutrients and proteins): Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine + Cystine3, Phenylalanine + Tryosine4, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine.
Other quality sources of usable amino acids include: Whole fish meal (Whole Menhaden & salmon is best), Cylcops, fish roe, squid meal, and even spirulina algae.
Bottom line; Not all protein sources are equal nor is maximum protein desirable.
An analogy used at a pet food seminar I attended was this: You can achieve the protein analysis on many pet foods with a used pair of leather shoes, but leather shoes contain little usable proteins. In this seminar the leaders demonstrated that either too much protein (instead of optimum protein) and/or less digestible proteins/amino acids led to premature kidney (renal) failure
Another point as to grain or plant sources (Spirulina does NOT fall into this category), is that proteins in cereal grains and other plant concentrates do not contain complete amino acid profiles and usually are deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
Molecular compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water. Fats are important for insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. They also serve as energy stores for the body. Fats are broken down in the body to release glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver and thus used as a source of energy.
The fatty acids are the main source of energy in fish, especially for many tissues, such as heart and skeletal muscle. Another important function for fats are for vitamin absorption.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with fats.
More information about this below carbohydrates section, including an important discussion as per energy levels ina fish food and their effect on potential fatty liver disease.
The lipids (fats) in fish can be separated into liquid fish oils and solid fats.
This is why fats/lipid for use in fish food are best obtained from aquatic sources such as Whole Fishmeal.
Fish lipids are highly digestible by all species of fish (& animals) and are excellent sources of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in both the omega-3 and omega-6 families of fatty acids.
The predominant omega-3 fatty acids in fishmeal and fish oil are linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Both DHA and EPA fatty acids are produced and passed along the food chain by small-size algae and zooplankton, which are consumed by fish. Fishmeal and oil contain more omega-3, than omega-6 fatty acids, although not all sources are equal. Whole fish meal, in particular whole Menhaden fish meal is your best source.
In contrast, most plant lipids contain higher concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. For example, oil extracted from soybeans, corn, or cottonseed is rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid.
Some oils, like those from canola and flax seeds contain linolenic acid (of the omega-3 family), however, its conversion into essential DHA and EPA by most animals may be limited.
More about Omega 3 & 6
As with most animals, it is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet, as these two substances work together to promote health. However in fish it is the Omega 3 that is most needed and many warm water freshwater do not readily produce this fatty acid like most coldwater marine fish can.
Omega-3 fatty acids are THE essential fatty acid and one of the benefits is that they help reduce inflammation, while most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
One problem with many fish foods that are void of Whole Fish Meal (vs. plain fish meal which has often lost most oils), Fish oils, or similar are that they often will get their fats from plant sources that lack even short-chain Omega 3 and only contain Omega 6.
Very few plants produce Omega-3 fats, and plant-based Omega-3 fats such as Flax, walnuts and camelina are slightly different than fish omega-3s.
Plants produce a shorter chain molecule than fish, while fish produce long-chain omega-3 oil, but even warm water freshwater fish may be able to convert these short-chain omega-3 oils to the long-chain version.
An ongoing study has shown where farmed fish were fed partially with camelina suggested that they were converting the oil to the longer chain Omega 3 fatty acid.
Molecular substances which include the sugars, starches, gums and celluloses. The common attributes of carbohydrates are that they contain only the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and that their combustion will yield carbon dioxide plus one or more molecules of water.
Most of the carbohydrates, which enter the diet of fish are of plant origin.
Carnivorous fish such as groupers, therefore, deal with little carbohydrate. Indeed, experiments have shown that these species are ill-equipped to handle significant quantities of raw carbohydrate, in their diets.
The ability of fish to digest carbohydrates depends on their ability to elaborate amylase. All species of fish have been shown to secrete at least some amylase. It has also been demonstrated that activity of this enzyme was greatest in herbivores.
Carbohydrates are not a superior energy source for fish over protein or fat although digestible carbohydrates do spare protein for tissue building. Also, unlike in mammals, glycogen is not a significant storage depot of energy in fish.
The more efficient metabolism of amino acids over carbohydrates (glucose) by fish for energy could be due to the ability of fish to excrete nitrogenous waste as ammonia from their gills without the high cost of energy in converting the waste to urea.
Limiting of Fish Food Energy Levels:
What is also noteworthy is that fish use sugar and carbs/starch found in any fish food first since they can store very little if any.
In a study conducted by Clay Neighbors of Paradigm Fish Foods & now patent pending AAP Custom Fish Foods found that fish stopped breeding after being fed a trial diets of less than 226 points (energy point system) of carbs and fats. This means that the females didn't have enough reserve energy to produce eggs. Clay raised the energy a little and the fish started breeding again.
They established that the optimum combined carbs and fat is about 280 points for the average warm water fish (in particular cichlids), anymore and the fish can suffer from fatty liver and other issues and much less and the fish are not receiving the proper energy requirements.
It is noteworthy that these same studies showed that cool water species, in particular trout, did require higher energy levels, which was to be expected.
A University of Florida study has shown ceroidosis of the organs and Malawi Bloat are directly related to energy levels of food being too high. My own observations over decades of professional fish keeping with 1000s of clients aquariums concur with this research and also includes Dropsy and as well as issues of bloat in goldfish.
Susceptibility to other infections such as my observations with Columnaris are also confirmed in this research. This is why the optimization of energy levels in a fish food is so important as research and professional observations point out!!
Energy Point System
Starch, Sugar, & Proteins 1%:4 points (multiply percentage by 4)
Fats (Much more efficient energy) 1%:9 points (multiply percentage by 9).
Then add both numbers to get your fish food's energy points.
Please note many fish foods fail to provide starch/carbohydrates/sugar in their analysis, so you have deduce the carbs/sugars by adding all known percentages then subtracting to get the car/sugar likely percentage.
You can then add these numbers to get the points of the fish food you are feeding (this applies to dried fish foods).
The SUMMARY section of this article provides another example on how to read a fish food label using a popular discount store brand fish food so as to get these numbers. You will be astonished as to how many popular fish food brands, even those considered among the best, get poor grades as per optimum energy levels.
As an example, using a good food, but still too high in energy levels as proven in University level studies, is Hikari Goldfish Gold which gets most of its energy from starches (which is not the best way as shown), but more importantly their energy levels are double what are considered best.
Further Reference: ufl.edu; "Nutrition for juvenile African cichlids"
Product Resource: AAP/Paradigm Ultra Premium Custom Fish Foods
FISH FOOD SOURCES:
"Condensed Fish Protein Digest" is the condensed enzymatic digest of clean undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings using the enzyme hydrolysis process.
SHRIMP MEAL (& Plankton/Krill):
Shrimp meal can be made from either cull shrimp that are being processed before freezing or from whole shrimp that is not of suitable quality for human consumption.
The material to be made into shrimp meal is dried (sun or using a dryer) and then ground. Shrimp meal has been used in trout and salmon diets as a source of pigments to impart the desirable color in the tissues.
Shrimp/Plankton either whole or as a part of another prepared food is an excellent source for fats needed for the growth of heads in Flowerhorn Cichlids.
Krill Meal is similar (& often Krill Meal is labeled as Shrimp Meal).
Another positive aspect of Shrimp/Krill Meal is that it often has a high palatability for many fish, especially small “finicky” fish such as many small Tetras.
For this reason many quality fish foods specifically designed for small finicky fish includes this food source as a major ingredient.
Examples include the 'Ultra Premium Aqua Master Tropical Fish Food micro pellets' as well as 'Hikari Micro Wafers' (which also includes Garlic) or for delicate Marine Fish, 'Hikari Marine S'.
Shrimp/Krill meal has been found to be an acceptable supplemental protein source for fish, but inferior to whole fish meal for pepsin digestibility.
Squid Meal is made from squid viscera portions from cannery plants including egg and testis.
Squid Meal is high digestibility of protein source, which provides a full range of amino acids for fish. It provides various kinds of vitamins and minerals and also 1.0-1.5% of cholesterol that is suitable for fish fry and young fish.
Just over a centimeter in size, the adult brine shrimp (Artemia) is a common food source for fish. They can be purchased at many Pet Stores as adults, Freeze dried or even eggs.
The eggs look like a powdery brown substance but in reality the substance is thousands of cysts—eggs surrounded by protective cases. When added to water, these cysts will hatch into shrimp nauplii within a few hours.
As a food source brine shrimp are relatively limited (mostly because of their high water content). They are a good source of carotene for color and act as a natural laxative in fish digestive systems. The proteins they do supply are of high quality. Depending on the source they also can supply vegetable matter due to their consumption of algae.
As I noted, Brine Shrimp have a natural laxative ability and along with shelled peas makes for an excellent laxative for constipated fish.
Even better would be to combine a high content Spirulina Flake such as Spirulina 20 and make a thick soup and soak some frozen or even FD Brine Shrimp (frozen or live is slightly better) for a natural immune boosting/laxative that is excellent for Bettas, goldfish, etc.
Hikari also makes a Spirulina enhanced FD Brine Shrimp product that is excellent as well.
*Freeze Dried Brine Shrimp Fish Food
*Hikari Spirulina enhanced FD Brine Shrimp
Spirulina is a blue-green plant plankton rich in raw protein and seven major vitamins: A1, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E.
There is a lot of both subjective and objective evidence about the use and effectiveness of garlic for fish.
Although still fed to fish and often part of many homemade fish food recipes due to popular YouTube channels and other social media, Beef Heart is a food source that should be used very sparingly if at all.
Although many carnivorous fish enjoy it and it may be a good way to kick start growth in juvenile fish, excessive long term use can add stress to the fish' digestive tract and kidneys, thus lowering resistance to disease and shortening lifespan (which I noted in some side by side fish food comparisons in the 1980s where Oscar Fish that were fed a diet primarily of Beef Heart had CLEARLY shorter life spans and were more prone to infections or other problems such as HITH).
Although lower in fats than most warm blooded animal meats, Beef Heart is still about 18% Saturated Fat. These fats are very difficult for fish to process these fats, especially older fish.
The well known aquatic author Martin A. Moe (my favorite is the
"The Marine Aquarium Handbook") states:
"Fish are cold blooded and all digestion reactions take place at 70 to 80F, the temp of aquarium water. Thus they may not be able to efficiently digest or use the types of fats present in the flesh of warm blooded animals. They are much better off with the flesh of animals that are similar to their normal prey."
As well the amino acids (which make up proteins) are not ones that are easily utilized by fish.
Another issue with the use of Beef Heart is due to its make up, it often leads to considerable aquarium pollution when used regularly, which is another reason to use sparingly (if at all).
Unfortunately our hobby seems to no longer respect mentors or those who existed even a few years before they got into hobby with their Facebook pages and YouTube channels, so the experience of Martin A. Moe & others is but a foreign language to these persons who should know better as the use of beef heart was LONG AGO discredited as a fish food source.
So BEWARE please do not make this mistake.
Use of soybean products in the aquaculture industry have become the focus of protein substitution in fish food around the world. The high protein level makes soybean meal a key ingredient for aquaculture feeds since soybean meal is considerably less expensive than traditionally used marine animal meals.
However, while soy is more of an exception, proteins in cereal grains and other plant based concentrates generally do not contain complete amino acid profiles and usually are more deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
The limiting amino acid content of soybean meal is moderately high, and are not to amino acid profiles of Whole fish meal or eggs.
Another thought about soy is its digestibility compared to animal based proteins. I have done a lot of reading on this aspect if only because I have become a "SIBO" patient in recent years (Small Intestine Bacterial Over-growth). I have found in practical experience and then later read that soy based products cause me more issues.
While the use of soybean meal is OK, fish foods that use soybean meal as the primary protein source should be avoided. Moreover, use of soybean meal as a source of vegetable matter should also be avoided as this can affect the protein limiting when used with other protein sources such as whole fish meal.
Carbohydrates as explained earlier are not the best source of energy in fish, but sources of Carbohydrates still can be useful, especially when whole wheat is used.
PEAS & PEA FLOUR:
Green peas or green pea flour is a good source of fiber (when not over processed & include the hull). Pea flour is also used to lower protein which is important and missed often even by premium brand fish foods. Please reference the amino acids section earlier in this article for more.
Dried green pea flour also contains these nutrition parameters: 2.4% fat/lipids and 28.2% starch, 27.7% fiber, 6.9% sugar, 3% minerals and 5% moisture.
Fresh or frozen green peas are often used as a digestive aid for constipation in fish (along with Brine Shrimp), in particular Goldfish.
Make sure to boil or microwave the peas first (then cool) so as to soften. Then remove the skin and cut in 1/2 using the what would be the stem of the seed curved along the center of the pea as a cutting guide.
*AAP Custom/Paradigm, Fish Food Crumbles with fresh ground Pea Flour
Reference: Green peas nutrition
CRICKETS, CRICKET FLOUR/MEAL:
Cricket Flour/Meal is highly digestible and since insects or insect larva/pupae are a common natural food ingredient for many fish, its use as part of carnivore or omnivore fish food is something that improves the quality of the food but is unfortunately not very commonly used (likely due to costs).
Many fish are predominately insectivorous (animals that primarily eat insects) such as Arowana, African Butterfly fish, so the use of this Cricket Flour is something that might be sought out as an ingredient.
Cricket flour is a complete source of protein containing essential amino acids that include; leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and valine.
Of course fresh or FD Crickets are an excellent food source for fish large enough to consume these food sources, especially when gut loaded with Spirulina prior to feeding (as noted later in this article).
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FISH COLOR ENHANCERS & IMMUNE ENHANCERS:
First here are a couple of immune enhancers used in prepared (or homemade) fish foods. Spirulina could be included too, but since it was already covered separately, please refer to that section of the article.
*Paprika has anti-inflammatory properties and gives a boost to the immune system.
Paprika is 15% protein without a complete amino acid profile and contains 11% Omega 3 as well as 89% Omega 6. It also has 13% fat/lipids and 8.4% starch, 37.5% fiber, 10% sugar, 7% minerals and 9.1% moisture.
Paprika is a very good source of Iron and has these Vitamins: A, C, E, K,and B6.
Paprika contains these minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Manganese and Selenium.
It is noteworthy that drying of prepared fish foods reduces Vitamin C to almost nothing however drying Paprika actually increases the Vitamin C.
*Cayenne Pepper has anti-bacterial properties and aids in digestion.
Cayenne Pepper is 12% protein without a complete amino acid profile and contains 11% Omega 3 and 89% Omega 6. It also has 17% fat/lipids and 19.4% starch, 27.4% fiber, 10.2% sugar, 6% minerals and 8% moisture.
Cayenne Pepper has these vitamins: A, C, E, K, B1, B6, B2, B3, M and Choline.
Cayenne Pepper contains these minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Manganese and Selenium.
Next here are some proven color enhancers.
While I already note color enhancing properties of certain fish food ingredients, I will use this section to address specific proven natural fish color enhancers, especially as it applies to Koi, Goldfish, and some Cichlids.
*Carotenoids are a broad group of terpenoid (with 8 isoprene units) color enhancers are organic pigments that are naturally occurring in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants and some other photosynthetic organisms such as algae, a few bacteria, and a few types of fungus.
The following are essentially sub groups of Carotenoids:
*Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid alcohol that is considered by Koi experts in Japan to provide vivid color-enhancement of the yellow, orange, & red areas ('Hiban' as per Japanese Koi breeders), all the while not impacting the white areas ("Shiroji" as per Japanese Koi breeders).
Zeaxanthin is found in Paprika, Safron, marigold, and most notably Spirulina.
*Astaxanthin is a carotenoid belonging to a class of phytochemicals known as terpenes that is helpful for enhancing red pigments.
Astaxanthin is found in Chlorella algae, lobster, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, crustaceans, & other shellfish.
Most of the astaxanthin for aquaculture is produced synthetically even though astaxanthin is fairly abundant and obtainable from natural sources (albeit for triple the price).
I have not found any real proof of any advantages in using natural over artificial astaxanthin based on scientific evidence.
Regardless of this unproven controversy, some fish foods claim to use only natural sources such as "Aqua Master Koi Foods"
Here are a few other color enhancers and their color enhancing abilities (although not all scientifically confirmed)
Lutein (found in high amounts in dandelion leaves): Greenish-yellow
*Koi Answers; Color Enhancers
FISH FOOD SOURCES NOT TO USE:
*Lettuce; this is mostly cellulose and empty nutrition and worse lettuce is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria that can in turn cloud your aquarium and compete with fish for oxygen (many labs use lettuce for this).
It is MUCH better to use commercially sold seaweed over lettuce, or even spinach or any other garden vegetable not only for reasons of less issues with bacteria growth, but also for vastly better nutrition.
*Bread; again mostly empty nutrition to fish (maybe not for humans, but as noted earlier fish get their energy primarily from fats). Also bread again will attract un wanted bacteria.
HOMEMADE FISH FOOD:
You can make your own supplement for general fish feeding that is high in DL-methionine; Start with whole salmon which is an excellent source of carotene for color (frozen or even canned works), frozen peas, hard boiled egg, frozen or FD brine shrimp, duck weed or spiulina powder, and fish oil (cod liver oil works fine). Blend this mixture then add corn starch to the paste to dehydrate. Spread this paste on small strips of foil (or even wax paper if your dehydrator does not get too hot). Make sure you leave room for air circulation.
Some suggest the use of Agar as a binder in place of Geletin, however I do not recommend this based on evidence, while not fully proven, that Agar allows Saprolegnia to gain a foothold in an aquarium and that Agar can allow Heterotrophic bacteria to crowd out the needed Autotrophic bacteria for a healthy aquarium nitrogen cycle.
LIVE, FROZEN OR FD FOODS:
As stated earlier, this article has been primarily about prepared foods; however this is not to say that this is all you should feed, far from it. Many fish benefit from live, frozen or freeze dried supplements such as Brine Shrimp, Blood worms, Daphnia, Microworms, Whiteworms, Walter Worms and more. Make sure that you make sure that live foods come from an uncontaminated source and some foods such as Tubiflex Worms are raised in polluted waters which make them a poor choice.
Worms & Brine Shrimp
For young fry such as Bettas; Walter Worms, newly hatched brine shrimp, vinegar eels or Micro Worms are an excellent choice (Micro Worms tend to drop to the bottom and Vinegar Eels may be a good alternative).
Reference: Worms used as Fish Food; Aquarium Answers
Here is place to purchase Grindal Worms, Walter Worms, or Vinegar Eel starter cultures:
Over a Copper Moon; Live foods
Here is a little about Micro Worms:
Micro Worms are nematodes (Panagrellus).
Microworms are one of the easiest live foods to culture.
Micro Worms are small .5 -1.5 mm and difficult to see individually. They are white, un-segmented worms that move continuously. The tail end is pointed while the mouth end is generally more rounded. They are approximately 15 times as long as they are wide.
Due to their size and shape, they can be fed to fish that are too small to take a brine shrimp nauplii.
Microworms can remain alive in fresh water for twelve hours or more.
Microworms reproduce sexually. The males have a curved tail, are smaller, more slender, and lower in number than the females.
Micro Worms are live bearing, producing 10 to 40 young every 1 to 1.5 days for an average 20 to 25 day life span. This results in each female producing approximately 300 offspring. The young reach sexual maturity in approximately three days.
Their size increases by three times during the first day and five to six times during the next three days. The Micro worm nematodes are 76% water and 24% dry matter; 40% of the dry matter is protein and 20% is fat.
Micro Worms are easily cultured, here is a link to a starter culture:
Live Microworm culture
A simple mix is one cup of quick oats, baby cereal, Cream of Wheat or similar (with maybe a tiny pinch of dry yeast) to one and a quarter cups of warm water.
Mix thoroughly and pour into a suitable container. Yogurt containers or similar types of containers work well for culturing Micro Worms.
Allow cooling, and then seed the mix with worms, putting the lid on (with small holes for ventilation) and leaving in a cool place. The temperature should be between 65 to 75 degrees.
Within a few days you will have Microworms to harvest.
For MORE information about worms for feeding as well as many more resources (including links from which to purchase), please see this Aquarium Answers Article (near the bottom):
"Trematodes, Nematodes, Annelids, & Feeding Worms"
HOW AND WHEN TO FEED FISH
No one fish food should be relied on as your fish’ sole nutritional source.
For problems with intestinal distress in fish (very common with goldfish, however Bettas and many other fish can suffer too), you fist want to avoid this by feeding foods with the best ingredients (as noted earlier in this article) and keeping your fish in water with the Proper Electrolyte levels.
POOR APPETITE, MALNUTRITION, SICK FISH:
Often new fish will not eat (more common with carnivores in my experience, especially those that are being adapted to a prepared diet such as Bettas).
PROBIOTICS FOR FISH:
First I will explain what a probiotic is:
BEST USED BY DATES:
This is sometimes controversial, but ONLY due to miss-informed persons who do not realize that Fish Foods are NOT required to place such dates on their fish foods and/or do not understand what this means or what even the laws are about this mythical date.
This information is intended primarily for prepared foods however it can also be applied to live, FD, or frozen foods as well. You can improve live foods by “gut loading” them such as feeding Spirulina 20 Flake to your feeder fish or to black worms 30 minutes prior to feeding your fish (I have seen good color improvement in black worms fed to Bettas this way). This is actually quite natural for carnivores in particular as in the wild a worm or food fish rarely has an empty belly.
In the end, the information given in this article should also help you to make a better choice when purchasing prepared fish food (especially when feeding young fish!), such as the examples below:
Here is an example of ingredients for three Betta Foods:
Fish Meal, Ground Brown Rice, Dried Yeast, Shrimp Meal, Wheat Gluten, Brine Shrimps (FD), Potato Protein, Dehulled Soybean Meal, Fish Oil, Soybean Oil, Sorbitol, Algae Meal, Lecithin, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Stabilized Vitamin C). Coloring Agents: Red No. 3 Dye (E127). Ethoxyquin as a Preservative.
Wardleys Premium Betta:
Fish meal, whole grain wheat, shrimp meal, soybean flour, brewers dried yeast, wheat germ meal, wheat gluten, fish protein concentrate, fish oil, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, crayfish extract in soybean oil, iron oxide, vitamin premix containing (wheat middlings, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, B12 supplement, riboflavin supplement, niacin supplement, calcium pantothenate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, folic acid, pyridoxine HCI, thiamine mononitrate, d-biotin), choline chloride, marigold petal extract, canthaxanthin, ethoxyquin (as a preservative).
Sanyu Betta Pellets:
White fish meal, shrimp meal, soybean meal, wheat flour, rice bran, wheat germ, yeast, vitamins A, B C, E and other minerals.
Product Resource: Sanyu Betta Food Pellets
Hikari Betta Bio-Gold the leader in quality Betta Pellets, originally was very similar to Sanyu Betta pellets, however it has been re-formulated/improved even more:
Premium Fish meal, wheat flour, Soybean Meal, Rice Bran, gluten meal, Starch, Krill Meal, Wheat Germ Meal, brewers dried yeast, DHA Oil, spirulina, dried seaweeds meal, DL-methionine, Garlic, astaxanthin, grape seed extract, choline chloride, Vitamin E supplement, L-ascobyl-2-polyphosphate (stabilized vitamin C), inositol, calcium pantothenate, Riboflavin, vitamin A oil, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, niacin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin K), folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement, biotin, disodium phosphate, ferrous sulfate, magnesium sulfate, cobalt sulfate, calcium iodate, red 3 (artificial color)
Product Resource: Hikari Betta Bio Gold, .7 oz
Compare the above ingredients, the differences are striking!
Tetra starts with low quality fish meal (vs. high quality Whole/White fish meal), then has cereals as the next two highest ingredients. Cereals are needed as a filler, however the cereals should not be this high in the ingredients for a carnivore such as Bettas.
Compare TetraMin to some of the facts I have explained, then compare foods such as HBH Tropical and Marine Flake, Spirulina One Flake, Hikari, Aqua Master Ultra Premium, Sanyu Foods, and SeaChem Nutri-Diet.
The differences are quite clear for long term growth and health.
When it comes to feeding young fish (fry), a quality prepared food is even more important. A comparison I would use is this; would you feed your infant cows milk instead of formula?
Spirulina, ground whole wheat, whole fish meal, defatted soy meal, wheat flour, torula dried yeast, vital wheat gluten, fish oil, biophos, soy oil, lecithin, natural colors.
Product Resource: ZooMed Spiulina 20 Fish Food
As you can see, both are excellent formulas, although different in their nutrition approach (they can be used together).
RECOMMENDED FOODS(FROM Everything Aquatic & Trusted Aquarium Maintenance Companies), far from an exhaustive list too.
This list is intended as a list of fish foods intended for daily basic feeding, not as the only food to feed.
Resources (references), further reading
*ufl.edu; "Nutrition for juvenile African cichlids"
*Understanding Fish Nutrition, Feeds, and Feeding
*Food Requirements in Aquarium Fish
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