By Arthur Masloski (sandtiger)
The use of live foods is a tricky subject. The ethics of it aside many people are still uncertain on whether or not they should be used. On one hand, live foods are a great food for fish. It is the most natural food source and can even induce reluctant fish to spawn. It brings out color and behavior not seen with the use of other dry or dead foods. On the other hand there is a risk involved. To much can be harmful depending on what you are feeding. If you don’t take the right risks you may kill your fish with a disease. So while you should consider the use of live foods you really need to consider the risks, it is not something you just jump into.
Part 1: Feeder Fish
Almost every Local Fish Store (LFS) across the country tells their customers that Oscars NEED live fish. With that said many people who buy an oscar or other large cichlid or fish buy them so they can watch them eat fish. In nature many fish do eat other fish but the idea that any fish needs a fish heavy diet is wrong. In fact, in the wild many fishes diets consists mostly of crustations and insects such as crayfish and insects that fall into the water. Many fish also eat other food items such as plant matter. OSCARS DO NOT NEED LIVE FISH!!!!
Does this mean you cannot use feeder fish in a fish’s diet? No, of course not but don’t overdo it. Too much fish can be bad for a fish such as an oscar and make him overweight. Fish also need other foods for a balanced and healthy diet.
Feeder Fish Don’ts
Never EVER use store bought feeder fish. These fish can play host to tons of diseases and parasites. Ever look in a feeder tank? There are normally a lot of dead fish, and because these fish are mere feeders they are not normally well looked after. People in the know will tell you many horror stories about what feeder fish have cost them in the long run. Anchor worm, ich, Hole in the Head, fungus, worms…all these and more can be carried from one fish to another.
Feeder fish Do’s
If feeder fish are something you are interested in then there are precautions you can take. Firstly, you can quarantine them in their own tank to make sure they are healthy. This will allow you to fatten them up on quality food and monitor their health. Three weeks to a month is considered the minimum quarantine time limit. Feeder fish can get expensive though so rather then buy and quarantine you can simply breed your own. Many fish commonly sold are very easy to breed. Breeding them is not only fun and interesting but also gives you a good supply of food. Some easy fish to breed are…convict cichlids, most livebearers (guppies, mollies, swordtails), rosy reds (fatheads), zebra danios and White Cloud Mountain minnows.
Feeder fish Rules
There is one big rule when using feeder fish…never overfeed. As stated earlier many fish are not big fish eaters in the wild, they need other foods. If you are going to use feeders then only use them as a treat, a few every couple of weeks or so will do fine. Also remember that feeder fish are messy, fish will shoot scales and stuff out of their gills after eating a fish. You might want to time this kind of food before a tank cleaning.
Part 2: Insects
Insects make up a good bulk of the diet of many wild fish in the wild and may very well be the best food to feed some fish such as oscars. As with feeder fish though, there are certain risks involved
The real biggy here is the use of wild insects. Though fish are not likely to catch a disease from an insect they can consume whatever the insect was around. In the wild insects come in contact with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and pollution. They can transfer these toxins to your fish and kill them. It is generally recommend that you use extreme caution when dealing with outdoor insects and the truth is, you shouldn’t use them at all.
Buying your insects is the best way to go. Many LFS sell crickets for reptiles and other insects such as waxworks and mealworms. You can even buy special food for them or fatten them up on fish flakes and vitamin rich foods (carrots and other veggies/fruit).
Part 3: Non-insect inverts.
There are many other boneless creatures you can feed your fish. Among them are the following.
Another great food source for some fish (Oscars especially), just like insects. Again…avoid wild crayfish. Another thing you want to avoid is buying crayfish that are to large, these guys can injure fish with their pinchers. Only use small crayfish. You can even set up a separate crayfish tank and wait till they molt to use them for feeding. You can get crayfish at your LFS but these are generally expensive and exotic specimens. Your best bet is a bait shop. Most bait shops carry crayfish raised in crayfish farms. Crayfish are easy to care for, they will eat fish flakes and sinking pellets and love algae wafers. Keep them in a well oxygenated tank with a tight fitting lid to keep them from climbing out.
Not much to elaborate on here. You know the risks….wild= bad etc. etc. Again, you can get these at just about every bait shop and they are easy to keep. I generally keep them in a refrigerator and feed them compost, coffee grinds and stuff like that. These guys can be sloppy though so here is what you do, this can get gross.
If you have a small fish you may need to chop the worm up, if you have a large fish you can feed it to them whole but to avoid the mess created you can take the worm and squeeze out all the juicy stuff and the dirt. Yes…this is gross but it is so much cleaner then using the whole worm. You can use the whole worm but make sure you clean the tank some time afterwards.
There are plenty other inverts you can experiment with for your fish. Snails, slugs, caterpillars and all kinds of stuff your fish will love. Follow the basic rules outlined for the use of insects and other inverts. Part 3: Other Organisms
Tiny Aquatic Critters
These don’t really apply to larger aquaria fish with the exception of really young individuals and fry. Brine shrimp, daphnia, ghost shrimp and others are all good food choices. Most of these are tiny, they can be fun to raise but generally are used for trying to breed smaller fish or feeding fish fry, these guys could take up a paper all themselves so I will exclude them from here.
Yes, that’s right…frogs and salamanders. While I would never do this many people do. The biggest risk is toxin. Most if not close to all amphibians are toxic or distasteful in some form or another. Know what species you are going to use. Never use a toad, not even the tadpoles. Never use a newt either. Should you decide to use these guys research them before you even think of using them. Again, don’t use wild animals. You can buy them at a LFS or bait shop. You can raise them yourself even if you want; heck…you can even breed African clawed frogs and use them if that is what you wish. These guys are messy as you can imagine so don’t overfeed and keep your water clean.
I have talked to many people who use mice to feed their larger fish. DO NOT; DO NOT ever use a mammal for food. Mammals are not healthy at all, unlike the other creatures I listed. They are fatty and extremely dirty. They leave hair all over the tank and there is no good reason to use them. The fat produced by mammals can build up in a fish’s liver and kill it. Please, do not use mammals of any kind.
No matter what you are using as food. Be it fish, crawdad, cricket or worm keep in mind that you are dealing with a living thing. Show the utmost respect for this living thing and care for it as if it were your pet. There is no excuse for animal cruelty, the animal’s welfare is ALWAYS important. Do not allow an animal to suffer. Don’t use prey items your fish cannot quickly dispatch and do not prolong the experience for enjoyment purposes. Live food has its time and place, it can be fun to use and healthy for your fish. Be responsible.
All these live foods are intended to be used as treats. The best diet for a captive fish is a high quality fish food. These live foods are great for variety but by themselves lack a lot of what a fish needs.