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Live Food Pros and Cons

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

The type of food you choose to feed your aquarium fish will have a major impact on their health. Here are the basics of live foods so that you can discover how they can benefit your freshwater aquarium fish.

When it comes to feeding your freshwater aquarium fish you have a wide variety of foods to choose from. If you take a stroll down the aquarium aisle at your local pet store, for example, you may find dozens of different types, brands and formulas of commercial fish foods.

These commercial foods aren’t the only option though, it’s often surprising to fish owners that you can also feed your fish live, frozen and freeze-dried foods in addition to fresh vegetables and vegetable-based products like algae wafers. If you want to make sure the nutritional needs of your aquarium fish are met you should be prepared to offer them a wide variety of foods including live foods. Before you start feeding your fish live food, however, you should take the time to learn the basics – there are a number of benefits and drawbacks about live foods that you should be aware of and you may also want to familiarize yourself with the different types before you make your choice, so let’s does that.

The Types of Live food

The diets of freshwater fish in the wild are widely varied. So when it comes to live aquarium fish food, you also have many options to choose from. One of the most popular live foods for aquarium fish is brine shrimp which are quite small animals and not too dissimilar to Sea Monkeys that can be fed to aquarium fish in all stages of life and they are a great source of protein. Newly hatched brine shrimp, called nauplii, are perfect for fry and small fish while adult brine shrimp are a great live food for mature aquarium fish. We actually go into depth on how you can set up your own hatchery for Brine Shrimp to keep costs down. You can read about that here.

Daphnia, or water fleas, are a type of plankton that is often fed to fry. These creatures are a great source of vitamin A and vitamin D for aquarium fish. In addition to these live foods, you can also offer your fish a number of different worms including bloodworms, white worms and micro worms. Bloodworms are actually mosquito larvae and they are an excellent source of protein. White worms provide your fish with healthy lipids and micro worms are a great option for small fish and fry.

For newly hatched fry, infusoria are another option. Infusoria are microscopic protozoans which are perfectly sized for the small mouths of fry. If you have large carnivorous species of fish in your tank you may also want to consider feeder fish as an option. Guppies and goldfish are the most common types of feeder fish.

So what are the cons to having live food?

While it’s true that live foods were the only option for early aquarium hobbyists, now they are more often used as a supplement to a commercial diet. Commercial fish foods are formulated to provide aquarium fish with the majority of their basic nutritional needs but live foods play a key role in filling in the gaps left by these products. Live foods have an incredibly high nutrient content that has not been affected or altered by processing. In contrast to this, commercial flakes, pellets and freeze-dried foods often lose a significant portion of their nutrient content during processing.

Another benefit of live foods is that they can be used to deliver vitamin and mineral supplements to your fish. For example, Gut-loading feeder fish and live insects are a simple way to deliver extra vitamins to your fish. The feeder fish or insects consume the vitamins and, when your fish eat the live food, they also ingest the supplements. Not only do live foods have the benefit of a higher nutrient content, but they will not break down in your tank like many commercial foods which can dissolve and affect your water quality.

Though live foods are a great option for aquarium fish, you do need to be aware of a few drawbacks. One of the main drawbacks associated with live fish foods is that they are more expensive than processed flakes and pellets. For this reason, many aquarium hobbyists choose to cultivate their own live foods so they do not have to pay in-store prices on a weekly or monthly basis.

Another drawback associated with live aquarium fish foods is the potential for disease transmission. Any harmful bacteria or other pathogens affecting the feeder fish or insects you are using as live food will be passed directly to your fish if you are not careful. You should also be aware that live foods do not last as long as commercial foods – you can store commercial flakes and pellets for months at a time but live foods may only last a few days or weeks so don’t bulk buy!

Now that you understand the basics of live foods for aquarium fish you can decide how you want to use this information in your own tank. In order for your fish to receive the most benefit, use live foods as a supplement to a staple diet of commercial flakes or pellets. Try to vary the types of live food you use on a daily basis and only offer your fish small amounts at a time because live foods are very rich and can cause intestinal problems if you overuse them.

If you want to know how to create a supply of your own live food, we have a detailed description of how to set up a DIY Brine Shrimp Hatchery here.

You can also buy brine shrimp eggs for hatching here.

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