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NFC: fathead minnows and other live food info

How Do I Raise Live Food?
Earthworms can be cultured indoors, in a large wooden box in a cold
basement, year round.  There is commercially available bedding materials
(in the sporting goods section of most department stores), but dirt is
essentially what they live in.  Earthworms don't like their dirt too
moist or too dry, and nothing smells worse than rotting dead earthworms
-- so I no longer culture them.  I suggest you check out my sources for
more specific culturing information, and I'll stick to collecting my
worms on parking lots only during spring, summer, and fall...  Just
remember -- a clean worm is a healthy worm, so never take worms from
chemically treated soil. Earthworms can survive for several days
submerged in water in your refrigerator, which allows most of the soil in
their gut to pass through their system, so that you won't dirty your
tanks as much.  I usually stick earthworms under very hot tapwater to
kill them humanely prior to chopping them up with a razor blade (or
cutting large ones apart with surgical scissors) to feed them to smaller
fish, like killies.  It is important not to overfeed! 
Fathead minnows, and their pink (albino?) form, the Rosies, are so
prolific and easy to breed and raise that I'll say very little.  You can
have seemingly limitless numbers of these fish, from very tiny up to 3
inches (7.5cm) in length by placing a dozen or so in a garden pond which
isn't too clear.  Apparently, they find each other and don't know when to
quit breeding.  Starting with that small number doesn't seem to matter --
you will have thousands in a couple months.  Probably any species of
minnow that can survive in a garden pond would work just as well, but the
rosies are nice because they are visible even in murky conditions.  The
normal fatheads are not normally visible, but at least the males change
in appearance during mating, and almost act like cichlids.  These fish
are available from pet and bait stores in the Northeast U.S., but I have
no idea where else they are available. 

Green water is lower than pond scum.  Actually, it IS pond scum --
infusoria.  It consists of various algaes and single-celled creatures,
and if you hold it up to the light and the solution isn't too dense, you
may be able to see some of these creatures (they are very small, but
still barely visible).  The best way to make green water is to put old
aquarium water from your fish tank into a clear container and place it in
a sunny window for a few days.  Some sources recommend putting a
thumbnail-sized piece of dried lettuce to water and putting it on the
windowsill, and others suggest placing a handful of grass lawn clippings
in water and putting it on the windowsill.  What I've found is that the
windowsill fills up really quickly!  Seriously, all of the above will
work eventually.  If your water is especially soft and acidic, you might
find that the water greens up faster if you add a pinch of baking soda
(Sodium bicarbonate).  Just be sure you don't dump pH adjusted water in
with sensitive fish. 

Brine shrimp are easy to hatch, but a little harder to raise to adulthood
than most hobbyists will bother with.  Hatching instructions will
certainly accompany the eggs, plus they frequently are listed with the
popular brands of salt mixes (both marine mixes and the various
freshwater salt mixes).  I've found that getting large numbers of brine
shrimp to reach adulthood is simple: do it outdoors!  You will need a
large shallow container, such as a kiddie swimming pool.  I use
rectangular, black, plastic containers which are marketed as lotus
planters or cement mixing tubs, depending on where I shop.  They can hold
about 25 U.S. gallons (~90 liters).  I usually dump whatever leftover
brine shrimp culture water I have indoors from my winter cultures into
one of these containers and place it in my garden in springtime, where it
will get direct sun for the entire day.  If necessary, I will top it off
with additional salt water, but because my old culture water has some
brine shrimp and plenty of unhatched eggs, I don't need to add any eggs. 
In a couple weeks, this container will be teaming with brine shrimp
without any human intervention.  Surprisingly, I normally don't need to
add additional salt, even though the container overflows from rainfall
fairly often. 

Mosquito larvae are probably the easiest live food to obtain and raise. 
You need to meet the conditions that mosquitos are looking for in order
to lay eggs, and they will do everything else.  I've found that filling a
garbage can or a mixing tub with water, adding either a nylon bag of cow
manure or just dumping a couple handsful of dried chicken manure to the
water and waiting a few days is all that is required.  Again, my stuff
sits out in the middle of my garden in full sun, but you may find better
luck in partial shade.  The water turns brown from the manure and then
probably green from algae.  Then black from all the floating mosquito
larvae.  Remember that the source of food for your mosquito larvae is
green water and/or bacteria feeding on the manure -- watch what you get
that water on, and wash your hands!  Many people recommend rinsing live
food from such containers in a net under running tapwater before adding
them to your tanks.  I usually bring a container of tapwater out to the
garden, net the larvae, and just put the larvae into the clean water (and
say, "Close enough!"). 


Daphnia, or water fleas, are a crustacean like brine shrimp (or lobsters,
for that matter).  They have feathery, antenna-like legs which are used
to pull themselves through the water and at the same time scoop up
infusoria and algae for them to feed on.  Daphnia species vary in size,
the largest (Daphnia magna) reaching just under 1/4 inch (~6mm) in
length.  The only difference between raising daphnia and mosquito larvae
is that daphnia will require calcium in the water (in order to grow their
exoskeletons).  Mosquito larvae could care less about calcium, so add a
nylon filter bag of crushed coral to your mosquito culture, and you will
be all set to raise daphnia in it as well.  That's what I do. 

Other Issues...
Sometimes, you get more critters than you bargained for in your live food
cultures.  Not all of these are bad things to have.  My daphnia and
mosquito larvae cultures always contain bloodworms (midge larvae),
ostracods (seed shrimp or clam shrimp), cyclops (another tiny
crustacean), etc.  Fine and dandy -- all things my fish will eat.  What
has to be watched out for are more destructive creatures: diving beetles
and their larvae, the water tigers; water boatmen; hydras; damselfly and
dragonfly larvae; planaria; leeches; and snails.  Some of these are fine
anyway -- some fish are large enough, bold enough, and just plain dumb
enough to chow down any of the above.  However, baby fish in your aquaria
have no defense against a ruthless dragonfly nymph or water tiger. 
That's why it's a good idea to really look closely at what you are trying
to put in your tank BEFORE you put it in! 
Other Sources of Information
The following are sites with information on live food, or plenty of links
to others: 
  http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aquaria/Krib/Food/ Live Food page at The
Krib web site 
http://www.aka.org/AKA/Foods/foods.html Food and Feeding page of the
American Killifish Association 
http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aquaria/Faq/live-food.html Live Food FAQ of
Aquaria Web Services site 
http://www.concentric.net/~worstell/LIVEFOOD.HTM Live Food Links of
Howard's Fish Links 
http://www.fishlinkcentral.com/aqua.htm Aquaculture page at Fish Link
The following are web sites from which you can obtain live food cultures:

  http://miraclemile.com/dalecombp/cultures/ Live Cultures page of Daleco
Master Breeders Products 
http://www.angelfire.com/biz/LFSCultures/ L.F.S. Cultures (Email:
lfs at iname_com for culture list) 

Robert Rice
Help Preserve our Aquatic Heritage join the Native Fish Conservancy
 at our website  www.nativefish.org