Top 10 Live Foods to Feed Your Aquarium Fish


Top 10 Live Foods to Feed Your Aquarium Fish

If you are looking for the very best fish food to feed your aquarium animals, most veteran fishkeepers will agree there is nothing that tops live foods. This premium food is the closest thing to what fish eat in nature and has numerous benefits. The movement of the food entices the fish to eat, which is especially useful if they are underweight or growing and need to consume more nutrients than usual. Plus, hunting provides both physical and mental enrichment for your aquarium animals and allows you to see interesting behaviors that might not appear when feeding flakes. Finally, live foods are one of the fastest ways to condition your fish for breeding. Learn about these 10 popular live foods and how to culture some of them in your own home.

1. Baby Brine Shrimp

Peacock gudgeon fry baby brine shrimp

Baby brine shrimp is the best option for raising fish babies or encouraging fish to spawn. The tiny saltwater crustaceans of the Artemia genus have highly nutritious yolk sacs, which are rich in healthy fats and proteins. To hatch them at home, just soak brine shrimp eggs in salt water, which should take about 18-36 hours if the water is heated to 74-82degF (23-28degC). If you notice hundreds of tiny, pink dots floating around in your brine shrimp hatchery, turn on the light and attract them. Then, separate their eggs from their shells by shining a light at the base. You can read the complete article to find out our exact method for hatching brine shrimp.

2. Snails

Malaysian trumpet snails

Puffers, loaches, and larger South American-cichlids such as puffers, love snails. Pufferfish love snail shells because they help reduce their teeth growth so that they don’t grow too much. For a steady supply, you will need a separate aquarium to house your ramshorn, bladder, and Malaysian trumpet snails. They require hard water that is higher in pH and GH to avoid developing holes in their shells. If you have soft water like us, we like to use 1-2 inches (3-5 cm) of crushed coral as substrate and then dose mineral supplements like Wonder Shell or Seachem Equilibrium if needed. Then we feed Pleco Banquet Blocks, Nano Banquet Food Blocks, and other fish foods high in calcium. Find out more about the top 7 freshwater snails.

3. Vinegar Eels

Egg-scattering species such as rainbowfish, tetras, and killifish tend to produce tiny fry that can’t be eaten. Vinegar eels are harmless, white roundworms that are very easy to culture and are perfect for feeding babies until they are big enough to eat baby brine shrimp. Fill a wine glass or any other long-necked vessel with half an apple cider vinegar, half dechlorinated waters, and a few apples slices. Once the vinegar eels have reproduced enough, you can harvest them by adding some filter floss and dechlorinated water into the neck of the bottle so that the vinegar eels swim out of the vinegar into the fresh water. Use a pipette or a spoon to remove the vinegar eels. Read our step-by-step instructions to make your own vinegar eel cultures.

4. Micro Worms

Kribensis fry eating microworms

Walter worms (banana worms), micro worms and walter worms all make up nematodes. These roundworms are used to feed live fish. These nematodes are slightly larger than vinegar eels, but smaller than baby brine shrimps and can therefore be fed to small fry. We like to start our cultures in small plastic containers with instant mashed potatoes. To prevent pests from getting in, make a hole in the lid of the plastic container. Then stuff it with filter floss. To collect them, simply run your finger along any sides of the tub that microworms have reached and then place your finger in the tank. For more information, see this tutorial.

5. Daphnia

These aquatic crustaceans, which measure roughly 1-5 mm in length, are great for feeding small and medium fish. They can reproduce quickly, so we recommend that they are kept in as much water possible to maintain stable water parameters and avoid population crashes. Use old tank water or aged, dechlorinated water for water changes since they are very sensitive to chlorine. Also, long exposure to light and cooler temperatures around 68degF (20degC) are preferred for optimal reproduction. Daphnia can be fed active dry yeast, green or spirulina powder whenever the water is clear. You can easily harvest them by gently squeezing an aquarium net through the water. Learn more in our article about culturing daphnia.

6. Infusoria

What does the majority of newborn fish eat in nature? Microorganisms like protozoans and microalgae are the most common. To feed their tiny fry, fish breeders often make their own cultures, or infusoria, of freshwater plankton. There are many ways to do this, but the most common is to fill a large container with old tank water. Add some mulm from your filter media. Drop a 1-inch (3cm) piece of banana peel or half a teaspoon of instant yeast into the jar to feed your infusoria. For faster results, warm the water to 78-80degF (26-27degC) and you should see some tiny, moving specks within a couple of days. If the water turns from cloudy to clear, then the infusoria are consuming all the food you provided, and the culture is ready for harvesting. Suck out some of the water with a pipette and feed them directly to your baby fry.

7. Blackworms

Live blackworms are a great food for bottom dwellers because they sink to the ground, and many breeders believe they are the best way to condition corydoras catfish. Because they can be difficult to grow at home, many farms in the United States raise large-scale populations of California blackworms in artificial ponds. Blackworms are usually available at your local fish market or online directly from farms. Once you have received them, place the blackworms in a fine mesh fish net. After they are rinsed thoroughly, cool them down with dechlorinated tap water to between 40-55degF and 4-13degC. Keep them in a shallow, wide container. This will ensure that they don’t get too crowded. Pour in just enough cold, dechlorinated water to cover the blackworms, and place the container (without a lid) in the refrigerator. You can keep your worms healthy until you feed them fish by repeating this process every day.

8. Grindal and White Worms

Once your fish fry have become proficient at handling micro worms and vinegar eels, you can then move on to Grindal and finally white worms. Start by sterilizing the substrate (e.g., organic potting soil, peat moss, or coconut fiber) from mites and other pests. You can use an oven to heat the dirt for 30 minutes at 180-200degF (82-93degC), or moisten the substrate and microwave it in 90 seconds intervals until it reaches 180-200degF (82-93degC).

Place the substrate in a plastic container or tub and cover until it has cooled; add a little dechlorinated water to moisten it some more if needed. Afterwards, add the starter worm culture and some food (e.g., bread and yogurt, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, or even fish food) to the surface of the substrate. Cover the food with a deli lid. Then cut a breathing hole in the plastic container’s lid and adhere a piece of fabric to cover the hole and prevent pests from entering. Place the lid on top of the container.

Grindal worms do well in room temperatures of 70-75degF (21-24degC), whereas white worms must be stored around 55degF (13degC) in a cool basement or wine chiller. You can harvest them by removing the lid from the deli cups, wiping off the worms with your finger and rinsing them in water.

9. Bugs


Insects and insect larvae are a big part of many fish’s natural diets, and their exoskeletons provide good roughage that helps improve fish digestion. Reptile shops can sell feeder insects such as mealworms, dubia-roaches, and crickets. Some people even grow their own dubia-roach colonies. Red wigglers and earthworms are available at certain pet stores and bait shops and can be cultured at home as well.

Set up a 5-gallon bucket filled with dechlorinated drinking water outside to capture wild insects without the risk of introducing parasites. Then wait for the eggs to hatch.

Use a fine-meshed net to scoop up mosquito larvae from the water surface, and make sure to harvest every day or else they will develop into adult mosquitos.

10. Live Fish

We personally do not sell feeder fish at Aquarium Co-Op because they have a higher likelihood of spreading disease to your aquarium and most people do not bother quarantining feeder fish. Plus, goldfish and minnows contain high levels of thiaminase and, when consumed in large amounts, can prevent your predator fish from getting enough thiamin (or vitamin B1) and cause all sorts of health issues. The key to avoiding nutrient deficiencies is to give your fish a variety of food and not just one type.

That being said, some hobbyists raise their own feeder fish at home to minimize the risk of infection. For example, livebearers (or fish that bear live young) reproduce very quickly, so removing some of the offspring will help prevent the colony from getting too big. In order to breed cherry shrimp, it might be necessary to cut down the less-colorful individuals in order to increase the quality of the line. Feeding live fish or invertebrates is not for everyone, but it is a natural part of a predator’s life.

Most live cultures can be purchased online or from local hobbyists, so find out which foods are well-suited for your fish and give it a try. It is a good idea to always keep extra cultures on hand in case one culture fails. Good luck with your live food journey. Make sure you check out our tutorial on baby brine shrimp, our favorite live dish.