Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


In Praise of Live Food

by Robert W. Bly, founder,

I have had, on rare occasion, fish that lived their entire lives in my aquariums eating nothing but flakes and pellets.

But for the most part, I have given my fish a diet that combines packaged food, frozen food, and live food.

There are 4 reasons why I am such a fan of giving your fish variety in their diet combining packaged and live food:

1-It's healthy.

For man and beast alike, natural food is almost always better than processed food.

Pellets and flakes are processed. Live food is natural food.

The only problem with live food is that, if the food - whether it's brine shrimp or crickets - hasn't eaten in awhile, their bodies may be depleted of nutrients.

One solution is to add vitamin liquid to the food's food or water.

I've never done this.

Flakes and pellets are fortified with vitamins, so balancing live food and packaged ensures a healthy diet - without having to "feed the food."

2-It's fun for them.

Your fish become animated and excited when you introduce live food into the tank.

Some just eat. Others hunt, like my brown eel that ate earthworms, giving them the "death roll" like an alligator once his jaws had a grip on them.

3-It's fun for you.

Specimens kept in aquariums and terrariums are more interesting to watch when they are active - and anytime you introduce live food, they become very active indeed.

Our anoles stalked and ate grasshoppers like a cat stalking mice in a field.

4-It gets you in the fish store on a weekly basis.

With a few exceptions, most live food must be stored in the refrigerator where it lives for about a week.

Therefore you must go to the fish store weekly to replenish your supply.

Rather than this being a burden, as I thought it might, it's a good excuse to go to the fish store and browse - one of the most fun parts of the aquarium hobby.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the live food I've used for my aquarium and terrarium specimens:

  • Feeder fish - small goldfish and guppies. Since guppies breed readily, you can keep a 10-gallon tank of plain guppies and use the fry as feeder fish.
  • Earthworms - big omnivores and carnivores love earthworms. You can buy them cheap in a bait shop or dig them up in your backyard.
  • Black worms - these are small worms that actually are dark red in color. They must be kept in water. Put half an inch of water in a clean plastic container and store the worms in your refrigerator.
  • Brine shrimp - fish love these tiny shrimp. You can buy them at the fish store or grow your own at home with a simple kit:

I find the brine shrimp kits interesting in their own right. You get a vial of dried brine shrimp eggs. The brine shrimp can lie dormant in this form for years. But add water, oxygen (with a pump and aerator), salt, and warmth from a lamp, and the eggs hatch into tiny brine shrimp your fish can eat.

If you hatch your own brine shrimp, which is a fun thing to do, take a look at them in the water through a magnifying glass. Brine shrimp are crustaceans related to crabs, and they look like alien creatures, using 11 pairs of undulating appendages to propel themselves through the water.

Other live foods for fish include: wingless fruit flies, micro-worms, vinegar eels, white worms, mosquito larvae, water fleas, and protozoans. Protozoans are single-cell organisms that use cilia - tiny little appendages - to move.

Web sites and books cite as an advantage of live food that there is no uneaten food to rot in the tank, and that live food stays alive in the tank until it is eaten.

Whenever I feed live food in my aquariums, all of it is eaten voraciously within minutes, and there is never any leftover.

When feeding crickets to anoles, you might have a few crickets uneaten and still alive in the tank the day after the feeding, but those will soon be eaten too.