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Live Foods

I have so much to say about collecting and culturing live foods I decided to add another section. Live foods are wonderful for any fish (well maybe not the herbivores like the pelcos), but especially for Bettas because it more closely matches their natural diet. As mentioned earlier, the Bettas natural diet consist mainly of mosquito larva and any other flying insects or insect larva that they may find in their rice patty habitat. In addition, live foods provide more raw nutrition then frozen or processed food. Both adult Bettas and Betta fry eat live foods. Betta fry need to be fed live foods up until about 4 weeks old when they can be introduced to processed food as a supplement. When feeding my adults I personally like to rotate each feeding, if I am not conditioning, between live foods (if available), processed foods, such as pellets or flake food, and a frozen live food of a variety which I don't already have living.

Almost all of the live foods fed to adult Bettas can be found as frozen so it is not necessary to collect/culture your own live foods if you don't wish to. However, if you plan to breed Bettas, live food is a must for fry and you will have to culture your own. In my opinion live foods are very easy to come by and easy to raise. The live food that I use and am familiar with culturing are divided into the two categories below:

 
  Betta Fry Foods Adult Betta Foods  
   

Betta Fry Foods

Photo courtesy of Liz-Hanh Morin

Betta fry begin their life as tiny slivers that hang from their bubble nest. When they hatch they still are absorbing some of their egg sac which provides them with a little sustenance for a day or two. Even though they are able to survive without any additional foods, it is best to begin feeding as soon as the eggs are hatched to ensure a high survival rate and proper nutrition. Which foods to feed first to the fry is a matter of debate among breeders; some feed the fry infusoria as their first food and others will feed baby brine shrimp as the first food. What to feed first is a personal choice and I hope that the following information provided on each food will help you make an educated decision.

 

Infusoria

Photo courtesy of Liz-Hanh Morin

Infusoria are microscopic organisms that live in and compose green water. They make great first fry food because of their very small size. The infusoria also swim at all levels of the water so the fry at all levels have food to eat. Traditionally this was the first food fed to fry. It is usually fed up to the first week. Making infusoria is very easy but takes a few weeks to become rich so start it a couple weeks before spawning.

How to grow your very own infusoria (and the crowd goes wild!):

1. Fill a clear glass or plastic jar with dechlorinated water

2. Placed a dried lettuce leaf or corn husk in the jar

2. Place the jar in a place where it receives direct sunlight; a window sill works great

4. Wait patiently for couple of days until a milky cloud develops in the water. This cloud is the infusoria. Within a week or two the whole jar should be completely filled with infusoria. To collect it just suck out some water with a turkey baster and squirt it in your fry tank.

 

Microworms

Microworms are ity bity nematodes that crawl up the sides of the containers they are kept in (so get a lid!). These little worms are good fry food because they are very small and stay alive for a couple of days in freshwater. They sink to the bottom so they keep those fish on the bottom of the pecking order fed well. Microworms are small enough for fry to eat a few days after the fry hatch. They are usually fed for the first 3-4 weeks.

How to culture micro worms:

1. Obtain a started culture from a breeder or fish enthusiast. I recommend Keith Gregg. At times I may be able to provide a starter culture for the price of shipping. If you are interested in obtaining one from me send an inquiry to betta_crazed@yahoo.com.

2. Use a plastic container WITH A LID to grow your culture in. I like to use the small Glad Lock® containers but you can use what ever you have on had, from deli containers to plastic shoe boxes. Just make sure that the plastic is not too slick. Any container with a 5 or higher in the middle of the recycle sign (usually found on the bottom of the container) is is best. *Note: The number in the recycle sign is the grain of the plastic. Anything lower than a 5 is usually to slick for the worms. You can poke small holes in the lid to allow the worms to breathe or you can open up the lid everyday. I don't poke holes in my lids because the Glad Lock® containers are shallow enough that the worms will crawl onto the lid. If you don't let the culture breathe everyday or two it will die and when microworm cultures die they stink!!

3. In the container mix either oatmeal, corn meal, oat flour, dry baby cereal with milk or water until it has the consistency of a very thick soup or runny pancake mix. This is your culture medium. Personally I have found that the baby cereal and water work best. Milk often makes the culture sour faster. I have had absolutely no luck with corn meal and oat meal works ok for me. You may need to experiment to determine what works best for you. What ever you settle on it should be pretty soupy but there should not be any excess water floating on the surface of the mixture.

4. Stir in yeast. The more yeast you use the more microworms you will get. I recommend using the cheapest yeast you can find because the worms seem to like it better than the expensive types. The most important part of culturing microworms is using FRESH YEAST. I learned the difficult way and I killed about 3 starter cultures before someone told be to use fresh yeast. No one seems to know it the worms feed off the yeast or medium or something else but fresh yeast seems to be the key. I have had a person tell me that in place of yeast they use TetraMin Egg Layer Fry Food® and their worms do the best they have ever seen. You may want to experiment with this but I would recommend getting a good start going on your culture before you try any experiments.

5. Add your starter culture. Just plop it in and gently mix it a little to disperse the worms. In a couple of days the worms should be crawling all over the sides of the container. To feed just take a Q-Tip or your finger and scrape some worms off the side and into the fry tank. Be very careful when feeding microworms because they are very easy to over feed. One little finger scoop could hold hundreds of worms and your fry will not be able to eat them all before they dies.

Each container of culture will die in a few weeks so every 2 weeks or so you will need to begin a new one by following steps 2-5, using the previous culture to begin a new one.

 

Vinegar Eels

 

Vinegar eels are very small worms that live in a vinegar solution. They are great for feeding small fry because they swim at the surface of the water where most fry feed. These are fed for 3-4 weeks. They are the easiest of all live foods to culture but not as easy to collect for feeding.

How to make a vinegar eel culture:

1. Obtain a started culture from a breeder or fish enthusiast. I recommend Keith Gregg. At times I may be able to provide a starter culture for the price of shipping. If you are interested in obtaining one from me send an inquiry to betta_crazed@yahoo.com.

2. Get a large plastic or glass jar and fill it with 50% apple cider vinegar and 50% water. Some people recommend using 100% vinegar. I haven't tried this but I don't think it would hurt if you wanted to.

3. Add a few slices of apple and toss in the starter culture. Leave in a dark place and within a few weeks you'll have more vinegar eels than you will know what to do with.

Culturing vinegar eels is simple but harvesting them is not. It took a bit of ingenuity on the part of Wright Huntley to finally come up with a relatively easy way.

How to harvest vinegar eels:

1. Fill up a tall jar with a narrow neck (like a wine bottle) with some of the vinegar eel culture.

2. Tie a string to a ball of filter floss and insert the cotton ball into the neck of the bottle until it touches the top of the vinegar mixture.

3. Fill up the neck of the bottle with fresh water. Let this contraption sit over night and pour out the now vinegar eel filled fresh water into the fry tank.

The worms need to get to the surface to breath and will move up through the floss into the fresh water. The fresh water and vinegar will not mix. I don't understand why this works as well as it does but it makes harvesting the vinegar eels much easier. After the eels are dumped into the fry tank pull out the ball of filter floss and dump the culture back into the large one. You could just let the new culture in the narrow bottle stay in there and toss in a piece of apple. Just make sure you have the other culture going too because this one wont create as many worms because of the loss of surface area.

 

Baby Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp are small salt water shrimp that are found along all coast line but are usually collected from the San Francisco Bay or the Great Salt Lake. Their eggs can be purchased from a number of places but I recommend Brine Shrimp Direct. When newly hatched the baby brine shrimp, or BBS for short, provide the highest nutrition to growing fry. Some breeders start their fry on BBS from day one but other choose to go with smaller foods. Fry should be started on BBS no latter then the second week of life. Regardless of when you choose to start your fry on BBS it is a must for any Betta breeder.

How to hatch brine shrimp:

1. This method requires at least two empty 2-litter soda bottles. Take the first bottle and for a lid for the hatchery by cutting around the bottom until it is attached by only and inch or so of plastic. The bottom of the bottle should now be able to flip backwards as a lid would. Take the second bottle and cut off the top leaving about 2/3rds of the bottom. *Note: Save the top of the second bottle if you don't have a brine shrimp net. This second bottle will act as the stand for the hatchery. The first bottle should be able to be inverted and fit partly inside of the second.

2. Take off the cap from the first bottle and punch or drill a hole just smaller then the size of an airline or airline connector. If using the connector, insert it in the hole (it should be a very tight fit) and hot glue it around the outside of the cap. Attach about 12 inches of airline to the connector. If using airline squeeze and muscle the airline into the hole (hemostats or forceps work well here) until it reaches the brim on the inside of the cap. Hot glue the base of the airline around the outside of the cap. Screw the cap and airline back on the first bottle.

3. Turn the first bottle upside down, place your finger over the end of the airline, and fill with dechlorinated water. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of rock salt to the water. 80 degrees F is the optimum temp for hatching but it is not necessary to keep the hatchery at this temperature.

4. Keeping your finger over the end of the airline, insert the first bottle into the stand or second bottle. Make sure the airline comes out of the second bottle but is not kinked at the bottom. Attach the end of the airline to an air pump that is set above the water level of the the first bottle.

5. Let the salt dissolve and ad about a teaspoon of eggs. This will feed about 50-75 very young fry. As the fry grow you will need to hatch more eggs to feed them.

Make sure you set up your hatchery shortly after the Bettas have spawned. The brine shrimp eggs take a couple days to hatch and by setting the hatchery up early it will ensure that the BBS is ready for your new fry. It is also recommend to set up two hatcheries and start the second two days after the first. This will ensure a constant supply of BBS. I suggest decapsulting the brine shrimp eggs. It removes messy eggs shells and the BBS spend less nutrition hatching which means they have more for your fry.

Harvesting BBS without a brine shrimp net:

1. Take the top of the second bottle and turn it upside down like a funnel. Place the narrow end into a cup or jar.

2. Drape 2 coffee filters in the soda bottle funnel.

3. Unplug the air line from the air pump and drain out some BBS into the funnel by putting the end of the airline below the water level in the hatchery.

4. Let the water drain from the coffee filters then dunk in the BBS soaked coffee filters and watch the fry go nuts!

 

Newly Hatched Mosquito Larva

 

Newly hatched mosquito larva is a great addition to your frys' meals. Do not feed any sort of mosquito larva to very young fry because the larva could attack the fry. Feed newly hatch mosquito larva to fry that are 2 weeks or older. Newly hatched mosquito larva is not easy to catch but it is very easy to find the egg rafts that the larva hatch from in a few days. Simply go to a pond that doesn't have fish, a puddle or (a never ending supply of wonderful live foods) a horse water trough.

Anywhere there are mosquito larva there are usually egg rafts. The egg rafts look like small floating bits of charcoal but on closer examination there are tiny cells where the eggs lay. Collect these rafts by gently scooping them up and placing them in a container with some water from the collection site. When you get home examine the container and water to make sure you didn't bring home any other organisms that could attack your fry.

Place the egg rafts (not the water!) in the fry tank and in a few days there will hundreds of larva floating at the surface of the tank. The larva go through their life cycle in fresh water so they will not die and pollute the tank. The fry will eat them all before they grow any larger and develop into mosquito. During the time the larva are in the tank it is not necessary to feed any other foods and doing so may result in overfeeding and a polluted tank.


 

Adult Betta Foods

In order for young juvenile Bettas to grow into beautiful healthy adults they must continue to be fed and variety of live foods. While adult Bettas don't require as much attention as the fry they do need to be pampered to develop their optimum form and color. Even if you are not raising your own Bettas and just own one pet shop Betta they all appreciate some good live food now and then. The live foods fed to adults are not as easy to culture as those fed to fry so most of the following will be more on collecting then on culturing.

 

Grindal worms

 

Grindal worms are small white worms that can be fed to growing juveniles and adults. This is the only adult food I culture because it is very simple and requires very little supplies.

How to culture grindal worms:

1. Obtain a started culture from a breeder or fish enthusiast. I recommend Keith Gregg. At times I may be able to provide a starter culture for the price of shipping. If you are interested in obtaining one from me send an inquiry to betta_crazed@yahoo.com.

2. In a plastic shoe box, dump in about 3"-4" of 50% peat moss and 50% fertilizer free potting soil. Sometimes potting soil will already be 50% peat moss so check the package before you spend the money.

3. Put in your starter culture and feed moist/wet flake food. Within weeks you will have tons of worms swarming and devouring the flake food. To collect the worms simply place a small piece of plastic or glass (I use a microscope slide) on top of the food. Wait a few hours and there should be worms stuck to the plastic/glass. Just brush them into the tank or jar.

 

Mosquito larva

These pesky pest nymphs are very easy to collect. They look like black or gray worms that hang at the surface of the water. They have a tiny breathing tube that sticks out of the top of the water. When startled they swim in quick squiggly motions down towards the bottom. Mosquito larva can be found in almost any still body of water - a fishless pond, a puddle, or a lovely horse water trough. You can attract your own mosquitos to lay eggs (which turn into larva) by setting up a bucket of water of kiddy pool with water and some dirt and leaves. To collect just scoop them up with a fish net or cup.

 

Blood worms

Blood worms are the larva of the Midge fly. They are blood red in color. I have heard that they can be collected in the sediment of ponds but I have never attempted this. Their homes look like small holes in the dirt or muck. To collect from pond sediment just scoop up a bunch and sort through it. I have always collect my blood worms in the ever-so-bountiful horse trough (yes horse troughs are the king of all live food homes). They hide in the algae and muck that accumulates on the sides. Just grab a cup and scrape some off. There will be tons of blood worms in that muck, you just have to find them. Bettas absolutely love these and are a wonderful treat. Just make sure you vary their diet because blood worms fed alone do not meet the Betta's nutritional needs.

 

Earth worms

 

Earth worms are wonderful little worms that eat decaying vegetation. They are very easy to collect if you have a nice compost pile on hand. Just water the compost pile and within a day the earthworms will be crawling around the bottom layer of compost. Another little trick if you don't have a compost pile requires a shovel. Water an area on the ground that has decaying vegetation. If you don't have a place with decaying vegetation a lawn works fairly well. Plant the shovel in the ground and bang on the handle to make it vibrate. Don't ask me why but this is supposed to attract the worms and in a couple of hours there should be worms either on the surface or in the dirt around the shovel.