In this article we will explore seven different foods you can give to your African Cichlid fry. Traditionally, hobbyists just feed their fry the same flakes the adults eat. While your fry will do just fine on this regimen, professionals and experienced hobbyists have learned that there are much better alternatives to crushed flake. The seven foods discussed in this article will help "beef up" your fry and help them to grow faster. What's more is I'm gonna show you how to do it for cheaper than if you were to purchase these foods at your local fish store (lfs).
Some of these foods, such as Daphnia, Grindal worms, and microworms
will need to be purchased. There are many places that sell starter
cultures, which can be identified in the ads of aquaria magazines.
One more thing before we get started. Live foods are not always needed for your fish, but there are times in a Cichlid's life when they are certainly better off for having them. Namely, when fry are small and need a lot of nutrition and again before they spawn (which allows them to produce more eggs). And...because they need lots of nutrition when young, you should consider the importance and benefits of always keeping their bellies full. This can actually be monitored with a magnifying glass if you want to get serious about it. With some of these live food cultures I have given you some ideas about how to implement continuous feeding systems. If you come up with any of your own, please share them with us so all can benefit.
Liquid Fry Food
African fry tend to do extremely well on liquid fry foods; in fact, significantly better than on any other kind of non-live food. The only problem with liquid fry food is that it is rather expensive when you consider what your lfs will charge you - $4 to $6 for an ounce of this fluid, which as it turns out is mostly water. Thatís why I will show you how to make your own African Cichlid liquid fry food. After all, thatís what this web site is all about Ė making it yourself if you can do it cheaper. And at one-tenth the price, it is well worth the effort. In addition to an eyedropper, which you'll use to deliver the food, here's all you are going to need:
3 tablespoons powdered whole egg
2 tablespoons powdered nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon chick-pea flour (or any other kind of legume)
Water (distilled or filtered)
A few drops of fish liver oil
Crushed flake food
Zucchini or Spinach
First combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add the wet ingredients, like the vegetables and oil. Now add ľ cup water and blend well using either a blender or an electrical mixer. After blending it well, stop to check the consistency. You will want your mixture to pour like whipping cream. You will probably need to add more water. If so, continue adding water and mixing in very small increments until the desired consistency is obtained. If you accidentally add too much water such that it disperses immediately upon contact with the water in your tank, add a little extra pea flour. When done, refrigerate your liquid fry food immediately. If kept refrigerated, it will last for a couple of weeks. Be sure and shake the mixture well each time before feeding.
This is an excellent staple for your fry. You can feed this to your fish while you are waiting to harvest your live foods, like brine shrimp or paramecia. Liquid fry food is also wonderful because it can be modified to meet the changing nutritional needs of your fry as the mature and develop. For example, for really young fry, you will want to make the mixture rather thin so that it disperses quickly into the water. This is important because very young fry donít often venture to the top of the water in search of food. They only tend to go after things that are suspended in the water. And youíll be surprised; even though you wonít be able to see the particles of food, you will see the fry chasing after some "invisible" objects. As your fry mature, you will want to thicken the mix, use the fish liver oil, and gradually introduce crushed flake food and /or vegetable matter.
Now, where can you find all these things? You can find the powdered eggs at commercial bakery supply outlets or you can purchase them from camping supplies retailers. The only problem with this particular ingredient is that it is nearly impossible to find it in a size that is less than 10-lbs. The good news is that it's cheap. Nutritional yeast is easily obtained at health food stores. The Torula variety has worked well for me because it is finely powdered. The chick-pea flour can be purchased at any store that sells East Indian foods. And I find the fish liver oil at a pharmacy in town.
[A note of caution: only add a few drops of oil. In small amounts, the oil will add nutritional value and increase the size of the clumps of liquid suspended in the water. If you add too much, however, you will end up with a slimy mess floating on top of your water.]
Brine shrimp, also known as artemia, are the most popular fry
food known to Cichlid-dom. Newly hatched brine shrimp, or napulli,
are actually more nutritious than their adult counterparts because
as young they contain a large drop of oil. This is rapidly depleted
as the shrimp grow, and their overall nutritional value rapidly
declines a few hours after hatching. Napulli are too small for
larger fry and adults, but can be grown up for the purpose of
feeding adults. Brine shrimp can be purchased live or frozen and
even freeze-dried. Processed brine shrimp can usually be obtained
from almost most good fish stores. This short section, however,
will only briefly cover brine shrimp and how to hatch them, not
grow them up. Hatching baby brine shrimp is relatively easy to
do. For ease of describing how to do this, I will use a commercial
hatchery as my example. If you decide to build one yourself, it
can be a little more complicated. This particular hatchery I purchased
for something like $10 at my lfs, and is San Francisco Bay Brand's
In addition to the hatchery, all you will need is rock salt (aquarium salt is just an expensive version of the same thing) and brine cysts. You can purchase the rock salt at your grocer for pennies and the cysts will cost you about $3, which is good for about 15-20 batches of fry. Note that the container is black, but the collecting glass is clear and in the bottom of it is a hole. Light enters the chamber below, which entices the brine to swim up into collecting chamber once they hatch as they are attracted to the light. That's because they feed on Infusoria (more below), which needs sunlight to grow. So all you have to do is remove the glass with the newly hatched brine shrimp in it and feed them to your fish. No complicated siphoning techniques or light tricks to capture them.
The directions for hatching are usually on the container, but here are abbreviated instructions. Cover the bottom of the container with rock salt, just enough to cover the bottom. Then sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of the cysts onto the salt. Now fill the container up with warm water, stirring the water to dissolve the salt. Place the lid on the chamber. Next, fill the collecting chamber with water and place it on top of the lid. In about 24 hours you will begin to see hundreds of small baby brine swimming around in the glass. To feed them, remove the glass and either strain them through a silk net or dump them into your fry tank. Ordinarily, you would not want to add the salt water to a freshwater tank, but with African Cichlids the extra salt will not harm them. If anything, it'll do them good. Refill the collecting glass back up with tap water and return to its original position. The collecting glass will continue to fill with baby brine for the next 24-48 hours. Feed as often as you like.
The brine shrimp will hatch more quickly depending upon the temperature and if the water is aerated. They do best at a temperature between 75 and 80 degrees. This commercial hatchery can be drilled and a flexible airline tubing can be inserted from on top. But really, I find this model very easy to use and have always had great success with it.
"Infusoria" is a generic term for the microscopic and near-microscopic life found in water. Examples are protozoa, rotifers, unicellular algae, etc. Many newborn fry from egg layers are so small that their mouths can only fit around these microscopic critters; consequently, Infusoria is probably the first food eaten by fry after the absorption of the egg sac.
Okay, I want it. Tell me, how can I get some? Well, believe it or not, you've already got some in your tank. The problem is that there are probably so few that they could not support a batch of fry. That means you need to cultivate them.
Infusoria feed on bacteria, so to get a batch going you will need to set up a culture of decomposing organic matter to feed the bacteria. This is best done in a jar. I recommend using either a handful of grass or a 1 cm piece of potato in 500 ml of water. Avoid meat because it will produce a foul odor. Incubate this in a sunny window and be sure to aerate the water because the bacterial growth consumes most of the oxygen in the culture, inhibiting the growth of the Infusoria. Aeration will also help to reduce any foul odors produced by the decaying organic matter. Within a couple of days the water should turn cloudy. This is the bacteria growing Ė you cannot see Infusoria with the naked eye. Once the culture begins to clear again considerable amounts of Infusoria will be present. At this time, feed it to your fry. In my experience, this will take about 3-4 days. To feed the Infusoria culture to my fry I use an eyedropper. I then top off the culture with more water.
A Few Hints: You can get a culture jump-started if you use old tank water or tap water that has been standing. Also, alkaline water works best, which is good because our fry are alkaline-lovers. You can also speed up the culture by boiling the vegetable as this will break down the tissues of the plant (e.g., potato), causing it to decompose more quickly. A healthy culture should be clear and somewhat odorless. Aquatic snails can help to maintain the culture by consuming large quantities of plant matter, which is only partially digested, plus the snails droppings contain organic matter which is then available to the infusoria. You will need to feed the snails flake food or boiled spinach. A thriving culture can be maintained for months, but it's always a good idea to start fresh cultures periodically.
You can set up a perpetual supply of food for your fry, whose stomachs should always be full, by using this simple techinique: Remove about a pint of the Infusoria culture into a separate container (remembering to top off the original culture) and set it atop your fry tank. Place one end of airline tubing in the jar containing the Infusoria and start a siphon into the fry tank. Using an airline clamp, restrict the flow of the siphon to about a drop a minute. This will provide a constant supply of Infusoria for your fry.
Paramecium is a complex, single-celled protozoan that is a great supplementary food for your fry. Better yet, it is very easy and cheap to prepare. While these protozoa would be too small for juveniles and adults to see or even care about, they are heartily consumed by small fry.
To prepare a culture, you will only need a small tank (say 5- or 10-gallon), yeast, flour, and an air stone. The yeast will serve as food for the paramecia. Prepare your paramecium culture with three packets of yeast and two tablespoons flour. Add the culture to your tank and then add enough water to thoroughly mix the flour-yeast mixture. Turn on the air stone and place the cover on the tank. A water heater is optional, but not necessary, as yeast grows best in warm water.
This setup will provide you with enough paramecia for a once-a-week feeding. To harvest the paramecia, siphon the top half of the water from the tank and strain it through a coffee maker filter. Feed the filtrate to your fry. It is important that you not use this siphon for any other tank as the paramecia would go uneaten by larger fish.
After you have removed half of the water from your culture, you will need to mix a volume of water equal to that taken out with two tablespoons flour and add that to the tank. DO NOT add sugar or else you will run the risk of a yeast bloom in the tank, which will contaminate the water. There will already be enough sugar in the waste from the paramecia and the flour to keep the yeast growing.
If the water quality in your fry tank decreases, there is always a possibility of a yeast bloom. If this happens to you, all you need to do is perform a forty percent water change.
Once your fry outgrow baby brine shrimp and microworms, they are ready to move onto Daphnia. They are not very nutritionally dense, being more than 95% water, but are eagerly consumed by most Cichlids, especially Haps. What's so great about them, however, is that they don't cause indigestion or constipation and are non-fattening. Plus, they have Vitamins A, B, C, and D.
To start a culture of Daphnia, place a watertight container outside where it will receive lots of sunlight. Fill it with old tank water and add some dried pieces of lettuce (or any other organic matter). But, believe it or not, manure works best. This will provide food for the smaller organisms on which Daphnia feed. In case you havenít caught on yet, this is a giant Infusoria culture. The Daphnia will feed on the Infusoria and even the manure. At this point, I wait a week or two, and then add some Daphnia, which I used to be able to get from a fish store in town.
Now you just wait for the culture to grow. Sunlight and warmth will certainly promote the cultureís growth, but excess heat or cold will hinder it. When I lived in Austin, TX I could culture this stuff outside year round. I would only get enough for a once-a-week feeding during the winter, but during the other months of the year I could count on four or five feedings a week from my culture. I donít culture them any more because where I live now actually freezes during the winter and raising Daphnia indoors doesnít yield much.
To harvest the Daphnia, use a fine net (I use a silk net for brine shrimp). After netting some, place them in clean water in a white container (I use a cool whip container). This is so that you can inspect them before feeding because you donít want any organic material or other unpleasantry going into your tank. When youíve done this you can feed them directly to your fry.
I should point out that your Daphnia culture will also produce mosquito larvae and bloodworms (if youíre lucky). Just be sure to catch them before they hatch. If you donít want these added buggers in your culture you can use horticultural fleece to keep the adults out.
Microworms are a very reliable food that can be used as an alternative or back up to baby brine shrimp. One feature that makes them a better fry food than brine shrimp is they can live in your tank water for a long time and therefore are available to be eaten over several hours. Their only drawback is that they are really only helpful for about the first two weeks of a fry's life, unless you stripped early. That's because they are so small that the fry soon grow disinterested in them. They are cheap to culture, grow rapidly, and reproduce every 20 hours. The younger stages of development for microworms are smaller than newly hatched brine shrimp, making them an excellent food for those first couple weeks, as I've already mentioned. Consequently, they are eagerly consumed by young fry. Another advantage they have over other foods is that due to their negative buoyancy, they sink to the bottom of the tank quickly, making them more visible to your timid, young fry.
To culture the worms, make a stiff paste using instant oatmeal and a little dried yeast in a ratio of 2 tablespoons oatmeal to a quarter teaspoon Fleischmann's active yeast. An oatmeal that is vitamin and mineral enriched is preferred as the worms will pass these onto your fish. Add enough boiling water to make the paste very stiff, then place it in a plastic container (I use an old cool whip container). Place a few holes in the lid for ventilation. Once the culture has cooled to room temperature, add some worms from a mature culture.
When they grow, the worms can be collected by scraping them off of the sides of the container with a wooden stick (I use a chop stick) or knife and then swirl them in a separate collecting container with about an inch of water in it. It only takes a few scrapes to get a couple million of these buggers clouding up the water. To deliver them to your patiently awaiting fry just use an eyedropper.
I like to have four batches running at any one time. Let me expalin why. If your culture runs for more than two weeks it will begin to smell quite badly. While microworm cultures can last for much longer than this, I prefer to just start a new batch and throw out each culture after 2 weeks. I wait to harvest from these cultures until they are 5-7 days old. By about day 15 or 16 you can expect them to turn dark and start smelling. At this point I start a new culture and discard the old one.
Something I have tried to stress is the importance of always having your fry's stomach full during the early stages of growth. A simple way to do this is to create a microworm feeder. Using a floating plastic container (I use a small ľ cup pastic glass with a lid), punch pinholes in the base. This feeder will then release worms slowly into the water for several hours. Be sure to leave only a little bit of air in the container so that it doesn't tip over; it should sit at least ĺ into the water.
Starter cultures can be obtained through the ads in aquaria magazines, and should be maintained indoors where the temperature is about 75ļF. If it ever looks like it's drying up, just add a little water to maintain a "pourable" consistency. On the other hand, if it looks like its getting too soupy after a few days of cultivating your worms, add additional oatmeal. Stirring the culture after each feeding will also help to keep it from getting too soupy, plus it encourages reproduction.
The method described above is what I have found helpful. Here is another good method, which only differes slightly: Mix up a batch of regular, unsalted oatmeal according to the directions on the box. You can make it a little thicker by adding a little more oatmeal and then cooking it an 15 extra seconds in the microwave. Put a 1/2 inch of the mixture on the bottom of a butter tub and let it cool to room temperature. When the batch cools to room temperature, a small pinch of yeast on the top of the mix really makes the mix take off. Add a portion of your starter to the container by placing a spoonful onto the top of the oatmeal.
Grindal worms are probably one of the most important cultivated live foods you can give your medium-sized fry (7-8 mm), and even your adults for that matter. They are both cheap and easy to cultivate. They are also highly nutritious and cannot carry any aquatic diseases (which is a natural fear of hobbyists). Grindal worms are about ľ inch in diameter and 1mm long. They can be purchased from ads in the back of aquaria magazines, but youíll only need to purchase them once because they are very prolific.
To culture Grindal worms simply fill a plastic container (I use an old cool whip container) with either multi-purpose potting compost or sterilized garden loam. To the soil add water equal to half its volume. Be sure to distribute the water evenly so as to wet all of the soil. You want the soil just damp enough that it can be shaped into a ball that retains its shape but crumbles into small clumps when touched. Mix in about a teaspoon of powdered oatmeal (i.e., instant porridge), which will serve as their food. Vitamin-enriched powdered oatmeal is preferred as the vitamins will be passed on to the fish. Now you are ready to add the worms onto the surface of the soil. You do not need to feed them, but if you like, you can bury a small piece of a boiled potato with the skin intact as Grindal worms love rotting vegetables. The most important step now is to cover the soil with either a piece of glass or plastic, small enough to leave a quarter-inch gap around the edges. As the worms grow, they will crawl up onto the glass where you can harvest them. I remove the glass lid and wash them off into another collecting container and give them another good wash to remove any food or soil and then deliver them to my fry with a small net.
Itís important to examine your culture daily to check for mould, which might ruin your culture. If you find any mould, remove it right away. If your culture goes bad, you can start a new by submerging the culture in shallow water. After a couple of minutes the worms will migrate from the soil and form balls on the surface where you can conveniently collect them. Rinse them and add them to a new culture medium.
In addition to mould, you should also check your culture on a daily basis to ensure that there is enough food and that the soil is not too dry. If the food has been consumed, lift the lid and sprinkle a thin layer of powdered oatmeal on the soil and replace the lid. Apply the food dry, otherwise it may mould. If your culture looks dry, dampen it with a tablespoon of water poured in the center of the soil. Do not let your culture dry out because once it dries out it cannot be restarted.
Grindal worms shun the light, so place the container in a shaded spot. They require a temperature between 68ļF and 75ļF in order to reproduce, so it might be best to culture them inside.
A few extra tips: I find it useful to use an air-tight lid in addition to the glass that sits on the soil. This helps to contain any unpleasant odors and any flies from laying their eggs in the culture. If you decide to use a lid, poke pin-sized holes around the sides of the container to help the culture breathe. Avoid putting holes in the top otherwise flies may foul the culture with their eggs. Never rely on just one culture. Instead, set up two or three just in case you lose a culture for some reason. And in a matter of 5 minutes you could harvest enough worms from three cultures to feed over a hundred fish. Which brings me to my next point: Cultures should be harvested daily. They can go weeks without adverse effects, but harvesting them every day encourages them to reproduce.
Your cultures will last for many months, but eventually will start to smell and become less productive. At this point, start a new culture using some washed worms (as described above).
Now, it has been argued that excessive feeding of Grindal worms leads to a build up of fatty deposits in fish. While this may be true, I have never seen any adverse effects. But then again, I never feed my fish ONLY one kind of live food. Live foods should be varied and interchanged. □