Live food  

Author: Dr. L.E. Freese

In this time of gifts and merriment, do not forget your finned friends. They have whispered their wish into Santa’s ear:  "live food."

Live foods such as tubifex worms, mosquito larva, daphnia and brine shrimp are tasty morsels that all fish will appreciate and their appreciation will show through enhanced colouration and healthier fish.

The simplest manner in which to obtain live food is by buying them from your local pet shop, but a more cost effective and interesting method is to cultivate the live food yourself. It may seem difficult at first, but when you get the knack of it, nothing could be simpler.


The easiest of them all is mosquito larva, and personally revenge is very sweet. As any South African knows all you need is stagnant water, but to enhance their growth a food source such as lettuce, apple or any other vegetable or fruit in a stocking should be suspended into the water.

At first you will notice the egg rafts which look like small pieces of bark, floating on the water and then they hatch and the tiny larva emerge. When the larva seem to have a very big “heads” it is time to harvest or else you become the food and not them.

Harvesting can be done by either removing the stocking and straining the water, or the larva can be caught out with a fine net. The last method has the advantage that the supply of larva is not interrupted but on the other hand it must be harvest frequently, as not all the larva are caught and hatching may occur.


Daphnia is a great source of colour enhancing carotenoids that enhance the natural colours of the fish. To produce a population of daphnia is trickier than mosquito larva as the daphnia is sensitive to water temperature, metals, chlorine, water temperature and oxygen levels.

The container or old aquarium in which you want to cultivate the daphnia should be half filled with appropriate water and the starting culture should be introduced to their new environment in the same manner that you would fish. Daphnia are filter feeders and feed on single cell algae and other foods in the water.  Green water (large alga blooms) is the easiest way to feed your daphnia, and the culture can be feed either by being introduced into the green water or the green water can be added daily to the daphnia. It is important not to overfeed the daphnia, as too much algae causes a depletion of oxygen and this in turn is an unfavourable environment for daphnia and they will die.

It is advisable to harvest the daphnia frequently, as this ensures that the food and oxygen levels remain advantageous to the colony.

 The introduction of the live food to your aquarium will be met with great excitement. The predatory instincts of the fish come into effect and they can be seen darting after the live food. The breeding instincts are also awakened and very evident in the cichlids, as they change to their breeding colours immediately.  

December 2001