Free Fish Food!

And it’s live!

By Magicman116

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about feeding your fish. Ask any crowd of experienced fish keepers what in general is best to feed your fish and the resounding answer will probably be fresh foods, fresh greens for the herbivores and live foods for the carnivores, but for the omnivores. Fresh greens are fairly easy. We all can get a leaf or two or greens or a slice of zucchini from the grocery store for example. Live foods can be another story altogether. Many people start talking here and say “But my stores don’t carry live foods! Other than feeder fish that is.” or “Yeah, it’s great, but live foods cost so very much and seem to die before I can feed it all.” Both of those can be so very true depending on where you live. If you have a shop that sells a good variety of live foods for an affordable price then count yourself lucky and know that you are in the minority of fish keepers. So what can the majority of us do? First we need to understand a few things. What do my fish eat is an important question. Be sure you know the answer to that. Also realize that no matter how careful you are you can’t give a complete diet using just fresh foods for most fish. Mother nature can but you can’t so be sure to include a good quality prepared flake, pellet or the like for your fish. So on to the free stuff you were promised.

OK, so not all of this is free, but it will feel like it’s free compared to buying it online or at the local shop. I’ll cover a variety of choices and options here. Not all will apply to you but some certainly will.

Feeder fish: I don’t like to buy feeder fish. One, it seems like a waste of money and two it’s a good source of parasites and diseases for the tank. Anytime you bring in a new fish it’s a risk and that applies to feeder fish as well. Raise your own feeder guppies. It doesn’t take much space and it’s very low cost, especially if you have the climate and space to put them in a kiddy wading pool in the back yard. Even if you can’t raise enough for your fish, you have some cheap and safe ones to use.

Mosquito larvae: Mosquitoes breed like nothing else wherever there is water. So why not take advantage of this and put out a bucket of water for them to breed in? True, your neighbors may be less than understanding at first, but as long as you don’t let the little monsters mature you shouldn’t get any complaints. One bucket can provide a surprising number of larvae but if you need more then put out more buckets. You can also freeze the larvae easily for later use. A convenient way is to uses an old style ice cube try and put one feedings worth of larvae in one section and add some tank water. Freeze them up and store in a zip top baggy until you need them.

Daphnia: Daphnia are a wonderful fish food that is often free for the taking. One of the best sources of daphnia is a golf course pond. Who doesn’t live fairly near a golf course these days? What you are looking for is a nutrient rich pond that contains no significant fish population. No fish is best. Golf course ponds are usually not stocked with fish when built but people do release fish into them. They are also usually very nutrient rich from the fertilizers used buy the golf course to maintain its sod. If you plan to collect from a golf course pond, call the course and find out on what day they are closed. You may also want to go by and get permission from the grounds keeper first. Be sure to explain what you want to do and why and also explain that you will be very careful not to get on greens or otherwise damage the course in any way. That would be their first concern. Daphnia are also called water fleas because of the way they move in the water, in little jerky jump like motions. They often collect in swarms in the pond near the surface if it’s not too hot or too cold. You can collect them using a fine net with a long handle of a cone shaped pull net. These can be purchased online from a variety of aquaculture suppliers. Daphnia is also quite easy to culture in a spare aquarium. Plenty of sites have information on how to do this.

You will most likely net a variety of critters when looking for daphnia. You may encounter fairy shrimp, mosquito larvae, or midge flies for example. Most anything small enough for your fish and soft enough for them to chew is fair game, don’t toss it just because it’s not daphnia. Most of these will freeze fairly well.

Earthworms: Earthworms make good food for larger fish and can even be cut up for medium sized to smaller fish. Some of the smaller red worms are a bit too tough for most fish so try a variety until you find the right one’s for your fish. Starting a small compost heap will encourage worms and you can always buy them from bait shops to either feed your fish or to seed you compost pile once it’s breaking down well. Don’t even bother trying to freeze extra worms, they just turn to goop.

Crickets: Nice for the big fish. I always remove the large hind legs before feeding as they are so tough they are a problem for all but the biggest aquarium fish. You can encourage crickets by placing a large piece of cloth under a tree in a moist place from late spring to late fall. Dampening the cloth is a good idea as well. I use an old burlap bag and it almost never fails that each morning I have at least a few crickets under the bag. I tend to leave the largest and go for the smaller crickets. They don’t freeze well.

Ant larvae: An excellent food if not rather hard to collect. Scope up a part of the nest with a wire screen and screen out most of the dirt, work quickly and you can probably avoid stings. Then drop the larvae and ants into a bucket of water. The ants will float while the larvae mostly sink. Running water into the bottom of the bucket and allowing it to over flow will wash away most of the remaining ants. Try to get the larvae out before it drowns and you can keep in it a small bowl for a few days. They don’t freeze all that well.

Ants: Yes ants. Ants make a good food for insectivores such as archer fish. I regularly feed the larger black ants without a problem. They are not too hard to collect as they are not prone to stinging.

Wasp and bee larvae. Same problem as collecting ant larvae, the adults! If the nest was killed without the use of poisons, you can find larvae in various staged of maturation and the younger grubs make good food for medium to larger fishes. Again, these don’t freeze well.

Flies and gnats: Collect them without the use of poisons and feed away. Removing the wings from house flies can be a good idea since the can escape the top of the water and get free in the house. They actually freeze fairly well, but as common and available as they are I wouldn’t bother. Small moths and the like are also in this group, great food for any fish that can handle them.

White worms: While not free, you can order a starter culture and grow these very easily at home. Probably the biggest challenge is keeping the temperature low enough as they like it around 55 – 65F. They grow well in a small container of dirt or better yet worm bedding available from department stores and bait supply houses. Look for it in the sporting good section. Feed them a little bread soaked in milk and away you go.

Bloodworms: While not practical to culture them, you can sometimes find the in the leaf litter in the bottom of small ponds and puddles. They aren’t hard to collect, but time consuming.

Vinegar eels: These are a very small worm that lives in vinegar. You can order a starter culture easily online. Just add it to some cider vinegar and drop in a small piece of apple or a little apple juice. They are very, very small and collect near the surface of the vinegar along the edges of the container. They are a good first food for numerous egg-laying fish fry.

Micro worms: These are also very easy to culture and start cultures are readily available online as are the instructions. Again a very, very small live food, but great for baby fish

Flour beetles: Again very easy to culture from starters available online. While the adults have a hard shell and aren’t a very good fish food, they larvae are great for small to medium fishes.

This is far from a complete list of free or nearly free fish foods out there. Not only are these real money savers but excellent food for your fish as well. So get out there and start catching / growing your own live foods! Your fish will thank you for it.


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