Breeding Egg-Laying Aquarium Fish, Part Two: Food, (aka, the Importance of Being Earnest About Brine Shrimp)
This is the second in a series of articles on breeding egg-laying aquarium fish. In Part One, we identified the three basic factors to successfully getting your fish to lay eggs, and raising the hatchlings.
In this article we are going to cover one of these factors, “first food for the young ‘uns”. Having food suitable for very, very small mouths, and lots of it, is absolutely crucial to the success of your fish breeding endeavors. I can not overemphasize this! The most important factor in determining whether you will successfully breed a species of egg-laying fish or not, is whether you have an acceptable source of food for the fry.
When the fry first hatch, they will look like little splinters attached to a ball. This ball is a yolk-sac, and is the remains of the egg. Day by day the fry develop into a more fish-like shape, living off the yolk-sac until it is gone, at which point they become free swimming, and very hungry. They need food NOW!
This “first food” has to be something small enough for them to swallow.
In my experience, the best food you can raise for your fry is newly hatched brine shrimp. In fact, the availability of newly hatched brine shrimp is so crucial to your success breeding egg-layers, that I would advise planning on spending a majority of your time and efforts at being highly successful at hatching and harvesting brine shrimp. Yes …. you may wind up spending MORE time fussing over your brine shrimp cultures than your fish tanks.
Please pay attention to this, as it is important! If you do NOT have brine shrimp readily available for the fry when they need them, they will probably starve.
“What about infusoria?” you may ask. My experiences with infusoria have almost always been either bad or terrible. You can read articles about how easy it is to raise infusoria by simply putting some dried lettuce in a large jar of chlorine free water. Well go ahead …. try it! If it works for you, that’s great, but I can tell you that for me, most of my attempts at raising infusoria turned into stinky vats of nasty bacteria. (Probably flesh-eating stuff that you wouldn’t want on your sensitive fry, or you!) I once tried to raise a batch of angelfish fry with nothing for a first food but infusoria; only one survived to adulthood.
One time, when I was breeding Kribs, (Kribensis, Pelvicachromis pulcher, as it was once known before some taxonomist got a bug up his or her butt and changed the scientific name to whatever it is at the moment), I was determined to use infusoria. So I made three separate cultures, each with a varying amount of organic material put into the water, and bought a microscope. Under the microscope, the culture with little organic matter appeared barren. The culture with plenty of organic matter smelled awful, and under magnification didn’t appear to have anything living in it that I could see. But the culture with an average amount, (no, I don’t remember what an “average amount” was!), did have a paramecium here and there, swimming happily around.
Success? Not so fast! This last culture did have a nice supply of protozoa swimming around in it ….. for three days! After that it deteriorated into a stinky mess that smelled as bad, or worse, than the failed culture with plenty of organic matter.
(By the way, despite my ineptitude, many of the baby Kribs survived, probably by feeding off infusoria that was naturally living in the tank. And this was in a community aquarium! Proof that many fish WILL successfully reproduce even if their aquarist is a knuckle-head!)
I hope you have gotten the point by now: you need to learn how to hatch and harvest brine shrimp.
My success with brine shrimp has mostly been with the San Francisco type floating eggs, rather than the Utah type sinking eggs, but you will need to experiment with this on your own. You should develop the knack for hatching and harvesting brine shrimp BEFORE attempting to breed your fish, unless you want to be like me, cursing at some rotten infusoria cultures.
Besides being the crucial first food for fry, brine shrimp are an excellent conditioning food for adult fish. If we want our fish to devote the energy required to laying eggs, then we want them to be in optimal condition. Fortunately there are all types of frozen food available at pet stores, including frozen brine shrimp, that we can use to pamper our adult fish with. Unlike feeding fry, it is not absolutely required that we feed our adults a special diet; many fish will still spawn on a diet entirely of flake food. But by giving your fish some better food, you will have healthier fish that will spawn more readily.
A quick note about feeding live food to your adult fish: in my experience, frozen adult brine shrimp is the best “live” food for most fish, large or small. I don’t recommend harvesting live foods from the wild, as this can be a way to introduce disease into your tanks. You can develop your own live food cultures, such as wingless fruit flies, or, if you’re particularly masochistic, daphnia or rotifers, but I’ve always found doing this is much more trouble than it is worth.
Now that we’ve covered a food source for the newborns, you’re probably eager to go to Part Three, which describes a suitable environment for breeding fish. Before doing that, I would encourage you to review some of the resources below, which may help you become an expert on raising brine shrimp! And as always, PLEASE feel free to add your own experiences/suggestions in a comment!
(Some of these links are affiliate links. Read about affiliate links here: How Affiliate Marketing is Supposed to Work.)
1. San Francisco Bay Brand Brine Shrimp Eggs. These have worked best for me. These type brine shrimp eggs float on the surface of the water.
2. Link to various brine shrimp hatcheries. I haven’t found any that work really well, but then I’m often trying to hatch brine shrimp in a panic at the last moment, AFTER the fry have hatched. (I know: shame on me!!)
3. In all fairness, I have to admit that the few small hobbyist-turned-business hatcheries I have visited all used Utah Brine Shrimp eggs, so it may be worth your while to find out how to hatch this type of brine shrimp successfully.
4. Some articles on hatching brine shrimp.
5. There are TONS of videos on YouTube about hatching brine shrimp.