Most fish commonly found in aquariums eat insects in the wild to one degree or another, including Livebearers, Rainbowfish, Tetras, Killifish, Betta, Gourami, Hatchetfish, and many species of Cichlids (such as Apistogramma & Convicts). Insectivorous fish primarily feed on aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, insect larvae and pupae. They may actively hunt insects by jumping out of the water, or grab those that drop into the water from overhanging vegetation. These fish have evolved to effectively utilize the unique combination of nutrients these small creatures provide, which would suggest that their absence could leave the diet seriously lacking in essential nutrients.
While the diet of omni-insectivores and omni-larvivores is primarily insects and larvae, they don’t stop and ask the little creatures in their environment if they’re larvae before they eat them. Therefore, most of these fish also ingest cohabiting creatures such as invertebrates, crustaceans, fry, and eggs. If they’re not strict carnivores, they’ll often dine on algae or other plant matter as well (hence the term ‘omni-insectivorous’). Further complimenting their diet can be food they inadvertently ingest through their prey, from gut contents to pollen.
So why don’t more fish foods include a healthy dose of insects? They’re expensive! One wouldn’t think of bugs as expensive, but they’re not commonly farmed, difficult to harvest, and low-heat drying processes are expensive to operate. They must also be certified as clean and uncontaminated with pesticides. Since first publishing our observations and formulating Buggy Bottom Bites, one insect farm in Canada has entered the fish food sector by drying Black Soldier Fly larvae. It’s now an ingredient in fish food sold under brands like Hagen, Fluval and Nutrafin.
The Key is in the Details
For fish who eat insects and small crustaceans all day, every day, fishmeal as a main ingredient isn’t going to cut it. Their wild diet of insects, worms, invertebrates and crustaceans is rich in protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, manganese, and selenium. It’s presented with unique combinations of fatty acids, carotenoids and other antioxidants, and chitin. Their digestive system is built to process, uptake and utilize nutrients from those unique sources.
To truly formulate an optimum diet, especially for breeding and growing fish, one must understand the types of lipids that are ingested by our specific aquatic creatures in the wild. For example, how many times have you heard someone refer to ‘wax esters’ in reference to fish food? Yet they are a major lipid storage reserve in insects, crustaceans and zooplankton, and are therefore considered to be an important energy source for many species, especially insectivores.
It’s also important that freshwater omni-insectivorous fish receive a balanced combination of EPA, DHA, and AA fatty acids for egg formation, healthy larval development, and early fry survival. A study on the Rainbowfish Melanotaenia splendida found that a balanced diet of these three fatty acids, “…produced eggs with a 100% survival to eyed embryo and hatching rate. They also had the highest number of eggs, highest number of spawns, and the shortest average spawning interval when compared to results from the other trials in the study.” [Badger, 2004 via Home of the Rainbowfish]
This level of understanding allows us to formulate a diet that will better meet the nutritional requirements of omni-insectivores, as well as increase optimum reproduction and growth. It is only the beginning of the in depth knowledge we draw upon in our premium fish food formulations. Anyone can throw together a few ingredients and call it fish food, but formulating specialized diets and using specialized ingredients is not a game for the uneducated to play. Know your fish, fully understand their requirements, and take great care to ensure the fish food you purchase or make yourself is formulated with comprehensive knowledge.
Increasing Insect Intake
The most common concern with the captive feeding of insectivores is the lack of variety available in captivity, which is critical for a healthy, balanced diet. Each insect, crustacean or invertebrate can offer a drastically different nutritional profile which, when combined, is a complete diet.
There are some insects and larvae on the market that may be fed to fish, such as crickets, mealworms and bloodworms. A wide variety of invertebrates and crustaceans can be found at most fish stores, including krill, daphnia, and shrimp. Alternately, you could breed your own live food for insectivores, such as wingless fruit flies, daphnia or gammarus. Some hobbyists collect wild insects for their fish, but we discourage this due to the high risk of pesticide or other contamination.
You may wish to formulate your own fish food recipe that is based on omni-insectivore requirements. This allows you to easily bring in other ingredients to help balance the mix, such as seaweed, algae, and natural supplements like calcium montmorillonite clay.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with feeding omni-insectivorous fish in the comments below.
Bernard, Joni B. Feeding Captive Insectivorous Animals: Nutritional Aspects of Insects as Food
Home of the Rainbowfish
Badger, A. C. The effects of nutrition on reproduction in the Eastern Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia splendida splendida. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University. 2004.
Ortaz, M. The diet of the neotropical insectivorous fish Creagrutus bolivari (Pisces: Characidae) according to the “graphic” and “relative importance” methods.
James Sales, Geert. Nutrient requirements of ornamental fish. Aquat. Living Resour. 16 (2003). Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Belgium.
Halver, J.E. Fish Nutrition. Second ed. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA. 1989.
Winfree, Robert A. Nutrition and Feeding of Tropical Fish. Aquariology Fish Anatomy, Physiology, and Nutrition. First ed. Tetrapress, Morris Plains, NJ 1992.
Coletti, Ted D. Aquarium Care of Livebearers (Animal Planet Pet Care Library). 2008.
Dreyer, Stephan. Feeding Tropical Fishes the Right way. TFH Publications. 1998.
Robert, Helen E. Fundamentals of Ornamental Fish Health. 2009.
✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Prevention and Treatment of Aquarium Fish Parasites
Natural Prevention and Treatment of Constipation / Bloat in Freshwater Fish
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