Breeding fish can be a rewarding (and sometimes lucrative) hobby for aquarium enthusiasts. Some fish seem born to breed, like many popular Livebearers (Guppies, Mollies, Platies and Swordtails). Others demand certain conditions and specific dietary considerations. Still others won’t breed in captivity at all.
Further complicating matters is the vast number of fish species available to hobbyists. Each species has different dietary requirements that may be amplified for spawning. Studies show that even lipid utilization during embryo development varies greatly between species.
“Clearly there are wide differences in lipid utilization during embryogenesis between the various freshwater species studied,” concludes John E. Halver in the book, Fish Nutrition. The book states there is a similarly varied situation found in marine fish.
Our focus is on aquarium breeders, but issues with breeding become critical in aquaculture. Poor egg quality and low egg numbers are some of the limiting factors of farming fish. The good news is when industry is involved, more study is done.
Any natural diet for individual fish species should be based on what we know of their diet in the wild. If you are offering a complete, natural fish diet, you need only to modify it somewhat for spawning. The spawning diet should not replace the complete diet, it should enhance it with the proper nutrients for breeding functions.
Increasing the dietary protein is the first recommendation given to aquarists when they ask about conditioning fish for breeding. However, there are other dietary considerations that master breeders employ to ensure a large, healthy spawn, superior hatch rate, and optimum fry survival. A complete spawning diet can improve the total number of spawns, total seed production, sperm motility and viability, mean fecundity, and hatching rate. Some proven nutrients include Vitamins A (retinols and carotenoids), D, E, C, K, B12, folate, Manganese, Iodine and fatty acids.
Top 15 Natural Foods Used by Master Fish Breeders
Please note that we are referring to fresh, frozen, freeze-dried or low processed foods. Flakes and pellets are processed at high temperatures which kills natural vitamins, renders amino acids unavailable due to binding, and seriously alters protein structure. The protein may be there, but it is far from the same.
The easiest way to serve this up would be to puree it and make your own breeding food like we do with Bottom Bites. Check out our DIY gelatin recipe if you want to go that route.
Krill – Improves egg production, hatching rate and fry survival. It’s bursting with Carotenoides (namely Astaxanthin), DHA, Phospholipids, essential fatty acids, and bio-available minerals. Krill is also a rare source of cohabiting hydrolytic enzymes (Phospholipases, Proteases, Nucleases & Carbohydrases).
Oysters – High in Protein, Vitamin E, B12, Manganese, Selenium, Iron and zinc. Oysters are also a good source of Magnesium and Phosphorus.
Clams – Great source of Protein, Selenium, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium and B vitamins.
Bio-fortified (Gut-loaded) Worms and Larvae – Fed nutritious items such as powdered seaweed or chlorella just before feeding to fish. Worms are high in protein and larvae is a natural food for many fish in the wild. Blood worms (allergen) are a popular choice of breeders, but we suggest feeding them in moderation.
Fish Roe – Offers Protein, Vitamins C, D, E, Folate, B12, Thiamin and Riboflavin.
Seaweed & Algae – The most nutritious vegetation in the world, seaweed and algae are excellent sources of chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, and proteins. They boast fertility-friendly Vitamins A, C, E, K, B12, and Folate, along with a full range of minerals and trace elements, including Iodine.
Mustard Greens – High in Vitamins A, C, E, K, and Folate.
Cordyceps Mushroom – Enhances sperm production and motility while also enhancing female fertility. Cordyceps are also a source of Polysaccharides and Lipids.
Broccoli – This vegetable is packed with Protein, Vitamins A, C, K, E, B6, Folate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Selenium, Potassium and Manganese.
Pumpkin – A wonderful source of Vitamin A, C, E, B6, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Manganese.
Brussels Sprouts – Source of Vitamins A, C, K, B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, plus Manganese, Magnesium, and Potassium.
Thyme – A herbal source of vitamins A, C, E, K, B-complex, Folate, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Manganese, Magnesium, and Selenium, plus Flavonoids.
Astragalus – Increases sperm count and improves sperm motility.
Bee Pollen/Propolis – Increases sperm production and is rich in Vitamins C, E and B-complex.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) – Supports the endocrine system and increases both egg quality and sperm count.
Remember to let the natural diet of the species be your guide. For example, suddenly switching your herbivore’s diet to 90% seafood is going to hurt your fish and probably your chance of spawning them. Instead, slightly increase the herbivore’s seafood protein and utilize high protein vegetation for the rest.
The spawning diet should be fed for several weeks before spawning. In Livebearers or other fish that spawn frequently, consider enhancing the natural diet with spawning nutrients on a regular basis.
Gammanpila, M. et al. Evaluation of the effects of dietary vitamin C, E and Zinc supplementation on reproductive performance of the Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). 2007.
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.
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
The Natural Diet of Omni-Insectivorous Aquarium Fish
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