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Live foods: white worms


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#1 Guest_nativeplanter_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 11:43 AM

Today I received a starter culture of white worms. Worms and media are in a 2-oz cup.

I have found the following description of white worm care: http://www.aquarticl.....te Worms.html

Does anyone have any other experiences with culturing these that they could share? I have heard about putting some lime in with the media to keep it from acidifying too quickly. How much lime would one add to, say, a plastic shoebox culture?

#2 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 12:25 PM

I have found the following description of white worm care: http://www.aquarticl.....te Worms.html
Does anyone have any other experiences with culturing these that they could share? I have heard about putting some lime in with the media to keep it from acidifying too quickly. How much lime would one add to, say, a plastic shoebox culture?

I've kept cultures of these for the past couple years with great success. They're the easiest and most productive live food culture I've tried. The only caveat is that you need to keep them below 70 degrees F. I've been neglecting mine for a number of months now, but I think there are enough worms still alive that I can get them going again when I want. These little buggers are pretty resilient.

That article looks pretty good. I've used the 50:50 peat/soil mix, with perhaps 1/4 cup of agricultural lime per gallon of soil. I've heard it repeated many times that you need to find a brownish-tinted lime that is more natural. I've used regular lime intended for gardens/lawns -- just be sure it's not quicklime (different stuff). Mix up the soil, dampened peat, and lime (mix in the lime *really* well to remove clumps), then let it sit for a day or two for the lime to dissolve somewhat. I've actually used my aquarium test kit to check that the pH is near 7 -- just drop a bit of soil in a tube of purified water, mix it up good, then do the test.

You want the culture to stay pretty wet, but not soggy to the point that water will run out if you tip it on its side. In my experience it takes a few weeks for the colony to get established and start feeding well, so be patient and feed *very* lightly at first. I suspect this has to do with building up a population of beneficial bacteria in the soil.

Now, the food: A lot of folks say bread, but you'll find others recommending kitten food. When I switched to kitten food, my population exploded. *Definitely* try kitten food, and try to find one that doesn't have largish chunks of cornmeal in it (the worms will eat those, but they take a lot of time) It makes sense that you're bumping up the nutritional value of the worms by using a more balanced food, too. I put it on the surface, mist it with a bit of water to dampen it, and then cover with something. A cover directly over the food helps with keeping humidity up and getting the worms to feed actively. A piece of glass is great, but anything non-porous is fine. I've used oatmeal canister lids, pieces of plexiglass, etc. Once the worms really get rolling, you can feed about a tablespoon of kitten food daily, and they'll just about be done with it by the time you check next day. Mold is not a problem at all once you get to that point.

I'd use the 2-3 gallon size plastic shoeboxes (usually $2-3). The extra volume seems to really help keep moisture levels correct, and more room for worms. Make sure you keep at least 2 cultures in case something goes wacky. Cover loosely, especially once your population gets larger. I just leave the lid of a plastic shoebox unsnapped, and maybe slightly tilted off to the side. Using foam/screen etc would be a good idea -- my cultures wound up getting fungus gnats, which are a minor nuisance but don't harm the worms at all.

Start a new culture every few months by taking a good scoop of worms and soil and mixing into a box of new soil/peat/lime mix. You can also extend the life of a culture by stirring in more lime.

Once you get it going, you'll be amazed at how productive these guys can be -- check the photo below from when my cultures we're really doing great. My fish had no chance of keeping up. Have fun! -Jase

Attached File  white_worms.jpg   50.72KB   0 downloads

Edited by jase, 26 March 2008 - 12:28 PM.


#3 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 12:40 PM

Once you get to the point where your culture is productive, you'll have something that looks like my photo above. The key is to add enough food that there will still be a little bit left the next day. That keeps the worms clumped at the surface (under your cover laid on the soil), and makes them really easy to pick up with tweezers. If they finish all the food, they disperse back into the soil and it's much harder to collect them. You want to find a balance where you're feeding enough that they don't run out, but not so much that food gets moldy. Another thing I do is rotate the feeding spot around the box each day (go in a circle around the periphery of the box every week or two) -- my theory is that keeps too much waste from collecting in any one spot before bacteria can process it. Keeping it close to where the last food pile was helps the worms find it quickly.

To harvest, pick up a clump with forceps, then drop it in a little container of water. Once they're feeding actively, you can get almost 100% pure worms with very little soil. Then... use a plastic pipette or eyedropper to suck up the amount of worms you want to feed, and drop into your tanks. A worm feeder (http://www.mops.ca/s.../FELE-10526.jpg) works well -- these guys sink pretty quickly, and will bury into the gravel and die if they get a chance. They will live for at least 12 hours or more in the bottom of a bare-bottom tank. To feed them to bottom-dwelling fish, I use the setup described/shown here:
http://forum.nanfa.o...h...ost&p=33070

[Edit:] One thing you'll see repeated endlessly on the Internet is that white worms are very high-fat and should only be fed as treats or for conditioning for breeding, not as a staple of the diet. I don't know if that's urban legend or not, and I've never seen an actual nutritional analysis of them. (As an aside, you *can* get nutritional info for some foods, including mealworms, at http://grubco.com/Nu...Information.cfm.) Speaking from personal experience, I fed *only* white worms to a group of pygmy sunfish for a period of 9 months, and they seemed to thrive on them. They even spawned successfully one time. To feed those guys, I'd drop a few white worms into a clump of java moss, and they'd pick them off as the worms slowly made their way downward.

Don't hesitate to ask with any more questions. Glad someone brought this up so I'd have an excuse to share what I've learned. :) -Jase

Edited by jase, 26 March 2008 - 01:07 PM.


#4 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 12:44 PM

Wouldn't it rock if there was a "Live Foods" subforum to group all this kind of stuff? (wink, wink...)
http://forum.nanfa.o...?showtopic=4038
(Mods, am I getting annoying yet?) :)

-Jase

#5 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 01:45 PM

By the way, I'll be happy to send out starter cultures to anyone who wants them once I get my own cultures producing again (that'll take a few weeks, at least). I'll post an offer in the trading dock at that point.

-Jase

#6 Guest_scottefontay_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 03:57 PM

Thanks for posting this info, Jase, good stuff.

I also think a live foods subforum would rock!

#7 Guest_nativeplanter_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 04:04 PM

Thanks Jase. I've also today had a recommendation for Magic Worm Bedding, which I can supposedly buy at Wal Mart. Do you have experience with it?

#8 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 04:19 PM

Thanks Jase. I've also today had a recommendation for Magic Worm Bedding, which I can supposedly buy at Wal Mart. Do you have experience with it?

I know the stuff, but haven't tried it. Given the photo above, just plain soil+peat+lime has (obviously) worked well for me. I did experiment with keeping them in fine gravel once. It worked, but not nearly as well as the soil. Like I said, I think the key is building up a population of bacteria to process the worms' waste (probably something very similar to biological filtration in the aquarium).

Edited by jase, 26 March 2008 - 04:19 PM.


#9 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 05:38 PM

For better ease of finding later, I wanted to add the species name for white worms (Enchytraeus albidus) to this thread. Grindal worms (Enchytraeus buchholzi) are very similar, but slightly smaller and more tolerant of higher temperatures. I don't have any personal experience with Grindal worms, but do plan on getting a culture at some point. I believe the culture technique is nearly identical.

I originally got my white worm culture from http://www.lfscultur...m/cultures.html . The website is very basic, but the selection & prices are good and the owner is very helpful. I ordered daphnia, white worms, tubifex worms, and a green water culture from him in 2006. He even called me to let me know that he had a better species of greenwater algae for feeding to daphnia than the one I had ordered. I'd love to see what *his* house looks like. :)

Edited by jase, 26 March 2008 - 05:39 PM.


#10 Guest_Skipjack_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 06:23 PM

Look for coconut fiber blocks. They are sold for reptile bedding. Once hydrated one brick sized block will fill several shoebox sized containers. This material does not seem to acidify the way that peat does. My local Miejer carries them.
I have had great success with whiteworms. I feed some bread, but primarily feed pelleted catfish food from the farm store. My assumption here is that worms fed with fish food will provide balanced nutrition to fish. Kind of like gut loading.

#11 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 07:33 PM

Look for coconut fiber blocks. They are sold for reptile bedding. Once hydrated one brick sized block will fill several shoebox sized containers. This material does not seem to acidify the way that peat does. My local Miejer carries them.

Coconut fiber is also known as "coir" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coir) if you're trying to find it. A garden supply would be another possible source -- it's used a lot for hanging baskets. Skipjack, do you use coir only, or coir mixed with soil? Do you add any lime? I'd think the culture would tend to acidify over time anyway because of all the organic material being added in the form of food, but definitely makes sense that substituting coir for peat would slow that down.

I feed some bread, but primarily feed pelleted catfish food from the farm store. My assumption here is that worms fed with fish food will provide balanced nutrition to fish. Kind of like gut loading.

Yep, that makes sense. I don't have the kitten food bag here to see what it's made up of, but I'd guess it's nutritionally pretty similar to pelleted fish food. I'd agree that fish food makes more sense -- kitten food is just what I saw mentioned on the web, especially here: http://fins.actwin.c...5/msg00731.html
(They also mention using green beans -- not sure where *that* idea came from!)

Cheers, Jase

#12 Guest_Irate Mormon_*

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 08:08 PM

(They also mention using green beans -- not sure where *that* idea came from!)



Probably from a 12 year-old aquarist who won't eat his green beans.

#13 Guest_nativeplanter_*

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 08:38 AM

Thanks for the advice everyone! I'll put the latin name in the topic title.

BTW, coconut fiber for reptiles and coir are different things. They are made of the same stuff, but the coconut fiber is ground into little bits while coir has long, thick fibers and is processed into coir blankets and rolls (the blankets are used in those hanging baskets). The ground stuff is what would be used for cultures; coir is much too coarse. I used the ground stuff once years ago and I'm not sure I was happy with its texture - rather coarser and fluffier than peat.

#14 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 09:11 AM

BTW, coconut fiber for reptiles and coir are different things. They are made of the same stuff, but the coconut fiber is ground into little bits while coir has long, thick fibers and is processed into coir blankets and rolls (the blankets are used in those hanging baskets). The ground stuff is what would be used for cultures; coir is much too coarse. I used the ground stuff once years ago and I'm not sure I was happy with its texture - rather coarser and fluffier than peat.

Thanks for the clarification -- sorry if I led anyone astray. I was picturing the long-fibered coir blankets, and wasn't sure how that would work for a worm culture. A ground product makes more sense.

Skipjack, sorry if I hijacked your suggestion. Id still like to know how you use the fiber -- mixed with soil, or straight? -Jase

Edited by jase, 27 March 2008 - 09:13 AM.


#15 Guest_jimbob_*

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 09:55 AM

Today I received a starter culture of white worms. Worms and media are in a 2-oz cup.

I have found the following description of white worm care: http://www.aquarticl.....te Worms.html

Does anyone have any other experiences with culturing these that they could share? I have heard about putting some lime in with the media to keep it from acidifying too quickly. How much lime would one add to, say, a plastic shoebox culture?


I have raised white worms on and off for years.
My latest advancement was going to wine coolers to keep the worms in.
You can easily set the temperature you want and it helps keep the cultures pest free.

Jim Graham
Hastings MI

#16 Guest_nativeplanter_*

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 10:21 AM

Until now, I have had them living in a plastic shoebox in the basement. I used 1/2 soil, 1/2 peat, and lime like Jase suggested. They have been multiplying, but I don't feel confident harvesting yet. I haven't been feeding them as much as they will process, so I'm sure it could go faster. For now I've been feeding them this color-enhancing Tetra granule food that I don't use because it has red food coloring in it (that's all I need - food coloring in the aquarium). I haven't been keeping a lid on the container, but they haven't crawled out. Tank lights probably keep them in the soil most of the time, but there are times at night when it is in complete darkness.

#17 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 10:40 AM

Until now, I have had them living in a plastic shoebox in the basement. I used 1/2 soil, 1/2 peat, and lime like Jase suggested. They have been multiplying, but I don't feel confident harvesting yet. I haven't been feeding them as much as they will process, so I'm sure it could go faster. For now I've been feeding them this color-enhancing Tetra granule food that I don't use because it has red food coloring in it (that's all I need - food coloring in the aquarium). I haven't been keeping a lid on the container, but they haven't crawled out. Tank lights probably keep them in the soil most of the time, but there are times at night when it is in complete darkness.

Try switching to kitten food. A cheap brand will be just a few bucks for a 3-5lb bag, which will last years. Also, I would put a *loose* lid on, and make sure you're putting something over the food to preserve moisture. I'm currently using plastic oatmeal cannister lids, with the rim side down. Something opaque would be better to help keep light out. Maybe drape a dark towel or something similar over the container to keep it darker? The darker is is, the faster they'll eat. And be sure to feed them enough that they don't quite finish the food each day. That keeps them at the surface and active --- when they run out they burrow in and it'll take them a while to move to new food. Make sure to dampen the food (spray mister is great).

They take a while to get going, but you'll probably have the population explode all the sudden. It has been 2 months since I really tried to reinvigorate my cultures, and they're just getting at that point now. You'll be *really* impressed when that happens -- check that photo of mine earlier in the thread!

#18 Guest_nativeplanter_*

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 11:32 AM

Actually, I've been burying the food in strips down the long way of the box. Doesn't mold that way. I realize, though, when I want to collect them that I will have to put food on the surface and keep the area dark.

I'll try to remember to pick up kitten food...

#19 Guest_jase_*

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Posted 04 June 2008 - 12:24 PM

Actually, I've been burying the food in strips down the long way of the box. Doesn't mold that way. I realize, though, when I want to collect them that I will have to put food on the surface and keep the area dark.

Good call. Burying the food works well if you're not trying to harvest, but makes it harder to tell if you overfeed (although it also doesn't matter as much if you *do* overfeed).




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