One of the biggest questions for every hobbyist – long-time or newbie – is what to feed your fish and other aquatic pets. You want them to have the healthiest, happiest lives possible, and just like for humans, or cats, or dogs, that means healthy, nutritious food is required.

That is where bloodworms come in for your aquarium or paludarium. And most of you, if you’re reading this, have already heard of bloodworms. You’ve maybe read through some of our lists of the best foods for Jack Dempseys and Comet Goldfish or maybe you’ve seen them mentioned as solutions for helping your betta fish want to eat again. But wherever you are in this journey, you’ll hopefully find this article informative and productive, and get your niggling questions answered.

What are Bloodworms?

Image by Bill Kasman on Flickr

Bloodworms are a segmented worm that lives in shallow water like pools and small ponds. They are used worldwide as a common type of fish food. Bloodworms are larvae of the non-biting midge fly. It takes approximately two to three weeks for the bloodworm to hatch, develop and grow.

Their name comes from having a bright reddish color. Their skin is translucent enough to allow their red-colored body fluids to be visible. The red color comes from the hemoglobin that is inside of the worm. Due to having such high hemoglobin levels in their body, they can thrive in polluted waters. Its head has four small antennae on top of its head along with several tiny projections on its body called parapodia. The parapodia serve multiple functions including a means of sensing and locomotion.

While it is common for blood worms to be exceedingly small, it’s not unusual to find bigger ones. Some blood worm variants have been known to grow upwards of 14 inches (35 cm) long.

Bloodworms are carnivores known to be able to survive in areas with low oxygen. They are most commonly found in sand-filled bottoms of both subtidal and intertidal areas. They eat by extending a large proboscis that has four hollow jaws. The bite is known to both kill prey and even cause pain to humans because of a venom that the bloodworm carries.

The bloodworm is known to be one of the primary foods in the aquatic food chain. They have many predators because almost every known species of meat-eating fish will go after this worm. Other species that will eat the bloodworm include crustaceans, gulls, and even other worms. The bloodworm can be used to feed a variety of captive animals including turtles, frogs, salamanders, crabs, shrimp, snails, and a wide variety of fish.

What Are Bloodworms Good For?

Nearly every carnivorous or omnivorous freshwater and saltwater fish will feed on bloodworms in nature. No matter how picky of an eater a species of fish might be, bloodworms are a type of food they will not turn down. Certain fish species will never touch pellets or flakes but can be raised on a diet of these worms.

This type of worm is full of iron and protein which can help keep your fish healthy. This high level of protein makes it a great food choice when it comes to feeding eels, loaches, discus, guppies, bettas, and more. However, it is important to not overfeed your fish with bloodworms. Even though they have high protein and iron they are lacking in other important vitamins, amino acids, and minerals.

Due to how popular this worm is among fish; it shouldn’t be a surprise that bloodworms are considered to be great use as fish bait.

Types of Bloodworm-Based Fish Food

As with all live aquarium fish food, there are a variety of bloodworms to choose from. The type of bloodworm that is available to purchase as fish food will depend on what is available in your area.

Live Bloodworms

To get the most out of a Bloodworm, it is vital to get them both fresh and alive. However, this can be incredibly difficult to accomplish. Bloodworms have a short larvae cycle. It lasts around ten to twelve days and must be used within two to three days of being purchased. This means you cannot stock up on fresh Bloodworm and need to make sure you have a way of regularly acquiring them.

It is important to note that you research who you purchase bloodworms from. While fresh bloodworms will always be more nutritious than frozen food, there is a danger of buying from someone whose reputation you do not know. It is easy for live bloodworms to carry infections and diseases that can cripple or even kill your fish. To avoid your fish getting sick, make sure you know that you can trust whoever you purchase from.

Typically, the worms are sold in and will arrive in plastic containers. Never directly dump the worms and the water they come indirectly into your tank. It is important to thoroughly rinse the worms to remove any dirt or possible containments from the water it was shipped in. It is quite easy for the worm to carry a variety of things on its body that can make your fish sick. It is important to take your time while washing the worms, be gentle but thorough to make sure they are safe for eating.

After you finish cleaning up the bloodworms, it is important to store them in a refrigerator. They need to be kept in a container with plenty of clean water that fills the container and has a lid that fits securely.

Frozen Bloodworms

Frozen bloodworms are available in a few forms including frozen blocks and thin sheets. These are intended to be kept frozen for upwards of six months from the date on the packaging.

A great reason to use frozen bloodworms over fresh is that it lessens the risk of transferring any infections, diseases, or parasites from the worm to your fish tank

If you are going to feed your fish frozen bloodworms it is important to first thaw them. Fish are not used to eating cold food and this can harm your fish. The unexpected cold can put your fish into a state of shock which can kill them.

The easiest way to thaw the bloodworms is to first fill a container with water from your tank that houses the fish who will eat the bloodworms. Place the frozen block of bloodworms into the water. Allow time for the block to melt and the worms to thaw out. Next, strain the defrosted worms from the water and drain any water left in the container. Now your fish is ready to have a lunch date with the bloodworms.

It is important to not overfeed your fish with bloodworms. While there are general issues that occur due to having extra food left in the tank if the leftover bloodworms are left to decay it can quickly upset the levels of your water and sicken or kill your fish.

The best way to know how much thawed out Bloodworm to add to the tank is to observe the eating habits of your fish. Most fish only need one to three minutes to eat their fill and any extra food will fall to the bottom of the tank. Once the fish finish, it is important to immediately remove any leftovers. 

Frozen Dried Bloodworms

Another commercially available form of bloodworm is freeze-dried. These can be bought in tubs and tend to have less nutrition than fresh or frozen bloodworms. However, they can still provide needed nutrition for your fish.

These are an easy item to find both online and in your local pet store. The Hikari brand of freeze-dried bloodworm is highly recommended among aquarists.

To prepare freeze-dried bloodworms, it is important to soak them in water for a time before placing them in your tank. The bloodworms have no moisture so it can be difficult for your fish to eat them.

Bloodworm Gel Food

Bloodworm gel-based food is another popular option for feeding your fish. Several species of fish refuse to eat pellets and flakes. Not every fish keeper can keep live food available for everyday use and this is where Bloodworm gel is a lifesaver.

There are a variety of fish foods available in gel form and this a great way to provide the nutrition that your fish need to be able to be healthy and happy.

Depending on your feeding preferences, it is entirely possible to make your own Bloodworm gel food at home. There are several recipes available online.

Which Fish Species Eat Bloodworms?

Image by Jasper Nance on Wikimedia Commons

Bloodworms are such popular fish food among fish keepers because of the high number of fish that will eat them. Nearly every type of fish, excluding herbivores, will happily devour bloodworms. While bloodworms alone cannot fulfill all of a fish’s nutritional requirements, they do provide essential nutrition.

Fish, including some bottom feeders that will eat bloodworms, include, but are not limited to:

Besides feeding fish, bloodworms are a great way to feed your other aquarium inhabitants. Some of those critters include:

  • Eels
  • Snails
  • Shrimps
  • Crabs
  • Turtles
  • Salamanders
  • Frogs

When And How Many Bloodworms Should I Feed to My Fish?

The number of bloodworms that you need to give to your fish will vary depending on the size of the fish and how often they need to eat in order to be healthy and happy. Depending on the fish, they may need to be fed a few times throughout the day. Depending on the species of fish, they may need to be fed anywhere from once to once a week or up to several times a day.

A good way to determine how much your fish should be fed during each feeding is to see how much food they eat within a three-minute window or how long it takes for their stomach to begin bulging. Whichever of these two things happen first, make sure to not give them any food beyond that point.

Overfeeding your fish can be dangerous and lead to any number of health complications including death.

Can You Breed Your Own Bloodworms?

It is normal to be concerned about the possibilities of your fish getting sick from outside germs and parasites. There is a real risk that live bloodworms could make your fish sick, so some fish keepers have begun to raise their own.

Breeding bloodworms is not common; however, it is also not unheard of. Most aquarists would sooner make do with whatever is available commercially. However, for those who want to make sure their fish’s diet is strictly controlled, this is a way to achieve that.

Bloodworms are known to bite and cause a painful and allergic reaction due to the venom they carry. Some liken the reaction to a bee sting so it is important to take precautions and always wear gloves while handling bloodworms.

The bloodworm life cycle consists of egg, larva, pupa, and the adult midge fly. Bloodworms must breed in a place where their eggs can mature and hatch. However, containing flies can be problematic because of how easy it is for them to escape.

To do it yourself, all you need is a food-safe plastic container to act as the home and, of course, some bloodworm eggs. Add soil and the eggs to the container. After a few days, the eggs will hatch and they will need to be fed powdered food and animal manure till they are big enough to use.

Can Bloodworms Live in an Aquarium?

Midge fly larvae cannot survive in an aquarium. Regardless of the stage of life, they are in, they are a land-dwelling creature that needs to breathe oxygen so survive. They are unable to survive underwater, even if you purchase live red larvae and release them into your aquarium.

As midge fly larvae they are only in this stage for approximately ten days, after that time passes they move to the pupae stage, and then they are full adult midge flies.

On the other hand, bristle worms can survive in certain aquariums. The Golden Bristle Worm lies in seabed of marine water and would need to have a strict recreation of their home environment to be able to survive.

They would need to live in saltwater and have places to live and their own food supply. But keep in mind most saltwater inhabitants would be natural predators of bristle worms so it is very unlikely they could survive sharing a tank with other animals. 

Can Bloodworms Harm or Kill My Fish?

Midge fly larvae themselves are not a serious threat to either you or your fish. Even when they have matured into midge flies, this is a nonbiting flea that is rarely able to carry a disease that would be life-threatening.

The main way in which they could harm your fish is if your fish eats too many of this flea. By overeating this flea your fish could suffer constipation or other health issues.

As far as the bristle worm is concerned, it depends on the type of worm.

The Common bristle worm is a type of bloodworm commonly fed to fish and is not considered dangerous or harmful. If a live bristle worm somehow goes uneaten and manages to survive and mature then it will become a scavenger and help keep your tank clean by eating things that shouldn’t be there.

There is a type of worm called fireworms that can cause issues. They are not sold as bloodworms but if they manage to ride into your tank with other worms they can attack and cause damage to both fish and corals. As soon as they are seen they need to be removed before they can cause damage.

Are There Similar Alternatives for Fish Food?

Due to some of the risks of using bloodworms, not everyone is comfortable using them to feed their fish. If you aren’t sold on using bloodworms to feed your fish, there are other similar foods you can feed your fish with.

Brine shrimp are a member of the Artemiidae family and are rich in lipids, vitamins, omega one, and other amino acids.

Amano Shrimp is a great shrimp for beginners. They provide great nutrition for your fish and can help keep your tank algae free.

Ghost Shrimp are freshwater shrimp that can provide your fish with needed nutrition but also help you by eating algae in the tank.

Interesting Facts about Bloodworms

  1. Worldwide the population of bloodworms has been decreasing. In the 1990s an average tide would have around 4.000 worms and now the same tide will have only 550 worms.
  2. Despite spending so much of their life in water, bloodworms are not good swimmers.
  3. Bloodworms can use their intestines to breathe.

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