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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,

I am new to this forum and found it on Diana Walstad's recommendation. I wrote to her with the following question and she suggested that I post here:


I recently tore my moderately planted aquarium down and re-built with a soil substrate and additional plants. The pervious tank version had been running for about 18 months with no major problems-- in that version I had reasoned that by purchasing more tubifex worms than my fish could eat in a day, I could give the worms a chance to make it down into the gravel and cultivate a sustained population in the tank that the fish would be free to graze on throughout the day. I did this and kept it going for around six months by only rarely adding (maybe once every six weeks) a new portion or two of worms. My clown loaches in particular were very happy with this arrangement and depended upon it for the bulk of their diet. I assume that the gravel was being aerated too by both the worms and the loaches digging for the worms. In fact, when I tore the tank down I found at least a dozen worms that had made it to a size of approximately six inches so they must have had the effect of stirring up the gravel as they moved around.

I have a feeling that the worms would do exceptionally well in the new soil substrate, but before I go ahead and add worms to my set-up I would very much appreciate your feedback as to whether raising worms in the tank could be a problem. Many aquarium people seem to consider tubifex disease-ridden and to-be-avoided. I do not know what degree of this is do to the poor breading grounds that they have come from in the past (which I understand has largely been remedied)-- also by raising them in the tank it seems I would avoid most of these problems.

My question is, am I missing something? I love the idea of creating a self-maintaining, self-feeding system but also wonder if there is a good reason why this is not done.

When I initially wrote to Diana she asked if in the previous version the worms allowed me not to vacuum. I'm not really sure. I didn't vacuum very much but I also didn't run the system long enough to know what would have happened a couple years down the line. When I removed the gravel it certainly had a good amount of dark stuff in it but I hadn't seen any chemical consequences.


I really look forward to your responses and to participating in this forum.

Andrea
 

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I am very curious about this as well. I have just started (within the last 1-2 months) to use live food, specifically tubifex/blackworms. In my tanks I found that if I dropped some in, a fair amount "got away" and worked their way into the substrate. I do not know if this is good or bad. Will have to see, I guess. So far I have not noticed anything "bad" in my tanks...
 

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Dear Andrea,

Thank you for posting. Your experience is just too interesting not to be shared with other hobbyists.

I was able to find a little more information about the "aquatic earthworms" in my Limnology textbook. They are the Oligochaetes and include not just the "ubiquitous Tubifex" that you have in your tank, but many other species.

Apparently, Tubifex behave like earthworms. They burrow headfirst into the substrate and ingest the soil/organic debris/bacteria/algae. They sift out the nutrients contained within and deposit the sifted stuff on the surface.

Thus, it doesn't sound like they would be innate disease carriers. If your worms didn't come from an environment carrying a fish disease, then they would probably be fine! Also, if these worms were originally cultivated in an environment without fish, they would quickly lose any fish-disease bacteria over time. My hunch as a bacteriologist is that the risks from cultivated Tubifex are minimal.

A few caveats:

Clown loaches are wild-caught fish, so they have good immune systems to combat potential pathogens. Highly bred fish like Discus might not be so immune. And hobbyists have reported disease in their Discus after feeding them tubifex worms.

While I love your idea of keeping tubifex or other aquatic "earthworms" in a planted aquarium, you may get soil deposited on the surface. This has caused one hobbyist with a soil/tubifex tank some problems- water turbidity and debris settling on the plants. However, I think that the problem that this hobbyist expressed could be gotten around, especially with all the potential benefits that "aquatic earthworms" could provide to aquariums. These are:


I would encourage you to give a soil-based tank a try. Let us know the results. I may try it out in my tanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you for the information. I am going to go ahead and add the worms to my new soil set-up.

The one comment that I have about your readings is that I never saw any debris deposited on the surface of the substrate (you report that the worms do this). The worms would bury themselves headfirst with their tales sticking out and, at times when there were a lot of them in the tank, they would look like a little valley of red hairs sticking up. Whenever the fish came near they'd quickly pull themselves down and disappear. It was very cat-and-mouse and the worms were as amusing to watch as the fish. There were other times when no worms would be situated with the tales up-- I have a feeling that it was the younger ones that were most inclined to do this because I never saw any of the larger ones behaving like this (they grow much thicker with time so it's easy to tell the difference). At any rate, my point here is that I'm curious about the behavior of depositing debris and would be very curious to hear if anyone else has ever seen any sign of this in their tanks.

Also, I've looked around the list archives quite a bit but don't see any other mention of tubifex. Are the comments of the person you mention having trouble with a soil/tubifex tank posted here?

Andrea
 

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Hi Andrea,

The person expressing problems with soil turbidity wrote a private letter to me, so you won't find it on Wet Thumb website.

Your experiences with the Tubifex worms are delightful to read, They add a whole new dimension to the idea of "natural planted tanks".

I think that any soil turbidity problems that the Tubifex present can be easily dealt with. The advantages of having these worms (constant live food for your fish) seem enormous.

Bravo!
 

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Where are you getting your tubifex worms from? This idea sounds very interesting and I think my loaches would love this.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I'm getting the Tubifex worms from a chain of pet stores called Petland.

If you do decide to experiment with them I'd love to hear about your experiences.
 

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I've fed live tubifex, bloodworms and brine shrimps to my shoal of cories, which are in a partially planted tank, these fishes need room to dig, so I can't carpet the bottom and so far over the last 2 years or so, I've not seen any problems coming from my substrate (it's a mix of fine sand and gravel)

And the best thing is I get to see my cories digging for the worms every now and then...

Good luck to your tanks as well,
 

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Hmmm that's interesting. Do the tubifax stay in the substrate mostly? The reason I'm wondering is that I set up a plant filter connected to my 55 gallon goldie tank this weekend. I doubt the tubifex would have a chance in my 55 gallon goldie tank, but they might like it in the plant filter. Plus if they're mobile at all, the unlucky ones could ride the overflow back into the goldie tank.
 

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That's an awesome idea, I'll have to give it a go too.

For many folks Tubifex worms may be difficult to come up with, but the Black Work aka California Black Worm, is a very similar creature and is a staple food for many discus keepers.

http://aquaticfoods.com/worms.html

Like Tubifex, they're highly nutritious and live in an aquatic environment.

Best,
Phil
 

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I have been cultivating black worms under my tank for about 2 months now. I never really thought about having the worms in my tank. I thought they might cause some kind of damage. I think I am going to drop a small portion of black worms into my tank and hope they will start a culture in my tank.
 

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I did a little web search for California blackworms that indicates they might not work in aquariums.

According to one website (searched Google for Lumbriculus variegatus) the worms live in very shallow water with their heads in leaf debris. Their tails lie on the water surface and do gas exchange (that is, breath).

The website says that in contrast tubifex worms live in deeper water and more sandy substrates. I was all set to buy the California blackworms, but my instinct says that these CA blackworms are probably a great live food but may not be good as a permanent tank inhabitant.

Andrea Black is the hobbyist who has actually reported having worms living as a colony in her aquarium. And these worms are tubifex.

However, this is just speculation. Unless we hear from someone that actually has a colony of California blackworms in their aquarium substrate, I'd go with tubifex.

Details of the website I found on California black worm biology are detailed below.

PDF] Lumbriculus variegatus : A Biology Profile
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
Page 1. Lumbriculus variegatus: A Biology Profile (by C. Drewes)(document last updated
2-01) http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/faculty/DrewesC/htdocs The freshwater ...
www.eeob.iastate.edu/faculty/DrewesC/htdocs/Lvgen4.PDF - Similar pages
 

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Hi, i just stumbled onto this topic and thought I'd share a bit of my experience on it.
I've had a two colonies of tubifex worms going in two different tanks. However, i don't know how they got into the substrate since i had never fed any of the fish live food. One possibility is that they hitched a ride on one of the plants i got from my LFS. Anyway, after i discovered them in the substrate, i wasn't quite sure what they were and thought they mite be some sort of parasite and tried to eradicate them by removing every single one i could find. But this was all in vain. They seemed to be multiplying faster then i could remove them and it seemed my fish found them quite appertizing so i thought they weren't too bad after all. Everytime pruning came, i would find them tangled in the roots of my Hygros. Once i even found some pods, with something wriggling inside, attached to the roots, which i assumed to be their eggs. Well, this was all when my tank was gravel only. After i switched to a soil substrate i thought this is where the worms would be at their best, assumming that they behaved like garden worms. i did find a large build up of soil or mulm around the plants but i can't be 100% sure that the worms caused this - it mite be due to restriction of water flow around that area that caused the build up.

well, i hope that helps.
 

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Thanks for your post! I'm further encouraged to add some Tubifex to one of my tanks. I'll bet my Rainbowfish would love them.
 

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Hi, I feed my fish tanks several times with both tubifex and california earthworms. The tubifex has established in one of them (great for the loonely betta, he loves spending time catching the worms !). The California earthworms that make to the substrate and digg in live just a couple of hours.
Greetings from South America, Juan.-
 

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Last month I purchased a pound of California blackworms from WetThumbAquatics to see what would happen in my tanks.

Well, so far, the results are mixed.

On the positive side, my Rainbowfish just love them! The worms are interesting and easy to maintain. I have them outside in several shallow dishes. I change the water every day or two and let them eat autumn leaves and a little powdered fishfood.

On the negative side... The worms have, indeed, made themselves at home in the soil-containing substrate in my 45 gal. You can see their tail-ends poking out of substrate about 1/4 inch. Unfortunately, this tank became incredibly dirty with debris coating many plant leaves. I had one Cory catfish in the tank, who seemed to be constantly stirring up the debris. Yesterday, I removed him/her, and the tank already looks much better.

I think that the worms bring the soil up above the gravel layer; then the Cory's scurrying around drives the debris into the water column. Without the Cory the debris just sits on top of gravel and doesn't enter the water column and coat plant leaves.

I can't draw any final conclusions yet. My concern is that without the Cory catfish eating the worms, my 45 gal may become overrun by these worms. Very scary!!

Right now I wouldn't recommend adding aquatic worms to tanks containing soil-containing substrates, ESPECIALLY in tanks with bottom-dwelling fish, like my Cory catfish. In a year or so I'll have enough experience with these worms to make a more measured and definitive statement.
 

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I have a 400l heavely planted tank, I keep a 38 cm silver arowana and a 25 cm angel, I offer them tubifex weekly and the arowana makes a mess, Now I also have a colony of tubifex in the aquarium, the angel eats them slowly, the worms dig into the sustrate and seem to be feeding on peat. Plants seem to like the company.
 

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This is an interesting idea, even more so because I was just thinking of picking some up to feed my new baby oscars. I may try some in my 77 and see if they can survive (assuming they make it past the angels, rainbows, rams, and synos.

It has a profile substrate, so it shouldn't have problems with mulm accumulating on leaves (I hope).
 

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Sounds like a good idea, if they get eaten to fast add a little more, try to get a small stable population since tubifex may die and pollute your aquarium
 

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I just received a starter culture of blackworms and am thinking of setting up a small natural planted tank for them to try and mimick their habitat described here:
http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/faculty/DrewesC/htdocs/Lvgen4.htm

topsoil, gravel and najas grass. 3" of water... maybe some emergent plants... Could I do decomposing leaves? and some daphnia to eat the bacteria. snails perhaps to eat any dead worms. What do you think?

That'd be very low maintence if it worked.
 
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