By Jennifer Greene
From the March 1999 issue of "the Daphnian", Boston Aquarium Society
White worms are an excellent live food for fish and are incredibly easy to raise. White
worms (Enchytraeus albidus) are, well, white-colored worms which range in size
from approximately 3/4" to1 1/2". If you are familiar with other live foods,
they fall between tubifex and grindal worms in size. White worms are particularly good for
conditioning fish for spawning. They are eagerly eaten by most fish and are suitable for a
wide range of fish since their size is appropriate even for the smaller fish. They should,
however, be fed as part of a varied diet since some sources consider them to be
excessively fatty. The actual breakdown (see source below) is approximately: protein 70.0,
fats 14.5, ash 5.5, carbohydrates 10.0.
White worms are very easy to culture. The hard part, it turns out, is finding the
starter culture of white worms, since they are usually not found in local fish stores.
However they can often be purchased from aquarium society auctions, or from other
hobbyists. There are also a number of biological supply companies and live food retailers
on the Internet which list starter cultures for sale for around $5 - $10.
To house my white worms I use a plastic shoebox. You can often find these handy
containers on sale for as little as $1 at department and hardware stores. Worms need to
"breathe", so if the cover is airtight (although most are not) cut a hole in the
cover and fill the hole with a piece of open-celled foam. If the cover fits loosely, then
there is no need for a hole.
Fill the container about with about 3-4 inches of peat moss, or a 50/50 mixture of peat
moss and potting soil. Add water to wet the peat. The wetness should be such that tightly
squeezing the peat should result in a few drops, but not a stream of water, dripping from
the mass. Somewhere between damp and wet is the best way I can describe it.
Add your starter culture of worms, and some food. Although many articles recommend
milk-soaked bread for feeding the worms, in my experience this seems to go moldy too fast,
although you may have better luck. From various raffles I have a large excess of old
goldfish flake food, which is what I usually feed my worms. I also feed dry bread crumbs.
To rapidly expand the population, my secret ingredient is cooked rice. White worms must
love cooked rice, because I always get masses of white worms when feeding rice. When first
starting the worm culture, it is probably best to bury the food to stave off mold. The
trick here is to feed the worms enough so that they reproduce quickly, but not so much
that the food goes uneaten long enough to become moldy. If you do get some mold, just
spoon it out and add fresh food (but not so much this time!). Once your worm colony is
thriving, you should be able to leave the food on the surface, which will facilitate
harvesting of worms, as the worms gather on the surface to eat.
When the worm population is really going, the worms will form in big clumps near, and
on top of, the food. Just use blunt tweezers to grab a blob of worms and drop them into
the fish tank. Once the fish realize that the white things wriggling in the water are food
and are tasty, they will eagerly snatch them up as soon as they hit the water. White worms
like it fairly dark, and will start to dig back into the dirt once the shoebox cover is
removed, so I usually gather all the worms I need as soon as I open the cover, put them
into a cup, and then take my time dropping the worms into the individual tanks.
It has also been suggested that white worms, like grindle worms, will gather under a
glass placed on top of the soil. I haven't tried this yet, but if so, if should be a nice
clean way to gather worms.
If you need to gather a large amount of worms, another method is to put worm-laden soil
into a sieve with its bottom barely submerged in water. Position a light directly over
this set-up. The heat and light will eventually drive the worms out the bottom of the
sieve and into the water, ready for feeding.
At times I have noticed that the population will get extremely dense, so dense that the
worms are actually crawling up to the lid. Because the culture will sometimes crash at
this density, I usually remove about half of the soil (with its worms) to a new container,
and add more fresh damp peat moss to each container. Because cultures sometimes crash, I
make sure to always keep at least two cultures going. This also evens things out as
For maintenance, just throw in more food every few days and add some more water if the
soil starts to become dry. Worm cultures are fairly hardy and can survive weeks, possibly
months, of neglect (as long as they don't dry out)- although they may need care and
feeding before you will be able to harvest enough to feed fish again. White worms usually
do better at cooler temperatures. My apartment is usually on the cool side, so I don't
have any problems, although I sometimes get less worms during the hottest days of the
summer. Therefore a cool corner, or basement may be the best place to keep worm shoeboxes.
Right now, I am experimenting with a "worm condo!" I found an inexpensive
plastic organizer consisting of three plastic drawers, each about the size of a shoebox,
and have been starting cultures of white worms in each drawer. So far it seems to be a
success, and with the rice trick, the cultures are already producing almost enough to feed
the fish. Three stories of white worms- my fish are salivating in anticipation!
Reference: Mass Cultivation of Invertebrates, I.V. Ivleva (1969).