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Vinegar Eels


Sherolyn-Basement Bettas

Vinegar eels

After getting a successful spawn, you want to get your fry off to the best possible start to ensure getting them to adulthood. With Bettas, that means having live food small enough for them to eat and having it available as soon as they are ready to eat. Vinegar eels are a very good first food for young fry because as live foods, they are readily accepted by newly free swimming fry. They are also very easy to culture and feed and can get your young fish off to a good start before starting to feed baby brine shrimp or a micro pellet. Not only are they small in size, but they also stay alive in the water longer than other first foods, giving the young Bettas time to eat them before they die off and start fouling the water.

Setting up Your Culture

Once you get a starter culture you need to get it going and established. Usually you will get a few ounces of a vinegar mix with the worms in it. The best way to do this is to create a main base and then another container you harvest out of. I have my main culture or base in a glass honey jar.. see photo.  The worms live in a vinegar mix that is half apple cider vinegar and half water mixed. I have used both Reverse Osmosis water as well as tap without water conditioner and both have worked equally as well. So, mix up some of the vinegar mix and put it into a good-sized container that you will use as your base culture. I have used 2 liter soda bottles and a gallon pickle jar. There is no right or wrong, use what ever you have handy. Once you get your base container add the vinegar mixture, your starter culture and some sugar. Fill up a good 2/3 of this container so you have a good volume of culture to work with. In a jar sized like the soda bottle or pickle jar you can add a teaspoon to the mix for the eels food source. Again, there is no right or wrong, you can pretty much just dump some in. Many people use cut up apples, but I found that a bit too messy. So use sugar because it is quick and easy and always available.

After the base is set up, put the eels some place and forget about them a bit. Someplace out-of-the-way is ideal. I have enough cupboard space I keep the base container in one of them. You also might want to stretch a paper towel across the top and rubber band it so the eels have air and gnats, that LOVE the vinegar mix, don't wander in and end up in the culture. In a very short time, the eels will multiply nicely. Depending on the size of your starter culture they should have reproduced enough to get a modest  harvest and/or get your harvesting containers going in a few weeks. 

Once you get some good numbers in the eels you want to set up a container of them for  harvesting. I use long neck bottles for harvesting. We got some flavored drinks in this type of bottle and a friend saved some wine cooler bottles. To this bottle add some of the cider mix and a "start" of your base culture. Add some sugar and again, set aside for a few weeks to multiply before harvesting. Every spawn will take one harvest bottle, so if you have multiple spawns, set up multiple harvest bottles. I often have several spawns at one time so I need to have several bottles to harvest from at any given time. So I maintain my base and start up several bottles to harvest from. If you need to harvest eels for a spawn as soon as you get your culture, put most of the starter in the harvesting bottle and a small start in the base container. Add sugar and set it aside to get established  Harvesting will pretty much wipe out the population of eels in the bottle, so you want to get that base going so you have more eels in the future. 

vinegar eels on shelf

Harvesting the Eels

 To harvest the worms you want to bring the vinegar mix up into the neck of the bottle. I keep an old vinegar bottle with the half and half mix so it is handy. Bring the level up into the neck like in the bottle in the first picture next to the honey jar. Then take some filter floss and wrap a twisty tie around the middle and stuff it down into the neck of the bottle so it comes into contact with the vinegar mix. Curl the top of the twisty tie around and down like in the photo. This will allow you to pull up the floss when you are done harvesting. Twine will not work as it will wick the vinegar mix and it will end up all over the counter. The twisty tie works great and are pretty easy to get.. at least around my house.

Harvesting vinegar eels

Push the floss down so there is some space between it and the top of the bottle and top it off with water like in the photo to the left. Since you will be adding this water to your fry tanks you do not want to use tap that is untreated. Make sure you use your water conditioner on any water you put in the top or use bottled or RO water. Set the bottle aside till the next day. If you check on the bottle after just a few hours you will see the worms are swimming up through the floss and into the water. By the next day it will be hazy white and just full of worms. Take an eye dropper and suck out some worms to feed your fry. You can suck it right down to the cotton ball then top it off with fresh water. A few hours later you will again have more worms to harvest. You can harvest a couple of times a day to keep food in front of the fry. Continue to harvest the worms and replace the water. You will be able to harvest the worms for a good 3 to 4 days before they are depleted. Once the  harvest is reduced pull the floss out and pour out the vinegar mix until the level is back down to the widest part of the bottle. You can pour extra this back into the base jar if you want or down a drain.

Keeping the Cultures Producing

Now that the harvest bottle has been depleted, it needs to be restarted with some eels from the base. If you poured excess from the harvest bottle back into the vase, allow it to settle then just pour some of the base into the bottle. Add a little sugar to both the base and the bottle and set them aside to multiply. You will quickly have a large number of eels to harvest for another spawn.

Keeping your cultures producing a high amount of food is almost too easy. To maintain your cultures you want to add a little sugar once a month. That’s it. They don’t seem to get over populated and crash like other cultures and can reproduce a ton of worms quickly. Over time you will get some funk piling up on the bottom of your containers. Use a turkey baster to suck up the stuff in the honey jar and just discard it down a drain. For the bottles you can pour the top of the culture into a clean bottle and then discard the rest. Even if not really maintained these worms will multiply like crazy. Even with no care for a few months you will find them thriving and having produced a gazillon edible eels.

When to Feed

When breeding Bettas, two days after the pair spawn the eggs will hatch. This is when the bottle you will harvest from needs to be set up. Two days after the eggs hatch you can expect to have free swimming fry and will be removing the male on that day. The morning of that second day after hatching squirt a dropper full of vinegar eels into the spawn tank so there is some live food swimming for the early maturing fry to start feeding on. Continue to feed the vinegar eels twice a day for three to 4 days, until the culture is depleted. The evening of the third day is when you will add bbs [baby brine shrimp] as the evening meal. From that time on they can be fed various micro worms and baby brine shrimp. You can continue to add vinegar eels if you feel there are small fry that would benefit from them. But by a week of age they need to be on more substantial foods.

So you see, getting your new-born fry off to a good start is very easy with vinegar eels. After all the work you go through some times to get a desired pair to breed, you want to make sure those fry make it to maturity. Of all the cultures to maintain, the vinegar eels are the easiest to grow. For less than a few minutes a month you can have plenty of tiny food to get your fry off to a good start.





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