In the last part of this column, I talked about keeping earthworms indoors and I said I would tell you how to keep some of the other summertime foods to feed your fish. These live foods are just as available as the underground foods but a little harder to catch. They have to be baited if you have the time or they may be purchased and maintained in the home. First I’ll tackle the garden pest we all have grown to dislike, the grasshopper.
This little monster and his friends can wipe out the most beautiful gardens in a matter of weeks. This may not seem like a long time, but ask any gardener if he or she wants to see a grasshopper. That person will give you a very nasty look and will ask you why. They don’t like those insects at all. My mom was trying to create a very nice flower garden only to have it ruined by these little pests. I had this wild idea about feeding grasshoppers to my Oscar. The fish has been raised since he was about two inches long. At the time I started feeding him grasshoppers, he was eight inches long. Goldfish were draining my wallet at the time. I was sixteen and still in High School, a job was totally un-cool to have. A teenager’s allowance has no room for fish food. Then I remembered a trip my parents took us on through the mountains of Virginia. We came across a state run hatchery filled with trout. For a kid at the age of eleven this was great. I liked water and whatever I could find moving in it.
As we walked along the different levels, the fish were larger in each successive section. At the last section were the largest fish and growing next to the pond were some tall weeds. I had this question in my head as to what would happen if I threw a grasshopper into this pond. The insect never had chance. The water splashed all over the place. This was fun until a wildlife worker wondered what was going on. He thought my brother and I were throwing rocks into the water. That’s how big of a splash the fish were making. We told him what we were doing. He laughed and watched us for a while. Those fish ate very well that day. I told you that story in order to get on with this one. I had this memory of my past experience on my mind. What do you feed a cichlid that is this big when money is low? I tried the grasshopper. The only part of the insect my fish didn’t like was the legs. They kicked back and my fish didn’t know how to handle this new food. The fish managed to eat it anyway. The next time I broke off the back legs and the grasshopper was gone in a flash.
I know grasshoppers have been used as a fish food for a long time, but the question is, “How do you get them?” When I had just a few aquariums, going outside and catching them was no big deal. Now it is too large of a task – too many fish that like them and no time to harvest the insect. The best way to catch them is to use and old one-gallon paint can that has been completely cleaned out. It has to be spotless. Cut four one inch holes about one-third from the top, ninety degrees from each other. Make a ring of nylon screen that fits the can and covers the holes. This should be able to slide over the holes. The next part is to dig a hole so the paint can fits into it but is deep enough to meet the bottom of the holes in the can. Open the lid and place a slice or two of apple in the bottom, close the lid and leave it alone.
Grasshoppers will make their way into the can after the apple. Once inside the sides are too slick to climb up. Check on the can from day to day. Pull it out of the ground and cover the holes with the screen. Now you have a way to feed grasshoppers and a place to hold them until the next time you want to feed your larger fish. The one problem I have with keeping grasshoppers is that no matter how well the container is designed to hold the critters, some just manage to get out when you want to feed them to your fish. This can be a pain in the backside. Enter crickets. Crickets don’t jump as far as grasshoppers and are easier to maintain.
They can be caught in the same manner as grasshoppers, but they don’t show up that often. They are best purchased through the mail. Hey, that’s where I found my earthworms. It’s a lot easier this way, just look in the back of Outdoor Life magazine under live baits. I know this sounds extreme but hear me out. Do you have an old ten-gallon tank with a crack in it? You know, the one that is cheaper to replace then fix. That will do just fine. Buy or make a screen lid for it. I made mine. Order your crickets and wait. When they show up put a couple of apple slices in the tank, put in the crickets and cover the tank. Most companies that sell crickets sell them in different sizes. Pick what you think is the right size. I just buy the assortment, it’s cheaper that way. They don’t have to count from particular cages and you normally get more than you order. Just don’t tell them that. They probably know it anyway. Hey, they’re just crickets after all.
The thing I like about crickets is that you can use that old, almost retired fishnet that is hanging in the corner doing nothing. Yeah, the one with holes too big to catch fry but can’t be used to strain pasta. We all have one of those. Use it to snag crickets out of the tank, put your hand over the top, and throw them into the tank you want to feed. It’s that easy. This may seem like a pain in the backside but, in this age of pesticides and other crud we put into our environment, this is a good and controlled source of food for your fish. Remember these fish are in our care, we chose to have them in our homes to give us pleasure. Give them the foods that they need to be in the best of health. It is a give-and-take situation. Give grasshoppers and crickets a try. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but is really easy to set-up. I only feed these types of food once a week or to a pair of large fish that might be getting ready to breed. These foods are in a long list of things you can try to keep your fish in their best condition.
by Dave Ball
President of the Southern Colorado Aquarium Society