The Dish Worms
The “dish worms” are; Walter worms, Banana worms, Micro worms.
These three are lumped together because the culturing set up and method of harvesting
is the same for all of them. These worms vary in size from 1mm-1.5mm in length making them
excellent fry foods. Micro worms are about 1mm long with bananas being next at around 1.3mm an
finally Walters are the largest at 1.5mm long and also have the slowest sinking rate of all three. These
worms can be cultured very easily and kept going forever if you choose to. The main uses for these
different worms are: first fry foods, spawn entices, a great source of releasing the natural hunter instinct
in your fish.
Walter, Micro, and Banana worms are all nematode or round worms. The big thing about these
varieties of round worms is that they are not parasitic and pose no major threats to you or your fish like
some round worms can. Keep in mind that when working with or handling any live food culture wash
your hands before and after or wear disposable gloves every time you handle them, and never allow them
to come in contact with food or with food work areas.
These worms generally live 20-25 days and start reproducing at 3-5 days of age, bearing
40-50 live young a day per adult worm. Now this doesn’t sound like a lot of worms but when you
figure a 4 inch square culture container can have well over a billion adult worms the number of
young born daily quickly gets to large to fathom. The base nutritional content of Walter worms
is 59% protein, 18% lipids, 15% fat, 3% glycogen, 2% organic acids, and 3% nucleic acids,
micros are just under them and then banana worms are slightly less then micro worms yet. So
why culture the micro and bananas you may ask? Micros and bananas are smaller in size then
Walters and many fish and newborn fry cannot quite eat the Walters at first birth so you may
need to start them on micros and move them up to Walter after a few days.
Now that we covered the basics about the worms lets get down to the culturing of them.
There is a few things we will need;
A small plastic bowl with tight fitting lid,A small piece of filter floss or quilt batting, Some regular oatmeal,
A packet of dry activated yeast. Your starter culture of your chosen worm type
Now that we have gathered everything that we need to set up the culture there are a few
additional things to be noted. These worms climb the sides of the container that they are
cultured in so a tight fitting lid is a must for these worms. The dishes, if using recycled dishes
from the trash, need to have the number 5 in the little recycling icon on the bottom. It is
sometimes best to place the cultures on a black piece of paper for the first few weeks to make
sure that your lid is tight enough to not allow escapees.
Here is a step by step how to for the culturing;
1)Take the oatmeal and cook it as directed and make it to a consistency that you can stand a spoon
2)You then want to put a layer in your chosen container that is ˝-1” deep and push it into a nice flat
surface covering the entire bottom of your container. Stick it in the refrigerator overnight to cool
and harden into a cake.
3)Carefully clean the inside of the container of any oatmeal that may have gotten on it during the
4)Next cut/drill a small hole into the lid of the container and insert filter floss to plug it so that the
worms can breathe but the floss will stop intruders from entering and fouling your culture.
5)Next take your activated yeast and lightly sprinkle the surface of the oatmeal with it until it looks
like the poppy seeds on a poppy seed bagel.
6)Next introduce your starter culture to the medium by simply dumping/squeezing it into the center
of your prepared media.
At this point its time to place your culture in a place that stay room temp or just slightly
above it for about 5 days. Again I recommend place your culture on a dark piece of paper for
the first few weeks to make sure your container seals completely and you don’t have escapees.
After the first 5 days you should start seeing climbers up the inside of your containers that will
look like little lighting bolts. This is your worms climbing the sides of the container trying to
escape. At this point if you do not have climbers there are a few reasons that this may be and it
is nothing to get upset about. A few reasons this could be happening is because your container
walls may be too smooth for them to get a grip on and can be easily fixed by taking very fine
sand paper to the inner walls of your container to create scratches fro the worms to climb up
on. It could also be that your culture is moving along a bit slowly and needs a few days to finish
maturing. A good way to test that you have live worms is to tip the container slightly and look
where the light spot appears in the bowl and look for a shimmering on the surface of the
culture. This shimmering is the worms moving on the surface. So long as you have the shimmer
you have a viable active culture.
Now that these little worms are climbing the walls what should we do with them? So we
come to the harvesting part of raising them and to be rewarded for our hard work in cooking
that oatmeal. Since they are removed from the oatmeal while climbing the sides of the
container, there is no fear of getting oatmeal into our tank so long as we are a bit careful in the
harvesting of them. The easiest way that I have found after years of keeping cultures is to
simply wipe your finger along the inside of the container and then swish it in the desired fry
tank to feed the worms. Now I understand everyone may not want to put their fingers into a
culture of worms nor do they need to do this its only the way that I do it. So for the more hands
off approach we have a few options to go with. First is to simply use a cotton ball or some filter
floss to wipe them off the inside of the culturing dish and then swish it in the desired location.
Just remember to be careful not to hit the oatmeal with the harvester so as not to pollute your
tank with the oatmeal.
The second take a bit of practice but has the highest yield daily of any that I have tried.
It involves placing a piece of brown paper towel about an inch square in the center of the
culture and gently scraping it daily with a plastic spoon to harvest the worms that crawl on it.
Again caution has to be taken as to not get into the oatmeal and also not to tear the towel and
get it into the fry tank as well. This method has a very high yield over the swipe and swish
method and these cultures can have hundreds of worms per drop of liquid culture, so great
care should be taken as to not over feed them and overload the bio load of the fry tank.
The best way to tell how much to feed is that if your fish eat it in a few moments and
there is none left over it is the correct amount. It’s better to feed too little a few times a day then
to feed way too much once per day and pollute your tank.
Even thought these foods are alive and will foul your water much slower then prepared
foods there still has to be care taken in the feeding of them to your fish.
So we have covered the starting of, the feeding of, and now its time for the when to
restart. Restarting a culture is a personal choice and keeping a back up culture is strongly
recommended in case of culture crash. I personally restart them when the oatmeal starts getting
a little bit soupy but some people toss in uncooked oatmeal with good results at keeping the
culture going for another few weeks. The average life for a culture is 3-6 weeks or until it get
soupy or smells like really bad beer. At this point simply set up a whole new container and take
a starter from your first culture and use it like your original start. This is where having two
cultures going comes in very handy in making through the next 5 days until your new culture
matures to a harvest-able stage.
These three worms should be a staple in anyone that has dwarf cichlids or danios. Micro worms
are also a staple food for celestial pearl danios and a spawn inducer for bettas. All in all these
little worms are a great addition to any fish room.