Info about Water Fleas                   

Aqualand's inside "scoop" on Daphnia pulex

 
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LA
Daphnia pulex, somewhat larger than life-size.  

Water Fleas. 
Daphnia are often water fleas because their oxygen absorbing
“flippers” cause them to “jump” around in the water.  At 1/8-inch in size, they make an excellent live food for all community fishes in the one to five-inch range.

Varieties.  You can find different species of these water fleas.  Daphnia magna measures 1/4 inch across.  In Singapore they raise and feed moina which (without seeing one) sounds like a species of daphnia.  They feed theirs hog lot effluent, which rumor has it can also be found in Iowa.  Daphnia in the sun turns green from the single-celled algae they eat.  (In outdoor ponds, daphnia will eat up the green water.)  The same species in my shady backyard pond turns red from their hemoglobin.  Fish like both colors equally.

Probable Sites.  Temporary ponds work out well.  Ponds with fish in them will contain few if any daphnia.  The smaller the pond, usually the better -- within reason, of course.  Try a cemetery pond with ducks or swans in it.  Water birds fertilize the water and help grow the unicellular algae that daphnia eat.

 

Fatal Attraction.  Daphnias twitching motions in the water say “eat me” to any fish that gets close.  They must taste good too because fish also like the frozen and freeze-dried versions.  Take a look at TetraMin's logo sometime and you'll see how highly they regard daphnia.  Fish still prefer the live version because they instinctively cannot resist that twitching motion.  Old-timers in the hobby remember daphnia hunting expeditions, but few people capture wild daphnia these days.  Chalk it up to loss of habitat or perhaps most people just want to sit on their big fat verandas.

LA
Wild daphnia hunter in action -- somewhat smaller than life-size.

The Hunt.  You need certain equipment to succeed on any expedition in search of the elusive wild daphnia.  You need a stiff-wired net with fine mesh and a long handle.  You can put your prey in the local pond water, or bring your own H2O from home.  You need aged water (the cooler the better).  If you add baking soda and ice cubes, you can carry home many more live daphnia.  If your daphnia die (usually because you catch too many), freeze them in thin layers and feed them out later.  The bucket provides a handy way to carry this paraphernalia.  It also keeps your water from sloshing out.  You wont enjoy the smell of daphnia drying inside your car.  TetraMin users (who use lots of TetraMin) will recognize the yellow bucket above.  Their daphnia logo appears on the other side.

LA
Nobody said netting daphnia is easy work.

Technique.  You quickly learn that daphnia all but disappear in hot weather.  You get your best yields in the spring and fall.  Move your net in a figure-eight motion to bring the daphnia up off the bottom.  Daphnia are phototropic, so look for them on the sunny side.  Net away and see what you catch.  Repeat if necessary.

LA
We get thousands of tiny daphnia plus one water boatman.  Give him to a cichlid.

Results.  You usually get way more than you need.  Catch plenty and freeze it in thin layers.  Put  the sheets in freezer-proof bags and break off bites as you need them.  Or make daphnia-sickles in your ice cube trays.

 

Hitchhikers.  You need to sort out any unwanted hitchhikers before feeding daphnia to your fish.  Water boatmen will pester small fish.  Some of the diving beetles can overpower a three-inch goldfish.  Do not grab one of these bare handed.  The larvae of damselflies and dragonflies grow into serious predators.  Hydra colonize tanks and sometimes prove hard to eradicate.  They love fish fry.

LA
 Side view of a female daphnia with "eggs."

Daphnia Life Cycle.  When conditions are good, female daphnia reproduce live young parthogenetically -- no males need apply.  If they get too crowded, too hungry, too hot, or too cold, they enlist a male and start producing ephippia -- a hard-shelled sort of egg that lives thru winters and dry spells.  They quickly overpopulate and crowd themselves out.  Daphnia come back in cycles.  Your capturing of huge quantities enables them to reproduce in greater quantities.  Happy netting.  LA.

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