PARASITE FREE TUBIFEX
WORMS AND HOW TO GROW THEM
By Jim E. Quarles
Just the name Tubifex sends discus keepers screaming into the night!
And with good reason under the normal conditions.
But it need not be that way! I will show you in this article how to
produce and use parasite free tubifex worms. Let's clear up one
misunderstanding at the start, the meat of the tubifex worm can be
parasite free and healthy food. It is not the meat that causes the
problem, it is the living conditions under which they live and are
collected. More to the point it is the food they subsist on in the wild or
normal collecting sites.
Tubifex worms are closely related to red earthworms, but are primarily
found in an aquatic or at least a semi-wet habitat. The biggest offender
is that the ones collected in nature are carriers of tapeworms. Also due
to the habitat they are found in they are also transportation for lots of
The object is to raise them in a clean habitat, with clean disease free
food. If this is done they become just as safe as discus food as red
Most parasites require a simple to complex cycle in their life span to
reproduce from egg to larval or segment. Most often this requires a bird
in the life cycle at some point.
I have found two kinds of tubifex worms in my area of California in the
wild. One kind is often found in areas with muddy bottoms and generally
are blackish in color, or at least darker then the true red ones. The Red
ones I find in sandy areas with some flowing source of water entering the
growing site. I find this around local egg producing chicken farms. These
are the ones I picked to breed and fed to my fish including my discus and
The life cycle and habitat conditions you must make available to the
cultured worms is a follows.
The most important factor is oxygenated water, that is kept clean of
solids and waste. Tubifex worms bury the anterior part of the body in sand
or mud. They eat very fine organic particulate solids and to some extent
bacteria. They keep their tail end out of the sand or mud when feeding and
it is used only to anchor the individual in place under normal conditions.
They do this to keep as much of their bodies in contact with flowing
water. This is why it is vital that enough oxygen be supplied to the water
of the habitat. Without enough oxygen few worms will be able to live and
reproduce. And should the oxygen level drop you encounter a massive die
off that ruins the whole process.
The worms do not have gills or other accessory organs for gas exchange.
The respiratory surface is the skin, which offers gas exchanges by
Tubifex worms are very sensitive to high temperatures, desiccation and
salinity. These are the key factors you must keep in mind when culturing
NOW HOW ABOUT REPRODUCTION?
These worms are not able to regenerate lost body parts, nor do they
break into two or more parts to form two or more individuals. They are not
So these creatures reproduce sexually. The sex organs are found near
the ventral part of the body. Each worm has a male and a female
reproductive system. In other words they are hermaphroditic.
After copulation, which involves the transfer between the two
individuals, the sperm is stored in sacs located behind the female
reproductive opening. These fertilized eggs are then shed as a cocoon. The
whole cycle is a little more complex then described here but you get the
The eggs within the cocoon develop within a few days after being shed
and the development of the worm is complete, it is hatched a fully
THE HATCHING BOX
I have tried several different arrangements to hatch out and grow
tubifex worms, the best one for limited space is to build either a plex-glass
box or as I did a plywood box and seal it with fiberglass fiber and Resin.
The one I use is 4ftX4ft square and 12 inches deep. This box is built with
an open top. In the bottom of the box I put 4 inches of fine washed sand.
The kind used in swimming pool filters.
You can find and buy this sand almost any where and a one hundred lbs
bag is enough. This box in my room is placed on a concrete floor in an out
of the way location.( Ja is there such a location in a fish room?).
I have two overflow pipes made of pvc cut into the sides of the box at
the waterline these are in turn piped to a 40 gallon tank mounted 3 feet
above the box. A third pipe cut into the box picks up the water through a
pump and lifts it to the forty gallon tank above which is filled with foam
rubber, the pump takes the water out of the box to the filter and the
other two pipes return it to the box.
In the filter box I have ten air stones going full tilt at all times.
Mounted on the four sides of the worm box I have four spray bars that keep
the surface moving at a fast current rate 24 hours per day.
The rest is easy.. I started the culture with ½ Lb. of cleaned red
tubifex that had been super cleaned with running water. These were then
added to the sand bed and left for a starter culture.
The trick to this is that after about four generations the parasites
that might remain have been flushed out of both the worms and the system.
So each generation is exposed to fewer and fewer parasites or bacteria.
FOOD AND FEEDING THE WORMS.
The worms require super fine grain foods almost if not a fine powder. I
use just plain fish flakes that are powdered by hand. Sometimes I also add
egg noodles and make them into powder. This is fed very lightly to the
worms. Do not over feed or the sand will become nasty stuff and hard to
clean. I stir the sand about once each week to float anything that is not
eaten back into the water flow where the filter gets it. The worms large
and small quickly fall back to the sand bottom with out going out the over
flow. You always have a few dead worms that occur, and the worms tend to
ball up in one location or another in the box. When I see this I simply
stir the worms up again, this frees the dead ones from the ball, ( if you
doing it right ) you won't have many and they are carried out the
With just the one box I get about ½ to 3/4 lb of worms every two
weeks. I am thinking about stacking two or three boxes over each other
with just enough space between them to let me work the worms.
I have never found any of the hatchery grown worms to carry tapeworms
or any other problem. It just requires some space and a little extra time
each day to grow these favorite foods for discus.