Enchytraeidae for fish feed

Today everything revolves around Enchytraeidae. We do not only show all worth knowing information about the popular live food, but also how to breed Enchytraeidae. With your own Enchytraeidae breeding, you will always have plenty of food for your beloved ornamental fish. But don’t overfeed your fish, because even if catfish and loaches, for example, are crazy about it, the beltworms have a high dose of nutrients. If you have any questions, please leave a comment as always.

General information about enchytres

With the term Enchytraeidae it concerns a family from the subclass of the Wenigborster. They belong to the class of the annelids (Annelida) and to the class of the beltworms (Clitellata). Here they are found together with earthworms, springtails and woodlice. They belong to the elementary decomposers of organic matter in the soil. The relationship to the earthworm can also be easily recognized. The enchytres have evenly arranged body segments and also a belt (clitellum). The big difference to the earthworm, apart from their body size and appearance, is that the enchytres do not consume mineral soil components. Therefore, they only form moulder humus and not the valuable clay-humus complex as with the earthworm. Nevertheless, the enchytres are an important factor in maintaining the fertility of acidic soil.

Great species richness

Enchytraeus_albidus
Paul Bachhausen, Enchytraeus albidus, CC BY-SA 3.0 EN

The white, yellow or transparent worms, which look like spaghetti at first glance, can be found all over the world with over 650 species (except in Antarctica). In Central Europe between 200 and 300 species are found. The long thin body can grow up to 3 cm long. The Enchytraeidae subdivide themselves again into several types. Not every species becomes so long. If the Enchytraeidae are transparent, then you can see their inside, i.e. their intestinal contents, because their blood is also transparent. The circulation of the blood is caused by the heart (contractile blood vessel). It stretches from the posterior girdle region to the dorsal part of the upper throat ganglion, where it pulls back again.

In adult enchytres, the first bristleless segment (peristomium) is followed by up to 70 bristle segments. Each individual segment has two bristle bundles from two to six bristles on the back and two on the ventral side. The belt can be found at the bristle segments 12 and 13. Since Echyträen are usually bisexual, i.e. hermaphrodites, it is easy to breed them. The male genital opening can be found at segment 12 and the female at segment 13. The seed pocket is located at the fifth segment.

Habitat of the Enchytraeidae

Due to carry-over, the species are nowadays worldwide no longer so easily separated from each other and the occurrence of the individual Enchytraeidae species is no longer restricted to individual areas or continents. In addition, the appearance of the species is usually so similar that they can only be distinguished under a microscope by analyzing the sperm cells. The animals depend on moisture in their habitat, as this wets their skin. They can be found in salt water as well as in fresh water, such as puddles, pools, lakes and seas, but also on the beach in damp sand.

However, most species do not live in water but on wet land, i.e. the habitat is terrestrial. Wherever the earth is moist enough and does not dry out, such as on meadows and fields or the compost heap, the worms find an ideal habitat up to 40 cm deep in the ground. The less earthworms are in the soil, the more enchytres multiply. This is especially the case in very acidic soils or heavy agricultural use.

Population density

The average settlement density is up to 100,000 specimens per square meter of the earth’s surface. In some places in England, 290,000 specimens have been counted on only one square metre of moorland. However, such mass and density on the narrowest habitat only occurs with certain species. A much greater diversity of species, but with a low density of occurrence, is achieved with slightly acidic and also calcareous soils. Under good habitat conditions, enchytres can live for 100 days to over a year.

Food intake

The uptake of food in enchytae is saprophytic. Via the mouth pores, decayed plant remains are absorbed together with the microflora (bacteria, protozoa, fungi). The invertible throat is pressed onto food particles, which remain there and are then absorbed. The end product is humus.

The reproduction of the enchytres

In order to breed Enchytraeidae correctly, we must first understand how the animals reproduce. Enchytres are also called beltworms, although this reproductive belt is only formed when the worms are fully developed, i.e. sexually mature. The penis bulb and the maturation of the egg cells are found on this belt. Glandular cells on the belt form the cocoon, i.e. the egg and the required cocoon fluid. In order for the beltworm to reproduce, it places its body parts on top of each other, thus placing the fifth and twelfth segments on top of each other.

The pressure of the coeloma fluid changes and the penis bulb is pushed out. As we learned earlier, most species are hermaphrodites, but nevertheless, enchytae use a different sexual partner for reproduction. The inverted penis bulb is placed in the opening of the partner’s spermathecae. The sperm is stored and fertilisation takes place outside the body. After the reproductive act is over, the penis bulb is retracted by muscles. Enchytres are arranged bilaterally, which means that all reproductive organs are present in pairs in the same section.

The oviposition

In the next step, the laying of eggs begins, for which you have to wait a few days. The belt forms the cocoon shell and brings in at least one, but usually several yolk rich eggs. The belt is now much thicker than in the normal state. As soon as the cocoon has been prepared and is ready for fertilisation, the beltworm crawls backwards through the cocoon, which is built up in a circular shape, until the worm with its spermathecae opening is level with the cocoon. Only now can the sperm enter the cocoon. After this act the shinworm leaves the cocoon and the cocoon closes. This gives it the shape of a lemon. To prevent the fertilized cocoon from drying out, it is still covered with soil particles. Especially fertile specimens release up to one cocoon per day.

The temperature must be as constant as possible at 21° C, then the young enchytres hatch after about nine days. Already eight days later the young beltworms are sexually mature. After hatching the small Enchytraeidae have only 17 to 21 segments. Until they are sexually mature, they grow. In other Enchytraeidae species, such as Enchytraeus fragmentosus, reproduction occurs by division. Not only in breeding this species can be reproduced artificially by division, but also in nature this species breaks down into several parts. After a few days new enchytres have developed again.

Breeding of Enchytraeidae

Now we are ready and have enough knowledge to start breeding. It should be said in advance that permanent breeding is extremely difficult and in many cases is not successful.

The right substrate

In order to create the optimal basis for life, we try to imitate the substrate of the Enchytrees’ habitat as well as possible. As a container I take a polystyrene box from fishing, of course you can just buy one. If you choose another container, make sure that it doesn’t let the ground dry out so quickly. Styrofoam has the advantage that the temperature remains relatively constant. As soil mixture or substrate I use a mixture of compost soil, dissolved coconut soil (which makes it nice and airy) and fine powdery bark mulch. Make sure that it is always nice and humid, but not wet. The larger the container is, the easier it is to keep it moist. To prevent the surface from drying out so quickly, you can place large pieces of bark on the surface. To prevent mildew in the container, you can use plant granules made of lava rock or clay as water absorbers. Try to keep the substrate at 21° C. Smaller deviations are not bad in my opinion.

Humidity

The substrate should always be sufficiently moist. For moistening I use a water sprayer for plants. The surface may be a little wetter. If you are unsure how wet the substrate is, then carefully do the finger test, but don’t crush your worms while doing so! If you take too much water you will notice that the enchytrees come to the surface. Only spray when the surface is dry.

Feeding

For the food I rely on oatmeal. I have read many great secret recipes on the Internet, but I have not tried any of them. Oatmeal, which you boil to a pulp with water, works wonderfully and doesn’t cost much money. Since we want to have a porridge without many pieces, I always use the fine flakes, which melt very easily. As described above, the worms can only take out small particles. But probably normal oat flakes work well, too. Don’t take too much water, otherwise it will flow like soup to the bottom of the container and it will start to get mouldy. It is important that you always check if the enchytres have enough food. For example, if you forget to feed during your holidays, you will probably lose your breeding.

The harvest

Enchytres react to heat. As soon as it is too warm, they move to a cooler area. In this way it is possible to get the beltworms to gather in a certain place. This makes the harvest worthwhile. A fork is very well suited for picking them up.

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