Free Tubifex

Free Tubifex


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 bacterial diseases.

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 earthworms.

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 Uaru's.

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 diffusion.

Tubifex worms are very sensitive to high temperatures, desiccation and salinity. These are the key factors you must keep in mind when culturing these worms.


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 asexual.

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 general idea.

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 functioning worm.


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 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.


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 overflow.

With just the one box I get about 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.

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