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Would you like soup with that?

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Volunteering | Invertebrates

Friday, May 30, 2008


Everyday starts out in a mad rush to get the Artemia ready. Artemia, more commonly known as brine shrimp, is a tiny crustacean that comes from the Great Salt Lake in Utah, not the ocean. You may be familiar with them if you have visited a toy store recently because Artemia are sold as Sea Monkeys. They are a common food for aquarium inhabitants both in public aquaria and in the home aquarium because of they are inexpensive, readily available and most importantly, virtually all aquatic animals love their taste! As for nutritional value, Artemia are a bit lacking in this department but fear not! There is a simple and elegant solution. Prior to feeding it out, the Artemia are fed phytoplankton soup. Which is to say that we gut-load them with phytoplankton before they go into the bellies of our animals so that our animals get the nutrition derived from the phytoplankton. The soup is also used to feed our filter feeding invertebrates and for our sea otters. Lastly, we soak the Artemia in selcon, a solution that adds vitamins and highly unsaturated fatty acid (HUFA).

In case you are wondering what is in the soup, here is the recipe: * 700 mL saltwater * 1 oz roti-rich (a liquid invertebrate diet) * 1 oz algamac (dry, powdered phytoplankton) * a generous pinch of flake food * Mix saltwater, roti-rich, algamac, and flake food in a blender until it is a smooth consistency. Serves 1000+ animals. Great dietary supplement for coral, tube worms and small plankton feeders.

Artemia is one kind of food we do not culture at the Aquarium because it would be too time consuming and costly to do so. Instead, we buy it from a wholesaler and maintain it in giant towers until ready for use. We have two Artemia towers. One contains adult Artemia and the other contains newly hatched Artemia, which we refer to as BBS (baby brine shrimp). BBS is the staple food for our jellyfish and sea horse babies. In addition to soaking the BBS in selcon and feeding soup, there is one more thing we do to enhance their nutritional value. BBS can expend a lot of energy breaking out of their cysts when they hatch but we want that energy going to our animals. Therefore, we dissolve the outer layer of the cyst via chemical means; the process includes the use of sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite and sodium thiosulfate. This allows the BBS to hatch with ease and remain packed with nutrition.

Besides Artemia , we also have mysid shrimp, rotifers, copepods, live phytoplankton, guppies and ghost shrimp. These foods are great for enticing animals who are not eating for whatever reason. Live prey excites the natural predation instincts within aquatic animals.

Live phytoplankton is great for the various kinds of filter feeders we have at the Aquarium. We culture several varieties.

The major concern in the live foods lab is cross contamination. Why? Because one organism will gladly eat another and could completely decimate the culture. It only takes a few rotifers or brine shrimp carelessly transferred to the phytoplankton culture to completely destroy that culture. For this reason, tools and hands that have been working on one kind of animal should never be used on another. We put on disposable gloves whenever possible.

The live foods used at the Aquarium are treated like any animal in that they are meticulously cared for with feeding and cleaning. All habitats must be scrubbed clean on a weakly basis to prevent harmful encrusting organisms from growing on the surfaces and of course, they are given regular water changes to flush out all the waste they produce.

Would you like soup with that?
Here is a cup of brine shrimp eggs, ready to be hatched.  | © David Chen
Would you like soup with that?
You are missing out on a wonderful smell! Here, you see a strainer connected to the bottom of the brine shrimp tower as we are draining the tower. This is how we do water changes for the brine shrimp. The water flushed out of the tower smells extremely putrid because millions of tiny animals collectively produce lots of waste.  | © David Chen
Would you like soup with that?
All surfaces must be kept spotless in the live food lab! This prevents encrusting organisms like hydroids from becoming too much of a nuisance.  | © David Chen

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Monday, June 02, 2008 11:03 AM

Sounds yummy!  Mmmmmmmmm!

Seriously, it’s very interesting.  I wouldn’t have thought of feeding the little tykes before feeding them to the bigger tykes.  That’s ingenious.  Thanks for the information!

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