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Of Leaves, biofilms, and shrimp diets...

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So I've come to the conclusion that virtually anything "organic" in nature that we submerge into our aquariums is, to some degree, suitable for our shrimp as a supplemental feeding and grazing "substrate." I make this generalization because of the nature of how our shrimp feed. Let's cut to the chase...They seem to eat almost anything that can provide algae, biofilm, and some tissue soft enough for them to rasp at. 




I mean, think about the stuff we tend to offer as "food" to our shrimps: dozens of different kinds of leaves, grains, fruit, seeds, leaves, wood, etc., etc. I would venture to suggest that many shrimp are hardly fussy in their dietary preferences. It merely has to be available to them. They seem to me to be among the most adaptable and resourceful animals from a dietary standpoint, at least!


Like so many other things we offer our shrimp, aquatic botanicals are just another feeding substrate, if not a food in and of themselves.




As someone who loves and earns his living by offering hobbyists aquatic botanicals, I’m thrilled to see that shrimp take to them so easily. That being said, I think that shrimp can take to MANY things so easily!

It makes sense, because most of the shrimp that are kept in the hobby come from streams in Southeast Asia, an environment that has significant tree growth and foliage overhead. Naturally, leaves, seed pods, and fruits fall into these streams and begin to decompose, creating blackwater conditions, with humic and tannic acids building up in the water, reducing the ph and hardness of the water in the process. 


Decomposing leaf litter and other natural materials recruit algal growth and biofilms, consisting of microorganisms, bacteria, etc. These biofilms serve as a food source for the shrimp, which spend much time grazing on them.


Well, what exactly is this "biofilm" stuff? Is it bad, good, or of no consequence to our shrimp? Well, I'll state right off the bat that it's not bad...really.  Biofilms are composed of populations or communities of microorganisms adhering to different types of environmental surfaces. They're generally bacteria bound up in a sugar-laced "package" called glycocalyx, which builds up this film. If you think you've seen this stuff before, you're probably right. In fact, biofilms are the same structures that build up on bioballs, filter pads, and other "mechanical" filter media. 



In fact, what we call  "aufwuchs" in the African cichlid "context", is a collection of simple sugars, bacteria, fine detritus, and algae- all of which comprise a nutritious "package" of food for larval and adult fishes alike...So it forms a rather complex little "micro community" of food sources for grazing animals and fishes.


When your botanicals start to recruit this film, they're doing exactly what they do in nature- enriching the environment. As softer botanicals like leaves break down in the aquarium, protozoans, rotifers, small worms and crustaceans begin to appear in the matrix of decomposing materials. 

Could you ask for a better, more natural place to rear fry or feed shrimp? I'm not so sure! 


I think you get the picture- the appearance  of these biofilms in our aquariums is not only a natural process- it's very beneficial to our shrimps as a supplementary "feeding substrate." Indeed, the materials found in biofilms may be one of the most important sources of nutrition for our shrimps.

So, yes, it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing thing to see leaves decomposing in our tanks to some people- but it's actually a beautiful thing to our animals. 


Yes, depending upon the aesthetic you're trying to achieve, you might want to remove some or all of the decomposing leaves at some point. Let after quality and common sense guide you. However, if you're looking for a way to supplement and enrich your animals' diet, maintaining some of this decomposing litter in a natural setup is of significant benefit!

So, the choice is yours- depending upon the effect you're trying to achieve in your aquarium, you can either leave it in, or siphon it out of your tank as you see fit. 


To put it simply, one aquarist's "rotting leaves" are another's "feeding station!"

In addition, the leaves, seed pods, etc. break down, they are soft enough for the shrimp to consume directly, forming an outstanding source of nutrition. With a variety of leaves and other botanicals in your aquarium, your shrimp will have a number of potential nutrient sources available to them at all times, in addition to the occasional "treats" that you offer them, in the form of foods like Mulberry, Hazel, Kale, etc., etc. ,etc. that are available commercially from many of the fine vendors on this forum.


In summation: The nice thing about the botanicals is that they serve that "dual role" as food and environmental enrichment vehicles. Gotta love that!

Until next time...

Stay focused on fun. Stay engaged.

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




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2 hours ago, SOTG402 said:

Dropped one of your seed pods in,their loving it.4cd68554f0853809543419fb630affa3.jpg

Sent from my SPH-L710T using Tapatalk

WOW, really cool to see. That's a "Capsula Pod", which shrimp just seem to go crazy for!


Thanks for sharing!



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