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Hobbyist Guide: What are Copepods?
Source :: Administrator :: AquariumDomain.com

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Hobbyist Guide: What are Copepods?
Summary: Hobbyist Guide discussing what are Copepods and how they fit into the aquarium environment.
Written By: Administrator :: AquariumDomain.com
Hobbyist Level: Beginner
Article Category: saltwater-general
Article Type: Hobbyist Guide
Last Updated: 2009-11-27
Featured Article: Yes
Reader Rating:
Available Languages: English
Aricle Keyword(s): Green Mandarin
  About this article
Hobbyist Guide: What are Copepods? Discusses the small crustaceans known as Copepods and how they fit into the freshwater and marine aquarium environments.
  Hobbyist Guide: What are Copepods?
Most freshwater and marine aquarium hobbyists have noticed at one time or another very small white bugs crawling about their aquarium and wondered what they were. Well there is a very good chance that those little white bugs are actually a small type of crustacean called a Copepod. Copepods are small crustaceans that are found living throughout the world's oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, swamps, bogs, springs, puddles, damp depressions in the ground or just about any aquatic habitat found on earth. In fact Copepods can be found in pretty much any aquatic or moist habitat in which they can find a food source of algae, detritus or decaying matter. Copepods usually have a teardrop shaped body with long antennae that protrude from the front of their head directly outward from their body. While they are true crustaceans with a hard exoskeleton, their extremely small size of approximately 2 millimeters or .08 inches in length makes them practically transparent or a faint white coloration.

Copepods in the aquarium environment

Copepods are found in both freshwater and marine aquariums; however, they are more heavily associated with marine aquariums as the average marine aquarium setup is more conducive to providing an environment that is more suitable for large numbers of Copepods to spawn and live. Freshwater aquariums typically do not have separate refugiums or live sump like filters that contain live substrate and areas for bacteria, plants and small crustaceans to spawn and grow where the aquarium fish cannot reach them. Typically freshwater aquariums will employ power filter hang-on filters or canister filters that while providing excellent mechanical and biological filtration, do not provide a suitable habitat for Copepods to breed and thrive. Copepods living within a freshwater aquarium are heavily predated on by the fish species living within the aquarium which over time decimates their numbers and ultimately drives them to extinction within the aquarium.

However, in the average marine aquarium the situation is much different as it is common for marine aquariums to utilize external sumps & refugiums containing live rock, live sand marine plants and macro algae's along with other areas where Copepods can flourish without being threat of being preyed upon by fish or invertebrate predators living within the main aquarium. This allows for Copepods to be used as a food source within the marine aquarium environment as the breeding colony is kept separate from their predators. While many copepods will be transferred via the aquarium pumps from the refugium or sump back into the main aquarium where they are consumed by fish and invertebrates, the main Copepod colony will remain safe where they can continue to multiply and replenish their numbers.

Copepods also provide aquarists with a way to measure the overall health of their aquarium system. While Copepods themselves are not harmful, if they are seen in large numbers within the aquarium it usually means there has been an increase in the crustaceans' food source, which includes algae, detritus, and decaying matter. These food sources could be in the form of an algae bloom, a large amount of uneaten food, or an organism that has perished and is decaying beneath the rocks. When an aquarium has a very large number of Copepods present this means that there is a large amount of food available for the Copepods to feed on, which has caused their numbers to swell. Since Copepods feed on detritus, decaying matter and algae, this is usually a bad thing as this tends to indicated an aquarium that has a poorly functioning or overwhelmed filtration system or an aquarium that is not fully cycled and unable to properly dispose of waste products produced by its inhabitants. Therefore, hobbyists that have not purposefully trying to breed Copepods, they can take the sign of a large explosion of Copepods in their system to mean that some portion of the filtration system is not working correctly or that their system is overstocked or not fully cycled and mature. However, this is not always the case as many aquarists purposefully create ideal conditions for Copepods to breed and thrive within their sumps and refugiums, so as to provide a food source for their aquarium inhabitants.

Copepods as a food source

In short Copepods are an all around excellent food source for a variety of fish and invertebrate species. It is for this very reason that Copepods are often cultivated in refugiums and live sumps where they are raised for the purpose of providing a rich food source to the main aquarium system. Copepods work well as a food source as they eat small planktonic species within the water column, consume detritus and decaying matter from the aquarium and then themselves become a protein rich food source for the main fish and invertebrate inhabitants in the main show aquarium. Copepods also provide a rich food source for specialized feeders like Mandarin Gobies, Dragonets and many Butterfly fish species that will readily feed on Copepods found within the aquarium. Live Copepods are also a good food source for young fish or newly hatched fish or invertebrate species.

  In conclusion

Copepods are a great resource to have within the aquarium environment as they can show early indications of an immature or poorly functioning filtration system if their numbers are too large or suddenly increase; as well as, provide a great food source for a variety of fish and invertebrate species. Copepods are especially beneficial for marine aquarium hobbyists and reef aquarium hobbyists as they provide an almost invaluable food source for delicate difficult to feed fish species and as an invaluable piece of the food chain within a reef environment.

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