Also known as “Anchor Worms” get their nick name due to their anchor shaped head. They are a parasitic crustacean that swims freely throughout the water. Eventually they latch on to a host(your betta) and will burrow their way down into your betta’s flesh. When the anchor worms burrow too far it becomes too unsafe for manual removal.
After burrowing deep into the tissue of a host, the anchor worms spend their life, about 2-3 months, in there before finding their way back out. This causes lesions and irritation on your fish. The anchor worms lay their eggs then die. Within the next week, the whole process starts again.
The infection itself will not kill your fish. However, due to open wounds and a weakened immune system, your betta becomes vulnerable to secondary infections. This would typically be a bacterial infection such as Septicemia.
How to diagnose this disease
Spotting anchor worms will be quite easy so long as you’ve had your fish for at least a few months. You would first notice white or green threads on the body of your fish. Those are the worms themselves. Your betta fish will have irritation causeing him/her to rub up against or “scratch” up against various objects in the tank. Your betta will also be lethargic. If the infection has already become internal you may see redness or open wounds.
Any new fish you bring home may be carriers but not exhibit symptoms right away. Be sure to watch any new tank mates very closely. It would be best to isolate new fish until you are sure they are healthy enough to add to the aquarium.
How do fish get anchor worms?
From outside sources. Any new fish you bring home may be carriers but not exhibit symptoms right away. Be sure to watch any new tank mates very closely. It would be best to isolate new fish until you are sure they are healthy enough to add to the aquarium.
Luckily if you only have a betta and do not want other fish you are almost 100% safe from never dealing with this. There is still one more source of anchor worms. Live food. Unless you are raising your own brine shrimp or other live food I urge you to stick to frozen or freeze-dried foods. Live foods put your fish at risk for catching many different diseases.
There are many people out there who are willing to manually remove anchor worms and other parasites using a pair of tweezers. I don’t really trust myself to be able to do that without scratching or injuring my betta. If you have a steady hand you can carefully lay your betta down and quickly pull the worms out. Then add stress coat to aid in replacing the betta’s natural mucus.
A word of warning-
I have heard of worms that were too deep and the tail ends up being the only part being removed. Then just like a real worm the body grew back! So it is up to you whether you’d like to take these risks.
A salt bath will not rid you of this parasite. It will, however prevent against wounds becoming infected. If your betta fish is looking beat up and has open sores a salt bath definitely would not hurt.
Bath Measurements: A salt bath consists of 1 tablespoon aquarium salt(some prefer epsom) to 1 gallon of water. Be sure the temperature is the same as the water in the tank. Now net your betta and place him in the water for 5 minutes. You must watch your betta closely to be sure he does not react to the salt.
To treat this infection without manual removal you can try any anti-parasitic medication. This includes General Cure by API(as pictured to the right). I prefer API because they mostly promote more natural ways of healing. Those this is a medication it is a cure-all as far as parasites go. Parasitic infections can be relentless so sometimes you just need to pull out the big guns.