Probably the most overlooked component of
proper fish keeping.
By Aaron Lobada
The purpose of this article is to reinforce the fact that keeping healthy,
growing and happy fish requires proper feeding. Because corals and anemones have
unique feeding requirements that deserve their own article and because my
experience with invertebrates is limited, this article will focus on meeting the
nutritional needs of fish. So let's get on with it!
Although some high quality flake foods
have been developed, they still lose nutritional value and flavor soon
after entering the water.
to feed one’s fish is easily one of the most overlooked components of proper
fish husbandry. We all grew up contently putting flake food into our gold fish
bowls, only to doom Goldy to die from poor water quality or malnutrition. This
is one of the many habits that establishes young and stays with us, even when it
comes to keeping expensive marine livestock. It is very easy to believe that
fish can thrive on brine shrimp (widely regarded as the marine equivalent of
gold fish flakes), and unfortunately it is an all too common misconception that
many others and I fell into believing when we first joined the hobby. There is
nothing really wrong with feeding brine shrimp, as long as it is not the only
food being offered and is only a small part of your fishes diet. I mean, c’mon,
how would you like to eat tuna fish sandwiches every day for the rest of your
life, when you could be indulging in delicious mysis shrimp or delectable squid?
The benefits of a nutritious, varied diet are too great to neglect and the
consequences of poor nutrition can have serious repercussions.
There are a few very good reasons for investing in good nutrition for your fish.
The most important reasons for a nutritious diet is to keep your fish happy and
healthy. As Conscientious aquarist you take on the responsibility of giving the
best care for your fish. They should be thought of as family, not just object
that can be replaced if it dies. With reefs and fish populations dwindling
because of human activity, it is important to take the best care of livestock,
for the benefit your own benefit as well as the environment as a whole. Proper
nutrition is a huge part of good husbandry.
There are also personal rewards to be gained from good feeding habits. It is a
good feeling to know that you are taking good care of your pets!. Also, nothing
can replace the satisfaction of seeing your fish grow in size. To raise a fish
from one inch to several is a great accomplishment and cannot happen without
proper feeding. Just like people need calcium to grow strong bones or protein to
grow muscles, fish need high quality food to be able to thrive and grow as well.
Also, breeding requires impeccable health and energy to spare, so any plans to
breed fish must begin with proper nutrition.
Most people will take note of the importance of nutrition in disease prevention.
Fish that are fed a healthy diet are more resistant to disease. Spending the few
extra dollars on proper food will help save money in the long run. Fish
suffering from malnutrition may get diseases that a healthy one might not get at
all. Diseases can cost tens if not hundreds of dollars to treat, they cause a
lot of undue stress, and they waste a lot of time. Tank teardowns, loss of
expensive livestock, constant water changes, medication, and weeks to months of
time are all problems that could occur. Save your self these hassles and the
guilt of being cheap! Feed ’em the good stuff.
What Do I Feed My Fish?
This local fish store freezer contains a
wide variety of foods, many of which are formulated to meet the needs of
specific groups of fish. Photo by Adam Cesnales
question is "what am I supposed to feed my fish It is impossible to give
one overall answer because different species of fish have different diets
according to their habitat and their body structure. Lionfish are slow moving
carnivorous predators and gulp their food whole. Triggers, with there sharp
teeth are built more for tearing and ripping their prey to shreds. Herbivores
such as tangs and some blennies, have mouth parts adapted for picking or
scraping algae from rocks. As you can see different fish need different
foods. It is always wise to research the needs of a fish BEFORE PURCHASING IT.
This includes knowing what their natural diet and feeding behavior is so that it
can be duplicated. Commercially prepared foods are available to meet the needs
of herbivores and meaty foods are available for carnivores. To illustrate
the importance of behavior, Lions and triggers might only need one large feeding
everyday two or three days, while more active plankinovores (Chromis, Wrasses,
Anthias) could be fed small amounts several times a day. Mother knows best
so might as well listen to mother nature on this one.
For fish that
enjoy more meaty food there are plenty of different foods out there. Squid,
mysis shrimp, krill, clams, mussels, and crab all make excellent food for most
fish that eat meatier foods. Brine shrimp should be avoided because of its poor
nutritional value, but it can be used as a treat. Even live brine shrimp
is a poor choice for frequent use, but can be used to try to get new additions
or finicky eaters to eat. When it comes to meaty foods, frozen is best as it
retains most all of the nutrients in the food. Freeze dried foods are less
desirable because they retain less nutrition. Fish with such as triggers and
puffers that have teeth designed for cracking shells should be provided food
with a shell or hard outside. Crabs legs with the shell and unpeeled shrimp not
only provide the stimulation of natural feeding behaviors, but they also help
prevent the dangerous overgrowth of these fishes teeth.
Dry food offerings include freeze
dried crustacea, flakes, pellets and soft "plugs" and are available in a
variety of formulations. Thoughtful manufacturers include
nutrition information and expiration dates. Such a wide
selection can be confusing, so when in doubt, read the ingredients!
Photo by Adam Cesnales
For fish that
eat more plant-based material there are plenty of seaweed and plant based foods
that can be purchased. Some fish will also eat algae growing on rocks and
equipment in your tank and a culture of hair algae can even be kept for
herbivores. Some human foods can be used such as lettuce and cucumber but should
not be the only part of the fishes diet. Not much preparation is needed but I
would wash of the vegetables in water before putting them in the tank. I have
heard of fruit being used to feed fish but I would search it to see if it
appropriate for your livestock. As mentioned before, foods of marine origin are
better if they are available. Dried seaweed products are available from
fish stores, and asian grocery stores often stock a variety of nori, kombu and
other dried algae products (be sure they haven't been seasoned!) There are many
different handy clips you can buy specifically for holding these kinds of foods
in fish tanks and should not cost more than a couple of dollars. Some are even
in fun shapes like clownfish and turtles. From a behavior point of view,
trapping the food in these clips provides a grazing like feeding activity for
Extra attention must be paid to slow,
finicky eaters (frozen mysis are often the only prepared foods that are
accepted by Bangaii Cardinals like the one pictured).
Now that we
have covered how to best meet the needs of the fish, let's look at how to
choose foods that meet those needs.. Frozen foods do tend to retain more
nutritional value and have more natural textures but they contain a lot of
moisture. This higher moisture content makes frozen foods more
expensive for the amount of actual nutritional value. Dry foods do not
contain as much moisture so they have more food value per unit of weight and are
generally more economical. Flake versus pellet is another area of
contemplation. Flakes are usually readily accepted by fish and quickly
gobbled up but because they are so thin, they can lose nutrition to the water
quickly. Pellets may not be as enticing but since tank water cannot penetrate
them as fast, they lock in nutrients better. No matter which form of food
you choose, another good habit to get into is reading the ingredients on the
packaging. For marine fish ingredients of marine origin are almost always
superior to those of freshwater or terrestrial (Land) origin. The types
and amounts of nutrients in marine based food is unique and is what your fish
are normally exposed to in their natural habitat. This is important for
herbivores because marine algae are easier digested and higher in some nutrients
than terrestrial greens such as lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, peas, etc. It
is also important for carnivores since the types of fats in marine meats is very
different from those from land or freshwater. Last but not least....
VARIETY, VARIETY, VARIETY!!! It cannot be stressed enough how good variety
is for your fish. Even the most nutritious foods do not contain everything
your fish needs and you do not want your fish to become bored with their food.
Vary it between dry, frozen, flake, pellet, and even different brands because
all brands don’t have the same amount/kinds of nutrients/ingredients.
Think of it as a food pyramid for your fish.
Selcon is a preparation that includes
important marine fatty acids as well as vitamins. It is a beneficial
supplement for all fish and is a necessity for rearing young marine fish
Most foods can
be augmented with specifically designed marine supplements. Selcon is probably
one of the best and most expensive and is what I use in my tank, inducing a
great feeding response from my fish. It contains Fatty Acids, Lipids, Vitamin C,
and B-12. It also leaves traces in the tank for filter feeders. Many aquarists
have reported good results using multi vitamin preparations like vita-chem.
Just like human nutritional supplements, care should be taken not to overdose
such additives. Garlic is also used and can be purchased as a marine aquarium
supplement from most online retailers. Garlic helps to induce a good feeding
response and is some aquarists believe that it boosts their fish’s immune
system. For large predatory fish that eat larger pieces of food,
supplements can be directly injected into the piece of meat. In the wild,
predators benefit from the nutritional value of whatever highly nutritious food
was recently eaten by their prey. This can be replicated by making a pocket
in a piece of meaty food (or using the belly cavity of silversides) and stuffing
it with nori, dry fish food, frozen cube foods to add nutritional variety.
Think of it like getting children to eat their veggies by smothering them in
Storage and Handling
and handling of fish food is often neglected. Even the most nutritious
foods will lose value if abused. Fish food just like human food is best if
kept in the refrigerator. It is best if food is kept in a cool dry
place away from intense light, so obviously on top of your tank hood is not a
good place! Even dry foods that don't require refrigeration will
retain more nutritional value longer in the refrigerator. Make sure frozen
food is, believe it or not, stored in a freezer! Be sure it is stored
tightly to avoid freezer burn - Ziploc bags work well for this. A good
rule of thumb is to get rid of food about 6 months after you open it to be sure
that your fish are getting fresh food. If your food is past its expiration
date (If it has one), it is obviously a good idea to throw it out and pick up
some more. That is about it for storage. Basically be sensible.
Think of how you would store your food and that is probably how you should store
A Few Pointers
Beware of overfeeding… it can be
just as detrimental as underfeeding because excess food will decompose and
compromise water quality very quickly. Feed little bits at a time allowing
your fish to consume it all before adding more. Stop adding food if the fish
start to lose interest.
For very small fish, food may need
to be minced into smaller pieces to reduce the chance of your fish choking.
(Yes fish can choke and I have heard of it happening).
Some slower moving fish may not be
able to compete with faster fish that get to the food quicker. In such cases
feed the other fish first away from the slower fish and then while they are
occupied feed the slower one. For liquid/frozen foods you can use a cheap
plastic syringe to directly feed the slower fish. Although the fish may be
shy at first, after a couple uses it should be okay once it realizes food is
coming out of it and the syringe is not a threat.
For dangerous fish such as lions,
eels and triggers a feeding rod may be used to reduce the chance of injury.
Aside from the risk of being bitten, lionfish spines are venomous and will
cause very painful injury that has been compared to a bee sting but much
Do not allow frozen food to thaw
only to be frozen again. This can cause huge loss to nutritional
value. Make sure you purchase frozen foods right before you go home to
minimize any thawing that may occur. It might even be wise to bring
something to insulate the food in once you purchase it. Inspect frozen
food packages for excessive ice crystals that either indicate that the food
is old or was allowed to thaw.
Check for expiration dates on the
packaging. One it lets you know how fresh the food is/ how close it is
to expiring and it is a sign that the manufacturer cares about the quality
of their food. Take note that most foods don’t have these but it never
hurts to look.
Lastly, have fun and enjoy watching
your fish eat!!!!! It is one of the best parts of the hobby to see your fish
go nuts over feeding time. Also, it is a good chance to observe fish for
injuries or infections, especially ones that stay hidden most of the time.
There you have it. A quick spiel
about why nutrition is one of the most important but unfortunately overlooked
aspects of caring for fish. Hopefully this article will help aquarists make
better more appropriate food choices for their fish.