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An Argument Against "Feeder" Comet Goldfish

Carassius auratus X C. goeblio

By Bob Fenner

A beautiful large Comet Goldfish

Though an entrenched, semi-profitable, almost-unconscious, ritual/fixture in the feeding of many varieties of larger marine and freshwater livestock, the use of "feeder" comet goldfish has always struck me as quizzical. Comets are not convenient or practical. They are neither nutritious nor inexpensive. Add to this their known capacity for introducing infectious and parasitic disease and negative behavior modification and I ask you... with all the economical, more beneficial food alternatives, why use feeders?

What follows is an elaboration of these points & suggestions and rationale for options.

1) Nutrition-Wise:

Try as I might I didn't run across any scientific work describing the chemical & physical content of "feeders". However, I'd like to offer some anecdotal 'evidence'... Over many years as a hobbyist, businessperson and academic-type witnessing some livestock almost exclusively fed feeders, it is my opinion that these situations were detrimental/not as beneficial as alternative foods and feeding.

That is to write, there is less vitality, fecundity, survivability of young with the use of 'feeders', seemingly a greater incidence of necrotic wasting 'diseases' like "hole in the head" & "lateral line disease"; and increased incidence and less resistance to infectious and parasitic diseases. Much more about the latter later.

2) Cost:

They're what? five, ten twelve or so to a dollar? How much is that a pound? More than you'd pay for steak for yourself? Over the life-time of the livestock, what total cost? Amazing, isn't it? Compare this with the alternatives detailed below. Feeding feeders is not cheap; and what about the gas, wear and tear on your vehicle & your time?

3) Parasitic & Infectious Diseases:

Back in the seventies when disco, Lennon and the U.S. economy were alive I paid my debt to society. Yes, dear reader, I taught High School; chemistry, physics and biology. For life sciences the curriculum included a one to few day's pitch on parasitism as a sub-topic of relations between species. What did we use as our 'host' organism? You guessed it; 'feeder' comets. They never failed. Invariably they wouldn't disappoint, with eight, ten, twelve or more of the most common true fungi, bacteria, protozoa (Tetrahymena, Costia, Ichthyophthirius, Amyloodinium, various sporozoans), diverse worms (leeches, nematodes, acanthocephalans), crustaceans (Argulus, Lernaea) and many more in great profusion.

Not surprisingly, many of these later show up in your system and on & in your livestock from... tah-day, the feeders.

I'd like to mention another type of "disease", environmental; from comet feedings I've seen time and time again: Death from "gut blockage" in particular in lionfishes and their relatives. There is a tendency for feeder 'skulls' (crania) to block over the opening from the stomach to the intestine in this group. From necropsying enough scorpionfishes to fill a fish store I would guess "feeder blockage syndrome" as their single largest source of mortality.

4) Behavior Mod.:

Shades of B.F. Skinner putting his fish in a (glass) box! Does feeding live foods/feeders make fish "meaner"? Many folks I've talked with consider it so. I've seen scenarios where a population of smaller and larger 'community' fishes more or less peacefully co-existed until they 'learned' they could eat each other through feeder use. Yes, I do believe it, I do believe it's true.

And another thing... have seen wanna-be predators totally diffed, torn up, shredded thrashing after a tasty bit of gold.

Alternatives: Fresh, Frozen, 'Pellets':

They're cheaper, easier to get, keep and use, more nutritionally sound and don't spread disease; they're winners!

Fresh or frozen, cut or whole, irradiated, flash frozen or no, fishes, crustaceans, mollusks and more are great.

The new prepared foods likewise are nutritionally complete and readily accepted by all species. If you can stomach another unsolicited not-so-thinly-disguised product endorsement, here goes. The new Tetra (tm) Jumbo Min and Hikari (tm) Floating Food Sticks are touted as "feeder replacements". I think they're even better. Check them out. both are less money and more convenient than 'live bait'.

There is no seeming end to prepared & 'formulated' frozen (defrost before using) foods.


"But my fish(es) won't accept their food unless it's moving". Malarkey. I've never yet come across a case where feeders had to be fed.

Once accustomed to their use, it may take some effort and patience to wean them off, but it can be done. At first this may involve an intermittent offering of feeders/non-feeders, some lengthy fasting (they won't die from it), use of a feeding rod/tool mimicking live food movements.

Be un-hasty; your charges won't kick for lack of feeders and they will eventually eat.

If you must feed live feeders, feed them sparingly, of the appropriate size, and do what you can (dips, quarantine) to reduce the incidence of disease transmission.

My Conclusion:

In other parts of the world I've been, sophisticated areas of the Far East and Western Europe, their is little to no use of colored, epoxy-coated gravel, substrate filtration, burping ornaments, and 'feeders'.

Oh, what an ignominious end for the only (sport mutation) variety of goldfish originated in the U.S. of A.. Do yourself, you livestock and comets a favor and use alternatives.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Appel, William. 1992. Feeding feeders and other foods for thought. TFH 2/92.

Boruchowitz, David E. 2000. Please don't feed fish fish. 4/00.

Fenner, Bob. 1993. An argument against "Feeder" Goldfish. FAMA 11/93.

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