When considering how often to feed your fish you should ask a series of questions. What type of fish? How new/old is the tank? Are my fish herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores? Will I be feeding frozen, flake or pellet? I wish it was as easy as reading the packaging on fish food and following instructions but these simple questions will help in determining how often to feed your fish.
It is usually better to be a little more conservative when feeding your fish than generous until a proper schedule is established. For example when we are getting a tank started with new unestablished water it can be stressful to say the least on our fish. No bacteria has been established in the aquarium. The simple answer for a new aquarium is to feed as little as possible to avoid an ammonia spike. A jump in ammonia can be far more fatal than a fish going a little hungry. After beneficial bacteria has established and we are showing zero ammonia, we can now take a look at nitrates. If nitrates are low and consistante we can now consider a daily feeding schedule. And here again we find ourselves back at our base questions listed above. There simply is no “one size fits all” answer here. Different fish require different feeding schedules. The important thing to remember is to watch your nitrates when establishing a feeding schedule.
What type of food should I feed my fish?
Before diving into this answer there are three general types of fish mouths that must be taken into consideration. There is what’s called a superior mouth that terminates upward, a terminal mouth which points straight forward (most common), and the inferior mouth which terminates downward. Considering the external biology of these three types of mouths will give clues as to what to feed your fish. There have been studies on different fish foods and their sinking rates so they may cater to different types of fish. These results can usually be found on the packaging. For example if you have a Betta or a Gourami we would select a pellet or flake that floats as these fish have superior mouths. A clown fish or a tetra would be an example of a fish with a terminal mouth and we would select a food that would sink at a desired rate. And a Pleco would be an example of a fish with an inferior mouth so we would select a food that would sink at an alarming rate.
When considering a type of food to feed your fish you must consider the overall diet of the animal. Some fish are carnivorous, some are omnivores and others are herbivores. Prior to buying a fish you will need to research what is in its diet. Always refer to your local Fish shop and ask an employee what they have been feeding the fish and purchase the same food they are feeding that fish. If they have been for example feeding flake food you can bring that type of food home and offer different types to see what else they may eat. When feeding different types ensure that they have similar ingredients. Whether selecting flake, pellet, or frozen, there will be meat, vegetarian and omnivorous options.
In closing we know to combine our research of what type of fish and what type of mouth they have, what our LFS has been feeding them and what dietary restrictions they may have - if any. With this combined information and knowledge we should have success in feeding our fish!
What type of food should I feed my coral?
Although most coral will photosynthesize some of them need to be fed. Same as Fish it is recommended prior to bringing the coral home to ask the local fish shop what they have been feeding their coral. There are a lot of commercially available coral foods on the market that typically come in a powder, frozen, or pellet form. There are two different ways to feed coral. One would be broadcast feeding and the other is target feeding. For broadcast feeding simply mix the powder/pellets/frozen in some tank water in a cup and put them in the tank (leaving all pumps and powerheads on). For target feeding, mix the food in a cup with tank water and use a syringe to draw the water into it. Turn off all power heads, protein skimmer and return pump and gently blast the food into the area of the polyps.
A couple of tips I would like to note are below. First, be careful when broadcast feeding as this is food and this will cause nitrates to rise if the amount is not consumed. Secondly, When target feeding, be aware of other tank mates that can out-compete for the food. For example. When all the pumps are shut off and the water is stedy it will make it easy for the coral to eat - this will also make the food more consumable for others (fish and invertebrates). You may see a crab, shrimp or fish robbing a coral of its food (especially if it is the same food they eat - i.e. Mysis shrimp). Lately, when target feeding it may be necessary to “entice” certain corals prior to feeding directly. For example, some Acros, Acans, Scolymia, etc. may benefit from a broadcast of power to let the coral know food is in the water column. When tentacles are seen extended, then turn off the pumps and target feed.
What are the differences in fish food?
When we shop for food for human consumption or food for our cats and dogs we usually look at the list of ingredients found on the back of the packaging to see what is in it. It is the same concept here. If we see lots of fillers and preservatives it is most likely not going to be a very beneficial food for our aquatic animals. If we are shopping for a meat eater and we see something like “Shrimp, Scallop, Clam, Oyster, etc.” we will know it is a good food. If we are shopping for a herbivore and see something like “Spinach, Broccoli, Green Seaweed, Red Seaweed (raw), etc.” then we know it is a good food. We will want to go with a reputable brand that has the ingredients to match.
This can often be a tiresome and somewhat daunting task, at the end of the day if the fish is offered the appropriate food and is eating it - it is a success. This is precisely why it is recommended to ask suggestions from your local fish shop as recommended above.
Flake vs. Pellet vs. Frozen?
This does seem like it may be somewhat of a “great debate” but again we are faced with a classic right size for the right job situation. When taking all things into consideration like what type of fish, what type of mouth, and what type of diet these different forms of food will offer the same nutrients in their own ways.
Flake food can be a very convenient way to feed your fish. It is also one of the most common foods to overfeed your tank with. For example, a pinch of food to me is different from a pinch of food to you. On top of that, flakes come in all different shapes and sizes in the same container. Flake food Will also typically float prior to sinking. This is important to consider with what type of fish you have. If you have bottom feeders like Plecos this may not be the right food for you. But when House and Goldfish this can be a very beneficial food for them.
Pellet food is very nutrient packed. The nutrients are typically packed into tiny pellets for optimal results. Itcan also be very easy to over feed with pellets because they are so nutrient dense. Pellets are sold for carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Feeding pallets to your aquarium is also very convenient as there is no preparation involved. Also as a quick note, pellets are easy to load into an automatic feeder. It is typically easier to feed the appropriate amount as all the pellets in one container will be of the same size. When purchasing pallets not only do we have to consider the animal's diet but we need to consider what type of mouth the fish or invertebrate has. Typically it will state on the packaging if they are floating or sinking pellets.
Frozen food tends to be very palatable for Fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic animals. The way to serve frozen food is to thaw it out in a small cup or in a net. After it has been thawed it can then be dumped in the tank. Frozen food typically comes in either sheets or pre-portioned cubes. To ensure that you don’t overfeed the tank it is recommended to ensure that the proper amount of food is portioned out after it has been thawed out. There are many types of commercially available frozen foods. There are frozen foods for carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Happy feeding!