Life on a coral reef is like a Vegas buffet. Fish in the wild have a near infinite selection of delicacies to enjoy. From various algae, ciliates and rotifers to mysids, amphipods and copepods, the bio diversity is nearly endless.
Unfortunately, our aquarium inhabitants do not have this same luxury. Our fish and corals are limited to the menu we supply. Often times this consists of only pellets or flakes. While both can be valuable parts of a captive diet, offering a diversified menu will help your wet pets thrive.
Some aquarists may ask, “What’s the point? My fish are doing fine.”
That is precisely the point. They are only doing fine.
Why not strive for great, awesome or even fantastic? When water quality and environmental needs are met, nutrition is often cited as the missing link between having great fish and having great fish that spawn.
For truly healthy fish, you need to supply a combination of amino acids (proteins), carbohydrates, lipids (fats & oils), vitamins and minerals. By varying their diet, you can ensure that all the nutritional needs of your fish are being met.
The next step is to research the individual nutritional requirements of each of your fish. Are your fish carnivores, herbivores or omnivores? Pay close attention to the size of your animals. Pellets and flakes are not adequate for lion fish; freeze-dried krill is too large for the small mouth of a Mandarin Gobi. The research you conduct will dictate which types of food to purchase.
Whenever possible, fresh, whole foods are your best choice. While they usually cost a little more, fresh and other high-quality diets are a better value. These foods have greater digestibility and absorption rates, so fish need to eat less. This has the added benefit of improving water quality since the fish are using the meal more efficiently.
While we can now mimic the variety of natural cuisine, it is difficult to match the availability. I have maintained systems that required a constant drip of brine shrimp to maintain a population of jellies or juvenile sea horses. Luckily for most of us, this is not required.
Most experts agree that feeding 3 small meals per day is enough to nourish fish. Each meal should consist of enough food to be consumed within 3-5 minutes. If feeding 3 times a day seems tedious or your work schedule does not permit it, try adding an automatic fish feeder to your setup to compensate for the hours you are away.
A Day In The Life
I have been involved in the aquarium hobby for more than 23 years. I’ve maintained tanks of all sizes, from nanos to 30,000 gallon public aquarium systems. The following feeding schedule has brought me great success in the home aquarium environment. It may work for you, too!
- When the lights first turn on in the morning, I feed something quick and easy. Usually I rely on a liquid feed I can dose before I commute to the office.
- At noon, my automatic fish feeder dispenses a premeasured amount of pellets for lunch since I am unable to feed the fish myself. Each weekend I check the amount of food inside my feeder and adjust accordingly.
- Before the lights shut off in the evening, I prepare a healthy supper for my aquarium inhabitants. I actually enjoy mixing them a stew of frozen, liquid and freeze-dried foods that I dispense with a squirt tube.
I also like to mix up my dinner routine by incorporating live foods, like freshly hatched Brine shrimp or Copepods. The great thing about Copepods is that they may actually establish a colony in your aquarium and become a sustainable food source.
There are many accessories to make feeding time more enjoyable. Clips are handy for holding sheets of seaweed for Tangs, Rabbit Fish and other herbivores. I definitely recommend tongs/grabbers for anyone keeping carnivores.
Food varieties to choose from
Below you’ll find some of the best choices you can incorporate into your aquatic menu:
Fresh/Live (fresh is the best!)
- H20 Life Nanno Reef Phytoplankton
Nanno One contains only Nannochlorpsis (the hardiest and “toughest survivor” of all marine phytoplankton). Nanno Nine Contains 9 species of brown and green phytoplankton, diatoms and zooxanthellae (the most complete phytoplankton combination ever)!
- DT’s Live Marine Copepod
This subtropical Copepod species will develop a thriving population in reef aquariums. They are a small and very nutritious prey item with an adult size of ~ 900 microns that make great food for many corals and small fish. Copepods are also an excellent scavenger, feeding on phytoplankton and detritus of any kind.
- San Francisco Bay Brand Brine Shrimp Breeding (Hatchery) Kits
Hatch your own brine shrimp for feeding your fish. Simple and easy to use.
- DT’s Premium Reef Blend Phytoplankton
Containing live Nannochloropsis aculata, Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Chlorella (2-20 microns). The primary reason to use phytoplankton with stony corals is to increase the population of zooplankton for the corals and fish to prey on.
- American Marine Selcon Fish Food Booster Additives/Supplements
An aquarium food booster that features highly unsaturated OMEGA 3 fatty acids, marine lipids (200 mg/g), stabilized vitamin C (200 mg) and vitamin B12 cyanocobalamin (240 mcg). Soak any freeze-dried, frozen food or dried food to give it additional nutritional value or use directly in the tank to benefit filter-feeding invertebrates.
- Nutra-Kol NutraPlus
NutraPlus Reef is a microalgae, rotifers and copepods mix for carnivorous and herbivorous filter-feeding animals in marine aquariums.
- Nutramar Ogo Fish Food
Nutramar Ogo is a freeze dried gracilaria algae which, when soaked in aquarium water, re-hydrates to approximately 10 times its dry weight. After full re-hydration Ogo looks as it does in the wild and fish will accept it just as eagerly.
- Two Little Fishies Julian Sprung’s SeaVeggies Seaweed
Julian Sprung’s SeaVeggies is ideal for marine (Tangs, Surgeonfish, Moorish Idols, Parrotfish, Angelfish, large Butterflyfish) and freshwater (Cichlids and goldfish) herbivores. The seaweed is naturally shaped and vacuum-sealed in resealable packaging.
- San Francisco Bay Brand Freeze Dried Foods
An abundance of proteins and lipids makes these ideal food supplements for invertebrates and fish. Their heavy concentration of beta carotene brings out the color of your fish.
- Whole Freeze Dried Cyclop-eeze
Consists of the micro-crustacean Cyclop-eeze which are selectively cultured in a pristine arctic salina. Although freeze-drying is an expensive procedure it assures that important, labile, bio-molecules such as Astaxanthene and highly unsaturated fatty acids are not degraded.
- Rod’s Food
A “complete reef food” for saltwater aquariums. Rod’s is packed with the very best ingredients that will feed an entire reef! Rod’s has a complete line of foods for every animal in your aquarium if you need something species-specific.
- Piscine Energetics Mysis Shrimp
A nutritionally complete fish food harvested from the pristine glacial lakes of Canada. For over a decade PE MYSIS has been used by mariculture and ornamental aquaculture facilities, research institutions, and public aquariums around the globe, earning a reputation around the globe as “the curator’s choice.”
- Ocean Nutrition Formula Frozen Foods
From the original Formula One and Formula Two to the more specialized Angel Formula and everything in between, these formulated mixed foods form the foundation of the Ocean Nutrition business. Formula Foods are made from a sophisticated blend of the freshest seafood’s and algae from around the world with the intent of duplicating the specialized natural diets of marine tropical fishes.
- New Life Spectrum Fish Food
All-natural New Life Spectrum contains absolutely no hormones. New Life Spectrum noticeably increases both color and vigor in both marine and freshwater fish species.
- Ocean Nutrition Marine Pellets
Formula One and Two Marine Pellets contain fresh seafood, garlic (to aid in disease resistance), krill (for color enhancing) and HUFAs.
- Salifert Energy Plus Granular Food
Energy Plus does not pollute aquarium water and is an unsurpassed granular food for marine fish. Virtually all marine fish from 1 to 5 inches are attracted to it.
- Ocean Nutrition Dry Fish Food Formula Flakes
A great alternative to frozen food, Ocean Nutrition uses the same formulas and techniques to parallel twenty years experience in their frozen food program.
- OSI Fish Food Aquarium Flakes
O.S.I. Marine Flake Food is specially formulated to incorporate high levels of plant proteins and fat levels to provide a good source of highly unsaturated fatty acids. Natural color-enhancing pigments, Spirulina and all vitamins and minerals necessary to meet the special needs and requirements of marine fish are also included.
Coral Foods (great for corals… and fish, too!)
- Polyp Lab Reef-Roids
Although originally engineered for feeding the Goniopora genus, Reef-Roids has been very well-received in the hobby as an excellent food source for filter-feeding corals.
- Liquid Life BioPlankton (Phytoplankton), MarinePlankton, CoralPlankton
CoralPlankton targets carnivorous corals such as SPS that require small food particles.
- Nutramar Ova Fish Food
Ova makes soft corals, small and large polyp scleractinia (SPS and LPS) go wild, as feeding responses in most species can be seen almost instantly!
- Elos Liquid Aquarium Coral Food
As the aquariums we maintain begin to contain more and more diverse animal life, the need for more complete foods becomes necessary. ELOS’ Organic Additives Line addresses this evolution and provides a natural way to feed marine corals.
As you can see, there is a banquet of choices you can offer your aquatic friends. By varying their diet, you can closely match the selection available in the wild. This will keep your fish happy and healthy for years to come.
If you have any questions about feeding or have a system that works for you, let us know below!