It’s a tough call on whether feeders should be fed to larger fish, but here are some tips to using feeder fish in the safest way possible.
Some aquarists think watching a predatory fish hunt down and devour its prey to be entertainment. Others think it is barbaric. Many hobbyists think that it is just the circle of life, and are indifferent to the practice of feeding live fish to larger aquarium inhabitants.
The facts are that some fish need to eat smaller fish to survive. Some of these fish can be weened off of live prey, yet others will refuse to eat anything but feeders.The nutritional value of feeder fish is debatable, and feeder fish can be rife with, and spread, disease. What is an aquarist to do? The problems associated with feeding feeder fish to other fish can be mitigated so that the risk of disease and malnutrition is kept to a minimum.
Do Feeder Fish Spread Disease?
You bet they do. Stores that sell live fish have overcrowded aquariums to begin with, but nowhere is overcrowding more pronounced than in a feeder tank. Overcrowding means that a communicable disease has the potential to become an epidemic. If one fish looks sick, it has probably already spread the disease to ten others in a feeder tank.
Yet, this is true for any fish aquarium in a store. Any experienced hobbyist knows not to buy a fish from a tank if the other fish look sick. The same holds true for feeders. The trick is to buy healthy feeders instead of sick ones.
How to Choose Healthy Feeders
If the feeders are swimming funny, have fungus, ick, or there are a few floating around dead, don’t buy them. This can be easier said than done, as many stores house their feeder in metal vats, instead of glass aquariums. These vats make it hard to see if the fish are healthy.
The first answer is obvious – buy feeders from stores where you can actually see the feeders. If this is not possible, the employee must scoop the feeders up into a container, and put them in a clear plastic bag. Observe the feeders before you make the final purchase. Just like buying fish at the supermarket, if they don’t look good, send them back!
A good aquatic retailer will take the same precautions to ensure their feeders are healthy as they will with other fish. Feeder fish sales make up a significant portion of any store’s profits. The feeders may be cheap, but generate a good deal of income. If people reject a retailer’s feeder fish stock, the retailer will be forced to change their habits; they will begin to medicate and feed their feeders, which brings us to the next section.
Feed the Feeders – Do Feeder Fish Provide Inadequate Nutrition?
As just discussed, the retailer really makes the difference when it comes to healthy feeders. Unfortunately, it is a common practice amongst irreputable retailers to not feed their feeder fish. Proper nutrition is always the first defense against illness. It is easy to tell if feeders aren’t being fed – they will be skinny, jittery, and have sunken, cloudy eyes.
You are what you eat, and this holds true with aquarium fish. Carnivorous predators obtain their vegetable matter from the nutrients within the animals they eat. If a feeder fish has nothing in its belly, then of course the fish that eats it will not get the proper nutrition it needs. So, other than hoping a retailer feeds their feeders a proper diet, what can you do?
Quarantine Your Feeders
If you can’t find a reliable supply of feeder fish, set up a tank and quarantine your feeders before feeding them to your fish. Feed the feeders until they are nice and fat. The best thing to feed them is spirulina flakes, as this will pump up the feeders with essential vegetable matter thus providing the fish that eats them with optimal nutrients. Spirulina flakes can be hard to find, so any high quality goldfish flake will work as well.
Ween Your Fish Off of Feeders
Many aquarium fish will accept other food besides feeders. Pellets, frozen food, and diets that mimic the smell of live food (Hikari’s Massivore Diet) are all good choices. It is wise to not get your fish in the habit of eating feeders everyday in the first place. If you buy a fish that eats prepared and live foods, only feed them live occasionally (once a week or less). It will save you time and money.
If you have difficult fish that refuse anything but live, start feeding them with aquarium tongs. The steps to weening fish off of feeders by using tongs are:
- Grab the feeder with the tongs and place it in the water. Eventually, your fish swim up to the tongs and eat the feeder.
- Next, wiggle a dead feeder in front of the fish.
- Finally, try feeding the fish a prepared food off of the tongs – it will be so used to eating from the tongs it will stop paying attention to what it is actually being fed.