Getting those new & sometimes fussy fish eating

Features, Fish | 8th March 2013 | Article by Albert Ulrich | View comments (2)

Have you ever picked out a great fish for your nano aquarium–only to find out that it simply refuses to eat anything you offer? No matter what tasty morsel you drift by them tantalizingly, they seem to turn their nose up in protest. As a conscientious aquarium hobbyist–what can you do?

In truth, there are probably as many methods as their are hobbyists, but here is the method I use to coax reluctant aquarium fish to eat–and then transition them to the food I want them to eat.

Feeding time on a reef in the Maldives. © Wikipedia

Feeding time on a reef in the Maldives. © Wikipedia

Step 1: Try another prepared food

They say variety is a spice of life. For me, it’s the first step I take to try and coax a reluctant fish to eat. If the fish refuses freeze-dried food, try frozen food. If they won’t eat a flake, I’ll try a pellet–and if they won’t eat a pellet I go to step 2.

Step 2: Go live

I head over to my local fish store and pick up some life fish food. My absolute favorite live food choice to coax reluctant aquarium fish to eat is the humble brine shrimp, Artemia salina. There is something about live brine shrimp that drives aquarium fish crazy. If you have kids, they may wonder why you’re feeding sea monkeys to your fish–but don’t worry, they won’t last long. With any luck, the clumsy brine shrimp will be gobbled up in no time.

If the brine shrimp don’t work, I will try any other live food I can get your hands on. What I look for is differences in size and shape–I might try larger foods like black worms or smaller foods like newly hatched brine shrimp, copepods or even tiny pieces of table shrimp or other seafood. Depending on the size of the fish, you may even consider trying guppies or another live feeder fish–whatever it takes to get the fish to eat.

The downside to the strategy–do whatever it takes to get the fish to eat–is that the reluctant eater may only eat inconvenient or nutritionally insufficient foods–which is why I try to move to step 3 as soon as feel like the fish will consistently eat something.

Step 3: Weaning

In one sense, there is usually a sense of pride that follows when I manage to coax a reluctant aquarium fish to eat. In another sense, the pride tends to wear off when I realize it is the fish which has trained me what to feed it, rather than the other way around. Step 3: Weaning is where I begin to transition back to a more sustainable situation.

Live brine shrimp are also my favorite food to wean reluctant fish away from. The process is fairly straightforward. Over a period of a couple of days, I introduce gradually increasing amounts of (thawed) frozen brine shrimp in at the same time I feed the live brine shrimp. Part of why I like brine shrimp is that the frozen brine shrimp are the right size and shape. In this way, I attempt to wean the fish from live food to frozen. Then, like the shampoo commercial says lather, rinse, repeat.

Once the fish has eaten frozen brine shrimp for a few days, I will generally mix in other foods to try to get them onto other more nutritious foods.

A few disclaimers worth mentioning.

The method noted above is intended to coax reluctant aquarium fish to eat. It isn’t a solution to a more serious underlying concern that may appear to you as a fish that isn’t eating. A fish may not be eating because it is stressed, being bullied, or even seriously ill. This method also won’t help if your fish has very specific nutritional requirements–like a parasite-eating cleaner wrasse or a sponge-eating angelfish. But for the lot of average aquarium fish (if there was such a thing as average)–it may be a place for you to start.

How about you, do you have any tips on how to coax a reluctant fish to eat? What do you do?

About the author:

Albert B. Ulrich III is a long-time aquarium hobbyist, fish geek and author of Saltwater Aquarium Blog. Albert has been published in Aquarium Fish International and Aquarium USA magazines.

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2 Responses on Getting those new & sometimes fussy fish eating

  1. Albert Thiel says:

    I have good success with getting small live clams, freezing them and then feeding slivers of the frozen clam meat to get them to eat. California Blackworms (Lumbriculus variegatus) seems to work well too but my experience is that only a few can be added at a time as they do not survive in saltwater for more than 15 or 20 seconds and when they stop wiggling the fish do not seem interested. Fozen mussel meat works too for me. And if you can get frozen cyclop-eeze that does it as well in may cases in my experience. FWIW

    • Al Ulrich says:

      Those are great suggestions. Where do you get the clams/mussels–grocery store or bait shop? Any secrets to creating tiny slivers? Would you ‘grate’ it while frozen?

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