Most of us are familiar with recommendations like “feed your fish only a couple times per week to minimize organic waste in a reef tank”. These recommendations also stem from the fact that most beginning hobbyists simply overfeed so we combat it by giving them a more restrictive feeding schedule. However, many of us are also familiar with the notion that feeding small amounts more frequently is better than large, once a day meals. With such a wide range in recommendations, what’s really the right thing to do? In the last month since my first son was born I’ve learned the hard way what really matters when it comes to fish and feedings. Allow me to elaborate.
Before my son was born, my feeding regime was feeding a mixture of frozen foods a couple times per day. The frozen foods were soaked with Super Selcon for further enrichment. I supplemented these feedings with typically two feedings of various pellet foods. Then our son was born 5 weeks early. I spent a week in the hospital with my wife and son, maybe getting back once a day to throw in a round of pellets and a round of frozen food. This in itself isn’t all that bad, because anytime we take a vacation, this is the best the fish can typically hope for. However, when our son came home, it progressed to the point where I was feeding pellet foods often only once per day, rarely twice, sometimes I missed a day, and frozen food became an infrequent treat.
The changes in my aquarium fish have been dramatic, and it’s only be six weeks. The clownfish nests have gotten smaller and their quality has greatly suffered. Now, there is a significant portion of infertile eggs. I’ve yet to try rearing anything (because I also flat out ignored my rotifer cultures in this chaos), but I bet the larva are of lower quality. The worst thing that happened, and hardest lump to take in this experience, is the recent loss my female spawning Black Ocellaris. She had a belly full of eggs, ovipositor extended, yet failed to spawn (in other words, egg bound). Her nests had suffered greatly in quality, and ultimately, egg binding, which I likely attribute to a less than ideal diet, did her in.
Aggression in my fish has increased dramatically. My formerly agreeable pair of Starki Damselfish, Chrysiptera starki, has been reduced to a single. I found the female simply ravaged, not a fin left, still alive, trying to escape the male. There’s no doubt in my mind that a hungry, dominant male would lose his tolerance of the smaller female and attempt to drive her from his food-producing territory. So too, the male Mandarin in this tank turned aggressive towards the female…I found her in random “inaccessible spots” a couple times, each time she looking thinner, and now, I simply cannot find her anymore. My other pair of Mandarins, which has always fed better on pellets, hasn’t had the same violent shift in mood…they continue get along.
Then, there are the losses that are truly starvation. I maintain a few Cleaner Wrasses and they normally do well. While the larger ones are able to nibble on the smaller pellet foods, it is clearly not enough even once they’re trained to eat it. This was actually one of my first starvation losses..it happened weeks ago. My daily trips home from the hospital, I watched my smallest Cleaner Wrasse get more and more skinny, and then one day, there just wasn’t a wrasse around.
But starvation issues reached beyond the Clearer Wrasses. One Harlequin Filefish certainly starved to death, unable to keep on weight on what amounted to a typically once a day feeding regime. I fully admit I wasn’t paying sufficient attention…my days have been run by the tank, drop food in, and move on. By the time I noticed it, he was too far gone. I could attribute this to some disease or fluke occurrence, but on closer inspection, even my spawning female is now emaciated, and the formerly amicable male was chasing her constantly (again, losing mate tolerance when hungry).
Thankfully, there is a fix for all of these problems, and it is to make the necessary time in my day to do the frequent feedings that keep my fish in tip top shape. I need to return to feeding the richer, more varied diet as well. It will take time, but realizing that this is my fault gives me the opportunity to make the fixes.
It is clear that when given feedings somewhat more in line with general entry-level suggestion (aka. sparse and infrequent), the most sensitive fish, those “expert only” species, took the biggest hit, while even the more robust species we often don’t think about truly showed negative effects from the reduction and change in feeding.
If there was any doubt in my mind, it’s gone. Whether trying to breed fish, or just keeping a reef tank with robust, healthy fish, the technique is clear. With the exception of fish that clearly feed infrequently (generally large carnivores), several frequent smaller feedings per day are 100% the best way to go for almost all of the marine fish we routinely keep in our tanks, as it mimics the natural constant small grazing that these fish are accustomed to in the wild. Do not underestimate the impact that this positive practice has on your fish – it is beyond “crystal” just how important it is to provide several small and frequent feedings per day. Just because a fish can survive on one or two feedings per day, does not mean it is thriving. The lesson is clear, I knew it but I still had to learn it the hard way, so now I’m sharing it here so you don’t have to.
And for those of you who are worried about the Lightning Maroon, rest assured he/she/it is doing just fine…it’s a non-breeding clown so it’s not expending energy and is doing OK on the pellet foods. Still…it’d do BETTER with a higher level of care, no doubt!