Beginner's Guide: How to Feed Your Favorite Reef Fish by Keith MacNeil, MarineDepot.com Reef Squad
Shopping for fish food can feel overwhelming.
There are literally hundreds of different types of aquarium fish food available, from frozen and refrigerated varieties to liquids and dry formulas. Throw food additives and supplements into the mix and the meal combinations are near limitless.
To simplify all these options, you first need to find out what type(s) of food your fish normally eat. Are they vegans grazing on algae and seaweed? Are they predators porking out on protein?
Once you know what your fish eat on the reef, you'll be ready to put your tank grocery list together.
The Internet is one of the best places to learn about the dietary needs of fish. Because we want our fish to thrive, not just survive, it's important to do a little homework. The Species Database on the MarineDepot.com website is a great place to start. We compiled the most common reef aquarium species for you in an easy to reference format that includes details about fish diets, behavior and more.
For in depth information, we recommend FishBase. The breadth of information there is astounding—it's a website you'll definitely want to bookmark. Search for any fish you can think of (freshwater, saltwater or brackish) and you'll be rewarded with informative results on diet, biology and reproduction.
Remember books? Our favorite paper guide to fish feeding is Scott W. Michael's PocketExpert Guide: Marine Fishes. It features 500 "need to know" species you'll commonly see online and in local fish stores. Quickly identify fish you're interested in keeping using the full-color photographs and reference dietary needs on the spot.
For a general overview, we've listed 11 of the most popular reef fish below and noted which type(s) of eater they are: planktivore, herbivore, omnivore and/or carnivore.
- Angelfish, Large: Omnivore and planktivore (primarily Genicanthus angels)
- Angelfish, Dwarf: Omnivore
- Anthias: Planktivore
- Blennies: Herbivore and omnivore
- Butterflyfish (reef safe): Planktivore and carnivore
- Clownfish/Damsels: Omnivore
- Gobies/Dottybacks: Omnivore and carnivore
- Rabbitfish: Herbivore
- Tangs: Herbivore
- Triggerfish (reef safe): Carnivore
- Wrasses (reef safe): Carnivore
If your aquarium is anything like ours, you probably keep a mix of omnivores, carnivores, herbivores and planktivores. Improper or unbalanced diets lead to nutritional deficiencies that cause health problems and even death. We must therefore emphasize the importance of feeding a variety of foods to ensure that all your livestock eats well-rounded meals.
Let's take quick look at the most common types of fish food you'll see available for sale online and in your local fish store. We'll even share some of our favorites with you!
Frozen and refrigerated foods are usually "meaty" with ingredients like brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, phytoplankton, krill and pacifica plankton. These meatier foods are ideal for carnivores, omnivore and planktivores. There are frozen algae foods, too, but they are less common. Some frozen and refrigerated foods are species-specific, like Angel Formula from Ocean Nutrition. Picky eaters sometimes reject flakes and pellets but frozen foods are generally acceptable.
We do not put frozen foods directly into our aquariums. Frozen foods are sometimes packed in juices containing nitrate and/or phosphate—which fuels algae growth in the aquarium. We thaw and rinse frozen food first using a fine mesh net (or brine shrimp net).
Some of our favorite frozen foods are:
- Rod's Food: A hearty mix of ingredients that satisfies most types of fish.
- Mysis Shrimp: Perfect for carnivores, omnivores and even some planktivores.
- Nutramar Ova: Prawn eggs are great for fish and corals alike.
Flake and pellet foods are the easiest type of food to feed fish. They don't require any preparation, like thawing or rinsing. They can also be dispensed by automated feeders, which are quite handy if you work or travel a lot. Dry foods are also extremely affordable.
Many fish chow down on dry food immediately. Others may take some time to develop a taste for it. If your fish aren't digging dry food, try feeding dry and frozen varieties together at the same time. Just mix the two together in a small dish or container before feeding. This trick helps to train picky eaters to accept dry food.
Tip: Buy different varieties of food (Formula 1, Formula 2, Spirulina, Brine Shrimp Plus and pellets, for example). Take about one teaspoon of each type of food and mix them together inside a container with a lid (an empty fish food container will work). You've just created a well-balanced meal! Place all your dry fish food containers in your refrigerator to preserve the nutritional value. When your food cocktail is gone, it's time to make another batch.
Algae and seaweed is offered in a dry food form called sheets. These foods sheets feel similar to sheets of paper—thin, flexible and easy to tear. Herbivores, like tangs and rabbitfish, love these vitamin-enriched sheets but sometimes angels and other fish will eat them, too! Watch the video embedded below to see tangs and angelfish dining on seaweed sheets.
A couple of our favorite dry food brands are:
- Ocean Nutrition: A well-balanced variety of flakes and pellets available in different formulas.
- New Life International Spectrum: Nutrient-rich foods that have helped hobbyists care for more difficult species, like Moorish Idols.
Fish food additives and supplements fill in the nutritional gaps that some foods leave behind. They are also used to enrich foods, like brine shrimp, to make them healthier. Soaking food in garlic, for instance, helps fish build up their immunity to diseases like ich.
Squirt tubes are handy for target feeding and controlling how much food you put into your aquarium. If you pre-mix your own food cocktail like we do, a squirt tube is essential. Prongs and tongs are useful for hand feeding predators like lionfish and groupers.
Clips are among the most popular fish feeding tools for marine tanks. Clips hold algae and seaweed sheets in place so your fish can graze upon it. Most attach to aquarium glass via suction cup but a few, like Two Little Fishies Veggie-Mag, use a sturdy magnet. Watch the video below for a demonstration!
Feeding your fish is one of the best ways to interact with your wet pets. Just be sure you address their dietary needs and feed a nutritious mix of flavors. This will help keep your fish happy and healthy! If you have questions, please contact us or post in our message board. We have also included hyperlinks below if you would like to continue reading about feeding.