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Live Feeders: Gut Loading for Aquarium Predators

Live foods are popular for larger predatory fish and even some inverts, and some new or finicky animals may not eat anything else. Unfortunately, they aren’t always the most nutritious in an aquarium setting. It is much easier to get a larger variety out of frozen or prepared foods or enhance them with additives, so how can you make the most out of live foods if it is your only option?


Picky fish like seahorses can be tricky to feed

You are what you eat”…and so are your fish

The problem with feeding most live foods is a lack of variety or nutritional content. Common live feeders like ghost shrimp or guppies just don’t have a lot to them and feeders aren’t usually raised or bred with as much care as animals intended to be ornamental. Much of the most nutritious foods in nature are also some of the smallest – microfauna like copepods and the bright red Cyclops, for example – but these critters are far too small for something like the finicky frogfish or lionfish or sharks that may need live foods and they just aren’t practical to raise.

So, instead of feeding that tiny food to the bigger predators, feed it to the food! This method is known as “gut loading” and is commonly used when feeding crickets to reptiles or amphibians but has a lot of practical use for aquarium hobbyists as well. The principle of gut loading is to feed nutritious food to the live feeder, then feeding that live feeder to its predator while the nutrients are in its system. This is making a process known as bioaccumulation work for us instead of against us like we see in effects like the ciguatera poisoning we discussed in the past.

For example, many planktonic foods are very nutritious but too small for a fish like a frogfish. Frogfish will often hunt down and eat ghost shrimp which are very common (but not especially nutritious) feeder shrimp. So, if we feed the plankton to the ghost shrimp, then feed the ghost shrimp to the frogfish, the frogfish eats the plankton.

Gut Loading:  How to pack it in


Specimen containers make ideal holding areas for gut loading

With a name like “gut loading”, images of stuffing a guppy like a Thanksgiving Day turkey may come to mind but in reality, its much easier. Just feed the live feeder before it becomes food. For smaller feeders like guppies, ghost shrimp, or even crickets or mealworms, it is usually easiest to put the feeder in a smaller separate container from wherever it is being housed. In our store, we will put ghost shrimp in one of the small specimen containers we use in catching your fish. This keeps the system where the rest of the feeders are being kept cleaner and concentrates the nutritious foods you are using for the gut loading to where the feeders are sure to find it. Then, let the feeders feed. For transparent feeders like ghost shrimp, it is easy to see when their guts are full of the food you are using. For others, monitor how much they are eating. Usually anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes is plenty of time; after all, we don’t need the feeder to digest the food, just get it into their guts. Once they’ve eaten their fill, off to become a meal they go!


Cyclops are tiny, nutritious crustaceans perfect for gut loading

Depending on the predator you are trying to feed in the end, you can gut load with zooplankton like Cyclop-eeze, phytoplankton like Spirulina, nutritional supplements like garlic or vitamins or even some medications (best with the fish only and not inverts). The foods you are using for the gut loading can be fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, flakes or in a liquid suspension. Experiment and see what works best for your predators or give them a nutritious snack as a treat!

Introducing High Quality New Era Fish Foods at That Fish Place

New EraFor as long as this blogger can remember, when it comes to feeding your fish there have only been a few options available to the concerned aquarist. You can try to find those rare-gem high-nutrition flake foods that won’t quickly pollute your tank if add too many. You can spend top dollar for a hard pellet that your fish have to bite and spit out several times only to let it fall to the gravel to be ignored. You may even have frozen cubes of fish food sitting in the door of your freezer right next to the ice cubes and Creamsicles, much to the abhorrence of your significant other.

Fortunately for us fish geeks, a New Era (pun intended) of fish food has dawned upon us. UK based company, New Era, has produced a game changing array of innovative foods. They uniquely manufacture their foods with a slow, low-temperature, and low-pressure process that maintains the nutritional content of the formula, unlike foods that are quickly baked at high temps have many of their natural vitamins and minerals cooked away. New Era’s processing method also leaves a soft, highly chompable pellet that your fish will be able to eat in the first bite. These pellets are soft enough that you can and roll them into a ball in your finger tips or break pieces off for smaller fish.  But don’t let this texture fool you; they won’t melt and or dissolve away instantly in your fish tank. Between the quality of the ingredients, and unique palatability of the food, your fish get more nutrition with less waste, ultimately leading to a cleaner aquarium. Read More »

Enticing Finicky Aquarium Fish to Eat

Aquarium fish need three basic things to keep them happy and healthy in a captive environment: clean water, consistent temperature, and proper food. The first two things are generally easy to provide with regular maintenance and reliable equipment, but it seems something as simple as feeding some fish can be rather difficult at times. What to feed, how to feed, and how much or often to feed can vary by species. Even if you know the answers to these questions, there are some species of fish out there that will not eat the food you offer. After years of working directly with this issue, I have come up with a few tricks to get stubborn fish to eat. Read More »

Are you feeding Pure Flake? – Pure Aquatic Flake Food Debuts at That Fish Place

Pure Aquatic Cichlid FlakeThat Fish Place is. We are proud to introduce a new line of flake foods from Pure Aquatic.  In the rapidly growing product line from Pure Aquatic, the flake foods are the latest offering to hit the shelves here at That Fish Place.  They have a flake formulas suitable for almost any aquarium application.  All Pure Aquatic foods are made in the United States, and packaged fresh, for maximum quality.  Pure Aquatic Flake foods are Marine Biologist tested and approved, and are made with high quality ingredients and are fortified with vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Read More »

Product Spotlights – New “IQF” and Gel Foods

Experienced aquarists know that the vitality and vibrance of aquarium fish hinges not only on a clean environment but on the quality of the diet you provide for your fish. Flake and pellet foods have been long time aquarium dietary staples and frozen foods are popular for their nutritional value and variety, but a couple new kinds on the feeding block are gaining in popularity – gel foods and frozen “IQF” foods. Read More »