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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 »

Overfeeding Your Aquarium – A Common Mistake and Its Consequences

fish foodsOverfeeding your aquarium is one of the most common mistakes made by aquarium hobbyists, and it isn’t one only made by beginners. It’s easy to go overboard when our fish “always seem hungry” and even appearing excited when they see you coming towards the tank with food in hand.  Healthy fish pretty much always look hungry. It also doesn’t help that we’re directed by packaging instructions to feed amounts that may be inappropriate for the type and number of fish we are keeping. We want the best for our fish and we want to be successful in keeping them, but it’s easy to cross the line from feeding enough to feeding way too much.

Problems Caused by Overfeeding

Leaving uneaten food in the aquarium is never a good idea. Watching food fall to the bottom of the tank, with the thought that your fish to eat later, can lead to big problems. Many fish are kind of programmed to eat food at certain places in the tank. Surface feeders, column feeders and bottom feeders tend to feed within their comfort zones, so you won’t typically see surface feeders travelling to the gravel for a snack, and fish that feed in the water column usually ignore food bits after they settle. No matter what kind of fish food you distribute, pellets, flakes, frozen foods or even live feeders, anything not eaten is left to decay. This unprocessed food, in addition to the waste produced by the food that is actually digested, can quickly create issues with your tank’s water chemistry and/or cause a bloom in the population of naturally occuring scavengers.

Uneaten foods quickly start to decay, adding to ammonia and nitrate levels of the aquarium, and it can very easily result in more bacteria than the nitrogen cycle can handle causing cloudy water. Overfeeding is not only dangerous to the health of your fish, but it causes unnecessary demands on your filtration, often resulting in poor water quality. Fortunately, the problems that arise from overfeeding are quickly and easily reversed or eliminated once you get your feeding habits under control.

Aquarists are also often shocked or full of disbelief when we tell them that the hordes of unsightly little “bugs” or worms creeping up the glass and through the rock and substrate are a probably a result of over-feeding their aquarium. What you see are probably either scavenger nematodes or planaria. Chances are there were a few of these critters in your tank from the start. They can be introduced via fish, plants, wood or other things you add to the aquarium as their microscopic eggs can travel on any of these things. They are generally harmess, but when you overfeed the opportunity arises for their populations to boom with the abundance of decaying matter in the substrate. Reducing the frequency and amount of food will help to bring the population back down to size, but you may also choose to treat the tank with anti-parasitic medications to speed the process along. 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 »

Vacation Aquarium Food

Worried about what to do with your aquarium when you go on vacation? Who will feed the fish? No need to worry, there are several products that are easy to use, that will feed your aquarium for you while you are away.

There are several options for feeding your aquarium while you are away from home. The first, and easiest, option is to use a vacation feeder block. Vacation feeder blocks, like the Pyramid Feeder from Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, are a community fish food that is imbedded into a slowly dissolving binder that slowly releases food for your fish. These work great for small fish, and community fish, and are safe to use on most aquariums. These types of feeders are typically made with plaster and should not be used repeatedly without performing water changes in between usage; repeated use will affect your aquariums pH.

A new type of dissolving feeder is also available from Tetra. The TetraVacation Feeders use a Gel binder to hold the food which will not affect pH in repeated use, and are considered safer to use than the older plaster type feeders.

If you have finicky eaters, or you travel often, an Automatic electronic fish feeder is a better option for you. Electric feeders give you the ability to use your fish’s favorite pellet or flake food, so that you know your fish is getting food they will eat. Feeders like the Current AquaChef, are programmable and adjustable, so that you can feed as often as you like, and also control how much food is fed at each meal. Automatic feeders like the Rondomatic from Grasslin have individual compartments for each meal, so you can feed different foods at different times. Automatic feeders are great to use year round. Most feeders are battery operated.

Whichever vacation feeder you choose to use it is a very good idea to do a test feeding before you go on vacation. This way you can fine tune your electronic feeder so that you have the feeding volume correct. If you are using one of the dissolving feeders you can make sure that it is acting properly with your water chemistry, and that your fish are eating the type of food in the feeder. Testing the products first will make sure that you do not over or underfeed your fish.

hope that gives you one less thing to worry about when you are on vacation, until next blog.