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Thread: Food Presentation

  1. #1
    Brittle Starfish

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    May 2006
    So CA
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    Food Presentation

    As if there isn’t enough for the marine aquarist to be reasonably accomplished with, I go and add another post “Presentation.” Marine aquarists have to be a little bit of a plumber, little bit of electrician, little bit of biologist, little bit of microbiologist, little bit of zoologist, little bit of ichthyologist, little bit of chemist, little bit of physicist, and a little bit of a carpenter. (It’s okay to hum the list along to the tune for Lou Bega’s Mambo #5 A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side. . .).

    I’m not referring to putting on a show (remember? the 60's, 70's sitcoms to raise money?) or acting. What I’m referring to is presenting food to the fish. Presentation is important to get the fish trained to eating prepared foods and to get the fish to eat foods that are nutritionally sound.

    Marine fish have 7 senses, unlike humans who have 5. The two extra are vibration and chemical (over simplified, I know). For food to attract the attention of a wild caught marine fish, the aquarist should know its natural food and translate what its natural food does (with regards to those senses) to stimulate the fish to find it and eat it.

    A rough sketch of what the food is expected to do would look something like this:


    1. The food reflects a recognized wave length of light giving the food a color;
    2. The food has a certain shape to it;
    3. The food has a certain movement to it; and/or
    4. The food is found in a certain location.

    Smell and Chemical

    1. The food gives off a â€̃smell’ which is carried by the water;
    2. The food makes an altered chemical area; and/or
    2. The food juice is sensed.

    Touch and Vibration

    1. The food has a familiar texture;
    2. The food has a particular size; and/or
    2. The food is sending vibrational signals (e.g. wounded or dying prey).

    Sound and Taste

    1. The food is sending out a familiar sound; and/or
    2. The food provides an oral stimulus familiar to the fish.

    I think everyone can see what primary sense is at work when the fish wants food. It is sight. The closer the aquarist can mimic first feedings to what the wild caught fish is used to seeing, the more likely the fish will be trained to accept non-natural (e.g., prepared) foods. Of the other senses, the next most important is Touch – more specifically the size of the food, followed by Taste. Chemical stimulation may still play a role, but if the correct foods are chosen, the Chemical aspect should follow without the aquarist having to make special effort to control this.

    Common marine fishes can usually bypass the other senses if the above are adequately met.

    How is this information useful? That’s the point I’m getting to. First, let’s take a look at the list of important features the food needs to present:

    Food Feature List

    a. Movement
    b. Location
    c. Size
    d. Taste
    e. Color/Shape

    The fish should be in quarantine for proper food training. I hope to remind the reader that the quarantine process of newly acquired fishes is a must, not only for the health of established display fishes, but for this very important acclimation part of the fish’s captive life - training to eat. I implore all readers to read at least the introduction to this post: A Quarantine Procedure. There is no excuse for not quarantining every marine fish. There is no fish that cannot and should not be quarantined. If you can’t think of how to do it, then post your question here on the Forum and those who have done it, will tell you how to do it!

    Alright. Now we have a shortened, ‘most important’ list. Let’s expand upon the key words to something more practical and meaningful to the marine aquarist. Another list!

    A Practical Food Feature List
    A. Movement includes the food that swims, food that drops from the top to the bottom, and food that is carried around by the (gentle) current. Most predators and carnivores expect their food to move. For larger fish, this could mean using tongs, string, or even a stronger current to put some 'life' into dead foods.
    B. Location means where the food is usually found. At the start this is where the wild caught fish expects to find the food. This include areas like: the substrate (benthic foods); on rock; on corals; floating; suspended; etc. HOWEVER, it is important to some fish that they find their food in the same place. This leads to some aquarists using the same feeding area of the aquarium over and over again. Fish become accustomed to coming to same location for their food, after they have been trained.
    C. Size is very important. The food has to be taken up by the fish. Some fish like to tear and shear the large chunks, others expect the whole piece of food to fit neatly in their mouth, and still other fishes expect the food to be significantly smaller than their mouth.
    D. Taste will play an important role for the fish trying to find its usual nutrients in the food. This is where the aquarist doesn’t want to provide foods that are from the land or freshwater sources. Use foods from the sea that the fish would usually ‘taste.’
    E. The color and shape of the food can be important to some fish species. If you have one such fish then you want to approximate both of these features.

    In essence, first the aquarist has to read texts, and find out from experienced marine aquarists just what foods the fish eats in the wild and then apply the above, final list, to what to tempt the fish to eat.

    If you want the short cut, just decide if your fish is a herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore and follow these guidelines: Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition

    No matter what fish the aquarist approaches to get to eat for the first time, the stressors for why the fish would not eat must be removed or reduced to acceptable levels for the fish. Each fish species and each fish within the species can accept certain stressors at certain levels. That is why for instance one Raccoon Butterflyfish will starve in the same aquarium that another readily adapts to and begins to eat right from the time the fish is introduced. Water parameters and water quality must be at its peak. There must be zero traces of ammonia and nitrite in the water. The biological filter must be able to cope with the fish’s wastes and the foods introduced and the Secret Cycle must be established too. (See: The Secret Cycle). Water stability and suitability will go a long way to remove environmental stressors from the fish, which are quite often the cause of a fish’s refusal to eat.

    Side Bar Comments
    Brine Shrimp - Not nutritional enough to sustain fish life, but a fine starter food for fishes that will eat pods, which are many, many of the marine fishes. Use Brine Shrimp to start a fish eating, but not to sustain a fish.
    Frozen Foods - The down side is how the food was frozen. If the food was 'exploded' or cell structure ruptured, then thawing it and washing it (a procedure I recommend) removes many of the vital nutrients. Take a look at the frozen foods you choose and choose those with the least juices and those that look whole.
    The Aquarist - Big Ugly Thing - The wild caught fish has to learn two sets of stimuli: The location and appearance of food as it relates to the presence of the aquarist. These are two major steps for the fish. It eventually becomes ‘conditioned’ that food becomes available when this huge creature is around and puts something into the QT. So the fish must pick up on this AND accept the food offered. A hard leap for some wild caught fishes, and easy for others. These two steps are best separated so that is why such an effort is being made to make the food as natural as can be to the fish's senses. Thus, the first leap is dealing with the aquarist. For the connection of human to feeding/food to be effective, the QT needs to be in an area of little human traffic but where the feeding aquarist visits often, without making fast, sudden, or threatening moves and motions.

    Let’s make a practical application for what has been discussed so far.

    Mandarin Food Training

    I want to keep a Mandarin in my 65 gallon display tank. I can’t keep enough live rock and pods in enough quantity AND in enough diversity to maintain the life of a Mandarin. So, I know I have to supplement their food with prepared foods. I have to train the Mandarin, in quarantine, how to eat other foods.

    What do I know about the natural foods the Mandarin eats and how do those foods fit into my final, practical list? Their natural foods includes pods.
    A. The Mandarin expects some minor movement. It’s natural food scoot a bit, but aren’t particularly fast nor expert at out maneuvering the Mandarin’s hunting ability.
    B. The Mandarin hunts the substrate and live rock for its food. Its food is usually benthic in nature (look it up if you don’t know what that means!).
    C. The size is very important to the Mandarin. Notice the size and shape of its mouth. The food must be small in size.
    D. Something fatty and high in protein, containing some bacteria and algae which the pods has eaten, is probably what the Mandarin expects its food to ‘taste’ like.
    E. Although there may be some color stimulus, it is likely not important to the Mandarin. Shape on the other hand should begin with something that is pod-like or resembles a pod in shape. Pod shape? Like a 'comma.'

    A food which meets many of the above criteria is live Brine Shrimp. Delivery will be important. The food must be applied to the bottom of the quarantine tank (QT). So using a baster or spot feeding device, live Brine Shrimp need to put into a bottom corner or bottom area of the QT. BUT, this live food moves pretty fast compared to pods. What to do? Simply apply too many Brine Shrimp (BS) to the area. Do not move the feeding area; keep trying to feed live BS. If the size is not attractive, feed newly hatched BS.

    The Mandarin has to learn two sets of stimuli: The location and appearance of food as it relates to the presence of the aquarist. (See above).

    Frequent feedings may be needed, by the same aquarist, during this adjustment. When that food isn’t just eaten, but taken up readily, go on to the next short step. Note that ‘taken up readily’ is different from just ‘eating’ and I use it specifically to flag another accomplished goal.

    Feed live brine that is gut loaded. Put extra fats into the Brine Shrimp. Put extra greens (Spirulina) into the live Brine Shrimp. Then when these are being readily accepted, move on to the next large step – frozen gut loaded Brine Shrimp. Vary the product -- use different manufacturer's and different loadings. You don't want the fish addicted to one brand or type.

    Put the gut loaded BS into the exact same area in approximately the same concentration as the live BS. Hopefully there will be some current there to cause some movement of the food (if not, arrange it at the start when you fed live BS). This is a very large leap for the fish. If it doesn’t go for it, you’ll need to mix live with frozen BS, slowly reducing the number of live BS.

    The training would stop with frozen BS if that food were nutritionally sound for the Mandarin. But gut loaded BS is not enough to keep marine fish healthy and alive. After the frozen gut loaded BS is readily accepted, now comes the feeding of very small sized bits of prepared foods. Start with a pod preparation (marine plankton, or marine krill) that is sized properly or which the aquarist must manually size properly from the suppliers packaged foods). Offer the food in the exact same feeding area with some water movement as has been used to this point.

    At this point in time the fish should be used to the location and foods AND the aquarist. Experiment with whole carnivore foods finely chopped to the right size – use gut loaded BS in part of its diet, but not a sole food source. Start supplementing the food with fats and vitamins. Follow the recommendations here: Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition

    The Mandarin is a challenging fish. What about an Angelfish that eats sponges or corals? Present the first foods pushed into fake sponges and corals. The foods have to have a coral polyp or sponge texture to it? What can you imagine to use from the sea? Some prepared foods with sponge in them? Good.

    Many marine fishes, even herbivores won’t pass up an opened live clam. Obtain a very small live clam from your fish or grocery store. Wash it off with RO/DI or distilled water. Open it up (manually -- don't use heat). Wash the insides with freshly made salt water, but don’t remove the meat from the opened clam. Freeze the opened clam hard (in the opened position) for at least 24 hours. Thaw it out and place it in the QT (same area that will be the feeding area/zone). If the fish eats it and cleans out the clam, retrieve the shell and place another clam in a day later. When the fish is readily eating this, try pushing frozen minced clam into one of the cleaned shells. Then move on to dropping minced clam into the QT, same zone, with a little water current. Then move on to dropping prepared foods claiming to contain clam, into the QT. Finally, feed different prepared foods for the type of fish you're feeding.

    Many marine fishes like scallop even more than clam. Scallop meat offers not only proteins but carbohydrates, too. Not too many sea foods contain carbohydrates. Feed chopped scallop in the size the fish will eat. Then, mix scallop with other foods and slowly remove the scallop.

    Now you’re thinking on how to train the fish you want to keep and keep healthy! With some fishes, these steps are easy or even skipped. Such fishes are just ‘easy fishes’ to acclimate to prepared and alternate foods. With other fishes, they may be a challenge. But most challenges can be overcome, depending upon how much time and effort the aquarist is willing to invest in keeping such marine fishes. I used a Mandarin training example as an example of a challenging fish. Many ‘hardy fishes’ will eat prepared foods almost from the start. The method outlined above is a fall-back process for training the challenging fish, almost any challenging fish, to finally get to eat prepared foods that are nutritionally proper for their long and healthy life.

    Last edited by leebca; 03-04-2009 at 03:05 PM.

  2. #2
    Fish out of water
    ReefferMan's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    spokane wa
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    Lee, i want to make a mix up for my tangs and angel. I was thinking Prawns, shrimp and clams? throw them into the blender? freeze for a few weeks to kill any bad stuff, then serve.

    My question is there anyother things i could add to the mix?

    thanks in advance.

  3. #3
    Brittle Starfish

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    May 2006
    So CA
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    Where are the veggies?

    You want to get into this post in a deep way: Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition. Then check out this thread for some info: Home Made Fish Foods.

    The Tang is a herbivore and the Angel is an omnivore, so there must be a significant amount of sea veggies in your mix.

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