You pull up to your driveway after a long day at work. The boss is riding you and sally from sales, just will not stop humming in the office next to you. You walk into your home to find a home cooked meal on the table, that was cooked with love. How does that change your day? Now imagine you are a yellow tang. You have been swimming all day, the coral beauty has been looking at you sideways whenever you round the corner of T 9 he rock housing the bubble tip anenome. Suddenly, fresh delicious morsels of brine shrimp, squid, and a roll of seaweed appear in your surroundings. I'm not a fish, and feel uncomfortable anthropomorphisizing these creatures, but surely they appreciate this level of care from their keepers, and hopefully feel the love!
Your aquarium species, like us enjoy a meal made with love. It is possible to create cheap, organic foods, nutritious food that your marine family will love. Before we get into the how, I find that understanding the various diets that fish, corals, and other invertebrates enjoy, will secure a long, stress free, balanced environment for your creatures of the sea and yourself! There are so many types of fish, corals, invertebrates, and microorganisms that all have differing nutritional requirements. It is enough to make your headspin. It is not realistic to break all of these down in this one blog posting. But fear not, I will supply the basic foundation that your fish and corals will appreciate. I will also provide you with a technique which will allow you to save money, support your local economy, and add love to the menu.
Let us start with fish. There are two main groupings of fish. Carnivores the meat eaters, and herbivores the vegetarians. Despite these two groupings, most if not all fish will eat both meat and plants, it is just that some are healthier when the proper items are selected and fed to them.
The carnivores, well, they eat meat. There are many forms of this so called meat. Look on any seafood buffet and you will see what these fish love. I find my wrasses and Dwarf angelfish love cut up squid, shrimp, fish, even crab. The Mandarin Goby, a beautiful fish, is considered difficult because of the specific food source it requires. They enjoy small crustaceans called copepods and will spend their whole life eating one a second. If these pods are not cultivated or replaced, this beautiful fish will starve. The key to feeding meat eating fish, is to ensure a variety of foods, cut to the right size, given at the correct frequency throughout the week. Sometimes these fish will find this meat themselves when you're not looking. I have seen dozens of crab and shrimp parts littered throughout my tank. Sigh if they only werent 30 dollars each. Nevertheless, by providing fresh seafood to your fish, they will grow strong, beautifully looked, with a minimum of disease.
The herbivores, or plant eaters, eat all types of vegetation. In nature you will find the various tang species grazing on the various grasses and algaes that grow on rocks and sand. The curious creature know as a lawnmower blenny, will hop from rock to rock and eat this delicious hair algae. They really do seem to act as a lawnmower. In the aquarium setting, the most common plant source is algae. More specifically hair algae. Whether you have hair algae or not is ok. We will discuss hair algae with in a future posting. For now just know that your plant loving fish friends will enjoy a folded and rolled up piece of nori. Yep the same algae that your delicious sushi is rolled up with.
Let us move on to corals. This is where things can become complicated. For now I will break this down into two categories for simplicity. In the future, I will write up informational posts that are species specific. We can delve into the world of corals and specific diets at that time. For now we can focus on the filter feeders and the meat eaters! Corals are animals. The simplest of multicellular organisms. They have been in existence for centuries and predate most life today. Interestingly, almost all coral are a host organism to a species of algae/protist known as Zooxanthellae. These Zooxanthellae live in the tissue of corals and provide the host coral food from photosynthesis. Imagine having plant cells that live in your skin and feed you. Wierd huh?! It is interesting to note, that the glowing colors that are spectacular to view under blue actinic lighting, arise from these little Zooxanthellae. So the point I am making in a long winded manner, is that despite the two divisions of coral I have made, all can be self sustaining without actual “food”. But to aggressively grow these marvels of nature, a steady helping of the desired food, will power all the cellular processes to ensure healthy growth, resistance to disease, and glorious color.
Corals such as the Sarcophyton coral (Toadstool leather Coral), or the Pulsing Xenia, love sticking out their small polyps to filter out phytoplankton, and other microscopic food sources such as sperm and eggs from fish and corals from the water column and pull them into the mouth cavity to digest. There are many ways to accomplish the feeding of these corals. Many commercial products can be purchased and used; however, it is possible to grow your own! I will go into more detail below on how I feed these creatures below. In the future I will revisit how to grow your own phytoplankton cheaply and easily.
The meat eating corals, such as my personal favorite, the Acanthastrea or the brain corals, love to eat meat. They will eat the same food as the meat eating fish, however, it must be cut up very small to fit in the mouths of these greedy creatures. Corals that eat flesh, will exhibit a feeding response. It is great fun to watch. Simply squirt some water containing some food at them and wait. In a minute or so, each individual polyp in a colony will extend feeding tentacles that grip, absorb, and assist in digesting prey. Take a moment to visualize these corals on the ocean floor, catching the crumbs from the feeding frenzy above. That is how these animals collect food, from gravity!! What falls or stick to them, will be consumed in no time.
Finally let us discuss the invertebrates. The crabs, the shrimps, the clams, the starfishes, the sea cucumber, the nudibranchs and the famous anemone. Invertebrates are curious animals. Almost from another world. These act as the clean up crew. They wander through the tank eating bits of detritus (rotted organic matter) and food that was missed by the fish and corals. They survive by scavenging. This assist us the aquarist, with the removal of organic waste that will pollute your water and stress out your livestock. Some are similar to coral in that they filter feed. The Sand Sifting Starfish moves through the substrate filtering for bacteria, phytoplankton, and other microorganisms that live in the sandy bottom. Crabs and shrimp use claws to pick up pieces of algae off of rocks, or to pick apart that stray piece of squid that fell in the corner of your tank. Snails, some starfish, and sea urchins have specialized mouth parts that scrape algae off of the glass or off of rocks. The clean up crew are very beneficial and fun to watch.
That concludes part 1 of reef diet basics. In part 2 we will discuss types of food and create our own nutritious reef mix that can be used to provide a nourishing treat for your ocean paradise.