If you keep predatory fish as I do, you already know how time-consuming and costly it can be buying feeder fish. Cramming your current aquarium full of feeders can also overcrowd the tank, spike ammonia levels, and cause tank-mates to stress out and get sick.
Setting up an independent tank just for feeder fish can not only be cheaper in the long run… But be a much healthier option for your predator fish and their tank-mates. Store-bought feeder fish are usually kept in harsh conditions and could introduce disease and parasites to your predator’s aquarium.
What Are Feeder Fish?
Feeder fish is more of a simple term used to refer to cheap fish used to feed predators. Feeder fish are fed live to predator fish as a way to imitate natural feeding habits like in the wild.
Understandably, some people are against the idea of live feeding and see it as cruel and inhuman. Depending on the type of feeder fish and their health condition… It can also lead to negative effects for the predator fish consuming that fish. See more about those health concerns here What Are The Best Types Of Feeder Fish.
How To Set Up A Feeder Fish Tank
Ok, so before you start on this build, you will have to decide if you want to do 2 small tanks or 1 larger size. The reason I went with 2 10 gallon tanks is that it keeps the fry and smaller fish separate from the bigger feeders. Some bigger fish, like Molly’s, will eat the smaller fry if the tank doesn’t provide plenty of hiding space.
If you are deciding to just go with 1 tank make sure it is no less than 20 gallons and has some type of hiding spots like plants. The downfall of having hiding spots is it makes it harder for you to fish for the feeders when you are ready to remove them. Some species can be kept together with their fry as well if you are going for a 1 tank set up. Guppies, goldfish & minnows just to name a few…
- 2 Ten Gallon Tanks or 1 Twenty Gallon Tanks – Having 2 tanks essentially makes one a breeding enclosure and the other for housing the fry. A simple divider could be used as well in a 1 tank setup to separate the fry from the larger feeder fish. https://amzn.to/2LOTmcH
- 1 Small Filter – It will be an essential part of keeping your feeder fish alive and healthy to have some type of filter cleaning the water. The good part is it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive! https://amzn.to/2uPSz4F
- 1 Five Pound Pack of Gravel – Gravel provides a more surface space for good bacteria to grow on. This is also a good idea if you plan on using plants or decorations to help conceal fry from adults. https://amzn.to/2uUIiED
- Plants (optional) – I use it as a nursery for growing new additional plants for my larger tanks. Having real vivarium plants also helps keep the water clean as well as give fish additional nutrients to peck at. https://amzn.to/2LNSkgU
- 1 Small Fish Net – It would be a good idea to have a dedicated net used for these tanks that will never be used in the main Aquarium. https://amzn.to/2LnKK0A
- 1 Thermostat – Temperatures should be kept between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit to encourage breeding and speed the life cycle of parasites if any happen to be introduced into the tank. https://amzn.to/2mKKLge
Constructing the Feeder Fish Tank:
- Let’s start by filling the feeder tanks up with water and setting up the filters for them.
- Once the gravel and decoration are set up, fill them with water and allow the tanks to cycle fully before adding fish and plants.
- After a couple of days have past and water parameters are leveled out, you can add feeder fish and plants.
What Are The Best Types Of Feeder Fish?
Now that we have our Feeder tank set up and cycled we can add our fish. There are 3 main factors to keep in mind when deciding what feeder fish to stock.
- Will they breed fast enough to keep my tank stocked?
- Are they high in nutritional value?
- Will they grow big enough to satisfy my predator fish?
**When it comes to live feeding your predator its best to give them a variety of fish instead of just one species. Some feeder fish have nutrients others don’t, that’s why none of them score highly independently for nutritional value.
Types Of Fish
- Guppies – These guys are your fastest breeding fish. what they lack in size they make up for in numbers. They are also pretty hardy fish which makes them easy to care for. Guppies make a good feeder fish for smaller predators. Bigger like Pike might just ignore them.
- Mollies – Mollies are the second-fastest breeding fish on the chart. They grow extremely fast if fed right and are great for all size predators. The hardiness of these fish makes them almost appear bullet prove. not only can they survive in extremely poor water conditions.. They’re one of the only fish that can live in freshwater as well as saltwater!
- Convict Cichlid – Convicts are also a popular fish to use for feeders. They mate like crazy as well but you have to be careful about keeping these guys with other species. they’re territorial and protective around their offspring. Male convicts will even fight with other males. These guys aren’t my preferred pick for feeder fish.
- Minnows – Minnows are very popular feeders to by at a store, usually sold as Rosy Reds. Though I am not a fan of the poorly raised minnows kept at the store, The kind often found in local ponds and lakes are really healthy and fast-growing feeders. They are pretty tough to fish and also easy to care for.
- Goldfish – Goldfish are probably the worst fish to keep as feeders. The only reason they are even on this list is for comparison purposes since people still feed them anyway. I DON’T RECOMMEND FEEDING GOLDFISH TO ANY PREDATORS… UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO FEED THEM.
**Goldfish contain Thiaminase I, an enzyme that metabolizes and breaks down Thiamine (Vitamin B1), causing nutritional deficiency! There are many different kinds of illness that can result in nutritional deficiency!
Care Taking & Tips
Even though these are fish being kept with the intention of being fed to something bigger… It’s still very important to take good care of these fish. Their housing might not be a show worthy aquarium, feeder fish are still your pets in away.
- Check the water parameters just as you would your predator tank.
- Do 50% water changes at least twice a month.
- Make sure to feed your feeder fish first (gut load) before offering those fish to your predator. That’s extra nutrients your bigger fish is being fed!
- Good quality flake food works fine but make sure that the pieces are crumbled enough to fit in tiny fry mouth. Live Brine Shrimp are an excellent source of food to feed fry if you want to increase their growth rate and nutritional value. I made a Brine Shrimp Hatchery in addition to my feeder fish tank you can check out here.
If the feeder tank is carefully managed correctly, this will encourage mating between fish and you should have a steady supply of feeders multiplying within 6 to 8 weeks!
Breeding Feeder Fish
If water parameters are stable, breeding should happen naturally. If fish don’t appear to have spawn after 2 months, try raising the temperature slightly and check water parameters. Your fish could be stressed from overcrowding or maybe… Just maybe they have been spawning and larger fish are picking them off before you can move the fry to a holding tank. That’s why its best to have a second tank for fry or at least a one-gallon holding tank for the pregnant livebearer to move into.
After maintaining feeder tanks for some time.. I really enjoy having them in my office and watching the fry grow up right before my eyes. If I’m completely honest about my adult mollies… They actually started out as my pets for the bigger aquarium (Edens.Bow). Being such hardy fish, they helped kick off the initial cycling process in the early stages of the build. Moving them into the feeder tank was actually a decision towards keeping them safe from growing predators.
The mollies multiplied so fast I had more of them than I could even do with. So I started supplementing the fry as feeders fish. The four original adult mollies that helped put (Edens.Bow) together have earned their place in my office and will get to live out their days as happy horny little swimmers!
Whats your experience in handling feeder fish? Do you have a favorite kind I might have overlooked?