The Stay at Home Fishkeeper

Those of us who share our home with pets are luckier than most in a lockdown, particularly if those pets inhabit an aquarium. Studies have shown fish to be relaxing to watch and where better to escape to than a little tropical world of your own creation? With time on our hands, there’s plenty to be doing to make the most of this opportunity.

If you’re a proud pet keeper you probably don’t need an excuse to take photos, or video of your aquarium. These are an easy way of recording any changes and capturing your pets for future reference – not only that but you can send them in to us and share your creations. It’s nice to have a record of how things develop and I certainly wish I had more images of some of the fish and tanks I kept years ago.

If your models are a bit reluctant to pose for the camera I can recommend a tasty bribe to lure them to the front glass:

Review the menu. Restaurants may be a sweet memory, but our wet pets depend on us to make their diet more interesting. A good dried food is the basis of a balanced diet but the nutritional content of even the best of them fades. If you’ve had a pot of food open for more than a couple of months, it may well be a bit short of vitamins. Check the sell by date on the bottom and remember that although large pots of food may work out better value, nutrients tend to diminish over time and exposure to air and wet fingers will take its toll. Buy smaller pots that are likely to be used quickly for best results and consider storing bulk foods in the fridge or freezer if they’re unlikely to be used quickly. A recent trend for manufacturers is sourcing protein from farmed insects rather than relying on fishmeal and this more sustainable option is to be encouraged.

As most aquaria house a mix of species, often with differing feeding habits, it’s wise to offer a variety of foods in formats that suit a range of feeding styles. Sinking foods are important if you have catfish, loaches or shrimps which may otherwise have to rely on food getting past more active midwater tankmates. Those containing algae are especially useful for species that naturally graze on greens, such as livebearers, plecs and some cichlids. Not only do these foods help balance diet, they provide a simulation of the natural situation where fish may spend extended periods of time foraging, rather than a few minutes getting an easy meal.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t use a range of different formulations and rotate them through multiple small daily feeds. This also has the benefit of keeping waste levels more consistent throughout the day and more easily processed by your filter bacteria. Think of it as breakfast, lunch and dinner – just remember that food input should be balanced by water changes to control nitrate and phosphate accumulation.

Most fish will happily eat dried foods but some are less adaptable and have definite ideas about what food should look and smell like. These foods, which are generally aquatic invertebrates such as mosquito larvae and marine shrimps, are drained and frozen in cube format. To kill any potential pathogens they are irradiated, making them safe to keep in the freezer alongside the frozen peas. They make a great treat for all types of fish but are best rinsed before use to avoid adding the nutrient-rich juice to the tank, this rich soup can cause a rise in phosphates that fuels algae growth. To increase their nutritional value, soak the rinsed food in a solution containing a vitamin or garlic supplement before use. Frozen foods are best added to the aquarium either poured to distribute them through the tank, or via a feeding device that slows foraging. These also seem to suit fishes such as puffers, which appreciate the enrichment:

For the ultimate treat try some live food, or if you’re less adventurous feed it to your fish! A wide variety of aquatic bugs and beasties are available for your aquatic pets to hunt and chase but check with your store first, as it’s best to time your visit with a fresh delivery and these are unpredictable times. Live foods are a great way to add a bit of excitement to your pets’ feeding regime and explains why they naturally investigate moving objects.