This short article is based on the answer I gave to a friend on an aquarium discussion
list, who asked the exact question above. Since I'm not a biologist, some
of the things I wrote below are no more than educated guesses, but there
were several biologists on that list and nobody seemed outraged by what
I wrote, so I guess it can't be that bad :-)
As with almost everything related to fishkeeping, there's simply no
definitive rule on feeding, because it depends on too many factors. But there
are several general guides that can be used based on collective experience. The most
common one, which has always worked for me, is to feed 2-3 times a day,
as much as your fish can eat in less than 3 minutes. Of course there's
a lot of tolerance here, but in general if after 5 minutes there's still
food in the tank, you should reduce the amount you're feeding. This works
well for beginner, community and other kinds of tanks with a reasonable
mix of species. Single species, breeding and hospital tanks will require
a more careful approach, based on the specific requirements of their inhabitants.
There are some important things to remember about fish feeding habits.
In nature, most of them usually have a hard time finding food, and through
evolution they have been "programmed" to eat as much as they can fit into
their bellies whenever they find some, because they never know when the
next meal will be found. In a tank, we do know when their next meal
will come. Therefore, it's up to us to control the amount they get. Feeding them
until they seem satisfied is not a good idea. Fish are expected
to spend most of the day feeling hungry and searching
around for little bits of food. A common mistake made by beginners is to
overfeed because their fishes seem to be desperately begging for food
every time the owner approaches the tank, and he decides to satisfy their
appetites every time. A hungry fish is a healthy fish...if they don't come
up to you when approach in the morning, that's when you should start worrying.
As another evolutionary defense, fish seem to adapt to the availability
of food, by adjusting their growth rate. When they live in a place with
more food available they respond by growing fast, and vice versa.
Because of this, I believe that the actual amount you decide to offer isn't
as important as maintaining the same criteria throughout their lives. So
the ideal situation would be to setup your tank, populate it with young
fishes, define a reasonable feeding criterion and stick to it.
Finally, keep in mind that it's way easier to weaken or even
kill your fish by overfeeding (because it spoils the tank water) than by making
them starve to death. I know a story about a guy who owned a pair of Oscars
alone in a tank. When one of them killed the other. He was so mad he decided
to stop feeding the killer and let it die. After several weeks with nothing
to eat the Oscar was still alive, and the guy gave up and took it to a
fish shop. Fish can easily go for a several days unfed, and many people argue
that making your fish fast once a week is actually healthy for them, it
sort of cleans them up internally.
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