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It is a myth that fish will eat until they explode. Fish cannot be overfed.
They know when to stop. However, a tank can be overfed to where it is
unhealthy for the fish/plants. The best person I have seen explain this is
late Dan Quackenbush. I'm sure many of you on here have read this, but for
those that haven't, the paragraphs that follow are credited to him:
THE DEADLY MISTAKE
"In my early years I managed or supervised in the running of many a pet shop.
Either when my schedule permitted or when I was short-handed with no
alternatives, I found myself waiting on customers and usually in the fish
section. It doesn't take long to see certain patterns develop that challenge
Setting up a successful aquarium is easy if you know what your doing and here
in lies the first hurdle for a retailer. Educating the customer. Perhaps part
of the problem a customer has is, they are simply overwhelmed by the amount of
information needed just to have a chance of success. For the retailer, they
usually first having to brainwash the beginner that 12 goldfish in a bowl or
pair of breeding Oscars won't make it in a 10 gal. tank. Then they have to
overcome the natural customer sales resistance to every piece of equipment
will help them succeed. The hardest sale might be getting the beginner to
book (even a cheap one).
The next stage is to answer at least 20 questions the beginner has with every
visit. Stage three is correcting all the mistakes. The last stage never comes
for some but many finally enjoy the fruits of learning and start to enjoy
aquarium. One problem remains at this final stage and that is maintaining the
Customers seem to have no limits in creative ways to kill fish and plants.
of my favorites include giving the fish a can of beer at a New Years party to
rolling a fish on table salt in an attempt to cure ich. Fortunately, most
livestock deaths can be traced to one of only a small group of customer
genocide techniques. Back when I was in retail, one method used was
for more fish deaths than all the others combined.
I left retailing for nearly two decades to become a manufactures rep where I
spent most of my time calling on wholesalers. Near the end of this journey I
worked for several fish food companies. Part of the job entailed calling on
fish retailers and doing as many in store training workshops as possible.
Wondering if the number one cause of fish deaths that I had experienced as a
retailer was more or less solved, I started out each training session asking
the same question. What is the number one cause of fish deaths?
In nearly 300 workshops, the answer was, with almost no exception, the same
plague I dealt with 20 years earlier. Although it certainly is a major problem
for beginners even the pros fall victim to this experience from time to time.
The problem is simply OVERFEEDING.
Although there are some folks that will never learn to feed properly, it's my
opinion the cause of this devastation rests almost entirely in the hands of
pet shop (fish retailers) staff. It is they that have the everyday
responsibility of customer education. Although they know the problem exists
they spend much time warning customers not to overfeed, it's not quite that
To my knowledge there is only one way to correctly feed fish (there are a few
fish that are exceptions to this). I'm estimating that I conducted these
workshops for an estimated 1200 employees and managers and owners. Only one
employee knew the proper feeding method. The typical response from these
retailers when I asked them to tell me how they educated their customers
very small amount or small pinch". The response to how often was usually 1
times a day. In other words there was no consensus.
What's wrong here? During my workshops I often pointed to a tank of fish in
store and asked each person to place the correct amount of food in my hand.
There was a great deal of variance and strangely enough most of the employees
were underfeeding. Yet even with underfeeding I can ruin many a tanks with a
small pinch of food fed improperly. Secondly, a small pinch of food is not a
reliable dose that a customer can relate to with any consistency. This is
further messed up because the fish always seem starved and the natural human
response is to add just a little bit more to be safe.
Before I tell you the correct way to feed fish, I want to deal with a few
points. First, fish can not be overfed. I have never seen a fish explode from
overfeeding, they know when to stop. You can however, easily overfeed the
aquarium as uneaten food is fast track to a polluted aquarium. Second, fish
digest their food in about 2 hours, so normally they will always act starved.
Anytime you see fish at the surface begging for food, they can be fed (if done
To feed properly, you have to understand a little bit about fish behavior.
don't come to the surface to be petted, they know that this is where food
from and who drops it in the water. This is key to feeding properly. Although
it appears that fish inhale fish food, more often than not they collect as
food in there mouth as possible. Depending on the food, it often stays there
until it's safe to swallow, sometimes this is only a few seconds other times
longer. Much like humans, when you eat a piece of food, it doesn't get
swallowed until it reaches a safe to swallow condition. Pelleted foods take
much longer but otherwise are often a better food than most flake foods. (but
that's another story)
To feed properly, I recommend you put what you consider a safe amount to feed
in your hand. Take a fourth of that and add it to the tank. Wait 20
the fish are still swimming at the top, add another fourth of the food. You
repeat this until the fish stop coming to the surface. One other note, at no
time should as much as one piece of food hit the bottom.
What about your bottom feeders? Many can compete at the surface. For those
can't, bottom food is available and can be fed after feeding the surface
feeders. Watch your bottom feeders carefully to make sure they are eating all
that is offered."
So there you go. I hope this helps some people.
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