Feeding Your Reef Tank

culinary tips for the reef aquarist 


scallop and squid



photos by James

Just like all creatures classified as members of the kingdom Animalia (i.e. they are animals), corals need food. By definition, all animals feed on organic matter derived, in some way or another, from other organisms. In some reef tanks, left over food from fish feeding can be enough to feed the corals. In other tanks, much more food is needed to keep the corals healthy. There are many different ways to feed your tanks and there's not necessarily any one right way.

To get some idea of how to feed your corals, look at their polyp mouths. Generally, the size of the polyp mouth will give you some idea of the size chunks of food the coral will eat. If your reef tank is like most reef tanks, you'll have all kinds and sizes of hungry mouths to feed.

Making Your Own Food

Many reef aquarists like to make their own food. This allows one to customize the food for their particular tank's needs. It's also usually cheaper than buying pre-made foods. However, it does get messy (not to mention that blending, soaking, mincing and mashing a variety of seafoods can result in a lingering aroma). It can also be a bit time consuming. In any case, if you do decide to try your hand at reef tank food preparation, you'll want to prepare a frozen mix of various aquarium foods and seafoods cut, chomped, mashed and minced to varies sizes and consistencies. Here are some ingredients to consider:

From the grocery store:
- fresh or frozen shrimp (please try to find trap-caught)
- urchin roe
- canned caviar
- fresh or frozen squid and/or octopus
- fresh or frozen scallops, clams, oysters and other bivalves

Fresh is best. Avoid canned or frozen foods with lots of salt and/or preservatives. If you can find "organic," that would be preferred. 

NOTE: ALWAYS rinse ALL these foods in filtered water. Even if they are fresh/organic, they can be coated in phosphates.  

Frozen foods from your local aquarium store:
- oyster eggs
- cyclopeeze
- frozen baby brine shrimp
- frozen adult brine shrimp (enriched if available)
- frozen mysid shrimp
- frozen chopped mussls, squid, etc

Dry foods:
- Nori (dried seaweed)
- "golden pearls"
- dry cyclopeeze (frozen is better)
- marine fish flake food
- spirulina powder

Note: Whatever choices you ultimately make, it's not a bad idea to soak the dry foods in the juices of the frozen foods.

Prepared Foods

There are some good prepared mixed foods available. However, be careful to know what exactly is in these foods before putting them into your tank. Don't buy any food or additive that does not list all its ingredients! The standards and regulations for products sold as food for reef invertebrates are not quite as strict (or possibly just less often enforced) than they are for most other foods in the pet industry. It's difficult to be too cautious when selecting food products for your reef tank.


Phytoplankton is made up of microscopic plants. It is the base of the food chain for virtually all life in the ocean. Though most corals do not directly feed on phytoplankton, the larvae of many reef tank critters do. Substantially fewer organisms will feed on dead phytoplankton than will feed on live phytoplankton. So when considering the purchase of a phytoplankton product, keep in mind that any phytoplankton that is sold frozen is dead (since freezing inevitably kills the phytoplankton cells). Some phytoplankton products sold refrigerated (but not frozen) are alive and some are not. Some species of phytoplankton known to survive refrigeration are Nannochloropsis oculata, Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Chlorella. Note that the commonly sold Isochrysis galbana, does not survive refrigeration.