Feeding Pike Cichlids

Feeding Pike Cichlids

All Pike cichlids are predators and will therefore prefer live food in the aquarium, but training your Pike cichlids to understand that prepared food is actually food is a good idea due to several reasons. Keeping Pike Cichlids on a strict diet of prepared foods only is however not recommended. Feeding live food keeps Pike cichlids happy and healthy, and will also give you a chance to experience the fascination hunting techniques carried out by your Pike cichlids. After all, why get predatory fish if you do not like them to eat animals?

Live food

Choosing your live food with care is important, since live food can carry malicious microorganisms into your aquarium. This risk is especially high with so called feeder fish. Most fish stores strive to keep the feeder fish they sell disease free, but it is naturally impossible for them guarantee anything. Each time you add a new fish to your aquarium, you take a risk. Some disreputable fish stores will even sell diseased fish as feeder fish instead of euthanizing it or placing it in a quarantine aquarium. The safest way of obtaining live food is to culture it at home. If you purchase feeder fish from an aquarium store, you can quarantine it before you give it to your Pike cichlids. Another commonly used method is to keep the feeder fish in salt water for a while, since this will at least kill most of the bacteria on the skin of the fish. Using two tablespoons of water per liter water is a good ratio. The water should be salty enough to make the feeder fish float at the surface.

Why train Pike cichlids to eat prepared foods?

Better safe than sorry: Something might happen that makes it impossible for you to provide your fish with live food. Your food cultures can die, the weather or other unforeseen events can prevent you from getting live food from the aquarium store, and so on. When such things happen, it is very nice to be able to take down pellet jar from the shelf and feed your pike cichlids prepared foods until the crisis is over. It is true that fish can survive many days without food, but sudden starvation can have undesirable effects, e.g. discarded spawning preparations.

The fish sitter: Sooner or later, most of us need to leave our fish behind to go on vacation, embark on a business trip, go to visit family in other parts of the country, etcetera. Unless you find a devoted aquarist to care for your fish, chances are high that the fish sitter is reluctant to deal with chopped earth worms and funny looking live cultures. Overfeeding is also common when you ask an inexperienced person to feed your fish and the results of overfeeding can be fatal when you are not around to carry out extensive water changes. In my experience, the risk of overfeeding decreases when I instruct a fish sitter to feed an exact amount of fish pellets each feeding sessions, instead of “one pinch of this” and “one scoop of that”. This is yet another reason why training your Pike cichlids to accept prepared foods is a good idea.

Automatic feeders: If you train your Pike cichlids to accept prepared foods, you can use an automatic feeder when you go away. This will reduce the need for fish-sitters during shorter trips, and during longer trips, the fish-sitter can focus on other things than feeding.

Nutritional variation: In the wild, Pike cichlids eat a wide range of different animal species and will therefore receive a rich profusion of various nutritional compounds. Wild Pike cichlids will also automatically ingest small amounts of algae and other vegetable matter. In the aquarium, it can be hard to provide your Pike cichlids with this type of variation. Many aquarists feed their Pike cichlids 2-3 different food species and work hard to keep the aquarium as algae free as possible. It is therefore a good idea to serve Pike cichlids a high-quality prepared food crammed with vitamins and other forms of nutrition, simply to safe-guard against nutritional deficiencies. Prepared food is a good supplement to live food, not a substitute.

Trigger factors

Why are Pike cichlids and many other fish species reluctant to eat prepared foods? To understand this, we must take a look at how they feed in the wild. In the wild, a number of trigger factors will trigger feeding in fish. It can for instance be movement, smell, look or sound. When you feed your fish prepared food, all or most of these trigger factors will be missing. A cichlid pellet will not move around, it doesn’t smell like living prey, it certainly won’t look like an animal, and it will not sound like a splashing fish or an insect that lands on the surface.

What you can do when training your pike cichlids to eat prepared foods is to mimic one or several trigger factors in the aquarium. You can for instance use an eye-dropper to squirt around floating or semi-sunken food in the water. You can also take advantage of water movements in the aquarium.

In some cases, taste and texture will also prevent the fish from eating prepared foods. You may be able to entice them to “capture” the food, but once the fish gets it in its mouth, it will promptly spit it out again. The prepared food is too strange in taste and texture to be recognized as food by the fish. Size is also a factor. Large fish are seldom very interested in tiny flake food and it will be much easier to train them if you offer them big chunks of prepared food instead.  

Watch and learn

Never underestimate the competitiveness of Pike cichlids. One of the easiest ways of getting Pike cichlids to eat prepared food is actually to keep them together with fish that loves prepared food and eagerly scopes it in as soon as it enters the water. Then inquisitive Pike cichlids will watch the other fish eat and eventually, your Pikes may very well be snatching pellets and other prepared stuff away from their tank mates.

Being persistent

A key factor when training Pike cichlids onto prepared foods is persistence. If you give in and offer them live food after just a few days of hunger strike they may never try prepared food. If you keep them with pellets eating fish, they may learn to appreciate prepared foods without you having to force them, but sticking to feeding prepared food only will certainly speed up the process. It may seem cruel, but remember, there are several good reasons to train your fish onto prepared food. A lot of pike cichlids known to shun prepared foods have been successfully trained onto cichlid pellets by persistent aquarists. Exactly how long you should wait before you give up and offer live food is naturally hard to say. It is possible for well-fed Pike cichlids to go a month without food, but if any of your specimens are small or weak they may die in the process. In many cases your Pike cichlids will however start nibbling at pellets after just a few days without live food, and eat prepared food with gusto within a week. Keeping the water temperature around 83 degrees F is recommended if you plan on using this type of though love.

Old and wild-caught vs. young and captive bred

If you purchase captive bred specimens, you increase your chances of getting Pike cichlids that have already been trained to accept prepared foods. This does not mean that wild-caught specimens are impossible to train – you simply have to put more time and effort into it.     Generally speaking, old Pike cichlids are harder to train onto prepared foods than young specimens. It is therefore recommended to start the training at an early age instead of putting it off until later.

Different species

Many aquarists report how different species react differently to prepared foods. Young Lugubris species are for instance known to give in and start eating prepared foods quite rapidly, while young Saxatilis cichlids can be really stubborn. 

Pecking order  

Pike cichlids at the bottom of the pecking order in the aquarium are generally more eager to accept prepared foods than the other cichlids. It is therefore possible to train at least a few of the cichlids onto prepared foods and hope for the remaining ones to follow. When that snowstorm comes and you are unable to obtain live food for your pets, at least a few of them will survive by eating pellets.  

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