Notes from the Trenches with Marc Levenson

Mandarin Diner

For a long time, my Blue Mandarinfish was very happy in my 29-gallon tank, and ate prepared foods, much to my delight. I therefore never worried much about her. In my 280-gallon reef, however, she was actually starving to death due to stress from the other mandarins that were harassing her, as well as from the voracious tangs that would circle her at feeding time and get every morsel off the sand before she had a chance to get in the first bite.

That is when I remembered that she had been able to eat on her own in the previous tank, but that she had required some alone time. So, about 3 months ago, I started putting food into a spaghetti sauce jar, and lowering it into the tank. At her leisure, the mandarin could go in and get some Formula One or Formula Two small pellet food whenever she was interested. Here is how it all started...

November 16, 2004

Since this mandarin used to eat pellet food in my 29-gallon tank, I decided to make a mandarin feeder. My tangs are voracious, and love to eat pellet foods; my mandarin was no longer getting her fair share.

I used a long, empty glass bottle, added the pellets first and then some tank water, and gave the pellets a few seconds to sink to the bottom of the jar. I then lowered it into the corner where the mandarin frequently visits. As you can see, the tangs were quite interested in the pellets, pecking at the glass quite a bit.

The next thing I knew, the wrong guy got in there, and was caught "red-finned!"

A few minutes later, the intended patron found the food supply, and dined at the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet for about five or ten minutes.

Soon a gentleman caller came by to join her, but never made it past the maitre d'. About thirty minutes later, the buffet was gone as if it had never existed. All that remained were the busboys, a pair of Nassarius snails.

The problem was that the other fish liked that food too, and the smaller tangs would fold up their fins and slip into the jar to get the food and back right out again. I watched my huge Naso tang hover in front of the mouth of the jar, waving its fins back and forth to create current which would wash the pellets out into the open where it could get them. He was very adept at this, and I saw him do it often.

December 15, 2004

So, after a month, I finally bought an olive jar, to limit the size of the fishes that could enter the "Diner." I heated a piece of acrylic and wrapped it around the jar to act as a handle for easy daily removal.

I even tried feeding her some newly-hatched brine shrimp, but that really didn't work out so well. I never bothered trying it a second time.

January 15, 2005

I've continued to use a mixture of the two pellets every day, and the mandarin is almost back to her original plump self. Keep in mind that I feed newly-hatched brine to the tank every day, with the pumps off. This allows the smaller fish the opportunity to eat, while the larger fish just wade through the food like whales.

Other fish still go into the "Mandarin Diner," including my Six-line wrasse, the Lawnmower blenny and the Blue damsels... but the tangs can only hover near the jar's opening hoping for stray pellets to accidentally make their way out.

Various snails and hermits go into the "Diner" at night, and each morning I refill it for the new day, with about 1 teaspoon of pellets. If there is too much food in the jar, it tends to rot and ferment, and an air bubble forms in the jar. That is a good indicator of overfeeding. If that has occurred, I dump the remains in the sink and rinse the jar out with tap water, then use less food at the next feeding.

I have four mandarins in my tank, but the Blue mandarins are the ones that are constantly near the jar. They travel the full range of the tank, but know the food is to be found at the "Mandarin Diner" daily. At times I've lifted the "Diner" with fish in it, dropped in more food and placed it back down into the tank. Other times, I put the food down onto the substrate, and within 10 seconds the mandarin goes right in. Click the button to see a (4.6MB).

I'm really glad this has worked out so well, as are they.

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Mandarin Diner by Marc Levenson -