What are Pond Fish?
Koi … the jewels of the water garden! Have you thought about making them a part of your watery paradise. Everyone who has koi preaches of the joy they have while feeding them, watching them swim through caves and waterfalls, and even naming them. You’ll find koi of all different shapes and sizes named accordingly. There’s “Goldie” – everyone’s favorite yellow fish; and “Spot” – the fish with a precarious spot on the front of its forehead; the names can go on, and on, and on!
One of the other things that is so wonderful about welcoming a fishy friend into your pond is that they are pretty low maintenance. You won’t see a koi scratching at the door to go for a walk, or choosing your prized sofa for a litter box. Nope. Fish live, breath, and eat in the exact same place … your pond. They truly are one of the most low-maintenance pets you can have.
When it comes to feeding them, you may notice that there are several different recommendations out there. If your fish are part of a balanced ecosystem, as is the case with the Aquascape system, your best bet is to feed them as much as they will eat in five minutes, being careful not to leave too much food floating at the surface.
Fish can also over-winter in your pond, so you can rest assured that they won’t be in a tub in the middle of the living room as the months get colder. After all, they won’t even pay rent!
More Than Just Koi
Are there other fish, besides koi, that make great pond-living pets? There most certainly are! That same goldfish that stares at you from the glass at the fish store is a perfect fit for your pond. Goldfish are incredibly resilient and can be a great starter fish for a new pond owner. Best of all, they come in all, shapes, sizes, and colors and if you have a container water garden or preformed pond, they’re a great fit!
Another fish that is sure to find its way into your heart resembles the koi, but is much smaller. It’s called a shubunkin and it’s a kind of single-tailed, long-bodied goldfish that differs from the koi in the fact that it doesn’t have “barbells,” which are whiskers of sorts that are used to root through gravel.
It Doesn’t End There
If you do your homework, you’ll find that there are plenty of fish (many native to your area) that would be perfectly content in your home. From minnows to mosquito fish, to carp and game fish – your options are endless. Fish are a major part of your pond’s ecosystem and they are important to your pond’s overall health, but they also make great pets. And best of all, regardless of what’s happened in your life, they’ll always be there to greet you at the end of a long day. Ain’t that grand!?
How do I add fish to a new pond?
How to Add Fish to a New Pond
When adding fish to a new pond or after a cleanout or complete water change, it’s best to wait a minimum of 72 hours for the water chemistry and temperature of the pond to stabilize. Make sure to add a double dose of Aquascape Pond Detoxifier when first filling the pond to neutralize chlorine and chloramine, reduce fish stress, and detoxify heavy metals.
Start with a few fish and build the population slowly.
During the shipment fish are under extreme stress. It is very important to follow these instructions closely.
Unpack the fish from the transport box and float the bag in the pond for approximately 20 minutes. During this time the temperature in the bag will adjust to your pond’s current water temperature.
Avoid floating pond fish in direct sunlight; cover the plastic bag with an old towel, cloth, or something that will shade the bag without sinking it.
If the pond fish are purchased locally and not transported for a long period of time, you can help acclimatize the fish after floating by opening the bag and adding approximately 20% pond water by volume.
We also recommend adding Aquascape Pond Detoxifier to the water contained in the bag as well as to the pond itself. Pond Detoxifier will neutralize any ammonia produced by the fish during transport, regenerate damage to the mucus membrane caused by netting, and reduce stress during acclimatization. Be careful not to leave the fish in the open bag for too long as available oxygen will quickly be consumed. If you have an air pump you can also drop a small air stone into the open bag to ensure proper oxygenation.
After approximately 30 minutes, your fish are ready to be introduced to their new home. Scoop the fish out of the bag using a soft mesh net and release them into your pond. Discard the remaining water.
Never just dump the fish from the bag into the water. This will cause extreme stress and can even cause death if the difference in water temperature and chemistry is extreme.
The fish will probably head for the bottom of the pond and stay there until they become familiar with their new surroundings. Don't be alarmed as this is quite normal.
Fish should be fed on the 2nd or 3rd day after introduction. We recommend you feed your fish with Aquascape branded fish food.
What kind of fish can I put in my pond?
Who doesn’t love koi in their pond? They’re beautiful and friendly, providing glimmers of color as they weave their way beneath the lily pads. Certainly they deserve their rightful place in a tranquil water garden. But what about other options? An array of pond fish is just waiting to call your pond their home.
Goldfish are perfect for your pond … resilient and able to handle all different kinds of water. For the newbie pond owner, goldfish are a great choice for getting started with fish-keeping. Several varieties of goldfish are available, from comets (plain orange and white) to the exotics like ranchus and bubble-eyes.
Included in this showy category are lionheads, telescopes, black moors, orandas, ranchus, and ryukins. The single most distinguishing characteristic of this group as a whole, are their round, bulbous abdomens.
With this exotic group, extra caution should be taken if they are going to be placed outdoors, especially over the winter. Because they’re not as hardy as some of the other goldfish, they may become ill if left outdoors in the winter. This is especially true of the adults of these varieties.
The reason for this overwintering weakness is thought to be related to the compacted, contorted abdomen of these fish. Their abdomens serve as a delicate balancing act of downward ballast, intestine, and fat versus the buoyant structure of the airbladder. The hardship of winter almost always degrades this equilibrium, resulting in the fish flipping over and eventually dying. This is easy to overcome by bringing these finned friends indoors to join you just in time for the holidays!
The shubunkins is a type of single-tailed, long-bodied goldfish that originated in China. There are two different types of shubunkins. One has a long tail fin, with broad tail fin lobes that are rounded on the end. The other one looks more like a common goldfish, with a short tail fin. Bred mainly for their coloring, shubunkins often have a red, black, and sky blue coloring … sort of like a calico.
The most valuable of the shubunkins are mostly blue with strong accents of white and red, and the overall pattern sparingly flecked with black. In fact, when blessed with a white, black, and orange pattern, some may resemble baby koi but are far from it. They are different in size and markings. Most notably, they lack barbells (whiskers of sorts) that are found on koi. Shubunkins are hardy fish that can survive sweltering summers and severe winters, and can grow up to 14 inches in a minimum 180-gallon pond.
Sarassas are very similar to shubunkins in that they both have a similar body shape, however, they do not quite reach the same size as their larger shubunkins counterparts. The sarassa features a white base color and brilliant red highlights. It is believed that they came from a cross between the red cap oranda and the comet goldfish, and are sometimes referred to as the poor man’s koi.
Amazingly, the brilliant red of the true sarassa is a lifelong proposition and the fish are very enjoyable. Uncontrolled breeding of the sarassa will yield more and more brown fish until the pond population has returned to unselected comet and brown goldfish ancestry.
There are also some fish, which you may have never heard of, that would make great pond fish. Orfes, for example, call many a backyard pond home. In its native habitat, the Danube River, the golden orfe is a dark silvery color, but received its golden color when bred in Europe. The bright orange color is very attractive, especially since they characteristically swim near the surface of most ponds with the rest of their group. This is helpful because their presence near the top of the pond can also encourage koi and other goldfish to visit the surface of the water as well.
One thing to keep in mind is that golden orfe grow extremely fast. A 2 to 3-inch golden orfe can quickly reach sizes of 2 to 2 ½ feet! While golden orfe feed mostly on insect larvae, worms, and fallen insects, they are derived from the predatory side (in its original silver color) and could pose a risk to the rest of the aquatic life, although it is unlikely. Orfe are highly sensitive to fish medications of most kinds, and extreme care must be taken.
Catfish are another popular fish seen in the water garden. They are commonly sold as scavengers to help clean up the pond, but they really don’t do that much of it. Caution should be taken with these fish because they can become quite large in a short period of time. When they become large, they can cause trouble because they may start eating whatever they can fit in their mouth … including other fish!
Learning about Fish
Getting to know the background of the pond fish you plan to keep as pets is vital to their survival and your sanity. By knowing their defining characteristics, you will have a thorough understanding of how the fish will interact in your pond with other fish, plants, and aquatic life.
Other Fish to Consider:
Won’t raccoons or other predators eat my Koi and Pond Fish?
Actually, raccoons don’t swim, so if your pond is built at least 2 feet deep and 8 feet wide, with some places for your fish to run and hide- they should be safe from those little nocturnal critters. The only critter that is a valid concern is the heron. Again, providing a place for your fish to hide (in and under water lilies, and other plants, or man-made fish caves) will help prevent any disastrous occurrence of fish-napping by a heron.
How many Koi or Pond Fish should I have in my pond?
Do you have a pond that your fish will appreciate? Several factors influence whether a pond is habitable by fish, so before you stock your new pond or choose a few new finned friends at your water gardening store, take a few minutes to assess your fish’s dwelling space.
It all starts with the size of your pond. You need to make sure that it is large enough to support fish and their growth. Pond fish generally need 10 gallons of water for every inch of their length, and you have to be ready for them to grow larger, so be careful not to overstock, no matter how tempting this may be! Some pond experts go so far as to recommend only ½ inch of fish per 10 gallons of water as a maximum stocking density.
On occasion, you may encounter ponds crowded with 2 or even 3 inches of fish per 10 gallons of water and the fish seem to be fine. However, the density and ecological strain of this loading turn these ponds into fragile systems. The pH tends to sag, the fish tend to grow more slowly, and disease can become a common occurrence.
It’s very difficult to salvage sick fish in a pond that’s overcrowded. Most likely, Mother Nature will pick off your favorite fish to achieve her ideal stocking density based on the system the fish are in, and then the remainder may recover. So reduce the number of fish if your pond is overstocked before Mother Nature handles this crucial step for you.
What do I do with my Koi and Pond Fish over the winter?
If you simply make sure that your pond is at least two feet deep, the proximity of the earth to the pond’s surface will not allow the latter to freeze any deeper than 8”. That leaves 16” for the fish to lounge around and basically hibernate over the winter. You do need to keep a hole in the ice (using a “floating heater”) to allow for the exchange of gasses (like oxygen). But other than that your fish will do just fine in the pond, all year round. Supplemental oxygen can also be supplied by running your waterfalls, adding a bubbler, or using the pump to churn the water near the surface.
Goldfish and koi hate wintertime more than we do. Neither species of fish are indigenous to North America, so in our colder climates, they merely “survive” winter. They don't flourish in it.
In the southern part of our country, the winters are pretty balmy and very little ice appears on the ponds. However, winter's effects on the fish seem to be the same whether the pond is merely icy, or completely iced over. Some important wintertime facts will help you guide your fish through winter and into a safe and healthy springtime.
There are certain things you should realize about winter so you can properly interpret certain events and conditions come spring.
Important Factoid #1
During the winter, the fish’s immune system is in a predominantly non-functional condition. In other words, their immune system is in hibernation.
Important Factoid #2
Temperature swings within the pond of 20° F or more are very stressful for the fish and moving water through a thin phase aids it in the gain or loss of heat. This is a simple statement with a lot of meaning. When you pour a cup of hot soup back and forth from one cup to another, you can rapidly cool it. In the same way, a waterfall can dissipate or pick up heat from the pond’s water.
In certain climates, such as in the Sierra Nevadas and other desert areas, air temperatures can be very warm by day and ice cold at night. This matters because if your waterfall runs around the clock, you could be warming the water by day, and super cooling it by night. Again, this is a geographical phenomenon, and may not apply to you but a simple pond thermometer could tell you for sure. The stress caused by fluctuating water temperatures makes the fish more vulnerable to infection.
To avoid this problem, some people run their waterfalls during the day to pick up valuable free heat, and turn the falls off (making sure to have some other form of submerged pond circulation for aeration) at night to spare that free energy and avoid super-cooling.
Important Factoid #3
Turning off your waterfall may spare heat loss at night, but it can also deprive fish of oxygen and circulation. It is important, especially if water temperatures are climbing, to always have some circulation in the pond to maintain sufficient aeration or oxygen exchange for the fish.
Important Factoid #4
Fish cannot freeze into a block of ice and survive. This is a wintertime factoid that should be destroyed once and for all. Many people see their fish in small ponds, “frozen” under a solid layer of ice. The fish are utterly motionless due to the cold. They perceive that the fish are frozen in the ice and so they say, “My fish were frozen solid and lived!” but this is not the case.
Important Factoid #5
Another common myth in this hobby is that fish are safer from parasites and pathogens, like bacterial infections, in the dead of winter because these “bugs” slow down, or even stop, in icy water. However, the opposite is true.
Parasites do not necessarily slow down in ice-cold water. In fact, certain species of flukes are actually more active in the icy water of winter, and species of ich, trichodina, and costia are also busy at work in icy water. It’s an important fact that the fish can be more heavily infected with parasites in winter than any other time of the year.
Becoming familiar with these facts will give you the understanding to help your fish have a restful winter and a healthy and active spring next year!
How often or how much should I feed my Koi and Pond Fish?
When, Where, and What Works Best
By Dr. Erik Johnson
There are notable differences between the way koi and goldfish tend to eat. Of course, there are a lot of similarities too. Either way, there are many useful things for you to know about how, when, and where to fed koi and goldfish!
An Appetite for Foraging
Koi and goldfish eat a lot, but goldfish are better foragers. If you took two identical ponds and you neglected to feed both ponds equally, the population in the koi pond would die out faster than the population in the goldfish pond. Part of the reason is that koi eat more, so they starve faster. Part of the reason is that goldfish will find food anywhere, including swimming prey like rotifers, fish fry, and insect larva. Koi, on the other hand, tend not to identify or attack small prey like that. Their usual foraging method is bottom sifting, and if the pond has no aggregate or mud on the bottom, there will be no natural forage. Most people would be very surprised by the amount of live fish food that can be found living in the gravel of a properly maintained gravel-bottom pond.
The most common feeding mistake is overfeeding. This is because the feeding process is arguably the most fun you can have with your fish. At feeding time, koi come up to eat so you can see them and interact with them. Anyone with a maternal instinct will be thrilled to watch their favorite fish engulf food with such koi-ish zeal.
Overfeeding occurs anytime the fish are eating more than they need. This can make your fish sick, and excessive amounts of waste that strains the limits of what can be biologically reduced, results in a decline of water quality. Fish that are overfed in typical ornamental pond facilities will eventually develop large bellies and begin to look a little bit like tadpoles, with the big body and the wispy tail. That will not usually kill the fish, but the impact on the liver and other internal organs can and will be severe. So How Much is Just Right?
Fish should be fed no more than three times per day. In cooler water (65-70) they should only be fed once per day, if that. In much warmer water (76-82), three times per day is not "crazy,"' however, you have to be wary of bacterial blooms (cloudy water and low oxygen levels) if you feed heavy and there's a lot of waste.
Fish should be fed for about five minutes per feeding. If they don't come up and eat voraciously, they are telling you that they are too cold, too warm or, for some other reason, are not hungry. So feed light. If they are eating like crazy, you can sprinkle food on the water for five minutes as long as there are fish there to carry it off and eat it. Pretend it's a game – never feed so much that there is excess food left to float into the skimmer or filter.
Sometimes a person is very busy and they may neglect to feed the fish every day. This impacts the very large fish, which in summer, will rapidly lose weight as their metabolism is working without enough calories for their big bodies. It also affects very small fish, which will be stunted or, in extreme cases, die. Fish in ponds with natural forage and some plant material will help themselves to nature's bounty and are less dependent on their human owners for nourishment.
If your fish are growing about a ½ to 1 inch per month, you're feeding enough. If not, you are either underfeeding, keeping them in too small facilities, or the food is not adequate to push growth. Signs of underfeeding include, heads that are wider than bodies, slightly sunken eyes, a kink at the base of the tail, poor color, thinness, trailing white stools, and inactivity.
Feeding in Cold Water
Fish will feel hungry in cold water, even down to the mid 40's, however the enzymes needed for the digestion of most koi food will be lacking. The fish will eat, sometimes fully, and then languor in the cold water as their metabolism slogs the food through. In very cold water, fish simply don't eat.
If the food is going to be processed by cold fish with impaired metabolism, it makes sense to offer foods that are easily and quickly digestible and contain minimal residue to stall their gut. Over the years, soluble plant proteins like wheat germ were found to be effective, and so were Cheerios. Fish love Cheerios, especially the Honey Nut Cheerios. Try it, you will see they go for the darker, tastier(?) Honey Nut Cheerios over the plain ones. And they can tell when you buy generic Cheerios. But it's okay.
The point of Cheerios is that they supply some useful energy, with minimal nitrogen to strain a cold biological filtration system, and the fish like 'em. A lot. In my own pond, I've noticed that Cheerios are sort of fattening when offered with regular food year round, so if you want to put some weight on a big female fish, especially through her face, give her some Cheerios with her regular diet through the year.
In cold water I recommend that you:
- Reduce feeding drastically in water under 70 but above 64 Fahrenheit. Feed sparingly once per day or every other day. Watch for elevations in Ammonia because of a stalled bio filtration.
- Feed Cheerios once, every other day in water under 64 but above 53 DF.
- Stop feeding when water temps are consistently under 55 - 53 DF
- Resume feeding Cheerios in the Spring when water temps are consistently at or above 55 - 53 DF
Feeding in Warm Water
Feeding fish in warm water is an interesting conundrum. The fish NEED a lot of food because they are burning a LOT of calories. The pond's biological reduction system is optimized and working ferociously on fish wastes. But warmer water carries less oxygen. Feeding Koi a lot of food in the warm months is desirable, and it ensures good health and growth. But if you go too far, and overfeed them, the water quality will deteriorate, and if you overfeed enough, there can be a sudden bloom of bacteria that will:
- Cloud the water
- Weaken or stress the fish
- Consume much, if not all, of the available dissolved oxygen.
Don't take the low oxygen level lightly, because even after many seasons without a problem, you can get into trouble. I did this one summer. I fed heavily and the fish were doing well. What I did not acknowledge was that my oxygen levels were TEETERING in the danger zone because of the high use of oxygen by the fish, the heavy feeding, the biological bacteria doing it's thing, and the warmth of the water. I went to net my favorite fish, and she simply stroked out for lack of oxygen in her peak metabolic condition and then compounded by warm water and the chase.
What Can You Do?
Well, waterfalls do a lot to contribute oxygen to the scenario. So breathe a sigh of relief if you have a robust waterfall or two. Additional water pumping with a spray bar can increase oxygen. If the pond is in filtered sunlight or only gets baked for part of the day, it will be cooler, and therefore contain more oxygen. In the hot south and southwest, a shade cloth can be used to cool the water if needed. Feeding heavily, but being alert about it, is an ingredient for success.
Where to Feed.
In the day-to-day experience of ponding, where to feed can be significant. Many people feed the fish all at once, near the skimmer. Because they don't know about sprinkling the food for five minutes, they dump the whole coffee-can of food four feet from their skimmer and off it goes. Hungry fish living in polluted water is the result. Skimmers a great, don't get me wrong, but if there's a place you can feed the fish where it doesn't migrate to the skimmer too quickly, choose that space instead.
Proper Food Storage
Sometimes you luck out and get a deal on bulk foods. Too bad. I do not recommend that you buy big bags of food unless your fish can eat it all in a season or you can keep 45 pounds of food in the fridge. Of course, if you can, do it! Otherwise, the fish food sits in the bag in a "cool dark place" and weevils hatch in it and the food is lost. Or mold grows in it, and it's lost. Or, the cats ( or mice) tear out the bottom corner of the bag and the food spreads across the floor of the garage like a cancer. Can you tell I've, "been there, done that"?
If you do buy fish food in large quantities refrigerate it, don't freeze it. Freezing damages (think freezer burn) the fats in the food and so the fat-soluble vitamins are compromised.
Foods which are packed in nitrogen (no oxygen) by the manufacturer are better than food which is in cans with oxygen. If you can find food which has a bag that allows expression of air from the bag and resealing, that is optimal.
What About Old Food?
If food begins to smell "funny," develops a fuzz on it, changes color, sticks together or crumbles down, it's old or "bad" and should be discarded. Feeding "bad" food will cause a lot of problems with your fish, because much of what grows in fish foods produces what are known as aflatoxins, which can cause injury, deficiency, and broken backs in fish that eat these spoiled foods. Truly, it's better for your fish to go hungry while waiting for you to get fresh food, rather than being fed spoiled food
What Protein Is and Does
So, we've talked about feeding, now let's talk nutrition. What's in food and what does it do?
Protein is what your cells are made of. Muscle cells provide the most protein – that's why most humans and animals eat meat (muscle). Protein helps regenerate red and white blood cells, which have a finite life span in the blood stream. So, how does the fish replace these cells in winter when it's not eating? Very difficult. This is one reason why spring is often fraught with disease.
Studies have been done which compared the digestion of protein in fish. They tested, among others, chicken, fish, plant, and beef protein and you will not be surprised to know that fish proteins were the best digested and assimilated by fish. Fish eat fish. This makes sense because the incidence of fish leaping onto shore and eating cows is very, very low to non-existent. Fish are adapted to the consumption of others in their food chain. So fish proteins are the best for fish.
So when you look at a bag of food and the first ingredient is wheat, that's not the best choice for your fish. Wheat protein is not equal to fish protein. So keep looking. You should look for fish or aquacultural proteins as the first ingredient in a decent diet for your koi and goldfish.
Fish can digest corn. But their bodies do not assimilate it as well as fish proteins in fact, they might not assimilate it at all if an amino acid is missing from the protein in the food.
So, Plant Proteins in Koi Food Are Bad?
Not at all! There are three common purposes for plant material in the food. Fiber, protein, and energy (carbohydrate) are all functions of plant proteins. When a company puts corn in a diet just for protein, that's bad. But when wheat, soy, or corn meals are used in addition to aquacultural proteins to provide some protein and some energy it's a "good thing" because proteins in corn, soy, or wheat are very different from proteins in a feed ingredient like shrimp or blood meal.
Corn protein may be very heavy in leucine or lysine. While shrimp meal may be heavy in sulfur-containing amino acids and very low in lysine. Therefore, proteins from both plant and animal proteins ensure that all essential amino acids are represented and make it complete. At the same time, plant proteins can contribute needed energy in the form of carbohydrates as well ad bringing fiber to the equation.
So, you might see fishmeal as the first ingredient in a diet. Then lower on the list you might see wheat germ, or soybean meal, or corn gluten meal. Don't be put off by these dual-purpose ingredients.
Fat is important in a diet to carry energy and soluble vitamins to the fish. Fat supplies a dense energy source. However, fat is a dangerous component in foods because when it gets too high, it can cause the food to spoil more easily, and can even function as "moisture" for the growth of certain moulds. So manufacturers are very careful about the fat and moisture content of foods. Fat content of 3 to 9 percent are safe, reasonable levels.
Carbohydrates are the immediate energy source for the fish. Due to their carnivorous nature, fish tend to be poor at utilizing carbohydrate so they may store it in the muscle or discharge it in the waste. This doesn't change the fact that it's important although it's usually not listed as a percentage on most fish food labels.
Much discussion exists about the mineral requirements of fish. I personally recommend that if a food for koi contains some extra calcium and low phosphorous, it could be considered "better" than a food that pays no attention to the calcium and phosphorus.
Important vitamins seem to be fat soluble A,D,E, and K - and vitamin C. Vitamin deficiencies from missing vitamins are comparatively rare in the last two decades. This is because vitamin premixes exist in the processing of fish food that have eliminated most of the mystery and a lot of the onerous expense. When these vitamins are deficient, it can result in lesions of the skin, eyes, and nervous system.
Vitamin C is not so mysterious. Addition of vitamin C to the diet of koi and goldfish is a beneficial for several reasons. First, it's essential to the fish and is a major contribution to disease resistance. Second, food processing degrades vitamin C so that a surplus has to be added so a sufficient amount survives the processing of the food. If available over 180 milligrams per kilogram, the immune system is not only supported, but dramatically enhanced.
Assessing an Ingredients Label
Ingredients labels can be very exciting, or very misleading. They can be exciting because they seem to report excellent ingredients and real care and attention in manufacture. Misleading labels use techniques like ingredient splitting and foreign law to dupe the consumer. Come with me to the store and we shall assess a label together in nine steps.
Assessing the Fish Food Label: Step-By-Step
- Assessment 1: Protein source. Look for fishmeal, squid meal, whitefish meal, anchovy meal, shrimp meal, blood meal, herring meal or other aquaculture protein as first ingredients. These are the best protein sources for fish and are the ones I recommend.
- Assessment 2: Purpose of plant material. If you find a food that has no aquaculture protein but it has two plant proteins, then the manufacturer is trying to get cheaper plant ingredients to do what fishmeal should be doing. However, if you find a food with fish meal as the first ingredient and then wheat germ meal or similar, they are using the plant ingredient for protein AND energy, letting the fishmeal carry the bulk of the protein requirement, which is as it should be. There will be some plant protein in most foods. It's used as a helper, dual-purpose ingredient and it's not to be eschewed.
- Assessment 3: Ingredient splitting. Look for any ingredient twice on the list. If you were manufacturing a food and found wheat to be cheaper than fishmeal, you would want to use wheat to save money. But, you know the consumers want the fishmeal to be first on the list. So you split the wheat! Here's an example: A fish food has three pounds of wheat and two pounds of fish meal would have the ingredients listed in order by weight. To get around this, the manufacturer splits the wheat in half and lists it as two different forms of wheat. So that label reads, fish meal, wheat germ, wheat flour (in that order). This makes it appear to the consumer that the food contains a higher amount of aquaculture than any other ingredient.
- Assessment 4: Protein percent. Let's say a company who is tailoring a feed to the prevailing market-climate wants to use four aquacultural proteins, and tosses in shrimp, kelp, spirulina, and squid meal. That would be awesome! But it could jack up the proteins to a level unsuitable for fish, or at least unnecessary (and expensive). Koi can't digest more than 32 to 36 percent protein in one pass. Feeding more than that isn't necessarily a bad thing because fish will simply pass what they don't digest – it's just expensive to pay for. So, looking for minimums, and recognizing that an outrageously high protein percentage you might be paying for is unnecessary.
- Assessment 5: Fat content. Find a food between 3 to 10 percent crude fat. The high end of this range is good for smaller fish, and the lower end of the range is good for adult fish. * Assessment 6: Ascorbic acid. Make sure ascorbic acid, or L-Ascorbyl-2-Phosphate is on the label among the trailing ingredients. It will represent a very small part of the diet but it should be added to any milled food.
- Assessment 7: Immune boosters. Some foods are made with immune boosters. These are certainly harmless and they may very well perform as promised depending on which ones we're talking about. Look for any combination of following supposed immune-boosting ingredients: Optimun, Aquagen, Nucleotides, Torula Yeast, Brewer's Yeast, Bee Propolis, Colostrum, Aspergillus niger, beta carotene, lactoferrin. Don't hang your hat on any particular ingredient as a miracle supplement or lifesaver – okay? Just recognize that the addition of these items represents the manufacturer as a little more attentive and knowledgeable, and the food worth a little extra money.
- Assessment 8: Color enhancers. Are there color enhancers in the diet? Look for terms like Spirulina, Bio-Red, BetaCarotene, Canthaxanthin, Marigold petals, Xanthins, Shrimp Oil, Synthetic and Non Synthetic Carotenoids, or Color Enhancers on the label. Generally, the shrimp oil is the most expensive. It performs as well or better than the synthetic carotenoids but either is acceptable. Spirulina cannot push color unless the fish are exposed to sunlight. None of these color enhancers are hazardous to fish but can make a fish with a yellow head more yellow or a fish with a tendency towards pink pinker. No color enhancer can replace the irrefutable contribution of genetics and sunlight to color.
- Assessment 9: Ash content if stated. Sometimes companies will level with you and tell you the "crap" content of their food. Ash is what's left behind when you incinerate (or the fish digests) the food. It's almost all carbon and mineral. So the higher the ash number, the less likely one is to appreciate it. Generally, when ash is high, a smart label guy would just leave it off, and they are allowed to because it's not required on fish food bags.
An oddity about pellet size
Small fish need small pellets that they can wholly engulf, but they will spend time chasing the biggest pellets. It would be better for the fish if they were given a small pellet they could entirely engulf. They could fill their stomachs instead of scraping off a meal over a lengthy time.
Can small fish eat large pellet? Yes, but that is only by badgering the large pellet around the surface of the pond as it softens in the water, and eating off it like a giant peach.
There are a lot of fish "treats" on the market. How much of it has actually been tried and how much is theory, I shudder to think, so I am only going to comment on what I personally have given my fish.
- Silkworm pupae – Available in various places and comes in sealed, silver bags. This delicacy drives koi crazy. Really, really nutty. They love them. I guess when a silkworm gets old and stops making silk, it is "history" and is freeze-dried for koi. Lip-smacking good, I guess. Fed in abundance, the protein can accumulate a good bit of nitrogen (ammonia) in the water, so please check ammonias if you're going crazy feeding silkworm pupae.
- Grapefruit – Cut the grapefruit into quarters. They'll float and the fish will be attracted at once. Watch out to make sure the skins don't jam up a pump or clog your skimmer. Fed too much, the vitamin C acid will scorch the lips of your fish to a pale pink color, no harm – just back off with the grapefruit. Once per week is plenty.
- Watermelon – They liked it but not as much as grapefruit. It doesn't supply much nutrition so I have not done this as much as grapefruit.
- Orange slices – Big fish will earnestly take mandarin orange slices right out of your hand. Very cool, delicious to the fish, I guess, and loaded in vitamin C. Larger seedless oranges can be cut as Grapefruit and will do as well..
- Peas – The pain in the neck to me about these was that they sank fast and if the koi didn't see them go in, they miss them on the bottom. So there's the chance of wasting the peas and polluting the pond. So make sure you let the fish know you're there, and "here come the peas." They say that the peas could be skinned. Yeah, sure, I have time for that, how about you? My loi liked the peas quite a bit, when they realized they were there.
- Romaine – Nutritionally invisible, but perhaps the least messy of "greens" for the fish to munch on if you like them to have something to eat like that. Don't bother with iceberg lettuce. Get the darkest romaine you can and cut it into six-inch strips of the thinness suitable for your fish. They will chomp on the thick centerspines of the leaf later.
- Hyacinths – Delicious to koi. Cut off the roots because they are a mess!!!! I repeat, cut off the roots. Then fracture the plant so it's barely hanging together and toss it on the pond upside down, foliage in the water. The larger koi especially will eat the youngest leaves first and then pretty much annihilate the whole plant. Do not offer roots because the koi will rip them up and send them directly to your pump's impeller, which could choke to death.
- Duckweed – Koi and goldfish love this, and will eat all of this – if they can. In really large ponds a balance may be struck where the koi cannot or will not eat all of it, but in a standard sized (about 11' x 14') pond, duckweed will be a short-lived commodity. If you want, it's easily grow outside their abode in vats, baby pools, and tubs in a sunny spot with six inches water. The water should be fairly well circulated, and throw in a handful of koi food for fertilizer.
- Worms – Koi eat earthworms, Georgia reds, nightcrawlers, pinks, and others. Some people say that you should drown the worms in water first because the "hazardous soil" is expelled from the worm when it drowns and then goes flaccid. Uh, my fish wouldn't eat them dead, either. Fresh, active earthworms are well accepted and safe and when the first koi hits a worm, the rest quickly catch on.
- Fish – Koi can be trained to like fish. A very good friend of mine feeds his koi thawed sardines chopped up. Nutritious? YES! And sardines (being from salt water) are less likely to carry parasites applicable to koi. So, again, in moderation, these treats are okay for koi, and certainly well enjoyed.
- Cheerios – We discussed Cheerios in the winter-feeding section but let me restate that ANY time of year, koi will appreciate Honey Nut Cheerios as a treat. It is low residue and low nitrogen, what's not to love? A+
- Chicken – Yes, I did this. It wasn't a smashing success. I ate the fried part (duh) and gave them the white meat, in pinches. They looked at it and swam around it a while and then hit it with pretty good gusto. But it made some debris when they chewed it with their back teeth and wasn't "loved" so I include it here as something they'll take, but not necessarily love.
Is there anything I probably should NOT feed Koi as a treat?
I've heard that grapes can contain some oxalates and that apple seeds contain cyanide. The math on these says that if you got a koi to eat a cubic meter of grapes or appleseeds in a day's time, said koi could perish from the crystallization of the oxalates in his kidney. For your information, a koi that could eat a cubic meter of grapes in a day would measure about forty-two feet long and weigh in at 2,300 pounds. So my advice on koi treats is, "If you would eat it, and the fish can eat it without it dissolving in, or polluting the pond, try it, and see if they like it. Don't feed any treat so much as to replace their interest in nutritionally complete staple food."
Well, what discussion of koi nutrition would be complete unless we talked about the koi's more jocular habits of eating fry, frogs and each other? More fantastic than fact, here are some things you might not know. Large Koi and large frogs In the spring you can hear spring peepers in your pond and low areas of your yard or the woods. In the cold months of spring they spawn and lay strands of eggs. And sometimes, they get in your pond, and a big koi catches one. Or, like at my house, all the koi catch one. And so you get up in the morning and one of your koi has a pair of frog legs sticking out of its mouths and they like the taste pretty good, but they can't work it down. So they swim around with the frogs in their mouths like pacifiers. Some of the largest fish can get the frogs down, some eventually spit them out and you have to net them out or they will decay and make a mess.
Koi fry and the Cannibals
Finally, you should know this about baby koi. A momma koi will lay many tens of thousands of eggs per spawn. And her babies will be very numerous. And these fry mature at differing rates. The brown solid-colored babies will mature faster than the bright solid-colored fish and these babies will mature more quickly than any two or three colored fish. So it happens that often you see several much-larger baby fish in a spawn swimming about with a tiny sibling tail in its mouth. These cannibals eat prodigiously and the more they eat the bigger they get and the faster they get there. So breeders know to remove these cannibals. If you don't you will have a nice collection of Ogons and no multicolored fish in a spawn. So koi can be cannibalistic when they're fry. Later in life, it would be exceedingly rare to see a large koi eat a small one.
Why add fish to my pond?
Some pond owners shy away from taking the plunge of adding a few finned friends to their water garden. Perhaps it can be traced back to childhood, when they watched Bubbles the goldfish swim around in a small fish bowl while their parents complained that fish were dirty little creatures. Or maybe it was the fact that in most households there was a Bubbles, a Bubbles Jr., a Bubbles III, and so on because those cute little carnival goldfish never lasted long.
Regardless of your past experiences with fish, when you get a pond, keeping fish is a whole new deal. First of all, when it comes to your pond ecosystem, fish are certainly not dirty. In fact, they represent a vital part of your pond’s circle of life.
And when it comes to their life span, with the right treatment and a little TLC, your fish could end up out-living you. It’s true! So push those myths and misconceptions from your mind so you can learn the truth behind fish-keeping and your pond.
Fish are desired for the hobbyist’s pond because they add color and interest to the water garden. With the exception of tempting your senses, plants are neither interactive nor friendly, while fish are both of these things, especially at feeding time. Plants never crowd the surface and wave their leaves for your attention.
Of course, fish are also attractive, interesting, and even personable – much like your pet cat or dog. Their color can enhance the visual impact of a pond. Koi in particular, as a species, grow very large, and their sheer size adds an impressive element to some water features (but not without a significant impact on the balanced ecosystem).
There are numerous types of fish that you could put in your pond. The most popular are koi, goldfish, shubunkins, sarassas, orfes, and even catfish.
Basic Ground Rules
If you are new to water gardening or don’t know that much about maintaining fish, then remember the following basic ground rules.
First, fish need good, clean water. There’s a simple way to evaluate (at a glance) the suitability of your pond. If you wouldn’t let a child wade in the pond, then it’s not good enough for fish, either. The water should be clean-smelling. Clarity of the water right down to the bottom is good and a yellowing of the deeper water is bad. Green water is okay, but it can be troublesome.
Water can be kept clean enough with a filter. Even if there is no filter, there must be some water movement, like from a water pump, which does little more than add circulation to improve oxygen exchange. This is critically important in the summertime when water temperatures are over 60-degrees Farenheit.
Second, fish that are maintained in outdoor ponds can obtain nutrition from a variety of natural sources, such as wayward insects and plants, but they need a prepared (staple) food at least once per week. If you choose to feed the fish every day, you definitely need a filter, but if you only feed them once or twice per week, the fish will grow slowly and will probably not (as far as waste goes) exceed the environmental carrying capacity of the pond.
As you gain more experience in keeping pond fish, it helps to get some guidance along the way. Check out your local library for water garden books, or buy them from your local garden center. You can search for more information on the internet too, but just be sure you find a reliable source like www.koivet.com. Most importantly, enjoy your fish and your water gardening experience will be that much richer.
Do fish sleep?
Fish actually sleep.
Not in the same manner that we understand, but they do sleep. Fish do not have eyelids so they are unable to close their eyes. Instead, fish catch periods of rest by floating in one place or nestling into a cozy spot at the bottom of your pond.
Koi show stress by blushing red in their fins and on their bodies. This is caused by a stressful environment, such as poor water quality. It’s their way of showing you, their caretaker, that something is wrong.
They have teeth, my dear.
Koi are equipped with rather large teeth at the back of their throat. They do not use them defensively or aggressively but rather to process any hard-to-chew food they come across at the pond bottom.
Boy or girl?
Female koi tend to have rounder bodies and smaller, rounded pectoral fins while male koi are larger, have a sleeker shape, and their pectoral fins are larger and pointed.
Koi hear through a type of amplifying system called a Weberian apparatus that other fish do not have. It consists of four pairs of bones called ossicles that connect the inner ear to the swim bladder. The connection of the air chamber to the inner ear greatly improves their ability to hear.
How does my Pond Fish anatomy work?
Hey guess what? Koi and pond fish have a simple heart with only two chambers! Who the heck cares and when will that be relevant to anything you might see or do with pond fish? Probably never, so the purpose of this article is to make you aware of anatomy that does actually matter.
A pond fish like a koi or goldfish is pretty typical in its finnage –they have the usual dorsal (top) fin, an assortment of bottom fins, and then the caudal (tail) fin, as well as a few others.
The dorsal fin in koi is extremely vulnerable to ulceration and it's not uncommon for the mildest of bacterial infections to erode a hole right in the middle of it. Once the ulcer has healed, the fin can remain incomplete. When purchasing a new fish, inspect the dorsal fin to make sure it’s whole. The paired pelvic fins emerge cranially (head end) to the anus, and they're the fins that define the landmarks for injection because it is the safest site with good absorption.
The scales cover the body and are of variable size, depending on the location, and they overlap at five points. People tend to think the scales overlap on the obvious four sides but the center of the scale is underlapped by the scale behind and in front of it.
When a fish gets a deep wound, they may dislodge, or even shed, scales. The dead tissue and loose scales that surround a wound can provide bad bacteria with fuel to continue to infect the fish. To avoid this, gently scrub the wound with a piece of gauze soaked in grocery store hydrogen peroxide. The term for this process is debridement. It's not meant for all wounds, and should not be overdone. Over-cleaning a wound removes cells that are trying to heal the wound, so usually one debridement is needed.
Fish do a good job of replacing lost scales over the course of several weeks after their loss. However the replacement-scale is of a finer (thinner) quality and sometimes unevenly marked compared to the original scales.
The Gills and Operculum
The gills are to a fish what your lungs are to you – a delicate organ system that exposes all of your blood to oxygen. The gills are exactly the same structure only they're pushing the blood through capillaries that exchange with water, not air.
What most people don’t know is that the gills perform another important function – the excretion of fish waste in the form of ammonia. The gills are the most important waste excretion organ in the fish’s body.
You can see that damage to the gills by way of infection with bacteria, destruction via viruses such as Koi Herpes Virus, infestation with parasites, or just damage from medications or poor water quality, can impact the fish far more than just breathing.
The operculum is the thick boney covering on either side of the head, and protects the gill arches. You may need to lift the operculum to examine the gills, but don't lift it too far or it might tear. The gills of any sick or dead fish can be photographed to provide important forensic information after a fish disease outbreak.
Koi and goldfish don't need eyes to live. In fact, there's a genetic mutation that causes one out of ten thousand fish to hatch out without any at all. If a fish loses one or both of its eyes through trauma, there is no need to euthanize it because it can find and apprehend food perfectly well with their barbels, lips, and mouths, which are absolutely loaded with sensory structures (taste buds, no kidding).
There's a fat, cushiony blood supply to and from the eye, called the choroid plexus, designed to protect they eye from any trauma. Sometimes the choroid swells due to a blow to the eye. This is temporary and the eye may sink back into the socket over the coming week. A popped eye for an indefinite period of time could be the sign of another problem that may require the help of a fish professional.
An Overview of the Guts
Koi and goldfish have a very simple digestive tract. They have an esophagus that comes from the mouth and goes to the stomach … wait, check that … koi and goldfish don't have a stomach in any true sense. A stomach means a valve at the top and bottom of an acid-secreting, digestive organ, but koi and goldfish just have a stretchy wide spot in the top of the intestine for food storage while they pass it into the intestine.
Koi tummies hate to be full in cold water. When this occurs, the lining of the intestine is damaged and bad bacteria can get through the damaged lining into the blood stream. Of course, the fish show no obvious sign of this, but may die later in the Spring when the water warms and the bacteria go to work on the poor fish. This is one reason we recommend that you not feed fish in wintertime, when cold snaps are possible or when the water temperature will be below 55° F.
The Air Bladder
The air bladder is an amazingly delicate structure. It fills with air via a thin veil of capillaries extending over its surface, and air is released by way of a thin tube that comes from the caudal sac. The air is burped into the esophagus, which then escapes through the mouth. The air bladder is balanced to the weight of the fish against the water, which is the primary means by which the fish can hang in the water without paddling the whole time.
If a fish is floating upside down on the surface, something has happened to the air bladder's ability to let air out, so it is then too large and too buoyant for the weight of the fish. A problem with the air bladder can also cause the fish to sink to the pond bottom. This usually occurs when the spinal cord is damaged near the point where the nerves that regulate the air bladder emerge. Examples include electrocution through a stray voltage released into the water.
Sometimes the air bladder can be removed or surgically corrected, enabling the fish to swim normally.
Fish are boney, and ornamental pond fish are no exception. They're full of bones and, unlike the bones of sharks and stingrays, their bones really are bones – not cartilage. The bones of a fish are not meant for bearing weight because, in water, the fish is pretty much weightless. The two principal stresses on the fishes' bones are hydrostatic pressure from the water, and the push and pull of the fishes' mighty muscles on those bones. That's it.
That’s why, when you net a fish and carry it in that net, you're putting a unique force on their skeleton which can damage them. The fish is bent into a u-shape and its full weight torques the skeletal bones. Broken backs are a common result. Instead, use your net to catch the fish and then slide a big plastic bowl under the fish to carry it in.
If a fish has a broken back, the cure is simply time. The fish may compensate the injury – even if crooked from that day on – or it may simply starve to death.
Your muscles and fish muscles are really different. If you've ever seen a fish filet you remember that there are red and white lines in the meat. The muscles of a fish are oriented in thick bands called somites. These bands are stacked all down the sides of the fish in thick, orderly rows. Let’s go back to carrying fish in nets to find out why this matters. When the process causes damage to the back, it also destroys at least some of the nerves to at least one of the bands of muscle.
Whenever a somite dies, the muscle gets smaller and a kink in the fish will be seen. The concave side of the bend is the side with the dead somite. If you don't carry fish around in nets, this is unlikely to ever have been seen in your collection.
In the back of the koi throat, emerging from the lower gill arch in the back, there are three to four molars. These molars have serrations on the top like our molars. They're broad, crowned teeth and they're used to destroy shells and pulverize insects and crustaceans scavenged from the pond bottom. These teeth are shed and replaced continually through the life of the koi. They are too far back for you to ever be bitten by a koi.
So there you have it. The basics of fish anatomy as it relates to the fish living in your pond. Not meant to cure any issue or ailment, but simply to better understand the inner workings of your finned friends.
What's the secret to healthy Koi and Pond Fish?
You love your finned friends and can’t wait to see them swimming about after the winter thaw. Now is the right time to be thinking of your fish and taking measures to ensure they remain healthy throughout the year. Most fish issues can be avoided by following these simple, preventative measures.
Understand Water Quality
The majority of issues with fish are caused by poor water quality. Make sure that the fish population is under control and don’t be afraid to do partial water changes often and consistently. Make sure when adding water or when doing a partial water change in your pond, that you treat the water with Aquascape’s Pond Detoxifier to eliminate chlorine/chloramines and chelate heavy metals. Aerating your pond water is also something that can potentially increase water quality dramatically.
Buy Your Fish from a Responsible Retailer
Never buy sick fish and if possible, quarantine new fish for a few days before adding them to your pond. Always ask how long the retailer has had the fish. If they have just received them in, ask the retailer to hold the fish for a few days to make sure the fish recovers from stress related to transport and new water chemistry.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Fish
If any signs of disease are seen, start using Aquascape Pond Salt immediately and start feeding with medicated fish food. If things look like they are getting worse, immediately treat the pond with the appropriate Aquascape fish treatment. The longer you wait to treat the problem, the less chance you have of saving your fish.
Test Your Water
Test it yourself or have your local retailer test your pond water for any signs of a problem. It is also important to test the water coming directly from your tap as it is increasingly common to have issues including ammonia coming directly from your source water.
Feed Your Fish a High Quality Food
Feeding a high quality food will not affect water quality and will ensure that your fish are getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to maintain proper health. Be sure to feed often and consistently. Before treating any potential problem with your fish, it is important to make sure that you are using the correct treatment, dosage, or treatment rate to prevent any recurrence.
Remember … prevention is the best cure for your finned friends! The easiest way to avoid disease problems is to maintain optimum water conditions. Feeding a quality diet and adding beneficial bacteria on a regular basis will help maintain a balanced ecosystem. Disease problems must be addressed in the early stages to be successful. By following these simple tips you’ll enjoy seeing your pond fish swim happily about throughout the pond season!
If you have questions about Fish Care and Fish Food, please Email Us