Do Corals in a Reef Tank Need Food?

There is much debate around corals and their feeding habits. Some aquarists argue that coral reefs don’t need any additional food in their tank. On the other hand, other coral reef enthusiasts think that feeding a coral is an absolute must. Especially for certain species that can’t subsist off algae and photosynthesis alone.

It’s recommended to feed a varied diet to corals. While algae, bacteria and light act as a primary food source for corals, there are additional options. Corals with larger polyps can eat shrimp, zooplankton and other small organisms. Corals eat food through either direct or indirect feeding.

In this post, I will go over the available information on this topic. I’ll talk about whether or not you need to actively feed your coral reef. I will also talk about what kinds of foods can be given to your coral as additional nutrition. And, in the final section of this post, I will discuss how you can feed tank corals the right way!

Do You Need to Feed Your Corals?

Strictly speaking, many coral reefs don’t need to be fed supplemental food. In fact, a lot of corals get their daily nutrition through photosynthesis. This is where corals capture light and transform it into food for themselves.

In addition, reef corals also have zooxanthellae algae that live on their body. This type of algae lives symbiotically with your coral and also helps gives them nutrition. To be more specific, this algae aids in the process of photosynthesis and allows your coral to absorb more energy.

Other corals even get their nutrition from bacterioplankton. This includes bacteria found on plankton and free floating bacteria that are found in the water.

Bacteria can come from decomposing materials like plants and mucus. And while this sounds disgusting, your coral can feed this way, as well.

Still, while I’m making it sound like you don’t need to feed your coral, this isn’t necessarily the case for all reef tank corals. In fact, some corals do need to be fed in their tank.

Why Exactly Should You Be Feeding Your Corals?

In some cases, your coral might not get enough nutrition from algae, bacteria, and light alone. In this situation, you would need to feed your coral reef foods additional food besides the aforementioned sources.

Also, it is important to know that certain species of corals will need to be fed additional food anyway. Some types of coral reefs don’t get enough nutrition from zooxanthellae algae. So, they will need to be fed by hand by their owner.

And, some larger corals just need other food sources to survive. For instance, bigger polyped corals like to eat live prey. This can include anything from small shrimp, krill, and even fish. I’ll talk more about what you can feed corals in the next section, though.

To make everything more complex: there are exceptions to this. Moreover, even if you have a species that can get all its nutrition from algae and sunlight, it does not hurt to feed your coral reef extra nutrition! This can actually improve the growth and health of your coral reef tank!

What Kind of Food Should You Feed Your Corals?

Again, many corals in reef tanks get their nutrition from photosynthesis and symbiotic algae that help them grow and stay healthy. However, there are other foods your coral can eat. This includes live foods as I already mentioned before.

Corals with large mouths and tentacles (like LPS corals) like to eat prey that you put in their tank. Plate corals are an example of a species that can consumer larger foods. All kinds of critters can be put in the water for your coral to consume.

Here is a picture of a closeup of a plate coral. You can really see the mount of the coral!

Suitable food could be for example: zooplankton, fry, fish, shrimp, and other small organisms. Your coral has many options. Usually, these types of bigger foods are only consumed by polyp type corals, though.

Your reef tank corals also need variety in their diet to really thrive. I would recommend looking into frozen foods, this includes frozen critters. You can also get cut up food such as diced fish, shrimp, squids, and clams.

Coral reef owners can even make their own foods or purchase pre-manufactured foods. You can even get nutritional supplements for your coral if you want. Just make sure to look into any of the foods you buy. You want the best quality nutrition for your corals. So don’t go with cheap foods!

Other than some of these more visible foods, corals can also be fed indirectly by the foods you feed your fish. And other waste materials and bacteria found in your tank. But I will talk about this more in the final portion of this post!

Regardless, do research on your specific coral breed to see what kind of food they need. LPS corals are most likely to need outside sources of food. But there are exceptions in each category of coral.

So, you don’t necessarily want to make generalizations about the feeding habits of your coral unless you do some independent research.

How Do You Feed Your Corals?

There are two primary methods you can use in order to feed coral in your reef tank. One way to do this is through indirect feeding. This involves a less hands-on method of giving your coral nutrition.

The other method of feeding coral is known as direct feeding. I went over this a little at the beginning of the post. But it essentially involves giving your coral live foods and other nutrients.

In this final section, I’ll go over each method in detail. This way you can find out which method is better for your specific coral tank!

Direct Feeding of Coral

Direct feeding includes feedings of live fresh food. But it can also include other sources of nutrition that you actively put in your tank. Frozen food, homemade food, and manufactured food are a part of this category of feeding.

When you do a direct feeding method, you want to schedule your feedings. You also want to adjust your tank setting. With direct feeding, you need to have a nice current going in your tank. Corals need active water, to begin with.

But pay attention to this aspect of tank feeding. This way you can successfully give your coral their food.

Indirect Feeding of Coral

Indirect feedings occur naturally when you have a thriving tank community in your reef aquarium. Corals have another way to gather nutrients into their body besides photosynthesis. This is done by taking in dissolved organic compounds, or DOC.

Corals absorb all kinds of leftover material found in tank water. This includes leftover fish food that goes uneaten in the tank and dissolves into the water. Water from your fish and other pets also help to feed your coral!

In addition, bacteria found in the plankton present on small polyp corals are also consumed. You don’t have to do anything to induce this type of feeding. Your coral naturally brings DOC into its system as a source of energy and nutrients.

Just regularly feed your other pets and your coral will do all the work!

Some Final Tips and Suggestions For Coral Feeding:

In this last section, I’ll go over some final tips and suggestions that should be kept in mind when feeding tank corals. You want to feed your corals correctly and keep them in good health. So, pay attention to this final section of the article!

Watch an Expert Feed His Corals

Research Your Coral Species

One of the first pieces of advice I will give is in regards to research. I have mentioned researching your coral species throughout this article. In particular, I’ve talked about looking into the foods you have chosen for your coral, and the diet you should be sticking to.

In addition to this, though, you want to make sure that the size of the food is correct for your coral, as well. This can seem like a minor detail, but for corals, the size of their food is important.

For instance, a larger piece of food might be able to be eaten by one type of coral. But, for a different coral large chunks of food might not be able to be consumed. So, the food is essentially wasted on them.

Keeping this in mind, look up the feeding and dietary requirements of any coral you get. Corals can be picky about how they take in food!

Tailor Your Tank Lighting to Your Coral

In addition, make sure the lighting in your tank is ideal for your coral reef. Your coral will get a lot of its food from the lighting in its reef tank. However, if you don’t set up the lighting in your tank right this could be disastrous for your coral.

Each coral species will have different lighting requirements. And, you don’t necessarily want to blast your coral with high-intensity light right away. If the lighting is too different from their previous habitat you could end up killing your reef tank coral.

So, do a little bit of research, and make sure you get the right equipment. This way your coral lives a higher quality of life and can get the nutrients it needs!

It can be tough taking care of corals. Especially if you are new to reef tanks. But, hopefully, this post gave you an idea of what you need to do when it comes to feeding corals!

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

Recent Posts