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How Big Do Feeder Fish Get? Breed Explained & FAQs

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton


If you are a big fan of big fish, ones that like to eat other fish, you are going to want to stick around for this. While some people only feed their larger fish pellets, flakes, and other smaller live foods, fish are hunters for the most part. This means that they like to eat other fish, as they do naturally in the wild.

Big fish eat smaller fish, and those fish eat smaller ones yet, and so on. If you have a fairly big fish that eats other fish in the wild, we would recommend feeding them feeder fish for their benefit.

You can simply buy some feeder fish from a store and give them to your fish daily, or you can even keep and breed them to make things a little cheaper for you. Either way, you probably want to know some things. For instance, how big do feeder fish get?

What Are Feeder Fish?

First and foremost, it is probably good if we clarify what exactly a feeder fish is. Well, in simplest terms, they are fish that are commonly used for feeding other fish, usually always larger fish.

The reason for this is because fish hunt naturally in the wild, so giving your pet fish some feeder fish on occasion will help them feel more at home, plus they are packed full of nutrients too.

Generally speaking, the feeder fish used are chosen because they grow fast, are hardy and resilient to water conditions, and are not expensive either. In other words, you would not feed some $200 tropical fish to your piranhas just because.

Feeder fish are just what they sound like, fish used for feeding other fish. Some people say that using feeder fish is cruel, but we personally think that there is nothing more natural.

lots of guppies swimming
Image Credit: underworld, Shutterstock

What Fish Are Used As Feeder Fish?

Like we said before, there are a few different factors that are used to determine what kinds of fish are used as feeder fish. For one, the cost of the fish is a big deal.

Only cheap fish are used as feeder fish. You and your pet store probably don’t want to throw away hundreds and thousands of dollars by using expensive fish to give your big pet fish a snack.

Next, people will usually focus on types of fish that are fast to grow and mature. It makes a lot of sense to breed feeder fish at home due to a decreased cost as opposed to buying them. However, this means that feeder fish breeders have to wait until the breeding is done and the fish have grown up.

Therefore, people focus on fish that are prolific breeders, breed a lot, have short gestation periods, and produce fry that matures into full-grown fish really fast. Finally, people tend to use slow and peaceful fish as feeder fish, for the most part anyway.

This makes it easier and safer for the bigger fish to eat them without having to fight or chase too much. There are a few fish commonly used as feeder fish.

These include the following:

Bumble Bee Platy - Tropical Fish - Yellow - School of fish
Image credit: Richelle Cloutier, Shutterstock

How Big Do Feeder Fish Get?

Based on what we just said about the different types of feeder fish used, this question of how big they get is not very easy to answer. It is a multifaceted question that does not have one clear answer. In the case of all kinds of fish fry and small tilapia, they grow as big as you let them grow before using them as feeder fish.

They are still fish babies, usually no more than 0.5 inches or 1 inch in length at the most, and since they are fed to other fish before they reach full size, how big they might grow is completely irrelevant.

However, we can talk about the average size of some of the other common feeder fish that are usually used. Generally speaking, you won’t let a feeder fish grow past 2 or 3 inches in length, but it does also depend on the size of the fish they are being fed to.

  • Bluegill – 12 inches (usually used as feeder fish before it grows to full size)
  • Goldfish – 4 inches long
  • Guppies – 1.4 inches long
  • Platies – 2.5 inches long
  • Mosquito Fish – 2.8 inches
  • Minnows – 2.5 inches

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How Long Do Feeder Fish Live?

All right, so generally speaking, normal feeder fish can live for several years, but keep in mind that this depends on the fish itself. Mollies, guppies, goldfish, and various other fish can be used as feeder fish, and of course, they all have differing lifespans.

That being said, seeing as feeder fish get used as fish food for larger predator fish, how long a feeder fish would live for in the wild is more or less irrelevant. Once they hit the aquarium as food for the big boys, their lifespans are not going to be long at all, and in some cases as short as a couple of minutes or even mere seconds.

goldfish in tank
Image credit: Unsplash

How Big Do Feeder Goldfish Get?

Goldfish feeder fish are some of the most popular ones out there, as other fish seem to love eating these poor fish, they are super easy to maintain, and they don’t cost much either.

Something that needs to be said here is that there is no such thing as a “feeder” goldfish, just goldfish people use to feed to other fish, so how big one of these things get simply depends on the actual goldfish type itself, as well as how long you let it live for before feeding it to your other fish.

Chances are that a feeder goldfish is not going to make it past a couple of inches in length before being fed to another fish.

How Big Do Feeder Guppies Get?

Once again, just like with goldfish and other small feeder fish, “feeder” is not a species, only a designation used to categorize types of fish often used to feed other fish.

So, that being said, guppies top out at around 1.4 inches in length, so this is also how big a feeder guppy gets, well, if you don’t feed it to your other fish before it gets a chance to be fully grown.

feeding a goldfish
Image By: New Africa, Shutterstock

What Do Feeder Fish Eat?

Yet again, “feeder” just is not a species, so any feeder fish is going to eat whatever it normally eats in the wild, or captivity when not being used as a feeder fish.

Most feeder fish are small and non-aggressive fish, so using fish pellets and flakes to keep them alive should be just fine. In our opinion, feeding them high quality or expensive foods is probably not necessary, seeing as they are just going to be used for food later on.

Simply put, a feeder fish eats whatever it would normally eat in the wild. For example, a feeder goldfish eats whatever you would normally feed that type of goldfish.

How Often Do You Feed Feeder Fish?

Feeder fish need to be fed as often as that specific type of fish would normally be fed.

If you have a goldfish that you feed twice per day for two minutes at a time, and all of a sudden you are using goldfish for feeder fish, the amount and time at which you feed them does not change.

How Much Are Feeder Fish?

Feeder fish tend to be very inexpensive, but that being said, this is because only inexpensive types of fish are used as feeder fish.

It’s not like this a species, so you won’t find a feeder goldfish that is cheaper than a normal goldfish. They cost the same amount as regular, but you are just happening to use them as feeder fish.

To put this in perspective, a goldfish can cost anywhere from $1 to $5, for the most basic ones anyway.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, feeder fish don’t get too big. This is because only smaller fish are usually used as feeder fish, and if larger fish are used, on the occasions they are used, they are not allowed to grow to full size.

If you want to use feeder fish as a primary food source for your pet fish, we would recommend looking into breeding them for yourself. It is much cheaper than always having to buy them.

See Also:

Featured Image Credit: Erni, Shutterstock

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