Ultimate Guide to Feeding Sturgeon (What Food & How Often?)

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Ultimate Guide to Feeding Sturgeon 2022 (How Often & What To Feed)

Sturgeons swimming along the bottom of a tank
Sturgeons are bottom dwellers which means that it’s sometimes hard to see if they’re feeding properly. swimfinfan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Among the more popularly reared freshwater species, sturgeons are perhaps some of the most elusive. These seemingly primitive, armored fish can be quite challenging to feed compared to koi and goldfish, which readily take food on the water’s surface. Sturgeons are bottom dwellers, and will therefore feed on your pond’s bottom surface or substrate. This means that, if your pond is quite deep or the water isn’t crystal clear, it can be hard to tell if they’re feeding properly.

Like most pond fish, the amount of food a sturgeon consumes depends on its energy requirements. This varies throughout the year and is largely dependent on water temperature and food availability. One important thing to remember, however, is your pond sturgeons will need food through winter! Although their metabolism does slow down as temperatures drop, sturgeons are still able to metabolize food at 4˚C (39˚F). Keep in mind that a common cause of sturgeon death is winter starvation.

These carnivorous fish need high-protein food sources all year round. When they are most active, they will require at least 2% of their weight every single day. Thus, food will need to be provided frequently and in a controlled manner so that food waste is reduced.

When & How to Feed Sturgeon

A large sturgeon swimming underwater
Sturgeon that are able to grow quite large may need more frequent feeding sessions. Geoff Parsons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Sturgeons are more active at night. Their nocturnal tendencies will definitely have to be considered if you wish to rear them alongside diurnal species. They should ideally be fed just after nightfall, which is when they begin to expend their energy, and early morning. They will need to be fed fairly frequently and with small amounts of food at a time to ensure that they can comfortably go about their nighttime activities.

An acceptable feeding frequency for sturgeons is at least twice per day. Juveniles or those that are able to grow quite large may need more frequent feeding sessions. This can go up to once every three hours, especially as they have remarkably short guts. Their digestive systems are simply not the most efficient at nutrient uptake. This is why nutrient stores have to be replenished often.

You will have to find a balance between feeding small amounts at a time and spacing apart feeding sessions to ensure maximum nutrient absorption. If you feed your sturgeons too frequently, you run the risk of having partly assimilated food turn into waste in your pond system. While you may be eager to experiment on feeding frequencies, do prioritize making sure that your sturgeons are actually able to eat. If you rear them alongside other fish, consider trying out the tips and tricks listed below.

Sturgeon Feeding Techniques

1) Separate feeding times

Adult sturgeon swimming along the bottom of a pond
You should try to feed surface-feeding fish first before feeding your sturgeon, so that they’ll be less likely to snack on the sturgeon food. Image by Davgood Kirshot from Pixabay

Most of your surface-feeding fish will presumably prefer being fed during the day and may require fish feeds with a different formulation. Don’t rely on the sinking, unconsumed food particles to nourish your sturgeons as an insufficient amount may be accessible to them. Feed your surface-feeders first and stick to amounts that they are able to consume within the first few minutes of feeding. Once they are satisfied, try to locate your sturgeons and feed them there. Because your other fish are already full, they are less likely to snack on the sturgeon food.

2) The pipe method

A white hollow pipe
You can use a hollow tube or pipe to feed your sturgeon as it helps prevent other fish from feeding on sturgeon food. Teacher1943, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sturgeons are not competitive feeders. Other fish may unfailingly try to feed on the food for your sturgeons as the particles float towards the pond bottom. A nifty way to beat these opportunists at their game is by using a hollow tube or pipe. Hold the pipe vertically in your pond, with a few inches jutting through the surface of the water. It should preferably be long enough to reach the pond floor, though even a short one should help ensure that food reaches the bottom. Drop a few pellets or pieces of live food at a time and wait for them to sink before removing the pipe.

3) Creating diversions

An automatic fish feeder loaded with food for pallid sturgeon
An automatic fish feeder can help if you need to feed sturgeon & surface-feeders at the same time. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

If you must feed your surface-feeders and sturgeons at the same time, this is a good technique to try. First, try to locate where your sturgeons are. Lead your surface-feeders to the opposite side of the pond by luring them with food. While they are pre-occupied with floating feeds, make your way back to your sturgeons and quickly provide them with sinking pellets or live food. This method may be more effective if you have another person who can help you simultaneously feed your other pond fish. You can also consider using an automatic fish feeder!

4) Train your fish

Adult sturgeon underwater
Feed your sturgeon at the same time and place. Over time, your sturgeon will naturally gravitate towards that area! Aah-Yeah, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Like many domesticated animals, fish can be trained with the use of food. Provide your sturgeons with food at the same times and in the same location every single day. For ease of feeding, choose a pond edge area from which you are easily able to observe your fish without potentially slipping or falling into your pond! Over time, your sturgeons will gravitate to this area or remain there whenever they are hungry. Make sure to train your surface-feeders to receive food in another area to prevent overlaps in feeding.

Feeding Your Sturgeon Through the Seasons

Pallid sturgeon at the bottom of a pond
Although their metabolism does slow down in the winter, sturgeons still need a minimal supply of food. USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation / No copyright

Sturgeons are native to areas that experience some of the coldest winters. Many species are endemic to sub-Arctic and temperate freshwater systems. Although their metabolism does slow down in winter, it never truly comes to a full stop. Unlike koi and goldfish, sturgeons will still need a minimal supply of food through the coldest weeks. Without food, they may suffer from malnutrition or perish before the final frosts thaw.

Depending on how active your sturgeons are during late autumn and winter, you may have to reduce your feeding frequency to just once per day (or less). Try to observe your fish a few times during the day and before you retire at night. This will help you determine just how much food is needed and how often to feed your fish. During winter, it is likely that the amount of food per feeding session will be brought down to just 0.8 – 1% of your fish’s body weight.

This amount may be raised to as much as 4% in spring or summer, when your sturgeons are more likely to be active. You may also opt to feed your fish with the same amount, but more often. Do watch out for excessively high temperatures, however, as warm water may ruin your sturgeons’ appetite. You may need to provide your pond with more shade and aeration to prevent excessive heating.

What to Feed Your Sturgeon

A bloodworm
You need to provide your sturgeons with high-protein food, such as bloodworms (pictured). Hans Hillewaert / CC BY-SA 4.0

In the wild, sturgeons tend to feed whenever they come across viable prey, such as insect larvae, macroinvertebrates (e.g. crabs, shrimp, mussels, barnacles), and small benthic fish. It may feed on snails and bottom dwellers that naturally occur in your pond. To ensure that your sturgeons grow at a normal rate, you will need to provide them with high-protein food.

This can come in the form of pellets or live food, such as bloodworms. Sturgeons will gravitate towards live food but you can train them to receive nutritionally complete pellets in your pond. Make sure you use quality pellets as nutrient deficiencies can quickly compromise your sturgeon’s health. They will require a high-protein diet even through winter as their digestive systems lack the enzymes that can break down plant matter.

The appropriate pellet size is also extremely important as those that are too big or too small can affect feeding rates. Sturgeons that are approximately 6 – 14 inches long should be fed with 2 – 3 mm pellets. Those ranging from 14 – 20 inches should manage to consume 3 – 6 mm pellets. Sturgeon above 20 inches may require pellets that are 6 mm in length or longer.

To prevent overfeeding or clouding up your pond water, provide a few pieces of food at a time. Make sure that these sink to the bottom and are easily accessed by your sturgeons. Avoid feeding close to air stones or complex bottom features as these can be difficult for your fish to navigate around. Once your fish stop showing interest in the food, or after the 5-minute mark, remove any uneaten bits.

Signs of Underfeeding or Malnutrition

1) Malformations

A sturgeon with a deformed spine
Malformations, such as a curved or bent body, can occur when sturgeons don’t receive enough food or have an imbalanced diet. Photo by Jalil Zorriehzahra

Sturgeons that don’t receive enough food or have an imbalanced diet tend to develop malformations, especially if starvation occurs at a young age. Healthy sturgeons have a well-balanced shape, with the body gradually tapering towards the tail. At its widest point, the head width should ideally be equal to the body width along the first dorsal fins. Underfed sturgeons may have a markedly reduced body width that begins to taper prior to where the first dorsal fins are located.

An even more alarming malformation is the occurrence of a bent or curved body shape. Extreme and often irremediable cases can take on the appearance of a horseshoe or U-shape. If you find that your sturgeon’s body is no longer straight, try to pay special attention to the fish during feeding time. You may have to isolate bent individuals to ensure that they are able to take food. This is also advisable in case there are serious underlying illnesses.

2) Odd swimming behavior

Juvenile sturgeon in a person's hand
Juveniles are more likely to swim upside down (indicating hunger) as they require more frequent feeding times than mature sturgeons. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

If you find that your sturgeon is beginning to swim upside down, it’s likely it may have missed a few feeding times. You may have also miscalculated how much to feed it. This indication of hunger is particularly common with juveniles, which require more frequent feeding times. Try to feed your fish as soon as you spot this odd behavior. If it persists, it’s possible that other fish may be consuming your sturgeon’s food. Also likely, but definitely more worrisome, is the possibility that your fish is suffering from a more serious illness.

3) Sucking on surfaces

Lake sturgeon poking its nose out of the water
Sturgeons may poke their nose out of the water if they’re hungry. USFWS Midwest Region / No copyright

When desperately hungry, sturgeons may occasionally attempt to graze on whatever they may find in your pond. They may suck on the mucus membranes of your larger fish as a means to obtain the slightest amounts of protein and carbohydrates. They may also suck on the sides of your pond or whatever other surfaces are accessible. Sturgeons also tend to poke their noses through the water’s surface as a result of hunger. Do note that, if they frequently approach your pond’s surface and appear to be gasping for air, you may have an aeration issue rather than hungry fish.

Will Sturgeon Eat Other Pond Fish?

A catfish in a sturgeon's mouth
If a sturgeon is hungry they may feed on some fish in your pond. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

If your pond has fry, juveniles, and small-sized species, a hungry sturgeon may feed on a few individuals. Don’t forget that sturgeons are naturally carnivorous and require protein-rich food sources to develop normally. Fortunately, pond carnivory isn’t a very common occurrence and is easily prevented by keeping your sturgeon satiated with fish feeds and live protein supplements. Sturgeons are generally peaceful additions to a pond as long as they are not subjected to stress and are cared for appropriately.

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