Butterflyfish and other highly laterally compressed species have less body reserves than more robust fish.This question usually arises when a marine aquarium hobbyist is either preparing to depart for vacation or trying to coax a hunger-striking new fish to eat. While it would be extremely helpful if there were a simple formula to help us solve this puzzle—e.g., “If you have fish species X, you can expect it to live exactly Y days without food before perishing”—this question actually demands a much more nuanced answer. As far as vacation feeding is concerned, it’s generally safe to assume that most healthy (note the emphasis) fish will be fine for a few days to a week or so without eating depending on the species. Beyond that, you’ll definitely want to make some accommodation to have the fish fed—even if just every two or three days. With respect to persuading a finicky new specimen to start eating, which often takes several days, I usually don’t start to get nervous until the fish is approaching about two weeks without food. Now, that doesn’t mean a fish in either situation couldn’t potentially survive for a much longer period without eating, but the idea is to avoid getting close to the point where its health is compromised—and again, we don’t know exactly where that line is drawn. That point is so indistinct because of the following factors: The specimen’s normal diet What and how a fish naturally eats has significant bearing on how long it can go in between meals. More: How Long Can Marine Fish Go Without Food?
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