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Why Feed Live Baby Brine Shrimp?

Fish thrive when fed live foods often, especially when they are young. Live baby brine shrimp are a highly nutritious food for fish fry; full of protein and nutrients that dry flake food just doesn't offer. Newly hatched brine shrimp are very small, measuring less than 1 mm. Fish of most species are able to eat them within their first week of life. Additionally, fish love brine shrimp. Almost any fish will eat them live or frozen.

The photo below shows a newly hatched and strained batch of baby brine shrimp.

Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter
Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter

Hatching Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp eggs are actually dormant cysts. They can stay viable for years if they are stored in a cool, dry container. When exposed to warm salty water, they re-hydrate and begin to hatch. Hatching baby brine shrimp is pretty simple. Below is a list of the materials you'll need to start your own hatchery.

1. Container

The optimal container for hatching brine shrimp has a tapered or conical shape. A very cheap and reliable option is to use an inverted plastic soda bottle. A 1 Liter bottle will work for small batches but a 2 Liter is more efficient. The photo below shows a 1 liter water bottle being used to hatch brine shrimp.

1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery
1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery

Another option is to purchase a specially designed brine shrimp hatchery like this one. This may be a good option if you want something sturdy that can be used for a long time.

2. Aquarium Salt

Brine shrimp, as the name implies, require a brine solution to hatch. The typical solution is about 1.5 tablespoons of salt per quart of water, or 25 parts per thousand of salt. Although you don't have to use aquarium salt, I like to use it because the large crystals are easier to work with without making a big mess. A large container is not very expensive, and will last a long time if you are just using it for this purpose.

Aquarium Salt
Aquarium Salt

3. Air

Hatching brine shrimp requires an air pump to tumble the cysts in the water and keep the solution oxygenated. You don't need an air stone. Just position the airline tubing so that the bubbles are coming out at the very bottom of the container.

4. Brine Shrimp Eggs (Cysts)

There are several different brands of brine shrimp eggs available. For the most part any brand that advertises a high hatch rate (80-90%) will work. The San Francisco Bay brand is popular and a good choice if you are just trying to hatch them for the first time. However, its more economical to buy a large container, like this one.

Brine Shrimp Eggs
Brine Shrimp Eggs

Hatching

Once you have all the materials, you can set up your hatchery and mix up the water, salt, and brine shrimp cysts. There are many different DIY brine shrimp hatchery designs out there. This one by Solid Gold Aquatics is a good beginner tutorial.

In my experience you don't need to add anything to the water besides salt. This includes dechlorinator. The cysts are completely encapsulated and chlorine in normal tap water concentrations shouldn't affect your hatch rate.

The optimal temperature for hatching is 77-80F. Since brine shrimp are attracted to light sources, you can use a lamp with a CFL or incandescent bulb to keep the solution warm, or submerge the bottle in an aquarium that is already at a nice warm temperature. I have found that temperature is more important than constant light for high hatch rates.

Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest
Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest

Harvesting Brine Shrimp

When you are ready to harvest your newly hatched brine shrimp, you should remove the air line and allow the solution to settle for 5-10 minutes. The unhatched cysts will sink to the bottom of the container, and the empty shells will float to the surface. This will leave the live baby brine shrimp swimming in the middle of the solution. Then use a pipette or turkey baster to suck up the wriggling orange cloud.

At this point you can squirt the salty brine shrimp solution directly into your aquarium, but it is better to strain the shrimp out of the salt water using a coffee filter first. You can use either a fine metal mesh or a paper filter for this purpose.

Straining Brine Shrimp
Straining Brine Shrimp

Once you have strained the shrimp into a filter, you can transfer them to some dechlorinated tap water or aged aquarium water before feeding them to your fish. Any leftover baby brine shrimp can be frozen into cubes and fed over the next few days.

Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine
Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine Shrimp

The video below shows live baby brine shrimp being fed to my celestial pearl danio tank. You can see just how quickly the fish devour them.


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Adult Yellow Tiger Endler Males
Adult Yellow Tiger Endler Males

I recently purchased a few pairs of adult yellow tiger Endler's livebearers. The photo above is a couple of the males in my planted 10 gallon display tank. The best thing about livebearers is how easy they are to breed once you have a pair of adults with good genetics. I set up a simple fry rearing tank, added a very pregnant female, and within 24 hours of moving her I had 15+ newborn Endler fry.

Female Endler After Giving Birth
Adult Female Endler

Tank Setup

Fry Tank Setup
Fry Tank Setup

This setup is optimal for rearing young fish, whether they are livebearers or egg-layers. It requires no substrate and no decorations. All you need is a heater, a filter, and some moss or other plants for the fry to hide in. I am using a 20 gallon "long" size tank, which is shorter vertically and longer horizontally than a typical 20 gallon "high". The light is a 30" Nicrew LED, although a light is not required for raising fry.

1 Day Old Endlers in Java Moss
1 Day Old Endlers in Java Moss

These baby Endlers will be fully grown and ready to breed in about 3 months.

Filtration

Bacto-Surge Sponge Filter
Bacto-Surge Sponge Filter

I'm using a Bacto-Surge sponge filter in this fry tank. A sponge filter is by far the best type to use in a tank with very young fish. Hang-on-back and canister filters have intakes that will suck up and kill newborn fry. Although you can use intake sponges on these types of filters, its much simpler to use an air-driven sponge filter. A 5 watt air pump can drive multiple sponge filters, filtering more than one tank with less electricity than a single hang-on-back.

Bare Bottom

Although you could put gravel into a tank you are using to raise fry, it is much better to run a bare bottom tank. I painted the back and bottom of this tank using black acrylic paint. The bare bottom allows you to easily vacuum out uneaten food and waste to maintain high water quality for the young fish. Having no substrate also saves you about $20 in a 20 gallon tank like this one.

Plants

Plants, such as guppy grass or java moss, provide the fry (or eggs) with a place to hide from their parents, who will often eat their own young. Additionally, plants provide fry with a high surface area to graze on infusoria, which are minute aquatic creatures such as ciliateseuglenoidsprotozoa, and unicellular algae.

Java Moss
Java Moss

I pulled a large quantity of java moss out of another tank that I was rescaping specifically for this setup. You can see several 1 day old Endler fry hanging out beneath the moss in the photo below. If you don't have access to such a large quantity of java moss, guppy grass, also known as najas grass, is often available at local fish shops.

1 Day Old Endlers in Java Moss
1 Day Old Endlers in Java Moss

Feeding The Fry

I feed newly hatched brine shrimp to all of my young fish. Brine shrimp are cheap to produce and can be hatched from eggs in 36 hours. They are small enough for newborn Endlers and Guppies to eat, high in protein, and irresistible to most fish. Fry that are raised on live brine shrimp will quickly outgrow fish that are fed only crushed flakes or other prepared foods. The photo below shows a culture of brine shrimp ready to be harvested.

This post has more information on hatching brine shrimp.

Live Baby Brine Shrimp
Live Baby Brine Shrimp

Update: Endler Fry Tank 5 Months Later

After setting this tank up I added dwarf water lettuce which has spread to cover most of the surface. The java moss has more than tripled in size and now hosts a colony of blue dream shrimp in addition to multiple generations of Yellow Tiger Endlers.

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