Do you feed your saltwater fish flake foods, pellets or frozen mysis? How about live brine
shrimp or live fish foods in general? In this article I am going to explain the benefits of feeding your
fish live food, specifically brine shrimp. These creatures can be extremely nutritious for your
livestock and are applicable for all levels of marine aquarists.
Brine shrimp (Artemia salina) are small, filter-feeding crustaceans that live in saltwater habitats.
They grow to around 8 mm and take about a week to mature depending on the conditions.
After they mature, they can live for several months and produce as much as 75 eggs every day.
They live in a large range of different saline habitats inland and on the coast. These creatures
have a remarkable resistance to changes in temperature and salinity levels. Their gills allow
them to survive these conditions by absorbing or extracting ions as needed. They therefore may
live offshore, in lakes or in man-made bodies of water in most parts of the world. To eat, they
use structures on their legs to capture phytoplankton.
Benefits to your Tank
Most people would agree that it is much easier to feed your saltwater fish flakes or pellets
instead of live brine shrimp, copepods, amphipods or even frozen food. While dry food has its
advantages, it is beneficial to feed your fish a varied diet. Imagine eating only potatoes to get
you through each day. While you would survive, you would not be entirely healthy for long. It is
the same for the fish in your aquarium; they can survive off of dry food, but they are not as
healthy as they could possibly be. Hobbyist avoid feeding live food most likely because it is not
as easy to use as dry food, too expensive, or they doubt that it has real positive effects on their
tank. If you have been in this hobby for much time, you would have heard the phrase, “you get
out what you put in.” This applies to feeding, too. If you feed your fish well, they will live long
with amazing vibrant colors. Otherwise, they will just survive until their shortened lives end.
Feeding your fish different varieties of food will promote better coloration and a longer life.
As saltwater aquarists, our main goal is to replicate the natural environment of the ocean as
accurately as possible in our reef tanks. In natural reefs, fish do not get fed flake food or frozen
food. They hunt and eat live organism enriched by nutrients from the natural environments.
Why would we not at least attempt to do the same in our aquariums? By feeding live food, you
are more accurately replicating the ocean environment from which they naturally live in.
Another popular reason for feeding live brine is to meet the needs of finicky fish. Fish such as
dragonets, butterflies or anthias are all fishes that are known to be difficult to keep successfully
because of their dietary needs. Live food can be used to train these fishes to start eating a
certain kind of food (such as frozen). You could also regularly feed live food which would be
best for the fish but not required. While most people feed copepods, brine shrimp are also a
great option. They are just as useful as rotifers and copepods for food. The downside is that
they cannot reproduce or even last more than an hour in a reef tank that is fully stocked.
Copepods are not big enough to feed many aquarium fishes. On the other hand, brine shrimp
can be eaten by most or all of the fish in your reef tank.
Live or Frozen Food?
Why is live brine better than frozen brine? It is simply because frozen food in general lacks
some nutrients. It may have less than dry food. Some aquarist fix this by soaking the food in
food enhancers and dietary supplements. The problem with this is that it is even more
unnatural. It could also be more expensive and involve more work. It seems live food is the way
How to Add Brine Shrimp to a Tank
Feeding the brine shrimp to your fish is quite simple. First, be sure to temperature acclimate
them by floating them in a container in your tank. It is good to do this so that the shrimp are
not stunned when you first put them in the aquarium. While this is important, brine shrimp are
very tolerant to sudden changes. Do not worry about it too much, just keep it in mind. Before
you pour them in, turn off all your pumps and powerheads, otherwise they could just get
chopped up in the power heads or sucked into your filtration system.
Now you are ready to put them in. I recommend not dumping them in all at once in the same
spot but instead all throughout the tank at different times within five minutes. Unlike
copepods, amphipods or rotifers, you do not want to put them in sump or refugium, or at night.
The reason you would do this (with copepods, amphipods, etc.) is so they can avoid getting
completely eaten by fish and begin reproducing. However, brine shrimp will most likely not
reproduce in your refugium like these other small crustaceans.
Brine shrimp (especially nano brine shrimp) are an excellent live food that can be added to any
Back to Learn
saltwater aquarium. They are more nutritionally complete than most dry or frozen foods. They
can also be used to feed or train finicky fish. Like anything else in the hobby, there are many
ways to feed brine shrimp so don’t be afraid to try your own methods!