Live Saltwater Feeder Fish for Your Marine Animals

Brine Shrimp & Live Feeder Fish

Close-Up Of Colorful Guppy Fish At Aquarium
Douglas Vigon /EyeEm/Getty Images

When in nature most marine animals eat some source of live food. Whether it be small shrimp and crustaceans or fish, feeding your fish an occasional live food meal is beneficial for their diets. Let's take a look at some of the live food sources you can use.

Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp are one of the most common live foods that you can use. They are something you can culture and grow yourself. To culture them you buy the eggs (cysts) in dried form.

The directions can typically be found on the container for hatching the eggs, but here are abbreviated instructions. You can use any clear plastic or glass container. Because most hobbyists do not need a large volume of brine shrimp, a 2-5 gallon size container will work well. If the container has a wide open top, you will want to design a cover with a small hole in the center to fit your air hose through. This cover will help prevent overspray. Fill it 3/4 full with salt water, add an airstone for movement of the water, add a few eggs (1 or 2 teaspoons), keep the temperature at about 75-80 degrees and add some light (preferably sunlight). Depending on the quality of the eggs, hatching will occur in 24-48 hours.

To remove the brine shrimp for feeding, shine a light onto the bottom of the container as the shrimp will be drawn towards the light. You can siphon off the shrimp by using a tube inserted into the container and empty the shrimp into a cup. We ended up adding a small weight onto to the hose to keep it on the bottom. You can use a dropper to remove the brine shrimp. We found ours in the children's medicine section of the local pharmacy, or a turkey baster works well. With this method, you can use the dropper to directly squirt the brine shrimp in the exact location you want them to go, for example when feeding anemones and corals. Or you can also use a fine mesh net to scoop and remove them.

Aquarium Tank Brine Shrimp Hatchery from the Fishline site uses an old aquarium. 1/4 of the aquarium is without light to hatch to eggs and then the other 3/4's of the tank is lit. Unhatched eggs stay on the dark site, and the hatched brine shrimp migrate to the lighted side of the tank for easy harvesting.

Baby brine shrimp have a dense, oily yolk sac. It is believed that "abnormal fat deposits in organs such as the kidney or liver can interfere with the normal structure and function of these organs. Fish with such conditions tend to be prone to disease." Use caution not to overfeed young fish too many brine shrimp as this might contribute to an excess fatty build up in their bodies causing degeneration of the liver and kidney.

Artemia parthenogenetica
by MedioTuerto / Getty Images

Live Feeder Fish

Marine animals like Lion Fish, Groupers, most Eels, Hawk Fish, Snappers, Anglers, and the like, are predatory animals. Their life on the reef consists of hunting and eating other small fish. By giving these animals small live fish to eat it is not only good for their diets, but it stimulates their activity and can be a large part of their overall fish health. It is a part of their natural characteristic to hunt. Besides, if you give them a good steady diet of their own, they will have less tendency to try and eat your other fish inhabitants.

Some time ago, I was working at a doctor's office that had a beautiful 150-gallon reef tank in the waiting room with two Lion Fish inhabitants. The doctor also had a 10-gallon tank in one of the treatment rooms that had small goldfish in it. Each day I noticed that the numbers of the goldfish were diminishing and I couldn't figure out why. You have to realize I knew nothing about saltwater fish or tanks; it was my first experience being around one. One day after closing, the doctor went into the treatment room and scooped five or six of the goldfish in a net and proceeded to carry them into the waiting room. It finally dawned on me as he was putting the goldfish into the reef tank that they were dinner for the Lion Fishes. I was stunned but found myself memorized by the change of the mood in the Lion Fishes. They immediately went from their docile appearance to an excited, stimulated mood and the hunt was on. When they were done, I swear you could almost see a smile on their faces, and they were happy and content.

Using freshwater feeder fish like goldfish, guppies, and mollies are the best. They are less expensive and do not carry marine diseases that can be introduced into your aquarium. If you do happen to buy brackish or saltwater feeder fishes, be sure to give them a 2-3 minute freshwater bath and remove any visible external parasites before putting them into your tank.

A lionfish underwater in Moscow, Russia.
Lionfish. Konstantin Lopatin / Getty Images

Small Shrimp & Crustaceans

Reef tanks will often develop a population of amphipods, shrimp, crabs and small shrimps after a period of time when live rock or sand have been added. These are natural sources of live food for your marine fish and other inhabitants in your aquarium. Of course, bristle worms are undesirable and should be removed and eradicated from the tank immediately if found. Triggers and most Wrasses in particular love to eat crabs and shrimp. Providing them with these foods in their diets immensely aids the health of the fish. If you are going to feed your fish small crabs or shrimp, it is good to give them a 2-3 minute bath before placing them in the tank. It not only helps to avoid transfer of possible marine diseases, but it stuns them to allow the fish to snatch them up before they can run for cover and get away. Triggers and Wrasses also like to eat urchins. The Triggers strong jaw and teeth allow them to pick the spines off to get to them, but with Wrasses, you can crack the urchin open and place it in the tank exposed.

Other fish will dine on this meal too.

Live Plants

For Tangs/Surgeon Fish, in particular, most of these fish are algae eaters. You can provide them with live cultured caulerpa's or limu (a form of seaweed). Indo-Pacific Sea Farms in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii offer Certified Farm Cultured items like their Limu Plate and Tang Heaven-Natural Red Macro Algae Diet. Visit our Inverts & Plants Livestock Suppliers NetLinks to locate other live plant sources on the Web.

Tubifex Worms

This form of food has always been popular with freshwater aquarists but can apply to marine fish feeding too. You can form a small pressed ball and stuff it firmly into a crack or a coral head. Sometimes difficult to feed Butterflyfish are attracted to the movement of the worms and will start to pick and feed. Be careful when using this live food as it will foul a tank quickly if you overfeed, and any loose, dead or uneaten worms should be removed from the tank. Tubifex worms should not be the main diet source but used as an occasional treat.

Other Sources

To find out more about feeding and caring for your marine animals visit our Saltwater Fish & Creature Care.