Brine Shrimp are raised in large numbers as model laboratory organisms for toxicity and water chemistry studies. They are also one of the easiest sources of live and frozen food for aquarium fish and offer several benefits over prepared foods.
In this guide you’ll learn not only the other benefits they provide but exactly how to raise Brine Shrimp of your very own!
What Are Brine Shrimp?
Brine Shrimp (Artemia sp.) are specialized crustaceans found only in saltwater lakes, often far from the ocean. Defenseless and unable to avoid predators, Brine Shrimp instead live in water ranging from brackish to far too high in salt for most organisms to tolerate.
Brine Shrimp and their cousins the Fairy Shrimp are also found in temporary bodies of water that may only exist for weeks before disappearing for years at a time.
Their eggs are actually cysts that can survive time, temperature, and humidity extremes beyond anything most living creatures can bear.
Despite their extreme living conditions and simplistic life cycle Brine Shrimp are some of the most successful animals in the history of the planet. They have been around since at least the Triassic Period (250 million years ago) and are likely to outlive us as well!
Benefits of Live Brine Shrimp
Dried Brine Shrimp Nauplii contain 37%–71% protein, 12%–30% lipid, 11%–23% carbohydrate, and 4%–21% ash, excellent ratios for fish nutrition. Chitin within the shells also provides roughage the same way fiber does for humans.
Brine Shrimp Nauplii are especially high in lipids (fat) and are an excellent source of food for all but the very smallest of fish fry. As a live prey item they will be instantly accepted as food while liquid and powdered fry foods may be rejected.
Given how much and often fish fry need to feed this can result in starvation before they realize prepared foods are an option.
Adult Brine Shrimp are far closer to what fish consume in nature over flakes and pellets full of starch and grain based fillers. Picky feeders will accept them with gusto and even fish trained onto prepared foods should be given Brine Shrimp as a treat now and again!
Live foods boost color, immunity, engage hunting instincts, and help condition fish to spawn.
Equipment Needed for Raising Brine Shrimp
Salt: And not just any table salt. You should be using aquarium or marine salt, depending on the size of the rearing tank. These are free of human nutritional additions. If sourced from saltwater it also contains valuable trace minerals!
Aerator: Brine Shrimp need both aeration and current to thrive. A single aeration stone at the end of an air line works for soda bottle brine shrimp tanks. Choose both a larger air pump and aeration stone for larger aquaria, up to 10 gallons.
Current should be gentle to moderate with medium to large bubbles – fine bubbles can stick to adult Brine Shrimp and impair their ability to swim.
Light Source: Lights are used to concentrate and collect Brine Shrimp Nauplii. Something as simple as a light bulb or flashlight can do the trick as can a clam lamp or other setup.
A secondary light source like the standard fluorescent or incandescent bulbs that come with most aquarium hoods are perfect for normal usage.
Brine Shrimp Eggs: You can buy them incredibly cheaply from Amazon, eBay, Sea Monkey kits, and other random outlets. However its worth sourcing them from temperature controlled specialty outlets if you intend on raising a constant supply.
Brine Shrimp eggs are in a state of suspended animation and will last centuries or even millenia. However the more unstable the conditions the fewer eggs that will hatch. And we want as many to hatch as possible to maximizing yields per batch.
Unused eggs should be kept refrigerated if possible. If not, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place for best results. Seek out reliable suppliers like Brine Shrimp Direct as they provide constant humidity and temperature controlled conditions for maximum viability (40F).
Tanks and Containers for Raising Brine Shrimp
Raising Brine Shrimp can be as simple or as complex as you wish. Most of these instructions are designed for use with a small 5-10 gallon rearing aquarium. However you can use smaller aquariums and even soda bottles or jars for raising small numbers of Brine Shrimp.
If you wish to raise a constant supply of Nauplii you’ll need multiple aquariums, jars, or bottles because Nauplii reach their adult size in 2-3 weeks, depending on temperature and feeding.
Brine Shrimp Water Conditions
Here are some of the water chemistry needs you should be aware of when raising brine shrimp:
Brine Shrimp eggs are temperature sensitive. While you will see results at cooler to room temperatures, 75-80F will result in the most Nauplii.
pH should be on the alkaline side, from 8.0-9.0. As pH decreases fewer eggs will hatch. pH Adjusting agents should always be on hand as well as water test strips or fluid tests to monitor chemistry in between and after water changes.
Aquarium Salt Ratio
You should be aiming for 15-40 parts per thousand (specific gravity 1.011-1.028). Less salt can actually improve hatching ratios as the young Nauplii can absorb more water and break through their shells with ease.
These numbers are also well within the range for normal saltwater aquariums (specific gravity 1.025 to 1.026). Following the mixing instructions on the bag will give you perfect results!
Mixing properly and following up with an Aquarium Hydrometer reading will ensure salinity is precisely where you want it to be!
After premixing your new water with the above conditions use a strong light source to attract all the Brine Shrimp to the surface. Once they have gathered there you can safely vacuum corpses, egg shells, and other debris from the bottom of the hatchery.
Depending on the size of the tank and the density of Brine Shrimp you may have to perform more or less frequent water changes. During your weekly 50% water changes removing unhatched eggs and hatched egg shells is necessary.
Follow the instructions below on catching Brine Shrimp to concentrate the Nauplii or adults into one area for safe keeping. Then you are free to siphon out the unhatched eggs and use a net on the empty shells.
Once the water current ceases unhatched eggs will sink to the bottom and spent shells will float to the top of the aquarium.
Decapsulating Brine Shrimp Eggs
Egg shells can be problematic to work with when raising Brine Shrimp. Even if you get an excellent 80% hatch rate that’s still thousands of unhatched eggs circulating in the water and thousands to millions of egg shells as well.
Nauplii and adults are easy to separate out with enough time and light. However if you aren’t extra careful egg shells can be introduced when feeding Nauplii to fish fry. Egg shells are indigestible and can even block the digestive tracts of young fry, causing death.
While its not entirely necessary decapsulating Brine Shrimp eggs right before hatching removes this problem and also boosts hatching yields by up to 10%. The young Nauplii are also more energetic, spared the need to spend precious energy breaking free of their tough eggs.
One procedure used on occasion is using a hypochlorite solution (household bleach 5%) to dissolve the outer coating (chlorion). Soak the amount of Brine Shrimp eggs you intend to hatch in 1 liter of warm freshwater for 1 hour with an aeration stone providing current. The eggs will hydrate, swelling with water in preparation for hatching.
Add a second liter of household bleach to the solution and allow the eggs to circulate for another 5 to 10 minutes. Watch the eggs; as the bleach dissolves the chlorion they will shift from brown to white and finally a bright orange color.
This orange hue means that the embryos are free of their shells. Strain the embryos through an Artemesia Sieve and rinse continually until the chlorine bleach smell is gone. You can also add standard dechlorinator to a small cup of water and rinse the embryos for additional peace of mind. Once purified add them directly to your saltwater hatchery!
If you intend on feeding your Nauplii to fish fry you can also simply skip the step of awakening them! Assuming your fish fry will accept unmoving Brine Shrimp embryos, these deshelled babies have the full nutritional content of young Nauplii and require even less work on your part.
Decapsulating is not necessary for raising Brine Shrimp. However it can boost yields, result in healthier and more energetic Nauplii, reduce the amount of effort it takes to separate eggs from Nauplii, and eliminates the risk of young fry consuming shells. Lastly the decapsulated embryos are themselves a fine food source for fish fry.
Feeding Brine Shrimp
If you intend on feeding newly hatched Brine Shrimp Nauplii to fish fry then there’s no need to worry about feeding. You will see your first hatchings within 16-24 hours of adding to the tank.
During their first 24 hours of life Brine Shrimp Nauplii have a rich egg yolk to sustain them and don’t eat. This yolk boosts their fat content and makes them even more nutritious for young fish. Their fat content drops to around 7% as they mature.
Once the Nauplii have absorbed their yolk sac you will need to provide a constant source of microscopic food. Brine Shrimp of all ages are filter feeders and should be able to eat 24/7!
Fortunately Brine Shrimp Nauplii and adults are indiscriminate feeders – particle size is the main criteria! Spirulina powder, brewer’s yeast, fish meal, soybean powder, and hard boiled egg yolk are all foods that will be accepted and are easily obtained.
Live foods include green water algae and Infusoria (microorganisms like bacteria, paramecium, etc). Some green water algae species have thick cell walls that make them indigestible so it’s best not to rely on them if possible.
Most of these offerings will foul your Brine Shrimp hatchery very quickly so keep an eye on water quality and do partial water changes as needed. Allow the water to become slightly cloudy and then give your Brine Shrimp time to clear it before feeding again.
Catching Brine Shrimp Nauplii and Adults
To harvest Brine Shrimp you need a nice strong light source. They are attracted to light and will cluster near a light bulb, clam lamp, or flightlight placed next to the aquarium.
Turn off the aeration, place your light source in a location convenient for your net and wait 10 to 20 minutes for things to settle. Unhatched eggs will sink to the bottom as will most of your Brine Shrimp Nauplii if there is no light source is available. Empty egg shells will float to the top.
You can then use a small pipette, siphon hose, or fine meshed Artemesia Sieve designed specifically for Nauplii and adults, depending on how much you want to harvest at once.
Your fresh Brine Shrimp should be transferred to a sieve regardless and rinsed briefly in freshwater to remove debris, contaminants, and excess salt. They can then be added to a freshwater solution, collected in a pipette and fed delicately to young fish fry or added en masse.
Being saltwater creatures Brine Shrimp Nauplii and adults won’t survive long in freshwater aquariums. However they will wiggle more than long enough to encourage fish to eat them quickly!
Raising Brine Shrimp to Adulthood
Raising Brine Shrimp to adulthood is fortunately an easy task.
While they do eat more than Nauplii they don’t need larger aquariums nor should you worry about trying to breed them because the eggs are incredibly inexpensive.
The same foods can be given to adult Brine Shrimp. In fact you can think of it as gut loading – a concept often employed by reptile and amphibian keepers.
By feeding insects and other live prey nutritious foods they provide a predigested nutritional boost for their predators.
Omnivorous fish will benefit greatly from a spirulina kick to their Brine Shrimp. And purely carnivorous fish benefit from Infusoria and egg yolk fattened Brine Shrimp.
Adult Brine Shrimp are also attracted to light and can be harvested in much the same way as Nauplii.
Once broken down into simple steps raising Brine Shrimp is not nearly as challenging as it appears. They are hardy, quick to hatch, and accept a wide range of prepared and live foods.
Small to medium sized fish happily accept Brine Shrimp as they not only stimulate predatory instincts but also provide a real nutrition boost over most prepared foods. Lastly, I find the process interesting in and of itself and almost as fun as raising aquarium fish!