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Small crustaceans as live food

caridina English Edition - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 4/2019 vom 22.10.2019

Artemia and daphnia breeding made easy

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FemaleArtemia with egg pouches on the base of its pleon.

Photos: Tamara Stamm

Artemia nauplii in an aquarium

Photo: Oliver Mengedoht

Some small crustaceans aren’t only a great live food source for ornamental sh, but also for shrimp or dwarf craysh. There are shrimp species that literally go hunting for daphnia and co.


Some of our older readers might remember them as “Sea Monkeys” - brine shrimp of the genusArtemia are probably the live food most frequently used in the aquarium hobby. The nauplii are easy to breed, lowcost, nutritious and ...

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Some of our older readers might remember them as “Sea Monkeys” - brine shrimp of the genusArtemia are probably the live food most frequently used in the aquarium hobby. The nauplii are easy to breed, lowcost, nutritious and small enough even for tiny sh fry. Shrimp and small craysh will also benet from brine shrimp nauplii since they are chock-full of nutrients and beta carotene, and moreover, they contain chitin, which our crustaceans need for building their shell. Even Sulawesi shrimp likeCaridina dennerli just love eating live brine shrimp.

Artemia belong to the anostraca and originate from briny lakes, i. e. inland water bodies with a higher salinity than the ocean. They lay permanent eggs, or cysts, which hatch within one or two days if the conditions are good. Directly aft er hatching, the nauplii have the highest nutritional value.

Zooming in on someArtemia nauplii

Photo: JBL

Empty cyst shells and nauplii need to be separated before feeding. Especially sh fry may suff er from constipation and even die if they eat empty shells.Artemia can be bred in several ways. Breeding bottles are easily set-up as DIY, or you use a plug-and-play set from the trade. Most sets run with an air pump, but there is also a low-tech variant. Systems running with an air pump rely on the bubbles to stir up the eggs and to supply them constantly with oxygen. This allows you to harvest a very large amount of nauplii. However, a low-techArtemia breeding bowl still has a good result if you don’t need tons of brine shrimp, and has the big advantage of running without electricity. Moreover, in the bowl the empty cysts are automati- cally separated from the nauplii, and you can feed the tiny larvae to your aquarium pets aft er rinsing them off.

Artemia are easily bred on the windowsill in a DIY setup.

Photo: Jutta Bauer

A commercial set for breeding brine shrimp.

Photo: JBL


The easiest DIY version consists of a bottle with a screw-on cap, in which you make a hole and insert a length of air hose. In order to enable the air to get out again, lay the cap on loosely. The hose needs to go almost all the way down to the bottle base. Careful people insert a check valve into the hose in order to prevent water from seeping into the pump. When you switch off the pump, the empty cysts will float to the top, the nauplii will gather near the bottom. Use the air hose to siphon them out.Artemia sets available in the trade work along the same principle, harvesting is a bit easier though.

Fill the bottle with salt water, it should be two-thirds full. Brine shrimp cysts need light to hatch (indirect light from a window sufces) and a salinity of around 30 g per liter (4 oz. per gallon). Add 1-2 g (0.05 to 0.1 oz.) of the eggs and plug in the pump. Aft er one or two days, the nauplii hatch and are ready to feed.

You can let theArtemia shrimp grow and keep them permanently in a salt-water tank with a salinity of around 45 g/l (6 oz. per gallon). They are fed with powderedSpirulina , dissolved dry yeast or commercially available brine shrimp feed.Artemia tanks that have been running for some time develop a good bioflora, which soon will be sufcient for the brine shrimp to feed on.

The “UFO“ – a low-tech breeding set forArtemia .

Photo: Hobby

Various larval brine shrimp stages and adultArtemia in a tank.

Photo: Oliver Mengedoht


The reddish to light brown dapnia are rare guests in freshwater aquariums since they do not survive in ltered water for long. However, since they contain a lot of chitin, they are an excellent food for shrimp and small craysh, and easy to raise in a lterless set-up. Amano shrimp have been observed to literally hunt them down and eat them.

Daphnia grow about 2-5 mm (0.08 to 0.2 inches) in length and almost never sit on surfaces - they live in the water column. They occur naturally practically in all the world, in stagnant or slow-flowing waters, in fresh water and - very rarely - in the sea. Depending on the season their population may grow massively. Daphnia are lter feeders that eat floating micro-algae, bacteria, rotifers and other micro-organisms suspended in the water. They are even able to keep the water clear in a lterless aquarium.

Female water fleas produce eggs in a “saddle” under their shell-like exoskeleton. When the conditions in the biotope are favorable, the eggs are light in color. Those are produced parthenogenetically, without the prior need for mating. Only females will hatch from them. If the biotope deteriorates, around 30% of the hatchlings turn into males.

When they reach adulthood, the males fertilize the females, which in turn start producing dark permanent (winter) eggs. These permanent eggs survive cold and heat and even year-long droughts. If you notice a large number of female daphnia with dark saddles in your breeding containers you should critically examine your feeding habits and the water quality!

Almost too beautiful to become food …the black nauplius eye in the forehead is clearly visible here.

Clearly visible: the light-colored eggs in the abdomen of this female water flea.

Below: When brine shrimp mate they swim around together for days at a time.


For breeding daphnia, you basically need a bucket with clean water and somePhysa or ramshorn snails, which eat dead water fleas, left over food or molts. You can easily purchase live daphnia in a sh store or from someone who breeds them as live food, or you go out and catch some in nature - however, please make sure you act in accordance with local laws when you do so. Feed your daphnia in the breeding bucket with dissolved dry yeast, powderedSpirulina , “green water” with floating algae, or powderedChlorella . In order to maintain a good water quality, feed again when the water is clear, not earlier. From time to time you’ll need to change some of the water. Place the bucket in a bright spot, but not in direct sunlight to avoid overheating.

Daphnia will breed in higher numbers the more frequently you harvest. Some aquarium hobbyists keep another water flea bucket as a backup, just in case the original population crashes.

Even if this happens this is not the end though. Thanks to the permanent eggs they lay under adverse conditions, in the spring you may well spot some water fleas in the bucket you accidentally left outside during the winter.

This picture clearly shows the strong, oar-like feet with which daphnia propel themselves in their typical, hopping way.