What are Brine Shrimp?
Brine Shrimp are a type of crustacean that belong to the Artemis genus. They are very small in size, only growing to about 0.4 inch (1.01 cm) in length. Brine Shrimp have a hard exoskeleton just like regular shrimp, and have 11 pairs of legs. They are commonly used to feed aquarium fish.
While they might look a little like regular shrimp, they are very different. They do not live in oceans or seas. Instead, they live in Saltwater lakes, Mangrove Swamps, Marshy areas, etc. They are very resilient compared to other underwater life. They can easily adapt themselves to changes in the water salinity levels. In fact, they can live where salinity is actually higher then seawater itself. On the other end of the spectrum, they can even adapt to water that is just 1/10th as saline as seawater.
The female brine shrimp may lay eggs that are unfertilized, or may carry them in her brood pouch. The young hatch and stay for a while within the pouch, until the mother releases them. The fertilized eggs have a remarkable ability to go dormant for several years, even when they are completely dried up. This ability of theirs makes them particularly useful as aquarium fish food.
Why you need to feed Brine Shrimp to your fish (especially baby fish)
There are several reasons Brine Shrimp are an excellent live food source for aquarium fish. The way the brine shrimp naturally swim in the water triggers the fish’s natural hunting instinct. This makes them a good stimulant, as most aquarium fish do not get to hunt every day. The brine shrimp are completely natural, with high levels of protein and other nutrients. They are not processed like pellets and flake foods either.
Apart from this, brine shrimp are easily digested by fish. If other foods are left too long in the water, they will start decomposing and make the water dirty. But if too many brine shrimp are put in an aquarium and the fish cannot eat any more of them, the shrimp will still stay alive and swim around, until the fish get hungry again. So the water doesn’t get dirty.
How to culture Brine Shrimp
What you will need
To culture and harvest brine shrimp, you will need sea salt or marine salt, a net or sieve with very small holes, a flashlight, a sponge filter, a refractometer or hydrometer, an air pump, an aquarium thermometer, an aquarium heater and a transparent or translucent container. And of course, you will need brine shrimp eggs as well. Brine shrimp eggs are also called Artemia cysts.
Setting up the brine shrimp tank
First, you will need to create saline water. Pour some fresh, clean water into the container. Then check the water’s pH. It should be between 7.5 and 8. If you need to increase or decrease the pH level, you can refer to my article here. Then, after the pH level is in the required range, add sea salt or marine salt little by little into the water. Whenever you add more salt to the water, stir it and let it dissolve. Then measure the salinity using a refractometer or hydrometer. The salinity range should be 35 to 40 ppt (or a specific gravity of about 1.024 to 1.028).
Next, measure the water temperature using an aquarium thermometer. Use an aquarium heater to get the water up to the ideal temperature required to hatch brine shrimp, which is between 68 to 79 °F, or between 20 to 25 °C.
Set up the sponge filter and connect it to the air pump. This will help keep the water clean and aerate the water as well. Other types of filters will disturb the water too much for the fragile brine shrimp to swim properly.
Hatching the brine shrimp
Now that the tank and water are ready, you can add the Brine Shrimp eggs. They should hatch 18 to 36 hours later. After they hatch, the empty egg shells will float on the water’s surface, while the baby brine shrimp will swim around freely.
The empty egg shells will rapidly foul the water if not removed. So once all the shrimp have hatched, you can make the room dark by turning of all lights and drawing the curtains. Turn the air pump and filter off. Then, switch on the flashlight and put it against a side of the container, near the floor. The brine shrimp are attracted to the light and will flock towards it. Then you can use the fine sieve or net to scoop up the empty egg shells, leaving the brine shrimp in the container. After the egg shells have been removed, turn the air pump and filter on again.
Feeding the brine shrimp
Newly hatched baby brine shrimp do not need to be fed for the first 24 hours. They use their yolk sacs during this time. After 24 hours have passed, Brine shrimp will eat powdered fish food, powdered spirulina, wheat flour and yeast. They will also eat hardboiled egg yolk that has been crushed into powder. Since these foods can easily dirty the water, you will need to give very small amounts, several times a day.
Harvesting baby brine shrimp for feeding
If you want to feed baby brine shrimp to your fish fry, you can harvest them when they are 3 or 4 days old. Just shine the flashlight into the container from one of the sides. The shrimp will flock towards the light. You can then scoop them out using the net or sieve.
Growing the brine shrimp to adulthood
If you want to feed brine shrimp to your adult fish, you can wait for them to reach their full size. They can grow to 0.4 inches in as little as 3 weeks. If you keep the temperature within range and provide sufficient food, they will even breed and give you a never-ending supply of brine shrimp.
Harvesting the adult brine shrimp
The procedure to harvest adult brine shrimp is the same as the baby shrimp. But is you use a net with slightly larger holes, the tiny babies will slip out and fall into the water. They can grow into adults there.
Giving food to the Brine Shrimp
Newly hatched brine shrimp do not need to be fed during the first 24 hours, as their digestive systems are not fully developed yet. After 24 hours have passed, they can be fed yeast, whey, commercially available Brine Shrimp food, wheat flour or egg yolk. Other food can also be given to them as they will eat a lot of different foods. The food should not be easily dissolvable in water, otherwise the water will become dirty more quickly.
You can also continue feeding your brine shrimp until they turn into adults. That way you could feed them to your larger fish as well.
Feeding Brine Shrimp to your fish
The brine shrimp should be alive when you put them in your aquarium. Alive brine shrimp will move around in the water and entice the fish to eat them up. If you are feeding baby brine shrimp to your fish fry, you will need to stop the air pump in the brine shrimps’ tank. The baby shrimp will settle down. Then you can siphon them out and put them in a net which has small holes. This will remove the water from the shrimps’ tank and avoid getting the water in your fish tank dirty.
After this, you will need to rinse the shrimp when they are in the net, in order to remove any more impurities. Then you can put the shrimp into your fish tank, where the fish will happily gobble them up.