Notes from the Trenches with Marc Levenson

How to Harvest and Feed Baby
Brine Shrimp to Your Tank

Feeding brine shrimp to your livestock has been compared to feeding potato chips to your guests for dinner. It isn't nutritious, and provides hardly any proteins at all. If you raise brine shrimp from eggs, however, and harvest them while their yolk sac is still attached, you are providing something worthwhile. To improve their nutritional value, add some live phytoplankton to the hatchery about six hours before harvesting them. The shrimp will eat the phytoplankton, a process called "gut-loading." Feeding gut-loaded baby brine shrimp to your tank is an excellent practice if there are smaller fish or possibly young fry that need live foods. Fish at least two weeks old, and possibly seahorses, would certainly be able to eat this live food.

How much money is invested in this procedure? Not much! An air pump, a gate valve, some airline tubing, the hatchery stations, and some brine shrimp eggs are all the items this venture requires. Two-liter bottles are free, as soon as you finish your favorite beverage. Eventually, you'll need to replace or repair the air pump, and probably replace the hatching stations if they break. I accidentally broke the nipple inside one of my hatching stations, but I reamed out the area with a small drill bit, inserted a short piece of rigid airline tubing, and used Weld-On #3 to bond the joint. Since then, it's worked perfectly.

Does it take a lot of time to do this? No. Rinsing out the hatching station, putting it back into position, adding water and eggs takes about two minutes, tops. Harvesting takes about 30 seconds, after the hatched brine shrimp have had time to settle. Please follow along with the steps below, and see if it is something you'd like to try for your own aquarium's needs.

Growing baby brine shrimp allows me to feed my smaller fish in a reef tank that contains large voracious tangs. Every day, I add one batch to the tank while the pumps are off. The tangs swim through the tiny bits of live food, while the little fish also grab a meal.

Hatching Artemia is easy, and doesn't cost much. The recipe is available on my site. Two hatching stations allow a new batch to be available daily.

To use today's batch, I first disconnect the airline that goes to the hatchery, which has been bubbling for 48 hours. The valves are set to a very gentle bubbling to keep the water and eggs tumbling.

As I carry the hatchery, I keep the disconnected tubing higher than the hatchery to avoid spilling any water, since it is connected at the base.

Very gingerly, I place the hatchery on the window sill over my sink. I do not want to disturb the floating shells on the top, or any that may be sticking to the walls of the hatchery, as these are not to be added to the tank.

I cover the hatchery for about 20 minutes because the darkness helps get the hatched Artemia to settle, since they are attracted to light.

Note the tubing is inserted into that red vase, merely to avoid any water siphoning out the base. I used to hang the tubing over a nearby hook, but the vase was handy and never has accidentally let go of the tubing.

You may wonder why I use such a tall bottle for less than three cups of fluid. The added height avoids any spatter in the hatching area as the bubbles burst throughout the 48-hour period. This works well.

The reason the Artemia appear bright orange is because of their attached yolk sac. Once this has been shed and the brine shrimp grow larger, they take on a brownish coloration.  

The Artemia are starting to settle into the neck of the bottle.

Now that all the brine shrimp have settled in the base....

I place the end of the tubing into a brine shrimp net over the sink.

Gravity drains the hatched brine shrimp into the net. I watch the contents of the hatchery closely to avoid draining egg casings into the collected live food.

Almost all of the live Artemia are gone. Just a hint of orange shows the brine shrimp still stuck to the area of the bottleneck. To get the last of them, thump the side of the neck once or twice.

The net drips out the polluted water.

The egg casings stick to the wall of the bottle as the water drains out.

Time to stop. If I continue, all of the waste (egg casings) will pour down the tubing, and clog the nozzle in the hatchery.

The net is set to the side of the sink to drain completely of any fluids.

I use this time to clean out the hatchery for the next batch.

Inverting the hatchery, I use the spray nozzle to rinse out the egg casings. Then it is wiped out under water with my hand. Occasionally, I'll rinse the bottle with bleach and water, or just get a new two-liter bottle. Check to make sure the nozzle is clean.

The hatched brine shrimp are ready to add to the tank. Some aquarists recommend rinsing the food with fresh water, but I never have.

Turn off your return pump to keep the live food in the display. I see no reason to feed the Aiptasia in the overflows and sump.

Once the tank stops draining water to the sump, the net is lowered into the display and the food is released. The Tunze pumps do a great job of dispersing the food throughout the aquarium.

The fish love to bite right into the food ball during the first few seconds. You can see a little bit of one ball where the arrow points (above). By the time my camera had focused on it, most of it had dispersed.

The tank, within one minute of adding the food.

Ten minutes later.

Twenty minutes later.

The return pump is restarted.

Time to make the next batch. Reconnect the airline tubing.

Position the empty hatchery. I always put the newest batch on the left, to avoid confusion. Tomorrow's batch is on the right.

Get two cups of tank water. This glass holds two cups, by the way.

Add it to the hatchery.

Bubbles rising through the tank water.

Get half a cup of RO water.

Add the RO water.


I use brine shrimp eggs from BrineShrimpDirect. This bag contains their 90% hatch rate, which they refer to as Premium Hatch Rate.

I use one level teaspoon of eggs per batch.

Add that to the hatchery. Brine shrimp don't need light to hatch, but the water should be 81 - 82°F, so I place the hatcheries near the same light I use to grow phytoplankton. The temperature remains stable in the fish room. The light remains on 16 hours per day.

I keep the measuring spoon in the container, and seal it well to avoid letting humidity spoil the product. If you buy in bulk, seal the majority in a ziplock bag and store it in the refrigerator, and keep what's needed for daily use separate and handy. 

This batch (on the left) will be ready for harvesting in 48 hours. You may not need to hatch as much as I do. Use 1/2 tsp. or less, whatever works best for your specific needs.

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

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How to Harvest and Feed Baby Brine Shrimp to Your Tank by Marc Levenson -