Brine Shrimp

Background

Adult BS - Circle

Brine Shrimp (Artemia) are probably the best known and most widely used of all live foods in the aquarium. Depending on how old you are, you may also recognize Brine Shrimp by their other commonly used name “Sea Monkeys.” The adults measure just over one centimeter in length, and are used as food for almost every known species of fish, fresh and marine. Newly hatched brine shrimp are nearly microscopic in size and are used as a first food for many different species of newly “free-swimming” fish fry. Brine Shrimp owe their well-deserved reputation to the fact that they are highly nutritious (especially newly hatched), are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to hatch and harvest at home (in about 24 hours) making them almost the perfect food. While it takes some work, brine shrimp can be raised into adults in just about two weeks, and thanks to some food supplements (available from Brine Shrimp Direct), their food value can be greatly enhanced for larger fish.

Brine Shrimp are not really shrimp at all, but rather they belong to a relatively primitive form of crustacean, and are closely related to zooplankton such as Daphnia. Brine Shrimp eggs, are not actually eggs either, but are dormant cysts which are encased embryos that are metabolically inactive. When the cysts are placed in salt water, they are rehydrated and resume their development. These cysts will hatch into shrimp nauplii (baby brine shrimp) within 24-36 hours, depending on the type of cysts used, and the water temperature. The cysts can remain dormant for many years as long as they are kept dry. It is this ability of the brine shrimp cysts to remain dormant for long periods of time and then be easily hatched that has made them an easy live food for the use of tropical fish hobbyists and aqua-culturist as well as a valuable organism for research. We normally buy cysts in one-pound cans, and store them in the freezer for up to a year, but we have had a couple of vials of cysts that I had left over when I was growing up (more than 30 years ago) that we were able to successfully hatch! OK, enough with the boring stuff………….

Hatching brine shrimp for your fish really could not be easier. Considering the nutritional benefits of feeding live food to your fish, coupled with the fact that hatching brine shrimp is fast, simple, and less messy (and smelly) than culturing nearly any other type of live food, it’s amazing that more hobbyists don’t raise their own brine shrimp.

Do You Want to Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way?

Just like everything else, there is always more than one way to hatch brine shrimp. Depending on your needs, you can do this the easy way, or you can make this as complicated as you want! Is this a one-time need? Were you just been surprised by a spawn of eggs that hatched, or just found a swarm of baby fry in your tank that you didn’t even know you had? In that case, you may need get something going fast, so you probably want to take the easy way for now. If you have lots of fry to feed, or are seriously considering raising multiple batches of fry, then you may want to go straight to the “hard” section.

 

The Easy Way

If you only need to raise a small batch of shrimp for a single spawn of fry, this may be the process for you. To hatch the cysts, here’s what you’ll need:

• A one-quart Mason jar, one liter water bottle, or similar sized container.
• 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of Non-iodized salt (table salt).
• A piece of rigid airline tubing (taller than the jar).
• Silicone airline tubing and air pump.
• 1/8 tsp. of Brine Shrimp Eggs.
• Water (duh!).

 
 

Here are the Easy-Way Steps:

  1. Fill the jar (not quite to the top) with warm, (not hot) water.
  2. Dissolve 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of salt in the water.
  3. Add the brine shrimp eggs and stir.
  4. Connect the airline to the pump, then to the rigid tubing and put in in the jar. The water should be bubbling hard, almost like boiling water, but not so hard that the water and eggs are blowing out the top of the jar. The brine shrimp eggs must be kept constantly suspended in the salt water. You may need to occasionally stir the eggs off the bottom of the jar, or swish them from around the top of the jar to keep them actively moving. If your pump is too powerful, you can also add an inexpensive air valve to bleed off the extra volume of air (as we have in the photo).
  5. Place the jar in a fairly warm spot. The warmer the water the sooner the eggs will hatch. With the water temperature at 80-82 degrees, the eggs should hatch in around 24 hours. If the water is cooler, then it may take up to 36 hours. If the room you are hatching the eggs in is cool, you could always put a small high-intensity lamp, or 60 watt light bulb next to the jar to warm it up a bit.

When you first put the eggs, salt and water together, the water will be clear and the brown eggs will be swirling around. When the eggs have begun hatching, the water will appear to be bright orange. The orange color is the newly hatched brine shrimp!

Note: Do not use an airstone for hatching brine shrimp. There is a lot of information on the internet that says the very fine bubbles produced by an airstone can get caught in the gills of the newly hatched shrimp and can cause them to suffocate. While we have no way of verifying if this is true or not, why tempt fate? We have never used airstones and we are very satisfied with our hatch.

 
Harvesting the Shrimp

Now that they’ve hatched, you will need to be able to collect/harvest the baby brine shrimp, while keeping them separate from the hard shells. To do this, you will need:

• The lamp used above.
• The same section of rigid airline tubing.
• A section of silicone airline tubing.
• A permanent (nylon) coffee filter, or brine shrimp net.
• An appropriately sized Glad Ware (or similar) container.

 Harvesting Equip
 

Here’s What to Do

  1. When you’re ready to feed your fish, pull the air tube out of the hatching jar and allow the contents to settle.
  2. The baby brine shrimp are attracted to light. Place the lamp next to the jar, as close to the bottom as possible. If you didn’t use a lamp, you can also use a flashlight with good results. The empty egg shells will float to the top, the un-hatched eggs will sink to the bottom, and the baby brine shrimp will collect around the light source.
  3. Rinse the coffee filter and place it in the Glad Ware container.
  4. Using the piece of airline tubing, put one end into the jar near the swarm of orange shrimp. Once you get it near the shrimp. Start a siphon by sucking on one end of the tube and place it into the coffee filter. Be as careful as you can not to siphon out any of the egg shells. When you have siphoned out the amount of shrimp you need, put your finger over the end of the siphon, raise the end up, and let the water drain back into the jar.
  5. Pick up the coffee filter and pour the water from the Glad Ware container back into the jar.
  6. Put the air tube back in the jar and allow the rest of the cysts to hatch. Not all cysts will hatch at the same time, and most of the un-hatched cysts will continue to hatch for another 18 hours or so.
  7. Rinse the coffee filter containing the brine shrimp under cool water from your kitchen/bathroom sink.
  8. Feed your fish: For small fish (fry) use the tip of your finger to scoop some up, and swish your finger in the tank. For larger tanks or larger spawns, swish the entire filter in the tank and watch the fish go nuts!!

Once you have completed your last feeding of the day, pour the used water down the drain, clean the jar and air tube thoroughly, and if you still need to hatch more shrimp, repeat the process again. Easy!!

 

 

 

 Shrimp Drawn to Light

 

 

The Hard Way

If you know you are going to be hatching a lot of brine shrimp, or have a lot of tanks to feed, you may want to consider this method. While we call this the “Hard Way” it really isn’t any harder, it just requires a little more investment of time to build a brine shrimp hatchery. You can find instructions on building your own hatchery by “clicking” on this link. Building a Brine Shrimp Hatchery

Hatching the cysts is exactly the same as before, only the proportions are a little different:

Materials:

• Your brand new 2-liter hatchery.
• 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of Non-iodized salt (table salt).
• Air pump.
• Brine Shrimp Eggs.
• Water.

Here are the Steps:

1. Fill the hatchery (not quite to the top) with warm, (not hot) water.
2. Add ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of salt in the water.
3. Add the brine shrimp eggs.
4. Put the cover in place.
5. Connect the airline to the pump, and “let er rip.” Just like the previous instructions, the water should be bubbling hard, almost like boiling water, but not so hard that the water and eggs are blowing out the top of the jar. (Now you’ll be glad you added the lid to the jar as your kitchen counter would be full of salt water in the morning). The brine shrimp eggs must be kept constantly suspended in the salt water. You may need to occasionally swish the cysts from around the top of the jar to keep them getting stuck on the side of the jar, and actively moving.
6. Place the jar in a fairly warm spot. The warmer the water the sooner the eggs will hatch. With the water temperature at 80-82 degrees, the eggs should hatch in around 24 hours. If the water is cooler, then it may take up to 36 hours. If the room you are hatching the eggs in is cool, you could always put a small high-intensity lamp next to the jar to warm it up a bit.

Harvesting the Shrimp

Now that they’ve hatched, you will need to be able to collect the baby brine shrimp, while keeping them separate from the hard shells. To do this, you will need:

• The lamp used above.
• A section of airline tubing.
• A permanent (nylon) coffee filter, or brine shrimp net.
• An appropriately sized Glad Ware (or similar) container.

Harvesting the shrimp is exactly the same as before. Just turn off the air pump and allow the water, eggs and shrimp to settle before trying to siphon off the newly hatched shrimp. Placing a light source somewhere around the middle of the container will concentrate the little guys in one spot, making it easier to siphon them out. Then, just rinse and feed as outlined above.


Not All Brine Shrimp Are Created Equal

When we first began raising rams, we assumed that raising rams would be no more difficult than raising other cichlids like angelfish or apistogrammas. We were wrong!! We able to obtain great hatches, and get the fry to free-swimming, but despite our best efforts, the fry would waste away, and eventually all of them would die within 3-4 days. The problem seemed to be that they were not eating. We talked to other breeders who swore that they always used newly hatched brine shrimp as the first food for their fry without any problems. Finally, after several frustrating months, we attended a seminar presented by Ted Judy feeding various fish fry.

What we learned was certainly not revolutionary, but very enlightening. In the United States, there are generally two types of Brine Shrimp cysts (eggs) readily available for purchase in the aquarium hobby; those harvested from the Great Salt Lake (GSL) and those that are collected from the San Francisco Bay area (SFB). While they both look roughly the same, the newly hatched brine shrimp from SFB cysts are roughly 2/3 the size of the GSL cysts. While seemingly insignificant, that reduced size makes a considerable difference for the smaller fry of the rams. Once we switched to SFB brine shrimp, and used them in conjunction with Vinegar Eels, we were able to achieve regularly achieve survival rates in excess of 90%.

The point of this is that you need to match the size of your food to the size of your fry. We found that usually by day three or four after the fry become free-swimming, most of the fry will be large enough to able to handle any type of newly hatched brine shrimp.


Plan Ahead

Just like all the other information you will find on this site, the one common theme we stress is to plan ahead. One of the most important requirements of breeding and raising quality fish is to have the highest quality food available for your fry when they become free-swimming. If your fry are capable of eating newly hatched brine shrimp, there really is no excuse for not having this great food ready for your fry.


Notes:

A word of caution about using adult brine shrimp as food for your fish: Adult brine shrimp (live or frozen) are very poor in nutritional value and should not be used as the only food for your fish. Just like all other living things, your fish need to feed a nutritionally complete diet to achieve their full growth and color potential.

Baby Brine Shrimp begin to lose their superior nutritional value within about 12 hours after hatching. As we mentioned, most of the nutritional value of the bbs is in the yolk sack. Once that is absorbed (approx. 10-12 hours) their nutritional value is significantly reduced. For that reason, you really only want to hatch enough bbs that will be used the first day they hatch. You may consider starting the batch of bbs in the morning, so that it is ready for use all of the following day. Again, thinking ahead, you may also want to consider starting a second batch of bbs 24 hours after the first batch. That way you will always have a fresh batch of shrimp every morning that you can use throughout the day.

Buying and Storing Cysts

Brine Shrimp are available in a multitude of sizes, from small vials (really expensive) to one pound cans. The good thing about brine shrimp cysts is that if stored properly (airtight and in a freezer) they can be kept almost indefinitely. Even though brine shrimp cysts can be stored for a long time, it’s always a good idea to buy the freshest cyst you can get from a reputable supplier. We buy all of our brine shrimp cysts; Great Salt Lakes, San Francisco Bay, and decapsulated from Brine Shrimp Direct

To De-Capsulate or Not to De-Capsulate

If all of the information presented here is not enough, here is something else to consider. As was already pointed out, brine shrimp eggs (cysts) are actually embryos that are encased in a membrane and encapsulated (covered) by a protective shell. Some suppliers have taken a lot of the work out of hatching brine shrimp by offering de-capsulated brine shrimp cysts. Suppliers use a chemical process (bleach) to strip off the outer hard shell of the cyst, leaving only embryo and membrane intact. Why would you want to use de-capsulated cysts? Here is a list of some of the reasons:

1) Increased Hatch Rate- As we previously pointed out, brine shrimp cysts are encapsulated in a very tough outer shell to protect them from rough handling and environmental conditions in their natural habitat. During the hatching process, the embryo must break through this shell, and then break through the yolk sack (membrane) before it becomes a free-swimming nauplii. During the hatching process, the embryo may be unable to break out of the shell, or it can become stuck, unable to completely separate from the shell and membrane. Under normal harvesting techniques, these embryos would not be collected and would be discarded along with the un-hatched cysts. Removing the outer shell allows more of the cysts to hatch, without having to fight their way out of the outer shell.

2) Increased Nutritional Value – As we mentioned, the cysts are covered in a hard, protective shell. It takes a significant amount of time and energy for the nauplii to break through this shell before they “hatch.” All of this energy expended has to come from somewhere, and it does. Baby brine shrimp are born with a yolk, sack similar to fish. This is where the vast majority of the nutritional value of the brine shrimp comes from. They use the energy stored in the yolk sack during the hatching process. Therefore, the longer it takes for the babies to hatch, the more energy they use, and the less nutritional value they have once they hatch.

3) Decreasing Hatching Times- Normal hatching times for cysts (shells on) is approximately 24-36 hours, depending on the water temperature. Decapsulated brine shrimp cysts hatch in about 18 hours! Again, the faster they hatch, the less energy expended and the greater the nutritional value.

4) Super-Easy Harvesting- Since there are no shells, you do not have to worry about separating the shells from the artemia, or setting up a lamp to draw the newly hatched shrimp to the side of the jar. To harvest decapsulated brine shrimp, all you have to do is turn off the air supply and siphon, or pour, the water directly into your net or coffee filter, rinse, and feed. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

5) No Waste- One of the greatest benefits to using decapsulated brine shrimp is that there is virtually no waste. Since there are no shells to worry about, the entire cyst came be eaten. That means that even the unhatched eggs can be rinsed and put directly into the tank. The fish will devour them, and they will get the same nutritional value as if they had hatched….just not the fun of chasing down their dinner.