What Do Minnows Eat? (Diet, Care & Feeding Tips)

Did you know that having an aquarium with pet fish in your house has multiple benefits? Fish tanks don’t take up much space and they can be decorated in various interesting ways, making your home look better.

Fish aquariums are known to reduce stress levels, and pet fish are known to be low maintenance when compared to other pets. With fish as a pet, you will always have your peace undisturbed. Additionally, fish are great pets for children that are still learning about keeping a pet.

When thinking about choosing a pet fish, some popular choices come to mind, for example, a goldfish or some brightly-colored tropical fish. However, one fish family proved to be a particularly great choice for keeping as a pet or breeding for bait – minnow.

Facts About Minnows

Minnow is a term for numerous species of freshwater fish that belong to the family Cyprinidae. This family is the largest North American fish family. The term minnow is also used to describe any small silvery fish.


Minnows come in various sizes and colors. Most of them have a length of fewer than 4 inches, but there are some minnow species that can grow more than that. Usually, minnows live for 3-4 years on average, but some larger minnow species can live up to 10 years.

Minnows have silvery scales and torpedo-shaped bodies, and their dorsal (upper) side usually has a darker coloration than their ventral (lower) side. Through selective breeding, humans managed to create minnows in various colors.


Since there are many minnow species, they live in various habitats. Most minnows live in fresh waters, but some species can live in brackish water. Minnows live in rivers, ponds, lakes, swamps, bogs, springs, etc. Some minnow species live in cold waters, while others prefer warmer water temperatures.


Reproduction season for minnows usually lasts between early spring to mid-summer. Minnows reproduce at a surprising rate – every 4 or 5 days. The female minnow lays approximately 700 eggs, which are fertilized by the male specimen. The male minnow continues to guard the eggs until they hatch, for about 5 days.

Minnows prefer to spawn their eggs near aquatic plants, such as algae. Males of certain minnow species build nests where the females lay their eggs, and then the males guard them until hatching. Baby minnow is called fry.

Different Types Of Minnows

There are over 2000 minnow species. Some of the most famous minnow types are carp, goldfish, zebrafish, barbs, breams, shiners, etc.


Black carp
Image Credit: MDC Teacher Portal

Carps are a large minnow type that can live up to 40 years. Their bodies are heavy and up to 5 feet long and 80 pounds heavy. They have large and thick scales that can be silver, yellowish-brown, blueish green, or even black.

One of the most popular carps is koi fish, an ornamental and colorful fish that can sell for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Image Credit: Anderson Minnow Farm

Probably the most famous fish of all time because of the belief that it can grant three wishes, the goldfish also belongs to the minnow family. It has gorgeous yellow-orange-gold scales, and there are several different goldfish species.

Some of the most popular goldfish species are lion head, fan tail, comet, celestial eye, bubble eye, and many others. Goldfish are usually small in size, but some specimens can reach almost 20 inches.


Image Credit: Tankarium

Another popular fish due to its distinct, striped body, zebrafish naturally inhabits freshwaters in South Asia, and they usually reach a length of 1.5-2 inches.

Apart from being a popular addition to aquariums, zebrafish are also notable because of their role in various scientific research, making them a common laboratory animal.

Some other popular minnows include: cheat minnow, cut lips minnow, desert minnow, Eurasian minnow, silver jaw minnow, loach minnow, fathead minnow, etc.

What Do Minnows Eat?

Different minnow species have different feeding habits depending on their habitat conditions. Also, minnow feeding habits may also vary depending on whether they live in the wild or in captivity.

What Do Minnows Eat In The Wild?

Minnows are omnivores and they mostly feed on insects such as flies and mosquitoes, other fish eggs, algae, and other aquatic plants, as well as on small fish, shrimp, diatoms, a brine shrimp, insect larvae, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and other animal matter.

They also feed on decaying plant material, snails, protozoans, small crustaceans, clams, and even other minnows. In the wild, minnows have a variety of foods available and they will use every opportunity to feed.

What Do Minnows Eat In The Captivity?

The optimal diet for minnows in captivity should be as close as to what they would eat in the wild. That includes insects, algae, plants, plankton, and other high-protein food. However, their diet can be enriched with frozen shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms, and commercial fish food.

When it comes to commercial food, minnows can be fed with catfish food, tropical fish food, tropical fish flakes, etc. Pet minnows can also eat tubifex worms, earthworms, fish pellets, etc. You can also add high-phosphorus plant fertilizer to the fish tank to promote algal and phytoplankton blooms. This will create a great food source for your fish.

What Do the Baby Minnows Eat?

The offspring and young minnows have the same feeding habits as the adult specimens. They just need their food to be either pulverized or otherwise chopped so that they can nibble on it with ease.

Foods To Avoid When Feeding Minnows

If you feed minnows with bread crumbs, don’t do it too often, because those bread crumbs contain yeast, cornmeal, and grains, which can cause minnow’s intestines to swell. Don’t feed your minnows with salty and spicy foods.

How Often and How Much Should Pet Minnows Be Fed?

Minnows can go several days without any food, but it is advised that you feed them twice a day. However, some minnow species need to be fed every 2 or 3 days.

When it comes to the food amount needed, that depends on the size and number of minnows in the fish tank. The rule of the thumb says to begin with small amounts of food and observe how the minnows react. If they eat it quickly, increase the amounts. If some food remains uneaten even after 5 minutes, lower the amount the next time.

Avoid overfeeding your minnows, because overfeeding is one of the most common causes of pet minnow deaths.

Which Animals Eat Minnows?

Minnows eat various foods, including other animals, but they are also prey to other predators, including fish like brown trout, walleye, yellow perch, largemouth bass, and other animals, such as turtles, birds, raccoons, etc.

While most minnows are bred to either become bait for catching other fish or to become a pet in the aquarium, they can also be eaten, under the condition that they come from clean water sources. When small enough, minnows are eaten as a whole.

Where To Find Food For Minnows?

Most local pet stores sell commercial fish food that can be fed to minnows. If you cant find minnow fish food, you can substitute it with fish food that can be given to goldfish or carp. You can also try and emulate their natural food sources. Catch them flies, mosquitos, crickets, snails, slugs, worms, small fish, clams, etc.

You can also look for algae and other aquatic plants in a nearby body of water. Minnows aren’t really picky eaters, and they will be happy with almost whatever you give them to eat. You will easily find appropriate foods, you just need to know where to look.

Finally, try to look for stores that are specialized in minnows and selling minnow food. Many of them can be found online, and they could even offer you some useful tips!

Tips On Caring For Your Minnows

Minnows are quite low maintenance. But you still need to do something to keep them healthy.

  • The first step to keeping them healthy is to feed them properly. Don’t overfeed them, and try to give them the foods they would naturally eat in their habitats.
  • Minnows love to live in colonies, so make sure that you have at least several of them, both male and female. The aquarium should be big enough to house that number of fish.
  • Add aquarium-safe objects, such as rocks, little caves, gravel, and other objects that will stimulate minnows to breed. The temperature should be between 69 and 74 degrees F (20.5-23.3 degrees C).
  • Make sure to install a water filter, to keep the water clean.  The regular sponge filter should be good enough.


Although fish pets are known to be low maintenance, their owners should still learn everything they can about properly caring for them. Minnows are no exception: although they aren’t picky eaters and will eat basically anything, they still require an adequate diet and overall care.

Minnows love to feed on aquatic plants and animals, including phytoplankton, algae, zooplankton, insects, small fish, clams, snails, worms, etc. Try to emulate that diet when keeping them in a fish tank.

Have you ever owned a pet fish? Which species? How long did it live? Write in the comments!

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