Keeping Minnows as Pets Care and Feeding

You have a new school of minnows, and you need to know how to keep them. Unfortunately, finding out how to feed and care for a minnow is not a simple task-- unless you know, specifically, what species you have.

Perhaps you've just purchased a large supply of bait minnows or feeder-fish, and you need to know how to keep them. Or maybe you or your child "rescued" a school of fish from a backyard pond or a local stream.

You know exactly what it is that you're caring for-- minnows. Right? So the answer of how to care for them should, in theory, be pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, caring for minnows is not something that you can do based on any generalized instructions. There are over 2,400 species of minnow in the world, and another several thousand subspecies, breeds and varieties. Minnows range from the common goldfish to the bigeye shiner.

The minnow family includes freshwater sharks, zebra danios, rosy reds, gravel chubs, tiger barbs and thousands of others. Some are insectivores. Some are herbivores. Some are aggressive. Some are social. Some need warm water, while others need cold water.

Ultimately, "how to care for pet minnows" is about as vague as "how to care for a mammal." There is no single guideline that you can use to find out how to do it. If the minnows in your possession are a tropical species, they will die if you keep them below 70 degrees. If they are an obligate coldwater species, they will die at anything above this temperature.

What to feed minnows is an equally challenging question. Some will accept generic fish food, and others need bloodworms, tubeworms and other fleshy foods. Still others need algae-wafers or goldfish food.

In general, if you've purchased or captured minnows in the continental U.S., they will probably eat an ordinary fish food and will thrive at room-temperature. But they also need a large, well-filtered tank with appropriate substrate, plants and water paratmeters to suit the species' specific needs. Again, these will vary tremendously between pet minnow species.

Consider the fact that some minnow species will grow to nearly ten feet in length (or will die prematurely) while others will stay less than an inch long. Unless you know what, exactly, you have, there is no way for you to know how what to expect.

If you don't know what kind of minnow you have, it's also possible that you don't have a minnow at all. The animal in your care might be a sunfish, a cichlid, a livebearer, a tetra, a characin, a catostomid, or even a young salmon or bass. If you know little or nothing about identifying fish, it's likely that you've erroneously assigned the label "minnow" to a creature that is not a minow at all.

Your best bet, if you have a school of unidentified minnows on your hands, is to put them back where you got them. Return them to the bait store or release them back into the pond they came from. NEVER release an animal purchased at a pet store into the wild; it may be a non-native species capable of wreaking havoc on the environment.

If you really want to keep minnows, start looking into fishkeeping and find a specific minnow species that you want to keep. With the right conditions in mind, you're more likely to be successful in the hobby and to do less harm to the animals themselves.