Brine Shrimp:

Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp, usually referred to by the scientific name of Artemia salina or Artemia franciscana, are not exactly shrimp as we would normally describe, but for practical purposes they can be loosely referred to in that category.  Surely they are closer to being shrimp than they are to being “Sea Monkeys” as they were referred to in the past as a tourist shop novelty.   They are possibly the most popular frozen food in history for aquarium fish, only rivaled by the ubiquitous “bloodworms” (also not worms, by the way) which perhaps date back even further.

Artemia, which we will call them for the purpose of this description, are small crustacean “critters” which normally inhabit very saline (sometimes extremely saline) aquatic environments that are pretty much off limits to other aquatic animals or plants.   Artemia often co-exist in the saline brine ponds with certain types of rotifers, bacteria, and phytoplankton…. and not much else.  They rarely occur in common marine environments because they move slowly and lack a hard shell and thus are almost defenseless against any predator.  Essentially they are an ancient class of animals which have remained almost unchanged for perhaps 100 million years.

Artemia may be harvested from the “wild” from saline lakes and ponds, or they may be intentionally cultured in aquaculture ponds.  Most of the world’s supply of frozen Artemia comes from the far end of San Francisco Bay or from China and other parts of Southeast Asia.  These “brine shrimp” are often added as by-product of the pond culture cycle after a phytoplankton “bloom”  occurs and turns the water green, brown or red.  It is interesting to note that the highly desired RED brine shrimp occur either in ponds where the phytoplankton bloom is red, or in highly saline low-oxygen ponds where where extra hemoglobin is required in the blood in order to survive.  Otherwise, brine shrimp may occur in various color combinations of orange, brown and green.

Artemia are usually sold as adults in the size range of approximately ½ inch.   However, they can also be sold as “Baby Brine Shrimp” which are very small – roughly 1 millimeter in length.  They babies are sold as food for very small fish or for corals and other filter-feeding invertebrates.

Artemia as aquarium fish food are often criticized for being incomplete nutrition.  To be fair, this is not exactly true.   They actually are a decent source of protein and fatty acids when they are used in the frozen form.  The frozen brine shrimp are usually harvested from a pond, rinsed several times and then packaged quickly while still very fresh.  This is the key – to freeze them quickly while they are fresh, robust, and “gut-loaded” with valuable phytoplankton.  These fresh-frozen shrimp provide good nutrition and can be mixed or alternated with other food items to provide a very rich nutritional product overall.

LIVE BRINE SHRIMP - The problem nutritionally with Artemia presents itself when the Artemia are fed LIVE.   Obviously, feeding live food to aquarium fish has some definite advantages - the natural movement of the live crustaceans simulates a very natural food item and excites fish to eat that would otherwise not be interested.   This can be especially useful when the fish are very new to the aquarium and only recently removed from their natural aquatic habitat.  However, a quick analysis of the recent captive history of these live food items can be very revealing.  Live Artemia are usually collected from the wild or, in more recent years, grown in an aquaculture farming facility.  Either way, the live animals are shipped to the pet store for fast delivery – either overnight or 2-day service.  Upon arrival at the pet store, the small shrimp have already not eaten since before they were shipped.   These are animals which normally feed on phytoplankton or other very tiny food on a continual basis.  After 2 days they are already starving and starting to waste away.  Furthermore, they may remain in a holding tank in the pet store for another 3 to 4 days, basically using up all of their nutritional reserves on a daily basis.  After several days of being starved, they are no more than a “skeleton” of what they once were.   They may still be effective in eliciting a live feeding response in the targeted aquarium fish, but nutritionally they are pretty much all used up.  This is when other food items MUST be fed in addition to the Artemia if your prized aquarium pets are to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the most advantageous quality of the Artemia is that their flavor seems to drive the aquarium fish absolutely nuts!   For whatever reason, frozen Artemia are readily consumed by almost any aquarium fish – freshwater or marine.  This is a huge advantage and has solidified this item as a standard food in the aquarium industry for more than 70 years.

EGGS AND BABY BRINE - While on the subject of brine shrimp, we should discuss further the “baby brine shrimp” and the tremendous advantage of being able to hatch out the live babies from eggsThe natural life cycle of Artemia is very interesting and results in the essential characteristic dry-stage of the eggs which is so valuable.  Artemia normally reproduce in the fall and release eggs which float and end up being blown by the wind into large “rafts” of eggs floating on the water’s surface.  Eventually these eggs are blown onto the shore and begin to dry out as the waters recede and the cold temperatures of winter arrive.   These eggs remain strewn about on the cold beaches during the winter months.  Once, the weather warms and the rains and snow run-off of Spring bring the water level higher, the eggs once again are immersed underwater and quickly hydrated.  Within 24 to 36 hours, the eggs will now hatch into tiny babies which are ready to swim, feed on phytoplankton, and begin again their annual life cycle.

This practical advantage has made the live food a staple in the aquaculture industry for food fish, table shrimp and all other delicacies that must develop through a tiny “larval” stage during their early life-stages of culture.  So what is this big advantage?  It’s very simple.  The answer is to simply copy the natural life cycle of the eggs and use it to advantage.

Thus, the aquaculture industry collects the eggs while they are floating on the surface of the water in the late fall and early winter.  These eggs are then rinsed thoroughly and dried.  They are usually stored in a frozen state in large freezers where they can be kept for up to 5 years if necessary.   Once removed from the freezer, the eggs can be packaged in vacuum-sealed cans or foil-laminated plastic bags for temporary dry storage and shipment.  Upon arrival at the aquaculture farm, the eggs can now be used very conveniently to produce a tiny live food.  Simply immerse the eggs in warm salt water for approximately 24 to 36 hours, and like magic, the eggs hatch into tiny orange Artemia larvae which flitter around like small bugs and elicit the natural feeding response among various species of baby fish and shrimp that are being cultured.   It’s the perfect live food – convenient to collect, sore and ship, and it hatches on demand whenever needed.

These premium Brine Shrimp are harvested carefully and processed rapidly to ensure the freshest possible quality. Frozen Brine Shrimp provide a tasty and nutritious (better than live) treat for all freshwater and marine tropical fish.

Available in 100 g, 200g, and 1lb. bulk