What Do Minnows Eat? Top Six Foods for Minnows

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: September 26, 2023
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“Minnow” refers to a fish family called Cyprinidae. They are little silvery fish about four inches long with a lifespan of 3-4 years. Minnows are commonly used as bait. Common baitfish are Bluntnose and Fathead minnows.

Minnows have plenty of choices for food between insects, plankton, algae, and more.

Minnows can survive in most climates and their dietary systems differ because of their habitat. If you want to keep minnows as pets or raise them for bait, you need to know their feeding habits in the wild and in captivity. So, let’s dive into what minnows eat!

What Do Minnows Eat?

Minnows eat a variety of small items such as algae, decaying plant materials, bugs, plankton, fish flakes, and smaller fish. Let’s take a closer look at how the minnow consumes these foods:

What Do Minnows Eat
Minnows eat algae, plankton, insects, and fish flakes


Young minnows rely on algae for a sizable portion of their nutrition. This food source is never in short supply, and they will eat any type of algae that they can find if it is soft and small enough to eat.

Dead Plant Materials

Minnows like munching on decaying plants in their natural habitat. They graze on decomposing organic material at the bottoms of rivers, lakes, and ponds, breaking it down into tiny pieces before eating it.


Minnows consume insects as a sizable portion of their meals. Insects may be found practically anyplace there is water, therefore there is always a plentiful supply of them. Mosquitoes, snails, flies, and other flying insects are the primary prey of these little creatures.


Minnows can eat plankton since it is a safe food source. Floating plankton are microscopic organisms that can be found in both freshwater and saltwater. They may also consume other microspecies, such as eggs, larvae, protozoans, and crustaceans.

Fish Flakes

Whether you are keeping minnows as pets or need to keep them alive for baiting, minnows like eating fish flakes from the pet store. The best fish flakes are the varieties intended for goldfish and tropical fish. To ensure your minnows consume them, mix them with brine shrimp flakes.

Small Fish and Crustaceans

Minnows, like other fish, can catch and eat smaller creatures. They devour any fish, including other minnows. They go for tiny fish eggs or larvae. They eat clams and snails, among other crustaceans. Because they have a hard plate in their necks, they can easily crush them.

What Do Pet Minnows Eat?

Captive minnows eat high-protein minnow food


Besides being used as bait, minnows are also popular pets. Knowing how to care for both wild and captive minnows is critical. Minnows that eat the correct foods have a better chance of staying healthy and happy than those who don’t.

How to Feed Minnows: Wild vs Captivity

How minnows eat while they live in the wild is quite unlike how they consume food when kept in captivity. To find out exactly how, keep reading.

Wild Minnows

Wild minnows eat mosquitoes, dead and rotting organisms, algae, diatoms, and small crustaceans. It is common for them to eat fish eggs or smaller fish. Saltwater minnows also enjoy shrimp and brine shrimp. As minnows grow, they will eat algae and the larvae of tiny insects.

If you want to mimic what your minnows eat in their natural habitat, you can give them insects such as mosquitoes and flies, as well as algae and bits of dead plant and animal matter. However, most people who keep minnows do so as bait and are uninterested in feeding them anything like this. There are undoubtedly other foods they will gladly devour in captivity.

What do minnows eat - minnow in a lake

In the wild minnows eat mosquitos, decaying animals, and algae.

©Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

Captive Minnows

Captive minnows eat commercial food, preferably high-protein minnow food. Choose food in little grains or flakes which minnows can ingest. You can also crush pellets for easier consumption. Most pet stores have tropical fish or goldfish food. Some minnows refuse to eat the flake food. Here, you can try to feed them a mix of crushed brine shrimp and flake food until they get used to it.


Some minnow breeders and pond keepers let their fish feed on the algae and phytoplankton in their tanks or ponds. One to two tablespoons of high-phosphorus plant fertilizer per one hundred gallons of water promotes algal and phytoplankton blooms.

Pet minnows are known to eat frozen shrimp, blood worms, bread crumbs, plants, brine shrimp, and vegetables. They like to eat food that dips into the tank rather than food that floats on top.

How Often Should You Feed Minnow?

The most common cause of minnow death is overeating, which you should know if you intend to keep your minnows for an extended period. In a clean and well-oxygenated aquarium, wild-caught minnows can survive for weeks without feeding. However, this is not recommended. If possible, feed your minnows twice daily, although some may only desire feedings every 2 to 3 days.

How Much Should I Feed Minnows?

The size and number of fish in your tank play a part in determining how much food to provide to your minnows. When feeding minnows, begin with a small amount of food broken up into small pieces. Wait 5 minutes. If all food from the top of the tank is gone this is a good sign. If there are pieces drifting to the bottom or there is still food after 5 minutes, feed less next time. If the minnows eat the food in less than 2 to 3 minutes, add a bit more.

Keeping Minnows Healthy

Minnows, whether wild or kept as pets, must be fed the right diet to survive. If keeping them long-term, Food options for minnows are readily available at local pet stores and specialty merchants. Minnows are a popular addition to many aquariums. Discovering the diets of these little fish is fascinating, whether it’s a passion or just a curiosity!

Summary of What Minnows Eat

Here is a quick summary table of what minnows eat:

2Dead Plant Materials
5Fish Flakes
6Small Fish and Crustaceans

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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