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What Do Minnows Eat? Diet Facts & Care Tips

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By Lindsey Stanton

group of adults minnow fish

When you hear the word minnow, you probably think of baitfish that you use for fishing. Minnows belong to the Cyprinidae family and are found all over the world in both fresh and saltwater. Because they are mostly used for bait due to their small size, it makes us question what these tiny fish eat in captivity and in the wild.

There are several different minnow subspecies. The most popular types that you might have heard of are Cutlip minnows, Desert minnows, Cheat minnows, and Suckermouth minnows. The average adult reaches around 5 inches long and they snack on a variety of small foods.

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What Do Minnows Eat?

Minnows are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Their diet ranges based on their location and the habitat surrounding them. What is available to some minnows isn’t to others. These fish are good at making the best of what is around them. Here are some of the things that minnow fish love to eat:

white cloud mountain minnows
Image Credit: Grigorev Mikhail, Shutterstock


Algae is one of the most valuable food sources for younger minnows. The young fish eat other foods, but this is one source that is never scarce like the others. They munch on any type of algae that they can find, and it is always soft and small so it is easy for them to swallow.

Dead Plant Matter

Young and adult minnows are happy to feast on dead plants. Minnows linger on the bottom of rivers, ponds, and lakes and search for any half-decayed plants they can find. They nibble on the plants and break them into smaller pieces for them to swallow.


Insects are another main food source for minnows. Where there is water, there are usually tons of insects around as well. They go after mosquitos, snails, flies, and other insects that are floating on the top of the water.

mosquito larva swimming
Image Credit: Marc Pascual, Pixabay


Plankton is a food source safe for young and old minnows. Plankton are microscopic organisms that float in all freshwater and seawater. There are also many varieties of other microscopic species like eggs, larvae, protozoans, and crustaceans that they might eat.

Smaller Fish or Crustaceans

Minnows work the same as other fish and are perfectly capable of catching and eating animals that are small than them. They eat any species of fish, including their own. They tend to focus on fish eggs or larval fish that are still very tiny. They also enjoy eating small crustaceans like some clams and snails. They are able to crush them with a hard plate found in the back of their throats.

Fish Flakes

If you have a fish in captivity, they won’t be too picky about eating fish flakes that you buy from the pet store. Fish flakes made for goldfish or tropical fish species are best. You might have to train some minnows to eat them by mixing the flakes with some brine shrimp.


Worms like bloodworms are an excellent source of nutrition for minnow fish. You can buy these freeze-dried and use them as treats for the fish in your aquariums.

red bloodworms in a pile
Image Credit: schankz, Shutterstock

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Caring for Minnows

Minnows are easy fish to feed since they aren’t picky and can swallow anything if it’s small enough. Try not to overfeed your fish, regardless of the species. Overfeeding fish is one of the top causes of death, especially with minnows.

Always add a little bit of clean water to your tank when feeding your fish. Monitor the tank during the feeding, and if there is leftover food after about 3 minutes of inactivity, remove the leftover bits and start to offer less during the next feedings until you find the perfect amount to fill their bellies.

Image By: Erni, Shutterstock

How Much to Feed Minnows?

Offer your minnows a small amount of food twice every day. Some minnow fish prefer to feed at the surface and others prefer to eat as the particles float down further into the take. It is possible that some also only eat every two or three days. Offering two meals a day is ideal because not enough food leads to cannibalism among minnows.

What to Feed Baby Minnows

Adult minnows are already small, so what do you feed the tiny babies? Baby minnows are also called fry. Fry enjoy microscopic foods like algae and plankton that are soft.

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Minnows are the most common aquarium fish, but some people prefer to have a few of them swimming around their tanks. Whether you were curious for hobby purposes or out of sheer curiosity, it’s intriguing to know what such small fish eat either in the wild or captivity. There are plenty of food options that help you provide them with a well-rounded and nutritious diet that will keep them healthy for years if you desire.

Read More: What Do Pufferfish Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

Featured Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock

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