How To Keep Minnows Alive In A Fish Tank: A Guide For Beginners


Minnows are some of the smallest fish native to North America. They are used as live bait by many fishermen but are also kept as pets. However, if you are interested in maintaining minnows alive for long periods, either as baitfish or a pet, how can you do that in a regular fish tank?

To keep minnows alive in a fish tank, you need to ensure that they have cool water, enough space, and not too much food. Minnows need freshly aerated, cold water to survive. If you want your minnows to live more than a day or two, you’ll have to keep their area clean and cool.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about keeping minnows alive in an indoor environment. The steps are relatively similar, whether you’re raising them for fish bait or keeping them as pets. I’ll also talk about the different kinds of minnows and how minnows coexist with other pet fish.

How To Keep Minnows Alive in a Fish Tank?

Minnows are small, peaceful fish that usually live in a stream or pond. They are native to almost every area of the world where there’s freshwater.

Although all minnows are small, not all small fish are minnows. They are part of the Cyprinidae family in the fish world and include over a hundred species of minnows.

The most common minnows are from one of the following species:

  • Stone roller minnows
  • Fathead minnows
  • Chubs
  • Fallfish
  • Carp
  • Shiners
  • Daces

These minnows are the kind you’ll find in pet stores, bait shops, or creeks in most of America.

They coexist peacefully with each other and other types of fish and are low maintenance and easy to take care of as pets. Minnows are popular fish to put in an aquarium with flashier types of fish.

The Number of Minnows Per Tank

If you’re planning on keeping minnows as pets, your first question should be how many you’re going to purchase.

Minnows are school fish and do well with at least a few others in the tank. A minnow on its own will not thrive, so it’s best to keep them in a tank with other fish. Several minnows of the same species will do very well in a tank together.

Minnow schools vary in size, from three fish to several hundred in the wild.

As long as your minnow isn’t alone in the tank, it will be happy. On the flip side, you want to make sure that the tank isn’t overcrowded, or it cuts off oxygen and food for the smaller fish in the school.

How many minnows is too many? That number directly depends on the size of your tank. While minnows do well in a group, they also need to have enough space to move around and get enough air.

If you mix minnows with other breeds of fish, ensure you have enough room for all of them, and that they get the proper amount of oxygen and food.

Size Matters–For Tanks, That Is

Of course, the fish tank size depends on how many minnows you’re keeping and whether they will reproduce. For any amount of minnows, you’ll need at least a ten-gallon tank.

It’s wise to get a larger tank, just in case you decide to keep more fish, but If you plan on having more fish, you might want to look into a fifteen or twenty-gallon fish tank.

A reasonable estimate is to have two gallons of water for every minnow in your tank. This amount will give them enough space and oxygen to move freely without creating too much waste and making the tank toxic.

Type of Water To Use

You shouldn’t fill your fish tank with tap water, as it often has additives that could kill fish.

If you found your minnows in a creek or lake, fill your tank with their natural habitat water. Doing this will make it much easier for your fish to acclimate to the tank itself. However, if your minnows came from a pet store, you’ll need to use distilled water.

Either way, start by pouring some water from your tank into the bag with the minnows in it.

Then, put the bag itself in the tank without letting the fish out. Give your fish a few minutes to grow accustomed to the water temperature and makeup before letting them loose into the tank.

Temperature of Water

The streams and lakes that minnows are native to remain relatively cool throughout the year. Even in the hottest months, some deep nooks and bends stay cold enough for minnows to thrive.

Your fish tank, on the other hand, might need some help to keep the minnows healthy.

Minnows do best in water that is consistently under 65℉. While they can live in warmer waters, your minnows will start to get sluggish and die if the water temperature is over 70℉ for more than a day or two.

Unless the water freezes solid, it can’t get too cold for these fish.

The best way to keep the water cooler is to keep the tank in a dark, cool room. You can purchase a water thermometer for the side of the tank or measure it manually. To cool off the water consistently, you may want to periodically put distilled ice in the tank.

Alternatively, you can fill an empty soda bottle with water, freeze it, and put it in the tank until it thaws.

Oxygenated Water

Now that you’ve filled the tank with water, it’s time to make sure it’s sustainable for the fish.

Minnows need fresh oxygen in their water. In the wild, this is provided by a stream or bubbling pool. At home, you’ll have to provide the extra oxygen with some kind of aerator.

Aerators come in all shapes and sizes. You can buy waterfall filters, bubblers, or decorative aerators shaped like volcanoes. However, the only thing you need is to move the water around and add oxygen.

For a simple bubbler that is inexpensive and works well, I recommend the Pulaco Ultra Quiet Aquarium Air Pump, found on Amazon.com.

If you see your minnows coming up to the surface often, this means there’s not enough oxygen in the water. Turn your aerator up to the next level, or add a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide to the water. The peroxide will increase the amount of oxygen for a while.

Where To Place the Tank

Because the water has to stay cold, it’s best not to put the tank in direct sunlight. A fish tank will do its best in a dark, cool room such as the aquariums you might have visited in the past. However, you don’t have to leave the lights off all of the time. You can put the tank in your bedroom or living room as long as it’s out of direct sunlight.

Important note: Ensure that you place the tank where you want it before you put the water, gravel, or fish in it. A full tank is cumbersome and difficult to move, so it’s best to place it before you fill it.

What To Put in the Tank

The first layer in your tank should be a light layer of aquarium gravel to imitate the bottoms of creeks and lakes where the minnows originated.

The stone is the fish tank base, but you’ll also need a place for the minnows to sleep or lay eggs. This “home” can be anything from a clay pot to a fish tank cave. As long as it supplies a cool, dark spot, the fish will feel at home!

You can also add some live plants to the tank, as long as they are suitable for freshwater. Minnows use them as a food source and to live in, while other plants help clean the water.

Even though you’ll clean the tank regularly, you can add a natural bottom feeder such as a snail.

Minnows are not picky – if you want to make the tank fancy and beautiful, you can. If you’d rather keep it plain and only have gravel and one plant or pot, it’s up to you. The vital part of the tank is providing them enough water, food, and space to swim.

Aquarium Lights


Although the tank shouldn’t be in direct sunlight for the water temperature, the minnows need some light.

You’ll need to invest in an aquarium light that provides brightness without adding heat. I recommend the Aquanet LED Aquarium Light, found on Amazon.com, as it offers a full range of colors and works for any freshwater tank.

In the wild, minnows enjoy full days of sunny water.

Leave the fish light on for as long as you can, or at least twelve to fifteen hours a day. The end goal is to create an environment that’s as close to nature as possible to help your minnows live longer and happier lives.

How To Clean the Tank

Even though minnows naturally eat algae and other tank growths, they won’t eat their waste or the chemical buildup in the tank. You’ll have to regularly clean your fish tank to keep your minnows alive longer and their environment safe.

To clean your tank, follow these steps:

  1. Safely place your minnows in a smaller bowl or container.
  2. Remove the gravel and decorations.
  3. Empty the water.
  4. Clean the inner sides of the fish tank with clean water and a sterilized sponge. Using soap could kill the fish.
  5. Clean the decorations and gravel by rinsing in warm water and scrubbing algae.
  6. Put the gravel and decorations back in the tank and fill it with distilled water.
  7. Pour some distilled water into the smaller container with the minnows to temper them.
  8. Reintroduce your fish to their clean aquarium.

As they breathe oxygen, minnows excrete ammonia.

If you don’t clean the tank regularly, the ammonia levels will build up, becoming toxic for the fish. However, you can decrease the chances of excess ammonia between cleanings by using Ammo-Lock, a natural ammonia detoxifier.

Tank Lid

While most minnows are peaceful creatures, some get a little exuberant in a tank.

Every once in a while, you’ll come across a minnow that likes jumping into the air. In the wild, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. But in a tank, a jumping minnow could end up outside the tank and die.

The simple solution for a jumping minnow (and if you have cats, children, or other creatures curious about the fish tank) is to fit the tank with a screened top. A screen or lid will prevent fish from hopping out of the tank and outside forces from getting in.

However, it’s essential to have some fresh air, so make sure you buy a lid with some kind of screen.

Type of Food to Feed Your Minnows

Now that you’ve set up your tank environment and the fish are acclimating, you can start to think about when to feed them. Minnows are not picky, as they will eat almost anything you put in the tank.

Here are some of the things that minnows tend to eat:

  • Algae from the tank
  • Commercial fish food
  • Swatted flies (not sprayed or poisoned)
  • Insects
  • Phytoplankton
  • Fish eggs
  • Dried worms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Bread
  • Oatmeal flakes

While you can feed minnows anything from this list (and more natural proteins), they must get a complete diet. Minnows don’t eat a lot of food and need it to be a well-rounded diet. If you feed them commercial fish food, you should supplement it with worms, phytoplankton, or brine shrimp.

How Often To Feed Minnows?

The most significant danger with feeding minnows is not starving them; it’s overfeeding them. If a minnow overeats food (and with commercial fish food, they tend not to stop eating until it’s gone), they will get sluggish and not survive.

Feed your minnows every few days in small portions. If they start to look thin, feed them a bit more often.

Make sure that you are providing them smaller amounts of food more often instead of more significant portions every once in a while, which keeps the minnows healthy. Also, check on your smaller fish and ensure that they’re getting some of the food as well.

Will Your Minnows Breed?


Your minnows will breed in the tank unless you buy all male or all female minnows, They will lay eggs in the cave you’ve made for them, sometimes as much as every few days. However, other minnows also eat fish eggs, so the baby fish might not all make it to hatching.

If you want your minnows to breed, you’ll have to make sure that your tank has enough room for more minnows. Getting a larger tank when you first buy your minnows can prevent the need for upsizing later.

If you’re keeping minnows for bait, breeding is a great way to increase your bait supply.

How To Keep Minnows as Pets?

If you want to keep minnows long-term as pets, you can follow these steps to keep them healthy and happy in your tank. As long as you’re taking care of them and making sure they have food, clean water, and enough space, you’ll be able to watch the minnows throughout their entire natural life span.

However, these are not guaranteed steps for long life for a minnow.

It’s vital to remember that things like diseases, accidents, and contaminants do happen, and if you have a batch of minnows that dies unexpectedly, don’t give up. You can still successfully take care of minnows.

Kinds of Minnows for Pets

Any kind of minnow will make a good pet.

Common minnows in fish stores are fathead or shiner minnows, but you can also keep carp, stone rollers, and daces in your tank. Many small fish in the minnow family are commonly kept as pets, and because minnows are hardy and accustomed to many different conditions, they make great, easily cared for pets.

Can Minnows Live With Other Fish?

Minnows can live with other fish. As long as the varieties of fish in the tank are small, they should mix well with the minnows. Larger fish might eat the minnows or steal their food. It’s always advisable to have similarly-sized freshwater fish together in the same tank.

Goldfish are some of the best fish to keep with minnows, as technically, they fall under the minnow family. You can also add angelfish, tetras, or mollies for more color in your tank.

Minnows will get along with any of these kinds of fish with no problem.

Of course, you’ll have to make sure that all of your fish have the right kinds of food, environment, and enough space. Overcrowded fish tanks will lead to extra toxins in the water and can cause death for many of your fish.

With a mixed tank of fish, you might need to buy a specialty filter or fish food that they all can eat safely.

Where To Buy Pet Minnows?

You can buy minnows at a pet store or a large grocery store with a live fish section.

Minnows are often inexpensive and easy to find with other smaller fish. However, since these fish are not very colorful, you might not be able to find them at stores with smaller selections.

If you can’t find the kind of minnow you want at a regular pet store, you can always look at your local bait shop. Odds are, they sell live minnows to anglers to use as bait. If you buy from a bait store, make sure to feed the fish regularly once you take them home, as the shop might not have fed them as much.

Can Wild-Caught Minnows Be Pets?

Many people catch minnows in streams or ponds and bring them into a tank to keep as pets. While it’s possible to do this, it’s not recommended. Minnows raised in captivity don’t need to make a massive adjustment to live in a small tank.

Wild-caught minnows cannot be pets, as they have a more significant adjustment to make and sometimes don’t thrive in captivity. They might not live as long as their captive-bred companions. For the same reasons, you shouldn’t release captive-bred minnows into the wild, as they won’t survive.

How to Keep Minnows for Bait


Anglers have been using live minnows for bait for years, as they work even better than worms or false lures for catching fish like crappie, pickerel, and bass. Larger fish are natural predators and are more likely to get caught biting a live minnow than a dead worm or false lure.

If you’re keeping minnows for bait in a tank, you should still take good care of them.

They will live longer and provide you with more minnows for your next fishing trip. However, you can also take some steps to ensure that they stay alive in the bait bucket while you’re fishing.

Kinds of Minnows for Bait

Any kind of minnow works well for live bait.

Minnows squirm on the hook and look like they’re swimming naturally, which is all you need to fool a bigger fish. Fathead and bluntnose minnows are some of the most commonly used baitfish, but you can also fish with carp, shiners, and stone roller minnows.

Some anglers only use old-world minnows (“true minnows”) for fishing, but there are no limitations on what minnows you use as bait.

Old World minnows are from a subfamily of minnows and work the same as any other kind. If you can put them on the hook and catch larger fish, you can use whatever minnows you choose while angling.

Where To Buy Bait Minnows?

Bait minnows are sold at most bait stores in buckets. When you buy them, you can bring them home and introduce them to your tank.

Minnows that breed in the tank can provide you with a long-term supply of bait, as long as you take care of them. Make sure that your tank is large enough to accommodate breeding minnows.

Of course, you don’t have to buy minnows to use them as bait. If you’re adept at catching small fish and live near a creek, you can catch minnows before angling bigger fish. To save time on your fishing day, keeping a supply of caught minnows in a fish tank will increase your odds of a good haul.

Keeping Minnows Alive in a Bait Bucket

If you want to fish with minnows but don’t own a tank, you can keep them alive in a bait bucket.

Unfortunately, they won’t live more than a few days without an aerator and cool water necessities. You can buy a small aerator for a bait bucket and keep the bucket in a mini-fridge or a cool storage area.

If you decide to keep minnows in a bait bucket, know that they won’t survive as long.

Bait buckets are crowded, and you’ll have a few fish die every day. However, it works as an alternative to a tank if you’re only planning on keeping the minnows for a few days until your next fishing trip.

Keeping Minnows Alive While Fishing

To keep the minnows alive while you’re fishing, partially submerge the bait bucket in the creek or pond, which will keep the water cool and the fish alive for longer. Well-fed fish will last longer in a bait bucket and show more energy on the hook, so feed them the day before your fishing trip.

Remember to check your minnow before recasting your line.

If a minnow has died while in the water, it’s much less likely to attract a larger fish. When you’re using minnows for live bait, you’ll have to be prepared to lose a few along the way. It will pay off when you bring home the big fish!

How Long Do Minnows Live?


Minnows are delightful, shimmery little creatures, and when you see them in a pond or creek, you can’t help but be fascinated by them. They swim in schools and live in small lakes and rivers throughout North America.

Wild minnows can live from two to seven years, depending on the kind and size. Barring natural predators, diseases, or anglers, minnows live longer than many small fish breeds. When you bring them into your home, you can expect them to live this long with proper care.

Of course, there are variations of minnows that exceed the norm.

The largest minnow is native to southeast Asia and can grow up to ten feet long. However, when we’re talking about keeping minnows in tanks, we don’t mean that breed. Most North American minnows are much smaller and have shorter life spans.

Most minnows live for a few years and grow up to a few inches, although there’s some variety in breed.

Which Minnows Live the Longest?

Generally, larger minnows (such as the creek chubs or gold shiners) live longer, with a maximum lifespan of six to seven years, and grow to six inches. If you want to keep your minnows for several years, find a giant breed like the gold shiners.

Smaller minnows, on the other hand, have a shorter lifespan of two to four years.

These breeds include fathead minnows, common shiners, and bluntnose minnows. Small minnows tend to grow up to two or three inches and are great for baitfish because they are smaller and don’t live as long.

Final Thoughts

Minnows live up to six years in the wild, and you can recreate their environment in your home. They are great fish for bait or pets. If you keep the minnows’ water cool and clean, give them enough space, and don’t overfeed them, you’ll be able to have tamed tank minnows for several years.

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