How to start your own Copepod culture

Time to bring your marine hobby to the next level but overwhelmed by the thought of starting a culture of your own? Many people have attempted to start their own copepod, daphnia or other live food culture and have unfortunately been disappointed with the outcome. This may be why others are concerned and just simply buy their live food or worse, buy dried food or other kinds for their fish when it’s not the best option.

Keep in mind that this is a simplistic method of maintaining a live copepod population at home. There are more sophisticated methods that can be set up once the basics have been mastered, but if you’re new to starting your own live culture, you’re in the right place.

We’re here to show you step-by-step how to start your own Copepod culture with ease. Follow these steps and you’ll be seeing your live culture multiply at a healthy rate.

What do Copepods eat?

Copepods have received a bad reputation in the past from people that try to grow copepod using live algae or artificial feeds. Live algae require too much water turnover and can typically only produce low densities due to the small volume of algae in the water, and artificial feeds will quickly foul the culture. Instead, it’s best practice to use a concentrated micro-algae to eliminate both of these problems.

Copepod feed best on micro-algae, typically in the 1 to 10-micron range. The most commonly used algae is called Nannochloropsis, a small green non-swimming cell that is high in protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. Copepods have a very high metabolism and need to eat regularly! Fortunately, this is easy to do by keeping a supply of quality micro-algae in the water with them at all times.

Micro-algae concentrates like NutriSpring (micro-algae) paste can be added to the water once or several times each day to maintain a healthy culture of copepods. Simply add a small amount of the NutriSpring (micro-algae) paste to the tank until you have a light green color. If the tank still has a light green color at the next feeding you are adding the right amount. If not add a bit more algae each time until there is a constant residual color. The most common practice is to feed the copepods in the morning and the evening and this is also convenient for people that have full-time schedules!

What do you need?

– 20 Litre bucket or larger tank
– Air stone (set on low)
– Dechlorinated salt water; temperature 23-26 C and1.019-1.025ppt salinity
– Live copepod culture
– Micro-algae NutriSpring (micro-algae) paste

Key Strategies

Keep enough micro-algae in the system so that the copepods always have food.
Harvest at least 20% of your culture and water every day. Your copepod culture system must be set up in a stand-alone tank – they cannot be raised in a reef tank or co-cultured with other organisms.

Starting your culture

Place the copepod starter culture in the bucket of sterilized saltwater to allow it to acclimatize. Wait 10 minutes then open the bag and slowly add the copepod starter culture. Add enough Liquid 60 to maintain a light green color between feedings. Typically this will be 2-3 ml’s of Liquid 60 daily per million rotifers. Harvest at least 20% of your culture each day after day 3.

Harvesting Your Rotifers to feed a Reef Tank, Mandarin or Reefugium

Before harvesting your copepods, remove the airline and let sit for 10-15min. This will ensure any algae pieces and detritus sink to the bottom. After taking what you need, siphon some of (algae & detritus) from the bottom this will keep the culture clean and be running continuously for many months. This will not damage the copepod at all.

  1. Harvest 20-30% of your copepod culture. This is best done by siphoning into a separate bucket and through plankton mesh of around 50 microns.
  2. Do not add the siphoned culture water to your aquarium as this could be high in ammonia.
  3. Turn off your skimmer but leave your pumps running.
  4. Place your copepods directly into your reef tank.
  5. Siphon water from your reef tank through the 50-micron plankton mesh back into your copepod tank to replenish the water.

Harvesting Your Rotifers to feed Fish Larvae:

  1. Turn off your air stone for 5-10 minutes. This will allow the detritus to settle.
  2. Harvest as many copepods as you need by the same method outlined above.
  3. Replenish the culture water by the same method outlined above. If you don’t have a reef tank you will periodically need to clean your culture tank to prevent the detritus levels from building up and causing ammonia spikes.


  • Copepods do not really need any light and will do best in the dark
  • Do NOT let the copepod ever run out of food. It will take a few days for the eggs to hatch, and build to sufficient numbers for you to harvesting again.
  • It’s difficult to measure your copepod densities without a microscope, so it might take 2-3 weeks before your find an equilibrium in your system for how much algae to feed and how many litters of rotifers to remove each day without affecting your culture densities.

You can find out more about the Aquatic Live Food Home Culture System Kit by reading our recent article on the kit, what it includes and how it works. We hope this is all the information you need to get started and build the live culture you’ve been waiting to! However, if you have any questions please send us a message via the form below or get in touch with us on Facebook.