thai fairy shrimp culture branchinella thailandensis, freshwater vernal pools, breeding livefood live food, fish killifish

My attempts to culture the Thai Fairy Shrimp
(Branchinella thailandensis)

Branchinella thailandensisis a fully freshwater relative of the Brine Shrimp. After reading various resources on their biology, and culture methods, I decided to try culturing them myself for use as a livefood for turtles, fish and amphibians. Whilst I wasn't very successful, I did learn various important lessons, which may be useful if you wish to try this yourself. Hopefully at some point I will have the time and means to try this again!

Understanding the biology of the fairy shrimp

The Thai Fairy Shrimp occurs in small, temporary water sources in Thailand known as Vernal pools. These pools become filled during the wet season, but dry out completely at other points in the year. As a result, the Branchinella species have adapted to thrive in these temporary pools whilst water is available, having a lifespan of 6-8 weeks, and laying robust eggs which lay dormant in the mud as the pools dry, hatching only when rain returns.

The Thai Fairy Shrimp feeds on algae, bacteria and other particulate matter which it filters out of the water. As a result, it is important have established Green Water cultures set up to feed the growing shrimp ('nauplii').

My initial attempt at culturing Branchinella

My original attempt at culture was based on the works of Colin McCourt [1]. I ordered 5000 cysts (eggs) from a seller in Thailand, which arrived roughly 3 weeks later.

I hatched the eggs using a 2 litre glass jar, which I had cleaned with a solution of 1 part white wine vinegar to 3 parts water. The jar was rinsed thoroughly with rainwater to remove any excess vinegar. Once rinsed, the jar was filled with a litre of rainwater, and left to reach room temperature (approximately 23 degrees celcius).

I then added all 5000 cysts to the water, covering with a section of clean paper towel, to try to submerge the eggs as much as possible. The first nauplii were spotted after 72 hours.

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After hatching

It was several days after hatching that I began to encounter problems with the Thai Fairy Shrimp nauplii. From the 5000 cysts, I would estimate 200 shrimp hatched successfully. The 1 litre of rainwater in my initial container quickly became stagnant and troublesome, so the growing nauplii were introduced into a larger, 12 litre vase, filled with 2-3 litres of rainwater, after 3 days. Approximately 8 inches above the vase, an energy saving lightbulb was suspended to allow easy observation of the shrimp and promote algal growth in situ.

Nauplii were fed on free floating algae (green water) which I was growing on a windowsill. Approximately 10ml of this greenwater was added daily.

After 4-5 days, the water in the vase also started to become stagnant, and a small air-driven sponge filter was added. At this time, the North of England remained miraculously dry, and I resorted to adding a further 2-3 litres of dechlorinated tap water, as described by a previous scientific study [2].

Shortly after this, I experienced a complete crash of my culture, which as of yet I have not isolated the cause of. Firstly, the addition of an air-driven sponge filter, or airstone, may have created too much of a current, or disruption, for the Fairy Shrimp to survive. They are relatively weak swimmers, and the Vernal pools they originate from do not have flowing water or currents, however a similar filter is used by Colin McCourt [1] with success.

Dechlorinated tap water may have contained a chemical which was harmful to the shrimp. The scientific study which used dechlorinated tap water [2] was based in Thailand, and UK tap water is likely to contain different chemicals and elements, which the shrimp may have been sensitive to.

Thoughts on using Branchinella as a live food

As of yet, I have not been able to try culturing this species again. My impressions of this species as a livefood were mixed; their freshwater nature and size makes them a good candidate for fish/small aquatic exotics, however their culture is not continuous, and would need to be drained and the eggs dried out before it can be resumed.

For the large number of eggs which I started with, I had a relatively low hatch rate, which would require a much larger setup if I intended on breeding these shrimp as a regular livefood.

If you have any questions on culturing Branchinella or other species of livefood, feel free to contact me at:
Paul Edmondson


[1] - Colin McCourt, 'Culturing Branchinella thailandensis; A Shrimp from the Orient' (2011)
[2] - K. Sriputhord and L. Sanoamuang, 'Fairy Shrimp as Live Feed Improve Growth and Carotenoid Contents of Giant Freshwater Prawn' (2011)

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