Learning how to feed your axolotl as they grow up is a big and important part of keeping this long-lived species of salamander healthy and thriving.
But there is more to feeding an axolotl than many new keepers suspect. Some foods that are safe and even recommended for practically all other aquatic animals are not safe for axolotls to eat.
And some foods that many other species find nourishing and beneficial are not recommended for axolotls.
Are minnows in this category? Are minnows safe for axolotls to eat? Can axolotls eat minnows? We will answer all of these questions and much more in this article.
Watch An Adult Axolotl Hunt and Eat a Live Minnow
Can axolotls eat minnows? Yes they can – and this short video by an axolotl owner will prove it.
But should axolotls eat minnows? That is the bigger and better question we will be answering in detail in the sections here to follow.
What Are Minnows? A Brief Overview
The Fisheries Blog points out, there are a lot of species of fish in the minnow family of fish. But just because a fish is small doesn’t mean it is a minnow.
To make matters even more confusing, this even includes some fish species that have the word “minnow” right in their species name. As well, some small fish species that do not have the word “minnow” in their species name are actually true minnows.
There are more than 3,000 different fish species that belong to the minnow family of fish. Some minnows also belong to other fish families, such as carp or suckers.
But here in this article, we will only address the minnow species that are regularly sold as bait or feeder fish for axolotls and other aquatic pet species.
Examples of the types of minnows we will be discussing include these (from the popular axolotl owner form on Caudata.org):
- Rosy red minnow.
- Ghost catfish.
- Fathead minnow.
- Minnow goldfish.
- White Cloud minnow.
- Guppies (millionfish, rainbow fish – not true minnows).
Should Axolotls Eat Minnows: Why the Best Answer Is “No”
Axolotls are a very unique species of aquatic salamander. Axolotls, as you may already be aware, are found in only one lake area near Mexico City, Mexico, and are very endangered.
In the wild, axolotls are nearly extinct. In captivity, axolotls can live quite well for many years provided their basic husbandry (care) needs are met. This includes feeding the proper food so your axolotl gets full and complete nutrition.
Different types of foods are recommended for axolotls depending on what size and age your axolotl may be.
Many first-time keepers start out with an older juvenile or adult axolotl. These axolotls are easier to keep and feed. But if you are caring for a newborn (larval) or young juvenile axolotl, you need to be especially careful to choose the right food.
Minnows should never be a part of an axolotl’s diet at any age, size, or life stage. But this isn’t because they aren’t animal protein, which the axolotl requires as a carnivorous species.
The reason you should never feed minnows to your axolotl is twofold, as this Guide to Axolotl Husbandry from the University of Kentucky explains:
- Minnows are known to carry parasites that could infect, harm, or kill your axolotl.
- Minnows often have sharp gills, fins, or tails that could cause internal injury to your axolotl.
How Can You Know if Your Minnows Are Free from Parasites?
One common question that often comes up with new axolotl keepers relates to determining the safety of an axolotl food source, including minnows.
Minnows that are bred in aquarium shops are commonly assumed to be parasite-free. Unfortunately, this is more theory than fact.
Even aquarium-bred minnows may be carrying parasites depending on the history of their parents and the overall husbandry practices of the pet shop.
You should never feed bait shop minnows to your axolotl, however, as these are likely wild-caught and are probably infested with parasites.
What If the Minnows Don’t Have Sharp Gills, Fins, or Tails – Can You Feed Those?
Even if you are feeding “soft body” minnows that don’t have any sharp or bony plates, gills, protuberances, fins or tails (or suckers – even worse), you still shouldn’t feed them to your axolotls.
Make no mistake – your axolotl will eat minnows if you put them in the tank and it won’t matter what their outer bodies are made up of. But you put your axolotl in danger needlessly when you offer minnows for food or treats.
Why Shouldn’t Axolotls Ever Be Fed Minnows?
The main reason why you shouldn’t offer minnows to your axolotl even as a treat goes beyond issues of safety and health.
Minnows simply aren’t a very good food source for axolotls. As Northern Axolotls explains, some species also contain a thiamine-blocker (thiamine is vitamin B1) called Thiaminase that blocks Vitamin B1 from being absorbed in your axolotl’s body.
As Medical News Today explains, vitamin B1 is important for heart, nerve, and muscle function as well as the metabolism of glucose (energy) from food.
If you feed minnows too frequently or as a staple food for your axolotl, this can quickly cause a thiamine deficiency which will then require you to supplement with thiamine, making feeding a lot more complex than it needs to be.
Steer Clear of Fish Meal Axolotl Pellets Made With Minnows or Minnow Predators
While you may not think you are feeding your axolotl any minnows at all, they can sneak into your pet’s diet in a surprising way.
Some sinking pellets that are recommended for axolotls contain minnows or minnow predators. These fish will contribute thiaminase to your axolotl’s diet that will block Vitamin B1 and cause a deficiency.
So here again, you will need to supplement to make sure your axolotl stays healthy.
Another Important Reason Not to Feed Minnows to Your Axolotl
Just in case you need any more motivation to create a diet for your axolotl that is minnow-free, here is one more reason to steer clear:
Minnows can also endanger your axolotl in other ways by nibbling on your axolotl’s fins, tail or gill protuberances.
Even if you simply plan to house your axolotl in a tank where minnows are also living exposes both species to unnecessary risk and danger.
Your axolotl will likely try to eat the minnows – and will most likely succeed – and the minnows will likely try to nibble your axolotl’s body – and will most likely succeed.
The minnows can also pollute the whole tank with parasites that they are known to carry.
Are Any Minnows Safe to Feed to Axolotls?
As experienced axolotl keepers point out, if you are determined to feed axolotls minnows, white cloud minnows are the only suitable option you should even consider.
White cloud minnows are soft-bodied and relatively easy for axolotls to consume safely.
Of course, if you do decide to add minnows to your axolotl’s regular diet, they should only be offered as an occasional treat.
You should always be there to supervise your axolotl eating the minnows. Sometimes the fish can get caught in your axolotl’s gills or throat causing a risk of choking and suffocation if you don’t act quickly.
Ultimately, there are other food sources that are a much better choice for axolotls.