Do Clownfish Eat Copepods?

So you bought yourself a clownfish, an excellent choice! Made famous from the film “Finding Nemo,” it’s an easy-to-raise species of fish and is considered beginner-level among aquarists.

You also must have heard about copepods as a self-replicating constant source of food for your clownfish, right?

Many aquarists believe copepods to be the only thing fish need to be fed to survive, making them the ideal fish feed. Does that mean you can just throw some copepods in the aquarium and relieve yourself of your feeding responsibilities? Not really, but read on to find out why.

Will Your Clownfish Eat Copepods?

Clownfish are flexible in their diets; they can eat flakes, pellets, and even other tiny aquatic creatures. Copepods fall in the last category to clownfish.

The clownfish belongs to an omnivorous fish family and shows predatory behavior in the tank when they see prey. They are generally not very picky eaters and will happily feed on live copepod prey in the tank. This includes young clownfish that are sometimes hard to feed.

Young clownfish are slightly timid and do not like leaving their ‘safe zone’ in the tank. As such, it becomes difficult at times to feed young clownfish flakes or other food without releasing the feed very close to their hiding spot.

You can avoid this problem by using copepods since copepods swim through the tank and make their way to the clownfish themselves. So yes, clownfish eat copepods.

Can They Only Eat Copepods?

Yes and no. You see, there is a rift among the aquarists when it comes to using copepods as the only source of food. Some aquarists argue that feeding them with only copepods can be unhealthy due to them not being a balanced meal. Others argue that copepods have enough nutritional value to make it unnecessary to feed them anything else.

When it comes down to your favorite saltwater fish, it is recommended that you experiment and see how your clownfish reacts. After you introduce copepods in your reef tank, if your clownfish do not show interest in other food (flakes, pellets), it is a sign that copepods are enough for your jester.

That being said, a copepod-only diet is slightly unbalanced. You should occasionally add other feeds for nutritional balance and not have a sole feeding source in your clownfish tank.

A point to note here is that while clownfish are not picky, they develop preferences. If your clownfish prefers flakes or pellets, it might refuse to eat the copepods and vice versa. Add the copepods to the reef tank and use less feed for a day or two. If your fish responds well to copepods as a food source (showing a lack of interest in flakes or pellets), it is well-fed and happy.

Why Copepods Are a Great Food Source

Copepods are small crustaceans that live in nearly every water system on the planet. They are important to the ocean’s ecology as they are the primary source of nourishment for many species of fish and aquatic animals across the world in their natural habitat. They reproduce very rapidly, multiplying into thousands within weeks if left unchecked.

Because of their rapid growth rate, they make for a constant supply of food for your saltwater creatures while also contributing to the ecology of your reef tank. Yet, there are more reasons why many aquarists are so fond of these crustaceans. 

Ideal for a wide range of fish

Copepods are found in both freshwater and saltwater around the world. They are the largest source of food for many small ocean fish and crustaceans. Copepods are an important part of the ecosystem because many creatures depend on them as a primary source of food.

Their dominant position in the aquatic food chain is well deserved because they are highly nutritious for many kinds of fish. Killifish, clownfish, mandarins, crabs, corals, and even octopuses eat copepods. Copepods are a great solution to the food requirements of all kinds of fish and aquatic animals. Introducing a population of copepods in your tank will ensure a stable food supply for all your clownfish for a very long time.

Excellent tank cleaners

Copepods love to eat decaying food and algae. Because of this, they keep the tank clean from any form of algae or food contamination. Copepods also contribute to maintaining the water’s pH level; they decompose the debris and waste material in the water and lower the ammonia and nitrates concentration.

All things considered, if you don’t like cleaning your tank often or have problems with leftover food decaying in the tank, copepods will be excellent partners to help you keep your reef tank clean. Best of all, copepods do not produce much waste by themselves, so you lose nothing even if you use them solely as tank janitors.

Allows for a more natural hunting environment

Remember clownfish acting like omnivorous predators? Live copepods don’t let themselves be caught and eaten very easily. They try to run away if they feel a fish approaching to eat them. This fleeing behavior is similar to how fish in the ocean hunt their prey. Hunting copepods in the tank will ensure they get plenty of stimulation.

This stimulation improves their health and promotes a natural environment within the aquarium for your saltwater creatures in your clownfish tank. Both of these things drastically improve their life expectancy inside the tank. Fish living in aquariums with natural hunting environments tend to be more healthy and more vibrant in color as well.

Highly nutritious and enhance color

According to a 2021 study, copepods contain abundant highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) that are necessary for good fish larvae growth. Moreover, another study suggests that copepods contain nearly every nutrient the fish needs in healthy amounts. With good nutrition, they will become more healthy and live longer.

But that’s not all; they lose color when there are pollutants present in the water. These pollutants include ammonia, nitrates, and chlorine. The pH and hardness of water also affect the fish’s color. Copepods help lower the saturation of most chemicals that can affect the fish’s color. As a result, with the introduction of copepods in the tanks, you will observe your clownfish develop brighter and healthier colors.

What Do Clownfish Eat?

What Do Clownfish Eat

So clownfish are not picky eaters, they are flexible when it comes to their diets, and sometimes they can develop preferences towards certain food types. The best practice for feeding a clownfish is to introduce some variety to its food. Copepods might satisfy the nutritional needs but mixing things up here, and there can help your clownfish not get too reliant on a single food type.

Live foods

Live foods refer to living creatures that the fish can hunt and eat. Copepods are generally used as live foods because of all the above-mentioned reasons. You can also feed your clownfish shrimp such as mysis and brine.

If you have recently caught a wild clownfish, feeding it live foods is the best way to help it adjust to its new surroundings. You can find live foods at local pet shops; they can also recommend feeding plans and nutrition balancing tips for your aquarium.  

Frozen foods

Frozen foods are where the clownfish’s meat-loving behavior is at full display. Clownfish will eat frozen chicken livers, table shrimps, cooked mussels, and just about every other meat as long as it’s chopped into small pieces properly. Here’s a nice list of things they love to eat:

  • Chopped squids
  • Shredded octopuses
  • White meat
  • Cockles
  • Bloodworms

Despite their cute appearance, the clownfish is very fond of eating meat and can only develop a preference for frozen foods.


Clownfish will eat just about any marine food product you can find on the market. Marine flakes can be your go-to saltwater fish food if you want to feed your clown quickly. You can buy marine flakes on Amazon and at your local pet shop.

Flakes have great nutritional balance, and mixing them with copepods or other types of foods will help your clownfish thrive.


Pellets and flakes go hand in hand when it comes to feeding fish. Some prefer pellets, while others prefer flakes. Clownfish are the same in this regard, some clownfish like floating pellets while others like sinking ones. You can’t be certain about what pellets they like unless you experiment with it first.

If they are fussy about eating flakes, it probably prefers sinking food, and sinking pellets are your best bet for them. Similar to flakes, you can buy pellets on Amazon or at your local pet store.

Garlic and Seaweeds

Fish love garlic dearly. If your clownfish is acting fussy over a kind of food, you can add some garlic scent to it to attract them again. Garlic is very healthy for them and can be given to them every few days in small quantities to boost their immune system.  

You can also feed your clownfish seaweeds, especially Nori, as they are nutritionally beneficial. You should fold them into a cylindrical shape and feed them to the clownfish using a feeding clip to avoid contaminating them with water.

How to Breed Copepods to Avoid Buying Them

You can buy pods to feed your clownfish, but you would be much better off if you cultivated them yourself? Here’s how!

First, you need a container to culture your copepods in. A bucket can work for this, but getting a separate aquarium for them is preferred. An aquarium will lower the chances of you failing to breed copepods.

Copepods don’t take kindly to very hot or very cold temperatures so put their container in a place with mild or moderate temperature. Avoid placing it near air conditioners, heaters, or other temperature control devices.

With the container in the right place, set up the air pump in the aquarium to provide a moderate airflow to the container. If you don’t have an aquarium, you can add an airstone as well. Good airflow helps keep copepods healthy.

Match the salinity of the container with that of your fish tank. Copepods go into shock when transferred to different salinity environments and can paralyze them when added to the fish tank. Ideally, you should aim for a salinity between 25-35ppt.

Copepods eat phytoplankton to grow, so you need to add some of them to the tank. You can buy phytoplanktons from a store near you. Plankton is microscopic marine algae that need sunlight to grow. Add phytoplanktons to the tank in drops until the water turns green.

In the end, you can add some copepods into the tank and let them grow. Letting the water and the copepods reach room temperature is better than adding them straight away. Copepods reproduce rapidly, so you can expect lots of them within a week.    

When you want to feed your fish copepods, use a 100-micron screen to catch the adult copepods. Young copepods will slip through the gaps back into the tank.

How Do You Get Rid of Copepods?

Copepods are always beneficial to the tank and do not require removal. However, if you want to get rid of them for some reason, let’s say because there are too many of them, you can choose between 2 options.

Introduce a new copepod eater – If there are too many copepods in the tank, you can just add a species that loves eating them into the tank for population control. You can even add more clownfish or breed your existing ones to create a demand that meets the supply. Adding more inhabitants to the tank is a natural solution to the copepod problem.

Use a filter – Just as we used a 100-micron filter to scoop up adult copepods from our culture, you can use a hang-on type canister filter with a micron sleeve as fine as possible. This is a permanent solution, and within days your tank will have no more copepods left in it. If you want to feed your fish copepods after that, you’ll have to remove the filter first.

Interesting Facts about Copepods?

In case you aren’t charmed by the practical benefits of copepods, here are some interesting tidbits that will grab your attention.

What kind of creatures are copepods? – Copepods are tiny crustaceans similar in size to a flea. They eat algae and smaller creatures and are the most abundant creatures in the sea. They have the largest biomass of any organism on the planet and are essential to the underwater food chain. They are also responsible for regulating the ocean’s carbon cycle and helping stabilize the marine ecosystem.

What do copepods look like? – They look like tiny crabs or lobsters with shiny shells. They are hard to see with the naked eye, but you can see their tear-like shapes under a magnifying glass.

There are many kinds of copepods, each with their own unique color and appearance, but most of them are pale gray or brown. Some vibrant ones can have red, orange, pink, purple, green, blue, or black colors.

Where do copepods come from? – Copepods are found in every saltwater and freshwater body on the planet. You can even find them in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. They are one of the most abundantly found organisms on the planet.

Final Thoughts

Copepods are an excellent choice for your clownfish. It is easy to culture them, and they can provide you with a stable food supply for your aquarium. There aren’t any cons to feeding your clownfish copepods, and it can make them healthier.

The only reason you shouldn’t consider copepods for your clownfish is if you want to feed multiple types of food by yourself.

Kelly Stanley