As mentioned in other posts, only rotifer diet or nannochloropsis should be used to feed your rotifers.  Nannochloropsis is filled with vitamins and nutrients that the rotifers will eat and in turn the clownfish fry will eat.  Rotifer diet can get very expensive especially if you have several rotifer cultures going and are using lots of rotifer diet.  I deceided to try to culture my own phytoplankton and hopefully save some money.  Now I have a constant supply of plankton and I am not spending money to keep my rotifer green water going.

Things you will need to Culture Plankton

DSC_0070Either Gatorade style bottles or 2 liter soda bottles (get the ones with the flat round bottom if you can)


Air SplitterAir splitter to allow you to use one aerator in several cultures

Air line hose

Light FixtureFlorescent light fixture – standard output similar to one you would use in your house, not one you would put over your aquarium.  I used two 13″ lights used for mounting under a cabinet.  They have a standard plug on the end and don’t require any wiring.

Plankton DiskPlankton Algae disk- Available at Florida Aqua Farms Nanochloropsus green non motile 4 to 6 size

1 bottle of Micro Algae Grow available at Florida Aqua Farms

5 gallon bucket

When growing plankton it is very important that you keep the culture as sterile as possible.  You do not want to get any rotifers into your culture because even just one can multiply into millions and your plankton will disappear very quickly.  If possible place your plankton above your rotifers on a shelf and not the opposite.  If your plankton drips into your rotifers it isn’t a big deal, however if your rotifers drip into your plankton, it will be eaten very quickly.  I have also put the two in separate rooms.  Just be careful with the buckets and materials that you are using that they are not infecting the cultures.

As mentioned above, you will need a disk of nanochloropsus.  The disks are like a petri dish with the green plankton on top of it.  When it arrives add enough mixed saltwater at 1.019 to the top of the disk to cover all of the green on the disk.  Every 30 minutes swirl the disk in a circle like you would a glass of wine to loosen the plankton.  You should do this for about 2 hours with one of your lights 5″ from the top of the disk.  Keep swirling and let the plankton come back to life.  All of the green material should be loosened.  After two hours has passed, pour the solution into a clean 2 liter soda bottle (or Gatorade bottle) with saltwater at 1.019.  This should give the water a light green tint.   You also will need to add 20 drops of Micro Algae Grow.


Next you will need to modify your bottle top to allow the air line tubing to pass through it.  Drill a hole in the top of the bottle cap in the center of the cap.  The hole should not be tight on the line and should let a small amount of air come back out of the bottle.  If the hole is too small the plankton will spray through the top.  Run the hose through the top and place an air stone on the end of the hose.

The air stone weighs the end of the tube down so that it sits on the bottom of the bottle.  I usually set my aerator to high and allow as much air as possible stir and aerate the plankton.  Make sure the cap is screwed on the bottle well to prevent other things from getting in.  You also should remove any labels on the bottle to allow the most light to get in.

I place both the plankton bottle and the lights inside of a 5 gallon bucket and just place the top on the bucket.  Make sure the bottle is close to the light but not touching or close enough that they start to heat up the plankton.  Keep the lights on for at least 16 hours per day.  I keep my lights on all the time.  Watch your plankton over the next couple days it should start out very light (lime) green and turn to a very dark almost black green.  After the plankton stops getting more green over 2 consecutive days, the plankton is done.  You can now use this to start another culture.  Simply mix a bottle with salt water and Micro Algae grow and pour around 2 ounces of the recently finished plankton into the bottle.  You can do this multiple times and have multiple cultures going at once.  I usually have two cultures going at all times.  When one is done I mix up some saltwater and Algae grow and 2 ounces of the previous batch.


Now you can have an endless supply of plankton to feed to your rotifers.  This plankton mix is not as concentrated as rotifer diet so it will take more of the plankton to get the rotifer water to the proper green color.  Usually one 2 liter sized bottle will last me around 1 week feeding two rotifer cultures.    Always make sure you have enough food for your rotifers or they will crash or produce cysts and go dormant.

The finished and filled plankton bottles will last at least a month in the refrigerator.  You should gently shake each bottle in the fridge each day to make sure the cells are not crushing one another.  If you have looked into the costs of breeding clownfish you know that the rotifer food such as rotifer diet is very expensive.  Starting a plankton culture is a great way to save money.  I got my continuous setup going for about the cost of one bottle of rotifer diet.

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8 Comments to “Culturing Plankton”

  1. Ric Schildwachter — February 18, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    I’m just starting my first attempt with clown fry. I’ve got my rotifers in their bucket and it looks like a bottle of rotifer diet from Reed Mariculture should last quite a while but can a culture be started from this purchased bottle of rotifer diet?

  2. Scott — February 21, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

    A culture cannot be started from rotifer diet.

  3. Ryan — September 14, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

    Hey, I love your site and have looked at it for reference several times, but now am starting on my own and was wondering if you could give me an idea of how much of stuff I need to order and how many spawns it will last me. Thanks so much!!

  4. John — March 27, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    When I have my plankton growing, under 24hrs lighting, and using micro algae grow, it seems that it isn’t getting as dark as many pictures I have seen on the web. For example, the batch I have going now has been growing for about 6 days, but isn’t very dark. I’m thinking I just didn’t wait long enough on the first batch, before doubling it to make the second batch.

    This is my second batch, as the first was used to double the amount growing. Once it gets dark enough, when I put it in new bottles and start over, how much of the mature algae do I use in the new bottles? 50% mature, and 50% new saltwater?

  5. Jeff — May 1, 2011 @ 12:58 am

    I’ve been doing it this way for years and don’t like to use only nanochloropsus. Every Florida Aquafarms sels is easy to grow. Now that Frank is no longer there you can’t tell when you are going to get your order, however. I think CCMP (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean $cience$50, but they have everything) and Seahorse Source dot com are good places too. Now that we can order everything from calanoid copepod eggs to live adults from AlgaGen dot com I’m going to start adding them. I think calanoid N1 nauplii is going to keep a lot more of my baby fish alive.

  6. Mad Hatter Reef — August 4, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

    I’ve never cultured phytoplankton from the disk before. Good information here.

  7. Charles — November 29, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    I purchased the Micro Algae disk and the Micro Algae grow from your AquaFarms link but I called first because they didn’t quote a shipping price. That is unusual for a website to not tell you what your price will be for shipping. The two items cost me $15 and I was told over the phone that shipping would be about $6. When I ordered the products (Two items) The shipping was $11.83. That is high for one small box. This stuff better be good.

  8. breeding clown fish — December 21, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    […] shrimp and feed them that stuff 3 times a day for a few weeks. this is the site i got the info from Culturing Plankton | Breeding Clownfish But it does seem pretty tough but would like to give it a try. but i wanted to see what others on […]

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