Rosy Red Minnow – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Rosy Red Minnows

Quick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallons (10 Gallons recommended)
Care Level: Very Easy
Water Conditions: PH 6-8 and Soft to Very Hard
Temperature: 32-100 (0-37C)
Maximum Size: 2 inches (5 cm)

The rosy red minnow is normally sold as a tropical fish, but it is actually a color variant of a native North American fish – the fathead minnow. The fathead minnow is found throughout streams and rivers in North America, and its natural coloring is a brilliant silver, with the males developing dark horizontal stripes during mating season.

If someone is looking to purchase a rosy red minnow, the only place that they can normally be found are the cramped and filthy feeder tanks at most fish stores. But if you can find some healthy ones, they make an attractive and interesting addition to nearly any community fish tank.


Housing

The same qualities that make rosy red minnows great feeder fish, also make them one of the easiest fish to keep. It can be kept in densities that would kill any other tropical fish and tolerates both poor water quality and low oxygen levels in an aquarium. In the stores you will often see hundreds or even thousands crammed together with little in the way of water circulation and many will still be active and healthy after living in these wretched conditions.

Rosy red minnows can also tolerate a wide range of water types – from mildly soft to very hard water and a pH range of 6pH – 8 pH. These hardy minnow will also adapt to nearly any temperature, with reports of it thriving at temperatures below freezing, and in temperatures as high as 100F (37C). It prefers temperatures in the range of 70-80F (21-26C), and will breed continuously if it is kept at these temperatures.

If you are planning to keep rosy red minnows in a species only tank, a 10 gallon tank is the preferred size. It is important that you provide a few cave like structures or overhangs in their tanks. Once the males hit breeding age, they will claim a cave and defend it against any other males rosy reds or other fish in the tank. The easiest way to provide a cave, is to purchase a plain, unpainted clay pot, and then partially bury the pot on its side in the substrate. This creates a perfect cave environment for rosy red minnows.

The rosy red minnow generally isn’t a messy fish, and most types of filtration will be more than adequate. A good HOB (Hang on back) filter, or sponge filter will keep the tank clean and well filtered (Click here for the Seymour Fish HOB filter reviews). With that being said, the sponge filter is usually a better choice, as it provides good aeration for the tank and is far safer for the fry that are certain to appear at some point. If you choose to use a HOB filter, you should use something (nylon, sponge) to cover the intake, or the fry will be sucked up into the whirring impeller of death.

Feeding

In the wild, the rosy red minnow is an omnivore, and eats algae, plant matter, small invertebrates and insect larvae. In the home aquarium, they seem to prefer plant based foods, and if you are having trouble keeping rosy red minnows well fed, they should be fed a high quality spirulina flake or pellet food. I personally feed mine Hikari Spirulina Floating Pellets and while the food was created for koi, I have had tremendous success feeding it to my rosy red minnows.

They will also appreciate the occasional treat of frozen foods, and can be feed frozen bloodworms, daphnia and brine shrimp. These should be fed sparingly, and their main diet should be herbivore fish food.

A rosy red minnow’s diet can also be supplemented with vegetables, with blanched zucchini medallions, cucumber medallions and shelled peas being their favorites. Always make sure to clean the vegetables well before adding them to the aquarium, and any uneaten vegetables should be removed after 24 hours, so they don’t foul the water.

Breeding

One of the most compelling reasons to buy rosy red minnows is to experience their fascinated breeding behavior. While most minnows scatter their eggs and show no parental care, the rosy red minnow breeding behavior closely resembles a cichlids. In fact, rosy red minnows are probably the easiest fish to breed in the aquarium hobby, and many people with predator fish breed rosy red minnows to ensure they have healthy feeder fish.

In order to trigger breeding in this fish, you should provide a photo period of 12-14 hours a day and keep the temperature constant in the 70-80F range. When the male is ready to breed, he will develop fatty tissue and breeding tubercles on the top his head (thus the name fathead). Once he is ready to mate, he will claim a cave or overhang in the tank and clean the surface thoroughly with his head. Other males that are ready to breed may challenge the male for his newly claimed territory, but any fights are generally brief and rarely result in injuries.

After the male has successfully fought off any challengers, he will attempt to entice a female into the cave or overhang. An intricate dance will commence between the two fish, and if the male impresses the female, he will lead her back to the cave and she will deposit her eggs. The female is then usually pushed out by the male, and he sets about fiercely guarding the eggs.

The male will watch over the eggs carefully, occasionally rubbing them with his head and snout which contains an anti-fungal solution. Other females may sometimes be enticed into his cave until the walls of the cave are completely filled with eggs. The male will guard the eggs until they hatch, and he will attack fish many times his size to protect his brood.

After a short period, the eggs will begin to hatch, and free swimming fry will appear. At this point, they should be fed with mircoworms, or baby brine shrimp. Another effective, but unorthodox method for feeding the fry is to feed them powdered Spiraluna. Once all of the eggs have hatched, the male will usually abandon his cave, and will ignore the fry. In most cases it’s safe to leave the fry in the same tank as adult rosy red minnows, as they rarely eat their young.

Rosy Red Minnow Health

The most difficult aspect of keeping rosy red minnows, is actually finding healthy ones. The feeder fish tanks at most fish stores are full of parasites, diseases and have absolutely terrible water quality. Rosy reds should never be put into an aquarium containing other fish, until they have been quarantined for a minimum of four weeks in separate quarantine tank and treated for parasites and disease.

Even taking this approach, quite a few will die since they are already likely ill from living in a feeder tank. Some may also end up stunted and eventually deformed from the parasites that they have been infected with. But rosy red minnows breed very quickly, and the next generation that is born in the home aquarium will have much better coloration and size than their parents. So just stick it out, and you will end up with some amazing rosy red minnows.

Comments

  1. 3 Rosy Reds and 5 White Clouds, 10 gallon tank says

    Notably some stores sell them for mosquito control, where they are kept in *much* better conditions then feeder fish. Try to find those ones.

    • Matthew Seymour says

      That’s actually a really good idea. Most of the fish sold for mosquito control in my area are mosquitofish, but if you do find any rosy reds kept for this, they would be in far better shape.

      Thanks for the idea.

  2. Kathy says

    Thanks for sharing this nice site. I’d planned to tear down my 20 gallon tank, then reconsidered and tossed in nine rosy reds and one gold mystery snail. These little minnows are delightful—and already spoiled rotten. They swarm and “dance” whenever they see my shadow in the hopes of eliciting a snack. Even with this somewhat small school, they almost look iridescent. I’ve had tropical fish for nearly 100 years (=^..^=), and would highly recommend rosy reds over goldfish for the beginning fish enthusiast.. Or even us golden oldies…

    • Kathy says

      Update from =^..^=,,,,here’s a follow-up on the rosy red gang after slightly more than a year in their massive 20-gallon tank quarters. Unfortunately, one or two of the guys simply succumbed from what I presume less-than-desirable conditions they’d been housed in as “mere feeder-fish.” Fortunately, the remaining gang of eight made themselves right at home.

      After a month or so, one rosy red established himself as the alpha male, lurking in the overturned clay “cave,” with only his head sticking out. At one point he became so aggressive that I bagged him overnight so that he physically could see, but not attack, his tank mates.

      Surprisingly, #2 rosy red quickly took over the alpha male bullying behavior, so what could I do but release the true alpha male? It was not unlike Peyton Place revisited; yet alas, despite a good sized, established Amazon Sword Plant along with smaller offshoots, none of the fry has yet to reach adulthood being quickly gobbled up by their well-fed cousins.

      Alas, it seems that rosy red minnows have a rather short life span — one to two years — but it’s action packed and I continue to be intrigued by these delightful, and underappreciated, finny life forces.

      Go Rosy Reds!
      Kathy

      • says

        It’s too bad that more people won’t give them a chance like you did. They are still one of my favorite fish, though they do only live a short time.

        I’m surprised that you had problems with them eating the fry. In my experience, most of the fry were totally ignored in the tanks that I had with rosy red minnows. And the way that they breed like cichlids, always makes them a blast to water – but watch out for the alpha. I’ve seen numerous vicious fights of clay pots. lol

    • Matthew Seymour says

      These are some of my favorite fish, even though they are small and not always the brightest. lol

      The great thing is they can survive in smaller pots like that since they are tough and do well in low oxygen.

  3. Celia Padvis says

    I agree with what Kathy says as I had the quandary of what to put in the tiny (60 Gals – no room for bigger) pond I made some while ago. Previous efforts to keep Shubunkins/Goldfish resulted in far too many and they had to be re-homed. I found some Rosy Minnows for sale quite by chance in a local Garden Centre, with a separately run Aquatic Centre, where they are kept in the same conditions as all the other fish (and so they should be!). I now have the perfect sized fish for my pond and find them as interesting to watch and care for as their bigger cousins – but without the potential hassles. Thank you for this site.

  4. Jonathan says

    I just started a Rosey tank and put a clay pot in with them i have 2 males and 8 females im really exited to see how they do and if they will successfully spawn and hatch new minnows i really enjoy all the info on this site and it has helped me alot to further me knowledge for a hobby that i truely love thank you everyone

  5. Judy says

    After reading these posts, I think I’d like to keep some Rosy Reds in my pond for mosquito control. Do you think they would do okay with the (2) mosquito fish I already have? And I guess putting them through the winter outside would at least be preferable (to them, anyway) to being used for bait. :)

  6. Deborah says

    Thanks for this site! We have a 55 gal. with an 8 inch common goldfish, large golden mystery snail, beautiful albino bristlnose pleco and 7 rosy reds! We bought the minnows because our goldfish was bored and lonely…they adore her. The school with her and play with her. They are not afraid of her as they roam freely in the tank. They chose a cave to breed in and the largest male has been hanging in the cave guarding eggs for a month now. My son says he sees eyes in the eggs…but from what I have read they should have hatched by now. He is ferociously guarding these eggs. Could the females be continuously laying eggs? Is our beautiful large male simply acting on instinct..will he stop? Do we need to help him? Any info will be appreciated!

    • says

      It’s nice to see someone else enjoying rosy red minnows. It’s too bad they’re normally only used as feeder fish.

      But as for your male, as long as the conditions are right, he will continue to guard the cave. He’s claimed it, and he will live there for as long as the water is kept warm and he has lots of food. And when a male is in a cave, especially if there isn’t any competition, females will continually deposit news eggs in the cave.

      You really don’t have to do anything to help him, and he will normally keep the eggs in top condition. If they are hatching, they are likely being eaten by the other fish in the tank. When I wanted fry, I would remove the cave to a new aquarium, and let them hatch out.

      • Celia Padvis says

        Just to update you on my Minnows – I have some fry that hatched this summer in my pond and they are growing nicely. I can’t tell how many there are as some are the pale peachy colour and others very dark. This pond has come through several winters now – the last one being the most testing so far – but come Spring and the water warming up the Minnows and the frogs come back up to the surface again. I do find the odd casualty from time to time through the year but they are not long lived fish anyway and I don’t know how old they were when I got them! I had one that grew to about 3 inches and lived for several years though. I do put some white fleece over the pond in the most severe weather. I thought if it’s designed for plants, which need the light getting through to stay healthy, it would work okay for the fish.

        • says

          I noticed when I kept mine outside, that over time most of the rosy red ones died out, and were replaced with the natural coloured ones.

          That’s great that they are doing well, and more people should try them in their ponds – especially in places that get winter like us. To be honest, I don’t know if the fleece would help though. Does the water ice over?

  7. R hattori says

    Just dropped 20 rosy reds in my outdoor pond. It is about 120 gallons with waterfall for aeration. Will report how they do.

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