DIY Target Feeder for Mandarinfish (and Pipefish)

feeder-featuredWe as aquarists tend to keep all sorts of creatures in our tanks, and some of them present a challenge to feed. We know what fish eat, and we know how fish eat, but sometimes the fish’s schedule does not coincide with our schedule. Also, some fishes, such as seahorses, pipefish, and mandarinfish, are built differently than most fish in that they don’t have a real stomach and must eat tiny amounts all day long. There are also fish that seem to have a higher metabolism than other fish do, such as Moorish idols, or just have a smaller mouth so they can’t fill up at one feeding, such as the copperband butterflyfish.

In this post, I’d like to share with you my design for an easy-to-build target feeder for mandarinfish (which also works for pipefish).

Pod-hungry mandarins

A mandarin is a creature that was designed to eat tiny invertebrates, such as amphipods and copepods (“pods”). Pods are available in any-well-established aquarium, but an adult mandarin or pair of mandarins may either exhaust the pod supply or not get enough to keep them in top condition, which is breeding condition.

All fish should always be in breeding condition, as that is the condition they are always in when they are in the sea. From personal experience, I can also say that fish in breeding condition are more resistant to many diseases and parasites.

So to keep a fish like a mandarin (or a pipefish) in perfect condition, we may want to target feed it. However, we don’t really want to stand there all day long with a turkey baster. That’s where the feeder comes in.

Building the feeder

feeder5The mandarin target feeder consists of a flat plastic container, like the kind electrical tape comes in. Here are the steps for building it:

  1. Drill a hole in the cover that’s a little smaller than the diameter of the container.
  2. Stretch a fine net over the opening of the container. I use an old net, but I think nylons will work as well. If you cut holes out of your wife’s nylons, just be sure to cover the holes with duct tape so she doesn’t notice.
  3. Replace the cover to secure the netting and keep it taut.
  4. Take an acrylic tube (like the kind you can get at a pet store or plastic shop) and bend a 90-degree angle in it. To accomplish this, I insert a spring into the tube and heat it with a hair dryer. Alternatively, you can just use a flexible tube.
  5. Insert the end of the tube closest to the 90-degree bend through a hole of the same diameter in the side of the feeder. I cut the tube so the other end extends above the water surface.
  6. Insert a funnel into the top end of the tube. I also glue some lead weights in the container, but you can use a rock or other heavy object to weigh it down.

That’s all there is to it!

Deploying the feeder

Now I lay the feeder in my tank near the corner and hatch some baby brine shrimp. (I will explain how to build a brine shrimp hatchery at a later time.) Strain the baby shrimp so they are in a small amount of water, approximately 1/2 ounce, and pour them into the feeder.


Most of the shrimp will stay in the feeder, and since they are attracted to light, they will swim to the mesh and try to get through—just as your mandarin is sitting there waiting to help them along so he can eat them.

I use my feeder every day, and my pair of mandarins has been spawning for about two years. My tank is very old, and I have no trouble keeping mandarins without additional feeding. This not only allows them to live, but also spawn, and I want all my fish in spawning condition.

And finally, a video of the DIY feeder in action:

Photo & Video Credit: Paul Baldassano


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About Paul Baldassano

Paul Baldassano has been in the hobby since the 50s and holds two aquarium-related patents. His current reef aquarium was set up in 1971. He is also an avid SCUBA diver and Vietnam veteran.


  1. My questions are how does the fish eat them and what do you feed them

  2. Paul Baldassano says

    I don’t think I understand the question. The baby brine shrimp are attracted to the light so they try to swim through the mesh, but they have little swimmerettes on them and they get stuck. The mandarins sit on the mesh and pull them through. The shrimp are salt water creatures so they live in the feeder all day if necessary and the mandarin has a continous supply of food just as they are meant to have. You don’t feed the new born shrimp as they are born with a yolk sack which the shrimp uses for food. The shrimp are very nutritious as soon as they are born but gradually lose their nutritive qualities as they age and in a day or so it is gone so it is best to give them to the fish as soon as they are born. I hatch them every morning. Soon I will submit an article on how to hatch the shrimp and seperate the egg shells.

  3. Matt Bowers (Muttley000) says

    Thanks Paul for sharing your experiences. I have read many of your posts in lots of different places. This is a great idea anyone can implement!

  4. Paul Baldassano says

    Thank you Matt, that is because I am old and never shut up. Besides, I love this stuff

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Haha, this one gave me a chuckle, Paul!

      We’re all here because we love this stuff, so don’t listen to anyone who ever suggests that you need to pipe down (no plumbing joke pun intended).

  5. Can this be used for seahorses?

  6. Paul Baldassano says

    Josh, no it can not, but this idea came to me because it is a modification of a seahorse device I designed (and patented) quite a few years ago. It was called the Seahorse and reef fish feeder and I used to sell them through brine shrimp wholesalers. I no longer produce them but it was basically a screen turned into a tube with end caps and a weight inside. You add adult brine shrimp and the seahorses would sit on it all day sucking out shrimp.

  7. Im wondering if this turns into a nitrate factory if the shrimp are to big and can’t get out of the feeder. How do you time everything so you have fresh food for them everyday? would you hatch an 1/8 if you only have one mandrin?

  8. Paul Baldassano says

    New born brine shrimp are so tiny that a few thousand of them would have no effect on water quality. They are only slightly larger than a pod and they will live in the feeder as long as they need to as they are salt water creatures. I have been hatching and feeding them all my life, and I am old. After the device is in the tank for a couple of weeks it also houses larger amphipods and sometimes bristle worms. These animals would also eat anything that they found dead in there. I do occasionally remove the feeder to empty out the detritus and clean the screen as it gets covered in coraline algae.
    If you did not use the feeder and you put new born brine shrimp in your tank, most of them would be lost in the skimmer or get stuck between the grains of sand or be caught and consumed by coral.

  9. so if you use this daily to feed, and the eggs take 36 hours to hatch…do you have multiple hatcherys? Or do you just keep adding new eggs daily to the same area, and collect them as they hatch on the other side?

  10. I want one of the mandarins but cant seem to keep them, this may be my answer.
    How do you raise the shrimp?

  11. What kind of net you used I can’t seem to find the right one ?

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Hi Tony – Any fine mesh netting will work, the brine shrimp just need to be able to get through with a little difficulty. Also women’s nylons work well, too.

  12. Paul Baldassano says

    Use a piece of women’s stocking. Cut a hole in your wife’s stocking and cover it with duct tape so she doesn’t notice. Put that piece of stocking on the feeder but don’t stretch it or the holes will get to large. Just put it on there so it is flat.

  13. Thanks for the sharing this.

    How do you add the baby brine shrimp to the feeder. My understanding the water level in the pipe will be the same as the level in the tank. If you add them through the funnel, how will they appear in the feeder?

    I also want to clarify a full cycle.
    – You got the fresh baby shrimps from the Brine Shrimp Hatchery. Do you add all of them in a day 1 or separate by several dozes?
    – When do you add a new portion of the eggs to the Brine Shrimp Hatchery?

    If you can give a day-per-day example it would help.

    Thanks again, Paul.

  14. Paul Baldassano says

    I start the shrimp in a separate container than the hatchery because they take longer than a full day to hatch. After the shrimp in the hatchery hatch, I siphon them out and into a baby brine shrimp net to collect them. I then invert the net into a tiny bit of water, like a tablespoon which I suck up into a baster and squirt into the funnel on the feeder. Then I add a little more water to the funnel so all the shrimp go down into the feeder. I then re fill the hatchery with the unhatched eggs that I started the day before. Next I add more eggs to the separate container to start the process over. I add all of them that I hatch every day.

  15. I’m using Tigger-Pods . Add a new bottle when the Pods population is not enough. Last time added a month ago and there are still see many of them on the tank’s glass.

  16. I was curious, do you think your target feeder would work with pods? Or even frozen mysis/brine/other types of foods that dragonets would eat?

  17. No, it only would work with new born shrimp as they are attracted to the light so they congregate on the netting. Dead food would sink out of reach of the fish and pods also stay on the bottom.

  18. Have you ever tried to collect your mandarin spawn and raise the fry? I’ve had a male for 2 years and finally found a healthy female 3 days ago. My plan is to train her onto other foods like the male and hopefully have then spawn. Just wondering if you’ve had any experience with this?

  19. Eric no I have not. All of my paired fish are spawning and the tank is 6′ long, I would never be able to catch anything in there, especially miniscule mandarins. I am just happy they spawn. If I had the time, and another large tank, I would raise them. I have not raised fish in many years.

  20. Cool idea, I built my own version last week, but have a slight issue. The residual are (in the tubing between the funnel and tank water level) gets sucked into the feeder, then collects under the mesh. Wondering if you have this issue and if so, how you solved it?

    I was going to either drill a hole in the frame to release the air or put a small slit in the mesh, but a little concerned about other critters invading the feeder…

  21. I put a tiny hole in the tubing near the bottom just before it goes into the feeder. The air comes out there and the shrimp go into the feeder. I also have a long baster thing (that I build) that I can use to suck out any air.

  22. Elizabeth says

    About how long should it take until they start looking to the netting for the BBS?

  23. As soon as they swim over the thing and see the shrimp they should get the idea. If they show no interest, maybe the netting is to small for the shrimp to get out.

  24. Thanks for this great idea! I built mine with a clear condiment cup, nylon and rigid airline tubing. It works amazing and I don’t have to turn off pumps! The little piggies figured it out pretty quickly, like a few hours, and they sat there for about 15 minutes eating themselves stupid! I do have a question about spotted mandarins if you could drop me an email. I rescued a very tiny and emaciated mandarin and a week before that I picked up a different one that was on the skinny side. Behavior questions. Thanks!

  25. Lori, I am sorry, but I don’t know your E Mail.

  26. Amazing Post! My tank is too young (3 months) to purchase a Mandarin yet however I sent this link to my LFS and maybe I can get one earlier with this. My Amphipods/Copepods population is slowly growing but not enough to support a hungry Mandarin.

    Another question, what would be a great but minimum setup to raise brine shrimp. My Banggai Cardinal is a picky eater and will only take frozen Brine Shrimp.

    Thank you in advance!

  27. Justin Van Schaffel says

    Any issues with hermit crabs and this feeder? Will they use it to feed from? Or destroy the nylon mesh? Thanks in advance and for the awesome info…

  28. Hermit crabs are fine, but urchins can eat through the nylon mesh which is now why I switched to a plastic mesh. I found it by taking apart a used up reverse osmosis cartridge and found a large piece in there that was perfect. I am not sure if all RO units have the same mesh

  29. question. Dont Brine shrimp live in a completely different, and very specific, salinity than your tank? Wont they die after basically a few minutes + being in your display/feeder?
    Just curious., Thanks, Im probably still going to build this as I want to do a Mandarin and was holding out simply because of the feeding.

    • Bobby Green says

      Brine shrimp can live in all kinds of salinity levels and in some saltwater lakes that have levels several times higher than sea levels brine shrimp are basically the only living organism in them besides bacteria plus the water you have your shrimp in stays in the feeder for the most part until something pushes it out

  30. Ashwin Kannoth says

    Hi Paul! Thanks for the great setup. I saw your other posts as well and now I feel comfortable setting it up and perhaps getting a mandarin soon! I want to ask, does this setup eliminate the need of setting up a copepod culture? Or do you have a separate breeding area for the pods as well?

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