Freshwater Fish

Bighead minnow – Pimephales promelas: Care guide

Bighead Minnows or Pimephales promelas are a cute and colorful freshwater fish that we are a big fan of. They are fairly easy to care for, making them a great beginner species!

But for such a hardy, low-maintenance fish, there’s actually a lot of confusion about keeping them in a home tank.

This is due to the fact that some aquarists use them as pets while others use them as feeder fish. We believe this has led to different approaches to care being combined online.

So let’s make things clear. This guide will teach you all about taking care of Bighead Minnow if she keeps them as a normal pet, and what changes if she uses them as bait.

Species Summary

Bighead Minnow (Pimephales promelas) are a freshwater species that can be found in various regions of North America from Canada to Mexico. The reason they can thrive in a wide range of locations is due to their extreme hardiness.

It has been observed that these fish (also called fathead minnows) can do well in areas where the temperature is below freezing. At the same time, they can also thrive in climates as hot as 100°F! This versatility when it comes to survival is what makes them such a prominent species.

They can usually be found in streams, ponds, and lakes that are extremely cloudy or muddy. In some of the bloodiest places that have very little oxygen, Pimephales promelas might be the only fish you find!

Obviously, this ability to thrive where other fish can’t is very helpful in avoiding predators. It also makes them a very adaptable pet that is low maintenance in terms of care requirements.

Life expectancy

The average life of the Pimephales promelas is 2 to 4 years. There are a number of factors that influence your life expectancy.

For starters. if these fish have not spawned then their lifespan will generally be on the higher side of this range. That process can really affect the fish.

The general level of care they receive is obviously also very important. Although these are very hardy fish, they will obviously live longer under optimal conditions.


The appearance of this species is what attracts many aquarists in the first place. These cute creatures are very colorful fish that come in one dominant color (most of the time).

Even though they have “red” in their name, they are actually more of an orange that will vary when it comes to shading. This can look a bit more like pink in certain varieties. This color is solid throughout the body, becoming a bit lighter on the top half.

Its fins are translucent and streamlined. The dorsal fins are short and trimmed as are their anal fins. They have a forked tail fin that is about the same height as the thickest part of their body from top to bottom. The caudal peduncle is colored and extends slightly towards the fin.

The rest of their bodies are slender and torpedo-shaped. This build makes minnow Pimephales pretty fast!


The typical size of Bighead Minnow is between 2 and 3 inches. in length once fully grown. Due to their name, many aquarists expect them to be smaller!

Author’s Note: Cases have been reported where groups of these fish have exceeded this size in captivity. In all of these situations, they were given lots of attention and plenty of room to swim (and were kept in a large school).

Bighead Minnow Care

Bighead minnow care is quite easy. These fish are able to thrive in a wide range of water conditions and are quite peaceful. This makes setting up and maintaining your aquarium something anyone can do.

But don’t be fooled by the classic “tough fish” trick.

Many times aquarists will see how hardy a fish is and give them average care because they think they can handle it. Although this might work for a while, it will eventually catch up with them.

Instead, this is what we recommend:

Treat your fish the same no matter how hardy they are. Pay close attention to their needs and strive to maintain the best possible habitat. It will make you a better hobbyist and give your fish a better life.

tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for Pimephales promelas is 10 gallons. This is assuming you keep them in a school of at least 5 or 6 fish (which you should).

We personally recommend a slightly larger tank if you can accommodate it. Each extra space will make a big difference and allow you to have a larger school or more tank mates if you are interested in a community tank.

water parameters

The water parameters you need to maintain for Pimephales promelas are very generous. This makes them a great freshwater fish for a beginner as there is a lot of room for error.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to your water parameters is consistency. Although they are very hardy fish, they can be sensitive to sudden changes like any other freshwater species.

Although they are still a bit more durable in this regard, you should use this as practice. Test yourself to see how consistent you can keep the water parameters and how easily you can make an adjustment if necessary. These skills will come in handy with other species you keep in the future!

  • Water temperature: 50°F to 78°F (they are excellent cold water fish)
  • pH levels: 7 to 8
  • Water hardness: From soft to very hard

Author’s Note: Take some time once or twice a week to test these parameters with a robust test kit. This is a good habit to get into regardless of what species you own and it will teach you a lot about keeping water in a tank.

What to put in your tank

When it comes to setting up the interior of an aquarium for Pimephales minnows, you can be as creative as you like. There are no specific things this species NEEDS to have, giving you plenty of options.

We recommend some of the standard decorations you’ll find on many freshwater tanks. There are lots of great plants you can include (like hornwort or water wisteria). You can even throw in some floating aquarium plants too!

Rocks, driftwood, and caves are also suitable. It’s important to avoid going overboard with this, as these fish like some room to swim.

Also, if you keep your Pimephales minnows in a smaller tank, it will be difficult to include many of these things anyway.

A classic gravel substrate is always a good choice, but you can also go with something soft and sandy if needed (use other species you have as a guide with this).

keeping them in ponds

An interesting fact about this species is its ability to be kept both in ponds and in aquariums. While most people are interested in learning about Bighead Minnow care as it pertains to a tank, we understand that some of you might be interested in the pond option.

The nice thing about keeping them in a pond is that they can be very easy to manipulate. You can keep them with other common pond fish like koi, adding a little splash of color to the environment.

Just drop in some flake or pellet foods that you would normally feed to koi or goldfish and they’re all set! Your Pimephales promelas are also likely to find other larvae and insects to nibble on.

Due to their hardy nature, they will also do well in the winter. Even if the water is frozen, you will be able to see them sailing below the surface!

disease potential

While these fish are hardy and naturally resistant to disease in well-maintained habitat, their use as feeder fish can cause problems.

Depending on where you buy this species, they may already be diseased due to poor care (vendors have been known to treat feeder fish worth more than others). This means that you could very well be introducing disease and illness to your tank if you are not careful.

That makes examining your vendor an important part of Bighead Minnow care. While you obviously don’t want to buy sick fish in the first place, you should be very careful if you plan to introduce them to a community tank (or pond).

Other than that, there is a reasonably low chance of illness if you take good care of them. Great water conditions, a solid diet, and low stress lead to healthy fish!

Food and Diet

These fish are omnivores and are not very picky about what they eat. They primarily eat a mix of insects, algae and plant matter in their natural habitat so will try to replicate this in captivity.

Some good goldfish pellets or flakes are usually the foundation of their diet, but you can add more as well.

We like to add some frozen foods like bloodworms or brine shrimp for variety and extra enrichment. Some vegetables can also be included in your diet. They seem to like zucchini and cucumbers the most!

You can use this diet when keeping them in an aquarium and in a pond. Try to make sure you don’t overfeed this species by giving them only as much as they can eat in a few minutes (per feeding).

behavior and temperament

Pimephales minnows are schools of fish that should be kept in groups of at least 5 or 6. They will rarely do anything outside of the group no matter what is going on in the tank.

Together, they are quite active, spending a fair amount of time in all areas of the tank. You’ll see them swim down to see something near the substrate, or up if they see something they want to eat!

They are also quite peaceful which makes caring for them quite easy. You never have to worry about these fish starting to have problems with another species. They just want to swim together and eat something!

tank mates

Finding tankmates for Pimephales promelas first revolves around identifying species that do not see them as food. This is the downside of these fish being so effective as feeders.

Any large or aggressive species is out of the question, and even similarly sized ones could try their luck at some point.

It is also important to pair them with tank mates that can handle cooler water. The ideal temperature range for Pimephales promelas is slightly cooler.

Here are some species that tend to work:

  • Loach Dojo
  • bristlenose pleco
  • cherry shrimp
  • Hillstream Loach
  • Ghost Shrimp
  • Amano Shrimp
  • types of goldfish
  • Mysterious snail (not for ponds)

Baby Bighead Minnow

The good thing about the Bighead Minnow breeding process is that it is quite straightforward and easy to start. This species will take care of anything as long as you provide them with the right habitat and water conditions.

Identifying males and females may seem a bit tricky at first, as they all have similar colors. The difference to look for is size (males are about an inch larger).

This species must be at least a year old before you can consider breeding it. Once they’ve reached that age, they’ll do it right away!

No change in water temperature is necessary (although some breeders prefer to aim for the upper limit of their normal range). In fact, there isn’t much to do until the fry have hatched!

The females will lay their eggs in an area of ​​the tank that the male has claimed. Once the eggs have been laid and fertilized, the males will protect them and clean the area.

After the eggs have hatched, it is recommended to remove the adults and start feeding the baby brine shrimp.


As you can see, the Bighead Minnow is one of the easiest freshwater species to care for. When you think about how hardy they are and their peaceful temperament, there’s not much you need to worry about.

They are also a very interesting fish. Its versatility allows you to do things as an aquarist that you may not have considered yet (like keeping fish in a pond). The sky is the limit!

If you’re a fan of these low-maintenance critters or have advice from your experience as an owner or breeder, we’d love to chat with you. We are always looking for new information to add to our care guides.

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