Tisbe biminiensis: Jewel of the Reef Underground


Tisbe biminiensis: Jewel of the Reef Underground


Tisbe biminiensis: Jewel of the Reef Underground


Tisbe biminiensis is perhaps the most recognized copepod species in the Reef Aquarium Hobby. This is for good reason as this species’ rapid reproductive rate, outstanding nutritional profile and diverse diet make it perfect for seeding both new and aged aquariums. When it comes to Tisbe and Reefs, one cannot go wrong.  

Copepods act as the vital translator between microbial and animal nutrition. Lipids, amino acids, pigments, sugars and other essential nutritious elements all derive from photosynthetic organisms (phytoplankton, photosynthetic bacteria, macroalgae etc.). Copepods are adept at concentrating this nutrition by grazing on these various microbes. Some copepods, such as the pelagic calanoids (Parvocalanus, Pseudodiaptomus) are specifically adapted to strictly open-water life styles, only preying on live microalgae cells. Other copepods are far more cosmopolitan in their diet, and are able to graze on a meride of prey items ranging from live microalgae, to bacteria biofilms, to detritus, to formulated powdered feeds. Tisbe biminiensis is such a copepod of universal hunger.

Tisbe biminiensis is a harpacticoid copepod in the family Tisbidae. The species is tropical in origin, yet is so ubiquitous it may be difficult to discern a specific range. They survive in both oceanic and estuarine environments and rarely seem to survive below 20ppt. Like other harpacticoids, Tisbe are defined by a free-swimming larval stage (nauplii) eventually metamorphosing into a ‘crawling’ adult copepod. The adult Tisbe spends the majority of its time on substrate but will make periodic suarez into open water through a ‘scooting’ locomotion. After mating, females will develop a large egg sac, almost equal to her own body size, composed of several dozen eggs. The egg sac will be larger and more pigmented as females age and/or receive better nutrition. Eggs hatch into nauplii of about (50-75um) in size which metamorphose into a series of adolescent copepodite instars until eventually becoming full grown adults of around (500-750um) in size. Tisbe biminiensis copepods become sexually mature at (5-8) days and can reproduce several times in their (2-4) week life span. Tisbe copepods have a ‘boom and bust’ life cycle characterized by rapid reproduction followed by acute collapse if the population is not controlled by grazing or can expand to new habitat.

Tisbe Copepods as Micro cleanup Crew in the Reef Aquarium

Harpacticoid copepods act as the vital translator of lost nutrition. Wastes of all varieties (uneaten feed, feces, mucus etc.) accrue into the collective detritus. In both wild and aquarium ecosystems, detritus is a largely inaccessible treasure trove of amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Both the morphology and behavior of Tisbe copepods have evolved to seek out and utilize such lost nutrition. Tisbe biminiensis is a generalist grazer, possessing specialized mandibles for the consumption of bacterial and microalgal biofilms. Such microorganisms directly utilize inorganic detritus and grow rapidly into complexes, which on-mass, visually dirty the glass and rockwork of aquariums. Pest diatom biofilms have a particular appeal to harpacticoid copepod species due to their likely elevated level of pigments and Golden Fats (ARA/EPA/DHA). Adult Tisbe biminiensis occupy the various substrates where these unattractive biofilms accrue and microscopically scrape these surfaces. Furthermore, adult Tisbe copepods are negatively phototactic, meaning they impulsively flee the light. This means that Tisbe copepods prefer to live in the deepest, darkest crevices where detritus accrues…in the aquarium, this is likely the live rock, mechanical filtration and greater sump. This species will reproduce rapidly in any environment which is remotely favorable, creating a surplus population to colonize and clean new areas of detritus. This collective grazing has an added benefit in these detritus-prone regions as it allows for increased flow and oxygenation…which may promote more favorable microbial communities and reduce future buildup of wastes. This is why harpacticoid copepods are often referred to as an essential micro cleanup crew of reef aquariums.      

Pod with Golden Guts

The gastrointestinal infrastructure and microbiome is where the Tisbe jewel sources its sparkle. This species is able to dramatically improve the quality of food received in its diet. The magic behind this are enzymes which are able to elongate and desaturate fatty acids. This means that this species can and will survive and thrive off a variety of inferior food items ranging in nutritional value from detritus to baker’s yeast. They are then capable of converting the lesser fats in their forage into Golden Fats (PUFAs), more suitable for consumption by fish and corals. This is essential for being able to recuperate and recycle waste lipids back into nutritious live feed. Tisbe copepods are also more than capable of utilizing premium quality food items such as powdered coral feeds and live microalgae. When they receive good nutrition from the start, Tisbe copepods exhibit pleasant hallmarks such as enhanced fatty acid profile, accelerated growth, larger adult size, greater pigmentation. Alejos Cabrera et al. 2022 observed over 50% retention of dietary PUFAs (ARA, EPA, DHA) in Tisbe biminiensis fed a diet of live Tisochrysis lutea microalgae. Golden Fats are an important but not isolated aspect to the nutritional potential of this species. The gut of Tisbe biminiensis contains many important elements including enzymes, proteases and probiotics…all of which remain stable and intact until they are bestowed upon the fish or coral lucky enough to consume a Tisbe copepod. 

tisbe copepod pod your reef

tisbe copepod pod your reef

Tisbe Copepods as Functional Fish Food

As localized populations of Tisbe biminiensis copepods increase over time, new generations will be forced into less and less favorable habitat. This is when mass amounts of adult Tisbe copepods will likely be seen on the glass and in other highly illuminated parts of the aquarium. Copepods in these zones are feasting upon photosynthetic biofilms which are likely of a significantly higher nutritional value than unilluminated detritus. Better yet, individual copepods in these areas are highly available to fish. Many species of reef fish such as dragonets (Callionymidae), seahorses (Sygnathidae), and anthias (Anthiinae), are especially adapted to forage for copepods. Such species are defined by a fast metabolism and small cardiac stomach…meaning they display a strong preference for small, live prey offered continuously rather than in large, period feedings. For instance, a single adult mandarin dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus) can consume hundreds to thousands of copepods in a 24 to 72 hour period. It is therefore favorable to have sustained populations of Tisbe copepods colonizing the rockwork, refugium and filtration of a reef aquarium, so that there is a continuous surplus population which becomes discharged into the main tank display. 
Because Tisbe biminiensis copepods are able to utilize organic detritus as well as algae/bacterial biofilms as a food source, they truly function as a sustainable fish food. Organics and organisms that would be a pest/chemical liability in excess can become recuperated and recycled in the form of highly nutritious microcrustaceans. Because of their robust gastrointestinal system and microbiome, Tisbe biminiensis is a functional live feed rich in essential amino acids, golden lipids, proteases, enzymes, bioactive vitamins, minerals and probiotics. As long as there are supple Tisbe copepods available, small-mouthed fish will never starve.     

Tisbe Copepods As Food for Corals, Anemones & Jellyfish

Tisbe copepods are also invaluable food for a wide range of zooplankton-feeding invertebrates. It is the early nauplii stage which is most valuable as a feed for corals and anemones. Nauplii are free-swimming and can be continuously produced thousand-fold by a robust adult population. Adult Tisbe copepods can also be subject to coral grazing, especially during a ‘feed period’ when pumps are temporarily ceased and coral food (powdered, live microalgae, amino acids) is broadcast or target fed. Adult Tisbe copepods are likely to be attracted to any added coral feeds and will congregate around corals at such times. Feeding high densities of Tisbe copepods from an external culture benefits photosynthetic coral species which are currently very limited in the hobby.  

There are many potential applications for this species in the husbandry of various jellyfish species. The circular chrysal-style aquariums used to house many pelagic jellyfish species are often difficult to clean with conventional scrapers. It is therefore highly invaluable to have a dense population of Tisbe pods to reduce accumulation of the exhibit’s unsightly algae/bacterial biofilms, while at the same time, being grazed upon by its jellyfish residents. Utilizing Tisbe, and other copepod species, as a live feed will allow for both the public and private aquarist to have access to a much greater assortment of novel display species.     

Tisbe Copepods in Greater Global Aquaculture

There is a growing appreciation of Tisbe copepods for improving the production in commercial aquaculture hatcheries. Tisbe has many advantages over conventional live feed species such as rotifers (Brachionus sp.) and Artemia sp. Firstly, they effectively cover the sixe needs for both of the former, as Tisbe nauplii are comparable in size to even SS rotifers (Brachionus rotundiformis), while adult copepods are the same useful size as newly hatched Artemia franciscana nauplii. Secondly, aquacultured copepods have far less risk of bacterial contamination than dehydrated Artemia cysts, which often arrive coated in Vibrio sp. Spores. Thirdly, Tisbe biminiensis cannot prey on fish/invertebrate larvae even as an adult, unlike adult Artemia. Fourthly, copepods have a far better nutritional profile, having the ability to retain far higher concentrations of the Golden Fats ARA, EPA and DHA. Furthermore, these fats are biocontextualized by an array of copepod enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics. With these advantages in mind, it is no wonder that Tisbe copepods are becoming growingly embraced by commercial marine aquaculture of all kinds.

Kahan et al 1982 used Tisbe biminiensis nauplii and adults as an effective feed for Gilthead Seabream larvae (Sparus aurata), an important food fish species in the Mediterranean. Heath et al 1997 used Tisbe copepods to supplement Artemia nauplii in the feeding of Dover Sole (Solea solea) larvae, observing better growth, survival and pigmentation. Similar findings were observed in larviculture experiments of Turbot (Scopthalamus maximus) as well as various Dab species (Limanada sp.). da Lima et al 2013 used Tisbe copepods to rear the larvae of Cobia (Rachycentron canadum), though noted that success was dependent on dietary enrichment of the copepods with microalgae.

There is also a host of growing evidence that Tisbe biminiensis can be applied to penaeid shrimp farming. Lima et al 2011 noted that the larvae of Pacific White-Legged Shrimp (Litopaneus vannamei) could be successfully fed Tisbe biminiensis nauplii and copepodites. In this study, reduced Vibrio contamination risk was cited as a major advantage of copepod use. The same author proposed the potential of mass-scale Tisbe biminiensis production in salt evaporation ponds traditionally used to cultivate Artemia.

Tisbe Copepods in Advancing a Sustainable Reef Aquarium Industry

Just as it has great potential to enhance the aquaculture of food fish and invertebrates, Tisbe copepods are also actively accelerating the sustainable aquaculture of several reef aquarium species. Olivotto et al 2008 observed marked improvement in the hatchery production (in terms of growth and survival) of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) larvae fed Tisbe biminiensis and rotifers versus rotifers alone. Perhaps no realm of aquaculture has embraced copepods as live feed more than seahorse breeders. Tisbe copepods have been directly applied to the large-scale cultivation of species such as the Slender Seahorse (Hippocampus reidi). Souza-Santos et al 2013 observed strong preferential grazing in H. reidi larvae for Tisbe biminiensis nauplii and rotifers (Brachionus plicatilis) over the nauplii of Artemia salina. There are likely thousands of reef organism larvae which can be fed enriched Tisbe nauplii…making this copepod species an incredibly invaluable tool for advancing the sustainable aquaculture of these organisms for the enjoyment of the Reef Aquarium Industry.


When it comes to the copepod Tisbe biminiensis, there is more than one reason to praise and appreciate this jewel of the reef underground. In external cultures it can be raised at ridiculous densities (200+ individuals/ml!) at a rapid rate. This has made it an invaluable tool for advancing aquaculture both for food security and for the aquarium industry. Because of the ‘crawling’ behavior of this copepod, it is able to survive, thrive and persist in newly cycling or well aged reef aquariums. In both, this species performs profound ecological services, acting as a micro cleanup crew all the while supplying fish, corals and invertebrates with premium microcrustacean live feed. Cleverly applied, Tisbe copepods can be used to introduce a new wave of zooplankton-eating organisms into the hobby. Tough, nutritious and at the service–this is a copepod of the people. When it comes to Tisbe and Reefs, one cannot go wrong.            

Literature Consulted

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By Taras Pleskun