Freshwater Shrimp-Keeping for Beginners
Freshwater shrimp can be an amazing addition to any tank. They add variety and something unique. The popularity of shrimp-keeping has grown exponentially in the last 10 years with many interesting species and varieties available. Shrimp-keeping can be a bit intimidating as their care and habitat needs can be a bit more demanding than your average fish. If done correctly though, they will add some flair to your tank and become welcome additions to your aquarium family.
I started with shrimp a few years ago with ghost shrimp which are easily found at most pet stores. After doing a lot of research, having some ups and downs, and learning things the hard way, I have found a lot of different information that I think will help the beginner with their shrimp care. I am by no means an expert shrimp-keeper. The methods and suggestions I have below are just that, suggestions. They are not necessarily the only the way to do things or the best way to do things. They are some things that have worked for me and tips that have been shared with me via other shrimp-keepers.
I have done a lot of research on the topic and hope to pass on a little bit of my knowledge to any new or experienced shrimp-keeper. With that, I highly suggest for everyone to do their own research and reading on the topic as there is a wealth of information on the internet pertaining to aquatic shrimp. Forums, like Fishlore.com are a great starting point. Other sites I highly recommend are planetinverts.com and shrimpnow.com. Both have a lot more shrimp specific information that is very valuable when getting started. Along with research, finding a good place to buy your supplies can help save you a lot of money which in the end will help you have better shrimp. Local pet stores charge an arm and a leg for supplies. I have found online vendors way cheaper, and you can save on shipping by purchasing all your supplies at one time and they will be delivered right to your door. The 2 main vendors that I use are bigalspets.com and kensfish.com. They have great customer service and great prices. They sell everything except the fish and shrimp.
Beginner shrimp to start with
For beginners in the shrimp-keeping world I highly recommend 2 main species of shrimp, Ghost Shrimp and Red Cherry Shrimp. These are the 2 that I will focus on in this article. There are many other shrimp but they tend to be a bit trickier to keep as well as a lot more expensive to purchase.
Ghost shrimp are the common name given to a few different species that are sold mainly as feeder shrimp in most pet stores. They are mostly clear, looking somewhat ghost-like. They are great scavengers eating leftover food, detritus, some algae, and even waste from other inhabitants of the tank. They grow up to 2 inches in size and can live with a variety of tank inhabitants. The most common variety come from many parts of the U.S. and grow and breed in fresh waterways like marshy areas with abundant plant life and available food sources.
Red Cherry Shrimp are a smaller “dwarf shrimp” that has been be bred over many years to be a brighter color red. They grow to approximately 1 ½ inches with the males be smaller at 1 inch maximum. The wild version of these shrimp (Neocaridina Heteropoda) vary from clear to a brownish tint and are native to different areas of Asia. The Red Cherry variety is believed to be first developed in Taiwan and was bred over a number of generations to be more and more red. The wild version has also been bred into a few other colors such as Yellow shrimp, Pumpkin shrimp, Blue shrimp, Chocolate shrimp and Rili shrimp (half colored and half clear). The females are much brighter colored with the males being more translucent. Red Cherry shrimp come in a variety of grades defined by their coloration….
1) Common/regular cherry shrimp – clear to slightly pinkish with some small red dots
2) Taiwan/sakura cherry shrimp – females are much darker/brighter colored red with most of the body being pink to red
3) Painted Fire Red shrimp – females are extremely dark red looking opaque almost as if they were painted with a thick coat of red paint. They are close to 100% red with little to no clear or white spots.
There are some other names for color grades such as fire red and supreme red, but the above listed are the predominate ones.
Now that we know what we are talking about with the 2 main beginner shrimp, let’s discuss their basic needs and care. Both shrimp have similar needs and will do well in a variety of water parameters. Temperature range should be 68-80F. They can live a little cooler and a little warmer, but may not thrive and do well. PH can be anywhere from 6.5-8ish. As in most aquatic pets, Ammonia and Nitrite should be at 0ppm, with Nitrate being anywhere from 0-20ppm. Shrimp can be a bit delicate so it is very important to keep your water very clean and well filtered. Any ammonia or nitrite will quickly wipe out a shrimp colony. They also like a stable environment, meaning one that does not fluctuate in its water parameters. A consistent temperature and PH are very important in shrimp care.
Be sure to match your water temperature when replacing water during water changes. Water changes are recommended to be done weekly with approximately 25-30% of the water to be changed out. Larger water changes are not recommended as this may be too big of a fluctuation in the water all at one time. If your water quality is having problems a series of 25-30% water changes done over a few days would be more ideal. These shrimp can live in a variety of PH levels so it is not important to adjust the water to any specific level. Adjusting PH can be difficult and more trouble than it’s worth. You will be adding chemicals for the rest of your life trying to achieve some mythical perfect PH that in the end probably stresses the shrimp more in the long run. Go with what you have available.
If your water quality is very poor, Reverse Osmosis water is recommended. You can use an in-home R/O filter for this or you can purchase R/O water at many supermarkets/grocery stores for $0.30-$0.50 per gallon. If you use R/O water or you have abnormally low PH (6.5ish) you will need to re-mineralize the water somehow. A GH/KH test kit is very handy in this case. Too low of a GH/KH (0-2dh) will lead to problems for the shrimp and their shell development. They need those minerals to develop a good healthy shell and to molt. There is a number of products sold that help add minerals back to the water, some are marketed toward shrimp (brands like Mosura and Genchem) while others are marketed toward fish that need harder water like cichlids. A common method of adding minerals back to water is using ground up seashells or cuttlebone. If you think you many need to re-mineralize your water, further reading and research is recommended so you know what you are dealing with. Most average shrimp-keepers shouldn’t have to mess with this stuff to keep Ghost shrimp or Cherry shrimp.
These shrimp will occasionally shed their exoskeleton as they grow, this is called molting. You will see a small shell lying on the tank bottom that looks empty and clear to white colored. Some think it is a dead shrimp at first but after close inspection you will realize it is just their molt. You can leave this old molt in the water as they will feed on it to help replace the needed minerals for future shell growth. After they molt they will hide for a day or so as they would be vulnerable to being eaten or hurt without their protective exoskeleton. Molting is a good sign, meaning that your shrimp are healthy and growing. This occasionally is triggered after water changes, with many attributing it to the new water in the tank, similar to a rain downpour in the wild.
Now that we have the water conditions taken care of, we need to make sure their habitat is ideal. These shrimp can live in just about any sized tank providing that it has adequate filtration. A good general rule is 1 ghost shrimp per 2 gallons of water and up to 5 cherry shrimp per gallon of water. Ghost shrimp can be a bit territorial so they may spar with other Ghost shrimp if too many are kept in a small space. Cherry shrimp are very communal and don’t really fight that much. The 2 shrimp can be kept together but smaller cherry shrimp may get picked on by the Ghost shrimp and baby cherry shrimp will possibly get eaten. Cherry shrimp do best in a species only tank.
Shrimp also love plants. Natural live plants are a great way to help clean and oxygenate the water. They provide hiding spots and a great spot for shrimp to forage. Great beginner plants that are super easy to care for and that shrimp love include Java Moss, Hornwort, Java Fern, Anacharis, just to name a few. Java Moss and Hornwort are very ideal as they help protect the baby shrimp and the shrimp love to clean off all the little leaves all day long.
Any substrate will work for these shrimp. You will see shrimp specific substrates that are very expensive but are more designed for higher end expensive shrimp. Any gravel or sand substrate will work fine for these shrimp.
Many aquarists want to keep shrimp with fish together. This can be done but caution is warned. Ghost shrimp have been known to nip at slower moving long finned fish. They also will catch and eat baby shrimp. Any fish big enough to fit a shrimp in their mouth will happily eat shrimp. Ghost shrimp being a bit larger can do well with some smaller fish like tetras, guppies, danios, and barbs. Adult cherry shrimp will also do ok with these same fish, but their babies will disappear quickly as snacks for the fish. The only 100% confirmed shrimp safe fish is the otocinclus, a small sucker mouthed fish that eats algae off the walls of your tanks and plants. Many aquarists will say they have kept shrimp with this fish or that fish, and they may be right. But many others will say that same fish ate all their shrimp. So there is a mixed debate on the subject. My advice would be to keep Cherry shrimp by themselves and Ghost shrimp will be ok with smaller fish like tetras and guppies.
Along with the ideal habitat is getting the equipment needed to keep that habitat healthy for the shrimp.
Most important is your filter. Shrimp need clean water. A filter that overturns your water 5-10 times per hour is recommended. Canisters are great but can be a bit more expensive. Hang on Back (HOB) filters are very cost efficient and do a great job as well. Many shrimp keepers use sponge filters. These sponge filters are great and work well, but are best suited for shrimp only tanks. An added benefit of the sponge filter is the aeration provided since it is run by an air pump. If you plan on having any fish, a HOB or canister would be preferred as they do a much better job of mechanical filtration. When using a HOB or canister you also need to get a sponge pre-filter for the intake to help keep the smaller shrimp and babies from getting sucked into the intake. Fluval makes one sold at most pets stores for around $4-5 or you can make one out of a larger size aquarium sponge. Anything that will help cover up the intake so babies don’t get sucked in. I personally like running 2 methods of filtration, using a HOB filter and a sponge filter. Some say this is overkill, but I like having a back-up plan if one breaks somehow and I think over-filtration really helps to keep the water clean.
A heater is needed if your house ever dips below the 68F range in the winter. If you keep your house at 70F or above at all times, then a heater would not be needed. On the other end, you may want to invest in a small desk fan for your tank if it ever gets above 80F in your house. A small fan blowing across the surface of the water will help lower the temperature 5 degrees or so which can be very helpful in the summer.
Lighting is not super important to shrimp. Although if you keep live plants in the tank (which is highly recommended), a good plant friendly light is very important. Something in the 6500k color range to help support the plant photo-synthesis. For the beginner plants I listed above you don’t need any super bright light. The normal hood/light fixture that comes with most tanks will suffice just fine, as long as the bulb is in the 6500k range. If you needed some supplemental lighting, a good cheap method is to use a desk lamp with a screw-in CFL bulb. The light can be pointed where you keep your plants and CFL bulbs are very cheap and easy to find in the 6500k range. I have also seen people use the clip-on “shop lights” with the metal reflectors. These are sold at most home improvement stores.
Some of the most important “equipment” needed for shrimp keeping is a good water test kit. Tests needed include PH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, GH, and KH. If you think you may have a problem with copper or you accidently dosed with a medication containing copper, than a copper test kit as well. Test strips while cheap are not very accurate. The liquid test kits do a better job and assure your water is at safe levels. Be sure to follow all the directions very thoroughly as some require a lot of shaking or time waiting to read results. Also check expiration dates to make sure your tests are “fresh”.
Ghost Shrimp will happily scavenge the bottom of your tank for any leftover food or waste they can get. They will occasionally eat some algae too. They happily eat most types of fish flakes or pellets as well as algae wafers. You can also find some shrimp specific food that would be of nutritious benefit as well. Red Cherry Shrimp feed primarily on the bio-film that grows on plants and all surfaces of your tank. This bio-film is composed of microscopic organisms and algae that supplies most of their nutrition needs. They will also eat shrimp specific pellets and/or algae wafers. Be careful not to feed too much protein though as this can lead to them growing faster than their shell growth will keep up. Many people also supplement with organic veggies that have been blanched or steamed. Preferred veggies include zucchini, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, and squash. Zucchini and spinach are ideal as they are a good source of calcium which helps their shell development and molting.
Many shrimp keepers will soon find their female shrimp with eggs under the bellies (also called being “berried” as it looks like little berries). Shrimp are prolific breeders and the females stay berried most of the time. Ghost shrimp are from the lower order of shrimp and breed babies into a larval form. Cherry shrimp are from the higher order and their babies are born as miniature versions of adults. As Ghost shrimp babies are larval they are very hard to care for, needing specific food and other care needs. This leads to rarely seeing the babies survive to adulthood without a specific setup ready to go for breeding. Cherry shrimp on the other hand are very easy to breed, as they can eat the same food as the adults and have the same care. The main thing you need is just to have a male and female and they usually take care of the rest. Many report growing their colony of cherry shrimp from 10 to 50 or 100 in just a few months. The eggs are usually carried underneath the females belly for about 3 weeks and will hatch into the water as tiny versions of the adults, often too small to see with the naked eye. Java Moss is highly recommended for baby Cherry shrimp, as they like to hide and it provides food for them to forage on. If you plan on breeding either of these shrimp, further research is suggested.
Disease and treatment
I don’t want to go too much into diseases and treatment as it would make this article a lot longer than it needs to be. I mainly wanted to touch on the fact that shrimp are invertebrates and have different needs then fish. Many medications and treatments that are used on fish tanks cannot be used with shrimp. The main culprit is medication which contains copper. These include algaecides, antibiotics, and snail removal meds. These will all kill shrimp very quickly as inverts cannot tolerate copper in the water at all. Below is a list of shrimp safe medications and their uses. Please research any medication before it is used. Be sure you know what you are treating for and you know that all your tank inhabitants will be ok with the medication. Some meds that are ok for shrimp may hurt snails. Research is always your best friend when dealing with disease and tank treatment. Here is the list of water treatments and medications, I have used all of these on ghost and cherry shrimp and they also will not harm your beneficial bacteria in your filter/tank…
1) Seachem Prime – water conditioner that removes chlorine, chloramine, and detoxifies ammonia and heavy metals
2) Pimafix – mild treatment and/or preventative for fungal infections. Can be combined with Melafix for improved efficacy
3) Melafix – mild treatment and/or preventative for bacterial infections. Can be combined with Melafix for improved efficacy
4) Kordon Ich Attack/Rid Fungus – These are 2 products which are the same just sold under 2 different names. It is a natural based treatment for Ich and or fungus
5) Seachem Paraguard – treatment for parasites and bacterial infections
6) Hikari Prazipro (praziquantel) – treatment for gill flukes, tapeworms and other parasites found in fish and occasionally shrimp
7) Indian Almond Leaves – these are leaves from the Indian Almond tree. They are great natural source of anti-bacterial agents. Shrimp will also eat them as they breakdown in the tank. They are sold on eBay as well as other sources. They are thrown in the tank and will tint the water a little bit as they release tannins into the water.
8) Alder cones – these are small pine cones from alder trees that are used much like Indian Almond leaves. They also have some anti-bacterial qualities.
As I stated earlier, do some reading, research your shrimp, plan things out ahead of time. Rushing into things is a sure fire way to fail in this hobby. With some planning and research though, these shrimp can add a fun new inhabitant into your tanks and make for a more well-rounded ecosystem. Post questions on the forums here at Fishlore.com. Ghost shrimp are found easily locally but Red Cherry Shrimp can be a bit more difficult. Check the sales forums here on Fishlore.com as a few members sell their Cherry Shrimp and can ship them to you. Also, I got my Cherry Shrimp (pictured below) from the sponsor of this article, Onestopaquatics.com, check out their link for some great shrimp and snails. I hope this article has helped you and steered you in right direction. Shrimp can be very cool and don’t have to be relegated to only shrimp cocktails and shrimp scampi.