Freshwater Shrimp

The freshwater shrimp is the rockstar of the aquarium pet world. The small crustacean brings color, adventure, and a sense of wonder to any tank, whether it’s a plexiglass cube in your bedroom, or an epic series of custom aquariums in your basement.

Freshwater shrimp are beloved for their ability to eat leftover food and algae, which makes them a great addition to tanks with messy eaters. Their small size makes them an excellent snack for larger fish, and they make an excellent addition to the diet of breeding fish such as koi and betta. 

Some species of shrimp are also great at keeping the tank clean, such as the ghost shrimp, who naturally consume decaying plant matter. If you are looking for a natural way to keep your tank clean, a freshwater shrimp may be what you need!

a yellow dwarf tiger shrimp

Freshwater Shrimp Information

  • Average Length: 1.3 – 3 inches
  • Scale Colors: Red, Blue, Black, Yellow and Translucent.
  • Attention Needs: High
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Yes!
  • Good with Other Shrimp: Yes
  • Good with Other fish species: Only with fish that are non-aggressive
  • Suitable for First-Time fish Owners: No
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have health issues like Bacterial Infections, Rust Disease, Vorticella and Scutariella Japonica
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 2 – 5 years
a red cherry shrimp

Physical Appearance of Shrimp

Shrimp are tiny decapods (creatures with 10 legs on their body). All Shrimp are invertebrates which means that they do not have a backbone. From a distance, Shrimp look similar to grasshoppers.

They have a long and narrow body. Many types of Shrimp have at least part of their body transparent. The carapaces or upper sections have a somewhat cylindrical shape. The texture and color and pattern of the upper body varies greatly between different species. 

Shrimp have a strong and muscular abdomen that is flexible. Their tails are wide, having a fan-like shape. The muscles in the abdomen and tail help them to move quickly in the water. 

An interesting thing about Shrimp is that they molt by shedding their exoskeletons several times a year. Young Shrimp can shed as frequently as once a week. They shed their exoskeleton so that they can grow a new one that will allow them to grow larger.

There are more than 2000 species of Shrimp. The majority of these are found in marine waters but some are also found to live in freshwater bodies. 

The Red Cherry Shrimp, a common Shrimp kept in freshwater tanks, has a bright red color with females having an even deeper red coloration than males. Another common species is the Ghost Shrimp. As the name suggests they are completely transparent which helps them to hide from predators in the wild. 

Both the Red Cherry Shrimp and the Ghost Shrimp are part of a bigger class of Shrimp called Dwarf Shrimp.  Dwarf Shrimp make up the majority of Shrimp found in freshwater aquariums.

Temperament of Shrimp

Shrimp are very peaceful and will not attack or harm other fish in the tank. They are bottom-dwelling and will almost never swim near the surface. Several different types of Shrimp will even be helpful to fish in your aquarium. They’ll clean the other fish of bacteria or other things that are on the fish.

Young Shrimp tend to be more active than adults. They will spend most of their time eating algae and looking for other sources of food. 

As they are small and non-aggressive, Shrimp are susceptible to predators like large fish. If you plan to keep them in a community fish, it is best to only place them with non-aggressive fish. This way you know that they will not attack or eat the Shrimp.

Best Habitat for Shrimp

Different Shrimp species can have varying needs when it comes to temperature, pH and water softness. Always check the specific requirements of the Shrimp you get before setting up a tank for them. 

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If you are planning to set up a community fish tank then research about the water conditions  that the fish needs. With so many varieties of Shrimp available, you will find a type that can fit with the fish you plan to keep in the tank.

Tank size

Shrimp are small and do not need a very large tank. They can be kept in a small tank of 5 gallons. If you plan to set up a community fish or breed Shrimp then you will need a larger tank of 10 gallons or more. 

Temperature

Depending upon the species, the temperature needs of Shrimp can range between 68 to 74° F. Make sure you maintain a stable temperature as any changes in temperature can affect their growth and feeding patterns. 

a red dwarf shrimp

Water Hardness and pH

Cherry Shrimp needs a pH level between 6.5 to 8 while Ghost Shrimp need a range of 7 to 8. Other species may need slightly different pH levels. Both Cherry and Ghost Shrimp need slightly hard water in the tank. Other types of Shrimp may need soft water. It’s best to ask the person selling you the Shrimp what the best water conditions are.

Substrate

For Shrimp, substrates such as gravel and sand can be used. If you want a planted tank then gravel is a better choice as it promotes the growth of freshwater plants. Sand is not good at absorbing nutrients that plants need. An added benefit of gravel is that they come in a variety of colors. You can use a substrate that contrasts with your Shrimp as it will make them clearly visible in your tank. For example, tanks with Cherry Shrimp can have a black gravel substrate. It will make the Cherry Shrimp look vibrant inside the tank. 

Lighting

Shrimp do not have specific lighting needs but keeping a regular day and night cycle is usually best. It will help other organisms inside the tank. Live Freshwater plants and fish will need 8 to 10 hours of light every day. This can easily be controlled by adding a timer to the lighting to control the day/night cycle.

Decorations

Adding plants or decorative plants to your tank will give them many hiding places. Plants will also create a breeding ground for algae which the Shrimp will feed on. The only problem with adding plants is that you may have difficulty in spotting your Shrimp because they will hide in the plants. 

Plants like Java Fern and Anubias are a good option for beginner fish tank owners as they grow slowly and are easy to care for.

Rocks and driftwood can also be added to your tank. Both will create many hiding places for Shrimp. The only concern is that driftwood can soften the water. Not all Shrimp species may tolerate the change. It is best to know what your Shrimp can handle before adding anything that can change the water conditions. 

Tank conditions

Use a filter that is not too powerful as it can suck smaller sized Shrimp or baby Shrimp. To prevent this from happening, you can either get a less powerful filter or add a sponge cover to your filter. Sponge filters are best as they will also help to oxygenate the substrate. It helps to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria which is good for Shrimp.

Avoid adding Shrimp to a new fish tank. They should only be added to a new tank after the tank has been cycled. Cycling the tank helps to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that breaks down toxic organic compounds like ammonia and nitrates into less harmful nitrates. Shrimp cannot tolerate high ammonia and nitrite levels. Ammonia and nitrites should be kept as close to zero as possible and nitrates less than 20ppm.

Tank Maintenance 

The water conditions  should be monitored regularly to ensure it does not go out of balance. Your testing kit must have tools that let you measure levels of dissolved organic compounds, water hardness and pH level.

a ghost shrimp

Depending upon the water conditions you can perform a 20 percent water change 1 to 2 times a week. It will help to keep the nitrate levels under control. While performing a water change with a gravel vacuum, always remember to add a net line or a sponge to your airline tubing to prevent the Shrimp from getting sucked up into it.

a ghost shrimp feeding on a plant

Best Tank Mates for Shrimp

While Shrimp will not be aggressive with other tank inhabitants, most fish will prey on the Shrimp. Baby Shrimp are more susceptible to being eaten as they are tiny. Still there are a few fish species that you can keep along with the Shrimp. Only fish species that are non-aggressive and have a mouth half the size of Shrimp should be kept with them.

Here are a few tank mates for Shrimp:

If you do not plan to breed the Shrimp then most of the tank mates mentioned above will be fine with them. However, if you want to breed Shrimp, then Tetras and Guppies should not be kept in the same tank with Shrimp. These fish will eat baby Shrimp.

Health Issues

Shrimp have a densely calcified body or exoskeletons that protects them from pathogen infections. They still can develop certain health issues.

Rust Disease

Rust disease is a serious disease that results in the degradation of their shell. It is contagious and can destroy a colony of Shrimp within a few weeks. The disease will cause red or black spots to appear on their shell. Rust Disease is often a result of poor water quality. The disease can result in:

  • Abnormal texture of shells
  • Affect their ability to grow
  • Inability to molt
  • High mortality rate

Adding Hydrogen Peroxide or oregano oil to your tank can help to treat the disease. You can consult a fish vet to know how to treat infected Shrimp.

Bacterial Infections

The main reason for bacterial infections is poor water quality inside your tank. The severity of the disease varies and it can sometimes also result in death. Infected or dead Shrimp will have red or orange heads. Some may also develop whitish coloring on their interior organs. Antibacterial medications like tetracycline, Kanaplex and Oxytetracycline are used to treat the disease.

a red and white freshwater shrimp looking for food

Vorticella/Scutariella Japonica

These are small parasites that appear like white mold on the Shrimp’s body. They are difficult to spot and because of their appearance, are sometimes confused for a fungus. The parasite mostly grows on the tip of the nose, antenna and mantle of the Shrimp. 

Sometimes change in their swimming behavior can also indicate the presence of this disease. The good thing is that these Parasites are harmless for the Shrimp and can be easily treated. Salt bath and ParaGuard, a medication are two available methods that are suggested to treat the affected Shrimp. If your tank is infected with parasites, make sure to remove their molts from the tank as parasites can stay attached to them. 

fish flakes

Feeding Shrimp 

Freshwater Shrimp are scavengers who will mostly eat algae, plant matter and dead organisms. Most Shrimp can survive feeding only from the biofilm that forms on the substrate which contains microorganisms like algae. 

At the same time, they also need to be fed Shrimp food because they constantly eat. It becomes all the more important if you have a large Shrimp population in your tank. They can be fed commercial food like algae flakes. Shrimp are not picky and will eat almost anything. If you sometimes feed your other fish fruits or vegetables will also eat pieces of spinach, cucumber or pears. It’s amazing to see what they will do to a slice of watermelon after only a few hours!

In the beginning, feed them only a few times a week. Check and see if they are eating the food or leaving it uneaten. 

One important thing to remember is that Shrimp need to be underfed as overfeeding can result in excessive tank waste. It will lead to poor water quality. 

Avoid adding them to a new tank as the new tanks do not have enough algae to provide food for the Shrimp. You can add them to a new tank after it is cycled a few times.

Related Questions:

How do Shrimp move?

Shrimp mostly walk on their legs to move around in the water but they also know how to swim. Shrimp are great swimmers and can move around fast. They swim in a way that is quite different from how fish swim as they do not have fins like them. Shrimp will flex their muscles in the abdomen and tail to move through the water. They move their abdomen towards the body which pushes them backward. The unique way in which they swim makes the Shrimp swim faster in the backward direction than forward! 

Do the molts of Shrimp need to be removed from the tank?

Shrimp molts (their exoskeleton), are a rich source of calcium and they tend to eat it themselves. So there is no need to remove the molts they shed from your aquarium. The molts should only be removed if your tank has been infected with parasites. The parasites can stay attached to the molts and lead to further infection if they eat them.

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