Saltwater Shrimp

What is white, purple, orange or yellow and possibly red all over? Well if it is in a saltwater tank it could be a Shrimp with your name on it. Aquarium shrimp are a great addition to any saltwater aquarium. Not only are they an interesting addition to an otherwise dull home, but they are also fascinating to watch.

Shrimp always seem to be doing something interesting, and often it’s cleaning up your fish tank. They are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and smaller animals. This means they can help keep algae to a minimum in the aquarium tank. They are also scavengers, allowing them to consume decaying matter that would otherwise pollute the water. They are hardy creatures, which is why they are the perfect choice for beginners.

Even if you only add them to your tank for added coloring, they are a great addition to any aquarium. Shrimps add a ton of color and are very interesting to watch. They will do a lot to promote a healthy and clean aquarium.  It’s easy to fill your tank with a few dozen and let them crawl around on the bottom of your tank while your fish are swimming around above them. These little guys add color and beauty to any tank.

a Red Skunk Cleaner Shrimp looking for food
  • Average Length: 1.5 – 2 inches
  • Scale Colors: White, Red, Purple, Orange and Yellow
  • Attention Needs: Low
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Yes
  • Good Pet: Yes!
  • Good with Other fish species: Yes
  • Suitable for First-Time fish Owners: Yes
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have intestinal nematodes and Mycobacteriosis
  • Average Life Span: 3 – 7 years
a Harlequin Shrimp hanging out at the bottom of the tank

Physical Appearance of Saltwater Shrimp

With over 2,000 different species of Shrimp, you’ll find that they come in a variety of colors and patterns. While not all species can live in an aquarium, however many Shrimp species are widely bred and available for saltwater fish tanks.

Harlequin Shrimp are a popular species that has a cream-colored body with several fluorescent spots. There are two varieties of the Harlequin Shrimp – the Pacific Ocean variety with red spots and the Indian Ocean variety with purple spots. 

Another commonly kept Shrimp is the Red Skunk Cleaner Shrimp. These are known for being a cleaner Shrimp, eating parasites from the skin of other organisms.  They have a bright white stripe running in the middle of their upper body which is outlined by two red stripes on either side. 

Then there is the Camel Shrimp, another popular type that you’ll find in many aquariums. The easiest way to identify them is by the unique hump on their back. They have a cherry-red coloring with several white markings or stripes on the body. Camel Shrimp have an upturned beak which is the reason why they are also called Hinge-Beak Shrimp.

Shrimp are small decapods, or creatures with 10 legs on their body. They are invertebrates which means that they do not have a backbone. 

They are known for having a long and narrow body. A hard and thick shell covers their upper body which is called the carapace that surrounds their gills. 

Shrimp have a pointed beak-like nose at the front of their head. They have two pairs of antennas on the head, one short and one long set. The longer antennas can sometimes even be twice as long as their length. These antennas help them sense the objects in their environment.

Temperament of Saltwater Shrimp

Most Shrimp are nocturnal creatures who hide during the day. They generally come out to feed only at night or when the aquarium lights are turned off. When they are first introduced to a tank, they can be difficult to spot. Until they are comfortable in their environment they will spend most of their time hiding. Gradually they will start coming out in the open once they get used to the tank.

They are active and non-aggressive. Most tend to get along with other Shrimp and fish species. 

Some types like the Harlequin Shrimp can be territorial. They can become aggressive with other Shrimp species and even some fish. It is recommended to keep Harlequin Shrimp alone or in pairs of two.

Camel Shrimp are generally sociable and like to be in groups of at least 6.

An interesting behavior of species like the Red Skunk Cleaner is that they are fish cleaners. They will set up a cleaning station and will wait for a fish to come. Once a fish comes to the cleaning station, they will eat the parasites, bacteria and dead tissue on their scales to clean the fish. 

a Camel Shrimp climbing down a rock

Best Habitat for Saltwater Shrimp

In the wild they are found in many different locations, with many different types of water conditions. Because the different Shrimp have adapted to very different conditions like water temperature, you’ll need to decide which species will best go with your ideal fish setup. The water temperatures, rocks, plants and other decorations will have to be added based on the type of species you are adding to your tank.

Tank size

Most Saltwater Shrimp measure between 1.5 to 2 inches long, so a 10-gallon tank is large enough for a group of them. If you want to build a community tank with other fish, then consider a larger tank big enough to handle all the other fish.

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Temperature

Different Shrimp species have different temperature needs. Camel Shrimp need slightly cool water in the range of 64 to 77°F while Harlequin Shrimp need a warmer temperature range of  82°F to 89°F.  If you plan to get a type not listed here, check with your local fish store to find their temperature needs before setting up the tank.

Water Hardness, Specific Gravity and PH

The pH should be in the range of 8.0 to 8.4 and water hardness between 8 to 12 dGH. The specific gravity should be in the range of 1.023 to 1.025.

Lighting

There are no specific lighting requirements for the Shrimp. Standard aquarium lighting should be used to maintain a natural day and night cycle. This is best for most fish because in the wild this is what the fish expect and it will help them behave more naturally. 

Decorations

Create plenty of hiding spots by adding caves, plants and other decorations. These decorations will give places for the Shrimp to hide during the day and feel safe. It will also provide a secure place for mating pairs to breed.

Tank conditions

Some  species may also need supplements to stay healthy. Camel Shrimp and Skunk Cleaner Shrimp need iodine supplements because it helps them molt their exoskeleton. Before you buy any Shrimp for your tank you should find out if there are any specific needs for their species. Once you know what they are, you can make sure that any supplements are added as needed.

Tank Maintenance 

Shrimp have a difficult time handling rapid changes in salinity and water temperature. The temperature and pH level should be monitored regularly. Test the water quality with a saltwater testing kit to monitor the tank conditions like ammonia, nitrate, nitrites and salinity. High levels of these compounds can be harmful to most things living in your aquarium.

Because Shrimp will eat uneaten food in a tank as well as other decaying plant matter, they don’t need a large water change done to their tank. A weekly water change of 10 to 15 percent will keep the level of dissolved compounds in control. The new water being added to the saltwater tank needs to be prepared by adding a salt solution to the water and letting it stay overnight. The mixed solution can then be added to the tank the next day.

Best Tank Mates for Saltwater Shrimp

The small size and nonaggressive nature of Shrimp ensures that they will not attack other fish species. Shrimp are also easy prey for many larger fish so they should only be kept with other nonaggressive fish who will not eat them.

Ideal tank mates include:

a Harlequin Shrimp looking at something

While different species of Shrimp can also be kept together, it slightly varies based on the specific type. For example, the Harlequin Shrimp are territorial and recommended to be kept alone or in multiple pairs of two. Once they establish a pair, these Shrimp will spend all their time together. 

Camel Shrimp are one of the most sociable species and can be kept in large groups. They do best with a minimum of 6 in their group. Before adding different types of Shrimp, find out about the compatibility of individual species to prevent them from behaving aggressively with each other.

There are some popular saltwater fish that people love to have, but are known to eat Shrimp. Never keep them with Lionfish, Puffers, Damsels, Hawkfish, Pufferfish, Wrasse, Crabs or any other larger and aggressive fish.

a Camel Shrimp resting at the bottom of the tank

Health Issues

Shrimp generally are not affected by parasites or other diseases that commonly affect saltwater fish. They can still get a few diseases that are known to infect crustaceans. Common diseases in Shrimp are:

Rust Disease

Rust disease is a serious disease caused by several types of bacteria. It results in the decay of the Shrimp’s shell. It is contagious and can destroy a colony of Shrimp within a few weeks. The disease will initially cause red or black spots to appear on their shell. If you do not take action immediately when you see the spots appear the bacteria will move from the shell to damage the internal parts of the Shrimp. 

Rust Disease is often a result of poor water quality. 

The disease can result in:

  • The abnormal texture of shells
  • Affect their ability to grow
  • Prevent them from molting
  • High mortality rate

Adding Hydrogen Peroxide to your tank may help to treat the disease, but we strongly recommend that you can consult a vet before attempting any form of treatment yourself.

White Spot Syndrome

The disease is caused by a virus named White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) that affects only crustaceans. It is different from the White Spot disease that affects fish. The White Spot Disease Syndrome can be caused by changes in salinity or temperature changes. If left untreated it can quickly kill the majority of the Shrimp population. 

The symptoms include:

  • Loosening of their shell
  • White calcium deposits on the shell
  • White lines running between the abdomen

Maintaining stable water conditions and having a temperature higher than 86°F should prevent this disease from infecting Shrimp. This temperature is not always possible depending on what fish your aquarium has. For this case we recommend a quarantine tank that any sick Shrimp can be moved to until they recover.

Feeding Saltwater Shrimp 

Shrimp are generally scavengers who eat waste materials like uneaten food and dead organic matter inside the fish tank. They will help keep your fish tank clean. While most Shrimp are scavengers, some are also omnivores and will need to be fed along with your other fish. 

Shrimp are not picky eaters allowing you to give them a variety of different types of food. You can feed them frozen foods, algae flakes, fine pellets, frozen plankton, chopped prawn, cockle meat or crustacean larvae. They can also be fed live food like adult Brine Shrimp or Mysis Shrimp. 

Some species of Shrimp, especially the Harlequin Shrimp have specific feeding requirements. They will only feed on Asterina Starfish, an aquarium parasite that grows on coral. Harlequins will also eat the parasites, helping protect the coral in your tank. For Harlequin Shrimp kept in non-reef tanks, starfish can be purchased from the fish store and fed to them. If you want you can also breed the starfish in a separate tank and you can grow all the starfish needed to feed your Harlequin Shrimp. 

Camel or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp are fish cleaners that are known to feed on dead tissue and parasites on the fish’s body. Not only do they get a meal out of this, but the fish are usually more healthy because of it.

It is recommended to feed non scavenging Shrimp once a day.

a pile of fish flakes

Related Questions:

How do Shrimp breed?

Shrimp start breeding after they turn 3 to 4 months old and right after the female Shrimp molts. Molting is the process of shedding their exoskeleton. Shedding the exoskeleton enables them to grow which helps them in carrying the eggs after breeding. After molting the female Shrimp will release pheromones, a hormone that signals the male Shrimp to mate. Once a pair mates it will take a few hours for the eggs to fertilize. After the eggs are fertilized, the female Shrimp transfers them to her abdomen. Within a few days the eggs will develop and will be released by the female Shrimp and soon the eggs will hatch to release larvae. A single Shrimp can lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs.

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