A Guide for Keeping Freshwater Shrimp

Feb 02 2021 0 Comments aquarium beginner guide shrimp tips

A Guide for Keeping Freshwater Shrimp

A Guide for Keeping Freshwater Shrimp

Written by: Tammy (@aquarist_tl)


When most people think of aquariums, they expect to find fish living in them, but there is actually a vast amount of hobbyists that maintain shrimp-only tanks. There are also those that have tanks with both shrimp and fish cohabitating with one another. Freshwater dwarf shrimp are still a mystery for some people that are new to the aquarium hobby. These tiny invertebrates can make great additions to the right aquariums! If you’re thinking about setting up a shrimp tank or adding a freshwater shrimp species into a tank that’s already running, then keep on reading to find out how to care for these little guys.

This article will cover:
- The two main genuses of freshwater shrimp
- The equipment you'll need to set up a shrimp tank
- Water chemistry details
- Freshwater shrimp diet
- Breeding tips
- Tankmate suggestions
- Additional care tips.

CHOCOLATE SHRIMP (BLACK ROSE)
Chocolate Shrimp


The Two Main Genuses: Neocaridina & Caridina

If you’re not an expert in biology, the word “genus” can be intimidating, but it’s simply just the term to describe the category below “family” and above “species” in taxonomy. So basically, Neocaridina shrimp and Caridina shrimp are biologically very similar, but not to the point where they can reproduce with one another. Caridina shrimp can only reproduce with other Caridina species, and Neocaridina shrimp are only able to reproduce with other Neocaridina species. There can be no mixing between the two because they have different reproductive organs that prevent this from happening. However, keep in mind that they are also not able to reproduce with every single species in their genus. For example, an Amano Shrimp cannot breed with a Crystal Red Shrimp even though they are both of the Caridina genus. 


Neocaridina

The most popular shrimp in the aquarium hobby is the Red Cherry Shrimp, a Neocaridina species. They are known for being one of the hardiest shrimp out there, and are a go-to for beginners new to shrimp-keeping. These hardy shrimp can adapt less ideal aquarium conditions and are perfect for those looking to keep their first shrimp colony. Being hardy, adaptable, and prolific, Neocaridina Davidi (aka the dwarf cherry shrimp) are an ideal choice for any aquarist interested in shrimp. They look excellent in planted tanks because their bright red color contrasts well against the greens of the plants. Other common species include the Yellow/Gold Shrimp, Blue Dream Shrimp, Sunkist Orange, and the Green Jade Shrimp

There are many color variations, including, red, blue, black, and green; having been painstakingly bred to express these colors, it is inadvisable to keep multiple colors in the same tank. They will indiscriminately mate, and the offspring will often be a drab brown or clear color.

blue dream shrimp

Blue Dream Shrimp


Neocaridina species are often fairly tolerant and can handle a wide range of water parameters. Although they can tolerate cooler temperatures down to about 65F and heated temps up to 84F, it has been said they do better in warm temperatures around the mid to upper 70s. Similarly, they can handle slightly acidic soft water, but would do better in harder water with a neutral or basic pH level. They live for about 1.5-2.5 years and can get up to a max size of 1.25-2 inches. 



Neocaridina General Water Parameters

Temperature

65F-84F

pH

6.5-8.0

TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)

200-300ppm

GH (General Hardness)

4-8dGH

KH (Carbonate Hardness/Total Alkalinity)

3-15dKH



Caridina

These unique shrimp are typically more expensive to purchase than Neocardinia and require more precise care when living in your tank. These cousins of the Neocardinia are a little more difficult to care for, however, you are rewarded with beautiful displays of color. Cardinia Contonensis have seen impressive color strains thanks to years of selective breeding.

With careful planning, you can create a vibrant community of Cardinia Contonensis shrimp. Cardinia Contensis come is unique colors in patterns ranging from spots (Black Pinto), stripes (Black King Kong), and solid (Extreme Wine Red). When it comes to color anything is possible from solid black to classic red and white crystal red.

Crystal/Bee shrimp, Tiger shrimp, and all of their combinations make up the majority of the Caridina species that we see in the hobby. The words “crystal”, “bee”, and “tiger” describe the patterns and markings that the shrimp have. Within each of these categories of patterns are also many different gradings and color morphs to specify the exact appearance of the shrimp. Probably the most well-known Caridina species (other than the Amano) is the Crystal Red Shrimp. Like cherry shrimp, they add a pop of red into the tank they’re in. Other common Caridina shrimp include Crystal Blacks, Blue Bolts, Black King Kongs, and Tangerine Tigers

tangerine tiger shrimp

Tangerine Tiger Shrimp


Caridina species tend to be less tolerant to water parameters outside of their ideal range. Most of them like to be kept in cooler temperatures around the upper 60s to low 70s, and do not do well in temps above 76F. They prefer soft water that is acidic or neutral. They will breed best in conditions around a pH of 6.8-7.5, GH 4-6, and a lower KH. They can tolerate slightly harder and more basic water, but it has been reported that they do not thrive as much in these conditions. These shrimp have a life span of 1-2 years and max out at about 1-1.25 inches. 


Caridina General Water Parameters

Temperature

64F-76F

pH

6-7.5

TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)

100-200ppm

GH (General Hardness)

4-6dGH

KH (Carbonate Hardness/Total Alkalinity)

0-2dKH



  • Note: These are just general water parameters that apply to the more common types of shrimp of each genus. They do not apply for every single species. Please research the specific shrimp that you are interested in keeping to see what water parameters are best for it. 

Equipment 

Although freshwater shrimp can survive in a range of temperatures and have a very low bioload, it is important to do your very best to have the right equipment and maintain consistent tank parameters.

Tank

When choosing a size for your shrimp tank, you must ask yourself a question: Are you looking for a easy nano tank inhabitants or to start a large breeding colony?

Since freshwater shrimp are so small, they are the perfect fauna for  small aquariums like the UNS 3N, a 3 gallon nano tank. Although, a disadvantage of small-sized aquariums is that the water chemistry will fluctuate a lot more than in bigger tanks because of the lower amount of water volume. It's recommended to not go any smaller than a 5 gallon aquarium, like the UNS 45S, unless the tank is heavily planted. Aquatic plants will help stabilize ammonia and nitrate levels (which we explain more down below.) Also, smaller tanks are NOT ideal if you plan on breeding your shrimp. Shrimp are very sensitive creatures that dislike change, so the bigger the tank, the better. If you plant to breed, you can start with a minimum 10 gallon tank, such as a UNS 60S. Entire colonies, however, should have a minumum 20 gallon tank size.

  • Note: It's recommended to have no more than 5 shrimp per gallon of water. 

Filter

One of the best types of filtration for shrimp tanks is the sponge filter. They are inexpensive and very durable. They also provide a lot of surface area for shrimp to graze on, and are a safe option for baby shrimplets. The Qanvee sponge filter would make an excellent choice for planted shrimp tanks since its green design will help it blend in with plants. You also have the option to add more filter media into its filter chambers. Another type of filter to consider for these small invertebrates is a hang-on-the-back filter like the Dymax Slim Flo. This specific filter is great because it comes with a prefilter sponge for the intake tube, preventing any baby shrimp from getting sucked up and killed. 


qanvee-sponge-filter
Qanvee Sponge Filter

Heater

A heater is not always necessary when it comes to keeping shrimp since they do well at room temperature. However, it is a good idea to have a heater running to keep the temperature steady or for those who live in cold homes. 


Substrate

Shrimp tanks should have some sort of substrate covering the bottom of the tank so the shrimp can always have a firm grip on something. In bare-bottom aquariums, they struggle to move around on the slippery glass of the tank. The shrimp species you plan to keep can determine the proper substrate you should get. If you’re looking to get a Caridina species, you would probably want to get an active substrate like UNS Controsoil, which softens the water and keeps the pH level below 7. Unlike other aquarium soils in the market, Controsoil will also not leach out an excessive amount of ammonia that could potentially harm livestock in the tank. On the other hand, if you’re getting a Neocaridina species, you should probably stay away from soils and add an inert substrate like sand or gravel since they prefer a neutral or higher pH and harder water. Click here to learn more about which substrate is best for shrimp!


Hardscape

crystal red shrimp
Crystal Red Shrimp
hanging out on some Icelandic Lava Stone

A great addition to any shrimp tank is driftwood. Shrimp love climbing onto driftwood and picking/eating the biofilm that grows on it. A specific type of wood that shrimp seem to really like is cholla driftwood. They are small pieces of wood that are hollowed out and very holey, so the shrimp can go in and out as they please. Shrimp can also take shelter in cholla wood if they feel threatened. 

Similarly, rocks add surface area for shrimp to explore. If you’re keeping a species that prefers harder and more basic water, rocks like Seiryu stone will slightly raise the pH and water hardness. 


Aquatic Plants

blue dream shrimp christmas moss

A Blue Dream Shrimp picking through some Christmas moss.


The most critical way to improve your shrimp’s quality of life and your ownership experience is the use of live aquatic plants in your shrimp tank.

Aquatic plants can aid shrimp tanks in multiple ways. As mentioned previously, plants act as natural filters and can help keep nitrate and ammonia levels down in the aquarium. Some of the best plants for this purpose are floating plants, such as Red Root Floaters, because of their fast growth rate. Aquatic plants also provide more surface area for biofilm to grow on, giving the shrimp more to graze on. The plants themselves can become shrimp food if a part of them starts dying off. Shrimp like to pick and eat decaying matter.

Also, aquatic plants will provide hiding spaces for shrimp and their babies. A really great plant for this purpose is mossMosses, such as Christmas Moss or Java Moss, are very easy to grow and supply shrimp with adequate areas to hide and scavenge. Mosses are also a great place for baby shrimp to grow safely and offer a great food source for shrimp of all ages. In general, the more plants, the better!

  • Note: Caution should be taken when purchasing plants to avoid adding unwanted chemicals and pests that may harm your shrimp. Tissue cultures are the only way to guarantee that plants are chemical, algae, and pest free.

Water Chemistry

Make sure your tank is established before introducing your shrimp. This can be done by testing your water with a test kit. You must know exactly what's going on in your tank before adding your shrimp. Ensure the water parameters are optimal by using a test kit. Many kits will include Ammonia, PH, Nitrite, and Nitrate tests, which is what you'll need when cycling your tank. You'll also need to measure GH and KH. Click here to learn more about how to cycle your planted aquarium.

Sometimes, our tap water just doesn’t meet the standards needed to keep a specific species of shrimp happy. That is why some hobbyists use RO (reverse osmosis) water for their shrimp. RO water is water that has been stripped of almost all of its minerals, so it’s basically the softest water you could get. Shrimp won’t do well in solely RO water because it’s missing necessary minerals they need to survive, so aquarists that use RO water will adjust the parameters of the water using additives like GH and KH boosters. 

Shrimp are sensitive to changes in their water chemistry. Excessive iron fertilization to achieve red plants or water supplements containing copper can result in swift death. Although, the trace amount of iron found in a complete All-In-One plant fertilizer should not harm your Neocaridina shrimp at low levels.

If you see your shrimp swimming all around the tank like fish after a water change, this means that they are not happy with the new water you have added. With that said, it's important to do small water changes 1-2 times a week to avoid a buildup of waste. Failure to adapt to new water conditions can result in jumping behavior or death. Shrimp typically do not jump or climb out of a tank if they are happy with the water parameters.

What about CO2 injection? Many people have success breeding Neocaridina shrimp in tanks with CO2 supplementation, but it’s important to make sure that the CO2 does not become excessive. This can be achieved by using a drop checker and making sure it is at a green color (as opposed to yellow). You must also make sure your pH does not fluctuate excessively due to the CO2 levels changing.

BLACK PINTO SHRIMP

Black Pinto Shrimp


Diet

Shrimp are omnivorous scavengers that will eat practically anything. They can eat typical fish food like fish flakes, pellets, and wafers. They will even eat what is typically not considered actual “food”, like biofilm, algae, and decaying matter. Shrimp will help eat algae and biofilm that forms on aquatic plants, Amanos especially.

For those that strive for the best for their shrimp, there is shrimp food available in the market that is specialized to benefit the health of the shrimp. For example, SL-Aqua M.O.R.E. WHITE is a high-quality shrimp food that is rich in minerals and trace elements to help the shrimps’ shells stay strong and healthy. It’s good to supplement calcium in their diet because it helps them with molting. There’s also food designed for baby shrimp like SL-Aqua Shrimplet Feed that helps increase the survival rate for shrimplets. 

 

Breeding

If you're intending to build a shrimp colony, a minimum 20-gallon tank, like a UNS 60U, is best. Keep in mind that it's recommended to have no more than 5 shrimp per gallon of water. If they are comfortable, Neocaridina shrimp will reproduce often (with a large enough baseline population, this will just happen with no special effort on the part of the owner), and you will soon find your tank filled with lots of tiny shrimplets.

  • Hint: Almost any fish will gobble these baby shrimp up, so keep them in a shrimp only tank or a heavily planted tank if you want any of the shrimplets to survive and grow into adulthood.

 berried freshwater orange rili shrimp
A "Berried" Orange Rili Shrimp  

Freshwater dwarf shrimp reach sexual maturity around 4-6 months of age. As long as you have both sexes in the aquarium, they should start breeding on their own. You should eventually see the eggs developing in the females’ ovaries. It will look like she has a saddle marking on her back. Once she molts, pheromones are released and males will swim all over trying to find the female and fertilize her eggs. Once they do the deed, the female places the eggs into her swimmerets (underside part of shrimp that they use to swim). The common term for when a female shrimp reaches this stage is known as being “berried” since it looks like she’s holding a bunch of berries under her. She will hold onto these eggs and continuously fan them to prevent fungus from killing the eggs for 2-3 weeks until they hatch. Each batch contains an average of 20-30 eggs. 


Tankmates

When purchasing shrimp, please keep in mind that they are social animals, and they do best in large groups of at least ten of their own. Any less than this and they will tend to hide, rather than graze as a group out in the open.

Large or aggressive fish are not suitable tankmates for shrimp. Barbs, bettas and many others will often bully or harass the shrimp, or straight up eat the shrimp for dinner. Aggressive fish will cause your shrimp to hide more often and experience a lower quality life as they deal with the stress of an aggressive tank mate. Your best bet is a shrimp only aquarium, or a shrimp tank with the addition of small, peaceful fish (listed below). 
You should avoid having shrimp in a tank with barbs, a betta, cichlids, large tetras, or goldfish.

  • Sidenote: If you’re interested in breeding and growing a large shrimp colony, fish will always pose a threat to baby shrimplets and can act as a form of population control for your shrimp while your fish enjoy a high-quality meal.

 

Wondering what other critters you can keep alongside your shrimp? Here’s a list of categories of some aquatic creatures that should be shrimp safe along with some examples:

Peaceful nano fish with small mouths such as:

  • Small Rasboras - Celestial pearl danios, chili rasboras, emerald dwarf rasboras, kubotai, etc.
  • Small Tetras - Neon tetras, cardinal tetras, ember tetras, rummynose tetras, etc.
  • Small Rainbowfish - Furcata rainbowfish, threadfin rainbowfish, pacific signifier blue eye rainbowfish, etc.  
  • Guppies & Endlers

Others:

  • Small CatfishCorydoras, bristlenose plecos, otocinclus, Asian stone catfish 
  • Other Invertebrates - Different color morph or species of shrimp, snails 
pygmy corydora

Pygmy corydoras are super small and peaceful tankmates for shrimp!

  • Note: If you want to keep your shrimp population booming, it’s best to keep them in their own tank with no other livestock or in a heavily planted aquarium with plenty of hiding spaces for the shrimp. Fish are likely to eat newborn shrimp, and snails can outcompete the shrimp for food. 

Additional Care Tips

Shrimp do better in aged aquariums.

  • The longer an aquarium has been running, the safer it will be for shrimp. There’s a difference between a cycled and aged aquarium. Water parameters should be more stable and there should be plenty of bacterial growth and biofilm growing in seasoned tanks. To learn more about how to cycle your aquarium, CLICK HERE.

Again, shrimp are sensitive and don’t like change!

  • When receiving new shrimp, the best method to acclimate them to your water is through drip acclimation. This will slowly change their water parameters to your tank’s, letting them adjust over time instead of shocking them into new water.
  • It’s better to do small water changes than large ones for shrimp tanks. Try to match the temperature of the new water to the old as much as possible. Shrimp do not produce a lot of waste, so 10%-20% change should be good enough for shrimp-only aquariums. If the tank is heavily planted, some shrimp hobbyists don’t even change their water for weeks or months if ever!

Beware of medications when there’s shrimp in the tank.

  • Some medications or other additives can be harmful or even kill shrimp. Medications that include copper can be deadly for shrimp, and additives like those intended to kill algae may also kill your shrimp. Please research before you add these types of chemicals into your shrimp aquariums. 

fire red cherry shrimp

Fire Red Cherry Shrimp

I hope this article was informative enough to help out those interested in keeping freshwater shrimp. Shrimp are very peaceful and active invertebrates that are available in so many colors and patterns. Best of success to you all!

 

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