Why Are My Shrimp Dying? (A Guide to Prevent Shrimp Death)
Written by: Gracie Mandel
So you just set up a brand-new planted tank and bought ten (or twenty) freshwater dwarf shrimp. You put them in their new home, and over the next few days or weeks, you start seeing them perish...one by one. What the heck happened?
We often talk about how hardy shrimp are, which is definitely true. However, they are more delicate than most of our aquatic fish friends.
There are many reasons shrimp perish. Some are glaringly-obvious mistakes that you realize on your own, but there are also situations that even the most experienced shrimp keepers wouldn’t think of.
Are you ready to call it quits on keeping these beautifully colorful critters? Wait! Make sure you read the following before you give up. You can always make it right. I will explain the possible reasons why shrimp can die, and how you can remedy them.
This article will include possibilities such as:
- Tank set-up mistakes
- Water sources
- Un-Cycled/Immature tanks
- Buying shrimp from risky sellers
- Water changes
- Molting problems/water parameters
- Accidental poisoning/toxins
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR TANK
Go back to the very beginning. Where did you purchase your tank? Is it second-hand, from a friend, or new?
Second-hand tanks: If you bought your tank off of an online marketplace, local selling forum, or even from a friend who kept it as a fish tank; here's something to consider:
First off, check if the silicone is a different color than it should be. If it looks dyed or tinted, it is possible the silicone may have absorbed a medication or chemical. Sometimes, certain medications that are safe for some aquatic species, are not safe for shrimp and inverts (especially those containing copper). If these were used in the tank previously, they may leach into your new water.
- New AND second-hand tanks: Whether your tank is used or brand new- What did you use to clean your tank? If you used any type of soap or detergent-based cleaner or spray, typically used for dishes or household items, this may be the problem. These can not only soak into the silicone as well, but also immediately foul your water, making it toxic to any aquatic inhabitants.
The safest way to clean a tank is to scrape any residue, and use salt and/or vinegar, rinsed very well. You may also use a bleach solution, as long as you rinse it again, very well with dechlorinated water until there is no trace of bleach left.
WHAT DID YA FILL 'ER UP WITH?
Consider the water source that you used to fill up your tank. Depending on the city you live in, municipal tap water can vary widely.
Many areas treat their water with chlorine, and sometimes chloramine, which is important to disinfect for human consumption, but is not safe for shrimp. Chlorine can usually be “gassed off” by letting it aerate for 24 hours. But chloramine (the combination of chlorine and ammonia) must be removed by using a dechlorinator that specifically states it can remove both of these toxic compounds. Well water can also contain heavy metals (iron, copper, bacteria, pesticides).
To find out if there are harmful compounds in your water you may use a testing kit, or you can contact your local supplier or the EPA’s Website.
If all of this seems a hassle or you just want to be extra-careful; your safest bet is to use a Reverse-Osmosis Filter. This unit must be installed, but will remove all possible impurities (many local fish stores also sell pre-filtered RO Water).
This is obvious to long-time fish/shrimp keepers, but it is especially important for shrimp. Obviously you must make sure your planted tank is fully-cycled, but even once it is, don’t rush into buying shrimp! Biofilm is an important food and nutrient source for shrimp, and needs some time to build up. Shrimp appreciate a well-established tank, with algae and biofilm to munch on. You should add bacteria supplements to help this process along.
- You can check out SL-Aqua's Shrimp Food to help create a nice environment for your shrimp- CLICK HERE
- To learn more about How to Cycle a Planted Aquarium- CLICK HERE.
Where you buy your freshwater shrimp is going to be a big determinant in their survival. Imported shrimp are going to have a harder time adapting than locally bred shrimp. Many shrimp are sourced overseas- be careful of this. When this happens, they are usually coming from a wild or farmed habitat. They are used to these water parameters and conditions. Then, they are caught, bagged, shipped very far, spend many days/weeks in bags, and then finally arrive at your home or store. By the time they arrive in the United States, they are much more likely to be stressed or sick, which often leads to their demise.
Imported shrimp are more likely to come with or develop usually-rare diseases, like parasites or fungal infections.
Shrimp Infected with Vorticella Parasite
This is why choosing or from reputable online sellers with good reviews (such as Buce Plant Shrimp Packs), or locally-bred shrimp close to where you live, is much more preferable. When you do this, you are able to ask the seller what parameters the shrimp are kept in (or it will be listed on the site), and you know they will go through much less stress, leading to better acclimation and less-to-no deaths. Of course, there is always a chance a shrimp is born with unlucky genes. Just like humans who get sick or are immune-compromised, the same happens with shrimp. If it is just one shrimp that perishes, it is not a huge concern.
Although shrimp are hardy, they do not like sudden changes. Acclimation should be a slow process. The best way to achieve this is by using the drip acclimation method:
1. Pour the shrimp, and the water they came in, into a container.
2. Set up a drip system, by using an airline hose from your tank to their container.
3. Slowly drip in your tank water, about two drops per second, or until half the water in the container is yours.
4. You can repeat this process for as long as you’d like.
This way, they will not be shocked by their new temperature or parameters.
WATER CHANGES - SMALL AND OFTEN
Going along with the theme of keeping things stable, try not to do sudden, large water changes. It is much better to do smaller, more frequent water changes, than large ones. You should slowly drip the new water into the aquarium. If you do too big of a water change too quickly, you may shock the shrimp into prematurely molting, leaving them more vulnerable, which can lead to the death of your shrimp.
MOLTING PROBLEMS - “THE WHITE RING OF DEATH”
I know, that sounds a bit dramatic, but the phenomenon is real. Bad, or failed molts are usually linked to too large of water changes, a poor diet, or wrong parameters (GH, KH, PH). When shrimp are lacking the key elements of their parameters, they are unable to grow, and shed healthy exoskeletons. You may notice this in the early stage as the “white ring of death” which looks like a solid white band around the shrimp where the head meets the body. A healthy shrimp will split just at the top of it’s head, allowing it a clean break, or molt, out of its exoskeleton. When the ring appears, it makes doing this more difficult, and a shrimp may die in the process of trying to molt, because it can get stuck while trying to do so.
A normal shrimp molt
ACCIDENTS HAPPEN - BE CAREFUL!
Make sure to quarantine your aquatic plants!
Many people don’t realize how susceptible shrimp are to toxins. For example, if you purchase a plant from a fish store, many times the plants will be treated with a pesticide to kill snails. These treatments often contain copper which, as we know, is deadly to shrimp. If you suspect this may be the case, you can quarantine your new plants in clean water for an amount of time, to watch them for snails, and also to make sure if a pesticide is used, it will dissipate.
How to Quarantine Your Aquatic Plants:
- Immerse your new plants in a bucket of clean water for at least 5 days.
- (Optional) Add Seachem Prime to the bucket of water. It will bind pesticides, preventing them from harming your shrimp. Seachem Prime is a water conditioner that detoxifies ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. It will also remove chlorine and chloramine.
- Perform full water changes every day till the end of the 5 days, adding Seachem Prime after each water change.
- After the 5-day quarantine, rinse the plants thoroughly with clean water.
- The plants are now ready to be added to your shrimp aquarium!
Another “doh!” moment can happen easily: using aerosols, such as hairspray, air freshener, insect repellent, or dog flea/tick treatments. These aerosols can enter the shrimp tank and quickly be absorbed by the water. So, be careful where you spray, and make sure your hands are completely clean before even coming near your shrimp tank.
It is, admittedly, one of the great joys of life to watch your little shrimp friends excitedly munch up a big pile of food. However, if you feed too often, or too much, this can lead to an excess of waste, fouling the water and raising the ammonia. This goes back to having a proper amount of biofilm/algae in the tank. If you have enough of those growing, you will only need to feed your shrimp sparingly.
As far as overpopulation; this is not always a problem. However, if your tank is too small, or your tank is not established for long enough, adding too many shrimp at one time can overload the bio-filtration, when the bacteria colony is not yet large enough to handle the incoming ammonia the shrimp produce.
DON’T GIVE UP!
Now that you know the main culprits of shrimp deaths that were once baffling, I hope you can breathe easier. Keeping aquatic animals takes trial-and-error, but once you make a mistake or learn from someone else, you won’t repeat your blunders. Shrimp tanks are a joy to watch, and shrimp are a joy to keep. Keep your head up high, and keep those crustaceans healthy!
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