How to Add Shrimp to Your Home Aquarium

pair of red crystal shrimp

Freshwater aquariums are a favorite pastime for aquarists looking to add some color and beauty to their homes, and there is no shortage of possibilities when it comes time to populate a tank with fish. Another option available for enthusiasts is freshwater shrimp. These colorful invertebrates add charm and energy to your home aquarium, while also providing the added benefit of scavenging algae and debris from the tank. Shrimp come with their own list of special needs and considerations, though, so before rushing to your local pet store, make sure you’ve done your homework.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Shrimp Selection

There are a variety of shrimp one can choose from, ranging from easy to care for to those that present more of a challenge. Some of the most popular freshwater shrimp are prized for their bright colors and patterns. In general, freshwater shrimp are broken into five different groups:

  • Neocaridinia shrimp include dwarf shrimp varieties which are available in a number of color options, such as the red cherry shrimp. These shrimp are some of the simplest to care for, and they’re easy to breed which ranks them high on the popularity list. Best of all, setting up a tank for these shrimp doesn’t need to be expensive.
  • Caridina shrimp also come in a variety of colors and patterns, including the crystal red shrimp. These varieties present a bit more of a challenge, both in terms of finding a good source and their care needs. As such, a beginner may want to consider one of the other groups first.
  • Sulawesi shrimp come from the Sulawesi lakes of Indonesia and include the cardinal shrimp. They’re another colorful group, but they require an aquarist with a fair amount of experience under their belt.
  • Amano shrimp are larger than dwarf shrimp, but they aren’t aggressive. They’re algae-eaters, which makes them popular for aquarists battling this particular nuisance. For those looking to breed their shrimp, this group requires brackish water, not freshwater, so that creates a hiccup.
  • Ghost shrimp might be in the feeder section of your fish store, but they’re great additions to home aquariums. They grow a little larger on the size scale, and they have awesome personalities. Some varieties require brackish water, though, so confirm which you’re getting before you bring them home.

Freshwater shrimp are social animals, and they should be kept in groups of at least ten to keep them happy. If you only have a few shrimp, they’ll hide for protection, and then you won’t get to enjoy them. A good rule of thumb to follow is 5-10 shrimp per gallon (3 per liter).

bamboo shrimp

You have a couple of options for obtaining your shrimp: those that are home-bred by other aquarists or those that are imported. Imports are often more expensive, and you run the risk of parasites or disease, so make sure you examine these shrimp carefully before introducing them to your tank. A lot of online sellers offer shrimp now, and if you’re willing to invest some search time, you can end up with a good deal. You won’t be able to see the shrimp prior to purchase, but a lot of pet stores get their stock from imports, so you’ll have to weigh your options when you set out to stock your tank.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Tank Set-Up

Just as you took care setting-up your aquarium before introducing your fish, special attention is required prior to the addition of shrimp.

Many people enjoy shrimp-only tanks, which can be on the smaller size – around 10 gallons (red cherry, crystal red, and bee shrimp are all small enough). After all, shrimp are smaller than fish and produce a smaller amount of waste. However, if you’re looking to breed your shrimp or incorporate them into an existing aquarium, a larger tank is necessary – at least 20 gallons.

Substrate is of particular concern for shrimp, especially when it comes to breeding. Darker substrates help the shrimps’ bright colors stand out, though this is a cosmetic concern. From a health standpoint, most shrimp species need a neutral substrate or one that’s ideal for live plants. Finer grains provide ideal conditions for the fry to grab onto and hide within. Shrimp-healthy options include:

red cherry shrimp

Most shrimp come from temperate regions, and they’ll tolerate temperatures between the range of 70-76F (21-24C). This means you may not need a heater in your tank in order to keep them active and happy – depending on the requirements of your fish. However, you need to research the needs of your particular shrimp species to be on the safe side.

We know a filter is crucial to aquarium health, but special considerations come into play when shrimp are added. Whether you have dwarf shrimp or are just planning to breed your shrimp, the purchase of a sponge filter is likely in your future. These filters are ideal for aquariums under 20 gallons, and they are shrimp-safe: there is no risk of a shrimp getting sucked into the mechanism. If you have a larger tank, there are internal filters designed with shrimp in mind, and you’ll want to consider them to protect your new invertebrates. For hang on back (HOB) and canister filters, add a sponge screen over the intake valve to protect shrimp and their fry from getting sucked in. The screen will need regular cleaning when you attend to your filter maintenance.

Shrimp love planted tanks, and the green background is another great way to showcase their colors. The plants will not only provide an additional food source for the shrimp, they’ll help protect against dangerous spikes in nitrates. Some shrimp favorites include:

  • Anubias
  • Java moss
  • Java fern
  • Moss balls
  • Cypts
  • Rotala
  • Duckweed
  • Water lettuce
  • Monte Carlo

If you do keep live plants, be careful about the fertilizer you choose: avoid any that contain copper as this is toxic to shrimp. Read all labels carefully – your little invertebrates will appreciate your attention to detail.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Water Quality

Shrimp are very sensitive to changes in water quality, and you’ll need to keep conditions as stable as possible to ensure their health. Freshwater shrimp feed on the waste and debris that fall on the substrate, but excess waste breaks down into ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate which will build up and lead to the death of your shrimp. A properly cycled aquarium is paramount to the health and happiness of your shrimp – and the other residents of your tank.

Each group of shrimp have their own requirements for water quality parameters, and it’s important that you research the needs of your selected shrimp prior to bringing them home. For instance, red cherry shrimp are partial to alkaline water, while most others prefer acidic water. All freshwater shrimp require the following water test results:

  • Ammonia: Undetectable
  • Nitrites: Undetectable
  • Nitrates: <10ppm

An additional testing device used by aquarists keeping shrimp is a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter. When the TDS is too high or too low, it can affect the health of the shrimp in the tank. The meter is small and a TDS should become a part of your regular water testing. The following table lists the ranges for several common freshwater shrimp:

Freshwater ShrimpOptimal TDSLimits
Amano Shrimp150 – 200100 – 400
Bamboo Shrimp150 – 200100 – 300
Blue Tiger Shrimp180 – 220100 – 300
Cardinal Shrimp10050 – 150
Cherry Shrimp150 – 200100 – 400
Ghost Shrimp150 – 200100 – 400
Snowball Shrimp150 – 20080 – 300
TDS meter

Shrimp require alternating weekly water changes: 10% one week and 25% the next week. It’s crucial that the added water match the conditions in the tank in order to prevent shocking your shrimp: if you see them swimming through the tank like the fish, they’re upset! Shrimp that dislike added water may exhibit jumping behaviors or attempts to climb out of the tank (that’s how important water quality is).

Copper and other nutrients present a particular concern for shrimp, so it’s important to consider your water source during your water changes (this is where that TDS meter comes in handy). If unlimited funds are at your disposal, you can consider investing in a RODI system: reverse osmosis deionization. RODI water is 99% pure and will be safe to use for your shrimp, though you will need to remineralize the water before adding it to the tank. If you’re interested in the more delicate Caridina shrimp, you may want to look into a RODI system – or at least some quality water sources. However, for the majority of people, tap water is the mainstay, following the application of a proper dechlorinator.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Acclimation

When it’s time to introduce new shrimp to their tank, avoidance of stress is key – they’re delicate little invertebrates. If you’re picking up your freshwater shrimp from the pet store, consider how long your drive will be and whether there’s a chance for the temperature of the travel bag to drop more than 5F (2C); if yes, then bring a cooler or insulated box to help prevent that from happening.

For shrimp enthusiasts, Kordon Breather Bags are your best friends: these transport bags allow adequate gas exchange to occur, something your new shrimp will appreciate. You can ask the store associate to place your shrimp in the Breather Bag instead of an ordinary plastic bag. Bring a piece of moss or filter floss with you to put in the bag so your shrimp have something to grab onto – nothing’s more stressful than sloshing around all over the place on the car ride!

amano shrimp

When you get home, compare the temperature between the bag and your aquarium to make sure they’re the same; if not, place the Breather Bag in a warm bowl that won’t allow water in. These bags WILL allow the passage of water as well as gas exchange, and if you float the bag, you’ll end up suffocating your shrimp! If you used an ordinary bag, you can float it to bring it up to temperature. 

Now assemble the following: airline tubing, a control nozzle, a bucket, and a shrimp net. You’re going to use them to employ the Drip Method to acclimate your shrimp to the conditions in your tank:

  1. Empty the shrimp – with their water – into the bucket.
  2. Connect the control nozzle to one end of the tubing, making sure to leave it open.
  3. Create a suction from the tank (careful not to accidentally swallow any water) and watch the tube fill with water. Cap the end with the control nozzle and place it in the bucket, then let go. The other end stays in the aquarium.
  4. Make sure the suction flows, then adjust the control nozzle to around 2-3 drops/second.
  5. Leave it running until the level in the bucket is 4 times higher than the start point (so only 1/4 of the bucket will have water from the store).
  6. Wait 1.5-2 hours for the shrimp to adjust to the water conditions.
  7. Net the shrimp into the aquarium.
  8. Discard the water in the bucket – NEVER add it to your tank!

You should keep the lights in your aquarium off for the next 24 hours. This allows for the least stressful conditions to introduce your shrimp to your aquarium.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Food

Freshwater shrimp are omnivores, making them relatively easy to care for on the feeding scale. A shrimp’s main source of food is the biofilm that accumulates in a properly cycled aquarium, which is a reason they shouldn’t be added to a tank until it is up and thriving – they’ll starve to death.

There’s a risk of overfeeding shrimp in an aquarium, so it’s important to remember that biofilm exists. Too much food added to the system will yield an excess of waste, and that will pose the problem of high nitrates. Shrimp actually do well and even thrive with underfeeding. Unlike your fish, they only need to be fed a few times a week. If any food remains after an hour, cut back on the amount offered – it’s too much.

bee shrimp on pinecones

Shrimp favorites include:

  • Aqueon Tropical Flakes
  • Spirulina Flakes
  • Algae Rounds
  • Shrimp Pellets
  • Bottom Feeder Tablets
  • Tropical Color Flakes
  • Tropical Granules
  • Blanched vegetables
  • Leaf litter
  • Thawed frozen foods (bloodworms especially)
  • Soybean shells

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Compatible Species

Shrimp do well in community freshwater aquariums, but it’s important to consider the temperament – and diet preferences! – of the fish before you introduce your shrimp. As freshwater shrimp have particular water quality concerns, it’s also important to research which fish have similar needs. Carnivorous fish are likely to snack on shrimp, and even omnivores will view shrimp fry as a delicacy. Fast-swimming and energetic fish can stress shrimp, so peaceful, gentle species make the best tank mates. Some of the most ideal fish to keep with freshwater shrimp are:

  • Rasboras
  • Celestial danio
  • Tetras
  • Livebearers (watch them around the fry)
  • Sparkling gourami
  • Blue-eyed rainbowfish
  • Otocinclus catfish
  • Pygmy cory
cardinal shrimp in foliage

If you want a 100% shrimp-safe tank, your best bet is to stock your tank with other invertebrates: Nerite and other snails make great tank mates for shrimp while contributing to the work of the clean-up crew. You can consider diversifying your shrimp stock, but be aware that they may interbreed, leaving you with hybrids.

Adding Shrimp to an Aquarium: Health

Freshwater shrimp are on the small side, and it isn’t uncommon for mystery deaths to occur in an aquarium. While frequent water testing – multiple times a day to check for possible fluctuations – might reveal clues, other sources are harder to puzzle out. To unravel potential problems, aquarists need to invest in a magnifying glass to help keep an eye out for any small parasites or other minuscule signs. Examine all new additions carefully before you add them to your aquarium; if purchasing from a pet store, do a check of the entire tank before you buy.

As with all invertebrates, shrimp regularly molt to produce a new exoskeleton. Molting requires energy and nutrients, and any shrimp that appear to have difficulty, become caught in their molt, or die post-molt are cause for alarm. If you see these signs, it’s time to review your shrimps’ diet and make sure they’re getting the proper balance of nutrients.

Parasites are a troubling concern for shrimp, and that magnifying glass will come in handy spotting these pests. The most common parasites to watch out for are:

As if parasites weren’t bad enough, the plants your shrimp love so much can bring in some nasty predators that have freshwater shrimp on the menu. While it’s important to clean anything you introduce into your tank, this is especially important for plants. A careful bleach dip and rinse with conditioned water will help prevent the introduction of these nasty hunters:

  • Planaria are a kind of flatworm that love shrimp snacks. Planaria traps or No Planaria medication can help you eliminate them from your tank if they’ve already invaded.
  • Hydra are small invertebrates in the same family as jellyfish. They sting and inject a neurotoxin into your shrimp that kills them. That same No Planaria medication can help get rid of them.
  • Scuds are amphipods and especially detrimental to shrimp fry. They reproduce fast, and manual removal is your best option. Bettas and killifish love scuds, but they also love shrimp, so if you choose this route, you’ll need to remove your shrimp until all of the scuds are gone (and make sure you have a loving home for the betta or killifish when you’re done).
  • Dragonfly nymphs are relentless hunters, and manual removal is your only option – at least if you want to keep your shrimp.
amano shrimp

Conclusion

Freshwater shrimp make great additions to your home aquarium: they’re active when kept in schools, and they contribute to the general upkeep of the tank. These colorful invertebrates do require some special attention when it comes to water quality and filters, and they’re more delicate than some of their hardier fish tank mates, so it’s important that you do your homework.

If you’re ready to invest some extra time, though, and purchase a TDS meter, these bright characters are sure to add some charm and vibrancy to your home aquarium.

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