Step-by-Step Guide To Grading Your Cherry Shrimp

Red cherry shrimp are some of the most popular freshwater aquarium inhabitants. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re also fascinating to watch and dead useful as a bottom-dwelling cleanup crew! They are constantly on the move, exploring their surroundings and scavenging for food.

Helpful little things that they are, they will help to keep your tank clean by scooping up uneaten food that slips by your fish and eating any dying or decaying plant matter to help keep your tank clean. This shouldn’t be their only source of food though, you can read more about how to care for red cherry shrimp on our guide.

Being very resilient little creatures, they can tolerate most kinds of freshwater aquarium parameters, so they are very easy to care for, and setting up a tank for them is very simple. While all types of red cherry shrimp share these same characteristics, did you know they come in different grades? 

What is Grading

Grades are just a short way of saying the color saturation and quality of the shrimp. As you can imagine, the lowest grades have the lowest coloring, with higher grades being more saturated and considered more desirable. As can also be guessed, higher grades also come with higher price tags. What grade is right for you depends on what you’re looking to add to your tank.

Why is it Important

First and foremost, for most aquarists, is the price. Lower grades of red cherry shrimp are the most cost-effective. But, If you’re looking for stunning bottom feeders, you will have to shell out more money for higher shrimp grades. If you are just looking for a cleanup crew, the fact is, the grade isn’t important at all.

All grades of red cherry shrimp make great additions to your aquarium, have the same activity level, and even the lowest grade will provide the same delight as their more colorful siblings.

General things to Look For

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Color saturation, uniform coloring, and the legs’ color are some of the most essential features when grading red cherry shrimp. Sure signs of low-grade coloration are clear legs and uneven color. Lower grades have spotty coloration throughout the body and clear legs. Higher grades will have more uniform coloring throughout the body and legs.

Male or Female?

Unlike most species of, well, any species in existence, female red cherry shrimp are more colorful than males. Because of this, the male offspring of higher grade shrimp could turn out to be graded lower than their parents. It is difficult to tell males from females as juveniles, but somewhat easy upon adulthood.

When females of most grades are ready to breed, they will show a distinct band on the top of their abdomen, which is also known as a ‘saddle,’ that is much lighter than the rest of their bodies. In many of the lower grades, it appears as a yellow stripe. Once the eggs are fertilized by a male, the female will move the eggs to her undercarriage.

A female carrying fertilized eggs is often referred to as ‘berried,’ as the eggs look like a bundle of berries she is carrying around. She will continuously fan the eggs with water to keep them oxygenated. You can learn more about breeding red cherry shrimp on this handy guide from The Shrimp Farm.

Grades, from Lowest to Highest:

Cherry Grade

These are the lowest grade of red cherry shrimp available. Their bodies and legs are mostly translucent with small patches of pinkish red. They are also the most cost-effective option if you are looking to save money. Finding this grade is very easy!

Nearly any pet store that sells freshwater fish will have some on hand. Because they cost so little and are widely available, they are the most popular option for beginning aquarists. While some see cherry grade as inferior, I think they are extra fun to look at since you can see their internal organs! It makes feeding time especially fun to watch.

Sakura Grade

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The next lowest grade is called sakura. This grade has more red than pink, but the coloration is blotchy and not uniform. The legs of sakura grade shrimp are still mostly see-through, with the possibility of a small number of pink spots or stripes. I’m particularly fond of sakuras – to me, they look like red dalmatian shrimp! Because this is a common grade, you can find them in most dedicated aquarium stores and online.

Low-Grade Fire/Hi-Grade Sakura/Grade AA

As the multiple names above suggest, this grade can go by many names, but low-grade fire and high-grade sakura are the most common. As the names also suggest, they are too high to be considered sakuras but not quite high enough to be considered fires. Some classification systems omit this grade, but because there is such a large difference of appearance in this grade, a distinction is rather helpful.

With this grade, the coloration is still somewhat blotchy but much more uniform. You can also tell this grade more clearly by looking at the legs. The lower grade Sakuras will have little to no coloration in their legs. With this grade, pink and red spots and bands are much more common.

Fire Grade

This grade is where we get into the higher price ranges, and they are considered to be more beautiful. The shrimp’s exoskeleton is opaque, and the red coloration is bright and evenly distributed. Their legs are uniformly dark pink or red, with no light spots or stripes. With this grade, it starts to become more difficult to spot the lighter spot of a female’s saddle and her eggs underneath once they have been fertilized.

Painted Fire Grade

Up until recently, the painted fire grade was the highest grade available. The coloration of these shrimp is vividly intense, and there is no opacity to their shells, which is where they get their name – it looks as if they are coated in bright red paint! Their legs are the same red as their bodies, with no variation in color.

This grade of shrimp is fairly costly, although it is possible to breed this grade from lower grades. Still,  it is a time-consuming endeavor with no certainty of success. The only way to tell males from females in this grade is that males will usually be less colorful and the female’s saddle and fertilized eggs are only visible under special lighting.

Bloody Mary Grade

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This is a relatively new grade in the shrimp trade. Still, they are highly desired and, in turn, are very expensive compared to their lower-grade counterparts. The color of these shrimp is a deep, blood red. Their exoskeleton is crystal clear, which gives the shrimp a shining, jewel-like shine. Another thing that sets them apart is their shorter noses.

Unlike the other grades, there is little difference in coloration between males and females, which makes it extremely difficult to tell them apart. Nearly the only way to tell is to have the room they are kept in dark, then use a bright flashlight to shine on them. It is still rather hard to determine, but if you’re lucky, a berried female may swim up the glass to give a flash of her eggs.

Also, unlike other grades, these are bred from chocolate brown shrimp. So, even though they are still part of the same species, they look slightly different than other cherry varieties.

Other Grades:

While the above grades are the most commonly known, there are some others that fall outside the regular realm of red cherries.

Kanoko Sakura Grade

Like the bloody mary shrimp, kanoko sakura’s are new to the hobby. They are very rare due to only a few breeders in the world producing them. They have a red coloring that is so dark it’s nearly black, with lighter red patterns on their bodies. Their eggs also appear black. Their name comes from the lighter spots of red.

Kanoko is another name for a fawn (baby deer), which also has lighter colored spots to help camouflage them from enemies. Although they aren’t widely known now, I’m sure with their beauty they will become popular very soon.

Red Rili Shrimp

Some aquarists do not consider the red rili shrimp as part of the family. Still, as they are the same species and have red coloration, I felt they should be included. Red rili shrimp have an interesting look, with alternating bands of red and clear or white. While cherries are graded with a preference for less transparency, this is the opposite.

They have their own  grading system, where those with more transparency are graded higher than those with less.

Grading your Shrimp

From the above descriptions, you now know how each grade is classified. With the lower grades, it is usually simple to tell with just the naked eye. Lower grades will have splotchy colors, at least some transparent portions, and little to no color on their legs. Middle grades will have uniform color throughout their legs and bodies.

However, it will still be relatively easy to tell the males from the females due to their lighter saddle and visible eggs when berried. The higher grades will have deep, vivid coloration with no variation. Since the higher grades are all solid colored, it can be difficult to tell the difference sometimes, even for experienced aquarists.

As described earlier, when trying to determine males from females, using a strong flashlight in a dark room can also help you with grading. If the light shines through it easily, it will be on the lower end of the grades. If it shines through, but just barely, it will be on the higher end of the scale, such as a fire grade.

If the light does little to penetrate their carapace, it is a sure sign you have a painted fire or even a Bloody Mary grade! If you need more help grading your red cherry shrimp, refer to this handy video!

Keeping Different Grades Together

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All grades of red cherry shrimp will get along very well together, so you do not need to worry about any fights breaking out between them. Having different grades together can create an interesting look to your tank. However, even if you don’t mean to, cherry shrimp breed quickly and easily, so there is a high likelihood that the different grades will interbreed. Interbreeding grades will result in mixed grades of offspring.

While there is no harm in this, buyers might be skeptical of the grading if you want to sell them. Even breeding within the same grade can result in higher and lower grade offspring, but most will be the same grade as their parents. To have the best shot at the highest grade babies, pick the best-colored male and the best-colored female and isolate them together.

Which is Grade is Right for You

The two main things to consider when deciding which grade of red cherry shrimp is right for you are color and price. Is coloration something that is important to you? Do you want the reddest red to compliment the look of your tank? Or is having an interesting cleanup crew your reason for interest in red cherries? You will also need to consider the price point.

Are you willing to shell out a ton of cash for a big colony of Bloody Mary shrimp? Or are your funds a little more modest? 

If the color is unimportant, you don’t have a lot to invest in the project, or just want a cleanup crew, the cherry grade will suit you just fine. If the color is unimportant, you don’t have a lot to invest in the project, or just want a cleanup crew, the cherry grade will suit you just fine. Suppose you have a little more to spend and want a more uniform color for your aquarium you should consider high-grade or regular Sakuras.

If color is the most important factor and money is of no concern, then Bloody Maries will make you very happy. The good news is, setting up an aquarium for your red cherries can be quite inexpensive, so you will have extra to spend on your new friends!

Conclusion

No matter which grade you decide on, red cherry shrimp make absolutely delightful pets. They’re active, playful, always on the move, and are very useful in keeping your tank clean. Cherry and sakura grades are very cost-effective and will still be fascinating to watch.

High-grade sakura and fire-grade shrimp are a great middle of the road option. They are a little more expensive, but also a little more colorful. Painted fire and bloody marry grade are stunningly beautiful but will also require more funds to procure.

Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong with adding these beauties to your home aquarium.

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