Freshwater Shrimp

Freshwater shrimp are not as popular as they should be. They are one of few things we can keep in truly tiny tanks, they are relatively hardy, and their care is probably the easiest in all of freshwater.

They are small, can be very heavily stocked compared to fish, are hardy as long as basic parameters are in the correct range, require little to no feeding, actually thrive with minimal water changes compared to fish, don’t need a heater, only need the most basic of filters, and breed easily (sometimes too easily).

nano freshwater tank
One of the mixed babies in my 29-gallon.

My Experience

I’d had shrimp before, usually added to a planted tank with fish. I liked them, but they didn’t do well long term and I ended up losing interest in them. I tried again more recently. I bought a 29-gallon tank, built the stand myself, went to a landscaping center to pick out the perfect centerpiece rock, found a great piece of driftwood, and got the tank running. I knew I had to be very selective about the fish so the shrimp would still thrive. I went with tinwini danios (they look like a spotted, smaller version of a zebra danio), some Endler’s livebearers, and a hillstream loach. I added a few different types of shrimp and they did pretty well for a while, they were even breeding.

Breeding freshwater shrimp

Eventually though, the shrimp started disappearing. I had added a honey dwarf sunset gourami. After talking with someone with much more experience with shrimp than me, I found out gouramis like that will happily chow down on shrimp, especially at night. In addition, after speaking with more and more people about freshwater shrimp, I found more and more who simply gave up trying to keep any type of fish with them at all, even the ones that are supposed to be the best. They found that even the best candidates still ate young shrimp, but even adults could be lost after they molted.

I decided to set up a completely separate setup for them. I set up two 10-gallons. Both with a sponge filter, sand, Nicrew LED light, driftwood, and live plants. I drove about two and a half hours away to go to some great stores I hadn’t been to in years. I was very disappointed, they had almost no selection. I bought something like two orange rili and maybe three or four blue shrimp, put the blues in one and the orange rili in the other. Within a few days, a few were dead. In addition, one of the Nicrew lights was way too strong for the tank and wasn’t adjustable, so it turned the tank into an algae farm and looked horrendous. I swapped the light for a weaker one and just gave up. I didn’t look at the tank, feed it, do a single water change, or even top off.

A couple of months later, I looked in and saw at least a couple dozen super tiny blue specks in the blue shrimp tank. They had babies. Left on their own with algae to graze on, no overfeeding, and no water changes, they thrived. Six months later there were probably hundreds of shrimp in the tank when I broke it down (I was moving). It didn’t even look close to full, but as I got them out and saw how many were in the bucket, I couldn’t believe it.

How to setup a freshwater shrimp tank
Neglected tank that the shrimp bred like crazy in.

Live Plants

I think live plants are one of the most essential parts of a shrimp tank. If plants are happy, then some algae is happy which is what the shrimp eat. It doesn’t have to be an advanced, high-tech planted tank. A basic light with some hornwort floating at the top is enough.

With just one step up in light though, a lot of options open up. In something like a 10 or 29-gallon tank, an LED light from Amazon for around $35 or so can be enough to open up all sorts of options for plants.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s LED so you never have to worry about replacing bulbs, has adjustable intensity so if it’s more than needed you can just turn it down, and you can adjust the color so you can get the right color. These features cost a little more, but they’re more than worth it.

It my experience, you don’t need to spend the money on a brand name light such as Fluval, Current, etc. There are so many great LEDs out there now at a fraction of the price, it’s just not necessary to spend the money on the brand name lights.

Please read the article on Live Plants for more information.

Freshwater shrimp types

Temperature

These shrimp actually need it a little cooler, so in most cases, room temperature is fine and there is no need for a heater. They can go warmer, but this isn’t necessary and greatly boosts their metabolism and increases the required aeration. That said, if it’s a bit too cool, they may not breed well at all (which isn’t an issue if you’re not trying to breed them). So if you’re trying to breed them but they’re not, you may end up needing a heater to get it up to about 77F. Check out the Heaters article if you decide to get a heater.

freshwater dwarf shrimp care

Filtration

Shrimp will be pulled into every normal filter on the market unless you put some sort of pre-filter on it, and even then it may be a problem.

Sponge filters are hands-down the best option for shrimp. Baby shrimp are super tiny. Think of a speck of neon tetra poop, that’s about the size of a baby shrimp, if not bigger. Sponge filters are the only thing that will not suck up and kill baby shrimp (many will even kill the adults).

I highly prefer the ones that suction cup to the back of the tank. They come as single or dual sponges and I usually opt for the dual since the price difference is usually only a dollar or two. They are run by an air pump, so you get flow, aeration, and filtration all in one.

To clean them, simply take out the sponges and squeeze them in the old tank water in the bucket when you do a water change. This keeps them clean without any worries of bothering the bacteria.

Make sure your air pump is strong enough. I can’t stress this enough. When in doubt, get a size (or two) larger. The price difference is usually minimal, but the strength of the air pump can make a huge a difference and the last thing you want is to have to buy another one because the first one you bought wasn’t quite strong enough. Worst case you just turn it down a little with an air control valve. Best case scenario, it’s strong enough to run a second take or a tank upgrade in the future.

freshwater dwarf fancy shrimp
Blue Shrimp on Sponge Filter

Feeding

Feeding is VERY minimal for shrimp. A shrimp-only tank needs one feeding per week AT MOST. This can be a high-quality pellet such as New Life Spectrum, or a shrimp-specific food such as Shrimp King Complete made by Dennerle (or one of their other varieties). A whole tank of shrimp would only need one, maybe two pieces of the Shrimp King pellets. When in doubt, feed less. They’re mainly feeding on the algae in the tank anyway.

Decor

Shrimp tanks can be super simple as far as the shrimp are concerned. Literally, a bare tank with some hornwort floating around the top would be enough. But, something more visually appealing to us makes them happy too.

I use the same sand I use for effectively all freshwater tanks. You can read about it in the Sand as a Superior Substrate article.

Some stores are much better than others about stocking good driftwood. One shop won’t have a single piece, another will have a seemingly endless selection of really cool looking pieces. I know they are sometimes expensive, but the right piece of driftwood can completely make the look of a tank. Get the right piece. If you see a good piece in a tank at a store, ask if you can buy it. Just because it’s not marked doesn’t mean it’s not for sale.

If you can’t find anything good in your local shops, then look online for places selling wood individually. It’s essential that you know the exact piece you are buying. Look around and find the right piece.

You can also add some really cool rocks that can also have a big impact on the look of the tank. Some of the fancy types specifically for aquariums are great, but something for landscaping can work too, so again, find the right pieces.

Freshwater shrimp tank setup
Waiting for the driftwood to sink and the plants to grow.

Water Chemistry

Water chemistry is the only thing shrimp are picky about. They do have a preference that is usually easiest to satisfy with RO water with specific salt shrimps added to produce the chemistry they thrive in. You can buy RO water from an aquarium store or you can use distilled water (especially since most shrimp tanks are so small and the water changes are small and infrequent).

I lucked out and my tap water was super soft, so it could be used as if it were RO. I added the shrimp salt and got exactly what they liked. If your tap is unusually soft, you may be able to use it.

Freshwater nano aquarium

Although I usually take a pretty hands-off approach to chemistry in freshwater, shrimp are an exception. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, although issues for shrimp, aren’t usually an issue in most shrimp tanks. This is because their bioload is so tiny that you won’t even have detectable levels of anything in the tank as it cycles, especially with live plants. In addition, the live plants will pull the nitrate.

You will need pH, GH, and KH test kits and a TDS meter. Calm down, this isn’t as bad as it sounds.

GH measures calcium and magnesium. KH measures carbonate hardness which controls pH. TDS is total dissolved solids. This is really a measure of conductivity since pure water doesn’t conduct electricity. The more of anything that is dissolved in the water, the better it conducts electricity. The good news is that this means that a TDS meter is the easiest test you will run. Instead of chemicals, drops, etc, you simply turn the meter on and dip the tip in the water.

The chart below shows the ideal parameters for the two main types of freshwater shrimp.

GenusNeocaridinaCaridina
ExamplesCherry, Rili, yellow, blue, black, white, orangeBee shrimp, tiger shrimp
pH6.5-7.56.0-6.8
KH1-42-4
GH6-84-6
TDS150-250100-180
Temperature70-75F, 21-24C70-75F, 21-24C

Keep in mind that some varieties may do best in slightly different parameters and a particular breeder’s stock may do best in slightly different parameters due to their tap’s natural chemistry, their preferences, or the preferences of the breeder they bought or learned from. So, it never hurts to double check and make sure the shrimp you’re buying aren’t already used to and thriving in something different.

Also, don’t get worked up if your parameters aren’t absolutely perfect. If the GH should be 4-6 but your tank sits around 7, it’s probably fine. Just like with fish, you never want to get too caught up chasing perfection and forget to just leave them be in what’s working well for them.

For more information about chemistry, please read the Freshwater Chemistry article.

Freshwater shrimp feeding

Water Changes

Water changes should still be performed, but they’re nothing compared to a tank with fish. I wouldn’t simply let them go forever without water changes, but 25% once per month is adequate. I would not do any more than 25% weekly.

Ideally, the water is prepped and at room temp so there is no significant change in anything when you add the new water. I did this by filling a five-gallon bucket with tap water, treating it with dechlorinator, and adding the shrimp salt to get the chemistry the way they like it. I would then just let the bucket sit out for a day or two so it was definitely at room temperature.

I would then siphon into a different five-gallon bucket, clean the sponges from the filter, and add the new water. When adding the new water, I started by setting the bucket on a ladder higher than the tank and slowly adding the water with an air tube siphon. I gave up on this even more careful method and just started pouring it in gently. As stated, if it’s the same temperature and the right chemistry, they really should be fine without the super slow water addition.

Most people will need to use RO/DI or distilled water to prepare for water changes. My tap water happened to be extremely soft, acidic, and had a very low TDS. Shrimp need specific chemistry and RO/DI or distilled is definitely the best way to start, then simply add special shrimp salt that provides the right GH and KH. The best is Dennerle Shrimp King Shrimp Salt. Keep in mind, this is not aquarium salt or marine salt, they are using the term salt more scientifically, the dose is very low and provides the specific elements and compounds needed. This is not normal salt.

freshwater shrimp care guide
Unnecessarily slow refill system for water changes.

Caridina vs Neocaridina

The two main types of dwarf shrimp are the Caridina genus and the Neocaridina genus.

Caridina include the bee shrimp.

Neocaridina include the cherry shrimp.

Both genera have a very wide assortment of colors and even species to choose from.

There are lots of other types of shrimp you can research if you decide to move past the basics commonly available in stores. If you’re ever in doubt, ask the store or Google to know for sure what you’re buying BEFORE you buy it.

What fish can go with cherry shrimp

Segregation

It’s up to you whether you mix colors. Some people freak out about it like it’s a sin to mix them becuase you’ll just end up with brown, which is true. But if you’re not trying to breed them to sell them, this shouldn’t matter.

If they end up breeding, proper color strains will be easier to get rid of (sell). Even then, you can have so many that you may need to cull them (feed the less desirable colors or patterns to fish as food).

If you decide to breed, you definitely want to keep the strains separated. Even then, certain genetic traits and lines will produce at least some variety in the offspring.

Shrimp come in literally every color of the rainbow. Although, purple is super rare and VERY expensive. The last time I saw them available they were $400 per shrimp! But if you find good sources, you should be able to find red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white, and black. In addition, depending on the genus, you may have varieties with thin lines (such as bee shrimp) or wide bands such as the rili (which come in a variety of colors).

Although they generally prefer slightly different chemistry, Caridina and Neocaridina can go in the same tank and will not cross-breed. That said, this requires a chemistry in the middle, a compromise of each, so you may not get the same success at breeding as if you kept them separate, but it’s worth noting.

Freshwater shrimp types
Mixed shrimp from a non-segregated tank. This one looks kind of cool, but they just get worse (they end up solid brown).

Acclimation

Although hardy overall, shrimp are invertebrates and do not handle sudden changes as well as most fish. When you are adding new shrimp to your tank, you should definitely use a nice and slow acclimation. I float them for about 20 minutes, then add some water to the bag. I add water about every 10-15 minutes until it is full, the total acclimation taking about an hour. The good thing is that since their bioload is nothing compared to fish, the water in the bag is actually quite clean, so there’s no rush.

Many people drip acclimate, but usually that’s not good with fish because the water cools off too much in the container and the drip line. But shrimp are at room temp either way, so it’s not as much of an issue. I still prefer to slowly add water to the bag because it will definitely match the temp perfectly, they get to see the tank they’re going in, and I won’t flood if I forget about them or get distracted.

When you buy shrimp, they should put something in the bag for them to hold onto. It can be a little 1″x1″ piece of mesh, a tiny piece of hornwort, etc., but they need something. If the employee doesn’t put anything in the bag, ask them to. Also, make sure the bag isn’t left upright. It should be upside down or on its size to help prevent the shrimp from being caught and smashed in the corners. This is a good idea to do with most fish anyway (who are best left sideways for maximum surface area on the water for gas exchange), but this is critical for shrimp.

Additional Resources

TheAquariumAdviser.com – Shrimp Water Parameters