A shrimp tank is something every aquarist should have. These little guys are awesome.
Not only are they fun to watch, busily scurrying around in the gravel, but they also provide a useful service: algae control.
Freshwater shrimp love to graze on algae but should also be fed a high quality aquarium shrimp food because they eat constantly.
Freshwater shrimp are actually easier to keep than you might think.
They can be kept in nano tanks (as small as 2 gallons) and thrive in low tech planted tanks.
This makes freshwater shrimp excellent companions for betta fish, especially in 5-10 gallon planted tanks where the shrimp can hide in Java Moss or other low light plants.
An Overview of 4 Popular Freshwater Shrimp Species
Before we dive into shrimp tank setup, let’s take a look at the different species of shrimp available for freshwater aquariums.
Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)
Perhaps the most popular beginner aquarium shrimp, Cherry shrimp or Red Cherry Shrimp (RCS) are red in color (duh) and can tolerate a relatively wide range of water conditions (for a shrimp).
Cherry shrimp are actually a mutation or color variation of a wild dwarf shrimp (Neocaridina denticulata sinensis) found in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The deep red color of Cherry shrimp is not found in the wild and—like a betta fish— the shrimp’s color has been developed and enhanced by selective breeding.
Aquarium shrimp are sensitive to water quality, so testing your water before adding shrimp is a must.
Cherry Shrimp Water Conditions
Cherry shrimp can live happily between 65-82 F but lower temperatures will reduce growth and reproduction rates, and higher temperatures reduces the dissolved oxygen in the water.
Ideal Cherry Shrimp Tank Temperature : about 79 degrees F
Cherry shrimp are capable of living in water with a pH between 6.3-8.
Ideal Cherry Shrimp Tank pH : about 6.8
Cherry shrimp prefer slightly acidic water, which can be achieved by using a substrate like Fluval Stratum or ADA Aquasoil.
For an in-depth review of aquarium substrate, check out my article on the best substrates for planted tank.
Drift wood, like Malaysian driftwood, will also lower the pH over time as these woods release tannins into the water.
Cherry shrimp can dolerate decently hard water, but if your water is too hard, you will notice that your shrimp may have trouble shedding their exoskeletons, which can lead to dead shrimp.
Aquarium shrimp are highly sensitive to ammonia, so it is critical that your tank registers 0 ammonia when you test your water.
A well cycled tank should not have any ammonia so if your tank still has ammonia, it may need more time to fully cycle.
The same precautions go for Nitrites. Aquarium shrimp do not tolerate nitrites at almost any level.
Again, a well cycled tank should register no nitrites.
Less than 20 parts per million.
Nitrates are less harmful to aquarium shrimp and fish, but in high concentrations nitrates can still cause health problems.
Performing 30% water changes once a week is key in keeping nitrate levels down.
Planting your aquarium with plenty of plants and moss will also help reduce nitrate levels as the plants will absorb a good portion of the nitrates.
The important thing to remember about tank conditions for shrimp is that Cherry shrimp can tolerate a wide range of water conditions but what they cannot tolerate is sudden swings in water quality.
Properly Cycling an Aquarium Shrimp Tank
Before adding Cherry shrimp to your tank, make sure it is properly cycled.
I recommend using a fishless cycling method (and shrimp-less for that matter), which is more efficient and humane.
Providing your shrimp with a well-cycled tank is perhaps the most important factor for establishing a healthy and prolific breeding colony.
So, let that tank cycle and grab an aquarium test kit.
It is vital that no ammonia or nitrites are present in the tank when you add your shrimp. Nitrates should also be low, less than 20 ppm.
And, performing water changes 2 times a week will help maintain the proper conditions for your shrimp.
Cherry Shrimp Facts:
• Lifespan: 1-2 years
• Size: about 1.5 inches
• Personality: peaceful and active
• Care level: easy
• Tank size: 2+ gallons
Cherry Shrimp Grades
Lots of different names are thrown around by cherry shrimp tank hobbyists and breeders so it can be challenging to figure out what the “best” cherry shrimp is.
The best Cherry shrimp are generally those with the most “red” color across their bodies (including the legs).
Four different grades of cherry shrimp exist and each grade is meant to inform you about the quality of the color pattern on the shrimp.
1) Painted Fire Red (Highest grade)
Painted Fire Red shrimp describe a deep red shrimp with no flaws (no translucent coloring is visible).
These cherry shrimp are about as red as you can get and sell for a decent amount more than other grades.
2) Fire Red (High Grade)
Fire Red shrimp are completely red shrimp, including their legs, but may be a lighter red than Painted Fired shrimp.
Fire red shrimp also tend to be pricey but a colony of these shrimp look spectacular.
3) Sakura (Middle Grade)
Sakura shrimp are mostly red with light or transparent coloring on the lower body and legs.
Sakura shrimp are often divided into low grade Sakura and high grade Sakura, with high grade Sakura having only minimal transparent coloring on the shrimp’s legs.
4) Cherry (Lowest grade)
Cherry shrimp are actually the lowest color grade, and are therefore less expensive and more readily available.
Starting at the “cherry” grade is actually fun because they are cheap (often $1) and can be bred into higher grades.
Feeding Cherry Shrimp
Cherry shrimp eat constantly and will forage throughout your aquarium, eating algae and combing through detritus.
But, cherry shrimp also need to be fed supplemental food daily.
Cherry shrimp are omnivorous and enjoy a varied diet of vegetables and commercial foods.
Vegetables like zucchini and spinach can be boiled (so they sink) for your shrimp and provide beneficial nutrients.
I also enjoy feeding my cherry shrimp boiled Bok Choy.
Feeding commercial shrimp foods, like pellets and flakes, will also help ensure your shrimp are receiving adequate nutrients for growth and breeding.
I alternate between providing a commercial sinking pellet and boiled vegetables like bok choy.
Breeding Cherry Shrimp
Breeding cherry shrimp is not difficult if you provide the right conditions for your shrimp.
Heavy plant cover, driftwood, and stones with crevices, will help your shrimp feel secure and ready to breed.
To encourage breeding, turn up the temperature to slightly over 80 degrees F and ensure that your water’s hardness is adequate.
Adding a bag of limestone pieces or another calcium enriched substrate to the filter media can help harden your water.
Calcium is necessary for shrimp egg maturation and shrimp growth.
Female shrimp carrying eggs are referred to as “berried.”
Rows of shrimp eggs are safely cared for under the female shrimp’s tail, and are fanned by her swimmerets.
Baby cherry shrimp will look like miniature versions of adult cherry shrimp.
If your shrimp are breeding but you never see any young shrimp, make sure your filter intake is adequately covered with a filter sponge to prevent baby shrimp from being sucked up.
Cherry Shrimp Tank Mates
Cherry shrimp, like other shrimp species, are best kept in shrimp-only tanks.
The reason for this is that most fish see shrimp as a snack.
While adult cherry shrimp may be too large for a fish to eat, baby shrimp are tiny and will quickly be snapped up by most aquarium fish.
Betta fish actually make great companions for cherry shrimp but not all betta fish are “shrimp safe.”
One of my male betta fish lives with cherry shrimp and does not try to eat them.
In fact, the shrimp are constantly breeding in that tank (a 7 gallon) and tiny baby shrimp crawl the glass eating algae without becoming dinner for my betta.
But, a female betta of mine does try to eat cherry shrimp, so her tank will remain a betta only tank.
Tank Mates Safe For Baby Shrimp
3) Some Betta Fish
Tank Mates for Adult Cherry Shrimp
1) Neon Tetras
2) Rasboras (small)
3) Pygmy Cory Catfish
Fish that will Eat or Harrass Cherry Shrimp
1) Cichlids (Angel Fish included)
2) Leopard Ctenopomas
4) Betta fish (depends on personality)
If you want to keep fish with your cherry shrimp colony, a heavily planted tank (lots of Java Moss) with driftwood and rocks can provide enough cover for baby shrimp to survive to adulthood and keep your shrimp colony thriving.
Crystal Red Shrimp
Crystal Red Shrimp (CRS) are striking aquarium shrimp with red and white alternating bands covering their bodies.
But, crystal red shrimp are more of an intermediate shrimp than a beginner shrimp; these shrimp require specific water conditions that do not fluctuate.
I included crystal red shrimp in this list because they are popular in the shrimp keeping hobby and a smart beginner can definitely keep these freshwater shrimp if they keep water parameters stable.
Because crystal red shrimp are more difficult to keep and breed than cherry shrimp, they tend to be more expensive and harder to find.
Whether you are an experienced shrimp keeper looking for a challenge, or a beginner committed to crystal red shrimp, these shrimp are rewarding and can be sold for quite a lot of money, depending on color quality.
Crystal Shrimp Water Conditions
Crystal Shrimp Temperature
Crystal red shrimp prefer a temperature of between 70-78 F.
In general, crystal red shrimp do better with cooler temperatures than cherry shrimp.
While some people keep cherry shrimp and crystal red shrimp together in the same aquarium, one species is likely to thrive more than the other depending on the temperature of the water.
So, keeping the in separate tanks is preferable.
Ideal Crystal Shrimp Temperature : about 75 F
Crystal shrimp are capable of living in water with a pH between 6.2-7.2.
Ideal Crystal Shrimp Tank pH : about 6.8
Crystal shrimp enjoy somewhat acidic water, which can be created by using a substrate live Fluval Stratum or ADA Aquasoil.
Drifts woods, like Malaysian driftwood, will also lower the pH over time as these woods release tannins into the water.
Aquarium shrimp are highly sensitive to ammonia, so it is critical that your tank registers 0 ammonia when you test your water. A well cycled tank should not have any ammonia so if your tank still has ammonia, it may need more time to fully cycle.
The same precautions go for Nitrites. Aquarium shrimp do not tolerate nitrites at almost any level. A fully cycled tank should have no nitrites.
Less than 20 parts per million
Nitrates are less harmful to aquarium shrimp and fish, but in high concentrations nitrates can still cause health problems.
Crystal red shrimp are especially sensitive to water conditions so maintaining correct water parameters through frequent water changes is key to keeping your shrimp healthy.
Because crystal red shrimp are so sensitive to water conditions, it is smart to perform small water changes frequently (30% or less) rather than larger water changes every week.
Stocking your tank with plants will also help reduce nitrate levels as plants use nitrates as nutrition.
Crystal Red Shrimp Tank Mates
Crystal Red Shrimp do best if kept in a species only aquarium.
Establishing and maintaining a healthy crystal red shrimp colony can be a challenge, so it would be an advantage not to have fish eating the baby shrimp or harassing the adult crystals reds.
Tank mates that will not harm your crystal red shrimp include:
2) Freshwater Snails
3) Betta Fish (if you really trust him/her)
Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata) are translucent aquarium shrimp named for the famous nature aquarium aquascaper Takashi Amano.
Not to be confused with Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus), Amano Shrimp are native to Japan and are voracious algae eaters.
Amano shrimp are relatively easy to keep in a freshwater aquarium, living between 2-3 years, but they are notoriously difficult to breed because baby Amano shrimp, unlike cherry shrimp, begin life in a larval stage that requires salt water conditions to mature.
Amano Shrimp Water Conditions
Amano Shrimp Temperature
Amano shrimp prefer a temperature of between 70-80 F.
Amano shrimp can tolerate a relatively wide range of water conditions but sudden fluctuations may harm you shrimp.
Ideal Amano Shrimp Temperature : about 76 F
Amano shrimp are capable of living in water with a pH between 6.5-7.5.
Ideal Amano Shrimp Tank pH : about 7.1-7.2
Amano shrimp enjoy neutral to slightly alkaline water, which can be created by using water hardening substrates or filter media.
But, Amano shrimp also do well in planted tank with slightly acidic water so do not feel like you need to harden your water if it is between 6.8-6.9.
Make sure you tank is fully cycled before adding shrimp. Aquarium shrimp are highly sensitive to water conditions and will not tolerate ammonia.
Aquarium shrimp also do not tolerate nitrites so test your tank before adding shrimp.
Less than 20 parts per million.
Frequent, small water changes will keep nitrate levels low and your shrimp healthy.
Adding plants is also a way to reduce nitrate levels in an aquarium.
Amano Shrimp Tank Mates
Amano shrimp are possibly the easiest shrimp to house with fish.
The reason for this is that Amano shrimp are larger than other dwarf shrimp species.
Fish may still try to pick at or harass an Amano shrimp, but a decently sized Amano shrimp can hold its own in most community tanks.
Because Amano shrimp babies require saltwater during their larval stage, aquarists rarely breed them and fish keepers generally keep a colony of adult shrimp for algae eating purposes.
Amano Shrimp Tank Mates
1) Cory catfish
4) Neon Tetras
5) Harlequin Rasboras
7) Most small community fish
8) Friendly Betta Fish
Tank Mates for Larger Amano Shrimp
1) Less Friendly Betta Fish
2) Small Cichlids (keep an eye on them)
3) Larger Community Fish
Aquarium Fish that May Harm Amano Shrimp
1) Bigger Cichlids
2) Big Angel Fish
3) African Bush Fish
4) Tiger Barbs (and other barbs)
6) Puffer Fish
7) Territorial and Aggressive Fish
Ghost Shrimp or Glass Shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus), are translucent freshwater shrimp that are often sold as feeder shrimp but are easy and fun to keep.
Ghost Shrimp are native to North America and are peaceful omnivores, consuming algae and other debris they dig up around the tank.
Ghost shrimp will breed in freshwater, but baby shrimp are born in a larval stage (rather than as miniature version of adults like cherry and crystal shrimp), which requires extra care to ensure survival.
Ghost Shrimp Water Conditions
Ghost Shrimp Temperature
Ghost shrimp prefer a temperature of between 65-84 degrees F.
Ghost shrimp are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures but sudden fluctuations can kill them.
Ideal Ghost Shrimp Temperature : about 75 F.
Ghost shrimp are capable of living in water with a pH between 6.5-8.
Ideal Ghost Shrimp Tank pH : about 6.9-7.1
Ghost shrimp prefer mostly neutral water conditions, which means that de-chlorinated water from the tap is an easy option for water changes.
Your tank should be fully cycled before adding any shrimp. Ammonia is highly toxic to shrimp and fish.
Nitrites are also highy toxic to aquarium shrimp and fish.
A cycled tank should not have any nitrites present.
Less than 20 parts per million.
Because aquarium shrimp are sensitive to fluctuations in water conditions, small water changes every 2-3 days is better than large water changes once a week.
Consistent water changes and healthy plants will help keep nitrate levels low.
Amano Shrimp vs Ghost Shrimp
Amano and Ghost shrimp have a number of similarities, including size, diet, having a larval stage of baby shrimp, being translucent, and being voracious algae eaters.
But these freshwater aquarium shrimp also have a number of differences:
1) Amano Shrimp are native to Japan, while Ghost Shrimp are native to the southern USA.
2) Larval stage baby Amano shrimp need salt water to survive and morph into adults, while Ghost shrimp can morph in freshwater.
3) Male and female Amano shrimp have distinct markings and can be distinguished, while Ghost shrimp are harder to sex because both male and females look similar.
4) Full grown Amano shrimp tend to be larger than full grown Ghost shrimp
Ghost Shrimp Tank Mates
Many beginning aquarists buy Ghost shrimp for community tanks with the thought that these shrimp will add additional interest and fun to a tank.
Most of the time, these shrimp seem to “disappear” or they get eaten by fish.
Like Cherry shrimp, Ghost shrimp do best if kept in a tank with other Ghost shrimp, but because ghost shrimp lack color, they are not generally kept in species only tanks.
If you do want your Ghost Shrimp to live for more than a couple days or weeks in a community tank, pick tank mates that are small and non aggressive.
Like Cherry Shrimp, Ghost shrimp tank mates need to be non-aggressive community fish, with a few exceptions.
Freshwater Shrimp Tank Setup
Setting up the physical components of a shrimp tank—substrate, heater, filter, plants— is easy and all four of the freshwater shrimp mentioned in this article can be kept in nano shrimp tank setups.
A 20 gallon long shrimp tank or even a 10 gallon setup is also rewarding, but I personally enjoy keeping a desktop sized shrimp tank because it’s easier to watch shrimp in a small tank.
Maintaining proper water conditions for your shrimp will be easier in larger tanks, but, with regular maintenance, a tank between 3-5 gallons makes a great shrimp tank.
If you do prefer to keep your shrimp in a nano tank, start by keeping cherry shrimp or ghost shrimp as they tend to be much hardier than other species.
Shrimp Tank Equipment
1) 3+ gallon tank
2) Sponge Filter
3) Substrate (Fluval Stratum is pricey but supports plant growth as well)
4) Rocks and driftwood
6) Aquatic plants like Java Moss
7) Water Test Kit
8) Shrimp Food
Shrimp Tank Size
As mentioned before, shrimp have a small bio-load, which means they do not stress your aquarium’s natural nitrogen cycle.
But, shrimp are sensitive to swings in water quality, which tends to swing faster in small tanks.
Consider how frequently you want to monitor water quality and perform water changes before deciding to keep a shrimp tank under 5 gallons.
Shrimp Tank Filter
The best filters for shrimp tanks are sponge filters, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The reason that these filters are the best for aquarium shrimp, is that shrimp babies are super tiny and will get sucked into conventional filters.
Sponge filters are also great at oxygenating the water and providing a large surface area for bacteria to colonize, which provides a easy meal for baby and adult shrimp.
Shrimp Tank Substrate
The substrate you choose for your shrimp tank depends on your goals.
If you want your shrimp to look their best, providing a substrate that contrasts with their color will help your shrimp stand out.
For example, red cherry shrimp look exceptionally vibrant on black gravel or substrate while blue shrimp tend blend in with the dark gravel and look better on lighter substrates.
If you are creating a planted shrimp tank, choosing gravel that is beneficial to your plants is also a consideration.
For shrimp that are red in color, Eco-Complete and Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum are ideal substrates for a shrimp tank because they provide an excellent background and also a source of nutrients for plants.
Rocks and Driftwood
While not strictly required, larger rocks and driftwood provide hiding places for shrimp.
Shrimp that feel safe are actually more likely to breed, so providing them with some natural décor will improve your shrimp colony.
Keep in mind that driftwood also releases tannins, which will soften the water over time.
While cherry, ghost, and amano shrimp tolerate softer water, other species of freshwater shrimp thrive in harder water.
Other Shrimp Tank Equipment
Freshwater shrimp prefer consistent temperatures and specific species do best at a fairly narrow range of temperatures.
Buying a reliable heater will ensure that your shrimp do not become stressed, or even, die if the heater malfunctions.
Consider buying a heater with wattage rated above the size of your aquarium so that temperatures are more stable.
Aquarium plants not only make your tank look beautiful but they also serve as a buffet table for shrimp.
Algae and microscopic bacteria will grow on the leaves of plants and aquatic mosses, providing your shrimp with a place to graze for food.
Plants also help keep water quality stable and reduce the likelihood of ammonia spikes by helping to absorb it.
For a review of aquarium plants that will help your shrimp thrive, check out my article on almost unkillable aquatic plants.
Water Testing Kit
Shrimp are more sensitive than most aquarium fish, so testing your water consistently is important to avoid preventable disasters.
Consider also purchasing a test kit that measures water hardness, gH and kH, especially if you are keeping shrimp species like crystal red shrimp.
Aquarium Shrimp Food
Shrimp constantly forage for food and will eat algae and snack on the biofilm that accumulates on the filter and substrate.
If your tank is not an algae farm, you will need to supplement your shrimp’s diet with commercial foods.
Feeding commercial shrimp foods helps your shrimp get the required nutrients for breeding and molting, and may enhance their color depending on the food type.
Acclimating Aquarium Shrimp
Because shrimp are sensitive to fluctuating water conditions, acclimating aquarium shrimp to a new tank can be a delicate process.
One method that works well is to drip acclimate your shrimp.
1) First, make sure your aquarium is properly cycled, as shrimp will not tolerate any levels of ammonia or nitrites.
Ideally nitrates would also be at 0 ppm but shrimp can tolerate nitrates up to 20 ppm.
2) After bringing your shrimp home or receiving them in the mail, empty them into a 5 gallon bucket and place that bucket near your tank.
3) Next, use airline tubing to syphon water from your aquarium into the bucket. Suck briefly on the bucket end of the tubing till you see water begin to flow down toward the bucket. Remember, the bucket needs to be below the aquarium so gravity can do its work.
4) Place a rubber band around the tubing and tighten it to the point where only a drip per 1 second (1 Mississippi) is released.
5) Allow the aquarium water to slowly drip into your shrimp bucket for about 30 minutes.
6) If all looks well, you can now use a net to scoop your shrimp into your new shrimp tank. You may want to avoid pouring the bucket water back into your tank as it may contain unhelpful critters or medication.
7) Finally, keep the lights off in your tank for about 10-12 hours and hold off on feeding the shrimp for that same amount of time.
Planted Shrimp Tank vs Unplanted
A planted shrimp tank has some big advantages.
Aquarium plants provide hiding places for adult and baby shrimp and also create feeding grounds for your shrimp as algae and microscopic critters attach themselves to the plants.
Plants also add aesthetic beauty to your shrimp tank, especially if the shrimp tank is aquascaped.
However, if you plan to breed shrimp on a larger scale, having lots of plants in the tank will make it difficult to see and cull (remove the less colorful ones) your shrimp colony.
An unplanted shrimp tank has the advantage of being able to quickly see and catch your shrimp.
Perhaps the best option for the casual shrimp breeder is to use low light plants, like Java moss and Susswassertang.
These plants are easy to move and provide lots of surface area for shrimp to forage on and provide enough cover for shrimp to feel comfortable enough to breed.
For a list of low light, almost unkillable plants, check out my article here.
Keeping freshwater aquarium shrimp is a fun and rewarding experience.
If I had to pick one shrimp to keep out of the four species mentioned above, I would chose the Cherry shrimp for three main reasons:
1) Cherry shrimp tolerate a wider range of water conditions than most other dwarf freshwater shrimp.
2) Cherry shrimp are colorful and fascinating to watch in a planted tank.
3) Cherry shrimp breed in freshwater and produce young that are miniature version of adults (no larval stage).
4) There is a thriving hobbyist market for Cherry shrimp if you want to focus on breeding.
If you keep or once kept freshwater aquarium shrimp and have any additional tips for keeping them, reach out, I would love to hear about your experience.
Stay zen shrimp keepers.