How to Set up a Freshwater Shrimp Tank: The Ultimate Guide
Freshwater Shrimp tanks are getting very popular these days. Shrimp with their small size, active nature, and appealing personality have increased in popularity especially with nano or smaller tanks. Shrimp tanks have some special considerations though to be successful. They can be intimating at first because they can be more delicate than fish and require a bit more planning then first.
That is not to say they are difficult to keep. In fact, most shrimp are relatively easy to keep, they just require proper planning. That's what this article is for - to get you on the right track. In this article, I will discussion everything you need to know to get started right. As a quick disclosure, this post will include affiliate links for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. With that let's get started!
Freshwater Shrimp Tank Equipment - Getting The Proper Equipment
The first step is figuring out what we need exactly to get started. Let's start with the biggest consideration - the tank itself.
Freshwater Shrimp Tank Size
Bigger is better and more stable. Although shrimp can technically survive in a very small aquarium, the water is prone to fluctuations in parameters and temperatures. This can lead to premature death of shrimp. Shrimp do not like a lot of parameter fluctuations in their tank. In addition, healthy freshwater shrimp will actively breed, meaning you want a bigger tank to support the offspring.
There is also a drawback with going too big. Too big with how small the shrimp are will make your aquarium look underwhelming. Due to this, I would recommend not going larger than 40 gallons with 20 - 29 gallons being an ideal sweet spot to start. A 2 foot long tank will be the cheapest overall to setup.
If you are looking for a cheap used tank, you will need to do some extra diligence when shopping around. Any used tank that has been treated with copper is going to be a major problem with freshwater shrimp. Copper will leech from the silicon seems in a used aquarium and will kill off new additions to your tank. It is critical that you purchase a used tank that has never been treated with copper to ensure long-term success.
Freshwater Shrimp Filtration
Freshwater Shrimp filtration gets a little more complicated with shrimp as you have to account for shrimp fry then the general small nature of Shrimp. A filter can easily suck up shrimp babies and even adults. It is easy to modify your filters to prevent this though. Usually, shrimps tanks go with one of the following:
- Sponge Filter - Cheap, easy, and not dangerous to shrimp out of the box. Many shrimp breeders use these in their tanks because they are so easy to use and they work!
- Hang On Back (HOB) Filter - Also known as power filters. These are excellent choices, but you have to modify your intake to prevent any accidents. I would suggest you place a sponge pre-filter on your intake in order to prevent any losses.
We do not consider Canister Filters with freshwater shrimp. It's just overkill for this application. Internal filters could work, but the sponge filter is just a great choice to use if you are going internal. If you are going with a Hang On Back Filter, you can't go wrong with an Hagen Aquaclear Filter.
Freshwater Shrimp Heating
An Aquarium Heater can be a controversial subject among shrimp keepers, especially those who keep Neocaridina Shrimp, which can live in cooler water. Ideally, you will want your freshwater shrimp in water temperatures of 70 - 79 degrees Fahrenheit though many breeders will say that a heater is not exactly needed with Neocardina shrimp as long as your area does not get too cold during the winter. For heaters, I would recommend Eheim Jagers.
Freshwater Shrimp Substrate
With Aquarium Substrate, we have to consider either going with an inert or active substrate. An inert substrate will not affect our water parameters, but will require more supplementation to maintain plants. An active substrate is more suited for shrimp that need softer water, like Caridina shrimp. You will also have more success with active substrate growing rooted plants as nutrients will be available through the substrate. If you are going with an active substrate, consider going with ADA Aquasoil or Fluval Stratum, which is designed for freshwater shrimp.
If we are looking at shrimp that like KH, like Neocaridina shrimp, you may want to consider an inert substrate. I would recommend CaribSea EcoComplete if you are looking for an inert substrate.
If you go with an active soil, keep in mind that your cycle time will be longer. Active soil will produce a lot of ammonia when new and freshwater shrimp are very sensitive to ammonia spikes. Be patient with your cycle and introduce your shrimp when parameters have stabilized.
Freshwater Shrimp Plants
Shrimp thrive on planted tanks and there are several good choices for freshwater shrimp. Here are several that will work well with your shrimp inhabitants:
- Anubias(Water Column Feeders)
- Java Moss (Water Column Feeders)
- Java Fern (Water Column Feeders)
- Moss Balls (Water Column Feeders)
- Cypts (Rooted)
- Rotalas (Rooted)
- Duckweed & Water Lettuce (Floaters)
If you are going with an active substrate, you can consider carpet plants like Monte Carlo. Duckweed and Rotalas do a very good job at protecting your shrimp from high nitrate spikes as they tend to explode in growth when nutrients are high. Also stay on top of your pruning and leaf clean up to prevent decaying matter build up in your aquarium.
Freshwater Shrimp Lighting
Freshwater Shrimp and lighting is pretty simple. You can use any decent Planted Tank LED system and you should be able to house the main plants listed. For the best features, I would recommend the Fluval 3.0 Planted LED light if it's in your budget.
Frehwater Shrimp Test Kits
There are several parameters we will want to keep an eye when shrimp keeping. These will be:
Ammonia, Nitrite are very important to measure when you get started with your tank. As you tank matures, you will mostly worry about your nitrate levels. pH, GH, and KH need to be regularly tested in order to ensure they stay stable with your desired shrimp.
TDS is a new parameter to test when it comes to shrimp keeping. TDS is a measure of total dissolved solids in water. Too much TDS can affect the health of your shrimp and some shrimp are so sensitive, it is more ideal to use water from an RODI System and then re-materialize the water with a supplement like Shrimp Mineral. Below is a chart that lists out the range of TDS levels for specific types of shrimp:
|Bamboo Shrimp||150 – 200||100 – 300|
|Snowball Shrimp||150 – 200||80 – 300|
|Ghost Shrimp||150 – 200||100 – 400|
|Amano Shrimp||150 – 200||100 – 400|
|Cherry Shrimp||150 – 200||100 – 400|
|Cardinal Shrimp||100||50 – 150|
|Blue Tiger Shrimp||180 – 220||100 – 300|
TDS Meters are readily available online and do a great job at getting accurate readings for you. Make sure when you are testing for TDS, that you test your other parameters as well. Everything affects TDS so just measuring TDA alone is not sufficient! Check out our posts on Aquarium Test Kits for more recommendations on test kits. For KH and HG tests, an API Test Kit should work for most shrimp keepers.
Parameters for Neocaridina are as follows:
- pH: 6.5 - 7.5
- KH: 1-4
- GH: 6-8
- TDS - 80-200
- Water Temp: 65 - 73 F
Parameters for Caridina shrimp are as follows:
- pH: 6.2 - 6.6
- KH: 2-6
- GH: 4-8
- TDS: 80-100
- Water Temp: 70 - 73 F
Keep in mind these are general guidelines. Caridina and their bee varieties can have various ideal parameters so you will want to do your research accordingly!
How To Set UpFreshwater Shrimp Tanks
I'm going to borrow a video from my good friend Aaron from Aaron's Aquatics. This video shows an example setup and the start up process. Aquascaping for Shrimp Tanks are best using the Iwagumi style aquascape. This is because the large rocks create mountain that are still smooth for shrimp to venture around on. Cholla wood is also great to use for shrimp. Aaron's video also has a few other recommendations like Catappa Leaves.
Freshwater Aquarium Shrimp Species for Aquariums - Choosing The Right Ones
So you heard me earlier in this post talk about Neocaridina and Caridina shrimp. I'm going to focus on these two types of shrimp in this post.
Neocaridina shrimp are going to be hardier than Cardina shrimp. They are a hardwater species and like KH, which means them best for an inert substrate. If the Neocardina shrimp, the Cherry Shrimp is the most beginner friendly and has the most variety.
Cherry Shrimp have grades that are easy to follow with Red Cherry being the lowest grade and Painted Fire Red being the highest. Their grades are as follows:
- Fire Red
- Painted Fire Red
Each grade is more rare and more expensive than the other. Cherry shrimp will breed and grow quickly.
Other examples include Yellow, Blue Velvet, and Green. All come from the Neocardina Davidi species. You can get multiple colors, but be aware that over time they will cross bred and you will have hybrids. A variety only tank is more ideal to keep consistent colors.
Caridina shrimp are a soft water, more delicate species of shrimp. They tend to be imported from other countries making them larger when shipped and more prone to die off for a variety of reasons that I will explain later. Caradia shrimp and bring in some exotic colors and adapt better to active soils like ADA Aquasoil because they prefer softer water and tend to fit better in a professional level planted tank because the plants one will go for will demand softer water. Caradina shrimp are highly sensitive to parameter fluctuations and the reason why shrimp tend to get labeled as hard to keep in our industry. One common Caradina shrimp is an Amano shrimp.
There is another type of shrimp that is available called Sulawesi shrimp. These are exotic shrimp that usually imported. They have high morality rates when shipping and are considered an advanced care shrimp to keep.
Here is a simple chart below on Neocardina and Caradina shrimp varieties:
|Blue Jelly||Yellow King Kong|
|Blue Velvet||Aura Blue|
|Carbon||Blue Bolts (Crystal/Bee)|
|Orange||Shadow Panda (Crystal/Bee)|
|Green Jade||Snow White|
Buying Freshwater Aquarium Shrimp - Sourcing Selections
When purchasing freshwater aquarium shrimp, sourcing becomes a major component in your success. With shrimp, you have two sources, importing shrimp and homebred shrimp.
Importing shrimp is what you will typically find at your local fish stores. If you haven't seen my Quarantine post, you may not be familiar with the sourcing cycle of imported livestock in our hobby. It is below for your reference:
Imported livestock in general are going to go through multiple distributions to get to your home. This increases stress and the likelihood for diseases. Imported shrimp will also be larger in size, meaning they will have a harder time adapting to captivity. It is common for imported shrimp to experience die off when shipping.
Homebred shrimp on the other hand are going to be hardier in general. They are used being in capativity and tend to be less prone to diseases. Homebred shrimp can also have issues as well if your breeder is not experienced or they are only a generation or two removed from being imported. In general, it's going to be better to get your shrimp homebred from a local breeder in your area as they will use the similar source water as you (e.g. - tap water). Check your local aquarium societies and social media groups for sources of homebred shrimp.
For those who do not have a local breeder available, I would highly recommend SoShrimp on Amazon. They sell a variety of homebred Neocardina shrimp that would all be excellent choices for your shrimp tank.
Freshwater Aquarium Shrimp Pests - Dealing With Them
Freshwater aquarium shrimp have pests that we need to deal with. Most will come from freshwater plants we purchase. The main pests are:
- Dragon Fly Nymphs
Hydra is a small aquatic vertebrae. They will sting and poison your shrimp killing them. They can also be treated with No Planaria medication.
Scuds are especially dangerous for newborn shrimp. It is another hitchhiker from live plants. Manual removal is best for these. The reproduce very fast. Another option is to use Bettas or Killifish as they they will happily eat the scuds. Betta are a wildcard for shrimp tanks. Some people go the nuclear route, remove as many shrimp as they can, drop the Betta in and let it eat all the scuds over time. Once the scuds have been eaten the Betta can be removed and the shrimp can be reintroduced.
Dragonfly Nymphs are nasty predators. They will kill and eat your shrimp and will hunt non-stop. Manual removal is your best bet. There are other options you can do, but they will harm your shrimp.
The best way to deal with pests is prevention though. Consider dipping your plants in a bleach solution (19 parts water to 1 parts bleach) and rising with Prime conditioned water before introducing them into your aquarium or consider quarantining your live plant additions. See the video below from LifeWithPets on how to do a bleach dip for your live plants:
Shrimp Tank Mates - Fish Compatible in Shrimp Tanks
You may not be interested in shrimp only tanks, so this list of fish will help with picking ones that will work with your shrimp. One thing you will need to keep in mind is if you add fish, it is going to be very likely that the shrimp babies will get eaten so don't expect to breed shrimp with fish. There are very few fish that will not eat a baby shrimp if given a chance. You can increase your chances of success by choosing a larger species of shrimp like an Amano. Here is a limited selection of fish that may work in a shrimp tank:
- Small Tetras - Neon Tetras would be a good example
- Small bottom dwelling fish like Corys - Particularly Pygmy Corys
- Harlequin Rasboras
- White Cloud Minnows
Feeding Your Shrimp
You need a mix of natural and prepared food to be successful with shrimp tanks. The main natural food we are looking to have available is biofilm. Biofilm is the structure bacteria build to support themselves and grow on surfaces. Shrimp will eat this in the aquarium. Biofilm can grow on your sponger filter, leave litter, mosses, and rocks. The more surface you have available the better for your shrimp. You can also provide "permanent food" like Cholla Wood.
It is also a good idea to use a Feeding Tray when feeding your shrimp. This will prevent excess food getting lost in your substrate and keeping the rest of your aquarium clean from food debris. It's also a nice way to observe your fish.
Shrimp Tank Maintenance
Shrimp in general are more prone to parameter changes than fish. Staying on top of maintenance is a big deal with shrimp tanks. Many shrimp tanks are also smaller tanks, which make them more susceptible to parameter changes.
Shrimp are sensitive to ammonia, nitrite, and higher levels of nitrate. Weekly water changes are especially important with shrimp tanks. Another factor to consider with shrimp tanks is water top off. When water evaporates, parameters can change. Evaporation just pulls out water, but leaves your trace minerals in. You will want to added pure replacement water. This would be something like RODI water or distilled water to replace your evaporated water. You can use an Auto Top Of System to make things easier.
Shrimp Tank Maintenance Tasks
Additional tasks aside from water changes and top off water would be once a month filter cleaning. Make sure when you clean your filter media that you use your pulled tank water and squeeze the foam or sponges. This will clean out the debris, but will maintain the bacterial colonies in the media. Sponges should last a very long time and shouldn't need to be replaced. Don't replace a sponge unless you absolutely have to, and be very careful if you do because of the bacterial colony loss. It's better to seed a sponge beforehand if you have to replace a sponge.
Another key thing to note about shrimp tank is you need to be very careful when you put your hands in your aquarium. Shrimp are very sensitive to toxins. Detergents, chemicals on plants, flea treatments from pets, flea shampoo, and cleaners are prone a risk for your shrimp. Always make sure you wash your hands before putting your hands in your tank. Reef Safe Soap is your friend and a recommended purchase if you are going to handle a shrimp tank.
Common Shrimp Tank Problems - Why Shrimp Die
There a number of challenges one can come across with a Shrimp Tank. I'll try to cover several of them in this post.
Shrimp are sensitive to water parameter swings. Having proper tests kits and a TDS meter are you friend. Get in the habit of regularly testing your water on a weekly basis.
Shrimp are very sensitive to ammonia in the aquarium and with their prolific breeding, they can add on to your bioload overtime. If you are using active substrate like ADA Aquasoil, keep in mind that the substrate will generate ammonia when it is first introduced. You will want to give an active soil like this a good two months before introducing shrimp.
A common aliment in beginner shrimp tanks. This indicates a lack of iodine in the tank. Most staple food and powered food will serve this function. Fertilizer that is made for shrimp tanks will also include iodine to help support the shrimp's molting process. Additional items to add if needed would be montmorillonite material powder that you can readily purchase online.
Too Many Male Shrimps
If you have a shrimp tank with too many males to females, this will present a problem to your population. Males in abundance will overwhelm, stress out, and harass females to the point of death. If you are seeing your females are dropping fast, consider removing a portion of your male population to balance out your numbers. I have provide examples of a female and male shrimp to show you the visual differences. The male is typically longer while the female has an expanded abdomen section.
Heater failure is pretty common in our hobby. A failed heater can lead to many shrimp deaths. Heaters will usually fail on the on position, which will overheat your tank. Consider an Aquarium Heater Controller to prevent a catastrophic event.
As we mentioned earlier, pests are a major problem in shrimp tanks. Consider using a bleach dip to prevent nuisance pests in your tank.
Toxins - especially copper are especially deadly to shrimp. Make sure if you are using fertilizer that your fertilizer is shrimp safe meaning that there isn't copper in the mix or purchase a fertilizer specially designed for shrimp. Check our our Aquarium Fertilizer post for recommended products.
Poor Source Water (Tap Water and Shrimp Tanks)
Let's talk about your source water. In general for freshwater tanks, you can be okay using tap water that is treated with a Dechlorinator. If you are going to keep harder to keep shrimp like Caridina shrimp, you will probably need to go with better source water.
Shrimp are very sensitive to copper levels and high nurtients, things that could be present in tap water. You will want to look at your city's water reports to see what is in your water. RODI water is 99% pure H20 for your aquarium and ideal for sensitive species of shrimp. If you use tap water with Caridina shrimp, it's possible to get quick die off of your shrimp. If you are using RODI water, you will need to remineralize the water when making water changes. You will want to use a remineralizer supplement in order to get the proper elements in your water changes so your shrimp can stay health.
Baby Shrimp Deaths
Having baby shrimp dying in large numbers can indicate an inadequate source of biofilm for the babies. Focus on building this up in your tank with more rocks, mosses, leave litter, and consider using powdered food to keep them fed.
Life Span Of Shrimp
Shrimp don't actually live very long. Most shrimp will live 6-12 months in an aquarium, but they breed a lot. This is also why having a single variety of shrimp is a big deal because generations pass quickly and within a couple of years you will have hybrid shrimps in your tank from the new generations.
Closing Thoughts About Keeping Freshwater Shrimp Tanks
Freshwater shrimp tanks are loaded with personality and if bigger shrimp are selected, they can be manageable for a beginner. Shrimp tanks are a niche in our hobby with challenge levels for everyone and it can be really exciting to have an actively breeding tank.
They can really be a lot of fun to keep and with their smaller sizes, your wallet will thank you versus going for a much larger tank :). If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading.
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