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How To Design And Maintain A Freshwater Shrimp Tank

Have you decided to bring home freshwater shrimp? Great choice! These invertebrates are some of the most enjoyable and entertaining creatures you can raise in your aquarium. Many people shy away from keeping them because they assume that they will be difficult to care for.

That is simply not the case! Despite their small, innocent, and yes, delicate appearance, these creatures are quite easy to take care of.

However, it is of utmost important that you set up and maintain your freshwater shrimp tank appropriately to ensure the health of your young shrimp.

There’s a lot you need to know in order to get started, but we are here to help you out with our ultimate guide of how to design and maintain a freshwater shrimp tank.

Let’s get started!


Choose Your Shrimp

Before you can decide on the best potential tank setup for your shrimp, we need to know what you are dealing with here! Don’t go out and purchase your shrimp quite yet – you need to allow some time for you to set up your tank and to allow it to cycle appropriately. This can take a few weeks, so don’t run off to the pet store yet!

However, you should begin by deciding what species you’d like to put in your tank. There are many genera of shrimp with dozens of species each – choosing the right one might be a bit difficult, especially if you don’t already know a lot about the wonderful world of raising shrimp.

There wouldn’t be time or space in this article to discuss all the potential shrimp in the world that you could raise, but we’ll give you a quick overview.

1 Neocaridina Shrimp

Neocaridina Shrimp
Photo by Igor Kanshyn

First time raising shrimp? If you’re a beginner to the hobby, you might want to pick a shrimp that falls in the Neocaridina dwarf shrimp category. One potential choice is the Red Cherry Shrimp. This shrimp is an excellent choice for newcomers, as it’s easy to keep and can be bred easily and quickly. These shrimp can also be purchased in a wide array of colors!

2 Caridina cf. cantonensis

Caridina cf. cantonensis
Photo by Patrik Åkervinda

If you have a bit more experience raising shrimp, you might want to consider shrimp in the Caridina cf. cantonensis family. These creatures have been selectively bred so that they are now available in a vast array of patterns, colors, and sizes – the popular Crystal Red Shrimp is one to consider, as it will really add some color to your tank. It is, however, significantly more difficult to care for – so that’s something you will want to keep in mind for sure.

3 Sulawesi Shrimp

Sulawesi Shrimp
Photo by Plants and Moss and Shrimp and Stuff

Here’s another option for you. The Sulawesi shrimp family is one that is native to the Sulawesi lakes in Indonesia. One common option is the cardinal shrimp, which will surely grab everybody’s attention. This is not a good shrimp for beginners, so you should stay away from it unless you have plenty of experience.

4 Amano Shrimp

Amano Shrimp
Photo by jfravn

Amano shrimp are slightly larger than dwarf shrimp, but they’re still a great option to consider, especially if you want to get rid of some algae in your tank. This shrimp does not breed in a freshwater aquarium environment, so if you’re looking for a creature that you will be able to breed, this unfortunately is not the right choice for you. However, it is, for the most part, relatively easy to care for.

5 Caridina cf. babaulti

Caridina cf. babaulti
Photo by Mário Gomes

This shrimp group is also one that can be found with a vast array of colors. A great option for beginners, you should look for one of these shrimps if you have minimal experience. They aren’t always easy to find at the local pet store, so keep that in mind as you begin your search.

6 Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp
Photo by Matthew Singleton

Last but not least on our list is the ghost shrimp. A popular species for beginners and experienced fish keepers alike, this creature grows quite large and is a fun pet to keep, as it can be quite energetic. Just know that there are some species of ghost shrimp who prefer waters that are slightly brackish – you need to make sure you select the ones that have evolved to live in freshwater.

This list is far from exhaustive – make sure you do your own research on the best shrimp for your setup and preferences before you get started After all, it’s a wide world of shrimp – why settle for just one type of shrimp when you could add many others, like the giant bamboo shrimp or the unusual Paracaridina shrimp?

Purchase Your Equipment

Next on your list is to purchase your equipment! Remember, you can’t bring your new shrimp home until you’ve set up your tank, and the first step is making sure that you have all the parts and pieces necessary to create a lovely habitat for your new shrimp. Here’s what you need.

The Aquarium

Photo by Björn Holmin

Of course, the first piece of equipment you will want to select is your aquarium! There’s no set rule of thumb for how big your tank needs to be for all shrimp – but generally, bigger is better. This is the case with raising fish, too, but never has it been truer than when you are trying to raise shrimp. Shrimp need exceptionally large tanks.

Why? Well, technically, the smallest and most resilient types of dwarf shrimp, such as cherry shrimp, can survive in miniscule tanks. However, it will be much more difficult for you to keep your shrimp in a tiny tank. This is because fluctuations in water quality will be more severe – and riskier – in small tanks. This can be problematic when you are attempting to raise tiny shrimp.

While you may be able to start your family of shrimp in a small, five-gallon aquarium, always consider larger tanks whenever possible. A ten or twenty-gallon tank will give you plenty of room to grow your shrimp and will also forgive occasional mistakes. Plus, then you can keep other creatures in there, too!

Don’t let pride get you down – usually, the difference in tank sizes doesn’t create a huge fluctuation in prices. You don’t have to opt for a tank with an expensive lighting system, either – not unless you want to grow live plants.

The Filter

Photo by Björn Holmin

Including a filtration system in your shrimp tank is also important. Even if you have an algae-eating species of shrimp, like the ghost shrimp, a good method of filtration is a must if you want to raise healthy freshwater shrimp.

A filter is designed not just to clean up floating particles of food in the water – it also will harbor the healthy bacteria that your fish and shrimp need to thrive. These bacteria allow your tank to cycle and create a healthy environment inside the aquarium.

There are thousands of aquarium filters out there for you to choose from – each will present various benefits and disadvantages. However, you should pick the type that is designed for use with shrimp – not all are. Despite this, they are usually easy to find. You will just need a semi-powerful filter that comes with a filter guard. A filter guard will look a lot like a sponge, designed to cover the intake to prevent your shrimp from being sucked up inside.

You will be able to choose between four types of filters when you are designing your tank. We recommend selecting a basic sponge filter along with a pre-filter sponge to prevent your filter from sucking up your shrimp. However, you could also choose an internal filter, a canister filter, on r a hang-on-back filter.

An internal filter is one of the most popular filtration systems for people who are also raising fish. It can also work just fine in a shrimp tank, but you need to make sure the piece that you select is designed for keeping shrimp, too – this will help prevent any costly (and deadly!) accidents in which your shrimp gets sucked up inside.

A canister filter is the best filter to choose if you are finicky about water quality. These filters are some of the largest you can buy, and while they are also some of the most expensive, they will ensure that your tank stays nice and clean. You will need one of these only if you are using an aquarium that is 20 gallons or larger, but it might not be the best choice for shrimp- only tank, as they have a tendency to injure your delicate invertebrates.

A hang-on-back filter is the most aesthetically pleasing option. This filter, as the name implies, is designed to be hung on the back of the tank. It pulls water in through an inlet pipe and runs it through the filter chamber. Then, the water is released back into the tank like a waterfall. Y you must use a filter guard if you select this type of filter, or it will suck up your shrimp with the water, too.

Again, most professional shrimp rearers choose sponge filters when it comes to their freshwater shrimp tanks. These filters are gentle and entirely safe for shrimp. Powered by air, you can operate these with an air pump. Designed for smaller tanks, they won’t work quite as well in tanks that are any larger than 20 gallons.

The Substrate

Photo by Lisa Mease

You probably already know how important the substrate type is when it comes to setting up your freshwater shrimp tank. There are several choices you can choose from, and if you’re just getting started with raising shrimp, it may not seem like substrate type matters all that much. However, it does – you need to make sure you choose a shrimp-safe substrate, as well as one that won’t cause pH swings in your tank.

Gravel is a popular choice among shrimp keepers, who argue that it will allow live plants to root easily and that it won’t become compacted. However, others prefer large-grained sand, because it is much easier to keep clean. Sand doesn’t trap food and waste and will be simpler to care for in the long run. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of preference – you should choose black as the color, however, because it will really allow the colors of your plants and shrimp to pop.

You might also hear debates about whether non-buffing or buffering substrates are best. Some shrimp-keepers swear by “buffering” substrates. Basically, this means that they help maintain the soft and low-pH water preferred by multiple species of shrimp. These substrates can also help improve the growth rates of your plants with their nutrient-dense properties.

The choice is up to you. If you are a beginner and you don’t intend to grow live plants in your shrimp tank, you probably don’t have to have a buffering substrate. You might actually want to steer clear, in fact, unless you have reverse osmosis water as well as a remineralizer, or they can lose their buffering abilities and cause dangerous swings in pH.

The Heater

Photo by Ida

Next up on your shopping list is the heater. There are many species of freshwater shrimp that thrive at room temperature, but you may want to consider a heater to provide optimal conditions. No matter where you place your tank of freshwater shrimp, there’s a strong likelihood that it will undergo swings in temperature as the day goes on – as day ends and night falls, if you leave the front door open, or even if you fire up the kitchen stove, there are lots of factors that can affect the temperature of a room.

This external fluctuation can also cause the temperature of your aquarium to fluctuate – this can cause problems if it’s too extreme. A thermostat heater will turn on as soon as the temperature reaches a certain point, helping to keep your temperature stable. Get a good model, as inexpensive heaters often malfunction. This can result in temperature swings and even fire hazards to the surrounding environment.

When you purchase your heater, you will also want to look for a good thermometer. How else will you know whether the water is up to temp or not?

A Test Kit And TDS Meter

Photo by Abilinsky

A test kit is another smart buy. Your test kit will help determine the water quality of your tank and will let you know what you need to adjust within your aquarium.

You can’t really use test-strips when you are setting up your freshwater shrimp tank. Why? Although these tend to be quite handy – and are relatively inexpensive – they also tend to be mostly inaccurate. In the long run, you will spend more money trying to get an accurate read than you would be just purchasing a liquid test kit.

Liquid test kits are much more reliable, providing you with a better idea of your water quality and offering a long-term solution to your aquarium testing needs. Your test kit should have the ability to test for nitrite, ammonia, nitrate, gH, pH, and kH.

Along those lines, you will also need a TDS meter. A TDS meter gives you an idea of the Total Dissolved Solids in your tank. This is not a required piece of equipment for people who are solely raising fish, but if you are keeping shrimp then this is a must-have tool.

This meter will give you an idea of the Total Dissolved Solids and consistency of the water in your aquarium. Invest in a good one, as it can really help you gauge the overall wellbeing of your tank.

Design Your Shrimp Tank

Photo by Daniel

Now that you’ve picked out your shrimp and have all of your equipment, it’s time for the fun part – putting everything together! If you’ve ever raised fish before, this process will be somewhat similar.

To start, put your tank in the preferred setting. You will want to make sure the table is level and not subjected to extreme fluctuations in temperature. Wash and rinse your substrate before placing a layer of it on the bottom floor of your aquarium. You can also set up your decorations, plants, and other equipment (like your filtration system) at this point, too.

Then, fill your tank with water. Do your best to avoid stirring up the substrate. Similarly, fit here is a lot of chlorine in your tap water, you will want to use a water conditioner to help remove it. Now is the time to turn on and test your filter, heater, and lights, too.

Now, you may begin cycling your tank. This process is one you cannot skip – you need to cycle your tank to make sure that the beneficial bacteria who reside in your tank have been given time to thrive and become established. These bacteria can turn the toxic waste in your tank into a less harmful product that can be easily removed with weekly water changes.

To cycle your tank, all you need to do is use a pure source of ammonia and a water test kit. Then, just be patient!

Add Some Decorations

It’s not a bad idea to add some decorations to your tank while you are waiting for it to cycle. Although it is not uncommon for people who raise shrimp to keep the tank free from decorations – after all, this will allow you to get a closer look at your shrimp! – you will likely want to add some decorations to make your tank look more attractive.

In reality, your shrimp will probably appreciate this gesture. These species are usually prey to other species, so they like having places in which to hide. This is particularly true when they have just molted, as they will be feeling vulnerable and will want a place to hide until they have developed new, hardened exoskeletons.

A popular choice by many shrimp keepers is to use lots of live plants. Fresh greenery will give your shrimp a place to hide and it has other benefits, too – for example, biofilm will develop on the leaves and will give your shrimp something to nibble on. Plants can also help to absorb and neutralize toxins in the water.

You can also purchase shrimp-specific decorations and hiding spots. Some good options include cholla wood and shrimp flats, to help you get started.

Buy Your Shrimp

Photo by Jason Mendoza

Once your tank has been appropriately designed and cycled, it’s time to buy your shrimp! If you’re looking for a popular variety of shrimp, like the Red Cherry Shrimp, it won’t take you too long to find one. These shrimp are found in just about every aquarium store.

However, if your local store doesn’t have the exact species you want to raise, you can always ask them to order some for you. There are many online dealers that work with shrimp, and these creatures ship surprisingly well. Therefore, you can often find the species you are looking for online, too. You can even find rare shrimp for sale on various forums and groups that can be found online.

To make sure you are getting a good deal, there are some tips you will want to keep in mind. For example, if you are selecting a shrimp that was mass produced in a large facility, it will probably be a lot cheaper than if you were purchasing a home-bred shrimp. However, some imported shrimp can carry diseases and parasites – these can be tough to get rid of. You need to make sure you take a close look at the shrimp before you introduce them to your tank.

Whenever possible, try to get a look at your shrimp before you bring them home. You Will want to look them over closely, particularly before you add them to your tank. Your shrimp should be active foragers and you need to watch out for odd spots, coloration, or blemishes. Another telltale sign of potential issues is a shrimp who has pieces of what looks like worms all over its body.

Again, you can find tons of shrimp seller online – shop around to get the best prices. However, you will want to compare the shrimp offered by different sellers closely. Look at the reviews and also pay attention to shipping costs so that you get the best deal.

Decide On Any Potential Tank Mates

You don’t need to maintain a shrimp-only tank in order to keep these little creatures happy! Although several serious breeders and hobbyists keep shrimp in species-only tanks, this is definitely not a necessity. You just need to make sure that you select shrimp that will not try to eat your young dwarf shrimp.

Whenever possible, you will want to choose potential tankmates from a very limited selection. You can also opt for larger shrimp, like the Amano shrimp, who will be less vulnerable and prone to injury because of their large size.

You should choose fish that are small and peaceful. Small schooling species, like guppies, are a good option. However, if you plan on breeding your shrimp, know that even these tiny fish are not foolproof – they will go after your fry every now and then, too. If you have a healthy, thriving colony, though, the losses probably won’t be enough to be detrimental – or even for you to notice.

You can also choose fish who are not likely to go after your shrimp – although this does occasionally happen. You might consider Otocinclus catfish or Pygmy catfish, for example. Other good options include other invertebrates, like nerite snails. Not only will these snails get along great with your shrimp, but they will also help clean up your tank and clear it of algae in the process.

Purchase And Prepare Your Shrimp Food

Your work isn’t done quite yet! Before you can leave your shrimp to get adjusted to his new tank, you need to think about what you are going to feed him. Part of keeping your shrimp happy and healthy is providing him with a varied, healthy diet.

In the wild, shrimp will spend most of their time foraging for food. As a result, they will eat just about anything they can get their mouths around! These creatures love to eat bits of decaying plants, algae, biofilm, and even pieces of dead animals. These omnivores are really good at extracting nutrients from decaying materials.

When you raise shrimp in a freshwater aquarium, you will want to feed them a mixture of vegetarian foods and occasional meaty foods. You will want to invest some time and money in selecting the best shrimp food, particularly one that is high-quality and includes all the nutrients your shrimp needs to stay healthy.

A good staple food will have healthy ingredients without any unneeded fillers. You might consider algae wafers or granules. Then, you can add in some occasional healthy snacks. Because these creatures are omnivores, they’ll probably eat anything you want to give them! However, some of the best options include blanched vegetables, like epas, algae pellets, commercial foods like soybean shells, thawed frozen food like bloodworms, or even leaf litter.

If you’re feeling brave, you can even leave a wall of your aquarium covered in algae. This will ensure that your shrimp always have something to munch on, but you’ll need to be careful – leave too much algae in your tank, and you might find that the water quality in your aquarium begins to decline.

When you feed your shrimp, you need to make sure your move any uneaten food within a few hours to avoid water quality issues. You can leave leaf litter in the tank as long as you would like, as it won’t decay quickly. You can feed your shrimp once per day, but if there’s a lot of uneaten food in the tank at this time, back it down and feed every other day or even less often than that.

Keep Your Shrimp Tank Well Maintained

Once you have your shrimp tank up and running – and your little guys are doing just great! – don’t think your work is done. You still need to make sure that you maintain your tank after you have gotten it established.

Water quality is of utmost importance when it comes to raising healthy shrimp. You need to make sure your plants stay trimmed and your glass is clean. This doesn’t just help your tank look nice – it also helps your shrimp thrive. Shrimp can be quite sensitive to both nitrite and ammonia, both of which can be deadly, particularly to young shrimp. Therefore, it’s important that you cycle your tank before adding shrimp and be sure to remove any uneaten food before it can decay.

Shrimp are also sensitive to nitrate, which occurs as the end byproduct of the cycling process. You need to move any excess minerals and conduct regular water changes and cleanings. You can use a vacuum to remove dead pieces of plants but you may also need to occasionally remove the filter to get everything clean.

You will want to conduct weekly chores to keep your tank healthy, too. You may need to change out your water once a week or at least every other week. To know whether you need to change your water, you should test it. The water needs to have <5 nitrates. You won’t have to test your water every week, but you should do this until you get an idea of what the “normal” levels are for your tank.

You should remove the water and vacuum your tank to get rid of any debris. Then, fill the aquarium using dechlorinated water. Make sure this water has had time to reach the appropriate temperature and pH of your tank – you’re shrimp won’t appreciate any drastic fluctuations.

These tasks should be done once a week, or at the very least, every other week. You will also need to conduct some monthly maintenance. Your filter should be cleaned once a month, and you need to be very careful with your sponge filters to prevent any issues.

Clean your tank while conducting a water change. You should remove a bucket of water from your tank and squeeze the filter sponge in the bucket until debris stops falling out. Then put your filter back together and reinsert it in the tank. That’s all there is to it!

Over time, you may notice that your filter begins to lose power. This is probably because the sponge has filled with debris and it may be time to replace the filter. You might not have to replace the entire fitler at once – sometimes, you can replace half of the sponge to get another month or two out of the unit.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Photo by Bernd Wilkens

You may notice several common problems that arise as you are raising your freshwater shrimp. For instance, if your shrimp seem to be getting sick, you might think it’s something that you are doing wrong. While this can certainly be the case, there are other culprits to be aware of.

Sometimes, you may find that your shrimp are dying for no apparent reason. There can be dozens of reasons as to why this might happen, and it can be quite difficult to figure out why. However, it’s important to pinpoint the cause so you don’t lose all of your shrimp.

Often, water values are to blame. If you can trace ammonia or nitrite levels that are too high in your tank, this could be the problem. You need to make sure you test the tank multiple times a day to make sure that sudden fluctuations are not to blame in the death of your shrimp.

If water quality is okay, look at your shrimp carefully. You may be able to notice signs or symptoms of subtle diseases that could be killing off your shrimp. Parasites are also common, and you may even be able to see them clinging to your shrimp.

Molting is another common problem. Shrimp are often renewing their exoskeletons, although this process would slow down as they age. If your shrimp seem to be having difficulties with the molting process, it may be time to adjust the diet of your shrimp. Your shrimp’s diet should be varied and contain lots of vitamins and minerals – iodine is especially important. You need to avoid giving them too much protein or calcium, but adding mineral balls to your shrimp’s diet can help if there are problems with molting.

Are Freshwater Shrimp Right For You?

If you’re ready to take on your next aquarist challenge, it might be time for you to consider raising freshwater shrimp. Although these creatures do require a bit of extra work, they are great for beginners and it won’t take long for you to get used to raising them.


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