Ghost shrimp are freshwater crustaceans that are growing increasingly popular with home aquarium hobbyists. These creatures are easy to care for and make great additions to tropical tanks. Small and non-aggressive, these shrimp only live for about a year but are fantastic tank cleaners.
If you have ever considered raising a ghost shrimp in your aquarium, you may have hesitated out of concern that you don’t know exactly what to do. Luckily, ghost shrimp are some of the most low-maintenance crustaceans you can keep, and will add tons of activity and excitement to your regular tropical tank. Consider this ultimate guide to the ghost shrimp to help you get started in raising this interesting creature.
Ghost shrimp are native to North American and were first discovered in 1850. Although “ghost shrimp” s a general name used for a few different varieties of shrimp, the most popular is the Ghost Shrimp freshwater genus. There are dozens of shrimp that fall into this genus, too, but most fish shops simply use the blanket term of “ghost shrimp” for all of these related species.
Ghost shrimp is a generic name, but these shrimp are usually roughly the same size and shape with a clear, nearly transparent, coloration. When you purchase a ghost shrimp, you might receive anything from a long arm shrimp to an American Glass Shrimp, the latter of which is the most commonly sold ghost shrimp in the United States.
Ghost shrimp are common in the freshwaters of North America and are easily harvested. Because they do not require saltwater to breed, they can be found even in landlocked waters.
These crustaceans are frequently used by anglers as bait. In the wild, they tend to have a bad reputation because they can be invasive pests in some areas.
Ghost Shrimp Appearance
As the name implies, ghost shrimp are usually clear in color. This is an evolved trait that helps them escape predators. Interestingly, you can view the inner workings of their bodies as they process food, making them a fascinating addition to your aquarium tank.
Although other patterns and colorations in your ghost shrimp populations will vary, some may have colored dots on their backs. Males grow to about an inch and a half in length, with females growing slightly larger.
Ghost shrimp have bodies that are broken down into four segments. These lead to a large tail fan, a characteristic that is unique to the ghost shrimp. They have six flexible abdominal segments that allow them to possess swimming limbs, along with two pairs of antenna. The two pairs of antenna are broken down into long and short pieces and act as sensory organs to help them find food in the water as well as to sense potential threats. Although some scientists have suggested that the antennae have social uses, this has not been verified.
Finally, each ghost shrimp will have a beak-like growth between the eyes and in front of the carapace. The carapace is a hard protective shell that helps protect the shrimp against any attacks. They also have multiple legs, with some used specifically for walking, some designed to brace the ghost shrimp as it burrows, and others used for grooming and personal cleaning.
Ghost Shrimp Behavior
A ghost shrimp can be a major help in your aquarium. These creatures are scavengers, clearing up any food that your fish choose not to eat before it can dirty the tank. They also help keep algae levels down, helping your tank remain clean and healthy at all times. Ghost shrimp feed throughout the day, always remaining busy no matter the time of day.
When you are watching your ghost shrimp in action, you might see them engaging in a variety of behaviors. They may swim around idly, clean the tank, or create intersecting networks fo burrows.
They create these burrows using the claws of their first and second legs, drawing the sand backward before collecting it in a pocket formed by another pair of legs. Once they have filled this receptacle, they will crawl backward and then deposit the sediment outside the chamber they just created. Burrows are impermanent, typically made in small piles of sand.
Don’t be alarmed if you observe your ghost shrimp molting. These shrimp shed their shells as they eat and grow larger, leaving behind their shells inside your tank. While the molting rate varies among specimens, it can become fairly frequent if they eat quite a bit.
Once your ghost shrimp have shed their shells, they will be vulnerable to threats until their new shell takes hold and hardens. If you have an aquarium with more boisterous or aggressive fish, watch them carefully during this time, as your ghost shrimp could be accidentally injured.
Providing your shrimp with plenty of crevices, plants, and other hiding spots can help prevent it from becoming hurt. If you see a molted shell lying on the bottom of your tank, don’t panic. This is not usually a dead shrimp but just a shrimp that has outgrown his temporary home. You can remove it from the aquarium if you’d like, but in most cases it is fine to simply leave it. It will become food for other shrimp or organisms in the tank.
Very rarely, ghost shrimp will engage in behavior such as attacking young fry or other small fish. They will eat the fry or young fish. However, this is rare and is typically only found in situations where the ghost shrimp is abnormally aggressive or in a state of starvation. Interestingly, ghost shrimp become more aggressive in warmer temperatures. Keep your tank’s water temperature a bit cooler in order to avoid this.
Ghost Shrimp Tank Requirements
In the wild, ghost shrimp tend to hang out in rivers, lakes, or other large bodies of freshwater. They prefer waters that are gently flowing, as well as those that have fine sediment and plenty of hiding spaces. When you set up and design your tank, you should take these factors into consideration.
Ghost shrimp can be kept in small tanks, with five gallons being the bare minimum. It is safe to keep three to four ghost shrimp per gallon, but remember that the more individuals you have of other species, the more space you need to provide your ghost shrimp, too.
Ghost shrimp do contribute a small amount of waste, but it is much lower than that of other fish. Start with fewer ghost shrimp when you are first getting started. This will give you a better handle on how much waste the ghost shrimp produce, and how well your current tank setup can accommodate for filtering it out.
Decorating A Ghost Shrimp Tank
Because ghost shrimp are native to densely planted lakes and rivers, as well as those with plenty of places to hide, you should take the time to deck out your ghost shrimp tank with lots of decorations. The best aquarium setup would include plenty of live plants, such as java moss, cabomba, and hornwort.
Ghost shrimp use debris from live plants as an additional food source. This helps provide them with a more varied, nutritious diet, and also keeps your tank clean by filtering out toxins and excess plant matter. Make sure you choose hardy plants that will withstand the traffic and wear and tear inflicted by your ghost shrimp and other fish.
Ghost shrimp spend lots of time hanging out on the sediment of your tank. They also like to burrow. The best substrate or sediment material to use in your ghost shrimp tank is one that will be fine and not made out of dense materials. Sand or fine gravel are both good choices, reducing the likelihood that your shrimp will become injured. Their antennae are particularly vulnerable as they burrow, so watch them carefully to make sure they are adapting well within your specific tank set up.
A fine sediment also helps prevent food from sinking into the sediment and causing buildup. Instead, the food particles will sit on top of the sand and stay there until the scavenging shrimp are able to find them.
Ghost Shrimp Water Requirements
Unlike many freshwater aquarium species, ghost shrimp are not picky when it comes to water quality. They can thrive in tanks that have temperatures between 65 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with some aquarium hobbyists reporting that they can withstand even more extreme temperatures. However, keep in mind that if you want to raise healthy, active shrimp (and in particular, shrimp who will get right to work eating all of the algae and other debris in your tank), you will want to take the time to make sure the temperatures of your tank are relatively moderate.
Ghost shrimp prefer waters that are slightly hard and maintained between pH levels of 7.0 and 8.0. They also like waters that have a light flow, which you can create by including an air pump or a filter outlet. Try to avoid nitrite and nitrate levels that are too high within your tank. These pollutants can stress the system of a ghost shrimp, and can be limited by reducing detrimental behaviors on the part of the aquarium hobbyist, such as overfeeding, overstocking, and failing to clean filtration devices.
Remember that no matter what kind of fish or other species you have living in your aquarium, you need to do your best to keep out ammonia and nitrite. These are toxic to most aquatic species and while they can tolerate small quantities of them, they should never exceed values above 10 ppm. Engaging in regular water changes of twenty-five to thirty percent can help keep them low.
That being said, ghost shrimp are extremely hardy. They can tolerate just about any kind of water, and will adapt easily to most situations. If you can, try to make sure that no matter what kinds of conditions you provide, you keep them consistent. This will help limit the amount of stress to which the ghost shrimp needs to adapt.
What Do Ghost Shrimp Eat?
Ghost shrimp are not picky eaters and will eat just about anything you give them, including pellets, flakes, and algae wafers. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you don’t need to purchase food for your ghost shrimp just because they enjoy eating algae. Forcing your ghost shrimp to live off nothing but algae and plant detritus can be dangerous, as they need to consume a nutritious, well-rounded diet that includes other types of food, too.
That being said, ghost shrimp are excellent tank cleaners and will consume any leftover foods. It can be quite fun to watch ghost shrimp eat, as they will rise to the surface of the water to suck up flakes. Sinking pellets can also be consumed by ghost shrimp, and are a wise choice if you have fish that tend to hang out in the middle layers of your tank.
Do not overfeed your ghost shrimp. One algae pellet at a time can feed a tank containing many shrimp – any more can result in overfeeding and potential death. While pellets and tank detritus provide most of the nutrients needed by your ghost shrimp, you can also add other foods and supplements. For example, many people feed their ghost shrimp calcium supplements. These supplements help to ensure that your shrimp form hard, durable shells that are resilient to shock and damage.
If you are feeding supplements or adding medication for some of your other fish or aquarium inhabitants, exercise caution and always read the labels. Copper is toxic to shrimp and should never be added to a tank. Many popular supplements and medications contain copper, but there are always copper-free alternatives as well.
Ghost Shrimp Tank Mates
Ghost shrimp are excellent candidates for a community tank. Although they thrive when living in groups, they can also survive on their own. They get along well with most species of fish as well as other algae eaters. Keep in mind that although ghost shrimp are peaceful creatures, the same is not true of all of the inhabitants you may choose to keep in your aquarium.
Ghost shrimp are extremely small and easygoing, making them easy targets for larger fish. Ghost shrimp should only be added to tanks in which there are mostly non-aggressive fish, particularly those that are small and will not view the ghost shrimp as prey.
While there is no shortage of species that will serve as good tank mates for the ghost shrimp, some to consider are danios, peaceful loaches (like zebra and kuhli loaches), small catfish and other algae eaters, cherry barbs, tetras, and hatchet fish.
Avoid any fish who have mouths large enough to eat the ghost shrimp, as well as those that are known to be hostile or aggressive in any way. The same rule of thumb applies for fish that may be friendly, but can be territorial when provoked. For example, bettas should never be housed with ghost shrimp because they become aggressive and combative with little provocation.
Don’t think that fish are the only creatures that can live peacefully with ghost shrimp, either. Species such as cherry shrimp are excellent choices as tank mates for ghost shrimp, because they have similar temperaments and get along with ease. Other shrimp, such as bamboo and vampire shrimp, are also good additions and will help keep your tank colorful as well as clean.
Common Ghost Shrimp Diseases
Many people shy away from owning ghost shrimp out of a lack of familiarity with the diseases and issues that are common among these tiny species. Unfortunately, ghost shrimp are no strangers to common aquarium diseases, but with a little understanding of which ailments are common, you can avoid a major catastrophe in your tank.
Vorticella is one of the most common shrimp diseases. It looks not unlike a white mold growth on the shell of the shrimp, typically near its nose. This disease is actually not a fungus but is a protozoa that attaches itself to rocks, algae, animals, and detritus. Because these fish prey on bacteria, engaging in regular water changes is the easiest way to keep it out of your tank. You can also give your tank a salt bath with aquarium salts to help get rid of it once it has appeared.
Bacterial infections are also common in ghost shrimp. It is easiest to observe an internal bacterial infection in ghost shrimp because they are so transparent. If your shrimp has a bacterial infection, it will show symptoms such as pink areas of inflammation. If you notice a bacterial infection, there is sadly not much you can do to get rid of it. Infected shrimp usually die within just a few days.
Muscular necrosis is another common disease. It appears in shrimp as a white, milky discoloration on the back part of the shell, and specifically affects the muscle tissue within the creature’s cells. This disease kills multiple cells inside the shrimp and can be caused by multiple factors, such as improper water quality or a bacterial infection. Swings in pH levels or a lack of nutrients can also cause this disease.
Ghost shrimp are also prone to several types of parasites, such as scutariella and leeches. You can treat and remove parasites in the same way as you would vorticella. Clean the tank with a salt bath and make sure you conduct regular water changes.
Breeding And Life Spans Of Ghost Shrimp
Ghost shrimp are prolific breeders, and as long as you keep them in a healthy environment in which there are no natural predators and minimal stressors, you should be able to breed your shrimp with ease. In fact, this is why so many people choose to raise ghost shrimp as feeder fish.
When you originally purchase your ghost shrimp, pay attention to the labeling. These creatures are often mislabeled. Often, the shrimp will be labeled as “ghost shrimp” but you will instead receive a random, other kind of shrimp. Be careful in purchasing shrimp that are labeled as wild caught, because they can carry pests. If you intend to breed your shrimp or use them for specific purposes, it might be worth your time to pay a bit more and purchase them from a reputable breeder.
If you decide to breed your ghost shrimp, you will need to invest in a breeding tank. This tank should contain both males and females. The easiest way to differentiate between the sexes is to look at the size of your shrimp. Females will be much larger and will also develop green saddles beneath their bodies.
Your breeder tank should be set up in a similar fashion to your main tank, but you don’t need to work quite as hard to add decorations and a thick layer of sediment. Just make sure it has a sponge filter so that the young shrimp cannot get sucked into the equipment, and add a thin layer of sediment. You don’t need to worry about hiding spaces, but plants are a good idea for decoration as they can act as a nutritious food source for your young shrimp.
Females produce eggs once every few weeks, attaching around twenty-five green dots to their legs. After you spot the eggs, give the male a few days to fertilize them. While you can keep your male and female ghost shrimp inside your main tank during this first breeding process, once you notice the female carrying around fertilized eggs, it is time to move her and the eggs to the breeder tank. If you fail to do this, the eggs will likely become a food source for your other fish and aquarium inhabitants.
When your eggs hatch, you can move the female back to the main tank. Don’t allow her to linger for too long in the breeder tank, as she, too, may feel inclined to eat the young shrimp. While your young shrimp are maturing, they can be fed any plant debris and algae as well as small amounts of fine particle food. Foods should be broken up into very small pieces, as the mouths of your young shrimp will be quite small.
Once the young shrimp are a few weeks old and have developed legs, they can be fed the same foods as your adult shrimp. The new shrimp can be moved to the main tank in about five weeks.
Ghost shrimp can live for about a year, but you may find that this lifespan varies depending on where you purchased your shrimp. Ghost shrimp are inexpensive and easy to breed, and are often used as food sources for larger fish species in the aquarium. Ghost shrimp that are bred for this purpose are often kept in poor living conditions, exposed to poor filtration and inadequate water quality.
Whenever possible, try to avoid purchasing ghost shrimp that you know have been bred for this purpose. They will likely die during transport and even if they don’t, they will suffer from a higher mortality rate.
Is A Ghost Shrimp Right For You?
Ghost shrimp are a great choice for any aquarium. These small, prolific breeders are inexpensive options for community tanks. You don’t have to break the bank in order to have a fantastic experience with these adorable algae-eating creatures.
With just a little bit of investment in their care and tank setup, you will introduce some of the best possible cleaners to your tank. At the same time, you will add a varied, interesting aesthetic and source of entertainment to your already vibrant aquarium.