How to keep dwarf shrimp -- An Introduction


Mustafa Ucozler

(Updated 5.11.2008)

Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to have a whole website dedicated to the aquarium shrimp hobby.  However, times have changed.  More and more people are finding out about these fascinating little creatures, and once they get their hands on them they get bitten by the "shrimp bug."  Before  the establishment of, there was not much information available about dwarf shrimp to educate potential shrimp keepers. As a result I wrote this article for the first time in May 2004 to provide the necessary information to keep dwarf shrimp happy (and alive) and provide you with fun and enjoyment for years to come. This article is updated with new information periodically, so make sure that you re-visit it once in a while to stay up to date.

The biggest mistake rookie shrimp keepers make is to throw their newly bought shrimp into their community tanks, hoping that everything will go well. Their shrimp constantly hide, due to fish picking at them, and eventually die either of stress or a fish making a feast of them. Even if you do not observe it, most fish pick at shrimp and harass them whenever they get a chance. Shrimp are interesting creatures in their own right and deserve to have a tank for themselves.  Only in tanks where they are kept by themselves or with suitable tankmates (i.e. fish that cannot eat them or their young,) do shrimp thrive and even breed. Suitable tank mates are fish that have specialized mouths such as otocinclus, cories and most vegetarian plecos (Ancistrus species are best). All other fish will eat the young shrimp hatchlings even if some fish leave the adults alone.

So what kind of tank is best for keeping dwarf shrimp?  Generally, they should be kept in at least 10 gallon tanks, the bigger the better.  If the tank is too small, then it will be harder for you to keep water parameters stable and and your shrimp healthy. If the tank is too big and you only have a small number of shrimp, then you will probably never see or notice your shrimp. Hence big tanks need much greater numbers of shrimp to make it enjoyable for the observer. The substrate is up to you, any type of inert gravel or sand will do. 

If you would like to plant your shrimp tank, you can do so with various undemanding species of plants. The plants, if not planted in excess, will help in keeping water parameters at healthy levels (along with the biofilm).  Just keep in mind that you have a shrimp tank and not a planted tank and keep your priorities straight. It will be much harder for you to keep shrimp alive and breeding in the long run if you run a heavily fertilized, high-tech tank. A heavy fertilizer regime is just not compatible with the water parameter needs of shrimp over a long period of time.

If you happen to live in an area with extremely soft water (such as New York City), wich KH and GH values at around 0-1,  you have to be careful about heavy planting.  Experience has shown that using fast-growing plants has adverse affects on the microorganism fauna in the tank, on which the shrimp feed.  Fast growing plants compete very efficiently with the types of algae, biofilm and other microorganisms that usually grow in the tank and form a very important part of the shrimp diet, thereby turning the tank into a biological "dead zone." The plants take away both the nutrients and the light necessary for microorganisms to survive and thrive. In my Najas only tanks in New York City, the shrimp were not even grazing on the plant leaves as no food-organisms were growing on the leaves. Not only that, the fast growing plants actually do not eliminate most of the nitrate and/or phosphate unless your shrimp tank gets fertilized and has very high output lights. 

A shrimp tank should not be fertilized. Although it might work well for a long time, fertilizers can accumulate in the water over time. As shrimp are very sensitive to organic pollutants in the water (which is basically what fertilizers are), they react adversely to fertilizer accumulation. It is not worth the risk of losing your whole shrimp population just to have a little faster plant growth. It may work for a while, but if you have sudden shrimp deaths, you now know one of the reasons.

A negative experience I have made several times over the last few years is that having *too* many plants in your tank can adversely affect the nitrifying bacteria in your aquarium by consuming their favorite food before the bacteria can, namely ammonia and nitrite.  Over time the majority of your nitrifying bacteria in a heavily planted tank die off. This is a disaster waiting to happen *if* you decide to prune heavily. Once you prune your plants ammonia starts accumulating.  This ammonia usually occurs in trace amounts and is not always measurable.  All you will notice is that your shrimp will start dying one by one for "no" apparent reason. Hence, make sure that plants don't completely take over the tank and make sure that you only prune a little bit at a time.

It is important that the shrimp are fed very sparingly. Otherwise, the water quality will suffer, in mostly immeasurable ways,  which will adversely affect the shrimp. Any fish food in flake or pellet form will do and no special "invertebrate" food is needed. Feeding your shrimp once a day, or every few days, with small amounts of food should keep them happy. The oak leaves, algae and microorganisms in your tank will be a major part of their diet. Only feed as much as your shrimp can consume within 5-10 minutes.  Never leave food in the tank for a few hours or overnight. 

Shrimp should get regular water changes to stay happy and healthy. In my experience about 25%-40% of the water should be changed every week depending on the shrimp population. However, these numbers are just guidelines and you should determine yourself how much water to change according to how many animals you have in your tank and how often and how heavily you feed them. Just make sure that you do not change *too* much water too often as this interferes too much with the water parameters in the tank. In my experience there *are* such things as "too much" and "too often" when it comes to water changes in a shrimp tank.  Just make sure that your nitrates do not go significantly above 5 ppm (mg/l) in your shrimp tank.  Since chloramine additions, instead of chlorine, have become more the rule than the exception in municipal water supplies, the addition of a chloramine remover/neutralizer is mandatory during water changes to avoid deaths.  Shrimp are highly sensitive to chloramines so it must be removed!! Chloramines do not dissipate from the water as easily like chlorine does, so "aging" the water before adding it to the tank will not work! I highly recommend Seachem Prime for this purpose although similar products might do the job, too. I am personally using Seachem Prime and it works like a charm.

You should also have a small heater in the tank if your room temperature falls below 70 degrees for part of the year. Otherwise a heater is not needed. All the shrimp will do just fine at temperatures between 70-82F, although some shrimp will take extreme temperatures. In general, temperatures should not exceed 86F, since anything significantly above that seems to cause stress for some species. 

Finally, the most suitable filters for the shrimp tank are sponge filters.  These are usually air driven and are totally shrimp safe. They cannot suck in adult or even baby shrimp and the shrimp love to pick on the detritus that accumulates in and around the sponge. Although I strongly recommend using air-pump driven sponge filters, if you use a powerhead with your sponge filter, make sure that the powerhead is at its lowest setting and its water outtake is pointing  towards one of the sides of the aquarium to minimize strong currents.  Alternatively, canister filters with a pre-filter or a sponge stuck on the intake, so that young shrimp cannot be sucked in, can be used. The Eheim "Classic" series of canister filters works especially well for this purpose (in my opinion the best canister filters around).

If you follow the advice given in this article, then your shrimp will live and reproduce happily for many years. Reproduction should always be the goal of shrimp keeping since these animals are very hard to come by as they are rare (and many probably threatened in nature) and it should be our duty to establish captive breeding populations.  Be careful though, you might get bitten by the shrimp bug and there is no known cure for that....