Keeping Shrimp in the Aquarium
Keeping shrimp in your aquarium is a whole new experience, very different from fishkeeping. Although the basic rules for creating a good environment are similar, shrimp behaviour is unique. These highly sociable animals can be fascinating to watch. They will also help to keep your tank free of algae and food waste. If you give them the attention they need, they can be highly rewarding pets.
Basic Shrimp CareBecause they can be highly sensitive to changes in water conditions, shrimp are best kept in larger aquariums (ideally over fifty litres) where stability is easier to maintain. They don't take up a lot of space individually, however, and can do well in busy tanks. You'll need to keep ammonia and nitrate levels very low and keep the temperature stable. Shrimp prefer low light levels, so if your fish or plants need bright light, make sure your shrimp have shady areas to retreat to.
Shrimp are natural scavengers and can usually find enough food in the aquarium to feed themselves, especially if you have plenty of plants. They prefer a dark, soft substrate where they can burrow in search of particles of food. If you suspect that your shrimp are not getting enough food you can boost their diet with standard flake foods, but watch those water conditions! Some types of shrimp will actually swim to the surface and compete with your fish for food.
Shrimp can be poisoned by excess calcium so avoid using calceous rocks or substrate in your tank. You will also need to avoid using copper-based medication. Alternatives are available to treat most common fish diseases.
CompatibilityMost types of shrimp make excellent tankmates. Although they may not interact much with fish, they live happily alongside them. You will need to think carefully about size issues, however, when choosing the right shrimp for your tank. To fish anything over one and a half times their size, shrimp can look like tasty snacks. It's best to avoid keeping the smallest shrimp with aggressive or carnivorous fish of any size.
The same problem can occur in reverse. Some larger carnivorous or omnivorous shrimp can catch and eat fish of their own size. Most species, however, are non-aggressive, so just be careful to do your research before you buy. Beware of prawns and even small lobsters mis-sold as shrimp - they may grow bigger and more aggressive than you expect.
Even in successful community tanks, shrimp are often shy, and they do best when provided with plenty of hiding places. As a rule, the more such places you provide, the more you will actually see of them as their confidence increases. Wood is the best choice for this.
Types of ShrimpThere are an increasing number of fascinating shrimp species for aquarists to choose from. Though not every local fish shop stocks them, you should have no difficulty placing an order for any of the following:-
- Japanese Marsh Shrimp - Also known as Yamato shrimp, these popular striped shrimp are relatively hardy and easy to care for, grow to about five centimetres long, and are fantastic algae eaters.
- Wood Shrimp - With a brush-like appearance that can make them resemble scraps of wood, these shrimp can grow to ten centimetres and outlive most species at a remarkable eight years.
- Ghost Shrimp - These transparent shrimp are intriguing because you can see the food inside their bodies. They grow to about five centimetres in length.
- Chameleon Shrimp - With remarkable colour-changing properties, these are shrimp you'll have fun trying to spot. They're slow-growing but can reach around seven centimetres.
- Bumblebee Shrimp - Just over a centimetre long with bee-style stripes, these charming little algae-eaters are highly active and always fun to watch.
Breeding ShrimpMost (but not all) shrimp species will breed happily in an aquarium environment. Because they tend to have short individual lifespans you may see many generations of shrimp living in a well-kept tank. For this reason it's advisable to start out with a fairly large number, occasionally adding some new ones purchased from a shop, so that you don't end up with shrimp who have been damaged by inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity.
Because baby shrimp are very small and light, strong filter systems can prove fatal for them. Distributed gentle filtration is better, and strong currents should also be avoided as they can sweep up the babies into areas of the aquarium where fish can easily snack on them. Without these problems, the young will stay hidden among plants or rocks until they are big enough to look after themselves.