Wednesday, 08 August 2012 22:42

Shrimp Herding 101

Shrimp KeepingWelcome to Shrimp Herding 101. This concise guide runs you through everything you need to know to start keeping shrimp, including a short species overview and a tutorial on setting up and maintaining your first planted shrimp tank.


I. The Shrimp

A. Shrimp Species

There are countless shrimp species, but only a few commonly available in the aquarium trade. Presently, the two most popular species are: (1) neocaridina davidi (heteropoda); and (2) caridina cantonensis

Genus: Neocaridina | Species: Heteropoda | Difficulty: Easy

Neocaridina davidi (heteropodas) include Red (Cherry) Shrimp, Yellow Shrimp, Orange (Pumpkin) Shrimp, Chocolate Shrimp, Black Shrimp, and Rili (half color half clear/blue) variations of these colors. Grading of these species are categorized as: Cherry < Sakura < Fire < Painted Fire, determined by the solidity and opaqueness of that particular coloration.

N. heterpodas are the most prolific and easy-to-keep freshwater dwarf shrimp species and tolerate a large range of water conditions. Because they are easy and prolific, n. davidi (formerly heteropodas) are also the cheapest shrimp. If you're just starting out, these are the species to get.

Genus: Caridina | Species: Cantonensis | Difficulty: Medium-Hard

Caridina cantonensis can be further divided into two subcategories: Bees and Tigers. A popular conjecture is that long ago, the C. cantonensis split off into two streams, leading to the Bee and Tiger morphs. Bees and Tigers will interbreed if forced to (confined in a small breeder box), but when kept in a larger tank, they will only seek out their own kind.

Bees include the (1) Wild Orange Bee; (2) Crystal Red Shrimp (CRS) and Crystal Black Shrimp (CBS); and (3) "Taiwan Bees" including the Wine Red Shrimp -> Ruby Red Shrimp, Panda Shrimp -> Black King Kongs, Snow Whites -> Blue Bolts. The origin of each variety's specific mutation is unclear, but it is commonly known that CRS and CBS have been bred for specific patterns (grades) in Japan since early 1996, whereas the "Taiwan Bees" have been bred under different conditions in Taiwan. Thus, CRS/CBS and other Taiwan Bees require moderately different water parameters, with the Taiwan Bees being the more sensitive of the two.

Tigers include Regular Tigers; Super Tigers; Orange Eye Blue/Black Tigers (OEBT); Red Tigers. Tigers, Super Tigers, and Red Tigers all retain their wild-caught forms. Only the OEBTs are a selectively bred mutation. Please note that the Tangerine Tiger is not of c. cantonensis, but of c. serrata. 

B. Water Parameters

Before buying shrimp, you should make sure your water parameters will accomodate the particular species. You will need the following:

  1. TDS Meter (~$20)
  2. API Freshwater Master Test Kit (~$20)
  3. API GH/KH Kit (~$10, optional if only keeping n. heteropoda)
  4. Water Thermometer (~$5, optional if you know your room temperature)

The parameters:

  • Temperature - your water temperature, most fauna and flora grow optimally in a range between 68-74F, but particular species have different requirements. Larger bodies of water buffer room temperature changes better.
  • pH - measures acidity or alkalinity of your water, 7 = neutral; <7 = acidic; >7 = alkaline.
  • TDS - measures Total Dissolved Solids, organic and inorganic, an indicator of how "clean" your water is.
  • KH - measures Carbonate Hardness, composed of carbonates and bicarbonates in the water, an indicator of the alkalinity (buffering capacity) to resist pH change. A higher KH means your water is more stable to pH swings.
  • GH - measures General Hardness, composed of Magnesium (Mg+) and Calcium (Ca+) ions in water, an indicator of how "soft" or "hard" the water is.
Temp     pH           TDS         KH      GH    
Neocaridina Heteropoda 64-84F 6.0-8.0 80-400 0-10 4-14
C. Cantonensis CRS/CBS 68-74F 6.0-6.6 80-180 0-2 4-6
C. Cantonensis "Taiwan Bee"   68-74F 5.6-6.2 80-140 0-1 4-6
C. Cantonensis "Tiger" 64-74F 7.0-7.4 80-220 4-8 6-10
C. Cantonensis "OEBT" 64-74F 7.2-7.4 80-200 4-8 6-10

As a general rule, wild forms of the shrimp will be hardier and more tolerant of a larger range of water conditions. Mutated and selectively inbred shrimp such as the Taiwan Bees and Orange Eye Blue/Black Tigers require more specific parameters. For more about shrimp species and water parameters, visit our in-depth shrimp species overview, or head to our shrimp database.

I have been lucky to have sufficiently good tap water (150 TDS, 5 GH) to keep shrimp thriving, but if your tap water is not within parameters or if you are keeping very expensive shrimp, you may want to purchase distilled water or invest in a RO/DI unit and remineralize the water.

II. The Tank

My tank keeping philosophy has been heavily influenced by Diana Walstad, and I try to mimick a diverse natural ecosystem in order to achieve a beautiful, low-maintenance, self-sustainable tank. The key points are: (1) a nutrient-rich substrate, i.e. dirt capped with some sand and gravel; (2) densely planted, covering over 50% of the tank surface area; (3) biodiversity to establish sustainability and expedient decomposition of waste, i.e. fish -> shrimps -> snails -> daphnia -> worms (nematodes). 

A. Equipment

These are the basics:

  1. Tank - a container that holds water, anything from bowls to tanks to rubbermaid totes. If this is your first tank and you require a small floorprint, consider looking into a kit.
  2. Light - shrimps do best in planted tanks since the plants help filter the water, and provide a habitat for microfauna and biofilm as a food source, especially for young shrimp. Typically 2 watts / gallon is recommended, this rating does not apply to LEDs. Desk lights, work lights, grow lights are cheaper than Aquarium speciality lights, shoot for a good wattage in the 6500k (daylight) spectrum.
  3. Filter - filtration is optional in a heavily planted aquarium, but recommended. I prefer hang-on-back (HOB) filters because they are cheaper and I can plant in them, if you prefer something more efficient and under the table, look into a cannister filter. Aim for at least a turnover of 7x per hour, i.e. a 100 GPH rated filter in a 10 gallon tank will turn over the water 100 gph / 10 gallons = 10x per hour. You don't need special filter media like charcoal or purigen (unless your tap is awful, in which case you should consider a RO/DI system). I only use a porous biomedia along with a sponge to collect debris. A foam prefilter for the intake is an absolute necessity to avoid sucking in baby shrimp.
  4. Heater - if your room temperature ever falls below 64F, get a tank heater. Pay attention to the wattage rating relative to your tank size.
  5. Substrate - my personal recommendation? Miracle Grow Organic Potting Soil ($10 for a bag @ Home Depot) + Black Diamond 20-40 Blasting Media ($10 for 50lbs @ Tractor Supply). Grow aquatic plants very weedy, for a fraction of the cost of specialty substrates.

For some inspiration or ideas, feel free to browse my planted shrimp tanks.

B. Plants

You don't have to, but I recommend plants, and lots of plants: (1) background stems; (2) midground stems, rosettes; and (3) foreground carpets. Moss or liverworts (epiphytic plants) are an absolute must in a shrimp tank, they harbor a wide array of microfauna and catch detrius / biofilm for shrimp to feed on. Survivability of newly born shrimp increase exponentially in a moss-heavy tank.

For more on various aquatic plant species I have in my tanks, head to my plant database.

C. Cycling

Cycling a tank is crucial before introducing fauna. You feed fish (shrimp), and they poo, all that waste decomposes and (1) turn into ammonia, which is toxic to fauna. "Good" bacteria breaks down the ammonia further. Nitrosonomas (2) convert ammonia to nitrites, still toxic to fauna.  Nitrospira, Crenarchaeota, Nitrobachter, and other strains then (3) converts nitrites to nitrates, tolerable to fauna in low amounts (< 10ppm) (nitrospira is the most effective nitrite oxidizer).  Plants then turn nitrates into growth.  Frequent partial water changes will reduce the amount of nitrates in the water, but a heavily planted tank will take care of itself.

Many aquatic plant species actually have an Ammonia preference, which means it takes less energy for them to directly uptake ammonia than nitrates. In a very heavily planted tank, you can do start a live cycle with fauna, but I would still recommend giving the tank a few weeks for the plants to take hold and parameters to stabilize, and for the cycle to at least partially complete. To start a cycle you need a few things:

  1. API Freshwater Master Test Kit mentioned above.
  2. Seachem Prime Conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramines, which would otherwise kils all that good bacteria and crash your cycle!
  3. Nitrosonomas and Nitrospira bacteria (optional, a jumpstart bacteria; if you have an older stablished tank, or a friend with one, borrow some of his old media to start seeding your tank).

Keep a log of your ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels every few days. To cycle your tank, you need a source of ammonia in the tank, if you're using my soil recommendation, that should be enough. When I first started out I used a commercial bacteria culture (make sure it contains Nitrospira, Nitrobachter is not as effective). Now I simply seed newer tanks from older biomedia.

There are three stages to cycling: (1) you introduce the ammonia; (2) the ammonia disappears (due to increased Nitrosonomas) and nitrites spike; (3) the nitrites disappear (growth of Nitrobachter) and you're left with nitrates. After you tank reads 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites, your tank is cycled! Now do a 50% water change to reduce the nitrates and clear tannins, or throw in some floating plants to eat it up. I usually do both.

D. Stocking

Unless you are keeping a sterile breeding environment with only shrimp, massive filtration, and water changes every other day, I would recommend creating a sustainable low-maintenance ecosystem via biodiversity:

  1. Shrimp - being that this is a shrimp tank, shrimp will be your main attraction. Remember that shrimp of the same species can interbreed (neocaridinas with other neocaridinas; c. cantonensis bees and tigers, etc.). Depending on whether you want to maintain a certain characteristics, you may only want to keep only one species/genus in the same tank.
  2. Snails - snails are very important in a natural shrimp tank. The Malaysian Trumpet Snails aerate the substrate, discharging any potential dangerous gas pockets, and eat dead roots to avoid soil compaction. Nerites keep the tank glass free from algae (less cleaning for you), and all of MTS, Nerites, Ramshorns, Bladderwort eat excess food that would otherwise slowly decompose away inside your tank. It is also believed that shrimp find beneficial bacteria from snail poo. 
  3. Nematodes - many aquarists freak out when they see little squiggly worms in their shrimp tanks, and proceed to immediately nuke the entire water column, effectively killing all worms, snails, and shrimp. Nematodes account for over 80% of the organisms on Earth, and provide a crucial function inside the natural planted aquarium--they break down decaying matter inside the substrate for plants to more readily utilize. Think earthworms and garden composting. You don't have to buy nematodes, they will likely come with the organic potting soil.
  4. Daphnia - these are the nematodes of the water column, filter feeders, they sift through organic matter and processes it down, leaving your water cleaner. The moina species is the most temperature tolerant. Keep in mind daphnia do not do well in a heavy flow tank, so I would only recommend them for your stagnant tanks with little to no flow.
  5. Fish - the only truly shrimp-safe fish are herbivorous ones, such as the otocinclus. That being said, I have had great success with keeping nano fish along with shrimp--rasboras, boraras, fish under 1" when fully grown.

E. Maintenance

In a densely planted tank, I rarely do any maintenance, besides feeding and a partial water change every other month.

  1. Feeding - most dwarf shrimp need an omnivorous diet, but mostly vegetable matter and an occasional dose of protein. I feed Ken's Vegetable Sticks with Calcium as a staple, calcium is required for proper molting. Once or twice a week I would supplement with some fish flakes for protein. I'm not personally a fan of specialty foods (unregulated, unproven), the only proven color enhancer I know of is Canthaxanthin, found in many commonly available fish feed. You can also supplement your shrimp food with cucumbers, eggplants, zucchinis, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens. 
  2. Water Change - frequent water changes may be required early on, keep that TDS Meter handy, and do a partial change whenever you are approaching the upper limit. In a densely planted tank with plenty of water movement, I've been able to maintain a TDS of 150-160 for 2-3 months without a water change (only topoffs with 150 TDS tap).
  3. Fertilizing - if you started with soil, you won't need to fertilize for 6 months - 1 year. When you begin  to see diminished plant growth, insert some Oscomote Tablets into the substrate.
  4. Plant Trimmings - this will probably be your most time consuming activity, trim plants often for a bushy effect, seed your other tanks with the clippings, or share them with other hobbyists! Don't be afraid to really mow down. Remember, plants are the ones converting harmful waste into plant growth, so you always want a few fast growing stems in the tank.
  5. Algae Control - I don't use CO2 injection in any of my tanks (more work), so initially you will encounter algae growth in the first few months, and potentially more after any major changes (more lighting, more fert shifts). When I see visible algae, I dose Seachem Floruish Excel at half the recommended dose every other day until the algae subsides.


This is very much a guide-in-progress. If you have any questions or suggestions for improvements, feel free to drop a comment or post in our forums.

Happy Shrimp Keeping!



Read 15292 times Last modified on Monday, 11 July 2016 20:28
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