Dwarf freshwater shrimp and nano aquariums (the two of which are often associated) are rapidly growing and rewarding segments of the aquatic hobby. The availability of new shrimp varieties has increased greatly over the last couple of years, along with the number of dedicated shrimp tanks being cultivated throughout the country. A relatively small initial investment in time and money will allow the beginner to explore this exciting hobby and reap success. The many new varieties of dwarf shrimp being introduced to the United States market make this hobby vibrant, interesting and challenging.
There are three categories of decorative freshwater shrimp that are widely available to the hobbyist today: Sulawesi, Neocaridina species and Caridina cantonensis. I will concentrate on the Neocaridina species and Caridina cantonensis. They are referred to as neos and bees, respectively. (See the “Neo and Bee Varieties” sidebar for more information about available shrimp varieties.)
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of shrimpkeeping and how to successfully maintain dwarf freshwater shrimp in a nano aquarium. The mission — if you choose to accept it — is not just to keep shrimp alive in a nano tank but to also achieve and maintain a healthy shrimp colony through successful breeding. Because dwarf shrimp have such short life spans (typically 12 to 18 months), a shrimp tank that is not well-maintained to foster breeding will soon either be an empty tank or a very expensive tank as the shrimpkeeper continually replaces shrimp as they reach maturity and expire.
The single most important factor for a successful shrimp tank is water quality and stability. A fully cycled planted tank is an ideal shrimp habitat. Neos are being raised across the United States in conditioned tap water of varying pH and hardness. Neos can live and thrive in a variety of water parameters: a temperature range of 60 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, pH from 6 to 8, and varying degrees of water hardness. To keep your water pristine, weekly water changes of 10 to 30 percent of the tank volume are recommended. Ideally match the new water temperature to your tank water temperature before the water change.
Bees, on the other hand, are more demanding. They originate from mountain creeks in southern China where the water is soft and clean. They do best when kept with reverse osmosis (RO) water. Commonly accepted breeding parameters for bees include a temperature from 72 to 77 degrees and pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Measured water parameters should be: KH between zero and 2, GH from 3 to 6, and total dissolved solids (TDS) within the range of 100 ppm to 200 ppm (parts per million). With a nano shrimp tank, a 5-gallon RO water bottle can last a few weeks to a month.
There are several products on the market that can be used to reconstitute the RO water to the target GH and TDS levels without raising the KH. Many beekeepers install an active substrate to buffer the pH in order to ensure the desired range. Adding driftwood or Indian almond leaves will also assist in lowering the pH. Be careful when adding rocks as hardscape to your tank. Some rocks will affect water hardness and directly impact bee breeding.
Bee shrimp tend to do better when there are fewer water changes and when smaller amounts of water are exchanged during each cycle. This is not because the bee shrimp like dirtier water; on the contrary, bees require cleaner water than neos. The reason to avoid large water changes is because a large water change can drastically affect the water parameters. Five percent every week or 10 percent every other week is sufficient in a mature shrimp-only tank. Your water target is stable and clean.
As you may gather, the greatest challenge in a nano shrimp tank will be water stability. A minimum tank size of 5 gallons is recommended to maintain temperature stability. A heater can be used to regulate temperature during winter, and a fan blowing across the top of the water can be used in warm summer months. A higher average temperature within the tolerable range generally results in faster-growing shrimp and better breeding conditions, but the higher temperature also leads to a measurable reduction in the life span of the shrimp. The optimal temperature for egg and baby survival is 75 degrees. Stability is the key for baby shrimp survival. As a final note on water stability, it is recommended to replace evaporated water with distilled or RO water to maintain a stable water hardness level.
Plants are highly recommended in a shrimp tank to assist with maintaining water quality. Plants remove ammonia and nitrates from the water. Plants also provide places for baby shrimp and expecting mother shrimp to hide. Avoid adding carbon dioxide to nourish the plants, however, unless you are an advanced shrimpkeeper. Without carbon dioxide, the plant selection will be more limited, but the shrimp colony will be protected. Mosses, Java fern and crypts are great choices for shrimp tanks. Floating plants, such as duckweed, frogbit and water lettuce, are also great plants that will help keep your water pristine. A piece of driftwood tied with some moss on it is commonly used as hardscape for tanks.
Try to strike a balance between the number of plants in the tank versus the tank surface visibility. Ideally you need to be able to see the entire tank so that you can quickly detect any dead shrimp. Remove dead shrimp immediately; a dead shrimp will quickly foul the water quality, and in the worst case, it could have died of a bacterial infection that will be contagious if it is eaten by other critters in the tank.
Filters suitable for shrimp tanks include canister filters, hang-on-the-back (HOB) filters, undergravel filters and sponge filters. Ensure that the intake of any canister or HOB filter is covered with a sponge prefilter to prevent shrimp from being sucked into the filter. Sponge filters are great options because in addition to filtration, they increase the dissolved oxygen level in the water, thus directly enhancing shrimp breeding capability. Shrimp especially “enjoy” and thrive with massive amounts of biological filtration with minimal flow. Use a canister or hang-on-the-back filter in conjunction with a small sponge filter if you want to see your shrimp population really explode.
Lighting should be kept low to minimize hair algae — a common nuisance in a tank that has no carbon-dioxide supplementation and too much lighting or too long of a photoperiod. As mentioned earlier, there are active substrates on the market that were originally designed for plants that will also help reach target water parameters.
Feed shrimp a varied diet for optimal health. Plant matter dramatically improves the color that shrimp exhibit, and a high-protein diet improves growth rate and breeding. Sinking tablets and veggie tabs are common staples for a shrimp tank. Shrimp also love blanched leafy greens. Pinch off a pea-sized piece of boiled spinach, and watch your shrimp go crazy for their home-cooked meal.
Feed only a tiny amount every day or every other day, depending on the number of shrimp in your tank, and feed protein at least once per week. Do not overfeed your shrimp colony; only feed what they can consume in a six-hour period. Rotting, uneaten foods foul the water, so it is important to remove any uneaten food after that time period to maintain water quality. Shrimp can actually survive for long periods without any feeding if the tank has plants, algae on the glass and natural microorganism film. They will scavenge for microscopic particles that are always present in a mature tank. Don’t clean the glass of your tank for a few weeks if you plan on leaving for a trip.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of shrimpkeeping, here are a few questions and concerns that many new shrimpkeepers have.
Where to begin? Many people wonder where they should start if they want to begin keeping decorative freshwater shrimp. Neos are considered to be easier to raise, suggesting that a neophyte shrimpkeeper will be happier and more successful starting with neos. Neos accept a much wider range of water parameters, breed more easily, grow faster and are less sensitive to changes in their environment than their bee counterparts.
Fire Reds, Yellows and Rilis are considered beautiful shrimp, and their more affordable price (as found on Internet forums, local clubs and shops) makes them the shrimp of choice for first-timers. To start a colony, five to 10 shrimp will likely provide good starting stock for a nano tank.
Should you wish to start with bees, be aware that they require much more specific water parameters to breed. High-grade bees are considered among the most sensitive creatures kept in aquariums today. Bees are also considered some of the most valuable and beautiful creatures you can keep in an aquarium. Obviously they are tempting and certainly are available, but be advised that you will likely have to “pay your dues” by losing a few shrimp in the process of learning before these beauties can realistically become part of your colony.
One question that always seems to come up is: What types of fish can be safely introduced into a shrimp tank? The sad answer is that fish are generally not recommended for a shrimp tank, nano or otherwise, with the possible exception of Otocinclus species. The reason is that any shrimp that can fit in a fish’s mouth will be at risk. Newborn shrimp are not much larger than the tip of a sewing needle, and the shrimp babies will have higher survival rates in a shrimp-only habitat. The presence of fish will also stress the adult shrimp in the colony, reducing pregnancy rates and egg clutch size. Shrimp are also likely to be much more active and visible in a shrimp-only tank.
If you insist on keeping a few fish in your nano shrimp tank, it is best to first let your shrimp colony become established and then add the fish at a later time. I have kept chili rasboras and pygmy cories in my nano with no observed aggression toward shrimp. However, the increased fish bioload and activity did reduce the number of pregnant female shrimp and their egg clutch sizes.
The previous question leads to another frequently asked question: What types of shrimp can be kept together? Most dwarf freshwater shrimp have been selectively bred for color and pattern. A yellow and red shrimp that breed together will not give you an orange shrimp. It is not advised to house neos with other neo varieties in a successful breeding tank. The result of their offspring will be wild neos — their coloration will revert to a clear or pale brown as they are found in the wild.
Bees likewise should not be kept with other bee varieties, unless cross-breeding is intended to create some sort of visually interesting hybrid. Bee cross-breeding will usually (but not always) result in a hybrid bee rather than a wild one. For example, cross-breeding a Crystal Red with a Tiger will result in a Tibee hybrid.
Housing the two types, neos and bees, is often successful in the same shrimp tank. Typically one variety of neo and one variety of bee can be intermingled. When keeping neos and bees together, target the water parameters for the bee shrimp. However, be aware that ghost or glass shrimp should not be kept with neos or bees. Ghost shrimp, in particular, are aggressive and will kill many of the young shrimp.
The lesson to carry from this exploration of shrimpkeeping is to enjoy the process. The reward will be a healthy, viable and thriving shrimp colony, as well as the pleasure of watching the colony grow and change over time. Be forewarned that shrimpkeeping can become addictive. Once you find success, you will want more shrimp to add to your collection. There are several shrimp-dedicated forums online for additional information and advanced techniques of shrimpkeeping. Due to the increasing popularity of shrimp, most planted tank forums have added a shrimp and invertebrate section with a lot of good information. If so inclined, join a local club like SCAPE (Southern California Aquatic Plants Enthusiasts). You will likely find shrimpkeepers in these aquatic clubs that will be more than happy to help you out. Enjoy this exciting and fast-growing segment of the aquatic hobby.
Good luck on your shrimp mission. With good care, water discipline and feeding, your dwarf shrimp colony will not self-destruct.
Howard Chiu enjoys breeding high-grade shrimp and growing aquatic plants. He can be found on the SCAPE and The Planted Tank forums under the name of Shrimpnmoss. He holds a B.S. degree in Biology from Colorado State University.