How to Care for Ghost Shrimp: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide

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When it comes to fascinating aquatic creatures, ghost shrimp rival many commonly available to home aquarium keepers.

They make an ideal pet in a shrimp tank by themselves, but Ghost Shrimp can also be placed in community tanks with some tropical fish such as neon tetras and other small fish.

Both males and females have the classic shrimp shape. Healthy ghost shrimp of both genders have transparent or translucent bodies. If you watch carefully, you will be able to see their organs working.

Female shrimp will develop green markings on their side and a hump on their back as they approach puberty.

Males will not change color and will also stay smaller.

ghost shrimp in a planted tank

For species that originate in the United States, both genders may have pink markings on their legs or red dots on their tails. Ghost Shrimp that originate in Thailand or India will not have red dots on their tail. They may also be a bit larger and darker.

Ghost shrimp can climb around on rocks and other surfaces using their legs. They can also swim (albeit backwards) by moving their tails. 

Many people keep Ghost Shrimp because they eat algae and leftover food in the tank. Since they have a very small bioload, they can be put in just about any fish tank.

Depending on the species, some Ghost Shrimp can be aggressive. It is best to keep them in a separate tank until you are certain of their temperament.

QUICK INTRO TO Ghost Shrimp

FamilyPalaemonidae
Scientific NamePalaemonetes Paludosus (originated in the US), Macrobrachium ehemals (Indian Ghost Shrimp), or Macrobrachium lanchesteri (Thailand Ghost Shrimp)
Other NamesGlass Shrimp, Far Eastern Freshwater Shrimp, Atlantic Ditch Shrimp, Argentinian Shrimp, Popcorn Shrimp, Mississippi Shrimp, Indian Ghost Shrimp, Thailand Ghost Shrimp
Care LevelIntermediate to complex because they require careful introduction to their home freshwater aquarium. They are also notoriously difficult to treat if they get sick. Since the ghost shrimp lifespan is short, you will also have to breed them. Ghost shrimp are a little bit more complicated than other miniature shrimp in this regard.

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Even though it may be difficult to tell them apart, there are many species labeled and sold as Ghost Shrimp. Some originate in North America or the southeastern United States while others may have originated around India and Asia.

While their water chemistry needs are the same; the temperaments of different species may vary considerably.

Here is our top choice for buying Ghost Shrimp on Amazon:

Ghost Shrimp are usually classified as miniature shrimp species.

As such, they are often compared to Red Cherry Shrimp, Bamboo, Vampire, Crystal, Bumblebee, Amano Shrimp, and Snowball Shrimp.

This article is dedicated exclusively to the Palamonetes and Macrobrachium species of Ghost Shrimp.

Optimal Water Conditions For Ghost Shrimp

Water Temperature65 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Around 75 is optimal for breeding.
Water Flow RateSlow
pH6 to 8
HardnessHard
Aquarium Salt RecommendationsDepends on sub species. Some Ghost Shrimp will do fine in brackish water.
Tannin RecommendationsTannins are very useful in a Ghost Shrimp tank because they offer antibacterial properties.
Other Water Chemistry NeedsKeep nitrates below 20 ppm. Ghost Shrimp cannot tolerate Copper. If you are using tap water, be sure to let it run for at least 2 minutes. This will help ensure there is no corrosion in the water. You should also use an aquarium water conditioner that gets rid of copper, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

It is very useful to keep a log book of the water chemistry values each time you make adjustments. If the shrimp seem sluggish or stop eating, you will have an easier time isolating pH and hardness problems.

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size5 Gallons
Optimal Tank Size10 Gallons
Optimal Tank ShapeLong and shallow
Recommended Filter TypeSponge filter with nitrate and nitrite absorbing pads
Extra Air Flow and and How to Provide ItUse multiple airstones near the bottom of the tank. Keep them set on low so that they do not disturb the water too much.

For many fish, nitrates are far less toxic than ammonia and nitrates. In these cases, you do not need to worry as much about them accumulating, especially if you have enough plants in the tank.

This is not the case with Ghost Shrimp.

It is important to test the water in their tank weekly to make sure nitrates stay below 20 ppm.

With regard to water changes, it is still best to use plants, nitrate absorbing pads, sensible stocking, and proper feeding guidelines.

If you have to do emergency or partial water changes more than twice in a six month period, it may be best to move some animals out of the tank.

crystal shrimp in aquarium

Creating the Landscape

Ghost shrimp move in slow moving waters that have plenty of algae and drift wood. They love to dig in sand while they are looking for bits of food.

Best PlantUse fast growing floating and root feeder live plants to lock up as much nitrate as possible. Use Peacock Moss, Java Moss, and other mosses to create caves for Ghost Shrimp to explore and hide in. Avoid plants that are sensitive to their roots being disturbed. Ghost shrimp will burrow in the sand and can cause a number of problems for these plants.
Best LightingBright
Best DecorationsDriftwood, rounded rocks, and sand
Decorations to AvoidAnything with sharp surfaces. Air powered toys can also be dangerous to Ghost Shrimp because they may get crushed or trapped in them. Ghost Shrimp are notoriously curious creatures and can easily climb their way into all kinds of trouble!

Physiological Considerations

Maximum Size1.5 to 3 inches
Rate of GrowthReach maturity in about 2-3 months
Life Span1 year
TemperamentDepends on species. Thailand Ghost Shrimp are more aggressive than other species available for sale.
Preferred Tank RegionBottom
Scale thicknessGhost Shrimp do not have scales. They have an exoskeleton that is shed several times as they increase in size.
Gill considerationsEven though Ghost Shrimp are used to slow moving water, it must still be clear and free of debris.
Fin Shape ConsiderationsGhost Shrimp do not have true fins to propel themselves. They use their tails very effectively and can move faster than many tropical and cold water fish.

Society

Insofar as bioload, you can put several ghost shrimp in a small tank and not have any problems.

Unfortunately, close quarters can cause both males and females to become aggressive. Ghost shrimp will attack each other as well as other species of smaller shrimp under these circumstances.

In larger tanks, they may also become aggressive if the temperature is on the higher side of their comfort range.

It is very difficult to keep a stable ratio of males to females because of short lifespans and rapid breeding.

At most, you can start off with 10 – 12 Ghost Shrimp and then watch to see how they grow into adulthood. From there, you may need to isolate breeding pairs or others for aggression management.

As long as conditions are right, Ghost Shrimp will either stay by themselves or ignore others in the tank. They will be shy of most fish and are not likely to bother them.

Larger fish, however, may decide Ghost Shrimp will make a good meal. It is best to keep Ghost Shrimp in a species specific tank, or one with other shrimp that are about the same size as them.

When it comes to signs of aggression, Ghost Shrimp may show a number of behaviors. This may include chasing other shrimp out of their territory.

Ghost Shrimp may also sit very still and simply wait for a target to get close enough to attack. As such, you may need to watch them closely when they sit still for an unusually long time. If something edible looking comes along, don’t be surprised if the Ghost Shrimp attack it.

Here are some ways to manage Ghost Shrimp Aggression:

  • Lower the tank temperature. Higher temperatures can trigger both breeding behaviors and aggression. Simply lowering the temperature to the lower end of the optimal range may be of some help.
  • Make sure Ghost Shrimp have enough to eat. You can also try adding different things to their diet, as boredom may drive them to look for something else that is edible.
  • Make sure there are plenty of hiding places in the tank. Since Ghost Shrimp are not as peaceful as other species of miniature shrimp, it is best to give them as many choices as possible when it comes to avoiding each other.
  • Watch to see if other species are making the shrimp feel nervous. If there are other fish or shrimp in the tank, Ghost Shrimp may feel threatened. They may attack species smaller than themselves or anything else that presents an opportunity to work out their frustrations on.
  • Move aggressive fish into their own tank or separate partition.

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

As with several other species of miniature shrimp, Ghost Shrimp have relatively short lifespans. If you are planning to keep shrimp for a long period of time, it will be necessary to ensure they can reproduce.

Right now, there are dozens of species of shrimp sold as “Ghost Shrimp”. Some may be hybrids, and will not be able to produce a viable future generations. If you purchase ghost shrimp from different sellers and put them in the same tank, you may also wind up with the same hybrid problem after one or two generations.

When choosing Ghost Shrimp for your home aquarium, it is very important to choose a reliable seller that do their own breeding for home aquariums. Try to avoid purchasing feeder shrimp, as they may not be as healthy.

The easiest way to recognize breeding pairs of Ghost Shrimp is to look and see if the females have eggs under their belly. You will see 20 – 30 greenish round eggs once the female releases them.

Once you see eggs, it will be a good idea to isolate the female and one male. Some aquarists recommend moving the shrimp into a breeding tank, however this can cause the female to get stressed out and drop the eggs.

It is much easier to partition them off from the rest of the tank. This will also eliminate water chemistry complications. If at all possible, try to use the part of the tank where the female has her territory, since she will be more comfortable. Put a nylon stocking over the filter inlets so that the fry do not get caught up in it.

Unless you watch the shrimp around the clock, you may not see the male fertilize the eggs. After about a week, the eggs will either show signs of fungal infection because they are not fertilized, or they will look smooth and healthy. You can move the male back to the other side of the tank at this point, since it is likely the eggs are fertilized.

Ghost shrimp usually hatch within 24 days of fertilization. Once they are ready to be separated from the mother, she will shake them off her legs. After she completes that task, move the mother back to the other side of the partition. If you leave her in the tank after the eggs hatch, she will eat the fry.

At this point, the fry no longer need help from their parents. They do, however, need food small enough for them to consume. Commercial food for egg layers, spirulina powder, or infusorans will all work fine.

It will take about 3 weeks before you can see the fry easily. During that time, it is important to keep adding suitable food, even if you don’t see any activity. Just be careful not to foul the water.

You may need to add nitrite/nitrate absorbing pillows and zeolites to the filter to assist with breaking preventing ammonia and nitrite spikes. Avoid water changes in the entire tank as much as possible, as even slight changes in the water chemistry can kill off baby shrimp.

glass shrimp care guide

Nutritional Needs

Ghost Shrimp are like any other creature in the sense that they do best when they have foods that closely match what they would eat in a wild setting.

No matter whether each species of Ghost Shrimp originate, they all eat algae and scraps of animal/fish flesh.

Best Sustenance Food TypeSinking pellets for miniature shrimp, sinking algae wafers, and other sinking fish food.
Additional Foods for Optimal HealthPlant matter such as zucchini and soft vegetables.
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and GrowthBloodworms or tubifex worms. If you notice their shells are getting thin, add some extra calcium supplements. This may also be helpful when the shrimp are about to shed their exoskeleton.
When and How often to feed fish based on life cycleFeed ghost shrimp once a day regardless of their age or gender. Female ghost shrimp that are berried (have eggs) may do better with thawed frozen bloodworms and other fresh foods in their diet.

Finicky Fish Management: There are a number of reasons why Ghost Shrimp may stop eating. Not all those reasons have to do with the actual food you are providing for them.

Here are some of the most common problems and how to address them.

Wrong Water Chemistry

An increase in nitrates, ammonia, or nitrites may cause Ghost Shrimp to stop eating. You should also check the pH and hardness to make sure they are still within optimal parameters.

Since water chemistry can shift, consult your log book to what the values were the week before.

If the shrimp were eating well at that point, go back to those values if they are different from the current values.

Aggressive Individuals in the Tank

It does not matter if the aggression is coming from other species in the tank or other ghost shrimp. Watch carefully to see if the ghost shrimp are hiding more, or if other inhabitants of the tank are going after them when they try to eat.

You will either need to move the aggressive individuals out of the tank or partition them off.

Sickness

Internal parasites, fungal infections, and bacterial infections can all cause Ghost Shrimp to stop eating. Unfortunately, diseases in miniature shrimp are very hard to treat.

You can try giving them a salt bath, or antibiotics that are safe for invertebrates. Sadly, if the shrimp stopped eating because of an infection, it is very likely they will die.

Food Selection Issues

If no other factors are causing food avoidance, you can try changing the staple food. Adding some thawed frozen food or freeze dried foods may also help.

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Ghost Shrimp are susceptible to the same diseases that can kill other miniature shrimp. Since Ghost Shrimp are invertebrates, there are very few antibiotics that can be used safely with them.

In most cases, your only option will be to give the shrimp a salt water bath several times a day.

The basic steps are as follows:

  • Take a cup of water from the main tank and dissolve 1 teaspoon of aquarium salt into the cup.
  • Put the shrimp in the salt water. Use a timer to mark 30 seconds to 1 minute. 
  • After 30 seconds to 1 minute, immediately remove the shrimp from the salt water and return them to the community tank (or hospital tank if you decided to isolate them).
  • You may need to repeat this process in a few hours or several times over a few days to get rid of the infection.

 Here are the most common diseases you are likely to come across:

  • Vorticella – this parasitic infection shows itself as a white crust around the shrimp’s mouth. If left untreated, it will eventually cover the Ghost Shrimp’s shell and cause death. Timed salt baths can help get rid of this infection if you catch it early enough. 
  • Fungal Infections – these usually look like white cotton candy sticking to the shrimp’s shell. If the shrimp is close to molting, the infection may be shed right along with the exoskeleton. You can still do one or two salt baths to limit the possibility of the pathogen digging through the shell and causing more problems. 
  • Internal Bacterial Infections – these will be easy to spot, but just about impossible to treat in Ghost Shrimp. All you have to do is look at the internal organs to see if they are pink or swollen. Ghost Shrimp may also turn opaque white. If you can get a medicated food that is safe for invertebrates, that may be your best option. In most cases, Ghost Shrimp will not survive internal bacterial infections. To help avoid this problem, keep tannins in the water, as they kill off bacteria. Almond leaves may also be of some help in this capacity.
  • External Bacterial Infections – these usually attack the shrimp’s shell and cause pits, holes, and ulcers. Use timed salt water baths as soon as you see pits developing. You can also add calcium supplements if you suspect a dietary deficiency.
Best AntibioticsAquarium salt baths
Treatments to AvoidAnything with copper or listed as not safe for invertebrates
Food Recommendations When SickBlood worms, freeze dried foods, plankton
Hospital Tank or Isolation Within the Community Tank SpecificsIf only one shrimp shows signs of infection, it may be best to isolate it before it infects others. They may all still get sick, as the pathogen may not be easy to remove from the water.

3 Fascinating Facts About Ghost Shrimp

  1. Ghost Shrimp may come to the surface and turn upside down while waiting for food.
  2. They can see in front and to their rear at the same time by rotating their eyestalks.
  3. Ghost Shrimp may hide and become less active when they shed their exoskeleton and grow a new one.

Many people today buy Ghost Shrimp because they scavenge both algae and uneaten food. They also make interesting pets that will show the most personality when they are in a species specific tank. While they can be challenging to keep at times, they are worth the effort!

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