When most folks think of an aquarium, they think of fish. They might branch out to turtles or snails, too. But one of the most interesting species you can keep in an aquarium at home is a shrimp. These colorful little creatures that scurry around scavenging at the bottom of the tank, playing and “dancing” in the waves are adorable and uber fun to watch.
The do require different care instructions and have specific aquarium needs that other species, don’t however, so it’s important to understand what you’re getting into and have everything together that you need beforehand.
We’ve crafted this guide to help with that very need as you embark on the adventure of your new shrimp tank.
Thoughts on Shrimp Tanks
Generally, most shrimp species do well with the same basic setup in their new home. The equipment we’ve listed in the next section below is pretty standard to all shrimp tanks, though, of course, some items are exclusive to marine tanks over freshwater shrimp tanks.
What About a Nano Shrimp Tanks?
If you have a thing for nano tanks, then you’re in luck. Mini shrimp tanks are a thing, and there is plenty of advice out on there on how to care for your nano shrimp tank. Some species, of course, will do better than others, and you’ll need to have a bit of experience caring for shrimp before you embark on this endeavor.
Things You’ll Need For Your Shrimp Tank
Next, let’s take a look at everything you’re going to need for your shrimp aquarium.
- Aquarium – 10+ gallons, ideally 20+ gallons
- Proper filter media
- Decorations – things like wood, caves, and plants
- Water test kit
- Vacuum for gravel/substrate
- Shrimp food
- Fish net
- Aquarium glass scrubber
- 5-gallon bucket
- Marine salt – ONLY if not doing a freshwater shrimp tank setup
The aquarium you use for your shrimp should be at least 10-gallons in size. However, it’s good to keep in mind that when it comes to aquarium life, bigger is better. If you can do a 20+ gallon fish tank, your shrimp will be better off than in the smaller size tanks.
That being said, the number of shrimp in a small shrimp tank that can survive all right in a 5 gallon shrimp tank, for example, will be smaller than a 10 gallon shrimp tank. Technically, you can keep some of the small species of shrimp in tanks this size, but it’s not recommended.
If you’ve done any research in this area at all, you’ve probably seen a good deal of discussion on the differences between sand and gravel, buffering or non-buffering substrate, etc.
The key things to keep in mind, though, as you set up your aquarium for shrimp are these:
- Whether you prefer gravel for the plant rooting qualities or large grain sand (never small grains for shrimp!) which doesn’t trap food particles, be sure to choose black substrate. The black substrate helps the shrimp and plants stand out more than white or natural colored substrate.
- Buffering substrate helps maintain the low pH and soft water that shrimp species prefer, especially the fussier shrimp species. This will also help boost plant growth, as they’re nutrient rich.
All aquariums need a filter, including shrimp tanks. The filter not only cleans up floating debris, but it provides a home for the critical beneficial bacteria that your shrimp need for a healthy eco-system.
There are many types of aquarium filters, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. The most commonly used in shrimp tanks include:
- Sponge filters – the typical top choice of shrimp breeders – they’re gentle and safe for shrimp. But not for tanks over 20 gallons in size.
- Internal filters – popular for general fishkeeping. They work fine for shrimp but look for one intended for that purpose to avoid them becoming a shrimp trap!
- HOB filters (hang on back) – these are popular with folks looking for a clean visual on their aquariums. They need filter guards, however, to prevent your shrimp from being vacuumed up by the filter.
- Canister filters – these are best for aquariums that need really high-quality water. They are large and provide plenty of room for multiple filter media types. They are not, however, the best choice for shrimp tanks in most cases, however, because of their more intense power.
Technically, any of these can be used, but we recommend either a sponge or HOB filter for the safest, most effective results in your shrimp tank.
If you’re wondering do shrimp need heater, the answer is yes. They require specific temperatures which an unheated aquarium will not be able to maintain, even in a tropical environment.
Of course, your shrimp tank needs to be maintained at a specific temperature zone for the health and happiness of your shrimp. A thermometer isn’t technically mandatory, but it is wisest to have one so that you can keep a close eye on this parameter. We recommend just keeping it installed in the tank at all times.
There are a number of test kits you’ll need to make sure your shrimp tank chemistry remains at the proper levels. The kits you’ll need include:
While most aquarists don’t necessarily know about TDS meters, shrimp keepers find them to be extremely helpful for keeping their marine and freshwater shrimp tanks healthy. TDS stands for Total Dissolved Solids and tests that in the water, letting you know if the amount is too high or too low for the health of your shrimp.
It’s not technically mandatory, but it is exceptionally helpful.
Many shrimp breeders prefer a relatively bare, most of us hobbyists probably want some kind of décor in the aquarium. You’ll want to limit – so you can still see your shrimp and enjoy them – but having some items will help them feel safer as shrimp are naturally prey animals.
Provide them with some treated decorations like rocks, flowerpots, and other places they can hide. Driftwood is especially great for shrimp, as they do well with tannins in the water.
One important thing to have on hand for your shrimp tank is the right food. It’s important to study up on what do shrimp eat in a fish tank.
The basic foods they love to nosh on include:
- Dead plant matter
- Fish flakes
- Shrimp pellets
- Fish pellers
- Algae wafers
- Calcium supplements
- Spirulina flakes
- Bottom feeder tablets
- Brine shrimp
- Blanched vegetables – cucumber, spinach, zucchini, romaine lettuce
- Mosquito larvae
- Indian Almond leaves
It’s also a good idea to skip feeding shrimp one day per week to help their digestive systems clean out. This also encourages the shrimp to do more aquarium cleaning, as well – so you both win.
Marine Salt (Optional)
There are both marine and freshwater shrimp tank setups. Obviously, for a freshwater tank, you don’t need marine salt. If you are doing marine tank shrimp, however, you’ll need to carefully choose the best salt to avoid harming your shrimp.
To Plant or Not to Plant
Deciding on whether or not you’ll do a planted shrimp tank can be a little dicey, but if you’re looking for general advice, most folks go with at least a few plants in their shrimp tank. Generally breeders are the ones who use bare tanks, but when you’re keeping shrimp tanks at home, you’re keeping them for pleasure not profit, so making them as appealing to you and your shrimp is ideal.
Shrimp naturally live in vegetated waters, so though you won’t want to overdo it with too many plants, having some will help them feel healthier and happier.
Another benefit to planted shrimp tanks is that the plants help to feed your omnivorous shrimps. They eat algae but they also eat plant materials and detritus. When your aquarium provides them with these sources without added work from you, everybody wins.
Plants to consider for your aquarium:
Before you choose your plants, though, make sure you understand your lighting scheme. Some plants need bright lights, while others – like mosses and ferns – do all right or even prefer lower lighting setups.
How to Set Up the Tank
Your basic shrimp tank setup is similar to fishkeeping tanks, but there are a few differences.
1. Installing Substrate and Adding Water
After you acquire all of your equipment, you’ll need to clean the aquarium with purified water and let it dry completely before moving onto the next steps.
The next thing you’ll do is install your substrate. This will need to be thoroughly cleaned beforehand. You can find easy tutorials online for how to do this.
Next, you’ll be adding your water. Use a bucket or hosepipe to fill the aquarium with pure water. Once the water is added and settled, you’ll need to test the water parameters to make sure the pH and others are in the right range. Use a commercial dechlorinator to remove any of chlorine, if necessary. Make other adjustments as necessary to fully prepare the water for your shrimp species.
At this stage, you’ll need to make sure all of your equipment – thermostat, filter, heater, etc. – are installed.
After you’ve added your water, you’re ready to set up decorations. This will include plants, caves, flowerpots, driftwood, etc. We’ll talk more in-depth about plants below.
Next up is your lighting. LED lighting is recommended for aquariums to keep the lighting more natural on a fuller light spectrum than other lighting systems can provide. They’re affordable for the most part and easy to install.
The lights should be on for a maximum of eight hours per day to avoid excess algae growth, so plan to light the aquarium on the right schedule for you to be able to do care and maintenance during those hours.
For a non-planted aquarium, the lighting is pretty simple. For planted shrimp tanks, however, you’ll need some more advanced options. Investigate the right kind of lighting you need for the plants you’re planning to grow.
The final step before adding your shrimp the aquarium will be cycling the tank. This can take anywhere from two to eight weeks and will require bi-weekly water testing to ensure everything is staying on track.
Set the heaters to 72 to 85 degrees for cycling. Plug in the lighting and run it on the usual eight hours you’re planning on. Then follow the instructions for cycling for an aquarium.
5. Adding Shrimp
Once your aquarium has finished cycling, you’re ready to add your shrimp.
- Nitrite and ammonia should be at zero.
- Nitrate levels should be as close to zero as possible.
- Shrimp purchased from a store should be placed into a large bowl or bucket.
- Use airline tubing to siphon the water from the cycled shrimp tank into the bucket/bowl.
- Kink the tube with a rubber band to stop the water flow when the bucket has enough water in there for the shrimp.
- Let approximately one to two drops of water per second continue in the flow, continuing this process from 20 to 60 minutes.
- Once the shrimp are comfortably in the water and the flow and ceased completely, use a soft net to scoop them out of the bucket and place them into the aquarium. Cover the net with your hand as you transfer. They can be skittish and might escape otherwise!
- Keep a close eye on the shrimp over the next few days as they adjust to their new home. Wait at least 12 hours before feeding, and keep the lights off for a full day to help them acclimate.
Best Shrimp Species for an Aquarium
Of course, you need to know what options you have for your marine or freshwater shrimp tank. You’ll need to study each shrimp species to decide which one(s) will suit your preferred kind of setup and any existing fish you already have stocked.
You may want to consider any of the following:
- Cherry shrimp tank
- Neocaridina dwarf shrimp
- Crystal Red Shrimp
- Fire cherry shrimp
- Amano shrimp
- Red cherry shrimp
- Ghost shrimp
- Sulawesi shrimp
- Tiger shrimp
- Wine Red Shrimp
- Blue Bolt Shrimp
- Pinto shrimp
- Bamboo shrimp
- Indian whisker shrimp
- Vampire shrimp
- Mischling shrimp
- Bee shrimp
- Red Rili shrimp
- Blue velvet shrimp
- Blue Bolt shrimp
- Snowball shrimp
- Blue Pearl shrimp
- Babaulti shrimp
- Panda shrimp
- Cardinal shrimp
Note: If you’re wondering how many shrimp can I put in a 5-gallon tank or how many shrimp can I put in a 20-gallon tank, you’ll need to look specifically at the shrimp species, as they have different size requirements.
Best Tank Mates for Shrimp
Like with all critters, shrimp have specific qualities they look for in a tank mate. Some fish like to nibble on shrimp and visa versa, so knowing which species work well together is rather critical if you want to keep your shrimp and your fish alive! Some are species specific, so make sure your specific shrimp will partner well with any given of these species.
- Ivory snails
- Mystery snails
- Gold Inca snails
- Nerite snails
- Malaysian Trumpet snails
- Otocinclus catfish
- Cardinal tetras
- Flame tetras
- Dwarf gouramis
- Other small species Plecos
- Other small species tetras
- Celestial Pearl Danios
- Endler’s Livebearers
- Ember tetras
- Pygmy Corydoras
- Harlequin Rasboras
- Sparkling gourami
- Bristlenose plecos
- Kuhli loach
- Other danios
- Dwarf pencilfish
- Forktail blue eye fish
- Some species of Killifish – very limited, and with larger species of non-breeding shrimp only
Maintenance of Your Shrimp Tank
Once you have your shrimp tank up and running, you will have to do some regular maintenance to keep the shrimp and their companions happy and healthy. Some basic tips follow for that quality maintenance requires.
1. Maintain the Water Quality
One of the biggest issues in any aquarium is the ability and commitment to maintaining the water parameters required by all of your fish, shrimp, and other critters. Be sure to keep a chart with all the parameters required nearby and reference regularly until you know everything without thought. Use the test kits bi-weekly as you first get into things and maintain that practice throughout, following the instructions on the testing kit.
2. Feed Your Shrimp Properly
It’s important to keep a regular feeding schedule for your shrimp, just as you do for your fish. Don’t overfeed them and aim to give them one fasting day per week to help them clear out their digestive systems and to encourage tank cleaning as well.
3. Make Regular Water Changes
Keep in mind your other fish and critters and keep a chart of how often and how much water you need to change. Generally speaking, small changes every week are usually sufficient, but your given shrimp or fish species may have more specific requirements. Learn what they are and keep to that.
4. Clean the Filter Once Monthly
Approximately once per month, you need to clean your shrimp tank filters. The filter media houses the beneficial bacteria for your aquarium, so the cleaning doesn’t involve anything with chemicals or soap. Instead, you’ll be taking out the media during a regular water change. Remove a bucket of water from the tank and gently squeeze the filter sponges into that until debris stops coming out of the media. Then return the media to the filter. Done.