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Are you thinking of adding a shrimp or two to your aquarium but don’t know what they eat? Learn about what they usually eat in the wild to help you understand what you should be feeding them in your aquarium!

red shrimp on green leaf

Adding shrimp to your aquarium or paludarium is a great way to keep it clean and diversify your ecosystem. Shrimp are also additional points of interest in your aquarium that will have your friends asking, “what’s that?” as the shrimp graze the bottom of the tank. 

Some shrimp actually thrive in aquariums, like the Red Cherry Shrimp, which is the most popular species that people choose to add to aquariums and are very easy to breed. Most species of shrimp that you can add to your aquarium will not disturb your fish–in fact, they may even help them. 

For example, Lysmata amboinensis, commonly known as Pacific Cleaner Shrimp, wave their antenna around to attract other fish. They climb into their mouths and eat unwanted parasites or dead tissue that could harm the fish. 

Not all shrimp are Pacific Cleaner Shrimp, though, and their diets may vary. If you’re thinking of adding shrimp to your aquarium, you might be asking: what do they eat?

Read on to learn about what shrimp eat in the wild and how you can replicate their natural diets in your aquarium.

A Shrimp’s Diet

So, what do shrimp eat? The short answer is anything and everything. By nature, shrimp are omnivorous bottom-feeders, so you’ll often find them scavenging at the bottom of bodies of water and eating whatever they can find there. 

Oftentimes what they find is dead and decaying plants or dead microorganisms, and they love it. They’ll even eat other dead shrimp.

There are a few exceptions in species that may have different diets or behavior depending on their environment. 

However, the majority of freshwater shrimp reliably exhibit this behavior, whether they’re in a lake or in your aquarium. Due to their diet’s reliability, shrimp are easy to feed and are useful in controlling algae and removing debris in your aquarium because they’ll eat it all.

Wild Shrimp Diet

About a quarter of all shrimp are freshwater, and these species are the ones you’ll most likely be adding to your aquarium. 

The natural habitat of freshwater shrimp would be rivers and lakes. In these habitats, shrimp are typically scavengers, and often nip at detritus or dead plant matter. 

In desperate circumstances, shrimp will nibble at live plants, but they’re so small that they usually won’t cause any damage to the plant. Their diet’s main bulk is algae, which floats in the water and can conveniently be eaten while they swim by.

Depending on the size of the shrimp, they will also eat bacteria, small dead fish or other microorganisms such as plankton. They’ll basically eat anything that’s small enough to fit in their mouths, making them mostly omnivores.

Like other crustaceans, some shrimp will occasionally eat their own species. Shrimp need to molt, meaning they sometimes shed their own shell as they outgrow it. It takes a few hours for their new ones to harden, and during that time, they are vulnerable to predators. In this case, larger shrimp might take advantage of the familiar situation and eat their soft counterpart.

When planning the diet of the shrimp in your aquarium, you want to keep in mind what they eat in the wild. Mimicking the environment that their species is familiar with by making their favorite foods available in the tank is the best way to make sure that your shrimp is content.

Pet Shrimp Diet

The good news is that pet shrimp are not too difficult to feed – they eat almost anything your fish eat (just like starfish), and they can even consume some of the vegetables you already have in your fridge! However, in order to keep pet shrimp in a comfortable environment that will encourage them to eat, it is important to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible in your aquarium. 

The most important component to prepare is the substrate, as that is where your shrimp will spend the majority of their time and look for most of their food. You’ll want to choose a finely-grained substrate so as to not damage the shrimp’s antenna and make food easy to access. 

Try not to immediately add shrimp to a brand new tank. You want your fish tank to be mature enough to form some algae and biofilm for your shrimp to graze at. Common shrimp species that you’ll find in aquariums, like Amano Shrimp and Red Cherry Shrimp, mainly eat biofilm. Promote biofilm growth in your aquarium by adding live plants, rocks and driftwood. 

Algae will form the majority of your shrimp’s diet because it’s always present, but that doesn’t mean your shrimp should survive on algae alone. Just as you do with your fish, you should plan to feed your shrimp a varying diet to give them a variety of nutrients. The best choice is to feed your shrimp a plant-based diet with some animal protein mixed-in.

Some common options for shrimp food are:

  • Algae
  • Algae wafer
  • Flake Foods
  • Fish Pellet Foods
  • Fresh vegetable
  • Fruit
  • Insects
  • Leaf litter
cleaner shrimp eating

Leaf litter refers to plant bits that release antibacterial and antifungal nutrients as it decomposes that your shrimp will love. Leaf litter also helps imitate your shrimp’s natural habitat. Indian almond leaves are a common choice of leaf litter among aquarists because it is not only a good food source, but carries medicinal properties that your entire aquarium may benefit from.

Although there’s a large selection of ready shrimp food available at your local pet store, don’t solely rely on commercial shrimp food. Commercial shrimp food is usually animal-based and could be too much protein for your shrimp. 

You should try to feed your shrimp fresh or boiled vegetables when you can. Be sure to cut them up into small pieces to allow your shrimp to nibble. You can also find recipes on how to create your own shrimp food from scratch. If you do rely on commercial shrimp food, try to find some that are plant-based and made with high-quality ingredients to form the basis of your shrimp’s diet, and feed them animal-based food a couple of times a week.

Although most shrimp species eat similar foods, different types of shrimp may have slightly different eating habits. For example, bamboo shrimp are filter shrimp, meaning they need an environment with plenty of water movement to filter microorganisms out of the water with their claws for nutrients. They can often be seen near the water filter or anywhere else in the tank where the current is good. 

Just like you shouldn’t overfeed your fish, try not to overfeed your shrimp. Only give them enough food that they can consume in a matter of minutes. If you leave a small piece of vegetable in your tank overnight, make sure to remove whatever your shrimp hasn’t eaten in the morning.

Tip: If you withhold food one day a week from your shrimp, it will cleanse their digestive system and encourage them to do some more cleaning in your tank. 

Lastly, shrimp have tiny claws so, unlike other crustaceans, they won’t harm the fish in your aquarium. However, be aware of what fish in your aquarium can eat your shrimp. You want to ensure that there isn’t a chance that your shrimp can turn into a meal for your existing fish. 

When you add shrimp to your aquarium, make sure that there aren’t any predatory fish that are known to eat shrimp. Goldfish will often eat ghost shrimp, and betta fish exhibit predatory behavior towards shrimp that may force them to hide and cause them stress. If you have these types of fish, your best bet is to create a shrimp-only aquarium.

Final Thoughts on What Shrimp Eat

The idea of adding shrimp to your aquarium may seem odd at first, but they may actually make a great addition to your aquarium’s ecosystem. Not only are shrimp a natural way to keep your aquarium clean, but they also aren’t difficult to feed–they mostly eat everything your fish eat, and more!

Although easy to feed, do your research before adding a new shrimp species to your aquarium. Make sure that you don’t purchase one of the few species that does have dietary restrictions, and be sure that you don’t already have any hungry prey in your aquarium who have an appetite for shrimp!

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