How to Set Up a Mantis Shrimp Tank?

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If you’ve decided to get your hand on a Mantis Shrimp, this article is for you. Today, we will discuss Mantis Shrimp’s dualist nature, making it easy to care for but difficult to accommodate.

I know this may seem contradictory, but it will make sense in a second. The good thing about the Mantis Shrimp is that it’s relatively easy to care for.

This carnivorous predator doesn’t need any tank mates (unless you want them killed) and doesn’t require a lot of space. It’s also not too pretentious about its environment since it’s a pretty hardy creature.

The main problem with the Mantis Shrimp relates to its behavior. This creature can use its dactyl clubs to destroy its environment and even break the tank’s walls in extreme cases. It’s that powerful. But we’ll discuss this aspect a bit later on.

Let’s first see how to accommodate the Mantis Shrimp in its new setting.

Setting Up a Mantis Shrimp Tank

Nothing should be left to chance when accommodating your Mantis Shrimp.

This is a fairly large and powerful aquatic creature (up to 15 inches in size) with a rather foul temperament.

And while the Mantis Shrimp is very hardy and adaptable, it still requires specific environmental parameters to remain healthy, growing, and active throughout its life.

Here are the main points and parameters to consider when building the Mantis Shrimp’s habitat:

Aquarium Type

First, let’s clarify some aspects. Mantis Shrimps are not mantises, and they are not shrimps either.

They are stomatopods, which encompass a variety of carnivorous marine crustaceans. Mantis Shrimps fall into 2 distinct categories: spearers and smashers.

As their names suggest, the former have spear-like appendices that they use to hunt and slash, while smashers have clubs designed for pounding.

Needless to say, smashers are more popular, with the Peacock Shrimp being the ambassador of the bunch.

To get straight to the point, if you’re getting a smasher Mantis Shrimp, don’t invest in a glass tank. You may have heard that smasher Shrimps can break the tank’s walls with their clubs, and you may have taken that as an exaggeration. It’s not.

The Mantis Shrimp can actually deliver the same force as a .22 caliber handgun during speeds of 50-60 mph.

This force is so great that it can:

  • Generate forces exceeding 1,500 newtons, capable of pulverizing environmental rocks and corals
  • Create cavitation bubbles of boiled water that burst immediately after the blow, releasing a shockwave that will stun, dismember, and kill victims even if the hit misses
  • Inflict severe and potentially lethal damages to aquatic creatures far larger than the Mantis Shrimp
  • Break your fingers and cause tissue damage
  • Crack of break the glass tank walls

I would say these fast facts point out 3 overarching hints:

  1. Don’t pair Mantis Shrimps with any other aquatic creature, no matter their size, temperament, species, or any other features
  2. Don’t get your hand near the Mantis Shrimp too often
  3. And don’t use a glass tank

Although Mantis Shrimps aren’t known to attack the tank’s walls too often, they sometimes do. And, since they always like to go full force, the chance of them breaking the tank is actually quite high.

If the walls are too thick, they might only crack them and finish the job next time.

I suggest investing in an acrylic tank for several reasons, mainly:

  • Getting a glass tank with excessively thick walls will solve one problem and create many others. The tank will be too heavy and almost impossible to move, too expensive, and will distort the light moving through.
  • Acrylic tanks are cheaper, more resilient, and lighter
  • Acrylic tanks come in various shapes, whereas glass tanks only allow for squares and rectangles

That being said, acrylic does have its downs, such as being easier to scratch and being more vulnerable to UV light.

Don’t place your acrylic tank in direct sunlight, otherwise, it will discolor with time, becoming foggy.

And since we’re at this point, let’s say you already have a glass tank or plan on getting one either way. Is there something you can do to prevent the Mantis Shrimp from hitting the tank’s walls?

The answer is not really. It isn’t quite clear why Mantis Shrimps decide to attack their enclosure’s walls, but there are some theories floating around.

These include:

  • Reacting to their reflection – Mantis Shrimps are extremely territorial and will quickly kill each other for a piece of aquatic terrain. They also can’t recognize themselves in the glass’s reflection. In their mind, that’s just a Mantis Shrimp intruder trespassing their territory, so they will act accordingly – with violence.
  • The space is too small – If the tank is too small, your Mantis Shrimps might feel a bit claustrophobic. This will boost their aggression levels, causing them to attack their perimeter walls in an attempt to escape. And sometimes they will.
  • Reacting to an outside threat – Mantis Shrimps have excellent vision, capable of astounding depth and visual accuracy. They are also capable of distinguishing more colors than humans, so it’s safe to say that their visibility is highly advanced and complex. This allows them to see everything around their tank, including movement, colors and shapes that they may take as threats or even prey. This will cause them to react aggressively and the tank wall will be the first obstacle that they’ll try to overcome.

Given all this information, I advise against investing in a glass tank. It’s true that Mantis Shrimps don’t attack their enclosure’s walls too often.

But is it worth the risk, given their volatile temperament and striking power?

Tank Size

The Mantis Shrimp doesn’t need too much space to be comfortable and content with its living space.

If nothing else is available, a 10-gallon tank should do for a 5-6-inch Mantis Shrimp. However, I would personally recommend a larger tank.

A 20-gallon piece is a better option for several reasons:

  • The shrimp’s size – The Mantis Shrimp’s average size revolves around 6-7 inches. But it can grow up to 15 inches. Even if the Mantis Shrimp don’t get to that size, an 11-12-inch Mantis Shrimp will feel a bit crowded in a 10-gallon tank. And you definitely don’t want that.
  • The rocks and corals – Mantis Shrimps prefer rocky setups, especially smashers. Spearer shrimps only need a sandy substrate so they can burrow themselves with ease. Smashers prefer corals and cave-like structures, so you need to consider the necessary space for that as well.
  • The opportunity for more aquascaping – Since you’ll only be having one Mantis Shrimp, performing some aquascaping will add more variation and excitement to the creature’s environment. But this requires more space, as you can clearly tell.

That being said, you can accommodate your Mantis Shrimp in a 10-gallon tank, no problem.

It all comes down to providing your shrimp with optimal living conditions, and it will thrive.

Aquarium Heater

Mantis Shrimps thrive at tropical temperatures, around 72 to 80 F. This requires you to invest in a heating system, which shouldn’t be too difficult since the tank will be fairly small.

When choosing the heater, make sure it doesn’t take up too much space and isn’t too close to the Mantis Shrimp or the coral system.

I would recommend getting a heater with a protective grill to prevent the system from burning the shrimp in case the creature gets curious or reckless.

Keep the temperature somewhere in the mid-70s and your Mantis Shrimp will appreciate it.

Aquarium Filter

The filtration system should also be simple and non-demanding. After all, we’re talking about a small tank and an aquatic animal that doesn’t produce a lot of waste anyway.

Mantis Shrimps are also impressively resilient and hardy when it comes to fluctuations in their water parameters. In other words, it won’t bother them too much if the water quality isn’t perfect.

That being said, Mantis Shrimps are sensitive to airborne chemicals and pollutants, which can poison their environment fast.

So, chemical filtration is necessary to prevent that, as well as placing the tank in a safer area with minimal risk of water pollution.

Aquarium Lights

This is a trickier point since there isn’t a general consensus on how environmental lighting works for Mantis Shrimp.

Here’s some general information to consider:

  • The risk of shell rot – Shell rot is a disease that affects the Mantis Shrimp’s exoskeleton. It’s generally deadly in advanced phases, and it’s contagious, capable of spreading to other crustaceans living in the vicinity. There are multiple potential causes for shell rot, lighting being one of them. It turns out that the fungus causing the infection thrives in well-lit environments.
  • The shrimp’s preferences – The Mantis Shrimp is a cave and substrate dweller. So, it’s safe to say it doesn’t appreciate bright lighting. Keep the tank safe from direct sunlight and only provide enough for your Mantis Shrimps to distinguish between day and night.

That being said, there’s a lot of information on the subject, primarily coming from Mantis Shrimp owners who have tested with various lighting levels and types.

Much of this information is conflicting, so make of it what you will. I recommend starting off with low-lighting and working your way from there.

If your Mantis Shrimp spends too much time hidden in its cave or buried in the substrate, the lighting is probably too bright.

Substrate

I suggest sand for your Mantis Shrimps, which includes smashers and spearers alike. A mixed substrate will also work just fine.

Many aquarists mix sand with gravel and add some live rocks here and there. The shrimp will smash them to make their environment comfier, which will keep them busy and active.

But I would say sand is necessary to provide the shrimp with the building blocks to some nice and personalized burrows.

Mantis Shrimps love to form substrate burrows near their cave entrance and mold their environment according to their wishes.

This is why a mixed substrate (sand alongside gravel and rocks) is ideal for them.

Rocks and Caves

Reef structures or live rocks should do just fine. Just make sure that the rock layout contains crevices and caves for the shrimp to explore.

Mantis Shrimps will create their territory near rocky structures providing shelter and safety.

They will also move rocks around, disturb the substrate, and dig holes and burrows around their nest.

So, make sure that the rock system doesn’t cover the aquarium’s bed completely. Mantis Shrimp also require open sandy areas for them to play around.

The presence of caves is probably the most important aspect. Mantis Shrimp are ambush predators, which means they will spend most of their time in hiding, waiting for an opportunity to hunt.

Your Mantis Shrimp can become stressed and grow more aggressive with time without a reliable cave system.

Maintaining a Mantis Shrimp Tank

The maintenance process is fairly easy since Mantis Shrimp aren’t that messy. That being said, you do need to perform regular tank maintenance and monitor water quality occasionally.

Keeping the shrimp’s water clean and clear will prevent the bacterial formation and keep the shrimp healthier in the long run.

Fortunately, your Mantis Shrimp won’t create too much mess, other than ravishing the substrate occasionally and breaking some stuff around.

Even so, you should clean the tank, aquatic decorations and filter from any algae deposits to keep the shrimp’s habitat in good condition.

Are Mantis Shrimp Easy to Keep?

Yes, Mantis Shrimp are easy to keep, so long as you embrace several useful strategies, such as:

  • Consider their need for space – 10 gallons might seem sufficient at first until you start adding the rock system, the heater, the filter, and other decorative pieces designed to bring in the cozy element. I suggest at least 20 gallons of space, especially since your Mantis Shrimp can grow past 8 inches.
  • Nothing beats a good cave – As ambush predators, Mantis Shrimps demand access to a shady and cozy cave. They might even desire several caves to roam around and retreat to when tired, scared, or threatened. Invest in a solid and compact rock system that can withstand the shrimp’s pounding to avoid any meaningful structural damage. You can even add some PVC pipes into the mix, so long as you make sure the shrimp won’t get stuck inside.
  • A well-planned diet – As native predators, Mantis Shrimp love to hunt and fight with their prey. I advise providing them with live fish, snails, crabs, and even genuine shrimps, if possible, at least once a week. If not, you can always provide them with various live food options that are more readily available. Just make sure you don’t feed the Mantis Shrimp directly. Allow it to find it on its own in its habitat. This will keep the Mantis Shrimp active and incentivize it to get out of its hiding more often. Feeding your Mantis Shrimp once every 2-3 days should suffice.
  • Keep water quality stable – The Mantis Shrimp is an adaptable aquatic creature that can withstand fluctuations in its water quality quite well. With that in mind, these aquatic creatures still require a healthy and stable environment to avoid health problems in the long run. This is especially important knowing that Mantis Shrimps can live up to 20 years in the wild, but only 2-6 in captivity, depending on the species.

As a vital end-note, don’t consider any type of tank mate for your Mantis Shrimp. These carnivorous crustaceans don’t have any consideration for any tank companion, no matter their species.

Neither spearer nor smasher shrimps will get along with any other tank mate, including one of their own.

Their territorial and aggressive temperament will lead them into a frenzy whenever any living creatures swim nearby.

They will consider some of the intruders as threats and others as food, tickling their predatorial behavior.

Either way, they will react aggressively and won’t stop until the threat is eliminated.

Due to their astounding biology, Mantis Shrimps can even kill larger crustaceans and fish. A useful point to remember.

Conclusion

Mantis Shrimp are generally easy to maintain, provided you keep in mind the essential points:

  • A solid tank, preferably impervious to the shrimp’s attacks
  • At least 10 gallons of water, double for 8-inch shrimp or larger
  • A nutritious diet and a feeding pattern that allows Mantis Shrimps to hunt or seek their food actively
  • A balanced and clean habitat
  • No tank mates to avoid stress and unnecessary loss of aquatic lives

These strategies should be enough to craft a stable and thriving environment for your Mantis Shrimp.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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