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Red Cherry Shrimp: Ultimate Care, Setup & Breeding Guide
Red Cherry Shrimp (Cherry Shrimp or RCS) are a popular freshwater shrimp that’s suitable for all skill levels and anyone who wants to take up shrimp-keeping. They’re one of the easiest shrimp species to care for.
Despite their name, this shrimp species is available in a variety of colors or “grades”, some of which I will discuss in this guide to Red Cherry Shrimp.
To give you a comprehensive understanding of the particularities of this shrimp species, I will discuss aspects such as tank requirements, diet, RCS tank setup, breeding, and more.
Before I go into aspects related to the care and breeding of RCS, let’s get to know them a little bit better.
Despite having a short lifespan and staying relatively small, Cherry Shrimp are very common with beginners and experienced aquarists alike.
It’s something about their easy-going nature and simplicity that makes them such likeable characters and they’re often the first type of shrimp people get for their aquarium.
Quick Red Cherry Shrimp Stats
- Scientific Name: Neocaridina davidi
- Tank Size: 5 gallons or more
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Diet: Omnivorous
- Size: 0.5 – 1.1 inches
- Lifespan: 1-2 years
- Care Level: Easy
They’re native to Taiwan, however, their wild cousins are rather plain-looking. This makes a lot of sense since the rich coloring of the shrimp obtained through selective breeding processes would make them a very quick target in the wild.
Even in captivity, due to their small size and striking colors, Cherry Shrimp often become tasty meals for larger fish.
Because of this, I don’t recommend keeping them in a tank with large fish, because they’ll more than likely fall prey to hungry fish.
By keeping them with small fish or in a shrimp-only tank, accidents like this can be avoided.
They also tend to live no longer than 1 year, however, since they breed quite easily, you’ll always have some around.
Variations & Grades
The bright red coloration that gave them their name isn’t the only color this shrimp can sport. In fact, there are many different colors including yellow, blue, green, orange and even black.
One sought-after variation, the Blue Velvet Shrimp, are more expensive and harder to come by, but just as easy to care for as Red Cherry Shrimp.
Another thing to know about this shrimp is what the different “grades” that are used to label it mean. There are five established grades to Red Cherry Shrimp, which refer to the intensity of their “redness”.
The redder the shrimp, the better quality! From low to high intensity, these are the grades to look out for:
- Cherry Grade (lowest intensity): these are the cheapest type and specimens are mostly translucent with spots of light red or pinkish red;
- Sakura Grade (low intensity): these specimens display a lot more red than the Cherry Grade ones, however, red coloration is still quite blotchy;
- High Sakura Grade (medium intensity): color on these specimens is more intense and they’re also more opaque than low grade Sakura specimens, plus legs start showing some coloration too;
- Fire Red Grade (high intensity): Coloration is strong, and body is almost completely opaque, even legs are evenly colored;
- Painted Fire Red Grade (excellent intensity): A more expensive specimen with beautifully intense coloration, giving the impression of a painted shrimp.
These are the most common grades, however, a new grade, the Bloody Mary Grade is also starting to gain some ground.
This is a recent addition, and it’s even more intense than the Painted Fired Red Grade. They’re a variation bred from the Chocolate Shrimp line and even males are very intensely colored and opaque.
In all other lower grades, males are always less intense in coloration. Another distinction between males and females is that males are smaller and have a narrower tail.
Telling the difference between males and females becomes important when breeding them, details of which I will discuss at length further on in this article.
Red Cherry Shrimp Care
As I already mentioned, Red Cherry Shrimp aren’t difficult to take care of and even beginners can successfully raise and breed this species of Dwarf Shrimp.
Still, to maximize your odds to successfully raise RCS, I will go over the most important things you should know about keeping them.
Since they’re a dwarf shrimp species, RCS can accommodate themselves just fine even in a tank as small as 5 gallons.
If you’re looking to breed colonies, a 5-gallon tank is too small, and you should consider investing in at least a 10-gallon tank, especially that you may want to add some plants too.
Other than tank size, there are some requirements when it comes to adding shrimp to the tank:
- Make sure the fishless cycle is completed before adding shrimp to it;
- After adding the shrimp, test the water regularly for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrate;
- Perform water changes every other week or monthly to prevent toxins from building up.
Dwarf shrimp are sensitive to toxins; therefore, you must monitor and clean the tank regularly to ensure that your shrimp will be in good health.
The same rule of regular water changes applies to any fish tank, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that shrimp too need to be kept in clean water conditions to be healthy.
Besides keeping the tank clean, keeping water parameters like temperature and pH stable should be a priority. That said, Cherry Shrimp prefer the following tank parameters:
- Temperature: 65-85°F (18-30°C)
- Water pH: 6.3-8.0
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS): 150-250
As you can see, there’s a lot of range in temperature, pH and TDS, however, you should strive for stability and balance. Massive deviations from the baseline can affect the health of your shrimp.
Setting Up a Red Cherry Shrimp Tank
So, you’ve decided not to add shrimp to a fish tank, but instead set up a dedicated shrimp tank with all that it entails.
Before you start putting the aquarium together, you’ll first need to decide one important aspect – should you put together a planted tank or a non-planted tank?
Let’s see the pros and cons of keeping your shrimp in a planted tank vs a non-planted tank.
First, planted tanks mimic the natural environment that shrimps are accustomed in the wild, so it makes a lot of sense to place them in a planted tank, where they’ll feel right at home.
That said, you should know that planted tanks are more expensive, they have different substrate requirements and upkeep requirements than a tank with no plants or artificial plants.
Although a tank with artificial plants is less expensive and less maintenance-intensive, I still recommend going with a planted tank. Your shrimp will be healthier, plus naturally planted tanks just look better.
Let’s see what kind of equipment you’ll need, what type of substrate is best for a planted tank, and which plants are most suitable for a shrimp tank.
Equipment You’ll Need…
To set up a shrimp tank you’ll more or less need the same equipment as setting up a regular fish tank.
Let’s say you’ve decided to set up a planted shrimp tank. Here’s the equipment you’ll need:
- Tank: One great thing about shrimp tanks is that they needn’t be as large as a fish tank. Find a simple 10-gallon tank and you’re good to go;
- Lights: As opposed to non-planted tanks, where light conditions are not crucial, lights are a must for planted tanks, even if you plan on adding low-light plants;
- Filter: When buying a filter system for a shrimp tank is important to make sure your small shrimp don’t get sucked into the filter system. I recommend you go with a sponge filter, keeping in mind that these filters require an air pump as well;
- Heater: Since you must maintain stable temperature conditions in the tank, a water heater is another indispensable equipment for your shrimp tank;
- Substrate: You can’t just go with any substrate, you’ll need to invest in an all-in-one planted aquarium substrate that can sustain healthy plant life;
- Aquarium Test Kit: With an aquarium test kit you can monitor toxin levels in your tank, measure pH levels, hardness and other parameters depending on the type of test kit you have.
If you’re looking for a classic aquarium option, I recommend the Aqueon 10 Gal Black Aquarium as an affordable and simple choice.
For lighting, you can check out the NICREW ClassicLED Aquarium Light, which is a highly rated lighting system that will be perfect for your shrimp tank.
As for the heating system, I recommend the Cobalt Aquatics Neo-Therm Aquarium Heater, which comes in three wattage options, of which the 50W model will be sufficient for your 10 gallon tank.
If you want to simplify the process of piecing together all the necessary equipment, you can opt for an aquarium kit that comes ready with the basic equipment required for your tank.
Check out the Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank, which includes LED lighting, 50 W preset heater, filter system, water conditioner, thermometer, and fish net.
Getting an aquarium starter kit eliminates the hassle of piecing together all components alone and they’re usually more affordable than buying each item separately.
However, you don’t have control over the individual items that make up the kit, which can backfire if you don’t buy a kit from a reputable manufacturer.
Adding the Substrate
Whether you went with the aquarium kit or you’ve bought each item separately, once you have everything ready, you’ll need to lay down the substrate before you can add plants to the tank.
I already mentioned that since you’re setting up a planted aquarium, you’ll need a special substrate for that purpose.
Gravel is no good because it’s doesn’t come with nutrients nor does it absorb nutrients from water, so it’s useless for plants. Plus, shrimp are no fans of gravel either.
Go with an all-in-one substrate that’s either pre-packed with nutrients out of the box (like the ADA Aqua Soil substrate I recommended above) or one that can draw nutrients from water.
There are two things you should know about substrates that come pre-packed with nutrients:
- They’re known to cause ammonia spikes in water, so make sure you monitor ammonia and other toxin levels;
- They tend to cloud the tank when first added, so make sure you rinse it thoroughly before adding it to the tank.
Cloudiness happens when you pour water into the tank and you stir up the substrate.
To lessen this effect, take a dinner plate and place it on the substrate, letting water flow onto the plate and not directly on the substrate.
If you do it slow enough, you can prevent cloudiness in your tank.
Once you’re done laying down the substrate, you can start adding plants and decorations to replicate the natural environment that shrimp enjoy in the wild.
Decorating the Tank with Plants
A good thing about planted aquariums is that you can add the plants without having to wait for the nitrogen cycle to complete. In fact, plants can even speed up the cycle.
Plus, live aquarium plants help keep the tank clean, oxygenate the water, and act as a natural pH buffer. Not to mention, they look absolutely lovely.
If it’s your first planted tank, I recommend some low-light and beginner-friendly plants like:
1. Java Moss
Java Moss is a top choice for shrimp keepers as this plant can provide excellent hiding places for both adult and juvenile shrimp.
Because it’s a hardy plant, it can get accustomed to many tank conditions. It prefers low light as bright light will stunt its growth.
Java Moss attaches to ornaments in your tank like driftwood and rocks. If you don’t want it growing too much, you can occasionally trim it to any shape you like.
2. Java Fern
Java Fern is another popular choice for shrimp tanks. This plant doesn’t require strict water parameters and does well in low-light aquariums.
Java Fern has rhizomes that don’t like to be buried and instead you need to attach them to driftwood or other aquarium decorations.
Since these plants get their nutrients from water, you don’t need to place them in the substrate. They generally don’t require fertilizers, although you can encourage their growth if you want to.
Crypts are available in so many shapes and colors, all popular with our shrimp. From the Crypt Wendtii to the Crypt Spiralis, these freshwater aquarium plants are also a good choice for beginners.
They do well in dimmed light conditions, however, unlike Java Moss and Java Fern, they may be more sensitive to sudden changes in tank conditions.
Some variations may require a bit more maintenance, but overall, they’re a great plant for a planted shrimp tank.
4. Flame Moss
Because of its peculiar shape that resembles flames, the Flame Moss is an interesting choice for any planted freshwater aquarium including a shrimp tank.
Until it attaches itself to surfaces, you’ll need to tie it to driftwood or other decorations. It grows a bit slow, but it’s not a fussy plant if you avoid exposure to extreme tank conditions.
5. Anubias Nana
Extremely abundant and affordable, the Anubias Nana is another excellent option for a planted shrimp tank. It’s a hardy plant with no special upkeep requirements.
Known also as Dwarf Anubias, this plant very adaptable and tolerates a variety of water conditions.
It can grow up to 20 cm in length with up to 8 cm long and 3 cm wide plants. Because it’s such a resistant plant, it can be placed even in tanks with herbivorous fish.
You can look into other plants as well like Water Wisteria or Vallisnera, however, the latter needs a little more in the way of maintenance, so they might not be the best for beginners.
Java Moss is my top choice for a shrimp tank because its green foliage excellently contrasts the bright red colors displayed by cherry shrimp.
Another reason why I recommend it is because it gives shrimp shelter when they’re shedding or when juveniles are hatched.
Java Moss is also a great source of food both for adults and juveniles, since it can trap food particles and feed juveniles with zoo- and phytoplankton that forms on moss twigs.
The fact that juveniles are feeding on these planktons doesn’t hurt the moss in any way.
Other than plants, you can add driftwood to your tank to give it a more natural and realistic vibe.
Cycling the Tank
Before you can go ahead and add shrimp to the tank, there’s one more crucial step to check off – performing the nitrogen cycle, which is needed for any aquarium.
Cycling a tank for shrimp follows the same steps and stages as cycling the tank for fish. First, you must raise ammonia levels in the tank by dropping small amounts of fish food into the tank.
Keep doing this until you start to detect nitrites in the tank, then follow through with it until both ammonia and nitrite drop and you start to detect nitrates in your tank.
When ammonia and nitrite levels are zero, you can start adding your shrimp to the tank. Keep monitoring toxin levels and perform regular water changes to dilute toxins and replenish water.
There’s more to cycling the tank than what I described here in nutshell, so make sure to consult a detailed guide to fishless tank cycling before performing one for your shrimp tank.
One thing RCS are not fussy about at all is food. Since they’re an omnivorous species they’ll feed on a variety of food types from prepared shrimp food to fresh veggies.
If kept in a tank with fish, they eagerly pick up pieces of leftover food from the tank bottom and you’ll find them eagerly scavenging the substrate 24/7.
If you keep them in a shrimp-only tank, you should ensure a balanced diet that contains meat-based and plant-based foods alike.
Feeding them pre-prepared shrimp food will bring out nicer colors since they meet all their nutritional needs and promote a better resistance to diseases.
Here’s a list of things you can feed your RCS:
- High quality shrimp foods like Fluval Shrimp Granules or Shirakura Shrimp Food;
- Soft-boiled cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, squash and spinach;
- They’ll eat various microalgae in the tank and keep your tank clean.
It’s important not to overfeed your shrimp! Overfeeding can literally kill them and since they’re opportunistic feeders, they won’t know when to stop. So, they can literally eat themselves to death.
It’s best to feed them once a day and scoop out any food that’s not eaten in 10-20 minutes. You don’t want any food rotting in the tank and interfering with water parameters either.
If you’re going to feed them fresh vegetables, wash those veggies and boil them for 2 to 3 minutes, so they’ll soften.
Because of their small size, Cherry Shrimp are very vulnerable and cannot defend themselves in any shape or form.
The only line of defense they have is hiding behind plants, but due to their bright color, they’re too easy to spot by fish looking for a quick tasty meal.
Therefore, despite their peaceful nature, it’s best if you avoid keeping them in a tank with fish. If you must keep them with fish, choose small species as tank mates.
Fish like Otocinclus, Danios or Plecos can be good companions for shrimp. Aggressive species like Angelfish and Cichlids are an absolute no-no with Red Cherry Shrimp or any other dwarf shrimp for that matter.
The rule is to avoid keeping the with large fish that might mistake them for food, or fish that will pick on them, especially that RCS will usually roam around the tank looking for food.
You may decide to keep this shrimp in a dedicated tank, but you might wonder if you could keep them together with other shrimp species.
Unfortunately, I must disappoint you again. It’s not that you can’t, it’s more that you shouldn’t keep more shrimp species together in a tank.
The reason? Breeding between various species can lead to weak offspring and dull colors. Therefore, it’s best to stick to the good old one species per tank rule.
If you see some empty exoskeletons in the bottom of the tank, don’t worry, it’s just the RCS shedding their skin.
Breeding Red Cherry Shrimp
If you’re planning on breeding Red Cherry Shrimp, I have some good news – they’re the easiest to breed of all the dwarf shrimp species.
In the section below, I’ll discuss all aspects of RCS breeding, so you can successfully breed this shrimp on your own.
Selecting Your Starter Shrimp
Before you can start breeding your shrimp, take a moment to decide what are you planning on doing with the shrimp you’re breeding.
Are you planning on selling shrimp or are you breeding them for aesthetic purposes only? If you plan on selling shrimp, make sure you buy the highest grade of shrimp available.
If you don’t plan on selling them and you’re just curious about what shrimp you can breed, you can buy any grade that you are interested in, however, higher grade Cherry Shrimp look much better.
I already discussed some of the differences between male and female RCS, however, in high grades, there isn’t such a striking difference between male and female shrimp as in lower ones.
Usually, a breeding colony of 10 to 12 RCS is enough to get started. This is a number that will contain a good mix of females and males.
You can buy your shrimp from your local pet store, where you can select them individually, or you can just as well order them online, where you can choose from multiple variants and grades.
Adding RCS to the Tank (Acclimation)
So, your order of RCS has arrived, and you want to add them to your newly cycled tank. Before you do that, make sure to check ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels.
There shouldn’t be any detectable levels of ammonia and nitrite, and the level of nitrates should be below 20 parts per million.
If everything is in order, you should start by acclimating your shrimp to ensure them the best odds of living.
The best way to acclimate your shrimp is by using the drip method, for which you’ll need the following tools:
- A larger bowl or bucket, where the acclimatization will take place;
- Airline tube that you will use to siphon water from the tank;
- Control valve or rubber band;
- Thermometer to check if water temperature in the bowl and the tank are the same;
- Shrimp net to scoop the shrimp into the tank.
Follow the drip acclimation steps below:
- Empty the shrimp from their bag into the large bowl or bucket and include the water they came in;
- Siphon water from the tank into the acclimation bowl or bucket and using the control valve adjust so that water drips at about 1 drop per second (in the absence of a control valve, create a kink in the tube and secure with the rubber band);
- Let water siphon for 1-2 hours while checking temperature in the bowl against the temperature in the tank to make sure they’re the same;
- When the water in the bowl/bucket is mainly tank water, you can scoop out your shrimp and add them to the tank.
Under no circumstances should you add the water your shrimp were shipped in to the tank. Your fish are now acclimated; however, you should continue monitoring them to see if they’re adjusting and swimming.
Usually, if you have a good mix of male and female RCS, breeding will happen without any intervention on your part.
After shedding, female shrimp release pheromones to signal male shrimp that they’re ready to mate. After a short mating process, the female shrimp will carry the eggs for 2-3 weeks.
Eggs are “stored” under the tail of the female shrimp (which is why the female RCS tail is larger than that of the male shrimp) until hatching. The eggs are yellowish or greenish and they darken as they grow.
Generally, the female can carry 20-30 eggs. During this time the female RCS will move her legs more to ensure the eggs get enough oxygen.
She will become more reclusive during this time too. When eggs hatch, you’ll notice that the female no longer has a “berried” undertail.
Newly hatched shrimp are extremely small (1 mm) and you probably won’t even notice them since they hide in the foliage of your tank and stay there until they’re large enough to get out in the open.
Juveniles don’t need any special care, they only need a good hiding place. While they’re hiding under the plants, they’re feeding on plankton.
Other shrimp species go through a larvae stage, which does not apply for this dwarf shrimp species, which hatch from the eggs as minuscule versions of adult shrimp.
Things to look out for when caring for juveniles:
- Juveniles are just as sensitive to sudden changes in tank conditions as adult shrimp are, so keep tank conditions stable;
- Make sure water temperature is somewhere around 80-81, elevated temperatures speed up growth and increase chances of survival;
- Although not necessary, you can supplement their diet with baby shrimp food, but they’ll do just fine without it as well.
Despite being such small creatures, breeding and taking care of Red Cherry Shrimp is a rewarding and aesthetically pleasing experience.
If you decide to add RCS to a community fish tank, make sure your fish are small and not the curious kind that will pester your shrimp.
Whether you’re raising and breeding them as a hobby or you’re planning on going pro, the one thing you need to be extra careful about is maintaining stable tank conditions and performing water changes regularly.
If you manage to do that, you’ll be able to ensure a healthy environment in which your shrimp can grow and even develop great colors.