How to Setup a Freshwater Shrimp Tank? [Beginner’s Guide]
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Shrimp aquariums can be just as interesting as fish aquariums, and even though shrimp may seem much more delicate than fish, there are several similarities in setup and maintenance.
Although some experience with fish aquariums is useful in setting up a freshwater shrimp tank, this is not necessary, and you can attempt to put together a shrimp tank at any skill level.
In fact, in this guide to freshwater shrimp tank setup I will teach you everything you need to know about the equipment you need, the type of shrimp to pick, and aquarium maintenance.
I will also discuss some common problems that you may encounter with shrimp and solutions to these problems.
Picking Out the Equipment
Before you can start setting up your shrimp aquarium, you’ll need to get the following equipment:
- Aquarium Test Kit;
- Thermometer & TDS Meter;
- Filter System;
Let’s see what’s the role of each of this hardware and what you should look out for when buying a particular model.
1. Aquarium Test Kit
Whether you’re keeping fish or shrimp, an aquarium test kit is an absolute must for any aquarist. A reliable aquarium test kit is the best way to ensure that water parameters are optimal.
Without a test kit you won’t be able to monitor and control water parameters, which is an extremely important aspect in keeping your shrimp healthy.
If you’re looking for a reliable aquarium test kit, forget about strip test kits, which may be cheaper, but they’re less reliable and make you spend more on the long run.
Instead, you should go with a test kit like the Freshwater Aquarium Master API Test Kit on Amazon, which is a liquid test kit that’s more accurate than strip tests. You can use it to test water for:
- Freshwater pH and high range pH;
- Nitrite and Nitrate;
- General hardness and carbonate hardness.
With a test kit that measures these parameters, you can avoid toxic water conditions and create a healthy environment for your shrimp or fish.
Another measuring tool that you’ll need is a thermometer, which will help you monitor and adjust temperature levels as needed.
Thermometers are also useful in water changes when you need to make sure that the new water you’re adding to the tank is the same temperature as the water in your tank.
Shrimp are highly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, so a thermometer can help you with keeping temperature at optimal levels.
If you’re looking for an affordable, yet accurate digital thermometer, check out the Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer on Amazon, which is suitable for measuring temperature in any aquarium.
3. TDS Meter
Although a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter is not a compulsory tool, TDS is often monitored to create an environment that mimics the natural environment of the species you want to keep.
Some aquatic species can even be sensitive to high or low TDS levels, especially when spawning, so depending on what type of species you’re planning on keeping you may need a TDS meter too.
You can get a separate TDS meter, or you can find digital meters that you can use to measure TDS, pH, and water temperature as well.
Because shrimp aren’t fond of temperature changes, a heater is another piece of hardware that you should consider for your shrimp tank.
Although most shrimp species are good with room temperature water, changes in temperature can be prevented with a thermostat heater that will keep water temperature at optimal levels for your shrimp.
A thermostat heater is designed to turn on when temperature drops below a certain pre-set temperature, ensuring a stable temperature in your tank.
If the type of shrimp you’re planning on keeping are highly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, you should invest in a high-quality heater that won’t unexpectedly malfunction.
One heater that I recommend is the Cobalt Aquatics Neo-Therm Aquarium Heater from Amazon, which is available in 50W, 75W and 100W formats.
The 50W model would be enough for a 10-gallon tank. If you’re going for a bigger tank, you can choose higher wattage options.
5. Filter System
All aquariums need a filtration system, regardless whether you’re keeping fish or shrimp in your tank.
Filter systems have a double role in your tank — they filter the water by eliminating debris and unwanted chemicals and help in the colonization of the tank with beneficial bacteria.
Because you’re dealing with small aquatic creatures, an important aspect in choosing a filtration system is making sure that shrimp don’t get sucked into the filter. This can easily happen with powerful filters.
To avoid such mishaps, you should purchase a filter guard that is placed on the intake of the filter, however, not all filters are problematic in this respect. In fact, there are 100% shrimp-safe filters too.
There are four common types of filters used by aquarists, each with its own pros and cons:
- Sponge Filter:
For a shrimp tank you can never go wrong with a sponge filter. In fact, a sponge filter is my top recommendation if you want a shrimp-safe filter.
If you have a shrimp tank that’s up to 15 gallons, a sponge filter is a good filter system to consider. Sponge filters are gentle and powered by an air pump.
For tanks that are bigger than 15 gallons, you should consider a different kind of filtration system.
- Internal Filter:
Internal filters are commonly used in general fishkeeping, however, if you’re considering one for your shrimp tank, try to find one that’s specially designed for shrimp tanks.
If you’re considering using an internal filter designed for general fishkeeping, make sure to equip it with a filter guard to make it shrimp-safe.
- Hang-on-Back (HOB) Filter:
These filters are simply clipped onto the back of the aquarium, hence the name hang-on-back. They’re easy to maintain without getting your hands dirty and they’re super easy to install too.
HOB filters feature an inlet pipe, which sucks the water up, runs it through a filter media and releases it back into the tank through an outlet pipe.
Because it features a somewhat strong vacuum, there is a risk of shrimp getting sucked into the inlet, therefore, a filter guard (e.g. sponge) is a must with these types of filters.
- Canister Filter:
Canister filters are an overkill for a shrimp tank, especially that they’re mostly available in models designed for larger aquariums.
You may find nano-canister filters too, however, of all the filtration systems in this list, canister filters are probably the least suited for a shrimp tank.
That said, canister filters can be a good choice for freshwater fish tanks that are larger than 50 gallons, while HOB and sponge filters are the best choice for a shrimp tank.
A filter system that I can recommend is the Aqua Clear Power Filter (click to see it on Amazon), which is an easy-to-install HOB filter with superior filtration capabilities. Make sure to add a sponge guard to prevent shrimp from getting sucked into the filter!
Even though dwarf shrimp species are… well, tiny, it doesn’t mean that you should keep them in a tiny tank. On the contrary, the bigger the tank, the better chance of survival for your shrimp.
Aquarists of all skill levels prefer larger tanks because the ecosystem in an aquarium is a very delicate thing that can be easily disrupted. In a smaller tank, the impact of a mistake is much bigger.
With a bigger tank, you can get away with some mistakes as it’s more difficult to overthrow the water chemistry than in a tiny tank, where there’s literally no room for mistakes.
Therefore, I recommend starting with a 10 to 20-gallon tank for a shrimp colony. The price difference compared to smaller tanks is marginal and there’s enough room for live plants too.
Just like with filtration systems, substrate is another domain where you have multiple options – gravel, sand, and all-in-one substrates.
Gravel is the affordable and easy choice, however, not all shrimp species are fond of gravel – in fact, most aren’t – plus, plants don’t do well with gravel either.
Sand is another option that you could consider, however, not all live plants can develop in a sandy substrate, so it’s best if you factor that in when you’re setting up a planted tank.
All-in-one substrates like the ADA Aqua Soil that I recommend for planted tanks, are packed with nutrients that can sustain plant live – something that gravel and sand isn’t good at – and feature “buffering” capacity.
The fact that a substrate has a buffering capacity means that it helps keep water pH within normal values.
A problem with all-in-one substrates is that they’ll cause ammonia spikes when first added to the water, so monitoring toxin levels is a must, however, since you’ll be performing the nitrogen cycle before adding any shrimp to the tank, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Planted or Non-Planted Tank?
Before I discuss setting up the tank, there’s an important aspect to consider — whether you’re going for a planted tank or not.
In fact, it’s good to establish this early on, since you will need to consider lighting and substrate differently if you’re going for a planted tank than when you’re putting together a non-planted one.
Non-planted tanks are cheaper, require less maintenance, however, they’re best suited for non-display tanks and rearing tanks.
Most shrimp tanks are planted tanks and depending on the type of plants that you want to keep, you’ll need to find a suitable substrate (as I mentioned gravel and sand aren’t ideal) and lighting.
If you’re a beginner, go with low light plants that won’t require special lighting conditions and upkeep.
Beginner-friendly plants suitable for a shrimp tank include the Java Moss, the Java Fern, Anubias Nana, Crypts, Flame Moss, etc.
These plants are easy to care for, do well in low light conditions, don’t need dosing with fertilizers and don’t require much in the way of maintenance.
Be advised, however, that setting up a planted tank is more expensive, and it requires more in overall maintenance.
But it’s all worth it since you’re offering your shrimp a natural environment in which they can feel right at home.
Setting Up the Tank
With all the hardware picked out and ready, you can start putting together the whole ensemble.
If this is not your first time setting up an aquarium, you can probably skip this part. If you’re a complete beginner, however, follow the steps below:
Step 1: Choose the Location
Pick a location for your shrimp tank. Make sure you’re placing the tank on something sturdy and level, away from direct sunlight, AC, heater, and other things that could influence temperature.
Step 2: Add the Substrate
Next, you should lay down the substrate and add any decorations or plants you may want. Make sure to rinse the substrate to avoid cloudiness in the tank.
Step 3: Add Water
Make sure to dechlorinate your water before filling up the tank, I recommend using a water conditioner that neutralizes harmful chlorine and chloramine. Carefully pour the water into the tank to avoid stirring up the substrate.
You can now turn on the heater, the filter system and any lighting system you may have.
Step 4: Complete the Nitrogen Cycle
Even if you’re keeping an all-shrimp tank, completing the nitrogen cycle before adding any shrimp to the tank is an absolute must.
Be advised that the nitrogen cycle can take weeks to complete, so arm yourself with patience. You should in no way attempt to perform a cycle with your shrimp in the tank, because you’ll lose them.
The nitrogen cycle is required to establish a healthy colony of bacteria that can neutralize toxic waste and maintain a healthy environment in the tank.
All you need for the nitrogen cycle is fish food, a water test kit, and time.
You’ll need to “feed” the tank with small amounts of fish food until ammonia levels peak and beneficial bacteria develop.
Bacterial colonies will transform ammonia into nitrites, and nitrites into nitrates.
When you can no longer detect ammonia and nitrites in your tank and your nitrate levels are low, you can start adding shrimp to the tank.
Step 5: Adding the Shrimp
The last step in setting up the tank is adding the shrimp to the tank. Whether you’ve ordered your shrimp online or you’ve got them at your local pet store, the first thing you should do is acclimation.
By acclimating your shrimp, you avoid sudden changes in their environment and increase the odds of their survival.
Your shrimp probably came in a bag, which has some aquarium water in it. Here’s what you should do to avoid issues:
- Take a clean bucket and empty the bag with your shrimp into the bucket with the water they came with;
- Take an airline tube with a control valve and siphon water into the acclimation bucket adjusting the valve, so that water drips at about 1-2 drops per second;
- Let water drip for 1-2 hours all the while checking that water temperature is the same as the temperature in the tank;
- When water in the acclimation bucket is mainly tank water, gently scoop your shrimp out of the acclimation bucket and add them to the tank.
Needless to say, don’t add the shrimp with the acclimation water into the aquarium and always check your shrimp for signs of diseases and parasites before placing them into the tank.
Cloudy/milky bodies, green underbellies, white parasites on the head of the shrimp are signs of trouble.
Here is a great video on how to setup a crystal red shrimp tank from start to finish:
Is Quarantining Needed?
Most shrimp keepers don’t think it’s necessary, but quarantine is key to minimizing losses, especially if your shrimp are from import.
Respectable importers will treat shrimp with saline dip and keep them under observation in barefoot tanks for 2 weeks. When you’re buying shrimp, it’s a good idea to ask about this too.
If you’re adding new shrimp to an already existing colony, I recommend quarantining your new shrimp, especially if you don’t know much about the importer’s practices.
Quarantine will protect your old stock from diseases, parasites, and other problems. Use the acclimation method to get your shrimp accustomed with water parameters in the target tank.
Use a quarantine tank with no gravel, some hiding spaces and a filter system. Keep your shrimp under observation and perform the usual water changes required for tank maintenance.
If after a couple of weeks your shrimp seem in good health, and tank conditions in the quarantine tank match that of the target tank, you can add your new shrimp to the old colony.
Which Shrimp Species to Pick?
While you’re waiting on the nitrogen cycle to complete, you can research the various shrimp species you may consider keeping.
Here are some of my suggestions, but feel free to look into other species as well:
Red Cherry Shrimp
Of all the dwarf shrimp species, the Red Cherry Shrimp is an excellent choice even for beginners.
Despite its name, it comes in a variety of colors, however, bright red is the staple color of the Neocaridina shrimp.
Red Cherry Shrimp are available in different grades (color intensity), so make sure you research each grade if you’re planning on breeding them.
These shrimps are easy to keep and they breed quite fast.
Crystal Red / Bee Shrimp (Caridina cf. cantonensis)
Selectively bred to create a variety of colors and patterns, this shrimp species is more difficult to keep, but extremely rewarding.
The Crystal Red Shrimp is a good choice if you want your tank to stand out. It’s easily identified by its red-white marking.
They’re fragile by nature and difficult to breed, which also makes them more expensive. I don’t recommend them to absolute beginners, as knowledge and experience are key to keeping them healthy.
They require a balanced diet of fresh vegetables and processed food.
Babaulti Shrimp (Caridina cf. babaulti)
Although not as popular as the previous two, the Caridina cf. babaulti is another species I recommend for beginners.
Color variations abound across this species too, although they’re a little bit shy compared to other species.
They’re also hardier, which makes them a good choice for beginner shrimp keepers. You can tell these shrimps apart from other dwarf shrimp by their longer rostrum and pronounced backstripe.
The most popular color in this species is the green one, which is often purchased as an alternative to the green Neocaridina shrimp.
Go for this shrimp species only if you’re experienced as they have special requirements that only experts can meet.
They originate from the Indonesian Sulawesi lakes and display a plethora of amazing colors.
The Cardinal Shrimp is an excellent choice in this category.
Cardinal Shrimp are notoriously difficult to keep, and diet is a particularly difficult domain with this shrimp. They are naturally detritus feeders that don’t respond as strongly to food as other shrimp.
Spirulina powder, microorganism based foods and algae that grows naturally in the tank should be part of their diet.
The Amano Shrimp is chosen by many aquarists for their algae eating abilities and they’re often part of the so-called “clean-up crew of tanks”. They’re also one of my favorite shrimp species.
They grow a bit larger than dwarf shrimp, they’re peaceful, and don’t breed in freshwater tanks. Because of difficulties in breeding them, they’re more expensive.
The reason they don’t breed in captivity is because they’re wild-caught and they can also be sensitive to tank conditions, so be careful when introducing them to your aquarium.
Suitable for all experience levels, the Ghost Shrimp is easy to care for and a great addition to an aquarium with small fish. They’re also used as feeders for larger fish.
They’re hardies than other species, which makes them a good trial shrimp before moving on to more expensive shrimp varieties.
They’ll eat all types of food, they’re active scavengers, and despite their hardiness they can be sensitive to fluctuations.
These are just some examples of shrimp you can pick, there are, however, plenty of other options too, especially if you already have some experience as an aquarist under your belt.
To make sure you’re picking out healthy specimens, there are a few things to keep in mind that I’ll discuss below.
Tips for Buying Shrimp
If you’re opting for common and popular species, you’ll probably find them at your local pet store or have them to order a batch for you. Alternatively, you can buy shrimp online too.
Online or Pet Store?
With less popular species, you may have better luck ordering them yourself online as shrimp ship quite well and online stores carry a wider range of shrimp species than a physical store.
Even though you’ll need to pay for shipping when ordering online, you may be able to find a better deal than what your local pet store is offering.
Check for Signs of Disease
That said, it’s always better to check the shrimp before you buy them, which you can only do so in a pet store. Look for signs of disease, discoloration, spots, blemishes, and strange bits.
Healthy shrimp should also be moving around in the tank, foraging for food.
Imported or Home Bred?
Mass bred shrimp that come from import are usually cheaper than home bred ones, however, with mass bred shrimp there is a risk of diseases and parasites that can give you a lot of trouble.
The best way to avoid problems is to carefully inspect the shrimp before adding them to the tank.
Shrimp – and especially dwarf shrimp species – are unfortunately vulnerable because of their size, which puts them at a great disadvantage in a fish tank.
Generally, if a shrimp is small enough to fit in the mouth of a fish, it will surely end up a tasty snack for most hungry fish.
Therefore, most aquarists, prefer to set up a shrimp-only tank and avoid experimenting to see which fish are compatible with which shrimp.
Still, if you absolutely want to add shrimp to a fish tank, make sure you choose larger shrimp species like the Amano Shrimp and choose compatible tank mates like:
- Small schooling fish such as tetras, rasboras or endlers
- Panda or other smaller Corydoras and Otocinclus Catfish
- Nerite snails, ramhorn snails, rabbit snails
- Other invertebrates
If you’re not worried about some of your shrimp fry being snatched away by the fish in your tank, small schooling fish can be a potentially safe tank mate for your shrimp.
Panda or dwarf Corydoras and Otocinclus Catfish are part of a small group of fish species that won’t bother dwarf shrimp species, so they can be a good match.
A match that’s 100% safe for your shrimp are other invertebrates like Nerite Snails.
Other shrimp species can also be a good combination if they won’t interbreed, because that produces weak offspring, discoloration and diseases.
If you’re going to house your shrimp with other fish, make sure you provide plenty of hiding spaces in the form of live plants with lots of foliage.
This ensures that your fry can stay hidden and away from the reach of hungry fish.
Next, let’s see what you should be feeding your shrimp.
Shrimp Diet Basics
Besides a healthy aquarium environment, shrimp also need a varied diet to stay healthy. Let’s see what types of foods do shrimp eat and how often should you be feeding them?
What Do Shrimp Eat?
In the wild, shrimp spend their time foraging for food and eat pretty much anything they come across – algae, biofilm, decaying plant matter, dead fish and so on.
In captivity, shrimp thrive on an omnivorous diet that contains a varied assortment of vegetarian foods and the occasional meaty foods.
What I do with my shrimp is to feed them daily with a good quality shrimp food like JBL NovoPrawn which I buy from Amazon or other nutrient rich food designed especially for shrimp.
Besides this, I supplement their diet with algae wafers, blanched vegetables, frozen foods like bloodworms, leaf litter (Indian almond leaves), soybean shells (“snowflakes”).
The key is to add variety to their diet and provide them with all the nutrients they need for a healthy development and a strong immune system.
How Often Should You Feed Your Shrimp?
In general, you should feed your shrimp once a day with an amount that they can finish during the course of a few hours.
If you notice that they eat their food too enthusiastically and finish it very quickly, you may feed them once more during the day.
They key is not to overdo it and to avoid having decaying food in the tank. Leftovers that decay can disturb the quality of the water and potentially endanger the health of your shrimp.
Therefore, if you notice that your shrimp leave food uneaten regularly, you should feed them a smaller amount.
It takes a bit of figuring out how much food should you feed them, but a good rule is to start with once per day and adjust as you go along.
Freshwater Shrimp Tank Maintenance
So far I’ve walked you through the steps required for setting up a freshwater shrimp tank. Unfortunately, your work with the shrimp tank doesn’t stop at setting everything up.
There’s still one more important thing to cover and that’s the regular cleaning of your shrimp tank, which should be done weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the bio-load of your shrimp.
Shrimp are highly sensitive to ammonia and nitrites, which I’ve discussed when I mentioned the nitrogen cycle. However, the end product of the nitrogen cycle — nitrate — can also be dangerous for them.
Therefore, I recommend your test water in your aquarium to make sure nitrates are within acceptable levels. You should strive for values below 5.
If your shrimp regularly leave uneaten food and if toxin levels are high, you may need to perform weekly water changes.
10-15% water changes are the generally recommended amount; however, you should test your water and adjust levels accordingly.
While you’re performing water changes, make sure to also vacuum the substrate to remove dead plants, debris, leftover food, etc.
Gently scrub the glass surfaces of the tank and trim plants if you have plants that require trimming.
When adding the new water to the tank, make sure the water is dechlorinated (use a water conditioner – I use Seachem Prime) and that water temperature and other parameters match that of the tank water.
Remember that shrimp don’t like sudden changes and fluctuations in water parameters, so test the new water against the parameters in the tank and add the new water carefully to the tank.
Another facet of regular tank maintenance is filter cleaning. Notice that I wrote filter cleaning and not filter changing, and I’ll get into why this matters in a bit.
Aim for monthly filter cleaning and schedule it for a time when you’re performing a weekly water change. Remove the filter from the tank and into the bucket with siphoned tank water.
Gently squeeze the filter sponge until debris stops coming out of the sponge. After you’re done, put back the filter and power it on.
In any aquarium, the filter is an important piece of hardware that only helps clean the water, but it also harbors a healthy colony of bacteria.
Therefore, never place the filter under running tap water or use chlorine to clean it, because you’ll end up killing off beneficial bacteria and it will hurt your shrimp too.
Also, replace the filter entirely only when replacement is due, and when you do, add the new filter in next to the old one and wait for a couple of weeks (some recommend waiting at least two months just to be safe) until the new filter is also colonized with bacteria.
Only then should you remove the old filter and continue to perform regular maintenance on the new filter.
Common Shrimp Tank Problems & Solutions
Even if you perform all the tank maintenance tasks I mentioned flawlessly, sometimes issues still appear seemingly out of nowhere and propagate at a fast pace.
The key is to always closely monitor water parameters and the health of your shrimp. Close monitoring ensures that you can spot problems early on and act on them before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, shrimp are sensitive little aquatic animals and to the untrained eye, issues can be difficult to spot on time, so problems are bound to happen from time to time.
In this section, I’ll discuss some of the tank problems that are specific to shrimp tanks:
Sometimes, your shrimp may unexpectedly wither away one by one. In these cases, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly is causing their death since it could be anything from disease to improper water parameters.
In these situations, I recommend starting with checking water parameters including ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, TDS, pH, and water hardness parameters.
Even traces of ammonia and nitrites can be harmful to your shrimp, so make sure you test water parameters multiple times a day to see if there are any sudden fluctuations.
If water parameters don’t seem to be the problem, take a magnifying glass and check your shrimp for signs of diseases.
If everything seems to be in order with their health too, hit up a few shrimp keeping forums and post about your issues there.
Members with decades of experience may be able to help you out and offer some advice about what else you could try to prevent further deaths.
Sometimes, you may simply need to start over if the problem doesn’t go away after multiple attempts of trying to identify and fix the problem.
While they’re maturing, your shrimp will continuously renew their exoskeleton, which is a process that requires a lot of nutrients.
Lack of proper nutrients that can sustain this process can cause molting issues. Your shrimp can get stuck in their molts or have trouble molting, or even dying after the molting phase.
If you encounter any of these issues, make sure to review their diet to see if they’re missing something.
Mineral deficiency, too much calcium or protein, can be all to blame for molting issues. Adjust their diet, add mineral balls or montmorillonite clay and see if there are any changes.
Usually, high-quality staple foods contain a mix of nutrients and minerals that are necessary for your shrimp, but don’t forget to supplement their diet with the occasional veggie or meaty snack.
Parasites are a common cause of death in freshwater shrimp. There are various types of parasites that can end up infesting your shrimp, with Scutariella and Ellobiopsidae being the most common ones.
Scutariella appears as tiny worms on the gills or mantle of shrimp, while the Ellobiopsidae appear as elongated cylindrical stalks that are usually green and which penetrate the body of the shrimp.
The best treatment is always prevention — check all your new shrimp with a magnifying glass before adding them to the tank.
It’s also a good idea to place new shrimp — especially those from import — in quarantine for a couple of weeks, which is usually enough to see if they have any parasites or other diseases.
Some parasites respond to saline treatments, others unfortunately don’t respond to saline or other treatments.
Always monitor your shrimp, so you can detect issues early on and prevent aquarium-level infestations.
As a beginner, shrimp keeping may seem overwhelming, especially that shrimp are quite small and sensitive to fluctuations and lack of proper maintenance.
Therefore, I recommend that you thoroughly research the shrimp species you’re about to keep including potential health issues and tank problems that you may encounter with them.
Remember that a lot of issues are rooted in improper water parameters, pre-existing issues (e.g. parasites), or lack of a varied diet.
With that said, I hope you don’t get discouraged from setting up your own freshwater shrimp tank and that the information is this guide will help you take good care of your shrimp.