Let’s face it, freshwater shrimp aren’t the first creatures that come to mind when we think of our next animal companion, with their many legs, long feelers, and strange exoskeletons. But in recent years, there has been a growing number of shrimp lovers.

“I’ve been keeping shrimp for about five years,” says Webster Felipe of Pet City, one such shrimp enthusiast. “I became interested in them when I picked up the planted tank hobby, because shrimp are very helpful when dealing with algal blooms.”

Algal blooms are a planted aquarium hobbyist’s nightmare, wreaking havoc on aquatic plants. “They help me keep my plants algae-free,” Felipe says.  

Colorful crowd

Freshwater aquarium shrimp, also called dwarf freshwater shrimp, are a varied bunch, with different species all living together in the same aquarium. “I have strains of [different] colors,” says Felipe, “[including] red, blue, yellow, and black.”

Most freshwater aquarium shrimp originate in Asia, except for ghost shrimp which are native to the southern US, according to the Aqueon website. The large translucent grey Amano shrimp comes from Japan, where the famous footballer and aquarist Takashi Amano popularized them among aquarium enthusiasts, while the tiger shrimp, bee shrimp, and red cherry shrimp are thought to have originated in Taiwan, mainland China, and Hong Kong.

But which one is Felipe’s favorite? “I have one red female shrimp, you can’t miss her. She’s the biggest and the most intense in color. Her name is Summer.”

Eats like a vacuum cleaner

Freshwater aquarium shrimp are usually busy sucking up all the algae in the tank, which makes them great for maintaining a clean aquarium. But freshwater shrimp do prefer mature aquariums to newly set-up aquariums, which contain nothing for the shrimp to eat!

“They pretty much eat anything you offer them,” Felipe tells us. “But their diet is usually composed of algae or algae-based pellet food.” Some freshwater shrimp are filter feeders, like bamboo shrimp, and they prefer to set up shop inside a current and trap their food on their fans as it drifts past.

“They know when it’s feeding time,” Felipe says, “but of course you need to set a daily routine to establish this behavior.”

Felipe explains that feeding time is often when you can see each individual shrimp’s character. “They all come to the feeding dish when there’s food. And they get bits of food and carry it off to hide somewhere they feel safe and where no one can take their food while they are eating. Sometimes, I catch them snatching food from one another!”

Learning to get along

Freshwater shrimp are relatively small, so larger fish sometimes make them a snack. They survive better in aquariums containing small, non-predatory fish, such as tetras, guppies, celestial danios, and emerald dwarf rasboras.

“Keep the water clean and make sure there are plenty of plants for the shrimp in the aquarium, especially if they have some fish as company in the tank,” says Felipe. “Plants help them hide and feel secure from any predator or bully fish that would otherwise stress them out.”

Snails can also be great companions for aquarium shrimp. Some snails, like trumpet snails or red ramshorns, are also scavengers like the shrimp, and won’t eat them or their babies. Some will even burrow under the substrate and oxygenate it, which can help build beneficial bacterial colonies that are vital to a healthy tank, according to a 2019 article from Aquarium Adviser.

Waiter, I’m not done with that yet

If you see your freshwater shrimp shedding its old exoskeleton, don’t throw it away! Shrimp eat their shed exoskeletons, which contain essential minerals, so don’t shed that skin!

It is better to underfeed shrimp than overfeed them. “You can feed them three to four times a week, once or twice at feeding time,” says Felipe. Withholding food one or two days a week can help them clean their digestive systems, and it encourages them to clean the aquarium.

Remember to remove any uneaten food, which can contaminate the water. “Don’t forget their water quality,” cautions Felipe, “and remember that clean water is very important for shrimps to be able to thrive in an aquarium.”

Tanks for the memories

“Shrimp are easy and very low-maintenance to care for,” says Felipe, “and they’re very interesting [animal companions], too. They [come in] many forms, sizes, and colors, and some species are quite unique.”

So, what is Felipe’s advice for new shrimp lovers? “My advice is to do some research on the species of freshwater shrimp they are planning to raise so that they [know] what to do before [starting].”

Freshwater shrimp: They’ll clean your tank, liven it up with their colors, and they’ve each got their own colorful personalities. Maybe they are the perfect companion for aquarists after all!

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January 2020 issue.

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