Overview of Freshwater Dwarf Shrimp – Popular Species, Tank Requirements, Feeding, and More

16 min read

Overview of Freshwater Dwarf Shrimp – Popular Species, Tank Requirements, Feeding, and More

By Chris Lukhaup (The Shrimp King)

Dwarf shrimps have experienced a real boom in aquaristics in recent years. While around 5 to 6 years ago only 2 to 3 species were on offer in the ornamental fish trade in the USA, the range of species in the tanks of breeders, importers and wholesalers has now become almost overwhelming. Vibrantly coloured bred forms in starkly contrasting colours from Europe and Asia as well as invariably new wild catches from all parts of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are reaching US aquarianists.

Today shrimp are the most popular inverts in our aquaria. With more than 20 years of experience in shrimps we would like to support the hobbyist and also the trade to avoid making mistakes and have fun with the best hobby of all. The shrimp common in our hobby belong to different genera and families, scientifically speaking, but what unites them is that they spend all of or at least the most part of their lives, especially as adults, in fresh water. Some species have not become entirely independent of the original habitat of their ancestors, the sea, and they need brackish or marine water for reproduction. These species belong to the so-called primitive type and produce large numbers of very small eggs per batch. The larvae hatching from these eggs are released into the open water, where they form part of the plankton and go through many stages of development. Only towards the end of their time as larvae do they start a benthic life on the ground. Around this time, they also migrate back to pure fresh water.

The abundance of different habitats has resulted in a great variability in shrimp species and in stunning forms. Their sometimes truly impressive colours and patterns are the result of their adaptation to the different living conditions in their habitats. From all the different shrimp in the world, only representatives from three groups have managed to find their way into our aquaria – dwarf ornamental shrimp, fan shrimp and long-arm shrimp. They differ in body size and form as well as in their habits. The requirements regarding their environment do not differ much between shrimp belonging to one of these groups. Practically every shrimp available in the trade belongs in one of the three groups, under systematical aspects. Dwarf shrimp are the most prominent and also the most popular among them. They have found their way into the aquaria and into the hearts of their keepers in almost all the world.

With over 290 species, shrimp of the genus Caridina are one of the most diverse groups within the Atyidae family. However, recent research has found that this genus is in urgent need of a scientific review and re-structuring as there are many discrepancies to be found. The genus Neocaridina has up until now been represented by 30 species and has also found wide distribution in the hobby.

 

Food for Shrimp and Other Invertebrates

The Omnivores

Omnivorous animals eat food of vegetable as well as of animal origin, sometimes in different proportions, sometimes in an absolutely balanced way. Most freshwater dwarf shrimp in the hobby belong to this group. In their natural habitats they feed on plants and (usually dead) animals as well as on biofilms rich in protein. Egg-bearing females and growing juvenile shrimp eat slightly more food of animal origin as they need more protein, whereas adult males and females that are not berried seem to focus more on a vegetable-based diet.

The holistic food concept of Shrimp King takes this fact into account. For the composition of all Shrimp King shrimp foods, the special feeding habits of shrimp have been taken into consideration, and these foodstuffs give shrimp of all ages all the nutrients and tissue-building blocks, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fibre they need for healthy growth. Thanks to the numerous high-quality ingredients, a varied diet is automatically provided with every food stick. For the production of Shrimp King foods, we exclusively use food-grade all-natural ingredients in a composition that makes sense for the nutrition physiology of your dwarf shrimp. All Shrimp King foods are free from artificial additives and artificial colorants. They do not contain antioxidants, preserving agents or attractants, no fishmeal, no fishery by-products or cheap by-products of vegetable origin. The protein content of each food variety was carefully chosen so food-related molting problems can be practically ruled out.

The main feed Shrimp King Complete provides your shrimp with everything they need. If you have a large number of growing juvies and berried females in the tank, replacing two meals of Shrimp King Complete with Shrimp King Protein per week is a good idea — this will give them an additional portion of valuable, highly digestible protein. If you want to create a grazing ground for your shrimp, use the recently developed Yummy Gum as a perfect food for omnivores.

In very soft water and if you have growing juveniles, we recommend a targeted mineral supplementation with Shrimp King Mineral twice a week. The minerals in this food have a high bioavailability, and they are easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.

For enhancing the intensity and the brilliance of the colors in omnivorous shrimp we have developed the variety Shrimp King Color, with natural colorants (amongst others, from microalgae, crustaceans and corn). It has been enriched with the color boosters astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and beta-carotene, which provides especially the red, orange and yellow color variants of the genera Caridina and Neocaridina like for example Crystal Red, Red Fire, Sakura Red, Sakura Orange and Yellow Fire with a natural basis for a good color development. Dark-colored shrimp like Blue Dream, Chocolate or Carbon Rili shrimp as well as Black and Blue Tiger shrimp also benefit from this color-boosting food.

The freshwater snails we have in the aquarium hobby (with the exception of the Assassin snail) also belong to the group of omnivores; they are by no means vegetarians. We have taken this fact into consideration when creating the Shrimp King Snail Stixx variety. They do not only contain valuable plant products but also proteins, which the snails need as building-blocks for their shell. We have taken the requirements of biofilm-eating snails into account and have chosen microorganisms as a source of protein in this food — just as our freshwater snails are accustomed to in nature. The food variety Yummy Gum is also ideal for omnivores and can easily be applied to any hard surface. With this food you can very easily create a food film for biofilm eaters to graze on.

Fan shrimp are also part of the group of omnivorous invertebrates. We have created a special, very finely-ground food variety for them that floats in the water for a long time and that can thus easily be caught by these highly specialized shrimp. When creating Shrimp King Atyopsis we have taken the elevated energy needs and the special life strategies of fan shrimp into account.

Another group of omnivores are dwarf crayfish. We took their special food requirements into consideration when we created Shrimp King Cambarellus; this food variety does not only contain insects and crustaceans but also valuable plant-based ingredients like stinging nettle, spinach and Spirulina algae. The consistency of these sticks is adapted to the feeding behavior of crayfish — as they are very messy eaters, we have made the sticks relatively hard so the crayfish lose less food when eating, which reduces water pollution.

The Carnivores

Carnivorous animals eat food that is rich in proteins of animal origin. Amongst the carnivorous invertebrates, the colorful small land crabs of the genus Geosesarma are found, as well as many other crab species.

Assassin snails are also carnivores — they mainly feed on snails but will also gladly eat other protein-rich food if they do not find any snails.

The larger representatives of the shrimp group, the long-arm shrimp, are also mostly carnivores. They hunt and eat live food, but also accept fresh-dead, frozen or freeze-dried foods or food sticks with a high protein content. A good food for carnivorous invertebrates is the Shrimp King Protein variety, as its protein content is elevated yet extremely digestible, as is the Shrimp King Artemia Pops food. The Artemia Pops are rich in protein as they contain brine shrimp and daphnia. They are especially processed to break down in the tank to create a food carpet on a somewhat larger surface, which helps reduce feeding stress even in the more voracious eaters.

The Herbivores

The 5 Leaf Mix variety consists of five carefully selected leaves: stinging nettle, birch, mulberry, walnut and peppermint from controlled cultivation. Shrimp, snails, dwarf crayfish and crayfish alike just love them.

There are various Pops of vegetable origin, which are a great supplement to the main food. You can choose between Snow Pops consisting of pure soy bran that hardly pollute the water and give your inverts crucial fibre and vital substances besides high-quality proteins of vegetable origin, or Algae Pops, which contain Chlorella and Spirulina algae besides the soy bran, or Moringa Pops, with Moringa leaves and fennel in addition to the soy bran.

The vast number of positive ingredients makes the Shrimp King Pops a great supplement to the main food that adds variety to the diet of the invertebrates. They enhance a balanced, healthy growth and a good reproduction rate. Shrimp King Snow Pops are a very valuable snack, ideal not only for shrimp, but also for crayfish, omnivorous crabs and snails.

Crayfish are somewhat special in this respect. Whereas most adult crayfish, especially those of the genus Cherax, will mainly eat food of vegetable origin, growing juvenile crayfish need a large proportion of proteins in their food. If they do not get sufficient proteins in their daily food they will turn cannibalistic and start eating their conspecifics. Especially young crayfish of the genera Procambarus, Cambarus and Cherax need an elevated protein level in their food, much more than adult crayfish.

Aquarium and Habitat

Diseases and Poisoning

With the right living conditions, shrimp keepers should only rarely be confronted with diseased creatures. Small mechanical injuries to the shrimp’s shell cause black colouring around the affected areas. Unless deeper tissues have been affected, such injuries should be cured by the time they next shed their skin.

If several shrimps die within a short time in an aquarium, this is generally due to poisoning. In particular, traces of heavy metals such as copper, which can originate from copper pipes in the water system or from heating coils in hot water boilers, are highly toxic for invertebrates such as shrimps. Even tiny amounts of these metals can be lethal, especially in soft water. Water conditioners can reduce the danger to a certain extent, but it is recommended to only use water that is completely free of copper in a shrimp tank.

Also, many medications for ornamental fish or algae conditioners contain copper as an active ingredient. Such agents should never be used in aquariums containing shrimps! Newly purchased aquatic plants from nurseries may also be harmful to shrimps. In particular, if these plants have been cultivated above water, they will have been treated with spraying agents to protect them from pests and fungal diseases. Many of these substances, however, are highly poisonous to shrimps. For this reason, new plants should be watered for several weeks before being planted in a shrimp aquarium.

Tissue cultured plants are not affected and could be used immediately.

Water Parameters

Anyway, these robust inverts are impressive and highly enjoyable companions for an ornamental tank and will develop greatly when kept in the right conditions. Most species are quite tolerant with regard to the water parameters. Dwarf shrimps of the genus Caridina prefer a pH from 6.0 to 6.7 and sometimes also to 7.0 while shrimps from the genus Neocaridina can tolerate from 6.0 to 7.5 or 7.8.

Oxygen

All-important for the entirety of dwarf shrimp species is the oxygen content of the water. Not enough oxygen can result in diseased or even dead shrimp, which makes a well-aerated or filtered tank a must for the successful shrimp keeper. Moreover, these animals like low light and many hideaways where they can stay during the day.

Water Temperature

Most of the dwarf shrimps come from moderate to subtropical climate zones, where the water temperatures are around 15-25°C. Sometimes when shipped some packages arrive with water temperatures less than 15°C and especially in autumn or winter when in some states the temperature drops to less than 12°C the shrimps can become very still or fall into a stiff state and when the water gets warmer they just continue to be active.

Tank Setup

The shrimp offered in the trade today are rather variable in size. Dwarf shrimp with a total body length of around 15 mm to 40mm (0.5 to 1.5 inches) can be perfectly kept in aquariums from 10 litres (2.6 gallons) upwards. However, it is sometimes easier to maintain a tank with 50 to 70 litres (13 to 18 gallons), which also provides the creatures with enough space if the shrimps reproduce. When setting up an aquarium for dwarf shrimps, one or more roots, dry twigs or dry autumn foliage from beeches or oak trees can be recommended in addition to a layer of gravel as the substrate and several plants. Not only do these wooden items look very decorative, they also offer the shrimps several places to hide and retreat. And, more importantly, this material will soon be colonised by a multitude of micro-organisms such as paramecium and vorticella, microscopically small species of worm and slime mould. These micro-organisms are the dwarf shrimps’ natural source of food. By cleaning the surfaces with their bristles, parts of the slowly decaying wood are also consumed – a healthy source of food for the shrimps, rich in roughage.

Minerals and Salt

One of the most important inventions when it comes to shrimp keeping is the shrimp salts. The salts have been especially developed to improve the growth of bacteria in the shrimp aquarium that in turn are getting eaten by shrimps.

Bee Salt GH+ was created for targeted hardening of osmosis water, rainwater and purified water and was developed especially for keeping and breeding shrimps from soft-water biotopes such as bee and bumble bee shrimps and their varieties. It contains all the essential minerals, trace elements and vitamins shrimps need for healthy, balanced growth, vibrant colours and plentiful reproduction.

With Bee Salt, water can be created with an increased total hardness, but no carbonate hardness, similar to that which soft-water shrimps are accustomed to in their natural habitats. At the same time, it promotes the activity of filter bacteria and promotes plant growth. It dissolves quickly and is easy to use.

  • Creates the ideal water values for the successful keeping and breeding of soft-water shrimps such as bee shrimps and bumble bee shrimps
  • Creates a slightly acidic pH of approx. pH 6.0-6.5
  • Boosts growth as valuable supplementary nutrition, especially for young shrimps
  • Promotes balanced growth, health, vitality and high breeding success
  • Increases total hardness, does not increase carbonate hardness
  • Includes essential vitamin C and vitamin B complex
  • Designed with a biologically balanced calcium-magnesium ratio
  • Creates the perfect conditions for problem-free moulting
  • Provides the perfect conditions for successful breeding
  • Extends the useful life of the substrate, as it does not increase carbonate hardness
  • Dissolves quickly and is easy to use

The Species

Caridina logemanni "Crystal Red"

Crystal Red Shrimp, Red Bee Shrimp Origins: Japan, Taiwan

It is the undisputed queen of all shrimp, and with its myriad of colour morphs and patterns it has become the most popular freshwater shrimp in the aquarium hobby ever. The red colour morph is said to have been discovered by a Japanese shrimp enthusiast, Hisayasu Suzuki, in one of his shrimp tanks in 1991. By selective breeding and backcrossing he managed to get a true-breeding strain, and thus he laid the basis for their victory march around the world.

The habitat where Bee Shrimp are actually found has a dense vegetation on the banks of the creeks, and the waters are relatively cool, with a rapid current. The creek bottom consists of rock, with accumulations of dead leaves.

In March, during rainfall, we measured a water temperature of only 16.6°C (61.9°F). However, the water bodies are subject to considerable changes in temperature in the course of the year, and during the summer months the water may reach temperatures of up to 24°C (75°F).

In the aquarium, Bee Shrimp can be kept without a heater. If temperatures drop below 18°C (64.4°F), they will stop reproducing. The Bee Shrimp lives exclusively in fresh water, and the females produce only a few but rather large eggs.

Crystal red shrimp

Caridina mariae "Tiger"

Tiger Shrimp Origins: southern China

Several different shrimp in the trade are called “Tiger Shrimp”. Tiger Shrimp have recently been described as Caridina mariae. Tiger and Bee Shrimp interbreed but do not belong to the same species. Both belong to the species group around Caridina serrata. The wild forms of the Tiger Shrimp have characteristic vertical stripes on their pleon or abdomen, which remind of a tiger pattern.

Depending on the location where the animal was originally collected, these stripes may be thicker or thinner. The colour of the tail fan and the head carapace may also be different. In the aquarium hobby, though, several colour morphs have been established, among them the uniformly Black Tiger Shrimp, Blue and Red Tigers. The wild forms all come from southern China, where they are collected in creeks and on flooded grassland. If you mimic the natural temperature curve when keeping them in an aquarium, they can be highly productive and will have considerably more offspring than Bee Shrimp. Room temperature is sufficient; however, keep in mind that Tiger Shrimp do not like too high temperatures during the summer months.

Tiger shrimp

Taiwan Bee Shrimp or Shadow Shrimp

A New Generation Origins: Hong Kong

New colour morphs originating from Taiwan have caused a lot of excitement in the shrimp scene during the last years. The breeders at first gave them imaginative names like Panda Bee, King Kong, Blue Bolt, Black Diamond, Red Amber or Red Ruby. All of these shrimp are known as Taiwan Bee Shrimp in Europe. In Asia and among breeders in all the world, they are called Shadow Shrimp, Shadow Bee Shrimp or Shadow Bees.

Taiwan bee shrimp

Neocaridina davidi

Red Cherry Shrimp, Red Fire Shrimp Origins: Japan, Taiwan

The most widely spread shrimp in the hobby is usually called Cherry or Red Cherry, sometimes Red Fire Shrimp. This highly variable species originates from Chinese and Taiwanese waters and meanwhile you can find it in more than 15 different color and pattern. Shrimp with transparent parts are called Rili Shrimp. This species does not have complicated requirements, and it is recommended for beginners. The aquarium size should be chosen well; too small a tank is soon overcrowded, as Neocaridina davidi is a highly productive species. No heater is required, and the shrimp are not very demanding when it comes to water parameters.

Red cherry shrimp

Caridina multidentata

Amano Shrimp, Yamato Shrimp Origins: Japan, Taiwan

Its ability to rid an aquarium of unwanted algae makes these shrimp, together with nerite snails of the genus Vittina, an ideal first stock in a tank. They do not have any special requirements regarding their environment and do well in almost all aquaria. Caridina multidentata comes from the southern part of Central Japan, where it is mostly found in rivers leading to the Pacific Ocean. It also occurs in rivers in Taiwan that lead to the Pacific Ocean.

The females grow much larger than the males. The latter have a dotted pattern on the sides of their pleon, which makes it quite easy to sex these shrimp. The female carries up to 2,000 eggs under its pleon. The larvae need brackish to marine water in order to grow up successfully. In fresh water they will die off after a few days. If you want to raise the larvae you need a separate breeding tank with a salinity of 25 g per litre (6.6 g per gallon). The larvae eat Liquizell or similar micro food.

It is really astonishing that these shrimp will live to be eight years old and over, especially if you keep in mind that usually, most dwarf shrimp species only reach an age of two to three years. Amano Shrimp can be co-housed with other shrimp species quite well but can be rather dominant especially when it comes to feeding. Make sure the large, robust Amano shrimp do not leave the smaller shrimp without food.

Amano shrimp

Mixing Species

Please make sure you inform yourself carefully before you socialise shrimps with other inverts, fish or plants in order to avoid grave and possibly critical errors. Without an exact knowledge of their requirements you will not be able to assess what these animals really need. If you choose aquarium inhabitants just like you choose the colour of your substrate or your backdrop, i.e., solely for aesthetic reasons, you will most probably run into severe problems and face utter disappointment sooner or later. Even organisms that live together in nature may cause trouble in the confined space of an aquarium.

Dwarf Shrimp with Other Shrimp

It is also not recommendable to just socialise any shrimp species with another. Long-arm shrimp should never be kept together with other shrimp, for example. For them, dwarf shrimp are nothing but a highly welcome addition to their daily food.

Dwarf shrimp and fan shrimp can be socialized; however, freshly hatched dwarf shrimp offspring are potential live food for the latter, and survival rates are prone to decline. Different dwarf shrimp species kept in one tank will hybridise if they are closely related, with a more or less attractive outcome. Shrimp species that are known not to hybridise will still not do too well when kept together in the long run as sooner or later one species will dominate the other, and the suppressed species will slowly dwindle away and disappear entirely after some time.

Dwarf Shrimp with Crayfish

Keeping shrimp in the same tank as crayfish is possible, given that you choose compatible species. In many subtropic habitats, there are dense shrimp populations in the waters, and some of their members are eaten by the crayfish there. However, the shrimp compensate for this fact with a strong reproduction rate. Socialisation may even work with less productive shrimp in an aquarium if you make sure you never keep small crayfish species like those of the genus Cambarellus with dwarf shrimp, e.g., of the genus Caridina.

Socialising larger crayfish with small shrimp is much more favourable. The presence of shrimp in a crayfish tank may even have very positive effects on the tank biology as dwarf shrimp are great for cleaning up after the crayfish have eaten. Large fan shrimp (of the genera Atya and Atyopsis) are often hurt or even killed by crayfish, though, especially after moulting. Long-arm shrimp are hardly suitable for social tanks at all, and most representatives of this group pose a critical danger even for crayfish larger than themselves. After moulting the crayfish will be attacked and severely hurt or even killed, if not earlier.

 

Dwarf Shrimps with Crabs

Any attempt to keep shrimps together with crabs will most probably not be successful. Even small crabs will bother shrimp severely, and after the next moult at the latest the crabs will kill the shrimp for sure.

Dwarf Shrimp with Snails and Mussels

Mollusks (snails and mussels) and dwarf shrimp as well as fan shrimp can be kept together without any problems. Long-arm shrimp, in contrast, will regard snails as highly welcome snack, and only highly productive species will last for a longer time when socialized with them.

Dwarf Shrimp and Aquatic Plants

Shrimp do not do any harm to healthy aquatic plants. Among the three groups, there are no species that are known to damage aquatic plants severely. The same applies to mussels, which may uproot a plant when digging into the ground but are otherwise completely harmless.

Most shrimp do not eat aquatic plants; thus you can plant your tank just as you please. Even though many shrimp originate from water bodies with no higher plant growth, they do not mind living in a densely planted tank at all. In a tank dedicated to fan shrimp please make sure these somewhat plumper shrimp still have room to move without hindrance, though. They clearly prefer unplanted areas with rocks or stones.

Dwarf Shrimp and Lighting

In a shrimp tank, light does not only influence the behaviour of some shrimp species but also the formation of algae and microorganisms. These are important parts of the everyday diet of most dwarf ornamental shrimp, and thus your lighting system ought to be well-adapted to the species you want to keep. If the behavior of your shrimp tells you they find their tank too bright you can use floating plants to somewhat diffuse the light in the tank without having to invest into a new lighting system. Most of the shrimp keepers have just different kind of mosses in their tanks that don`t require a lot of light. A strong, bright light that imitates the sun on the other hand can improve the density of colours.