How to set up a shrimp tank

Freshwater shrimp can be fun to keep and there are dozens of species and varieties available. They stay small, eat algae, and some don’t even need a heater! They’re super easy to keep too.

Freshwater shrimp inhabit most of the world’s rivers, lakes and streams, but the ones we keep mostly come from Asia, like China, Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia. Cherry shrimp are the cheapest, stay small and they are good in unheated tanks as well as tropical ones. 

Crystal red shrimp and their variants are the most colourful and sought after as many patterns can be line bred. Amano shrimp are the best algae eaters and were the first ornamental shrimp to be widely kept in aquaria, especially in planted aquariums. And Sulawesi shrimp are super exotic but quite tricky to keep, coming from hard water, mineral-rich lakes.

Shrimp tank size

The best bit about keeping shrimp is how small they are, and their minimum tank size. Cherry shrimp and Crystal red shrimp are fine long term in nano tanks as small as 10 litres, meaning that everyone has room for a dedicated shrimp tank and set up and running costs are as small as can be. Amano shrimp are better in tanks of 20 litres or more, and of course, if you don’t combine them with large, predatory fish that will eat them, all shrimp can also be kept in community aquaria of any size

Filtration

Shrimp produce very little waste so their tanks can be filtered by tiny filters, and with gentle flow. If you want to breed them, choose an air powdered sponge filter which won’t suck up their young, and also enable the adults to graze the sponge for food particles. For adults, a small internal power filter will do, but some are more shrimp friendly than others, with fine mesh grills over the intakes. Shrimp-proof inlets for external filters are also available. 

Like fish, shrimp don’t like ammonia or nitrite either, so always mature the filter with beneficial bacteria first, and always dechlorinate water. 

Heating

Cherry shrimp are fine at room temperature but for other shrimp, either choose a small, preset heater or a small, adjustable heater/thermostat. You’ll need one watt of heater per litre of water, so a 10 litre tank will only need a 10 watt heater. Use a thermometer to monitor temperature. 

Lighting

Use a small LED light to enhance the shrimp colours. Many people combine shrimp with live plants, so if wanting to grow plants you’ll need a light that encourages plant growth. Set the light to come on for 8-10 hours per day. 

Substrate

Shrimp are best over natural substrates like inert sand, gravel or aquatic soil. With soil also being the best for aquatic plants. Slope the substrate front to back to enable root growth. 

Decor

Decor can range from stones to wood, to botanicals like leaves, which the shrimp-like to graze on. Make sure its inert, or lime-free. 

Plants

Plants can help the biology of an aquarium by taking up nutrients and producing oxygen. Shrimp also like to hide in them and graze them for algae and food particles. If you include live plants, fertilise them on a regular basis to keep them green, healthy and growing. 

Mini CO2 kits are available for small planted tanks

CO2

Many shrimp keepers also inject CO2 to keep the plants super healthy. A small tank only needs a small CO2 kit, again helping to keep costs down.

Food

Shrimp graze on algae, detritus, biofilms and leaves, but when that’s all gone they need a food source in their own right. Feed shrimp specific diets to keep them in the best of health. 

Accessories

Small shrimp need tiny catching nets, tiny syphons and tiny equipment. Match equipment to tank size and shrimp size to get the right tools for the right job.   

Tankmates

Fishy tank mates should be similarly tiny, so only combine shrimp with small tetras, micro rasboras or other nano fish like Scarlet badis or Pygmy rainbowfish. Don’t trust any fish over 3” as they may eat the shrimp, mistaking them for food.

Multiply

Cherry and Crystal red shrimp breed easily, and shrimp keeping can be very addictive! Shrimp keepers often keep several nano tanks, or three in a line called a Triptych, with similar decor but different shrimp in each tank.      

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Jeremy Gay is an author, lifelong fishkeeper, and aquatic specialist. He's a former editor of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine, UK editor at Reefbuilders, a former aquatic store manager, and has collected fish in Sri Lanka and the Amazon. He's been on tv and radio, contributed to Koi Carp and Gardeners World magazines, been a product tester, a judge, and a product developer. Jeremy is here to guide and advise you on all things tropical, pond and marine, from set-up to stocking, health, feeding to breeding, as well as solving many common fishkeeping problems along the way.


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