6 Things You Didn’t Know About Aquarium Shrimp

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Sean Perry, DVM on Sep. 4, 2023
bright red cherry shrimp sitting on a rock inside an aquarium

Aquarium shrimp have become increasingly popular over the last few years. They add a new, fun element to aquariums and come in a range of colors and sizes.

Many people think they are difficult to look after, but shrimp are pretty easy to care for—once you know how. Here’s what you need to know about keeping shrimp in an aquarium.

1. Some Shrimp Act as Cleaners for Other Fish

There are many types of shrimp. Some species of aquarium shrimp are cleaners, such as Lysmata amboinensis, also known as the Pacific cleaner shrimp. This species of shrimp “dances” to attract fish by waving their antennae around. They then go into the fish’s open mouth to clean off bloodsucking parasites.

The Pacific cleaner shrimp is one of the most popular types of shrimp for aquariums.

2. Shrimp Will Eat Anything

What do shrimp eat? A lot. Shrimps are scavengers and spend most of their time in the wild eating anything that’s fallen down to the bottom of the water bed. They are opportunistic omnivores, which means they will eat both plants and animals, dead or alive.

As larvae, shrimp don’t have much of a choice about where they are carried with the water current. So they eat whatever is floating along with them, which is usually plankton (microscopic plants and animals).

As they grow, shrimp will also eat:

  • Algae

  • Dead and living plants

  • Worms (even decaying worms)

  • Fish

  • Snails

  • Other dead shrimp

Shrimp in a fish aquarium will feed on algae growing in the tank. They will also clear up any leftover bits of fish food.

3. Shrimp Carry Their Eggs

Unlike most fish, which either lay eggs or retain eggs inside the body to give live birth, shrimps carry their eggs on the underside of their body. A shrimp carrying eggs is known as a berried shrimp.

The female will release sexual hormones into the water when she is ready to breed. The male will then find her and deposit his sperm onto the female, who passes the eggs underneath her tail.

The eggs stay there, constantly being fanned by the shrimp’s tail until they are ready to hatch. Fanning helps to provide the eggs with oxygen—just like adult shrimps need oxygen, so do the eggs. Shrimp also fan their eggs to keep them clean and ensure that mold and bacteria don’t grow.

Shrimp eggs are usually visible to our eyes and are quite fascinating to see. Some shrimp, such as cherry shrimp, are extremely easy to breed in aquariums. But others, such as amano shrimp, are much harder.  

4. Certain Shrimp Are Nocturnal

There are certain species of shrimp that can be added to the aquarium and will most likely never be seen in daylight hours. The Lysmata wurdemanni, also known as the peppermint shrimp, are a nocturnal species that hide all day in the aquarium decor’s nooks and crannies and come out during the night to feed.

This leads to the question: Why would you want to include these shrimp in an aquarium if you don’t get the benefit of watching them? Well, peppermint shrimp are well-known for eating unwanted and pesky aiptasia anemones, which are a common problem in saltwater aquariums. These pesky anemones can sting and multiply rapidly, so having shrimp to eat them is beneficial.

5. Shrimp Molt as They Grow

Beginner fishkeepers often think they have dead shrimp lying on the floor of the aquarium. These often aren’t actually dead shrimp; they are the shrimp exoskeletons that were shed.

Molting is a necessary process that shrimp must go through numerous times as they grow. When they are young, shrimp will shed their skin around once a week.

An easy way to tell whether the shrimp-like shape at the bottom of your aquarium is a shell or a dead shrimp is that dead shrimp tend to be pinkish in color. A shell, on the other hand, looks almost exactly the same as a living, colorful shrimp.

As soon as an aquarium shrimp sheds their shell, they are very vulnerable because their new shell is quite soft in the beginning. They’ll usually hide for the next few days until their shells have hardened.

6. Shrimp Are Brilliant Swimmers

While their primary mode of moving around is walking, shrimp are actually really good at swimming. This is not the typical type of swimming we’re used to seeing in fish (because shrimp have no fins), but shrimp are able to move around quickly in the water.

Shrimp are best at swimming backward. These arthropods can propel themselves backward by flexing the muscles in their abdomen and tail quickly. They move their abdomen toward their body, and this projects them quite quickly through the water.

Shrimp can also swim forward, albeit more slowly than they’re able to move backward, by using the limbs on the underside of their body.

By Robert Woods of Fishkeepingworld.com

Featured Image: Adobe/Swapan

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