Ghost Shrimp Care Guide

Ghost Shrimp
Photo Credit to Jason Fether on Flickr
Scientific NamePalaemonetes paludosus
Minimum Tank Size10 Gallons
Water Parameters67-85° F, KH 3-10, pH 6.6-8.0

The Ghost Shrimp, also known as the glass shrimp, is likely the most well known freshwater shrimp available. They are hardy, cheap and easy to breed. These qualities make them an excellent choice for those wishing to keep them as members of the aquarium or feed them to other fish.

The Ghost Shrimp is short lived, living around one year when well cared for. This short life span is due to the lack of care they have received over the time they have been bred. Wild caught Ghost Shrimp are also not as well cared for as wild caught fish and will typically arrive with health issues. Either way they are not likely to live long.

Many aquarists will keep them in their tank longer by breeding them and raising their young. Both the new born shrimp and adults will frequently be targeted by larger fish and should only be kept with other inverts and small fish. More on this in the tankmates section.

Unlike many other inverts there is next to no variation among Ghost Shrimp. They will all be see through with the same body shape. This means most breeders will only be worried about number rather than high quality lineage. These large numbers are typically used to feed carnivorous fish and are especially effective foods.

The main reason people will keep the Ghost Shrimp in their main tanks is to clean up any left over foods, eat algae or fish waste and reduce the amount of debris in the tank. This is only semi effective as the shrimp will also produce waste. The waste they produce is smaller than fish and is more easily removed by beneficial bacteria.

Things To Look Out For

One of the biggest concerns when keeping any inverts is the level of copper in the water. The Ghost Shrimp is very sensitive to copper and will easily die if the copper level is not kept in check. This is easy to keep an eye on by using a copper testing kit. This test is easy to use as you don’t need to look for particular shades of colors like other tests. If the test strip stays white or barely changes in color the water is safe for the shrimp. If the test strip turns even slightly peach colored than you will need to reduce the copper level in the water.

One of the main ways this copper gets into the tank is through water pipes made of copper. If your house has copper pipes you can just get water from another source like a near by family members home or even a neighbor.

Like most other aquarium life the Ghost Shrimp is sensitive to high levels or nitrites in the tank. They are quicker to die to nitrites than most fish, crabs and snails however so only add Ghost Shrimp to a tank that has beneficial bacteria in place to remove nitrites as they are added to the tank. For new aquariums this means cycling your tank. In short you feed an empty tank and let bacteria form to break down the food. This can be sped up significantly by getting used filtration media from a well established aquarium. Live rocks or substrate also work well, however most people want to keep their rocks, gravel and sand. Check your area for aquarium clubs if you want something to kick start your beneficial bacteria colonies.

Avoid using powerful filtration systems or overflow boxes. The Ghost Shrimp is not used to fighting strong currents and will easily get sucked in. Dead shrimp inside the filtration system will spike ammonia and nitrite levels and can easily kill the whole tank if you aren’t careful. If you plan on using these strong current producing equipment try to reduce their flow by blocking their intakes or turning down any settings the equipment may have. While this will make the equipment less useful keeping your tanks inhabitants alive is more important.

When breeding the Ghost Shrimp keeping low flow is even more important, as the young shrimp will be much more in danger of dying to filters.

Ghost Shrimp Habitat

When keeping any creature in an artificial ecosystem we should focus on recreating their natural habitat. For the ghost shrimp this means a heavily planted tank with plenty of hiding spots is the ideal aquarium. The should also not be kept around high flow equipment like canister filters or powerheads.

As shrimp will spend most of their time walking around the bottom of the tank it is highly suggested that you use a breeder style tank. These tanks are shorter but much longer than their normal counterparts while having the same overall water capacity. Using a breeder tank will give them more space to hunt for food while removing the unused space near the top of the tank.

Ghost Shrimp
A Ghost Shrimp hiding in the dark. Photo by Osseous on Flickr

One of the drawbacks of using weaker filtration is the lack of surface agitation. This is what keeps the water oxygenated. Most shrimp tanks will be required to have an air stone and air pump, however these are the most noisy components of an aquarium. To avoid them try to have your filtration near the top of the tank with its output moving the surface as much as possible. You can also hide the air pump far away using long air tubing to reach the tank.

Safe filters for the Ghost Shrimp would be under gravel filters and sponge filters. These both have a very slow intake and generate detritus dense areas for the shrimp to feed at.

If you want your shrimp tank to be decorative and on display focus on a large amount of live plants with a couple large rocks for the shrimp to climb. Green plants will make their transparent white bodies more visible while also absorbing toxic nitrates from the water. Java ferns and moss balls are easy to keep choices that shrimp love to spend their time around. Long flowing plants are easier to spread around the tank, as they can be pulled apart and replanted to create more plants over time. Doing this you can make a tank full of plants from just a single starting plant.

Plants provide a lot of surface area for algae to grow on as well as hiding places for the Ghost Shrimp. The shrimp will not eat the pant directly but can frequently be seen picking at the algae on the plants.

When choosing live rocks try to find rocks that are large and can easily create rock formations. Avoid round rocks. They take up large amounts of space while providing the least surface area possible. Flat rocks are much easier to work with, take up much less volume and create a lot of divided areas in the aquarium.

As rocks stay in the tank they will accumulate both algae and beneficial bacteria. The Ghost Shrimp will feed on both of these, making older rocks both a food source and a filtration component. Avoid washing or rinsing these rocks unless they are extremely dirty with slimy or hairy algae.

One of the main purposes of both the rocks and plants is to let algae grow to feed the Ghost Shrimp. If there is no naturally occurring algae in the tank you will have to feed the shrimp yourself. This can give them the bad habit of waiting for food or actively hunting food when you add it to the tank. For tanks with fish along the shrimp this can create too much competition for slow eating fish and lead to them starving.

Gravel should be used for a substrate. This again is due to its higher amount of surface area. Sand is typically more expensive, harder to keep clean and harder to keep plants under. Additionally shrimp can easily pick up individual gravel pieces and eat the algae off of it. This is the commonly seen behavior of shrimp flipping a small rock around underneath them.

Bare bottom tanks should only be used in breeding tanks where the Ghost Shrimp is intended to be food. In these types of tanks the aquarist will typically be feeding the shrimp a food they wish to pass onto their fish. This process is called gut loading. Feeding fish Ghost Shrimp that have just been eating algae is not nearly as beneficial as feeding them shrimp fed a more specialized diet.

The last thing you can add to their tanks would be wood or drift wood. These have the benefit of lowering the pH level in the aquarium over time. If your water source is particularly hard then wood can help keep your aquarium at a more stable level. Be aware that wood will leech out tannins, which colors the water brown over time. This does not harm the tank and can be aesthetically pleasing. If you do not want the tank to turn brown use less wood or perform water changes more frequently.

Using The Ghost Shrimp As Food

The main reason the Ghost Shrimp is bred is to feed to large fish that demand live foods. These fish usually do not get a good diet as most frozen foods that imitate live foods are lacking in nutrition. Breeding and gut loading Ghost Shrimp before feeding them to fish is an easy way to provide a good diet without spending much money.

Ghost Shrimp that are going to be fed to other fish should only be fed foods that the fish does not usually eat. As the shrimp will eat just about anything added to the tank gut loading them is easy. You can use anything from prepared herbivore diet foods to blanched veggies from the produce department. Either way the main focus is to get plant based nutrition to the fish by feeding them the Ghost Shrimp.

Feeding Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp will eat just about anything added to the tank that is not alive. They are opportunistic feeders that will eat any plant based food as well as any dead meaty foods. This is what makes them excel as a clean up crew member. This also means there is next no no feeding instructions for them. If the tank has fish that are being fed regularly there should be enough food and waste for a reasonable amount of shrimp to survive. If there are no fish in the tank then the shrimp will need a small amount of food added to the tank. As algae grown by light is a major food source they do not need much food.

If you are having trouble feeding the Ghost Shrimp algae wafers are a great solution. These sink to the bottom of the tank quickly and stay in place. This allows you to deliver the food to the places where the shrimp spend a lot of their time.

Ghost Shrimp Tankmates

Keeping the Ghost Shrimp with other fish is not difficult. They are decently large for shrimp and will only be hunted by aggressive fish or very large peaceful fish. The shrimp itself is peaceful and will not hunt any fish that is over half an inch. Young guppies and fish fry are the only things in danger from the Ghost Shrimp.

The main concern about the Ghost Shrimp is their tankmates hunting them. Avoid Aggressive fish like oscars and chichlids. Large fish, like goldfish, kois and loaches will hunt the Ghost Shrimp regularly.

Good tankmates for the Ghost Shrimp include:

  • Snails
  • Cory Catfish
  • Otocinclus Catfish
  • Mollies
  • Hatchet Fish
  • Thin Tetra fish

One of the biggest myths surrounding Ghost Shrimp is them hunting larger fish. Typically people will see the shrimp eating a dead fish and assume the shrimp actively killed the fish. This is never the case. What can happen is the fish lays on the bottom of the tank due to sickness and gets eaten by shrimp. If the fish is so sick that it does not swim away when pinched then they are almost guaranteed to be dead anyway.

Breeding Ghost Shrimp

As these shrimp have no colors you can only tell their genders when the shrimp are ready to breed. Female ghost shrimp will have a green saddle underneath their tail while trying to mate. To obtain both a female and male Ghost Shrimp you simple have to buy a handful of them and hope you got at least one of each gender. As they are cheap this isn’t an issue.

Ghost Shrimp will typically breed on their own when kept in a stable environment. The main reason people do not think their shrimp are breeding is that none of the offspring survive. The larval shrimp are very easy prey for any fish as well as other shrimp in the tank. Unless the tank is heavily planted you can only expect a few shrimp to survive at best. Even with an abundance of plants you will not see population explosions.

For people planning on feeding these shrimp to their fish this can be an issue. For those who just want to keep shrimp families running in their tank only a few survivors is just fine and actually desired.

To get the most surviving shrimp possible you will need to keep an eye on your shrimp as they mate. Females will start out by producing a green saddle on their stomachs just under their tails. This is easily visable on their transparent bodies.

Once they have done this the Ghost Shrimp will call for males to fertilize the eggs. As the eggs develop they will get larger. At this stage the female is said to be “berried” as they look like they have berries in them. They will usually go into hiding as they are more vulnerable due to their scent and added coloration. They should then be removed from the other shrimp and placed in a second, identical water parameters tank that does not have other inhabitants. This allows the larval Ghost Shrimp to grow up without being hunted.

When harvesting Ghost Shrimp to feed to other fish it is important to not remove all of the adults. If there are no shrimp capable of breeding left in the tank then the population can stagnate. If this happens you will have to wait for the Ghost Shrimp to mature and start breeding again while having nothing to feed to the fish.

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