The ghost shrimp, also known as glass shrimp, is a freshwater crustacean popular with fishkeepers of all experience levels.
Because they are easy to care for, ghost shrimp are a great addition to any tropical community aquarium containing small, non-aggressive fish.
Ghost shrimp are not for the sentimental, as their life spans just one year on average, but this also makes them much more affordable.
Ghost shrimp can be used as feeders for larger fish or as tank cleaners in community tanks.
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Ghost Shrimp Facts & Overview
|Minimum Tank Size:||5-10 gallons|
|Tank Setup:||Tropical freshwater: Caves and Plants|
|Compatibility:||Small peaceful fish|
Ghost shrimp are originally from North America and have been popular in home aquariums since they were first described in 1850.
Ghost shrimp is the common name used for a few different varieties of shrimp, the most popular of which is a freshwater variety belonging to the Palaemonetes family. This article will focus on freshwater ghost shrimp.
There are a number of different species of ghost shrimp within the Palaemonetes genus. However, most fish stores just use the common name ghost shrimp.
Ghost shrimp can be found naturally in habitats all around the world, though most populations are reared in farms as feeder fish or to supply home aquariums.
While frequently used as bait by fishermen, wild populations can be problematic for the fishing industry. Ghost shrimp can be problematic because they act as pests in aquaculture.
In an aquarium, however, ghost shrimp can make your life that little bit easier. Prominent scavengers, these shrimp will clear up any uneaten food as well as keeping algae levels down. Their cleaning prowess will keep the tank looking clean. They do this throughout the day and are always active and busy.
Ghost shrimp can generally be found free-swimming around the tank or feeding on the algae on the walls and bottom of the tank.
While ghost shrimp may prefer to be kept in groups, a single shrimp will function happily on its own.
When buying your shrimp, make sure to check whether they’ve been bred as feeder fish or for a home aquarium. Ghost shrimp that have been bred as feeder fish are often treated poorly and are unlikely to survive for very long.
Ghost shrimp are primarily clear in color, which is why they are called ghost shrimp. They have evolved with this unique physical characteristic as a way to evade predators.
Their clear color allows for the inner workings of their bodies to be viewed as they process food. This unique view into their internal processes is a big reason why ghost shrimp are an attractive addition to many aquariums.
In addition to their transparent color, some specimens of ghost shrimp may have different colored spots on their backs.
Ghost shrimp grow to about 1.5 inches in length, and females tend to become larger than males.
These shrimp have two pairs of antennas, one long and one short. These antennae are sensory organs that detect tactile and chemical information such as toxins and food in the water. Antennae also have social uses, but this is less understood.
Ghost shrimp have a rostrum, which is a beak-like extension, between their eyes and in front of their carapace. The carapace is a hard protective shell that encases the softer parts of the shrimp for defense.
Behind the shrimp’s carapace are six flexible abdominal segments that house pairs of pleopods (think of them as swimming limbs). The sixth abdominal segment connects to the tail, in the middle of which is the telson, the final segment.
Under the telson are four further segments that embody the uropod, forming the iconic tail fan.
Lifespan and Molting
Ghost shrimp live for around a year, but this can vary depending on the individual and the place of origin.
Because they are so cheap and easy to breed, ghost shrimp are often used as feeder fish for larger species in the home aquarium, and as a result, are often kept in high densities with poor filtration.
This makes them more likely to die during transport and increases their mortality rate. It is common for some individuals to die a few days into life in their new tank, even if the tank is perfectly healthy.
Although their lives are short, ghost shrimp molt regularly as they eat and grow, becoming too large for their previous shell.
This can become fairly frequent. It all depends on how much they eat and how fast they grow.
Once ghost shrimp have shed their old shell, they will be particularly vulnerable until their new shell hardens. While you don’t need to worry too much during this time, don’t be surprised if your ghost shrimp takes damage through rough behavior from boisterous fish.
Ensure that your tank has crevices and plants for molting shrimp to hide in.
When you see a molted shell sitting on the sediment, it’s natural to panic and assume it’s a dead shrimp. However, upon closer inspection, the hollow interior of the husk should clearly identify it as a discarded exterior.
When your ghost shrimp sheds its shell, you don’t need to remove it from the aquarium immediately because it will usually become food for other shrimp in the tank.
Care and Tank Requirements
Ghost shrimp are freshwater shrimp and typically live in rivers or lakes where there is flowing water, fine sediment, and crevices to hide in. These conditions are important to consider when designing your ghost shrimp aquarium.
Given their small size, ghost shrimp can be kept in relatively small environments. A 5-gallon tank should be treated as the bare minimum, but ideally, your tank would be larger. You can safely keep around three or four ghost shrimp per gallon, though you’ll also need to consider the number of other species you have in the tank.
Shrimp contribute to the biological load in your tank, but far less than most fish. If you are unsure of if your tank can handle the waste they produce, then it’s always better to start with fewer specimens so that you don’t risk overstocking the tank. You can always add more later.
Ghost shrimp will use debris from the plants as an additional food source, varying their diet and tidying your tank at the same time. However, make sure that the plants are hardy so that they can survive any nibbling from stray shrimp.
Plants also provide areas for shrimp to hide in, particularly when molting but also when being harassed. Decorations and rocks can also be used to diversify the hiding spots available.
As bottom-dwellers, ghost shrimp will spend a lot of their time on the sediment and are known to burrow.
Sand or fine gravel reduces the likelihood of damage to the shrimp, and most importantly their sensitive antennae. A fine grain prevents food from sinking into the sediment as well, meaning that it sits on the surface waiting for scavenging shrimp.
When considering the water parameters in the tank, ghost shrimp are not fussy.
They happily suit standard tropical aquarium conditions. Temperatures can range between 65º and 82ºF. Some people claim that these boundaries can be stretched even wider, but this may stress the animals and reduce shrimp activity.
The water should be slightly hard and kept between a pH of 7.0 and 8.0.
Ghost shrimp enjoy a light flow of water, which can easily be generated by the filter outlet or an air pump.
Generally, the shrimp can cope with most conditions, provided that they remain consistent.
Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels need to be monitored, as well as any other potential pollutants. Overfeeding, overstocking and dirty filters are likely causes for levels to rise.
Ammonia and nitrite are toxic to fish and should be kept as low as possible. Nitrate is less toxic and is used by plants for growth, but should be maintained around 5-10 ppm. Regular water changes will help to control these chemical levels.
If you are keeping ghost shrimp as feeder fish then their tanks can be more simplistic, with a similar setup to a breeding tank (you can read more about this below). Just make sure the water is kept clean and moving.
Diet and Feeding
The ghost shrimp diet is simple and flexible, as they are easy to feed and will greedily eat anything you present them with. This includes most shop-bought foods such as flakes, pellets, and algae wafers.
Their broad diet makes them excellent tank cleaners, as they will consume excess algae, plant detritus, and any food left over from a fish’s meal.
Watching a shrimp rise to the surface to grab a flake is particularly entertaining, but if you have a tall tank then sinking pellets will make it easier for them to grab some food before all of the mid-water fish take it.
One algae pellet will easily fuel a tank containing many shrimp, any more and you risk overfeeding.
Calcium supplements could also be added to ensure your ghost shrimp forms a strong shell.
It is important to note that copper is very toxic to shrimp and should not be introduced into the tank. When adding medication into the water, be sure to check its ingredients, as many medications contain copper.
Compatibility with Other Fish
Ghost shrimp are peaceful creatures, but obviously, this cannot be said about all tropical fish.
The shrimp’s gentle nature and small size make them prone to being eaten by larger tank mates. Consequently, ghost shrimp should only be added to a non-aggressive community of small fish.
Some good tank mates could be:
- Characins such as tetras or hatchet fish
- Small barbs like the cherry barb
- Peaceful loaches like zebra and kuhli loaches
- Small catfish like those of the Corydoras genus
There is an extensive range of fish that should be avoided. A general rule is to stay away from fish that have a large enough mouth to eat a shrimp.
Fish with a reputation for being hostile or territorial are also likely causes for the loss of ghost shrimp. Betta fish are a good example of aggressive fish that are popular in home aquariums but should not be paired with ghost shrimp.
Fish are not the only available tank mates. Because most aquarium shrimp share a similar temperament, you can add other species to complement the ghost shrimp.
Cherry shrimp pair particularly well due to their vibrant colors, but other species work well too (e.g. bamboo shrimp, vampire shrimp, or amano shrimp). Snails are also a good way of diversifying the tank.
If ghost shrimp are kept in a healthy environment with no predators and limited stress then they are generally easy to breed. This is one reason why they are so commonly used as feeder fish.
However, a breeding tank is needed in order to grow your population. Make sure that there are males and females in your main tank, females can be spotted once they’ve matured because they grow to be much larger than the males and develop a green saddle underneath their bodies.
Every few weeks females should produce eggs, around 20-30 green dots attached to the female’s legs. When you see this, wait a few days so that the males have a chance to fertilize them.
Then move the berried female (individuals bearing eggs) to the breeder tank before the eggs hatch, otherwise the young will become a food source for any other creatures around.
When the eggs hatch in the breeder tank, move the female back to the main tank or she will be tempted to eat her own young. This should take about three weeks.
The breeder tank should have a sponge filter so that none of the young get sucked into the equipment.
The rest of the tank should be similar to the main tank but it can be more minimalist.
There should be a thin layer of sediment down but fewer hiding spaces are needed. A few plants are useful since they act as a food source for the young shrimp.
Along with plant debris and any algae in the tank you should feed the larvae very small amounts of fine particle food, as they have tiny mouths.
Once they have grown legs you can feed them the same food as the adults. After five weeks they should be fully grown and able to be moved to the main tank if desired.
Is a Ghost Shrimp Right for Your Aquarium?
There are many reasons to choose ghost shrimp for your aquarium.
Their small size and ease to breed make them a cheap addition to an aquarium. Prices vary from around $1-$3 per shrimp, so you should be able to purchase a few without breaking the bank.
In return for just a little effort to look after them, you will be introducing some of the best cleaners to your tank.
Their body shape and coloration (or lack of it) vary the aesthetic of the tank, and their busy and active lifestyles ensure that there is always something to look at.
Although not ideal for a tank with big fish, ghost shrimp make perfect additions to tropical communities of small, non-aggressive fish.