Red cherry shrimp in shrimp tank

How to Set-up A Shrimp Tank: The Complete Guide

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and get a shrimp tank? Great! You don’t need to be an expert in order to keep shrimp. This article will walk you through how to set up a shrimp tank, including choices around the substrate, heating, water conditions, species of shrimp, filtration, and more! Shrimp tanks are simple if the environment is set up correctly with all the necessary components! This shrimp tank guide will show you the way so read on!

Recommend Shrimp Tank Equipment:

Gathering the Necessary Shrimp Tank Equipment and Supplies

A shrimp tank can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. For the purposes of this guide, though, we’ll stick with a few basics which will meet most people’s needs. You will need the following items before you begin setting up your shrimp tank:

  • Aquarium
  • Filtration System
  • Substrate
  • Heater
  • Thermometer
  • Temperature Controller
  • Water Test Kit
  • TDS Monitor

We will go through each of these elements below.

Best Shrimp Tank Aquarium:

How big should your shrimp tank be? In most cases, the answer is as large as you want it to be and have sufficient space for. There is no inherent detriment to having a larger tank for your shrimp – if you’re planning long term, then this will serve them well. The benefit of a smaller aquarium is that it is often easier for observing your shrimp (less places to hide) and you can clean/maintain it with less effort (although it might require more frequent water changes).

In our experience, 10-gallon tanks are the most common shrimp tank choice. 5-gallon shrimp tanks can also work with fewer shrimp.

For shrimp tank beginners, 10-20 gallon freshwater shrimp tanks are a great option and more forgiving than smaller tanks with water parameter issues. Smaller tanks are inherently less stable so there is oftentimes an advantage in larger tank sizes when you can manage it. These are our favorite shrimp tank options:

5-gallon

Fluval Spec V Aquarium Kit, 5-Gallon
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10-gallon

Our Pick
Aqueon Glass Aquarium 10 Gallons
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20-gallon

Our Pick
Tetra Aquarium 20 Gallon Fish Tank Kit, Includes LED Lighting and Decor

What We Like About This Tank

  • Provides ample living space
  • Includes a filter and heater
  • Includes decor to provide hiding places
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55-gallon

Our Pick
Tetra 55 Gallon Aquarium Kit
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Two more important pieces of equipment – an aquarium cover and an aquarium stand. An aquarium cover is a crucial piece of equipment for your shrimp tank since they may sometimes get out. They might be tiny, but they can be elusive!

Depending on your tank size, an aquarium stand could be needed to support the tank weight. Check out our aquarium stand guide for more information.

Filtration System

Another common question when it comes to shrimp aquariums is “what kind of filter should I get?” Filters have two critically important roles: cleaning up debris and harboring beneficial bacteria that are needed for a healthy, cycled tank.

There are various types of aquarium filters on the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. One important factor is selecting a shrimp-safe filter so the shrimp don’t get sucked into the intake. Filter guards can cover the intake for most filters, making them shrimp-proof.

Potential shrimp tank filters include:

  • Sponge filter – Sponge filters are the gold standard of professional shrimp breeders. Sponge filters are a gentle, shrimp-safe option. They are powered via an air pump. They work best for small aquariums so if your aquarium is larger than 20 gallons, you will likely need to consider a different filter type.
  • Internal filter – Another popular option. Make sure to check the intake so this doesn’t suck up all of your shrimp. Downside of this option is that you will have a pretty clunky piece of machinery inside your tank.
  • Hang on back (HOB) – If you’re looking to avoid the internal filter aesthetics problem, HOB filters are great. These filters (unsurprisingly) hang on the back of your tank. It sucks up water through an inlet pipe, runs the water through the filter, and then returns it back via a waterfall. The intake valves are shrimp vacuums on these, so plan on a guard. We prefer these over internal filters for aesthetics reasons.
  • Canister filter – Canister filters are your high-power option. They are pretty large, which is bad from a size standpoint but great in that they have a lot of filtration power, which means extremely clean water. This filter type is most popular for larger aquariums of 20 gallons and up. In all honesty, we think canister filters are too much power for shrimp tanks.

Overall, we recommend a simple sponge filter or HOB filter with an intake guard.

Our Pick
Aquarium Technology, Inc. Hydro-Sponge Filter
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Substrate

Substrate refers to whatever covers the bottom of your tank – sand, gravel, coral, rocks, dirt, or something else. Shrimps prefer tanks with substrate versus bare-bottomed tanks. They will bury themselves and scavenge for food in the substrate.

When selecting your substrate, make sure to confirm that it is safe for shrimp, as shrimp are known to be highly sensitive to chemicals. We also recommend rinsing and washing the substrate before adding it to the tank.

Substrate choices are a hot topic among shrimp keepers. Below is an overview of the most common options:

  • Sand: Large-grained sand is an excellent choice. It is not too big to trap food and it is easier to clean compared to gravel.
  • Gravel: Gravel is excellent for rooting plants, which makes it a popular option in planted tanks.
  • Buffering substrates: Buffering substrates help keep the water “soft” in pH. Mosy shrimp prefer softer water, making it a more ideal tank for them.

There is really no wrong answer when it comes to the substate; it is more a matter of personal preference and skill level. The preferred color for your substrate can also play a role in your choice. For example, black will highlight the shrimp and plants by creating higher contrast.

Heater

Although most shrimp will thrive at room temperature, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for a heater. Rooms go through pretty large temperature fluctuations daily, which in turn cause temperature changes in your tank. Although minor changes will likely be tolerated, large changes can stress or kill your shrimp.

Depending on the model, your heat can power on when the temperature drops below a pre-set threshold. This helps automate the conditions in your tank. Heaters are not the place to skimp on equipment. Cheap heaters occasionally malfunction, leading to large temperature swings (and sometimes cooked shrimp).

We recommend the Eheim Jager Aquarium Heater. Check out our aquarium heaters guide for more options.

Our Pick
EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater - 300W
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Thermometer

This should come as no surprise. In order to keep the temperature in your shrimp tank as stable as possible, you will need to know the actual temperature. In order to do that, you will need a thermometer. We recommend the Cooper Atkins Digital Pocket Thermometer. Check out our aquarium thermometer guide for more options.

Our Pick
Cooper Atkins-DFP450W Digital Pocket Thermometer, 4-5/8 in. L,multicolor
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Temperature Controller

Temperature controllers are not an absolute necessity but they’re definitely a nice to have. The idea behind a temperature controller is that you set an ideal range, and then if the temperature controller catches a fluctuation, it turns on the appropriate piece of equipment, like a heater or a chiller, and the temperature is then restored to the proper range. We love this Inkbird Temperature Controller option. Check out our temperature controller guide for more details.

Our Pick
Inkbird ITC-306T Pre-Wired Electronic Heating Thermostat Temperature Controller
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Water Test Kit

We want to shout this one from the rooftops! You need a water test kit and you need to test frequently! Shrimp are sensitive to bad water quality so it’s important for you to know exactly what’s going on.

We recommend using a liquid test kit. They’re more accurate than test strips and should last for a long time. For shrimp keeping, your test kit should at least be able to test Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, pH, gH and kH. Our favorite is the API Water Test Kit. Check out our water test kits for aquariums guide for more ideas.

API Aquarium Test Kit
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TDS meter

Haven’t heard of a TDS meter before? That’s ok, it is not especially common among fishkeepers, although it is a popular piece of equipment among shrimp keepers. A TDS meter tests the Total Dissolved Solids in your aquarium water. If this level is too high or low, it can cause problems.

Although TDS meters are not mandatory, they’re helpful if you’re serious about your setup.

HoneForest TDS Meter, EC Meter & Temperature Meter
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Setting up Your Shrimp Tank

Before you start shrimp stocking, it’s important to understand some basics. In this section, we’ll discuss the basics of setting up an aquarium, cycling your shrimp tank, and decoration choices.

Setting up an Aquarium: The Basics

Once you’ve gathered all of the required supplies, it is time to set up your shrimp tank. If you’ve had an aquarium before, you’re probably familiar with this process. But if you need a refresher, or you’re new to aquariums, read on!

Shrimp tank with gravel substrate and lots of cherry shrimp

Aquarium Placement

Place your aquarium in the desired spot. If you’re using a big tank, we recommend a dedicated aquarium stand. Choose a location out of direct sunlight and extreme drafts. You also want a level surface.

Setting up the Tank

Wash your substrate. When it is not rinsing off debris or color, place a layer on the bottom of your tank. This is an excellent opportunity to plant any live plants and place your decorations and equipment.

Fill the Aquarium

As you fill-up the aquarium, try to avoid disturbing the substrate too much. If there’s chlorine in your tap water, use a water conditioner. Once the tank is filled, turn on equipment like your heater, filter, and lamp.

Cycle your Shrimp Tank

This step is crucial. If you don’t cycle your tank, you will almost certainly kill your shrimp. Cycling an aquarium allows for the required development of beneficial bacteria in your filter and substrate. These bacteria can convert toxic wastes into less harmful versions that can be removed with weekly aquarium maintenance. If this sounds slightly magical, it is because it is!

The only things you need to cycle your tank are a water test kit, a source of pure ammonia, and patience. Check out our aquarium cycling guide for more details. 

Shrimp Tank Decorations

As a shrimp keeper, you want to provide an environment conducive for your shrimp which means not only providing the necessary equipment and water parameters, but also choosing good decorations that your shrimp will appreciate.

Shrimp love to hide, especially when they have recently molted and they’re feeling vulnerable until their new exoskeleton hardens. We advocate for natural tanks with plenty of hiding spots and live plants. Plants provide great natural hiding spots and natural food for your shrimp. Plants also stabilize water parameters by absorbing harmful wastes, further making your shrimp happy campers. We love plants like Java Ferns, Amazon Swords, and Java Moss. Beyond plants, ceramic tubes and cholla wood work great for hiding spots.

Natural Cholla Wood | 5 Pieces of 5-6" Long Natural Cholla Wood for Aquariums
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Choosing a Species for your Shrimp Tank: Common Freshwater Aquarium Shrimp

There are many different species of shrimp available, so selecting your favorite kind of shrimp might be difficult. Here is a brief overview of some popular options:

  • Cherry Shrimp – If you’re a beginner and this is your first tank, the massively popular Red Cherry Shrimp could be a good option. They are easy to keep alive, breed regularly, and come in a variety of colors.
  • Ghost shrimp – Ghost shrimp are usually sold as fold for other aquatic creatures but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep them as pets. They’re active, entertaining little guys.
  • Amano Shrimp – Another extremely popular option. These guys are larger than dwarf shrimp and very peaceful, making them good tank cleaners in community tanks. One thing to note is that this species won’t breed in freshwater, which can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it.
  • Vampire Shrimp These are becoming more popular in the freshwater aquarium trade. They require a little more shrimpkeeping skill than the previous list members but can absolutely be a good choice if you’re committed. They’re difficult to breed.

These species are only the beginning. Shrimp keepers often start with an entry-level species, learn about shrimp care, come across different species, and purchase their second tank quickly to try their hand at a new species!

Buying Your Shrimp

Once you’ve selected your ideal shrimp species, you’ve got to figure out where to purchase your specimens. Common species are pretty easy to find. Most aquarium stores carry some common shrimp types.

If you’re looking for a rarer species, it might take a little detective work on your side. You can ask your local aquarium store to order a batch for you. If that fails, there are lots of online stores that carry a range of shrimp species. Shrimp ship pretty well so don’t be scared of going this route.

Keep in mind the following issues when buying shrimp:

  • Import vs home bred – Mass-market shrimp are often bred in large facilities in Asia. These are typically the most affordable shrimp. However, imports can carry parasites or diseases or arrive in pretty poor condition from a long shipping experience. If you’re unsure of the source of your shrimp, ask the seller.
  • How to spot healthy shrimp – Observing your potential shrimp before purchasing is ideal. Healthy shrimp will be actively foraging and skittering around the tank. Look out for blemishes, injuries, worms, and any signs of damage.
  • Aquarium store vs online – We recommend checking out the stock at your local aquarium store and comparing to online sellers. Online sellers are often cheaper than local aquarium stores and you might be able to tap into home bred shrimp networks.

Suitable Shrimp Tank Mates

Shrimp are generally very peaceful so choosing tank mates is usually quite easy. You’ll want to look out for and avoid other fish that pose an active threat to the shrimp, like Goldfish, Oscars, Cichlids, Arowanas, etc. Beyond that, many of your favorite community fish and other aquatic critters can live with shrimp just fine.

Here are some our favorite shrimp tank mates:

Feeding Your Shrimp the Proper Diet

We have covered lots of elements of shrimp keeping, from water filtration to tank mates to the substrate. However, how do you keep these little guys happy? Feed them! Food preferences differ from species to species, but as a rule of thumb, the best food will mimic their natural diet (similar to how the best tank mimics their natural environment).

What Do Aquarium Shrimp Eat?

Wild shrimp are foragers and spend a good chunk of their time on the lookout for their next meal. The same goes for your shrimp inside your tank. Algae, biofilm, decaying pieces of plants and animals, and little creatures that live in your water column are all great natural sources of food.

Recommended Shrimp Foods

Generally speaking, the preferred food for shrimp is biofilm, a collection of microorganisms that basically grows on all of the surfaces in your aquarium. Shrimp love biofilm, especially young shrimp. However, if your shrimp are happy and breeding, your shrimp population will get large enough that they’re won’t be enough biofilm for everyone to eat. This is where shrimp feeding starts.

Here are some ideas for shrimp feeding:

Hikari Crab Bites - Rapidly Sinking Sticks for Bottom Feeders and Crustaceans
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Fluval Shrimp Granules
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The foods that are specifically designed for shrimp tend to hold their form better in water and don’t break apart as quickly which will pollute the water.

How often should I feed my shrimp?

The smaller your shrimp colony, the less frequently you need to feed them as they will be able to survive on biofilm. With a small colony, you might only feed them once a week or once every other week.

If you have a huge colony, with hundreds of shrimp, plan on feeding daily!

If you’re in the middle ground, usually 2-3 times a week is sufficient. Try to prioritize algae-based food for them. If animal protein is in the top 3 ingredients, either feed that food sparingly (once a week) or find alternative algae-focused foods.

Maintaining a Freshwater Shrimp Tank

Now that you know how to set up an aquarium and what foods to feed your shrimp, it’s time for the fun part: maintenance! This is where you learn the in’s and out’s of your aquarium and you really create an environment for your shrimp to thrive.

Water Quality is Important!

Shrimp are very sensitive to water quality, even more so than fish. The more time you can put into making sure your water quality is great, the healthier and happier your shrimp population will be.

Shrimp are sensitive to poor water conditions, including high levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Weekly water changes are especially important with shrimp tanks.

Additionally, as your tank water evaporates, water conditions get more concentrated, because there is less water to dilute the harmful elements. It also concentrates your trace minerals so you’ll need to add pure replacement water, like RODI water or distilled water. That way you’re not spiking your trace minerals.

Shrimp Tank Maintenance

Cleaning your shrimp tank is important. Besides weekly water changes and water top-offs, plan on cleaning the filter at least once a month. Only use pulled tank water to clean your filters! This will remove debris but not kill the beneficial bacteria colonies with chlorine! If your filter is getting worn, try to seed the filter before replacing so you don’t throw off your bacteria balance with a fresh filter.

Also, be careful whenever putting your hands in your aquarium. Chemicals from lotions, creams, and soaps can leach into the water and hurt your shrimp. Always wash your hands before putting your hands in your tank.

Common Shrimp Tank Problems (And Solutions)

Below, we try to troubleshoot shrimp tank-specific issues. Hopefully, you don’t run into these issues but just in case, it is better to be prepared so you can respond quickly.

Mystery Deaths

One shrimp dies. Then another and another. Depending on your set-up, there could be many potential explanations so it can be extra frustrating to solve what is actually happening.

If you’re facing a sudden shrimp plague, immediately test your water parameters and check your shrimp for obvious parasites. The deeper your test goes, the better. Traces of ammonia or nitrite will wipe out your shrimp. High nitrates can do it too. You want a test kit that also looks at pH, gH, kH and TDS too. You’re looking for the entire picture here. Test multiple times a day for a few days so you get an understanding of the consistent picture.

If your water quality checks out and your shrimp don’t have obvious infections, join a shrimp forum or group online and post the details of your situation. Shrimp sleuths online can be super helpful but make sure you cross-check any information that you receive.

Molting Problems

Molting is an important lifecycle moment for shrimp. Every so often, shrimp shed their old exoskeleton and grow into the new one. If your shrimp struggles at any stage of the process, check their diets. Shrimp do best with a varied diet that contains some iodine. Over-consumption of protein and calcium can make this process more difficult for them.

Parasites

With any new tank additions, whether fish or shrimp, always check your new creatures for parasites. We recommend housing them in a quarantine tank for a week or two before adding them to an established tank if you can. However, shrimp are typically a bit smaller than your fishy inhabitants, so you might need to whip out a magnifying glass to get a closer look.

Common shrimp parasites are Scutariella (tiny worms on the head) and Ellobiopsidae (green fungus growth between the swimmerettes). With any disease or parasite, make sure you’re picking a shrimp-safe treatment option.

Shrimp Tank: Conclusion

Shrimp are a great choice for home aquariums for beginners and experts alike! If you follow these simple steps for how to set up a shrimp tank, you should be well on your way toward keeping happy and healthy shrimp! We have covered everything from substrate to shrimp species to shrimp feeding and ideal shrimp tank mates.

Thank you for reading this article! Tell us about your shrimp tank. What is working for you?

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