by Jesse De Luca 

I have always been fascinated by invertebrates, and especially shrimp! Watching their skeletal movements and their quirky behaviours can keep me captivated for hours. I first began keeping shrimp years ago, when I kept Cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) with some Celestial Pearl danios (Danio margaritatus) in a 10-gallon aquarium. I had seen some females carrying eggs and waited for babies with anticipation, but I learned quickly that the baby shrimp would never survive, either being eaten by the fish or by being sucked up into the aquarium’s filter. If I would have had a much larger planted tank it is more likely that some baby shrimp would have survived, but I was living in a small apartment at the time and space was quite limited.

It was when I discovered the stunning Crystal Red shrimp (Caridina cantonensis) that I realized I wanted to try my hand at breeding shrimp. In order to do so, I converted my 10-gallon tank into a dedicated planted shrimp aquarium. Using the tap water from my nearly 100-year-old apartment, however, proved disastrous, and I lost the first dozen shrimp I purchased. My tap water was so bad that it would be cloudy and brown if I didn’t use it for a few days – who knows what kind of heavy metals and other pollutants were in there? Although the water hadn’t been an issue for the fish and shrimp I kept previously, I learned that CRS (Crystal Red shrimp) are especially sensitive to water quality. Thus, my quest for better quality water began!

Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

I began by acquiring water from my parents’ home – they had a water softening system, which produced much cleaner water. Using this water, my shrimp stopped dying! The next issue I encountered was that the water was too soft for my shrimp to breed, since it had been passed through a softening filter. For shrimp, the general hardness should be moderately hard, with a concentration of approximately 100-150ppm CaCO3. In my experience, as long as your water’s hardness is at least 100ppm CaCO3, your shrimp will have no issues breeding and growing their exoskeletons. I used a liquid general hardness booster to attain the water hardness I was looking for. With regular feeding and frequent water changes, I was breeding hundreds of CRS and selling them to local pet stores! I offered everything from sinking spirulina wafers to shrimp-specific granules to my CRS, which I found would eat almost any food item presented to them. I have always felt that feeding a varied diet to shrimp, fish, and any other animal is key to their health and breeding success.

When introducing CRS to your aquarium, it is strongly recommended to drip acclimate them, as they are quite sensitive to changes in water parameters. To do so, place the shrimp in a container of some sort and use a length of airline tubing to slowly introduce them to water from the aquarium. The ideal rate is approximately 1 drop of aquarium water per second – you can tie a knot in the tubing or otherwise restrict the flow somehow in order to achieve this rate. I recommend acclimating new CRS for at least 20 minutes, but longer is better! It’s also important to note that any water treatment product that includes copper must be avoided, as shrimp are particularly sensitive to this metal.

If you hope to breed CRS but want a relatively low-maintenance aquarium, I do not recommend heavily planting your tank. The accumulation of decaying organic matter in such an aquarium (fish waste, dead plant leaves, etc.) would gradually increase the required frequency of water changes and filter maintenance. Ultimately, nitrate levels could reach levels at which CRS stop breeding and even perish. Instead, I prefer to set up CRS breeding tanks more simply. I use Fluval Stratum, which helps to maintain a slightly acidic to neutral pH, ideal for shrimp. I then add natural driftwood, Indian almond leaves, alder cones, and various other botanicals, which further acidify the water and introduce beneficial tannins. The use of a sponge filter in shrimp breeding is very popular due to their ease of use, but I prefer AquaClear filters with the addition of a pre-filter sponge to stop baby shrimp from being sucked up.

Photo taken by Jesse De Luca – Chiquibul Forest Preserve – Belize – May 2017.  The ideal freshwater shrimp habitat!

On a recent trip to Belize, I was inspired by the incredible cenotes in the Chiquibul rainforest. These natural pits, which form when limestone bedrock collapses and exposes groundwater underneath, were clear blue and clean enough to drink from. While collecting drinking water from a cenote one day, I noticed tiny, transparent shrimp swimming around in the crystal-clear water! The little stream had dead leaves, twigs, and seed pods littered throughout it, and I was determined to set up a vivarium at home that replicated this beautiful habitat. It’s often best to look at the natural world for inspiration when creating habitats for aquatic and terrestrial animals – Mother Nature always knows best!