How to Set up A Shrimp Aquarium
Updated: Apr 10
The basic process of setting up a shrimp tank is easy. It doesn’t matter whether you want to house Ghost Shrimp, Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp or even Crystal Red Shrimp, the process will be exactly the same! Generally if you’re looking into setting up shrimp tanks then you’ve probably already had a few aquariums or at least you’re familiar with them. This experience is useful here but it’s not entirely necessary, so if this is your first venture into keeping little water animals at home, don’t worry! We’ll lay out the steps below for you.
Most of these aquatic shrimp are ideal because they’re small in size, which means shrimp can be housed in aquariums as small as 5 gallons, however 10 or more gallons is recommended. One reason for this is that with any aquarium, more water means more stability in terms of chemicals, cleanliness and bacteria. This is especially important for shrimp! Shrimp can be more sensitive than fish to changes in their water quality and because of this, Ghost Shrimp and Cherry Shrimp are the hardier varieties that are usually recommended for beginner shrimp enthusiasts.
Before you start, ask yourself a few questions that will really help out in the long run. Questions such as if there’s a nearby plug socket for electrical equipment, is there a tap close or a bathroom where you can get water quickly for your water changes? Think about where you want to place the tank - like we’ve said its best to be close to a tap, but you want it to be away from radiators and windows. Once you’ve filled the tank it’ll be much much harder to move around so make sure you’ve got a suitable place set up first.
Next, make sure all of your equipment is Shrimp Proof, for example filtration equipment needs to have sponge or a fine net over the intake because shrimp fry are tiny and even adolescent shrimp are known to get sucked into the filters - damaging the filter and probably killing themselves in the process. Keep your little guys safe! We recommend using Sponge filters for your aquarium whenever you have small inhabitants. They connect up to your air pump instead of having a motor in and the water is drawn straight through two sponges, so there's nowhere for your little tank mates to get caught, and even if they do get through the sponge then they just have a Jacuzzi ride back out the top - no spinning blades! You can have a look at Sponge Filters Here.
Use a volume calculator to calculate the required flow rate of the filter and the heater wattage your shrimp aquarium will need. Generally rounding up the heater wattage is the way to go. Purchasing two equal wattage heaters will be a better bet for efficiency and will help keep cold areas at a minimum.
Substrate also needs to be considered and depends on your shrimp species. For example most shrimp thrive in lower pH climates and with soft water so ADA aquasoil is a good option, as is Seachem Fluorite and RedSea Florabase for planted substrates. If you’ve gone with brightly coloured shrimp such as the Cherry Shrimp or Crystal Red Shrimp then opt for a darker substrate to make the colours really pop. If you’re going with inert substrates, like gravel, go with a finer grain.
Planted Shrimp Tank vs Non Planted
The vast majority of shrimp tanks are usually planted. Shrimp are omnivorous and many species love to nibble on algae. Plants go hand in hand with most species of shrimp and low light setups can take advantage of moss and ferns. Higher lighting setups can create floors of planted HC substrate and walls of Rotala. Planted setups require more maintenance but they are beautiful and enrich the aquarium with dissolved oxygen.
Non planted setups are easier to care for and require less maintenance. They are cheaper and have their advantages. They are best suited for rearing tanks or non display tanks. Bare bottom tanks are also common when breeding is a primary concern. They allow easy cleaning and access for the hobbyist.
Cleaning and Placing Substrate
Depending on the substrate used it is usually a good idea to rinse it. ADA and plant substrates often are ready to be placed into the aquarium but gravel substrates should be washed and rinsed a number of times to remove excess dust and debris. Substrate should be enough to cover the entire aquarium to at least 1" depth, if you want to have raised areas then you’ll obviously need more as the 1 inch depth should be at the lowest point.
Shrimp enjoy flat undulating terrain in the aquarium. It is recommended to leave the front of the aquarium open and flat. They often forage for food and search for partners in open spaces. By feeding the shrimp at the front of the tank they are more likely to stay within view. If you are housing shrimp in a planted tank then an iwagumi style of aquascape is recommended. This is a Japanese aquascaping theme where large rocks are buried across the aquascape and substrate is filled around them. The aquascape is 'mountainous' but still relatively smooth and the plants and moss will grow around the rocks creating a beautiful garden whilst keeping a lot of space and flat areas. A perfect playground for shrimp.
Filling up the Aquarium
Use a bucket or a hose pipe to fill up the shrimp aquarium, once this is done it’s time for checking your water thoroughly. Check water parameters for your shrimp tank with test strips. If the water pH is too high or low it may need to be adjusted by using a store purchased buffer that most pet stores will be able to supply. Water can be softened by adding driftwood or small amounts of peat to the filter box and always ensure you use a commercial dechlorinator if you’re filling up with tap water. Shrimp are sensitive to chlorines and chloramines found in tap water. This dechlorinate solution must be used each time a water change occurs. Follow the instructions on the back of the bottle as some products vary. We recommend one product only for making tap water safe - AquaSafe. Tetra is one of the world leaders for aquatic products and Aquasafe is the only water treatment solution we use.
Connecting Filter & Material
Clean the filter material before you install it by rinsing it through fresh water. As mentioned earlier shrimp are very sensitive to any heavy metal additives that may have been picked up in the warehouse so it’s best to remove these before it gets anywhere near your aquarium water.
Connect the filter and place the intake and outtake (depending on type) into the aquarium. The intake will need to carefully be fitted with a sponge as we mentioned earlier to stop fry and young shrimp becoming injured. This can be as simple as wrapping a thin sheet of sponge to the intake and using an elastic band to hold it in place. A rubber band may seem like a DIY way to some people since it’s a temporary solution, however an elastic band is better than a permanent solution for a variety of reasons. The sponge will become filled with debris and will need to be cleaned once a week. The elastic band makes it easy to do so. Elastic bands are also cheap and easily replaceable compared to other methods. Again, you can take the hassle out of this by using a Sponge Filter or two in your tank instead.
Lighting can vary greatly depending on the setup. LED lighting is recommended and has become very affordable as technology has improved greatly and mass production has started. A basic light purchased online or in a local store is suitable for a shrimp tank without plants. The light should be set to a maximum of 8 hours a day to avoid excess algae growth.
For a planted setup the lighting is often more advanced. Depending on whether the tank has CO2 dosing and fertiliser dosing this will govern lighting choice so look into your options for lights if you’re using either methods.
Before adding the shrimp the aquarium will need to be cycled. This can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks and will require bi-weekly water testing. The heaters should be added to the aquarium and set anywhere from 72-85°F for cycling. The light should be plugged in and set to turn on for 8 hours per day.
Adding the Shrimp to the Shrimp Tank
After cycling ensure water levels are optimal for your shrimp tank. Nitrite and Ammonia should return a reading of 0 ppm. Nitrate may be elevated but an addition of plants and a small water change can aid in it's reduction. Nitrate should be as low as possible in a shrimp tank, with 0 ppm being best. We recommend testing strips or kits, or one in particular. API is the leader here with their Master Kit being a one stop shop which will last you potentially years. It's a little pricier than the 5 in 1 test strips they sell, but is actually better value because of how long it'll last. We recommend either option though.
Shrimp purchased from the store should be added to a bucket or large bowl. Airline tubing is then used to make a siphon from the cycled shrimp tank into the bucket. Gently suck on one end of the line while placing the higher end into the aquarium water.
Gravity will naturally pull the tank water down the tubing where it will flow out the other end. Use a rubber band to kink the tubing to the point where the flow stops. Adjust the elastic band to allow approximately 1 drop of water per second to leave the tubing. Continue to add the drops of aquarium water to the bucket. Check every few minutes on the status of the shrimp, this process should continue anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour.
Then use a soft net to scoop the shrimp from the bucket and place them into the aquarium so that the water from the pet store can’t contaminate your aquarium water. Be careful to cover the net with one hand to avoid them jumping out. Monitor the shrimp in the aquarium, turn off the lights and wait at least 12 hours before feeding them, then you’re all set! Welcome to your new shrimp aquarium!
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