The Red Cherry Shrimp Ultimate Care Guide
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Neocaridina denticulata sinensis is a species of shrimp more commonly called the Red Cherry Shrimp, or RCS. Although they exist in the wild in many colours, the common aquarium version is a bright red which is where they get their name from. This bright red colour is the result of many years of selective breeding among cherry shrimp breeders and comes in a range of grades spanning from paler reds to deep red. This red really stands out in the aquarium as it contrasts heavily with the green of live plants as well as most aquarium gravels and substrates.
What makes the red cherry shrimp an incredibly popular choice in the aquarium shrimp world is how hardy they are, their ability to withstand a range of water conditions and their ease to maintain as well as breed. They naturally hide from predators and love having places to explore in a tank, preferring tanks with a range of live plants as well as decorations with holes and crevices for them to explore.
They’re great for beginner shrimp keepers but we recommend you buy them from breeders with a good stock of healthy shrimp and a good reputation. General pet stores can have mixed results when buying shrimp as they usually don’t tailor their tanks to the animals - they’re usually overstocked with little to no decoration.
Let’s start with their preferred water conditions.
Red cherry shrimp prefer an aquarium temperature of around 77 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit, however higher temperatures can often lead to faster growth as well as reproduction rates. Bare in mind this will also reduce their life span, so if you’re after shrimp to keep as pets, stick to the cooler side. If you’re after shrimp to start your own breeding farm though, the warmer side might be preferable for you.
Another thing to consider with higher temperatures are the effect it has on the water quality. For example, it will reduce the level of dissolved oxygen in the tank as warmer water can’t contain as much, and stocking will need to be lowered as overstocking will only add to the reduction of water quality. The upper band of acceptable temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit for red cherry shrimp, but this temperature requires aerated water and a careful watch on overstocking tanks. Alternatively, the lower temperatures are around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but in this temperature the shrimp are unlikely to breed and they’ll have a higher chance of catching diseases.
Before you put any Shrimp in your tank, you need to check your water parameters especially ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. This is all done during the Cycling Process, which you can learn about here, but also each week you should be monitoring how the levels are doing before you do your weekly water changes to avoid any fatalities. For this we suggest API's 5 in 1 test strips if you're new to fish keeping in general, or their Master Test Kit if you're comfortable with mixing a little bit of tank water into test tubes, as these are more precise. You can buy the Test Strips here, or the Master Test Kit here. The test strips are cheaper slightly, and you can do up to 200 tests, or you can spend a little more for the Master Kit and have up to 800 tests with increased accuracy.
On to ammonia and as with any fish tank or aquarium, it must be cycled fully before adding any inhabitants. This means that your ammonia level should be as low as possible and preferably at 0ppm (parts per million). Red cherry shrimp are incredibly sensitive to ammonia and it can kill them fairly easily, so make sure your tank is set up and established with good bacteria that can convert any and all ammonia in to nitrites as soon and effectively as possible.
Moving on to nitrites now and before adding any live organism to the aquarium, nitrite should also be 0ppm. If your tank is successfully cycled then both ammonia and nitrite alike should never register on a test kit because you should always have that good bacteria build up from cycling that’s continuously eating away and converting that ammonia straight to nitrites and the nitrites straight to nitrates. For tips and instructions on how to cycle your tank, follow our guide here.
For nitrates you can be slightly more lenient, as this is the final stage for the nitrogen cycling bacteria and the way you typically reduce this is by conducting your water changes. We recommend that you keep nitrates under 20ppm. It’s not essential but we’d highly encourage this. Once it gets close to or past this point, change 20-30% of the water for fresh water. If nitrate levels shoot up too quickly and you’re having to change levels so frequently that it becomes and issue, then consider adding more plants to your tank as these are a good way to passively reduce nitrate levels. Once you reach above 20ppm your shrimp will become more susceptible to become diseased and even infertile.
Sticking at water conditions still and your pH Level should be ever so slightly acidic - between 6.2 and 7.3. By keeping levels within this range you’ll be maximising their health, keeping their colour bright and also improving egg hatching rates. If you’re in an area where the tap water has a high pH level of over 7.5 then you may want to consider using a small bag of peat in the filter to bring down the pH level, although this may discolour the water. Another option is a commercial substrate similar to ADA Amazonia.
If you’re using a lot of aeration in the tank, this can lead to higher pH Levels as well, so you can pull back on that slightly. Another option is to add driftwood or almond leaves to the tank.
Alternatively if you need to raise the pH level of the tank, you can add baking soda slightly, one teaspoon at a time per every 5 gallons in the tank. You’ll want to remove your tank inhabitants while you do this and keep monitoring levels until you reach the desired pH level.
Ideally we’d suggest that you change between 20% and 30% of the water in the aquarium once a week, this gives you a good buffer for those nitrates that form and keeps the water quality high for your little shrimp. In terms of the method of changing water, we suggest having a few large buckets or a large container that you can safely store a good amount of water in and then removing the chlorine and heavy metals with a good dechlorinate solution. We recommend either Tetra’s Aquasafe for this or Seachem Prime, both are excellent products and Seachem Prime seems to have a cult following in the fishkeeping community who swear by it.
Use a spare glass heater to bring the water up to the same temperature as your tank water and give it a couple of days for the dechlorinator to work. This will ensure that any toxic compounds in the water, such as chlorine, are able to break down and be removed. By having the new water at the same temperature as the tank water, this will minimise any chances of you shocking your tank friends with the new water.
How to add your Shrimp to the tank
As we’ve said, Red Cherry Shrimp are a hardy bunch of invertebrates but they’re still sensitive to quick fluctuations in their water’s chemistry. Because of this we need to be careful when adding them to new water and maintaining good water stability is both a long and short term goal. Make sure your aquarium has been tested and it’s within the ranges we’ve listed above before you add your shrimp to the tank. To add them to the tank it’s quite a slow process which will ensure the transition from store bag to aquarium is as smooth as possible.
Start by adding the shrimp, and the water from their bag, into a large bowl with space to add more water. Using air line tubing, create a siphon from the aquarium into the bowl. We typically unplug our air pump, as we have an air stone under the gravel which will then create a nice siphon if we place the bowl down next to the tank. Now using a rubber band before you let any water into the bowl, create a kink in the tubing to stop the water from flowing and wrap the band around the kink. Adjust the kink in the tube so that approximately one drop flows every second. Let it drip into the bowl for the next 20 to 30 minutes and monitor it closely to make sure it doesn’t overfill.
After the bowl water from the pet store has been sufficiently diluted with the aquarium water, hold up the bowl and quickly transfer the shrimp using a soft net from the bowl to the tank. Do not pour the bowl into your aquarium, as the store water may contain nasties including tiny parasites, even tiny snail eggs or also chemicals that you don’t want in your aquarium. By doing this you ensure your water parameters stay consistent and you keep your shrimp in nice, fresh and clean water.
Cherry shrimp, like many fish inhabitants, become stressed if the water quality isn’t optimal. A good way to spot this with shrimp is that they become sluggish and won't want to move much, usually they are incredibly active so this will stand out straight away. Another way to identify bad water conditions is if they swim up to the surface and float - this is usually something like oxygen issues, as oxygen levels are usually higher at the top of the tank.
In this case it’s important to test the water immediately to find the issue and do a water change ASAP. If this doesn’t help, then consider moving them to a new tank or container to be a temporary home - even if the water conditions in the new container aren’t as good as what we’ve laid out above, this is more ideal than leaving them in a toxic aquarium.
Feeding your Red Cherry Shrimp
Like all aquarium inhabitants, you’ll need to constantly feed your Red Cherry Shrimp. They do eat algae to some extent, however this won’t be enough for them. As they’re omnivorous they’ll need a balanced diet and supplementary food on a daily basis. This is even more important if you’re breeding and trying to prevent sterile births while also maintaining healthy young!
By a balanced diet, we suggest feeding fresh vegetables and processed foods to your Red Cherry Shrimp. Vegetables such as boiled zucchini and spinach are excellent sources of food for your shrimp’s health, but be sure to boil these for a number of minutes to get them to suck up water, otherwise they’ll just float on the surface of your tank out of reach of your shrimp.
Store bought, processed foods such as flakes, pellets and specialised shrimp foods are also important when providing your shrimp with a balanced diet, and giving them that red colour! One food we suggest is from Japan and is specifically engineered exclusively for aquarium shrimp. This is the Shirakura Red Shrimp Food and another benefit of this food in particular is that it won't cloud your tank either! Be watchful when feeding - if there’s excess food left when it's time to add new food, remove the old and add a smaller amount of the new food. This will help you keep a limit on ammonia and nitrites that are produced from the decaying food matter, and keep your cycle stable.
Benefits and Dangers of a Planted Shrimp Aquarium
As we’ve said, shrimp love having places to hide and explore which makes planted tanks really great places for them to be. Planted tanks also have the benefits of keeping a wrap on nitrates too, so you won’t get any quick spikes to your tests. This said, planted tanks can potentially be a danger to your shrimp.
It’s not the plants themselves that are the danger though, and it can easily be avoided, ensuring a thriving community of many generations of shrimp come to life and excel in your tank. The problem specifically is with CO2. Many planted tanks require a CO2 injector if there aren’t enough fish in the tank to produce enough. CO2 is required by plants to undergo photosynthesis, the injector dumps the CO2 into the tank which dissolves and is taken in by the plants. If the injector produces more CO2 than the plants can take in then the levels will rise in the tank and damage, stress and kill your shrimp. This issue can quickly rise when there isn’t enough light for the plants (such as at night). If it doesn’t get absorbed by the plants then it becomes carbonic acid which also can plummet and swing pH levels from day to night, and while Red Cherry shrimp are tolerant to some change, they can’t handle this quick of a pH swing nor the lack of oxygen that will be in the water.
If you need to add CO2 to the water, then it needs to be done carefully. It might not be as simple as using a solenoid valve to only inject CO2 during light hours. Horror stories have arisen where hobbyists have forgotten to reset their light timers. In the morning when the lights do not turn on but the CO2 starts bubbling there is danger for a giant PH swing and a high risk of stressing your Red Cherry Shrimp.
If you can get away with using just an air pump to fill the tank with normal air from the room for the carbon dioxide for your plants then absolutely keep it this way - don't risk the injector. Check your fertiliser additives too - all copper or heavy metal additives need to be avoided altogether. Aside from these issues, moss and plants provide an excellent underwater playground for shrimp and are also really beneficial for baby shrimp!
Breeding your Red Cherry shrimp
Speaking of baby shrimp, Red Cherry Shrimp are among the most easy of freshwater shrimp species to breed in an aquarium. Typically shrimp in the wild, as well as most fish really, tend to reproduce in the spring time as they know that there will be several months coming up where food will be growing and living conditions will be ideal. To replicate this in your tank, slowly increase the water temperature over the space of around a week to around 81-82 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate a summer environment. This will naturally prompt them to begin the breeding season! When you’re done with the breeding and you’ve got a big supply of baby shrimp going, you can lower the temperature back down to slow breeding again.
If your tank isn't full of plants already, you need to start doing that too ready for breeding season. As mentioned shrimp like to have places to hide and having an area of thick plant cover can give them the peace of mind and area of relaxation they need in order to feel comfortable mating. As you raise the water temperature, another good point you can do is to slowly and slightly raise the hardness of the water too. This indicates to the shrimp that there’s higher levels of calcium and minerals which are necessary for both the maturation of the eggs, as well as growing harder shells. You can do this by adding a small bag of limestone chips to your filter.
Within weeks of this there should be obvious signs of berried females that have visible rows of hundreds of eggs beneath their tails. They’ll constantly fan the eggs to ensure they remain oxygenated and healthy and at this point it’s extremely important to use an aerator instead of a filter. Alternatively if this isn't possible you can use thick layers of filter wool to block and slow any large intake siphons.
If you find that your shrimp are becoming pregnant but you fail to see any babies around, make sure the temperature is maintaining steady around 81 to 82 degrees and be sure to check any filters are safeguarded from tiny young. The baby red cherry shrimp will be born looking like their adult versions just smaller. You won’t be able to identify their sexes until they grow a little. Males will have a lighter texture to them and less of the red colouration. Females are generally larger and will become a deep crimson red during pregnancy. When you start out, purchase around 10 shrimp to begin with, this will provide a good amount to ensure you have a decent ratio (ideal ratio is 3 females to each male) and that they’re adequately fertile.
Tank mates & Compatibility
Red cherry shrimp are one of the types of shrimp best kept on their own in a species only aquarium, particularly if you’re trying to breed them. They breed quickly and are fairly hardy and will interact well with their own species. They also lack any defences so when they’re housed with fish on the larger size then they’re not much more use than just being live fish food. If you’re sharing your shrimp’s tank with fish then beware that most shrimp babies wont survive and they’ll just become food. Neon tetras are usually quite chill with the adults as both species are quite passive in nature, but even these tiny fish will dig into the shrimp young easily.
Housing Red cherry shrimp alongside other shrimp species is definitely possible, however they prefer to interact with their own species. A species tank is advisable to prevent dominance disputes among species when raising fry.
When stocking these shrimp it is important to remember they have almost no bio-load at all. Up to 1000 in a standard sized 55 gallon aquarium would have little strain on the filter bacteria, however housing this many shrimp can create the issue of overfeeding as it’s really hard to judge how much food to give 1000 shrimp. It is very important to remove uneaten portions of food to keep ammonia under control in this case! Even though technically you could stock an unlimited number of shrimp, it is wise to have 2-5 per gallon of water, even at these limitations, that’s a whole lot of shrimp!
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