Building a shrimp tank

This past summer I managed to fit in a TON of fun experiments. One of them was a butterfly kit. I accidentally kept the hatched butterflies for a little bit too long and one day I suddenly had a cage full of hundreds of butterfly eggs. I couldn't possibly take care of all of them so I bought a bunch more food and a few more cages and when they were nice and ready I distributed the extra caterpillars to some friends and coworkers. One of those coworkers has a sweet young child and asked what they could do next; what's the next cool nature project they could show their kid? I've been working on a shrimp tank for the last several months and I recommended that. Of course, a good coworker wouldn't just recommend a project but actually provide some documentation so I wrote up some notes for them. And I got a little carried away... Eventually I decided to just turn my notes into a blog post. So here I present you what I've learned so far about building a shrimp (and snail) tank:

General Notes

  • I think a good pet project would be a shrimp tank. I'm working on one now and it's fun and really cute.
    • You can also put snails in with them. Watching them interact is pretty funny and the snails are zero-maintenance.
  • Before you get started with any of this, it's critical that you do research and learn about aquarium maintenance and the nitrogen cycle. This is one of the most if not the most important thing to understand about keeping an aquarium. Check out this video from the people who made my tank to get a basic understanding of what it is but do some more research to fully understand how it can impact your tank and the critters in it. Shrimp and snails are fairly hardy so you shouldn't be too worried but if eventually you want to graduate to fish, those are a lot more sensitive.
  • Speaking of the nitrogen cycle, the whole thing is supported by bacteria. These bacteria live all over your tank but most importantly in the filter media. A lot of sources, especially your tank manufacturer and filter manufacturer will encourage you to change out the whole thing very often. Sometimes as often as every week. Don't give in to the marketing nonsense. Your tank needs an established bacterial colony and you can't keep it established if you scrap the filter media every week. Carbon filters are mostly good for water color and any odors that might come up. They don't help the tank remotely as much as the bacterial media (usually called Biomax). That should actually rarely be changed as it supports the bacterial colony in a very important way. You can rinse it with tank water to clean off any gunk but I'd strongly recommend against changing out the Biomax wholesale. Most sources I've encountered suggest only changing the bacterial media if there's a major problem with the tank. And only changing the sponge if it's damaged beyond use. You can change the carbon filter more often (maybe once a month) but never change all the filter media at the same time or you risk killing the whole tank.
  • You'll want a 5-10 gallon tank. I strongly recommend getting one with a built-in pump and filter. You'll probably have to get a separate heater and airstone though because tanks rarely come with those built in. I also got an electronic for mine just because it was cute and I'm not 100% sure I trust the heater haha.
  • I've bought from a few different sellers so far and a lot of them are sketchy or (as with one that I had to deal with this week) shipped me a bunch of dead plants. One seller is really really good: AquaticArts. It's this mom&pop shop in the midwest. They take good care of their products and they always ship more than you ordered just in case there's any problems. A good friend and excellent fishkeeper recommends Fish Direct as a super premium seller. I haven't had the opportunity to buy from them yet but I'm looking forward to it.
  • For the critters, go with dwarf shrimp (neocaridina davidi), and mystery snails (pomacea bridgesii). There are definitely other species you can play with but these are the cheapest and most readily available. Plus they come in all sorts of fun colors. It's important to note that you shouldn't mix colors. So if you want to get blue shrimp only get blue shrimp. This is for a couple reasons. First, if your shrimp breed in a couple generations they will all go back to their natural colors (brown. not much color at all). Second, the different colors are caused by selective breeding. Selective breeding will get the color right but can have lots of other side effects on their aggression, size, appetites and everything else. If you have lots of different colors one will eventually outcompete the rest and they will either get beat up or starve to death.
  • As a longer-term project and if you're interested in learning/teaching about genetics and how cool selective breeding can be, try breeding them for a particular color. Check out this cart that shows the variations of neocaridina that you can find today!
  • For plants I prefer to get real ones. You can get all sorts of pretty plastic ones but real plants will help filter the water so you don't have to clean as much.
    • I would cater the decorations to the shrimp, and more specifically, viewing the shrimp. The snails will be fine with just about anything and they'll crawl all over.
    • The shrimp really really like java moss. It's their absolute favorite place to hide. I'd recommend getting a little bit for them just in case. Something advertised as ~25 sqare inches will take up a third of a 5 gallon tank so no need to get a lot.
    • There's a kind of seaweed called java fern that is really good for tanks like these. It's a good hiding spot for the shrimp and it's good for us too because they're easier to see there.
    • Marimo balls are cute. I got big ones but I'd actually recommend getting little ones, they're more fun.
    • Cholla wood is another great one for the shrimp. They do hide out of sight but they really enjoy the wood and it's a great decoration.
    • You'll want to get a substrate. I recommend something sand-y and light in color so your decorations show up better and the sand is easier to clean.
  • For the tank water, just your tap is fine. No need to get anything fancy. But you'll need to treat the tap water with Seachem Prime.
    • And just to make sure your water is in the right condition, pick up an API brand master test kit. And some test strips just for quick tests (the master test kit is allegedly the best in the industry but it also take a little bit of time. the strips are good for spot checks to make sure nothing crazy has changed).
  • Feeding: these animals are scavengers naturally so it's good to mix up their food. I feed mine (and my fish) a variety of fish flakes, freeze-dried bloodworms, freeze-dried brine shrimp, floating betta pellets (fish only), invertebrate pellets, and some random stuff left over from the sea monkeys and triops (other experiments I did this summer. All invertebrate foods that I've encountered are algae-based so they're pretty similar). I also feed them live brine shrimp by tossing some eggs in there now and again. That's very not necessary but the critters do like to do real hunting now and again.
    • I found it very hard to find good information online about exactly how much to feed them. Most guides say "as much as they'll eat in a few minutes" or something like that. My fish get fed twice a day but the snails and shrimp only need it once a day. A pinch of fish flakes or like one invert pellet per 2 critters is enough for them in my experience. It's important to remember that invertebrates need very little in the way of food. especially if you have an established tank with some vegetation in it. DO NOT feed them too much or you'll wind up causing an ammonia spike in the water and they will all die.
  • You'll probably also want a variety of other supplies like a fish net, algae scrubber, cleaning pump, a second glass enclosure (just in case you need to take them out or you're adding new stock or something), clean glass cup or measuing cup for moving water between places, shoulder-length gloves for when you have to reach in.

Shopping List:

The tank:

Fluval 5 Gallon
Air stone
Filter media and (the tank comes with this but you'll need backups sooner than you think. Especially if you add a fish)

The habitat:

Substrate - So I have (volcanic rock substrate) but I would recommend (white-ish sand. it's prettier, lower maintenance and ph-neutral)
Cholla wood (note that both woods need to be soaked in hot water repeatedly before they're safe to put in the tank)
Mopani redwood (this one in particular I had to soak in fresh hot water with replacements 2-3 times a day for a week)
Betta carpet
Java fern (careful about ordering these while it's still cold out. i got one in the summer that was perfect and one a week ago that was dead..)
Java moss
Marimo balls
Mini moss carpet
Floating rocks
Cuttle bone (needs to be weighted to sink. This is strictly decorative. Your tap water should have more than enough calcium for the invertebrates. Also be careful with cuttlebones because they can be VERY messy. I had a kitchen just coated in white dust for a while)

The water/chemicals:

Tap water (keep in mind that you'll need to treat the water with Seachem Prime before adding it to the tank)
Seachem Prime (recommended to me by an expert as "the absolute only thing you actually need to treat your water")
Stress coat + (strictly for the aloe, not the water treatment)
Quick Start (my expert says that this is totally unnecessary and that the bacteria is most likely all dead buuuut... just in case.)
Fluval waste control
Master test kit
Ammonia test strips
5in1 test strips

The animals:

dwarf shrimp(neocaridina davidi) (you should get a bunch of each of these. i'd say around a dozen of each or just like 24 shrimp if you skip the snails)
mystery snails(pomacea bridgesii) (if you go with a different item or what have you, make sure to buy from Aquatic Arts. They've been really good to me. If you buy direct from their website, they have a coupon in every order: AQUA5)

The food:

Fish flakes (pretty much any flakes will do but i prefer to get the "tropical" ones since these are tropical animals. I'm not sure if they're made of anything different though)
Dried brine shrimp (they come in the form of cubes for some reason. You'll want to break off a little corner)
Live brine shrimp (this one vial will last forever. A tiny sprinkle of them, like 30 eggs, will hatch about 20 shrimp. They definitely won't live too long but trust me don't spill the vial in or you'll have a disaster on your hands)
Invert pellets

You can also throw in blanched vegetables or stuff that's not quite good anymore. I put the already-dead plant in anyway hoping that it might come back and instead the snails ate the whole thing down to the stems.

The accessories:

Measuring cups
Algae scrubber - Mine kinda sucks. It's a soft sponge and doesn't get all the algae at all. I'm ordering this razor-based one next: (Update: the razor is WAY better. Strongly recommend)
Pump (definitely get one with a priming bulb. doing this manually is exhausting)
Fish net


Please keep in mind that this is an experiment for me and I'm still learning. I'm no expert and even though I've claimed to talk to one I'm learning something new every time I do talk to them. If you find something that's just wrong with this post or if you'd like to add something please send me a note and I'll be sure to update the post accordingly. Please also make sure to research every item that you buy and make sure that you're ready to start a project that involves live animals. It takes a lot of effort and you can't just take a week off because you're bored. This is a very long term project.