A quick guide to starting a shrimp aquarium

By Brent Willmers

There been a lot of innovation in the aquarium industry over the years that makes aquarium keeping fun, easier, less stressful and less of a chore than 20 years ago. I’m still relatively new to shrimp keeping but with my knowledge of salt water marine aquarium and fresh water planted aquariums I found it easy enough to start, run and maintain shrimp aquariums.

This is a quick guide to more or less how I started with shrimp and a few of my experiences along the way. I hope it helps you to start a successful aquarium first time and enjoy doing it with out the headache.

Firstly, substrate. Select a rich nutritional Soil substrate. My picks for ornamental shrimp are Mr aqua shrimp soil and ADA Amazonia. They are rich in organic nutrients which are great for plants and have a PH buffering capability of around 6.5 so slightly acidic. Info: One very important thing to know about the pH scale is that it is logarithmic. For example, a pH level of 5 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 6, and a pH of 4 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 6. And works the same for increasing levels for alkaline water. Example if you after a pH of 7 but the water in your aquarium measures 8, your water is 10 times more alkaline than what it should be. If the pH is 9, then your water 100 times more alkaline. So that’s why PH buffering plays a real important part in a healthy aquarium. There’s many different brands & types and all have their own specific organic makeup to target different aquarium environments so do your research on a brand you intend using.

As for volume, Soil should cover the base of the tank to at least 4–5cm thick to be able to handle the buffering capabilities affectively and also to house enough nitrifying bacterias to handle the bio-load.

Simple calculation is Length X Width X Hight of soil divided by 1000 will give you Liters needed.

i.e. Length of 60cm ✖️width 30cm ✖️hight of soil 5cm ➗1000 will give me 9Liters of soil needed to achieve 5cm thick soil bottom.

Secondly, filtration. For breeding ornamental shrimp the juveniles can be as small as around 0.2-0.4mm in size so air driven sponge filters or HOB filters with protective mesh on the intake work well. Canister filters are also great requiring less frequent cleaning and a protective mesh can be used on the intake as well. Shrimp don’t like fast running or high turbulent water so flow rate should be taken into account. A good rule of thumb is to try to turn over your aquarium volume five times an hour. This means that the pump you choose should be capable of moving 5 times as many liters per hour as your tank holds. In other words, if you have a 30 liter aquarium, your pump and filter should be capable of producing a flow rate of 150 Liters an hour. But use tools like spray bars to disrupt speed of water flowing back into your aquarium which will reduce strong currents in the water.

My picks on filtration are like Eheim compact, Azoo HOB or any air driven filter works great but cleaning can be stressful for shrimp and juveniles because your hands will more than likely be used to remove the sponge for cleaning.

I tend to use more mechanical/biological filtration media than chemical.

Thirdly, Ornaments, plants and decor.

Try keep as much unnatural/ inorganic stuff out the tank as possible.

Stuff like dark colored driftwood live easy to maintain plants, mosses, inert stone/rocks create the perfect mini ecosystem.

(My first shrimp aquarium)

Once all that’s in check next item on the list is lighting.

Shrimp thrive in their natural habitat with less lighting and we got to keep that in mind. So when choosing an aquarium light it can get messy. Don’t worry to much about trying to recreate the sun hovering above your aquarium. Look for things like spectrum, color temp, watts per gallon.

Try find a balance to get what you want out of it. I recommend choosing a medium to low light for ornamental shrimp in the range of about 1-2 watts per gallon. A good basic rule to calculate the number of watts per gallon an aquarium receives from a light fixture, simply divide the total wattage of the light fixture by the number of gallons of the aquarium. But remember plants need light and some need more than others so choose your plants wisely.

LED is great, it offers low power consumption great lighting and out lasts your general tube style lights.

Up aqua Z series is what I use and like for my shrimp tanks.

Aquarium Heaters are also essential for cooler climates where water temperature can drop below what’s recommended for the type of shrimp you intend keeping. As well as water chillers for the hotter months where water temperature can exceed what’s recommended. I have no real recommendations of type or brands here. What you can afford is good enough.

Once you have all the essentials covered next is to setup your aquarium. Place down your substrate driftwoods etc.

start filling your tank until the substrate is just covered. (Tip is to use a plate on top of your substrate to limit disturbance) Start laying out your plants and moss and secure it. Then fill your aquarium.

Start up all filtration and lighting etc and make sure everything is operational.

  • Tip: I prefer to use de chlorinated tap water for the cycling process then switch to Re-mineralized RO water. Tap water already contains bacteria and minerals which can help start cultivating nitrifying bacteria.

(My Fully cycled shrimp tank in 8 days thanks to Dr Tims nitrifying bacterias and products)

Cycling your aquarium. (the most crucial part).

Cycling of your aquarium is probably the most important step in securing the perfect ecosystem. Nitrifying bacterias need to establish to handle the biological side of your aquariums ecosystem. Without it you just setting yourself up for failure. Patience is key for this step.

Your nitrogen cycle (cycling process) will start almost immediately with very low concentrations of ammonia (NH3) being leached from the soils and released into the water column.

These bacteria needs it to form and generate. This process can be sped up through adding Ammonium Chloride to a max of 5ppm (Dr Tims products work well and really easy to use) This will give it a good kick start. But never let your ammonia spike higher than 5ppm if it does you will need to do partial water changes to level it back to around 5ppm. From your ammonia spike the bacteria convert it to the next spike this happens to be nitrite (NO2) This is also a danger if levels spike to high. Then the bacteria converts NO2 to your Third spike nitrate (NO3) at this stage water changes are the most affective method of removing the nitrate.

Tip: plants use nitrate and is also an affective way of controlling NO3 levels.

This process could take days or weeks and is all dependent on a water, soils, plants, filtration media etc. Once you gone through all the spikes and your water parameters are 100% stable then it’s time to add your shrimps.

(Tip first start off with a few shrimp and work your way up to colonize the aquarium)

Dr Tim fishless cycling method is one of the quickest and effective methods I’ve used.

Further tips.

Water changes keep it to 25% once a week to not fluctuate parameters to much.

  1. If using RO water (reverse osmosis) it’s a good idea to re-mineralize using a product like salty shrimp.
  2. Water testing at least once a week. Check PH, GH, KH, TDS, ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate. And adjust as needed.
  3. Acclimatizing shrimp using the drip method over a few hours will ensure less stress on the new shrimp with the change of water conditions.
  4. ADA Amazonia substrate can leach high volumes of ammonia weeks after setup keep this in mind if you planning on using Ammonium Chloride to speed up cycling.
  5. Shrimp feeding. Never over feed this will definitely be a problem with ammonia spiking causing a toxic environment for your shrimps. Only feed what they will consume in a few minutes to an hour maximum. Or use foods like Boss aquaria shrimp snow. Shrimp need a healthy stable diet and Boss aquaria has a great range of foods and supplements, minerals etc. remember shrimp feed off bio-waste/biofilm too.

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Happy Shrimping

Brent Willmers


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