Setting up your first shrimp tank
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Setting up your first shrimp tank


A common question when it comes to shrimp keeping is what exactly do I need to get started. While the answer can vary, there are some common items everyone should consider.

This guide uses the Crystal Red and Red Cherry shrimp as examples. This list can be adapted to other type of shrimp as well.

So lets get on to it, step-by-step.

Equipment You Will Need:

  • Aquarium Substrate
  • Aquarium Filter
  • Heater
  • Freshwater Aquarium Test Kit
  • Water
  • Shrimp Food
  • Aquarium Tank
  • Lighting
  • Aquarium Plants


Choosing a Substrate:

    The type of substrate you buy should be based on the type of shrimp you want to keep. For example, Crystal Red shrimp need an active substrate, one that buffers the water pH to 6.2 - 6.8. Neocaridina, like Red Cherry shrimp need an inert aquarium substrate. This type of substrate won't lower the pH, but keep it stable for them around 6.8 - 8.0.


    SL Aqua - active substrate       Eco-Complete is a popular option for inert substrate

    Image result for sl aqua soil       eco_complete


    Other Inert options are Pool Sand, Black Diamond Blasting sand, Crushed lava rock, or even potting soil.


    Choosing a Filter:

    When it comes to filters in a shrimp tank, the options are endless, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. We will rate the different aspects of the filters from 1-5, 5 being the "Best" and 1 being the "Worst".


    1. Sponge Filter




    • Aesthetics: 2 out of 5
    • Shrimp Safe: 5 out of 5
    • Mechanical Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Biological Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Chemical Filtration: 1 out of 5
    • Maintenance: 5 out of 5
    • Cost: 5 out 5
    • Overall: 4 out of 5


    Right off the bat you can probably tell that the Sponge filter has many benefits, and rightfully so. Their affordable price tag and shrimp safe form make it an easy filter to get started with. Mechanical filtration in a Sponge filter works by drawing water through the sponges. Over time, a biological colony of bacteria grow on the sponge offering Biological filtration that break down harmful aquarium waste.

    Maintenance on a Sponge filter is very easy as well. All you need to do is remove one sponge during your water maintenance, rinse and squeeze it in aquarium water, and then put it back on the filter inlet. Overall the Sponge filter is an excellent choice in any shrimp tank.


     2. HOB or Hang On Back Filter


    • Aesthetics: 3 out of 5
    • Shrimp Safe: 3 out of 5
    • Mechanical Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Biological Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Chemical Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Maintenance: 3 out of 5
    • Cost: 3 out 5
    • Overall: 4 out of 5


    Hang On Back filters are by far the most popular form of aquarium filtration. They offer mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration. Maintenance is also easy, but requires you turn off the filter which some might not like.

    The cost of HOB filters depend on the size you purchase. For most standard shrimp only tanks(10 to 20 gallon) you'll see HOB prices from $20 - $40. The downside of an HOB is that the intake tube is not shrimp safe. To make it shrimp safe you'll need to add a pre-filter sponge. Not only does that make it shrimp safe, but adds another layer of mechanical and bio filtration.


    3. Canister Filter


    • Aesthetics: 4 out of 5
    • Shrimp Safe: 3 out of 5
    • Mechanical Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Biological Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Chemical Filtration: 4 out of 5
    • Maintenance: 2 out of 5
    • Cost: 2 out 5
    • Overall: 4 out of 5

    Usually found on bigger aquarium tanks, canister filters have also become a popular choice in the shrimp hobby due to their aesthetics and filtration capabilities.

    Canister filters are basically a big bucket with a lid and pump. Because of that "bucket", you can pack it with as much filter media it can handle. The downside to that is that maintenance requires more time compared to a Sponge or Hang On Back filter. There are also more moving parts so if something breaks you either have to buy a new one or hope you can replace the broken part.

    Cost can also be a concern because they can easily be $100+, depending on the size you get. Most Canister filters are also not shrimp safe out of the box. You'll need to add a pre-filter sponge to prevent shrimp from be sucked into the intake tube.

    Overall, Canister filters are a good option for any size tank. It will ultimately come down to price and aesthetics.


    Filter summary:

    When choosing an aquarium filter there is no right or wrong choice, just a matter of personal preference. Make sure to get a filter with the proper flow rate for you tank. Filters will usually have a Gallon Per Hour turnover number. Keep in mind that number is under optimal conditions, so when in doubt get the next filter size up.


    Choosing a Heater:

    Heaters are an interesting part of the shrimp hobby world. Some love them and others don't like them at all.

    Here at Aquarium Creation we run our tanks without heaters for most of the year. The weather plays a big part of that because it's usually 70°F - 90°F throughout the year which keeps our tank water in the ideal temperature range.

    So why run a heater then? If the area you keep your shrimp gets colder throughout the day it may affect your aquarium water temperature. To avoid drastic fluctuations, a heater is used to keep those temperatures stable.

    For Crystal Red shrimp, they like cooler water with a temperature range of 68°F - 78°F and we find the sweet spot of 72°F - 75°F works best for us. Red Cherry shrimp do better in slightly warmer water temperature of 75°F - 80°F. Red Cherry shrimp can live in colder water but you'll notice their size will stay smaller, breeding may be slower and infections may occur more often.

    Before adding a heater, make sure you also have an aquarium thermometer to verify the water temperature. It's a small price to pay for knowing the exact water temperature if the heater every fails(hopefully that never does).

    When looking for a heater, keep in mind the heater wattage to aquarium size ratio. A good rule of thumb is heater wattage and aquarium size should be approximately 3 to 5 watts for each gallon.


    Choosing a Freshwater Test Kit:

    The most important piece(s) of "equipment" we strongly urge every future hobbyist have, is the freshwater test kit. The benefit of having these is knowing exactly what is going on with your aquarium water.

    Most kits include Ammonia, pH, Nitrite, and Nitrate tests. This is good when you're cycling your tank. The next kit you'll need is the GH and KH tests. This is to measure General Hardness(GH) and Carbonate Hardnes(KH). The GH and KH tests are very important because Crystal Red and Red Cherry shrimp have specific parameters they need.

    A good to have kit is a Copper test. Freshwater shrimp are very vulnerable to copper and some water sources carry a high concentration of copper that will kill shrimp. Copper is the silent killer, hard to detect unless you have a test kit.


    Choosing a Water source:

    With your Freshwater test kit in hand you are now able to figure out if your tap water is suitable for your shrimp. Crystal Red shrimp need a GH of 4 - 6 and KH of 1-2. Red Cherry Shrimp need a GH 6-8 and KH: 2–5.

    If your tests numbers come back higher than their suitable parameters the next option is RO water. RO water is basically water that has been stripped of metals and minerals. RO water now gives you a platform to build on for your aquarium water. 


    Choosing your Shrimp Food:

    Shrimp are scavengers and love to graze throughout the aquarium. They are usually not picky so a small shrimp colony would survive on the natural tank bio-film, leaf litter, and a piece of blanched veggie here and there. In bigger shrimp colonies of 20+ you may want rotate a commercial food in their diet. One that is packed full of nutrients and natural ingredients will go a long way in balancing their diet and appetite.

    A good rule of thumb when it comes to feeding is to take out what they don't finish in 2 hours. That prevents the food from polluting your aquarium water and substrate.

    The frequency you feed your shrimp will depend on how many you have and if you have baby shrimp. In smaller groups, feeding can be done less frequently(every 3 days for example). In medium to large groups, feeding can be done every other day. Aquariums with a mix of babies and larger shrimp populations we usually feed every day. That includes organic veggies, every day food, baby food, and supplemental food. This ensures the baby shrimp get enough food and there isn't a food battle going on with the bigger shrimp.


    Choosing an Aquarium Tank:

    The recommended tank size when you first start out is at least 10 gallons. The reason for that is because it gives you a decent amount of water volume to begin with. If for some reason there are water parameter changes, the 10 gallon tank would be easier to correct compared to a smaller aquarium. Bigger in this case is always better.


    Choosing a Light:

    Aquarium lights come in many sizes, shapes, watts, par, and different features. Some of the more common options include T5, CFL, Desk lamps, LED, or even the light that may have come with your aquarium kit. At the end of the day it comes down to preference and what your goal is with the aquarium.

    If you're looking for an affordable solution CFL or LED light bulbs will work great on 1 - 40 gallon tanks

    If you have some wiggle room in your budget, LED strip style lighting like the finnex Planted Plus is a popular option. It is a full color spectrum light so plants will benefit from it and it outputs a nice white hue so you'll be able to see your shrimp and plants.


    Choosing Aquarium Plants:

    Keeping low light aquarium plants is often recommended because you won't have to worry about dosing fertilizers or injecting co2. Every tank should at least have some moss for shrimp to hide and graze on. Moss is low maintenance and doesn't require much to do well which helps keep a shrimp tank stable. Another great option is having floating plants like Frogbit or Salvinia Minima. These type of aquarium plants due well because they absorb harmful nitrates and keep them in check.



    Final Thoughts

    One of the most important parts of setting up a shrimp tank is PATIENCE. Things may not work out as planned or at times it might feel like progress is slow. This is all normal and part of the journey. 

    If at any point you have questions or want to talk shrimp, we are more than happy to help. Send us an email at

     Once you have your aquarium setup, you'll need to cycle it. Checkout our how to cycling post for more information and tips.