Red Cherry ShrimpAuthor: Paul Demas
Since their introduction into the aquarium trade back in 2003, red cherry shrimp (RCS) have become increasingly popular. What more could you look for in a freshwater invertebrate? They are colorful, sociable, peaceful, easy to keep, breed easily, and they eat algae and lots of it—all without harming your plants. In fact, some reports suggest they eat more forms of algae (even the dreaded hair algae) than other shrimp, including the popular Amano shrimp Caridina japonica.
RCS can also be very entertaining to watch. In fact, at my place of work I have a 12-gallon heavily planted tank that features about 20 RCS as its main inhabitants along with six cardinal tetras. I refer to the shrimp tank as the new office water cooler. Many of my co-workers regularly stop by to see the shrimp’s latest antics and gather around the tank. To relate a brief funny story, one of my co-workers who is fascinated by the shrimp was prohibited from having a tank at her desk; it was felt she would waste too much time watching the shrimp instead of working. If you are willing to meet a few basic requirements, you too can enjoy their antics. Let’s start with a little background on the RCS.
RCS are actually a red color variation or mutation of the dwarf shrimp Neocaridina denticulata sinensis. The wild form of this shrimp originates in Taiwan, parts of China, and Vietnam. The beautiful red variety of this shrimp was developed and bred in Taiwan and does not occur naturally in the wild.
These dwarf shrimp are just that—a small shrimp species. Adults grow to approximately 1 to 1¼ inches long, with the females being larger than the males. Female RCS are also much brighter red than their male counterparts, especially when sexually mature. The males, in addition to being slightly smaller with a slimmer mid section, are a more clear color with red striping. So, as they get mature it is very easy to distinguish between the sexes. Their life expectancy is approximately two years.
RCS do not require large tanks. A standard 10-gallon tank or one of the very popular nano tanks will work well, although larger is always better in order to maintain a more stable environment. While easy to care for, as with most shrimp they can be sensitive. Excellent water quality is a must. A cycled tank is necessary to get your shrimp off to a good start.
In my experience with RCS, if good water conditions are met they will prove to be remarkably adaptable concerning water parameters. They can adapt to a wide range in both temperature and pH. For temperature, keep your RCS between 70° and 80°F. I have personally gotten the best results maintaining them in the mid 70s. Regarding pH, the range is even bigger than temperature. They have been successfully maintained in a pH from 6.5 to 8.0, although I have found they do better in a neutral to slightly higher pH.
While they may adapt well to a wide range of certain water parameters, they will not tolerate ammonia or nitrite in their water. In fact, they will begin to die off if either of these spike—hence the need for regular maintenance, including testing and water changes. I perform a weekly 10-percent water change, being careful to not siphon up any shrimp in the process.
As far as filtration goes, almost any kind of filter will work. However keep in mind their small size. Baby shrimp—and small adults for that matter—could easily be sucked into the intake of a power or canister filter. I would recommend placing a piece of fine mesh, sponge, or even an old pantyhose over the intake to protect your shrimp.
RCS make a great addition to a planted tank; in fact, they seem to thrive in such an environment. While eating almost every kind of algae in the tank, they will do no damage to your live plants. Their bright red colors will really stand out against a backdrop of different greens in a planted tank. In this type of tank your shrimp will be very active, constantly foraging for food.
RCS seem to live in a colony, even “playing” together. One of the most entertaining things that the shrimp do is something that it appears only the males do. They will glide or surf across the tank, and it almost appears as if there is a little alien flying around in your tank. In general, it appears that the males are more active than the females.
RCS are omnivorous. Simply put, they will eat almost anything. In a well-planted tank they will almost always have something to eat. However, it is wise to supplement their normal diet of algae with other types of food.
They will readily accept most types of fish food, whether it be flake, frozen, or pellet. My RCS particularly love algae wafers, which seem to draw them like a magnet. You can also occasionally offer veggies like spinach or zucchini, making sure to blanch them to make it easier for them to eat. Make sure to remove any uneaten food so they don’t rot and adversely affect your water quality.
The red color of your shrimp is directly related to environment, stress level, sexual maturity, and diet. By offering a well-balanced and varied diet you will help to ensure your shrimp show their best.
When choosing tankmates for your RCS, a little common sense is in order. While these shrimp are peaceful and would never harm your fish, there is no guarantee that the fish won’t harm them. Due to the tiny size of these shrimp, select carefully any fish you place in the same tank. Small tetras, rasboras, and other non-aggressive small fish should be fine.
While these shrimp are incredibly fast, keep in mind that if they can fit into the mouths of your fish then those fish are not good tankmates—you would just be providing your fish with expensive little snacks.
As I mentioned, I have a community tank with RCS and cardinal tetras, and I have never had any problems. However, if you have any interest in breeding your shrimp, then an RCS-dedicated tank is the best way to go. The tiny baby shrimp will prove to be too much of a temptation for even the smallest of fish.
If you provide the correct water conditions and a well-balanced diet, breeding your RCS is really just a matter of letting nature take its course. Purchasing between 10 and 20 shrimp from different sources will ensure a good breeding colony with a strong gene pool.
RCS reach sexual maturity between two and three months of age. At this time you will notice the females developing a deeper red color. Look closely at your females; you will begin to see them carry approximately 10 to 30 eggs that appear yellow in color. They will carry these eggs between three and five weeks. Unlike some other species of shrimp, with RCS there is no intermediate plankton stage. The eggs will hatch into miniature versions of the adults, and the shrimplets will eat the same diet as the adults.
I have not noticed any cannibalism with the parents eating the babies. As long as they can’t be sucked into your filter and there are no fish to eat them, you will have a growing population with almost no effort on your part. In a community planted tank with fish, a few of the shrimplets will survive, being able to hide until they are big enough to not be in any danger. However, it is best to have a species tank in order to raise the most shrimp.
Now to offer a few words of caution in order to ensure the health of your RCS. In my opinion these shrimp do their best in a planted tank. If you are using CO2 in your planted tank as I do, be careful that your pH does not drop too low. If you are using an automatic CO2 system with a pH controller this may not be an issue for you. However, since most hobbyists will be keeping their shrimp in smaller tanks, it is more than likely you will be using some form of DIY system or natural fermentation system, since it may not be practical—or should I say cost effective—to use an automatic system on small tank. Regular testing will help to prevent any potential problems.
RCS can also be very sensitive to the use of chemicals. You should not use any fish medications in your shrimp tank. This is especially true with copper, which is lethal to invertebrates. RCS are also sensitive to chlorine and chloramines; make sure you use a quality dechlorinator if using tap water. In my planted tanks I have used plant fertilizers without any problems, so I see no reason to withhold their use. I would, however, be very careful in their use and be sure you do not overdose.
If you find what appears to be shrimp skeletons in your tank do not be alarmed. Your shrimp aren’t dead, they have just molted. As your shrimp grow they will regularly shed their outer shell. I have observed my shrimp eating these shells.
RCS are becoming increasingly available at pet stores. You can also purchase them online from many different sources. Look for younger, small shrimp, as they ship much better than older ones. They may not have great color at this stage, but be patient and they will color up for you soon enough.
If you observe a few basic guidelines and maintain good water quality you will find keeping RCS is rather simple. So why not set up an RCS tank or add them to your planted tank? I’m sure you will be entertained by them.
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