There's Fire in My Tank! Keeping Fire Red Shrimp
Author: Rafael R. Estenoz
Shrimp are being bred in an array of colors in the freshwater hobby, and one crustacean convert explains why they are such a fun addition to a typical planted tank.
Searching for Shrimp
For many years now, marine aquarists have been blessed with a myriad of invertebrates to choose from, all with different colors and shapes to satisfy every individual hobbyist’s taste.
In contrast, freshwater hobbyists had very little choice when it came to invertebrates. It has traditionally been a hobby dominated by aquarists keeping fish and live plants. Admittedly, the diversity of freshwater invertebrates is nowhere near what is found in our oceans, but in recent years, freshwater aquarists have been presented with an assortment of selectively bred and wild-caught shrimp species with colors that, in many cases, rival that of their marine counterparts.
One such example is the fire red shrimp. Catching a glimpse of this shrimp grazing on a dark substrate or a plant leaf will very quickly capture your attention through the remarkable beauty of this shrimp and that of other members in its clan. Many are pleasantly surprised to learn that this shrimp is not a marine shrimp, but a shrimp for the freshwater aquarium.
A Beautiful Morph
Fire red shrimp are not a naturally occurring species, but rather the product of selective breeding. The consensus is that it was developed from the red cherry shrimp, which in itself is selectively bred from the wild freshwater shrimp Neocaridina heteropoda, a native to Asia that has no red color.
Some individuals in captivity showed some red, and by selecting those shrimp with the reddest and most saturated color, breeders began to produce a shrimp with progressively more red on its body, to the point where the red color covers very close to 100 percent of the shrimp’s body. In addition, fire red shrimp can grow slightly larger than the red cherry shrimp.
Some have noted that they are slower moving and generally less active than the normal variety of red cherry shrimp. They are content to graze all day on the substrate, ornaments, plants, and any decoration covered in bio-film, including algae. Watching them is reminiscent to watching a herd of grazers on a pasture. It has also been suggested that the fire red shrimp is not purely derived from the red cherry shrimp but instead was developed through crossbreeding with other species. This belief is in the minority, and since this information is not readily available from the original breeder(s), we can’t currently confirm for sure which one of the two is in fact the origin of this beautiful shrimp.
The fire red shrimp may also be found under other names such as Taiwan fire red, painted fire red, and Sakura shrimp, which has been described by others as the predecessor to the fire red. The different names given to this shrimp have come about in an effort to distinguish the amount of red cover on each successive selectively bred generation of shrimp.
The goal of breeders is to produce shrimp without any translucent parts, as these are considered the highest grade. Shrimp of such high grade are referred to as painted fire red shrimp. This shrimp possesses what is termed a thick fire-engine-red color. The term “thick” in shrimp color nomenclature can be likened to painting a surface with a brush. If the paint does not cover well, you will see through the paint on the first coat. But after a second coat, you will not see the lower layers of the surface any longer and are left with a solid, thick color.
You can loosely imagine this shrimp’s color as having been hand painted with very thick paint or maybe multiple coats of red paint, and therefore no transparent parts are visible. Their color can vary from fire engine red to a fluorescent orange red. Continuing with the paint analogy, those with the fire-engine red tend to be glossy, while those with the orange red have a flat finish.
Fire reds are not exactly as easy to keep as the red cherry shrimp (which are extremely easy to keep as shrimp go). This seems to be true of many selectively bred organisms where the restricted gene pool magnifies genetic flaws in the organisms. But not to worry, they are still by far some of the easiest and most prolific shrimp around as long as you follow some simple rules necessary to keep all freshwater shrimps.
All shrimp are highly sensitive to heavy metals, especially copper. All medications should be kept out of your shrimp aquarium unless specifically labeled as safe for shrimp. If you are keeping fish with your shrimp, it is very important to remember this if your fish need treatment.
Products used to kill snails will very likely kill your shrimp, so they must not be used in shrimp aquariums. I always read the labels of any product that I intend to add to my shrimp tanks, and if there are any heavy metals listed on the label, I do not use it.
The aquarium must be fully cycled with no traces of nitrite and ammonia, and the water should be well maintained by keeping dissolved organics low via good filtration and regular and careful siphoning of the substrate to remove unwanted organic matter. But this is not much different than the maintenance necessary when keeping a fish-only tank.
The water should be changed on a regular basis at a rate of 25 to 30 percent every two to four weeks, depending on aquarium bioload, and don’t forget to use a water conditioner to neutralize chlorine or chloramines before you change the water. There are many products in the market that will neutralize these toxic substances. Higher bio-loads, especially if there are active fish kept with the shrimp, may require more frequent water changes.
This maintenance can be better controlled by being careful with the feeding schedule and amount fed. Overfeeding will create uneaten food waste and degrade the water quality very quickly. Plants will help to improve water quality but are not required and are not a substitute for good filtration and husbandry practices.
Fire reds will survive in a wide range of temperatures as long as changes happen slowly, but my opinion is that they will not thrive if kept in the extremes. If you want them to grow well, live a normal life expectancy, which is around one to two years, and reproduce regularly, I find that a temperature range of 75° to 80°F works well for them as long as fluctuations are avoided.
The safest pH to keep them in is in the range of neutral 7.0 to slightly basic at around 7.5. They will be fine if you are slightly up or down from this range, however. If you find that your local water is just outside of this range, it is better to slowly adjust your shrimp to your water parameters rather than continuously adjust your water to a set pH. In the long run, this method will be better for your shrimp and will also make water changes and maintenance easier.
Fire reds are primarily herbivores, so their diet should consist mostly of vegetable-based foods with some animal protein added periodically for better growth. It has worked well for me to feed any algae-based food five or six days a week, and on the other days higher-protein foods can be fed instead.
The protein foods can be bloodworms, brine shrimp, or some other meaty foods, keeping in mind not to overfeed as previously mentioned. There is another reason not to overfeed: Overfeeding, especially foods high in protein, can have a negative effect on shrimp. While the actual physiological effect is not known, it is recognized among shrimp keepers that overfeeding will cause shrimp deaths (I have firsthand experience of this happening). This is not due solely to degrading water quality, and although that can play a role in the problem, the deaths can still come even when water quality is optimal. The only explanation seems to be excess food intake or too many foods that are high in protein.
Uneaten food should also not remain in the tank for long, especially not overnight. If food remains untouched for more than a few hours, it should be removed and the portions should be adjusted. It is generally best to keep the shrimp slightly underfed. I recommend feeding once a day.
If they are not eager to seek out food when offered, they may be slightly overfed. The portion should be cut back and may even be skipped for a day once a week. This can be done because, in a mature aquarium, shrimp will satisfy a major portion of their required food intake by constantly grazing on all surfaces covered in algae and biofilm and can go days without any supplemental feeding from their keeper. This is especially true in planted tanks where the extra hours of lighting will maintain a healthy crop of algae. My advice is to try to resist the human nurturing temptation to feed your shrimp often, and this will greatly contribute to their good health. Trust me; you will not be doing your shrimps a favor if you overfeed them.
If you keep their water clean, water parameters in check, and you have both sexes, they should breed once they reach maturity. The females will begin to develop eggs in their ovaries, which are sometimes visible through their body shell. They can be easily seen if you shine a light behind the shrimp, but if their color is very thick, the eggs may be difficult to see even with the light trick.
If you observe the area on the upper part of the body, right in the section where the tail joins the head or carapace, you may see the egg mass. This is called the egg saddle, and it contains eggs that are still in development and have not been fertilized or laid yet. Once the female has a mature batch of eggs, she will molt (shed her external skeleton). She will also release pheromones that let males know she is ready to mate. Shortly after that, you will notice that the males will go on what looks like an intense hunt, scurrying throughout the tank looking for the female that molted and is releasing the chemical attractant.
Once the male finds her, they will mate for a split second. She will lay her eggs into the lower part of her tail section shortly after, where they will remain for approximately two weeks until they hatch. The water temperature will affect the hatching time. A lower temperature extends the hatching time.
After a week or so of incubation, you may be able to notice the eyes of the young shrimp while it is still in the egg if you use some form of magnification. Once you see well-developed eyes, hatching will be just a few days away. The baby shrimp look very much like their parents in shape but have little to no color initially. This shrimp doesn’t have a larval or planktonic stage, so as soon as the eggs hatch, the shrimplets settle on the substrate and feed on the same foods that their parents have been feasting on.
Shrimp have an external skeleton that they have to shed (a process known as molting) every time their body needs to grow. This will happen more frequently during their early life cycle. When you observe the molted shells in the aquarium, don’t remove them. The shrimp will consume these shells for their calcium and other minerals, leaving nothing behind. In a few months, their color will begin to show with intensity. The color of the females is always much thicker than that of the males, even after the males have reached full maturity. Despite this, shrimp breeders continue to improve on the color of the males, and today there are males with very good color cover.
Not much is known about shrimp diseases, other than what has been learned through research and findings that have occurred in the food shrimp culture industry, which does not seem to apply precisely to ornamental freshwater shrimp such as fire reds. There have been observations of tiny whiteworm- or leech-like organisms attached to their shell, but these have not been shown to be harmful to the shrimp. Some have even speculated that they may have some positive function. There have also been reports of bacterial diseases attacking shrimp. My feeling on this is that most of these disease issues can be avoided by watching the quality of their water and overcrowding, especially when it comes to bacterial diseases.
You can keep fish with shrimp in the same tank, but like any decision to add any organism to your aquarium—even a plant—you should do some research before you bring it home and add it to your aquarium. There are many fish species that can be housed successfully with shrimp. The list would be too long to include here, but in general, with caution and in an aquarium with plants and/or other hiding places, many of the smaller livebearers, such as guppies and platies, can be housed with shrimp. Species of the smaller tetras can also be included, as well as most scavenger catfish. Most cichlids would not work.
As explained before, shrimp go through a molting process, and this is when they are vulnerable to predation. If they don’t find a place to safely hide, they could be picked on and maybe killed by the resident fish after their molt before the new shell hardens.
Like most freshwater shrimp, fire reds are model citizens. They do not attack their kind or any of their aquarium mates. Even newly born shrimplets are ignored by adults. Since they are scavengers and excellent algae grazers with an exceptional sense of smell, they will find anything that is edible. This includes remains of other shrimp, snails, fish, and any other organism that has met its demise in the aquarium. This characteristic makes them great cleanup crews as well.
Heat Up Your Aquarium
I hope this article has sparked your interest to try something different in your aquariums, and hopefully you’ll give freshwater shrimp a try. They are easy to keep, require little feeding, can be kept in small or nano aquariums, are extremely peaceful, and will readily breed.