Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of interest in keeping dwarf shrimp in the home, usually planted, aquarium. Keeping dwarf shrimp is fun, rewarding, and beneficial to the planted tank; but a word of warning – once you get hooked on these interesting creatures it is hard not to want to explore the more exotic and usual varieties. One of the most popular, relatively inexpensive, and colorful varieties for the beginner is the Red Cherry Shrimp, Neocardinia heteropoda var. red.
Red Cherry Shrimp reach about 4 cm (1.6 inches). They prefer clean water with a ph of 6.5-8.0, and a rough temperature of 14-30 degrees C (57-86), most comfortable at a moderate room temperature of about 72 degrees. They are omnivores and typically live 1-2 years under ideal conditions. Be sure to keep all foods, supplements, or chemicals that have copper out of your shrimp tank.
Fortunately, Red Cherry shrimp adapt to a wide variety of conditions in the hobby aquarium. They can be kept in a desk top aquarium with as little as 2 gallons, but 8-12 gallons will allow for a more active colony, more breeding, and a livelier population. Shrimp love plants and hiding spaces, so it is important to include frill plants that allow them to sit on, groom, and feel safe. This is especially critical after molting, one of the most vulnerable times for the shrimp. They are also ravenous about eating the film of algae and micro-organisms that form on plant leaves, spending hours grooming their favorites. Shrimp also love to groom and hide in mosses, whether in a clump or tied onto a rock or wood.
There are various grades of Red Cherry Shrimp, from deep dark red to paler colors. The females are the most colorful, and are particularly sensitive to the color of the substrate and background. For instance, if they are kept in a tank with light-colored substrate, they will become pale or even transparent. In a tank with darker substrate, they take on a fuller, redder, coloration. The intensity of the color is also dependent upon the type of food available, water ph, temperature, and quality.
Dwarf shrimp LOVE planted tanks. They love the hiding space, they love the food plants engender, and they love what plants do for water chemistry. That being said, it is also important to decide what your goal is with your Red Cherry Shrimp – do you want to raise a single colony of adults or breed and increase your shrimp population. There are many nano fish that will coexist with adult shrimp, but will also eat newly hatched babies. Even smaller danios, rasbora or tetras might eat babies. For this reason, it is vital to have mosses and other hiding places; or even some of the cute bamboo shrimp hotels that can easily be covered with moss. Smaller snails are a good addition to the shrimp tank, nerites particularly, since they help clean detritus and won’t harm the shrimp. The best rule for fish is to keep only fish that get no larger than about ¾” as adults (chili rasboras, etc.) or none at all.
Red Cherry Shrimp are non-aggressive and active during both the day and night. Often one can see them grazing on algae, on the hunt for detritus in the gravel, mating, and swimming from plant to plant during the day. Periodically, the shrimp will shed its exoskeleton, leaving a husk of itself drifting around the plant. It is important not to remove this, because the shrimp will consume it and replenish needed minerals. Female Red Cherry Shrimp tend to hid in the dark when it is close to spawning time and, if startled, may abandon their eggs. The more hiding places and the safer the shrimp feels, the more likely they will lay a full clutch of eggs. One can tell the gender of a Red Cherry Shrimp by looking at their size and color. In this case, males are smaller and less colorful. Females often have a yellowish saddle on their back, which are actually eggs developing in the ovaries. Juvenile Red Cherry Shrimp are almost impossible to sex until they are larger and can show color.
It is actually fairly simple to breed Red Cherry Shrimp in the home aquarium if one pays attention to three major steps: 1) Inducing breeding, 2) Ensuring health and comfort while carrying the eggs, and 3) Raising the young. Inducing breeding can be done by keeping the water temperature and ph stable. Water hardness is not that critical for this variety, as long as it is stable. Shrimp need a regular food source, with higher protein foods (Repashy, specific shrimp food, etc.) fed regularly, but at a small amount. It takes the shrimp about 4-6 months to begin breeding, with the female most susceptible to the male’s advances just after molting. She then hides and releases pheromones into the water that call males to her. Once bred, the female will carry the eggs underneath her, fanning and moving them around so they stay clean and oxygenated, for about 30 days. Baby shrimp are exact duplicates of the adults, but very tiny. It is important to make sure there are no predators in the tank because most will easily consume a newborn shrimp. Live moss helps the baby shrimp hide and find food, especially providing microfauna to help the babies grow.
Feeding your Red Cherry Shrimp is easy. Like many omnivores, they love variety. They will eat most any aquarium food, but love shrimp pellets, algae wafers, blanched vegetables (zucchini, carrots, etc.), or one of the more exotic foods on the market. It is also useful to have a small bit of cuttlebone, or one of the Zoo-Medtm Plankton Banquet tablets in the tank. This helps keep the shrimp active and supplies spirulina and other essential minerals, particularly calcium. To keep the shells healthy, small doses of a commercial shrimp mineral supplement (Azoo or Fluval are easily available). Some shrimp enthusiasts report that adding a bit of natural bee pollen weekly improves breeding. Others love the Repashy Shrimp Soufflé which is 45% protein and a great meal for shrimp, crab, crayfish, and snails. The key to feeding shrimp is MODERATION. It is easy to put too much food into the tank, which can then become polluted quite easily. Remember, shrimp are tiny, and don’t need too much per day. Many successful shrimp keepers even suggest that you feed only every other day, or at least put no food into the tank one day per week. Some also recommend you try to remove uneaten food after 2-3 hours, again depending on the number of shrimp, snails, and conditions.
Finally, there are many varieties of dwarf shrimp. Not all can be placed in the same tank, though due to interbreeding. You can check compatibility by using this chart, provided by The Shrimp Farmtm (http://www.theshrimpfarm.com/articles/dwarf-shrimp-compatibility-chart.php). If you follow a few simple steps you will find it fairly easy to enjoy these active little creatures as they go about their day hunting for food and tending “their plant garden.”