Cardinal shrimp

Cardinal Shrimp – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet and Breeding

by Michael

Cardinal shrimp is one of the newcomers to the shrimp keeping hobby. It is fast becoming one of the most sought-after species. Therefore, we need to have more detail guides on how to care, feed and breed them. Cardinal shrimp is absolutely stunning to look at with either a dark rose red coloration or a lighter red coloration with white dots marked along the sides.

Cardinal shrimp is considered one of the most attractive freshwater shrimps belonging to the Caridina genus. It lives in Lake Matano where the water parameters do not fluctuate to any substantial degree.

Photos do not do justice to the beauty of this magnificent creature and you need to see one for yourself. It is important to note that this type of shrimp is suitable only for experienced hobbyists and should not be taken up if you are new to the art of shrimp keeping.

History of Cardinal Shrimp  

The cardinal shrimp entered the hobbyists’ books in late 2007 and is native to the Sulawesi region of Indonesia. Sulawesi is one of the islands in the archipelago and is known for its distinctive biodiversity. The Sulawesi region lake Poso, and the five-lake Malili system. These lakes have been the origin of many vibrantly colored shrimp species that breeders are trying to introduce into the hobby.

These shrimps are caught from any one of the several lakes in the region, all of which have similar flora, fauna, and water values. Ever since its discovery, there have been persistent efforts to raise this beautiful species abroad.

Note: The Сardinal shrimp is also listed as endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The rising water pollution endangers this species enormously. There is a very high chance that soon we will not see these beautiful dwarf shrimp in the wild anymore.

Quick Notes about Cardinal Shrimp 

Name Cardinal Shrimp
Common Name
Cardinal Shrimp, White Glove shrimp, Sulawesi shrimp
Scientific Shrimp Caridina dennerli
Tank size (minimal – optimal) 5 – 10 gallons (~20 – 40 liters)
Keeping Hard
Breeding Medium 
Size 1.5 – 2.5 cm (~1/2 – 1 inch)
Optimal Temperature 26 – 30°C  (~77°F – 86°F)
Optimal PH 7.8 – 8.2 (7.3 – 8.5)
Optimal GH 6 – 8 (4 – 12)
Optimal KH 4 – 8 (3 – 10)
Optimal TDS 100 (50 – 150)
Nitrate Less than 10 ppm
Diet Algae eater/omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span 1 – 2 years
Color Form Red (different shades) with white spot

Cardinal Shrimp Appearance   

The cardinal shrimp can have vary in shades of red, going from a deep to light tint. The darkness of the red coloration varies among individuals and is not an indicator of sex, health, or anything else. In stark contrast, white dots are present all over the body.

Some dots may also appear to have a blue outline. One of the most conspicuous features of the cardinal shrimp is its white front legs. These notable legs move rapidly when feeding and set this species apart from other Sulawesi shrimps.

Cardinal Shrimp Behaviour

When these shrimp are first introduced to an established aquarium, they tend to be extremely shy. This can be easily connected with their small size. As time goes by and they get accustomed to the new surroundings, they start showing behaviors that are typical of most dwarf shrimp species.

They constantly scavenge the substrate, rocks, and plants for food and can also be seen displaying social behaviors. They seem to prefer scarping rocks and continually forage for algae covered rocks. The social behaviors are often quite interesting to watch and are an added bonus for its popularity among breeders.

This species is not aggressive at all and seems to enjoy the presence of other species in the tank. Breeders have often reported that Cardinal shrimps are more active when species from their native Sulawesi habitat are introduced.

Note: it is recommended to have a group of at least 15-25 shrimp to start off. As any dwarf shrimp, cardinal shrimp will feel more comfortable and safer in big numbers and they will follow each other when eating.  

Cardinal Shrimp Tank Requirements   

If you are a beginner at shrimp keeping, the Cardinal shrimp should not be your first choice. The Cardinal shrimp are suitable only for experienced and professional shrimp keepers, even though they are one of the easiest Sulawesi species. To keep a Cardinal shrimp, you would need an aquarium tank of at least five gallons; at least being key. I would recommend going for a larger size to ensure that the water values remain stable for a healthy ecosystem. In terms of equipment, a heater, a filter, and potentially an extra air-pump to keep the water oxygenated should do you well.

Most Cardinal shrimp keepers set up aquariums as close as possible to the natural habitat of these shrimps. Ideally, you would want a dark, carbonate-rich soil/substrate, driftwood, and rocks. A few plants could also be introduced. As for rocks, choose a porous type which has enough surface area for the algae to grow on.

Tip: Actually, the black substrate is very important to bring out intense coloration. You can read more about “How to Enhance Shrimp Color?” right here.

Tip #2: Do not use active (buffered) substrates in these tanks. Buffered substrates (as ADA Amazonia etc.) can cause the pH to drop. Use only inert substrates for Cardinal tanks (for example, Seachem Fluorite – link to check the current price on Amazon).  

Cardinal Shrimp Water Quality   

You must always remember that these shrimps might be more fragile than you are accustomed to. They require a higher water temperature (optimal 77-86 F) and, perhaps most notably, high pH (ideally around 7.8-8.2) values to thrive.

If you are serious about keeping and breeding Cardinal shrimp, you will have to buy a good heater. Unlike Neocaridina and Caridina shrimp species, you will not be able to get away without a heater. It is a must item. Water temperature below 25C can stress them to death.

I have read on the internet that some aquarists used tap water with Cardinal shrimp. Well, if the parameters of your tap water are not too extreme, theoretically it would probably work (but I seriously doubt). Anyway, frankly saying, I would not risk putting an extremely sensitive and expensive shrimp into tap water! Therefore, you would have to put the water through a reverse osmosis process for the cardinal shrimp tank. We need to be as close as it is possible for their natural water parameters.

The water parameters in the shallows of Lake Matano

Temperature (°C) 28.7 (~84F)
pH 8.5
General hardness (°GH) 7
Carbonate hardness (°KH) 5
Conductance (μS) 175
Total dissolved solids (ppm) 87.5
Oxygen (mg/l) 6.93

Sulawesi Salt GH+KH+ Tip: Your RO/DI water will have close to zero TDS and absolutely no minerals in it. That is why it is absolutely crucial to use remineralizers (Salty Shrimp Sulawesi Mineral 8.5 and Salty Shrimp Mineral 7.5 check the price on Amazon). Actually, I strongly believe, that if you want to be successful and If you want to control the quality of your water, you must use RO/DI water and minerals with any dwarf shrimp.

As is the case with any animal that resides in a tank, never introduce any Cardinal shrimp into an aquarium that is not fully cycled. Cardinal shrimp are extremely sensitive to the presence of nitrites and ammonia in the water. Therefore, you will need to keep a close watch on the results of the water testing kit frequently (for example, API Master Test Kit)

Do not forget about nitrates as well. The best and easiest way to keep nitrites in water low is to conduct small and regular water changes. But take care not to shock your shrimp by changing a lot of water at once or introducing the water too quickly, it can cause molting issues for your shrimp.

This species is most definitely one of the shy ones and hence, decorations and embellishments should be kept to a minimum. Go for relatively faint and low lighting if possible.  

Cardinal Shrimp Tankmates  

By now, you already know that the Cardinal shrimp are one among the more fragile and expensive species on the market. It is therefore advisable to approach this matter with great caution!

Cardinal Shrimp tanks are, more often than not, set up as biotomes and hence, species that naturally reside along with the cardinal-shrimp are a great way to proceed. Sulawesi snails that originate from the genus Tylomelania (Rabbit snails) are found in the same habitat of Lake Matano and make good tankmates for the much-loved Cardinal shrimps. You can also opt to mix numerous species of shrimps from the Sulawesi region in the same tank. This is quite convenient as they all generally prefer very similar water values and are not known to interbreed.  

Feeding Cardinal Shrimp 

This species will eat at any given time of the day but seems to be more active and comfortable at night which could be attributed to low light conditions. You will most likely notice that the shrimp will come out and feed better when the lights are turned down/off, as compared to when lights are on.   

Feeding is best done once in a day. You should only feed an amount that the shrimp can consume within a period of 2-3 hours.

Excess food lying around is not good for the water values of the tank. Also, overfeeding is known to be a cause of death in Cardinal shrimp, so you must keep an eye out for the quantity of food given.

Remember that shrimp are instinctive scavengers and are not used to the constant availability of food. They eat whatever they find, and even a one or two day break from feeding will not affect them at all.  

Cardinal Shrimp Diet   

The diet is indeed one of the most crucial and challenging aspects when it comes to the care of this shrimp. Indeed, cardinal shrimp are typically and consistently detritus feeders and do not respond so strongly to food that some other dwarf shrimp species. The solution to this condition seems to be powdered or very fine foods. I would recommend trying spirulina powder and Bacter AE or other microorganism based foods.

Make sure that you do not over-clean their tank. Although you would want to keep eliminating uneaten foods to maintain water quality, you should not clean up all algae growth. This ensures that the shrimp can actually graze whenever they want and keeps the ecosystem close to natural.

If being reared in large colonies, it is very important to balance the feeding and diet. Blanched and boiled vegetables are the most commonly used supplements in this case.

Important: Vegetables can be recommended only with great care. Because of the high temperatures, gems and bacteria can rapidly increase in density. In the natural habitat of the cardinal shrimp, the germ “level” is relatively low. That is why they are very sensitive to a high concentration of bacteria in the water.

Note: Cardinal shrimp are safe with plants. Therefore, you should not worry about it. Unfortunately, high temperatures are absolutely unsuitable for most aquarium plants. Therefore, your choice of plants would be very limited.  

Breeding Cardinal Shrimp 

The breeding process for the cardinal shrimp is quite simple and you should be able to successfully raise the young as well. As long as the water parameters are set around optimum, and there is proper feeding, the male and female in the tank will most probably breed.

The berried females of the species carry approximately 20-30 reddish eggs in between their pleopods (Swimmerets). If there are no major issues, these eggs hatch into very tiny copies of the adult shrimps in around 20-28 days.

Note: You can read more about “How temperature affects the breeding of dwarf shrimp” right here.

Breeding is most often carried out in complete freshwater, not brackish or salt water. There is no larval stage for the cardinal shrimp and the female carries the eggs till they hatch into tiny shrimplets. Shrimp breeders usually have good chances of success in breeding these shrimp, and it is not as difficult as you might think.

The babies show the same coloration as the adults as soon as they are born. The growth rates of the young are quite fast too. If the tank is maintained well and all in good shape, the babies can even grow as fast as some of the Neocaridina shrimp. Another noticeable difference between the Cardinal and other shrimps is that the size of their broods is smaller.  

Sexing Cardinal Shrimp

Sexing of the cardinal shrimp is quite difficult and unfortunately, no one has figured out how it works with the naked eye.

The females do have a saddle under the carapace that shows the eggs, but the only way to see this saddle is through infrared light. With the outside shell of the shrimp being so dark, you cannot possibly see the saddle without special equipment.

The standard with other shrimp species, that the females have a curved underbelly and are larger, does not apply to cardinal shrimps which makes the process even more elusive. The males and females of this species look seem to look exactly the same.  

Conclusion   

The cardinal shrimp is a smaller tropical species as compared to the other dwarf shrimps that are common to the hobby. Cardinal shrimps live up to 2 years and vary more in coloration when compared with other dwarf shrimps. These shrimps have maintained their popularity thanks to their vivid, rare, and funny coloration. 

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