Vampire Shrimp – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Vampire shrimp

Vampire shrimp (Atya gabonensis) or Gabon Monster Fan Shrimp is one of the freshwater shrimp common in West Africa and is first reported in Gabon. However, despite their enormous size and formidable appearance, they are not monsters at all. On the contrary, they are very peaceful and incredibly shy creatures.

Once acclimated, Vampire Shrimp are relatively easy to care for. Unlike most types of shrimp, they are filter feeders. It means that they filter microorganisms from the water column. Therefore, you will have to provide them with some kind of flow in your tank. Unfortunately, it is very hard to breed them. However, it is compensated with an extremely long lifespan.

The species is harvested on a small scale in northern Nigeria as well as elsewhere in West Africa. Atya gabonensis is in the list of threatened species.

Quick Notes about Vampire Shrimp

Name Vampire shrimp
Other Names
African Fan Shrimp, African Filter Shrimp, African Giant Shrimp, Vampire Fan Shrimp, Blue Rhino Shrimp, Gabon Giant Fan Shrimp, Cameroon Fan Shrimp, Armored shrimp, Monster shrimp and Blue Monster Fan Shrimp
Scientific Name Atya gabonensis
Tank size (optimal) 15 gallons (~70 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Very Difficult 
Size 12 – 15 cm (~5 – 6 inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 28°C  (~70°F – 88°F)
Optimal PH 6.8 – 7.2 (6.0 – 8.0)
Optimal GH 6 – 20
Optimal KH 2 – 15
Optimal TDS 150 – 200 (100-300)
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Detritivore /omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 10 years
Color Form Greyish, whitish, light blue to reddish-brown, strong blue

Natural Habitat of Vampire Shrimp

Unfortunately, their natural history is not well-documented. All we know is that they inhabit mangrove environments in available boles, crevices and root masses of the Cross River system.

Mangrove leaf litters provide an important nutrient base for food webs. During decomposition of mangrove litters, a large number of nutrients are released and detritus food formed. Which also serves as an essential nursery ground for juveniles.

Description of Vampire Shrimp

Vampire shrimp are heavily-built. In the wild,  they can reach 5 or even 6 inches in length (12 – 15 cm). However, in captivity, they usually do not grow more than 3.5 – 4.5 inches (9 – 11 cm).

They use their modified chelipeds to collect fine particles from the bottom or filter them from flowing water. The life cycle includes marine larval and post-larval stages.

Vampire shrimp come in many colors.  The color can variate from greyish, whitish, light blue to reddish-brown to a strong blue and may change slightly with every molt.

Vampire shrimp Color types

As with all other shrimp species, the coloration also depends on the age and the environment. For example, a dark substrate will intensify its color. However, with age, the color can gradually decrease again to reddish-brown shades (which dominate in this species). They can also lose some color after a molt. Do not worry it will come back.

Unlike many shorter-lived shrimp, the Vampire Shrimp can live for as long as 8 – 10 years with proper care. To learn more you can read my article “How Long Do Dwarf Shrimp Live?”.

Note: Vampire shrimp do not grow fast and as a result, they do not molt very often (maybe because of the long lifespan and slow metabolism). For example, if we compare them with Bamboo shrimp (another big filter-feeding shrimp), Bamboo shrimp will usually outgrow Vampire shrimp (at the same age). However, eventually, they will become bigger than the largest Bamboo shrimp. Read my detailed guide about Bamboo shrimp right here.   

Why are They Called Vampire or Monster Shrimp?

The most popular theory refers to their appearance and behavior. They prefer to lurk in the tank at night. Combine it with spikes in their feet, which look like fangs or claws and you have a perfect Vampire monster! Nonetheless, in reality, they are completely opposite in effect.

The Behavior of Vampire Shrimp

If you think that these big guys will entertain you, by walking around your tank, you are wrong. Vampire shrimp are extremely shy and hide all the time. I really mean it. For example, some aquarists recommend never do maintenance while they are out of their hiding spots. It can scare them so much that they will run for cover and hide for days.

Unlike Bamboo shrimp, which do not care about anything and feed in plain sight, Vampire shrimp usually choose feeding spots on the ground near hiding places. Therefore, you will have to provide them with this kind of shelters. Once they have found a comfortable spot in the current, they prefer not to move much.

They do really well in groups, often crowded quite close together. Vampire shrimp are 100% peaceful and will not threaten anybody in any way. They do not have claws and can only push and poke with their fans. Basically, they cannot harm anybody even if they want to.

As I have just said, they are predominantly twilight and nocturnal creatures. Therefore, you will not see them much in the daytime.

Tip: If you want to see their nocturnal activities you can buy a Night Glo bulb (Link to check the price) or similar bulb.

Vampire Shrimp Male and Female Difference

As with all shrimp, it is not possible to tell the difference between males and females at a juvenile stage. However, once they are about 2 or 2.5 inches long (5 – 6 cm), sexual dimorphism begins to show. When they are 3 or more inches up, the difference becomes quite prominent.

1. The size.
There is a size difference between the sexes, with the males being larger than females.

2. Abdominal plates.
The females have larger abdominal plates at the beginning of the abdomen than males. The shell is rounder and deeper through the belly area.

3. The first pair of legs.
The males have a thicker the first pair of legs compared to the females. Particularly in the second segment behind the main leg joint, which also has very prominent bristles.

Note: Unlike female Bamboo shrimp, which have all sets of walking legs about the same size as one another. In Vampire shrimp, it is more difficult to see the difference (when they are young) because the females also have thick legs.

Vampire Shrimp Feeding in Nature

The most important thing that you need to know about Vampire shrimp is that they are active filter feeders. They use their fans (plume-like bristles) to filter water column and also scrap substrate for food.

According to different studies, Vampire shrimp are omnivorous-detritivore. For example, biologists categorized the food items found in the stomach of Vampire shrimp into several groups. These were:

1. Algae and organic detritus. They formed the major constituents of the stomach constituting about 61.9% of food items by number and 88.5% by occurrence.
2. Diatoms formed the second-largest constituents of the stomach, accounting for 20.9% by number and 63.0% by the occurrence, respectively.
3. Insect parts. The third most important food item was insect parts, which constituted 1.9% by number and 5.0% by occurrence.

The food mostly eaten by the species were algae (green algae was the most preferred food) followed by organic detritus. The insect parts were mostly eaten by large-sized Vampire shrimp.

There were no differences in food habits of the size groups as algae, insect parts, sand grains, and organic detritus were present in their stomachs, irrespective of size. However, it was also observed that algae were the most consumed food item in:

  • small size shrimp (2.0–5.9 cm), accounting for 86% by number.
  • medium size groups (6.0–10.9 cm), accounting for 60%
  • large size group (11.0–14.0 cm), accounting for 47%.

Biologists found organic detritus in the stomach of all size groups.

Vampire Shrimp Feeding in Aquarium

The studies of natural food sources allow us to recreate their feeding habits. Therefore, it will give them a more natural home environment and make them less stressed.

Vampire shrimp need microscopic and very tiny food particles. Therefore, powdered food dropped right into the current, will be an ideal choice for them. For example, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fine like Hikari’s First Bites – link to check the price on Amazon , New Life Spectrum Small Fry starter, Golden Pearls in the 5-50 micron size (link to check the price on Amazon), dried nettle leaves, spinach powder, etc.

Some aquarist, who keep Vampire shrimp, also advise using Green water for freshwater tanks. It should be dense enough that you cannot see your hand through a soda bottle full of the stuff. Feed enough to turn the water just slightly hazy. They will filter it out quite effectively.

Actually, it would be better to turn the filter off for an hour or so when you feed them. At the same time, leave the secondary pump running to keep it moving around and suspended. If you do not do that, the flood may get filtered out before it makes it to their fans. Unless you pipette spot feed right in front of them.

Do not give Vampire shrimp regular shrimp and fish flakes (wafers, pellets, pills, etc). It takes too much time to dissolve for their feeding technique. Nonetheless, if you do not have anything to give them, grind them to powder first. 

Do not forget that calcium plays a huge role for the shrimp. Therefore. I highly recommend to read my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Vampire Shrimp Feeding Tips

You might be able to grind the flakes or pellets in a coffee grinder, but it needs to be about the same texture as baby powder. Actually, this is a good way of combining different types of food so that they will get all the necessary minerals.

If you keep Vampire shrimp with fish, it is important to introduce food at night. Otherwise, they will rarely get enough to eat.

Some Shrimp keepers believe that if you do not give them enough minerals they can become whitish or reddish. I have tried my best to find more information about it. So far, I cannot prove or disprove it.

If you see that they pick up detritus on the bottom with their fans, it does not necessarily mean that they are hungry. Which is the real case about Bamboo shrimp and should be avoided. However, if they do it very often then you need to give them more to eat.

Keeping Vampire Shrimp

Vampire shrimp require a relatively big tank due to their unique feeding behavior. Therefore, 15 gallons (~70 liters) is the minimum tank size you can keep them comfortably in.

They seem to be quite social and do not mind being crowded in a tank. Therefore, a 15-gallon tank will comfortably house 4 – 5 shrimp.

It is crucial to provide a moderate water current for them. You can do it by installing the secondary pump near or on the bottom (Actually, it will suit Vampire shrimp better). Be sure that your tank is adequately aerated.

Regarding filtration, I would recommend a Matten filter (or any other similar). You can read my article to learn more about it “The Best Filtration System for Breeding Shrimp”.

Vampire shrimp prefer pH variations from 6.6 to 7.1. It corresponds to dry and rainy season in their natural habitat. They thrive in warm temperature (anywhere between 22 – 28°C  (~70°F – 88°F). They do not tolerate temperatures as low as the temperatures that most dwarf shrimp enjoy.

Important: Do not try to keep Vampire shrimp in absolutely clean water. In the wild, Vampire shrimp prefer muddy, mangrove or sandy mud bottom habitats. The tank should be well cycled and rich with microorganisms. Do not forget that they need careful acclimation as all shrimp. 

Substrate for Vampire Shrimp

Although they can be fine with a rock or gravel substrate. A sand substrate is preferable. First of all, sand will not damage their delicate fans. Second, according to the study, Vampire shrimp also consume some parts of sand. Biologists found sand in 95.2% of the specimens. They do not know why they do that. Maybe because sand is a part of the detritus matter or it helps their digestion.

Vampire Shrimp: Shelter and Molting

Vampire shrimp are very shy and like hiding places. It seems like they prefer tight fit shelters. Once they find the best spot, they never stay in any other shelters. If they outgrow their “home”, they can try to dig a burrow in their hiding spot to make it bigger.

Shelters are especially important after molting when they are vulnerable. While the new exoskeleton hardens, vampire shrimp will sit there all the time. Therefore, you need to provide them with hiding places large enough to conceal their entire bodies.

Note: Exoskeletons contain a lot of minerals and proteins. Thus, do not remove molted shells if you keep Vampire shrimp with dwarf shrimp. Although Vampires cannot eat their molts (they do not have any tools for that), other shrimp will gladly do it for them.

You can read more about it in my article “Aquarium: Molting Process and Metabolism of the Dwarf Shrimp”.

Breeding Vampire Shrimp

Currently, the pet industry completely depends on the wild-caught species. In all this time, there have been only two(!) successful case of breeding Vampire shrimp in captivity. Now it should give you some understanding of how hard it is to breed these shrimp. The problem is that it takes a lot of time for the larvae to develop into a tiny copy of adults and they can do it only in saltwater.

Some facts about their breeding: In the wild, according to reports, number of eggs (or fecundity) per Vampire female varied with the size of the female. Within a size range of 6.5 – 11 cm (2.5 – 4.3 inches), fecundity range was 850 – 12220 eggs. The peak of reproductive activity fell within the rainy season.

Note: They always molt before mating because at that time the female cuticle becomes soft and flexible, which makes fertilization possible.

To describe the breeding process of Vampire shrimp, I will have to refer to German breeders from crustahunter.com. Therefore, all credits go to their team. I will simply describe what they did for that.

Setup for Breeding Vampire Shrimp:

  • 60 liters breeder tank.
  • Gravel by Dennerle as a substrate.
  • Liquizell and live phytoplankton as food (later on, they added a bit coarser like e.g. fluid Artemia food by JBL).
  • Marine salt – Reef Salt by Aqua Medic –to prepare brackish water (concentration of 28-30 g/l).
  • Water parameters were constant: pH 7.6 – 8.0, GH 21, KH 10 – 15, NO2 0, NO3 0.

The breeding brackish tank was cycled for a good four weeks. They also recommend having lights on for at least 11 hours a day. During this time, suitable bacteria and algae can develop, which will be essential for larvae survival. 

Vampire Shrimp – Larvae Stage

After mating, the female will keep the eggs for 3 – 4 weeks (depending on the temperature). After the larvae hatch, you have to get them out of freshwater and put them into the saltwater as fast as you can. Vampire shrimp larvae cannot tolerate freshwater for a long period of time, it will kill them. Another problem is that adult Vampire shrimp can kill most of the larvae by catching them with her fans.

Note: You can simply siphon the larvae out of their freshwater tank and put them into brackish water.

Feeding Vampire Shrimp Larvae

You can start feeding larvae right after putting them into the brackish tank.

Phytoplankton will be your main food choice for the next 3 weeks. Dose it generously four times a day with a pipette. On the fourth week, the larvae can start clinging onto smaller food particles. In this case, you will need to add a coarser fluid food to their menu.

During all this time, provide them with lots of light (10 – 12 h). It will produce enough algae (on the glass, the equipment, and the substrate) for the larvae to survive off. You can keep adding a small amount of powdered food.

Note: Despite their efforts, some larvae died all the time. 

Feeding Vampire Shrimp Larvae Cycle

In the first few weeks, Vampire larvae swim in a heads-down position. They do not control their movement at all.

Next thing that you will notice is a slight transformation. Their color starts changing to reddish-brown or bluish and they start swimming in a horizontal position. As adult Vampire shrimp, they become especially active by night. During the daytime, they hide most of the time. Now they are capable of grabbing bigger food and graze on objects most of the time.

transformation into tiny copies of adult Vampire shrimpIt takes them 3 months to reach the post-larvae stage! During this time, they will develop pleopods and little fans. Read more about the anatomy of the shrimp here.

When they are about 4 months old, you will see the innards (a small dark spot in the neck). It means they have completed their transformation into tiny copies of adult Vampire shrimp. Therefore, prepare to move them into a freshwater tank.

Note: The larvae development of Atya gabonensis takes almost 4 months. However, in another report, it took them 33 – 44 days.

Transitions from Brackish Water to Freshwater

Do not do any sudden transitions from brackish water to freshwater.

1. Fill half of the container with brackish water from your breeding tank and put your baby Vampire shrimp in it.
2.
Slowly add a bit of freshwater from the tank you are going to put them in. Basically, it replicates the acclimation You can read my article “How I Drip Acclimate Shrimp and Why”.
3. Wait until the amount of freshwater will double the amount of the brackish water from the breeding tank.
4. Let them accustom a little bit to the new water conditions. Leave the container for 24 hours (aerated).
5. Put them into a freshwater tank.

Once again, I would like to say big thanks to German breeders from Crustanhunter crew. I do hope that their unique experience will help all shrimp breeders around the world.

Tankmates for Vampire Shrimp

Vampire shrimp and Crystal red shrimpDespite their menacing name, Vampire shrimp are undoubtedly peace loving and non-aggressive creatures. You can easily keep them with any type of dwarf shrimp (Cherry shrimpSnowball shrimpCaridina cf. BabaultiGhost shrimpAmano shrimp, etc). They will not bother each other and there will not be any risk of crossbreeding (read more about it).

You can combine them with any type of snails as well (Ramshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snails, and etc.).

Because of their size, people keep Vampire shrimp with small fish, which can still be potentially dangerous to normal dwarf shrimp (Guppies, Danios, Cherry barbs, Dwarf Chain loaches, Sawbwa resplendens, Strawberry boraras, etc.).
You can read my article “Сherry Shrimp in a Community Tank. Tips to Make it Successful”.

At the same time, it will be a bad idea to keep them with big or aggressive fish, crabs or crayfish (even small ones like Dwarf Mexican crayfish). Despite their size, Vampire shrimp are absolutely harmless and relatively defenseless. They will become a quick meal when they molt.

Conclusion

Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis) is one of the most fascinating and unique aquarium shrimp available on the market.

In the wild, there is a serious threat to this species. Therefore, I hope more people decide to breed them in captivity. Of course, it seems very difficult, but the stakes are high because there soon we risk losing this species forever.

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