Driftwood in a shrimp tank, is it good or bad? Do we need it or not? What are the pros and cons? Today I will answer all these questions. Personally, I strongly believe that driftwood is awesome and I will recommend using it in any shrimp tank (check my “Guide: How to breed shrimp”).
Driftwood provides shelter and food for the shrimp. It leaches tannins into the water column, which has a multitude of antifungal and antibacterial properties. In addition, driftwood causes the pH level of the water to lower, which can be very beneficial for some shrimp species (for example, Crystal red shrimp).
However, despite all these bonuses, surprisingly, there are still a lot of people who debate against using driftwood in shrimp tanks. Let’s take a look at the reasons why I use driftwood and some of the reasons why other people do not use it.
What is a Driftwood
Driftwood is a piece of wood (the remains of trees, in whole or part), that has been washed onto a shore or beach of a sea, lake, or river by the action of winds, tides or waves. It is a form of marine debris or tide wrack.
Pros of Having Driftwood in Shrimp Tank
1. Surface area for biofilm and algae
If you put a piece of driftwood in a tank, you will quickly notice that bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients (biofilm) that are reintroduced to the food web.
Biofilm is actually amazing for shrimp. This is their delicacy. In the wild, biofilm and algae are one of the most important food sources for shrimp. Therefore, yes, it can look really nasty for us. However, your shrimp will go crazy and devour it with pleasure.
Note: Biofilm is a slimy, glue-like substance, consisting of sugars and other substances. It can stick to all kinds of surfaces.
2. Hiding places
This is a great way to reduce the stress factor for your shrimp to keep them healthy and happy. In nature, shrimp are at the bottom of the food chain. That is why they need places to hide from unwanted attention. In addition, from time to time they will need to find secluded places after molting when they are especially vulnerable.
Driftwood will provide such places and crevices for them. Natural hiding places will increase the productivity and the survival rate of your shrimp.
According to some studies, tannins have been reported to possess “antimutagenic potentials as well as antimicrobial properties. Several studies have reported on the antioxidant and antiradical activities of tannins”.
This can greatly benefit any shrimp tank. It instantly creates water that is identical to their natural habitat, facilitates acclimatization, breeding and care. Tannins have macro and trace elements, which play a vital role in shrimp metabolism and molting.
4. Natural environment
Shrimp in nature are usually found in rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. As we all know, there are lots of wood and fallen leaves in there. Therefore, we do not do anything unusual. On the contrary, providing our shrimp with driftwood will simulate their natural habitat, and also reduce stress level.
5. Cool Aquascaping in Shrimp Tanks
With some imagination, it is possible to create amazing aquascapes! I have been saving incredible aquascaping ideas on my Pinterest. In most cases, aquascapers use driftwood in their masterpieces.
Tip: For example, attached plants such as Java moss will create that natural look. Use a fishing line or cotton to attach the plants to your driftwood, or simply glue (you need aquarium safe glue) the plants to the driftwood.
6. Driftwood and PH
The driftwood, through the tannic acids that it contains, causes the pH level of the water to lower. However, it will not significantly influence the pH (especially if you have high KH). It is more like an additional way to keep the water acidic.
Keep in mind that it can also increase your TDS a bit.
Cons of Having Driftwood in Shrimp Tank
However, in spite of all the advantages, there are also downsides of adding driftwood to our tanks. So, let’s take a look at them and how we can deal with them.
Driftwood will decay over time and pollute the water. It can take months or years (depends on temperature, type of driftwood, etc.) but it will happen one day eventually.
Therefore, you need to be in control of the situation and once it starts breaking down you will have to remove it from the tank or clean it (if it is still possible). Otherwise, you are going to start having big problems. For example, the pollution can crash your nitrogen cycle (read my article about it) and kill your shrimp colony in the tank.
- Bad smell (sulfurous odor / rotten eggs smell).
- Easy to break with your fingernails (wood becomes very soft).
- Can become black.
- Gas bubbles.
Note: Sometimes you can read on forums that driftwood in nature rots and it does not affect shrimp or fish. Therefore, there are no reasons to worry. Well, let me strongly disagree. It is not possible to compare the ratio of wood to water volume in ponds (rivers) and our aquariums!
Driftwood is the additional surface area for growing biofilm for our shrimp. Nonetheless, even something good can become bad if it is excessive.
For instance, if you have a tank (with lots and lots of driftwood) with a HUGE amount of biofilm (relative to tank volume), there is always the chance that bacteria within the biofilms can multiply extremely rapidly, reducing the level of oxygen in the rest of the aquarium.
Basically, it can turn your water into a biofilm soup. As a result, it can cause a rapid increase of CO2, which will lead to an asphyxiation of the shrimp (including the nitrifying bacteria). Read more about it in my article “CO2 in a Shrimp Tank”.
3. Tea Color
When placed it in water, the driftwood starts releasing tannins. As a result, your watercolor will take on a reddish-brown or yellowish-brown color. It is like a tea color. Frankly saying, it is a personal preference. In my case, I like the color but some people do not.
- Do not add big pieces of driftwood to your shrimp tank.
- Dry driftwood should not touch opposite walls of your tank. Otherwise, once it gets soaked in water, it will increase in size and squeeze out the glass.
- Add Seachem Purigen (link to check the price on Amazon). It will deal with the tannin color.
- Even if you got driftwood from pet stores, I would strongly advise preparing it for your shrimp tank. Play safe.
- You need to be sure it is aquarium safe. Reptile driftwood can look great but is not always aquarium safe unless it is announced as such.
- Consider purchasing your wood from a reputable retailer.
Before placing the driftwood in your shrimp aquarium, you need to prepare it properly.
1. Choosing Driftwood
First of all, you need to decide what type of driftwood you need/like (see it later in the article). The second, and the most important will you find it yourself in the wild, or will you buy it?
Frankly saying, avoid using driftwood you have found yourself unless you are confident you can make it 100% safe. Nonetheless, if you still want to do it yourself:
- Do not pick anything in the city.
- Do not go for trees that may have been sprayed with pesticides (even in the wild).
- You should be looking for balsa, maple, walnut, oak, breech, etc.
- It must be completely dead. This is very important.
2. Cleaning Driftwood.
Take a knife or scraper tool and remove tree bark. Be careful with sharp tools. This step is usually not necessary if you get driftwood from stores.
Use a clean brush to scrub it thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.
If your driftwood is large, you can use a pressure washer (if you have one) for at least 5 to 10 minutes turning it over several times to make sure that you get all the nooks and crannies.
Tip: Do not use soap or any chemical cleansers. You do not need any residual poison in your aquarium.
3. Boiling Driftwood (Curing process).
Always boil the driftwood. You may need to refill the water as it boils away. There are several main reasons why we do it:
- to clean from parasites, hitchhikers, and fungal spores,
- to reduce the amount of leaching tannins,
- it helps to sink.
Note: Some people boil their driftwood for hours, while others do it for 10 – 20 minutes. There are no rules here because lots of things depend on the type of driftwood. Use a reasonable approach and common sense.
Tip: If your driftwood is too big to boil, put it in 5% bleach solution for 10 – 20 minutes. After that, wash it very well and leave the driftwood in bleach free water for a few days. You need to be sure that any remnants of the bleach have dissipated. Next, change the water and leave the driftwood in water for 1 – 2 weeks to allow total saturation.
Types of Wood for Shrimp Tank
1. Malaysian driftwood
- It is very easy to find.
- This wood creates a lot of surface area for your shrimp to graze on.
- It is so dense that it will instantly sink.
- It has a dark color and it will be hard to see any algae on it.
- Releases the tannins.
I highly encourage you to get some Malaysian driftwood – check out the price on Amazon.
2. Cholla wood
- It has a ton of surface area for shrimp to graze on.
- It also releases tannins into the tank, which will also reduce the amount of sick shrimp you might have.
- The unique structure of Cholla wood provides excellent hiding places for the shrimp
- It usually starts to deteriorate after 1 year (depending on size and thickness). However, it is easy to remove without disturbing anything in the tank.
- Unlike Malaysian driftwood, it will float. Therefore, you will have to wait 1 – 2 days to sink or you can boil it for 5 – 10 min.
It is simply awesome.
Note: Cholla wood does not leach tannins as much as Malaysian driftwood. Cholla wood – check out the price on Amazon.
3. Mopani Wood
- It sinks immediately.
- It has a lot of cool gnarliness, which will be safe places for your shrimp.
- Lots of surface area for biofilm.
However, because it is so dense, Mopani wood tends to hang onto the tannins longer than most other woods. It leaches a lot of tannins (unless you boil it for a really long time)! As a result, some people even add carbon to their filters to remove coloring from the tank water.
Tip: Adding Seachem Purigen (link to check the price on Amazon) is another option to deal with the tannin color.
4. Spider wood
The only downside is waterlogging. It can take a lot of time to sink.
Depending on the size (and how dry it is) it can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months. Of course, boiling will speed up the process but it will not solve the problem. Keep it in mind because this is the main complaint with this wood.
DIY tannins and humic substances for your shrimp
Actually, there are ways to add some tannins to your shrimp tank even if:
- you do not want to put driftwood in your tank,
- your driftwood does not leach tannins anymore.
- Collect dry leaves.
Oak and Beech leaves are the most popular choice amongst aquarists. However, it does not mean that it cannot be done by the others. These leaves must be dead (dried up) and depleted of their natural sugars and other living matter. Bacteria also love sugar and you do not want a bacterial bloom in your tank!
Make sure that you are collecting them from areas known to be free of pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants.
- Clean and wash them. Do not use any chemical cleansers.
- Put them in a pot and add some water. The water level should barely cover the leaves.
- Places a dish over the leaves to submerge them for 1 day.
- Remove the dish and boil the mixture (including the leaves).
- Wait 24 hours.
- Remove the leaves from the pot.
- Simmer it down until you have 1/3-1/4 of the original water volume.
- Filter the mixture.
- Add it to the bottle you would like to use.
As a result, you will get a high concentration of tannins and humic substances for your shrimp.
Although it is very hard to overdose, experienced shrimp keepers advise adding 1-2 drops per liter, when you do a water change.
Note: The bottle should be clean or your mixture can go moldy.
Driftwood is an essential part to a successful shrimp tank. Therefore, all benefits of having it in a shrimp tank far outweigh the added maintenance. In addition, it can be used as part of decorative furniture or other art forms and is a popular element in the scenery of shrimp tanks.