How to Start: Shrimp Aquarium for Beginners

How to Start Shrimp Aquarium for Beginners.

I’m here to give you guys a complete guide on how to set up a freshwater shrimp aquarium.

This is a guide where I will go over basically everything you need to know. I’ll tell you how to set up your very own freshwater aquarium. The guide works especially well for beginners who do not know anything about aquariums.

There’s a lot of misinformation that gets spread around. It is really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially if you’ve only just started. When I was researching how to start an aquarium, I was so overwhelmed with all the information. I was just so confused because there’s so much stuff you need to know! It’s so hard to find all the information needed or a complete guide online that tells you everything you need to know. So, I’m going to try my best to give you all the information you need to start your very own aquarium. I will go into detail so you will not mess up and end up killing your shrimp.

So, if you’re serious about shrimp keeping hobby, then let’s begin.

Aquarium Types

You need to ask yourself two questions before starting on your aquarium. What kind of aquarium do you want to have? What shrimp do you want to have there? (Tip: if you do not know anything about different types of shrimp, pick Red Cherry shrimp or Snowball shrimp. They are both Neocaridina species, extremely hardy and unpretentious.) Basically, there are three categories you can divide different types of aquariums into. The types are as follows:

  • Freshwater Tanks –  Basically means an aquarium that is around 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (20-24°C). Usually, you can go with room temperature. This is an aquarium that people usually keep, for example, Neocaridina and Caridina shrimp.
  • Saltwater Tanks – Speaks for itself. You need to aim for the same degree of salt to water as you would find in the ocean.
  • Brackish tanks – These aren’t very common. The brackish tank is a tank that is basically a mixture of salt water and fresh water. It’s like a freshwater tank but with salt added to it. It does not contain enough salt for it to be considered a saltwater tank. There are not many types of shrimp that can live in brackish water. Also, it can be a very difficult aquarium to maintain. However, some shrimp need brackish water for their shrimplets to grow (for example, Amano shrimp).

Equipment for Freshwater Tropical Aquarium

There’s a major misconception that keeping aquariums is easy. People think that keeping shrimp in an aquarium is one of the easier pets to have. The thing is, it can be very expensive if you want all the right equipment. However, it will be cheaper compared to fish tanks anyway.

If you have decided on making a freshwater tropical aquarium, these are the supplies you will need:

  • aquarium (tank)
  • aquarium soil, substrate
  • a filter
  • a heater (can be optional)
  • a siphon
  • a test kit (optional, but highly recommend to buy them to monitor the condition of the water)
  • a thermometer (can be optional)
  • a spare filter media
  • lighting
  • plants (decoration, etc.)
  • food for the fish or shrimp
  • air pump (only needed if the filter is external)
  • net
  • glass cleaning scraper
  • bucket

Aquarium Size for a Beginner

First and foremost is choosing what size tank you want. When you are about to choose a tank, you need to think about what shrimp, fish, and (or) snails you want to get if it is going to be a community tank

Also, it is important to realize that it is easier to maintain a bigger tank. The reason for this is because the more water is in the tank, the longer it will take for the water to get dirty or for something to go wrong. If you have a small tank, a lot can go wrong very fast. If you have, let’s say 60 gallons of water, it’ll take a lot longer for problems to arise and get to a point where they’re really bad. Usually, if you have a big tank, you’ll notice a problem when it’s in the earlier stages of development in a larger tank. Whereas, in a smaller fish tank, things can go wrong very fast! So, for beginners, it is actually recommended that you get a bigger tank.

You don’t necessarily have to get a 60-gallon tank. That might be a little overwhelming for some people. Getting around a 10 or 20-gallon tank would probably be a good size for beginners. It’s a decent amount of water and big enough that you can experiment with different types of shrimp. 

Where to Place Your Aquarium

When placing the tank in your home, you want to make sure to find the best place for it. You’ll need to follow these three steps:

  1. It must be away from direct sunlight or any sources of heat. You don’t want your tank to be right by a radiator or a window because having direct sunlight on your tank can cause a lot of algae problems. However, if you are planning to have Amano shrimp and Nerite snails, they will deal with this problem easily.
  2. The location must be without a lot of disturbances (do not put your tank near TV, radio, doors, etc.). 
  3. Make sure to have double electric sockets near your tank. You will need light for your shrimp and plants.

You can read more about “7 Tips for Fish Tank Location” right here.

Heater for Your Tank

In most cases, you do not need a heater for the shrimp tank. However, if there temperature fluctuations, I’d recommend choosing heaters that are adjustable.

By the way, I do not recommend preset heaters because they tend to malfunction. If you have a preset heater in your tank and it’s not heating it to the proper temperature, then there’s no way of adjusting it if it’s preset. Whereas if you have an adjustable heater and you realize that you need it to be a little higher or a little lower then you can easily adjust it.

Thermometer for Your Tank

From my experience, I tend to really like the probe thermometers. They’re very convenient because you can stick a little probe in the corner of the tank and use a digital display that will help you keep track of the temperature of the water very easily.

Filter for Your Tank

There are several different types of filters. The most common are as follows:

  • Canister filters
  • Back filters
  • Sponge filters (better version – Matten filter)
Sponge filter

They are usually the cheapest out of the rest. However, it does not mean that they are bad. Lots of shrimp keepers use sponge filters in their tanks without any problem.

Back filters

They are also often used in shrimp tanks. I would only use a hang on the back filter if you have a thirty or twenty gallon or an even smaller tank. Anything bigger than that and I would recommend getting a canister filter. The canister filter is a filter that kind of looks like a garbage can. You can hide it away under your tank.

When you are choosing a filter, the box of the filter that you’re getting will usually say this filter is good for tanks 20 gallons to 40 gallons or 60 gallons to 80 gallons, etc. You don’t want to follow what the label says. Usually, they undercompensate and say that a filter is good for a 30-gallon tank when in reality it’s only good for a 10-gallon tank.

What you actually want to look at is the GpH, which stands for gallons per hour. It means this is the number of gallons that the filter will filter in an hour. Basically, you want whatever filter you use to filter all of the water in your aquarium four times over. So, let’s say you have a 40-gallon aquarium (160 liters). You want to filter 40 gallons times four which is 160. So you need to get a filter that says it filters at least 160 gallons per hour.

Important. When buying a filter, it’s better to get a filter that’s super powerful than to get one that isn’t powerful enough. What’s nice about having a more powerful filter is the more powerful your filter is, the more heavily stocked you can keep your shrimp and fish too. If you have a filter that isn’t strong enough, you’re not going to be able to put a lot of shrimp in there. The reason for this is because your filter won’t be able to deal with all the bio-load that is produced by the shrimp, fish, and snails.

Canister filter

What’s also nice about the canister filter is it is a five-stage filter. This means there are five baskets in there to put through filtration. Another thing that’s nice about canister filters is they’re very customizable. You can put whatever filter media you want in them and in whatever order you want to.

The only con with canister filters versus hang on back filters is canister filters do require a bit more maintenance. They’re more work to clean out because you have to turn off the filter, empty out the water, clean out all the media, and rinse out the whole inside of the filter. You are supposed to do this about once a month but if you have a big aquarium it is really necessary to have a canister filter.

What’s also very important about the filter you use is the output of the filter will cause surface agitation. It means that the water on the surface of your tank is moving and causing a lot of surface agitation. As a result, it adds oxygen to the water so your shrimp can breathe properly. If there isn’t enough surface agitation in your tank then you would want to add an air stone with the air pump.

The filter is probably the most complicated part of this whole process.

You can read more about “The Best Filtration System for Breeding Shrimp” right here.

Different Types of Filter Media

There are three different types of filter media. Filter media is what you put in your filter to actually filter the water. The three different types of filter media are:

  • Mechanical
  • Chemical
  • Biological

The mechanical filtration removes particles of uneaten food, waste, or decayed plant materials.
The chemical filtration helps to remove different toxins from the water.
Biological filtration is where your beneficial bacteria lives and that helps transfer ammonia into nitrites and then into nitrates.
It is usually recommended to have your filter so that the water first goes through mechanical, then chemical, and then biological filtration.

Choose a Substrate for Your Tank

Now for a substrate, you can use pretty much anything from marbles, stones, gravel, or sand. Shops also make prepackaged substrate for aquariums that works really well.
You need to decide if you want to have a tank with real or fake plants in it. If you have a tank with fake plants, in this case, it doesn’t really matter what you use as your substrate. In case you’re going to have a planted tank with live plants, it is better to go with either sand or a prepared substrate for your planted tank.
If you use sand then you want to make sure it’s aquarium safe.

Adding Water to Your Tank

Once you added your substrate to your tank, you then need to add some water. If you’re using tap water, you do have to use a tap water conditioner. This is because tap water has a lot of things in it that are bad for shrimp. This is a very important step you don’t condition your water because that’s how you are going to kill all your shrimp. There is no need to risk, play safe.

Choose Lighting for Your Tank

Next, you’re going to choose lighting for your tank. Again, this will depend on whether you want a planted tank or a tank that isn’t planted. If you have a tank that is not planted with live plants then it really doesn’t matter what lighting you use. If you’re going to have a planted tank then you want to make sure you have a light that is made to support plant life. Plants need a specific spectrum of lighting to survive.

Putting Decoration in Your Tank

You obviously want to add decorations. You may choose to add live plants. If you do add live plants to your tank, you want to make sure to add nutrients to the soil. (Unless you got something that’s prepared for that already).

If you’re going to add driftwood to the aquarium, you want to boil it in a pot of hot water first. You do this because boiling it will help sterilize it and get anything that could be living in the driftwood out of it. Also, driftwood makes your water turn brown. The things sometimes found in driftwood are called tannins.
By boiling the wood, you are sterilizing the wood. You need to keep boiling the wood until the water comes out clear. Then you don’t have to worry about your tank water turning brown.

Hints: Another useful thing to know about adding driftwood to your tank is that if you don’t boil the driftwood all the way and get all the tannins out then it’s not necessarily harmful. It’ll just look messy. What the tannins do is they lower the pH of the water. So, if your pH is too high for whatever reason in your shrimp tank, it can actually be useful to add driftwood so that it lowers the pH in your tank.

You can read more about it in my articles “Driftwood in Shrimp tank” and “Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank”.

Cycling the Beginner’s Aquarium

Another very important thing to do when starting your shrimp tank is cycling your tank. Your aquarium becomes ready for shrimp only after cycling. There is no way around it.

Cycling is a process that you have to go through before actually adding any shrimp to your tank. A lot of people make the mistake of not doing this because they either just don’t know or they are impatient and don’t want to cycle their tank. Cycling is the process of building up beneficial bacteria in your filter process. It detoxifies your water. It also helps to remove waste from the water.

In order to perform cycling, you need to make sure you have biological filter media in your filter. This is where all of the beneficial bacteria are going to live. Basically, once you fill up your tank with water, you have the temperature set, and you haven’t added shrimp yet, there are a few different ways to cycle your tank.

How you can do cycling

The most basic way to do it (but also the most time-consuming) is to pretend you have shrimp or fish in your tank and add a little bit of food to your tank. Add however much food you would normally feed the shrimp in the tank of that size. While doing this, you want to pretend the shrimp are there. Every day, the food will just sink to the bottom of your tank. Probably, it’s going to look kind of gross but that’s fine! The food will start to decompose in your tank and release ammonia into the water. This is going to help build-up beneficial bacteria in your tank. Over time, that ammonia will transfer to nitrites. The nitrites will transfer to nitrates.

To keep track of all this, you need to have a testing system to test the water in your tank. You can use the API test kit.

You fill up the water and the test tube to the line. Then, you add however many drops you need to test for ammonia nitrite, nitrate, and pH. There’s a color chart that will tell you how much ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate is in your tank, as well as your pH when you’re cycling your tank.

Test the water every day so you can see when ammonia starts to spike in your tank. You’ll also see when the ammonia goes down and your nitrite goes up as well as when the nitrite goes down and your nitrate goes up. As soon as you have zero ammonia and nitrite with just a little bit of nitrate, that’s when you know the cycling process is done.

Some people will add a couple of fish to their tank to help produce more waste and cycle the tank. I do not think that this is a good idea. There’s a very high chance you’ll end up killing any fish if you put them in here while the tank is cycling.

How Long Does the Cycling Process Take?

The cycling process can take anywhere from a month to two months. This is why a lot of people just skip it because they don’t want to wait that long to start adding shrimp to their tank.  Nevertheless, it is very necessary to do it.

Is There Any Other Way to Speed the Cycling Process Up?

Sure, there is! If you’re an impatient person, there are a couple of ways to speed up the cycling process of your tank.

The first way to speed up the process is to add the beneficial bacteria straight into your tank using API QuickStart. You still can’t just add API QuickStart and then add fish right away. It just makes it so it cycles your tank faster and goes through the whole cycling process in a couple of weeks instead of a couple of months.

The other thing you can do to speed up the cycling process requires another shrimp or fish tank. You can try it if you have another one or you know someone who has one with biological media that’s already established. You can take some biological media from a different tank and add it to your biological media. You’re basically taking biological media that already has beneficial bacteria in it and adding it to your tank so that you already have some. Even if you do this, I would still recommend waiting one or two weeks before actually adding shrimp to your tank, just to make sure that you’re not going to have any ammonia spikes in your tank.

You can read more about “Step-by-Step Cycling your Shrimp Aquarium Fishless” right here.

Choosing the shrimp and fish for a Beginner’s Aquarium

Tankmates (Compatibility). Having done the cycling process you need to choose your first tank mates. If you think that you can add whatever shrimp, fish, and even snails to your community tank that is not true.

You have to make a decision if you want to have a fish tank full of aggressive fish or a community tank full of friendly neighbors.

You can read more about “Сherry Shrimp in a Community Tank. Tips to Make it Successful” right here.

When to Add Shrimp to Your Aquarium

Once your tank is cycled, you can’t just add all your shrimp to the tank. You still need to try adding a couple of shrimp at a time. If you add a whole bunch of them to your tank right away, it will simply overwhelm your filter system. There will be way too large bioload for the beneficial bacteria and you do not want that at all. You might want to add 5 or 10 shrimp to start with and then wait a week. After that, maybe you can add some more, etc. That will help cycle your tank a lot more evenly than if you add a whole bunch of shrimp at once and have an ammonia spike that kills them all!

Another way is to add snails at this stage. They will produce a lot of waste and they will keep that colony of bacteria thriving and alive.

You can read more about “Benefits of Snails for a Shrimp Aquarium” right here.

How Many Shrimp Can I Add to My Tank?

Another thing to figure out is if you don’t want to add too many shrimp to your tank. You might be wondering how many shrimp you can add to your tank.

The general rule is for every gallon of water you can have 5 to 10 shrimp (or 3 shrimp per liter). This will vary depending on how strong your filtration system is but that’s the general rule. You also need to be testing your water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. You don’t want to get to the point where you’re having ammonia spikes at all so it’s better to stay on the lower side of shrimp than to have way too many. The more shrimp you have, the stronger filter you need and the more water changes you need to make.

You can read more about “How Density Affects Dwarf Shrimp” right here.

Purchasing Shrimp for Your Tank

When you’re picking out a shrimp, you need to look very closely at the shrimp to make sure they aren’t sick. You don’t want to get one that diseases like Vorticella, Ellobiopsidae (green fungus), Scutariella Japonica, etc. If you put them in your main tank, it’s going to spread in your shrimp colony which would be a total disaster. Trust me, you don’t want to deal with that. Make sure you inspect your shrimp when you are purchasing them to make sure they’re healthy.

Another very important thing is, when you are getting new shrimp, it is better to quarantine them. Basically, it means that you need to set up a separate tank aside from your main tank. You want to have this empty tank until you know they’re healthy. Usually, you want to keep them in the quarantine tank for at least a couple of weeks, just to make sure that they’re healthy and no problems developed. Then you can put them in your main tank.

Another good thing about having a quarantine tank is if a shrimp in your main tank starts to develop an issue, you can take it out of your tank and put it in the quarantine tank to treat it.

Maintain Your ShrimpTank

Last, but not least is the cleaning and maintaining your shrimp tank. First of all, you need to do water changes the right way. It is not recommended to do a big water change every week. By doing so it can cause molting issues.

Water changes will mainly help to get rid of the nitrates in the tank. Nitrates aren’t necessarily toxic for your shrimp in small quantities, but you don’t want a whole bunch of it building up in your tank. This is where a siphon comes into good use.

You have to clean your filter about once a month. If you have a back-hanging filter, it’s a lot easier to clean it. If you have a canister filter, you need to clean out all the filter media. Do not clean the biological filter media because that’s where all your beneficial bacteria is living. You don’t want to clean that because then you’re going to end up killing all the beneficial bacteria.

I know there’s a lot more information to put towards just getting a shrimp tank than you probably expected. You really should follow all the steps and tips that I’ve given if you want to make sure your shrimp stay healthy and strong for a long time. At least now you won’t have to look for all this information in different places like I had to. You’re welcome! Enjoy your pristine shrimp tank!

You can also find a lot of detailed information in “Guide: How to Breed Shrimp”. 

If you need something easy and cheap, take a look at “Basic Shrimp Tank Setup for Neocaridina”.

One thought on “How to Start: Shrimp Aquarium for Beginners

  1. Want to thank you for this info. I have been looking for it for a lot of years. Your thoroughness is priceless to me. Have lost quite a few shrimp due to lack of the knowledge you provided, not to mention money. Now I might be able to really enjoy the hobby. Thank you. Foster

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