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

Whisker Shrimp – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - Macrobrachium Lanchesteri

If you think that all shrimp are tiny, cuddly, and peaceful creatures, you are wrong. Some species from the Macrobrachium genus (for example, Macrobrachium Lanchesteri or Whisker shrimp) can be so aggressive that it is not recommended to keep them even with small fish.

Whisker shrimp can be so mean that many aquarists will say that these shrimp are spawned straight from Hell! These shrimp are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders, they will eat anything they can catch.

So, why do people keep Whisker shrimp as pets? Well, because despite their antagonistic nature, they are easy to care for and add some real character to a tank!

In this guide, I cover everything you need to know when caring for Whisker shrimp (the most kept Macrobrachium in aquarium trade) including ideal tank setups, healthy diets, breeding, compatibility with other species, etc.

When I am referring to Whisker shrimp, I am talking about Macrobrachium Lanchesteri as the closest lookalike to the ‘normal’ Ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus).

Quick Notes about the Whisker Shrimp

Name Whisker shrimp
Other Names
Indian Whisker Shrimp, Thailand Ghost shrimp, Glass shrimp, Ghost shrimp, Riceland prawn, Machrobrachium Ghost
Scientific Name Macrobrachium Lanchesteri
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Medium-Difficult
Size up to 6 cm (2.5 inches)
Optimal Temperature 24 – 30°C  (~75°F – 86°F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 8.0
Optimal GH 2 – 14
Optimal KH 1 – 8
Optimal TDS 100 – 300
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Algae eater/omnivore
Temperament Aggressive
Life span up to 5 years
Color Form Translucent

Taxonomy of the Whisker Shrimp

The Palaemonidae family is dominated by the genus Macrobrachium. Machro means “long”, and brachium means “arm”.

Interesting fact: The invasion of the family Palaemonidae to freshwaters was recorded during the late Mesozoic or early Cenozoic era (from about 252 to 66 million years ago).

Macrobrachium is a genus with a high degree of diversity with about 240 species. Even though some species can be found in estuaries or marine habitats, most of their lifecycle occurs in freshwater habitats.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class:  Malacostraca
Order:  Decapoda
Infraorder: Caridea
Family: Palaemonidae
Genus: Macrobrachium
Species: Macrobrachium Lanchesteri 

Whisker Shrimp – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - Taxonomy

Origins, Natural Habitat of the Whisker Shrimp

Whisker shrimp (Macrobrachium Lanchesteri) are certainly one of the most abundant and widespread shrimp species from Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar as well as from southern China and Java, and Indonesia. They are also one of the most common species in Laos.

Whisker shrimp are pretty common in shallow waters (in 1-2 meters or less).

These shrimp live in freshwaters (lakes, ponds, canals, paddy fields, swamps, etc.). However, they can also be found in waters with slow (0.70m/sec) currents (streams, and rivers).

Description of the Whisker Shrimp

Whisker Shrimp – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - Macrobrachium Lanchesteri on the driftwoodWhisker shrimp are semitransparent with brown to black stripes on the front body. The distinctive feature is a straight rostrum and super long front arms compared to the regular Ghost shrimp.

This species also has a small hump in its body, which distinguishes them from many other dwarf shrimp species.

Note: Scientific description of Macrobrachium Lanchesteri.

According to the study, the size of Macrobrachium Lanchesteri generally ranges from 4 to 6 cm (~1.5 – 2.5 inches). Females are longer than males.

Once a proper aquarium is set up and optimum living conditions are met, Whisker shrimp can reproduce and live up to 4 – 5 years.

Difference between Whisker Shrimp and Ghost shrimp

There is a lot of confusion around these two types of shrimp.

In the aquarium hobby, the Whisker shrimp are often mislabeled as common Ghost shrimp. I have seen countless posts on forums and Facebook groups where people have had problems with distinguishing Whisker shrimp (Macrobrachium Lanchesteri) and Ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes Paludosus).

Besides, there is a lot of young Macrobrachium that look like Ghost shrimp before they literally become huge monsters. Unfortunately, these species are also called Whisker shrimp! As a result, it only creates even more confusion and misunderstanding.

It is extremely important not to make this mistake! 

  Whisker shrimp
(Macrobrachium lanchesteri)
Ghost shrimp
(Palaemonetes paludosus)
Pereopods Longer front legs  
Pincers Larger front claws

(almost as long as the body)

Their claws are much smaller
Coloration Many will develop a darker color. Remain transparent
Patterns Brown to black stripes on the front body 2 small red dots on the tail.
Red to orange bands in the legs and feelers.
Often develop faint patterning on their bodies like vertical bars.
Size Up to 2.5 inches (6 cm) Up to 2 inches (5 cm)

Macrobrachium lanchesteri vs Palaemonetes paludosus. Difference between Whisker Shrimp and Ghost shrimp

The Behavior of the Whisker Shrimp

While Whisker shrimp are considered relatively easy to care for. It is important to remember that they have an aggressive temperament, a characteristic that may turn off some potential owners.

They will likely attack small prey in the tank, such as dwarf shrimp, snails, and small fish. It makes them a questionable choice for a peaceful community tank!

Generally, these shrimp are not very social. Males Whisker shrimp often bully each other for territory by ‘pushing’ them out. Therefore, they do not need to be kept in large groups. In fact, they will guaranteed fight fellow members of their own species.

Important: the genus Macrobrachium are territorialists, aggressive and cannibalistic. As they get bigger they obviously get more dangerous.

They are nocturnal animals. Their activity increases towards dusk when Whisker shrimp become hyperactive. These shrimp can be very difficult to catch as they are very quick on their feet, possess an incredibly fast reaction time, and can even jump.

In aquariums, they spend most of their time scavenging around the tank looking for food.

Features:

  • Social: No
  • Active: Yes
  • Peaceful: No

Feeding the Whisker Shrimp

Whisker shrimp has a detritivore-omnivore type of diet, feeding mainly on phytoplankton,  biofilm, detritus, insects, mollusks, etc.

In the aquarium, they will eat just about anything they find in their path:

  • dead plants,
  • leaf litter,
  • blanched vegetables,
  • flakes, sinking pellets and wafers,
  • dead and dying fish,
  • shrimp,
  • bloodworms,
  • dried gammarus,
  • brine shrimp,
  • daphnia,
  • snails, etc.

everything is on the menu.

Whisker shrimp are pretty aggressive eaters and very greedy. They will try to take as much food as they can carry, even if it is way more than they can actually eat.

When they are very hungry and there is nothing to eat they can even munch on algae, however, they are not efficient algae-eaters. Therefore, do not count on them if you have algae problems in your tank.

Important: It is very easy to feed Whisker shrimp and even easier to overfeed them because they eat tons of food! So, be careful with that.

Feed them in rations that would last them up to 1 – 2 hours max when eating. After that, depending on the food, it is better to remove the uneaten part from the tank to prevent messing up the water quality and potential parasite contamination.

Features:

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Food Preference: Fish food
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily

You can read more about it in my articles:

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

Are Whisker Shrimp Plant Safe?

Whisker Shrimp – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - Macrobrachium Lanchesteri on the plant
photo by Chris Lukhaup

Many Macrobrachium species tend to leave plants alone, therefore, compatible with planted tanks.

However, there are also some negative reports. People complained that their tanks looked horrible because they would eat some of their plants. In these rare cases, they choose tender and soft plants like mosses, Subwassertang, etc.

To be safe, stick to these rules and it will help you to improve the odds:

  • Keep an eye on it for the first week or so.
  • Do not let it get hungry.

Keeping and Housing the Whisker Shrimp

Whisker shrimp are very easy to care for even for beginners.

However, if you want to have a happy and healthy shrimp as long as it is possible, it is important to give it everything it needs, including proper care

First of all, your tank must be fully cycled. Whisker shrimp cannot survive in the uncycled tank or during the cycling period. As all dwarf shrimp, they are susceptible to ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

Second, if you are planning to keep multiple Whisker shrimp, make sure that most of them are females. A good setup is having one male to about 1 – 2 females. It can reduce the level of aggression.

Next up is setting up a proper habitat for the shrimp.

Tank Size:

Whisker shrimp move a lot in the tank. Therefore, the tank should be big enough to have its own space to roam around, as well as to hide in and escape from things like unwanted attention or sunlight.

The absolute minimum tank size for a few Whisker shrimp (1 male and 1 or 2 female) is a 10-gallon (40-liter) tank.

Keep in mind that overstocking can lead to health problems and aggression. This is particularly important when you have more than one male, as they are more aggressive than females.

Important: Another reason why Whisker shrimp require bigger tanks is that these shrimp are voracious eaters and produce a lot of bioload! So, don’t forget to check out your water parameters weekly and do water changes to keep up with the nitrate increases.

Note: Whisker shrimp have a tendency to climb out of the aquarium, so it’d be better to have a lid.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Although Whisker shrimp can live in a wide range of temperatures, according to the study, the optimal temperature in the aquarium should be in the range of 24 – 30 °C (75 – 86 °F).

pH: Optimal water pH should be provided for this species in the range of 6.5 – 8.5.

Hardness: They will appreciate optimal KH 1 – 8 and between 2 – 14 GH.

Lighting:

Whisker shrimp do not really need light. Therefore, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants in the tank.

For more information, you can read my “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

Whisker shrimp can be kept in any tank with any substrate.

Filters:

There are no special requirements as well. As long as you have got the filter that works great with the size of the tank you have got you will be fine.

Personally, I would always recommend using sponge filters or matten filters for any small tank setups.

These filters are cheap, easy to maintain, and clean; they provide a lot of surfaces to graze on.  In addition, Macrobrachium Lanchesteri will not damage and tear apart the sponge as large species often do.

However, for bigger tanks, sponge filters may not be good enough. In this case, you will need to either hang on the back or canister filters.

Decorations:

Important: You need to provide a lot of places to hide. This is also crucial for the molting process (read more here about it)! Cannibalism after molting can become a huge problem.

They will appreciate all types of leaves, rocks, woods, PVC pipes, etc. in your tank. 

You can read more about it in my articles:

Important: Before putting them into your tank do not forget to carefully acclimate them (read more about it) as all invertebrates. Do it very slowly. In general, 2 – 3 hours will be good enough.

Be careful with chemicals like copper (read more)Whisker shrimp do not tolerate copper-based medications. 

Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Breeding the Whisker Shrimp

Whisker Shrimp – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - Macrobrachium Lanchesteri
photo by susanne.lajcsak

There is no much information regarding breeding Whisker shrimp, nonetheless, this is what we know about it.

Whisker shrimp (Macrobrachium lanchesteri) can breed in freshwater setups. However, these shrimp produce larvae and not miniature shrimp.

The presence of the saddle (greenish coloration), means that eggs are ripening in the ovaries of a female. The number of eggs (or fecundity) per Whisker shrimp female varies with the size of the female. The fecundity range is around 59 – 393 eggs.

After mating, the female will keep the eggs for 3 – 4 weeks (depending on the temperature).

After the larvae hatch, it will take another 2-3 weeks for the larvae to morph into young shrimp.

Macrobrachium lanchesteri larvae cannot tolerate bad water quality (ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates), it can kill them almost immediately after hatching.

In addition, it is recommended to keep them in a rearing tank to prevent potential aggression from the adults. The rearing tank should also be cycled with the same water parameters.

Feeding Macrobrachium lanchesteri larvae

There are many reasons why larvae may die and underfeeding or overfeeding is another one.

Keep in mind that larvae will not recover from nutritional stress caused by previous starvation even though they are subsequently fed. In addition, the lack of food of proper size and nutritional value during the period when larvae first begin feeding also causes extensive mortalities.

Feed them with:

  • newly hatched brine shrimp,
  • some kind of artificial food for fish larvae (Like 50 or 100-micron golden pearls).

Whisker shrimp larvae should be fed daily (ideally twice). The trick is not to feed so much that the water quality deteriorates too much.

Whisker Shrimp and Suitable Tankmates

As previously stated, Whisker shrimp are territorial and aggressive, it can be risky to house multiple shrimp in the same tank. Males, in particular, are extremely likely to fight and eventually kill one another when housed together.

Ideally, these shrimp are usually better in solitary confinement. Multiple Whisker shrimp should be kept in groups of one male with multiple females.

Keep in mind that, Whisker shrimp will compete with their tankmates for food. It can also affect their behavior. To mitigate this possibility, it is important to make sure that they are well fed at all times.

Fish:

While they can coexist with fish, there is always a risk of predatory behavior. Therefore, those species should be chosen with care.

The problem is that large and/or aggressive fishes should be avoided. At the same time, small (like Neon tetras, Guppies, etc.) and bottom-dwelling fish will disappear over time.

Note: Thing is, most fish are most vulnerable at night while resting near the substrate and that is exactly the time when Whisker shrimp are most active. For example, the bettas might eat the Whisker shrimp. However, they might hurt and eat the bettas while they are sleeping.

Dwarf Shrimp and Snails:

Invertebrates like dwarf shrimp and snails are best avoided as Whisker shrimp will likely begin to prey on them and wipe them out eventually. Even Amano shrimp may get caught.

Bad Tank Mates: 

You need to avoid keeping Whisker shrimp with:

In Conclusion

Whisker shrimp (Macrobrachium Lanchesteri) are one of the most fascinating and interesting aquarium shrimp available on the market. Compared to common Neocaridina and Caridina species they look more intelligent.

These are very active and inquisitive shrimp. However, the biggest concern is their aggression, they do not always play nice with others and can attack small fish, snails, dwarf shrimp, and even each other.

As for keeping them in the tank, Whisker shrimp is a simple species to care for. Even beginners will be able to keep them since they are hardy and undemanding, adapting well to almost all kinds of freshwater.

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