Why Do Shrimp Change Color?

Why do Shrimp Change Color

One of the key elements that contributed to decorative shrimp’s general popularity in the aquarium hobby is their color. However, unlike fish, shrimp color is more prone to alterations, and in certain situations, it can even change completely. Don’t panic if this happens in your case.

Dwarf shrimp can change color for a variety of reasons, including the quality of their diet, stress, aging, molting, or even the aquarium’s color scheme.

These and other causes of shrimp color changes will be covered in this article, along with steps that can be taken to prevent or alter it. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Main Reasons Why Dwarf Shrimp Change Color

  1. Stress
  2. Acclimation
  3. Diet
  4. Transparent base color
  5. Diseases
  6. Molting
  7. Aging
  8. Background and Substrate
  9. Lighting
  10. Crossbreeding/Interbreeding

1. Stress

Dwarf shrimp’s color can change under stress in a number of different ways. Generally, the shrimp become paler or more muted in coloring.

It is crucial to identify the cause of your shrimp’s color loss as soon as possible because this could be a sign of a far more serious issue.

For example, the list of the most common causes of stress in shrimp includes:

Solution: Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for all cases because each aquarium is unique with its own ecosystem balance. Therefore, there are several important recommendations to reduce stress in dwarf shrimp:

  1. Provide a well-established and stable environment for your shrimp.
  2. Avoid sudden changes in water parameters, temperature, and lighting.
  3. Check your water parameters regularly.

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2. Acclimation

Although acclimation could be easily added to the list of stresses, I purposely highlighted it separately this time. The reason for this is that many aquarium hobbyists, especially beginners, make this mistake without understanding how important it is.

The fundamental principle of keeping and breeding shrimp is that shrimp do not like changes! Dwarf shrimp are negatively impacted by any changes in water parameters to which they are accustomed.

Therefore, it is essential to make sure that there is little difference between these characteristics while purchasing or even moving shrimp from one tank to another. Otherwise, if this difference is significant, the shrimp may at least lose color or they may start an unprepared molting process, which can be very dangerous for them.

Solution: Do not drop your shrimp right into the tank. Be patient and give your shrimp time to adjust to a new environment. With proper care and attention, your shrimp should thrive and display their full range of beautiful colors.

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3. Diet

The diet also plays a huge role in the coloration of dwarf shrimp. Shrimp coloration is largely determined by the presence of pigments, such as astaxanthin, which are obtained through their diet.

Astaxanthins are responsible for the yellow, orange, and red colors in many shrimp, and when chemically bound with proteins they may extend their reflection wavelength to blue, green, brown, black, or violet color.

These pigments are found in algae and are often added to commercial shrimp foods to enhance their coloration.

Results of the experiments showed that after a few months, the Astaxanthin-fed groups had significantly greater pigmentation than that of shrimp fed without it. Therefore, if the dwarf shrimp’s diet lacks these pigments, its coloration may appear dull or faded.

Solution: Dwarf shrimp should be fed a varied and balanced diet that includes high-quality commercial shrimp food as well as supplements like algae, vegetables, and protein-rich foods in order to preserve and improve their color. It is also crucial to refrain from overfeeding.

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4. Transparent base color

The transparency of the shrimp itself can also affect its coloration. For example, some species of dwarf shrimp (such as Amano shrimp, Ghost shrimp, Malawa shrimp, Opae Ula shrimp, Red Nose shrimp, Whisker shrimp, low-grade Cherry shrimp, etc.), have transparent or translucent bodies, which can allow their internal coloration to be more visible.

The transparent body of the shrimp allows for more light to pass through. Thus, in these species, the amount and type of food they consume will affect their coloration in no time.

Solution: If you are not sure or simply worried about that, all need to do is change their diet for a few weeks. You will see changes in their coloration very fast.

5. Diseases and Parasites

Unfortunately, bacterial infections, parasite infections, fungal infections, and a few other disorders can change the color of dwarf shrimp.

You may also see discoloration in shrimp, particularly in the form of white, black, or gray patches on the body or appendages.

Additionally, diseases and parasites weaken dwarf shrimp’s immune systems and stress them out.

Solution: Observe your shrimp closely and remove any sick shrimp to prevent the spread of disease. Avoid using medications and chemicals in the tank that can harm shrimp or disrupt their natural balance.

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6. Molting

The coloration of dwarf shrimp may temporarily change as a result of molting. The process of molting, which might last from a few minutes to several hours to complete, involves the shrimp shedding its old exoskeleton and growing a new one.

When dwarf shrimp is about to molt, it undergoes significant changes such as the detachment of the epidermis from the cuticle (separation of new shell and old one). When it happens the color of the shrimp becomes dimmer or duller.

Right after molting, the new exoskeleton of the shrimp is not yet hardened and colored. Therefore, it may first look pale in color. This is so because the shrimp’s skin pigments are situated in the exoskeleton’s outer layer, which is shed when the shrimp molts.

The shrimp will gradually revert to its original color over the coming days as the new exoskeleton hardens and pigments are created. The shrimp may also appear a little bit different in color during this time.

Solution: Do not disturb shrimp during the molting and post-molting process. This period is extremely stressful for shrimp, and it is not uncommon for them to hide or become less active during this time. Therefore, it is important to provide a comfortable and secure environment for the shrimp during the molting process.

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7. Aging

Some sources say that as shrimp age, their coloration may become less vibrant or fade over time, which can be due to a variety of factors.

Well, this is not particularly true.

Research showed that dwarf shrimp tend to have more intense coloration as they age, with a significant increase in coloration (almost 70%!) observed in 180-day-old Red Cherry females compared to 90-day-old individuals.

Solution: Be patient, especially if you have young shrimp. To avoid making a hasty decision, wait until your shrimp are fully grown—or at least a month old—before deciding what to do.  Remember – color changes can last for months!

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8. Background and Substrate

The color of dwarf shrimp is also affected by the background of their tank. The backdrop color modifies how light reflects in the tank, which can change how the shrimp’s color is perceived.

For instance, a black background can give the shrimp a more colorful and intense appearance, whilst a light background can give them a more subdued appearance.

Research has also shown that shrimp kept on the black or red substrate have higher levels of astaxanthins and experience greater weight gain than those on the white substrate. This suggests that a darker substrate may better mimic the natural environment of the shrimp.

Solution: If you want to improve your shrimp color, you need to use dark background and substrate. This is probably the easiest and simplest way to manipulate the shrimp coloration.

9. Lighting

In addition to the color of the background, dwarf shrimp’s color can vary significantly depending on the lighting. Shrimp colors may appear more vivid under bright, direct lighting, while they may appear more muted under dark, dim, and indirect lighting.

That is because shrimp use a visual cue to enhance their camouflage and blend in with their surroundings.

Solution: Although dwarf shrimp are nocturnal animals lighting has a big impact on how they are colored. As a result, keeping shrimp in a tank with artificial lighting will produce better outcomes than maintaining shrimp in a tank with simply ambient light. However, it’s crucial to avoid going overboard because too much light or prolonged use might stress the shrimp and have the opposite effect.

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10. Crossbreeding/Interbreeding and Genetics

Crossbreeding and interbreeding can have a significant impact on the coloration of dwarf shrimp. This cause is usually not immediate, in the sense that it only manifests in future generations of shrimp.

Sometimes, shrimp with a certain color and pattern may ‘unexpectedly’ produce offspring of various colors. In some cases, this can result in new and unique color variations that were not present in either parent species.

If this happens, it is likely due to crossbreeding or interbreeding, which results in a different coloration due to a mixing of genes.

Solution: Unfortunately, in such cases, there is little that can be done as the principle of selection has been violated. To avoid such situations in the future, it is necessary to keep shrimp species with different colors separate.

Overall, genetics play a key role in determining the coloration of dwarf shrimp, and careful breeding practices should be used to create and/or enhance desired color variations.

In Conclusion

Genetics, food, aging, molting, sickness, and environmental elements like lighting, substrate color, and background are only a few of the causes of color variation in shrimp.

While some of these factors, like genetic and age, can result in more gradual changes in color, others, like lighting and substrate color, might result in more noticeable changes more quickly.

Shrimp keepers may improve and preserve their shrimp’s color by being aware of these aspects, which can also help them learn more about the interesting creatures’ innate traits and behaviors.

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