Ghost Shrimp Care: Diet, Lifespan, Breeding & More

ghost shrimp

Ghost Shrimp Quick Care Sheet

  • Common Name: Ghost Shrimp
  • Alternate Common Name(s): Glass Shrimp, Eastern Ghost Shrimp
  • Latin Name: Palaemonetes sp. (Usually P. paludosus)
  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 5+ Gallon
  • Size: 1 ½”
  • Diet: Omnivorous Scavengers
  • Behavior: Peaceful Invertebrates
  • Lifespan: ~1 year
  • Reproduction Type: Egg layer
  • Water Temperature: 72-82°F (22-28°C)
  • pH: 7.0-8.0

Origins of the Ghost Shrimp

The Ghost Shrimp is actually a native of the Southeastern portions of the United States. Or at least the species most commonly called Ghost Shrimp are, there are a few different species sold under the same name.

Ghost Shrimp are among the simpler aquatic organisms to care for. I’d venture to call them even easier to take care of than Cherry Red Shrimp (Neocardinia davidii) since they’re on the edge of being coldwater tolerant.

Ghost Shrimp spend their lives in aquatic grass, predating on microcrustaceans and eating whatever they can find as they endlessly sift through the creek bottoms. Their entire life is spent in pursuit of food, and they’re remarkably simple creatures. They can eat almost anything in captivity, and they will.

The primary defense of these shrimp is simple: they’re hard to see when they’re in the water. Heavy plant growth in their native areas and their massive breeding numbers help shore up the population despite them being essentially a prey animal.

Healthy ghost shrimp are almost 100% transparent. You could use them as a study of dwarf shrimp anatomy just by taking a closer look at them. 

Occasionally darker specimens come along. I’ve been unable to ascertain if they’re a different species or just elderly shrimp, as none of them have lasted long even in healthy planted tanks.

There are a few other species of “true” Ghost Shrimp that sometimes emerge. They’re generally just a different size with slightly different antennae or legs. 

There is one species I’ve seen repeatedly sold as ghost shrimp that can end with a negative outcome, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

As a general rule, Ghost Shrimp don’t require any specialized care or water conditions. Instead, you just need to make sure that there aren’t any predators in the tank that are going to chomp down on them. They’re often used as feeders for a reason: they’re cheap and plentiful.

Please note that while bottom feeders and sold sometimes as “algae eaters”, they won’t make much of a dent in any algae present in your tank. Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata) or Cherry Shrimp (Neocardinia davidii) are much better choices for that task.

Avoid the Whisper Shrimp!

Whisper Shrimp are larger, predatory shrimp that bear a superficial resemblance to Ghost Shrimp. Avoiding them is key since their care requirements are different and they can be surprisingly hostile in your tank.

They’re hard to identify, and even co-exist alongside some species of Ghost Shrimp in the tank. They’re most readily identifiable by their long foreclaws, which are rather oversized compared to the majority of Dwarf Shrimp.

Whisper Shrimp also get a bit larger than most species of Ghost Shrimp, topping out at a bit under 3” in some cases.

Whisper Shrimp aren’t really dangerous, but they’ll eat anything they can catch. This makes them unsuitable for placing alongside the small fish that usually go in nano tanks (think Celestial Danios or Chili Rasbora).

You may want to consider quarantining any Ghost Shrimp you get until you can get a positive ID, but in the average community tank, you’re unlikely to notice the difference. Indeed, if you want to go out and get Whisper Shrimp on purpose you’ll find the rest of this guide is applicable except for some of the smaller fish listed as being potential tank mates.

While not a disaster, unknowingly introducing them to a tank may cause problems with the occasional disappearing fish. They also seem to like to eat other dwarf shrimp, which is a bigger problem in tanks that are heavy on invertebrates.

Ghost Shrimp Strains: Keeping vs. Eating

While the feeder Ghost Shrimp and those sold as pets are both the same species, there’s been a bit of divergence between the genetic strains.

Feeder shrimp are often a bit more fragile and less long-lived. It makes sense when you consider that the primary factor in breeding feeders is simply having more babies. Deformities and other problems matter much less in that case, and these shrimp have hundreds to thousands of generations that have been captive-bred due to their swift breeding cycle.

Those meant for tanks are often a bit larger and hardier. They’ll tend to live longer as well. Essentially: they’ve been bred to produce healthy, attractive adult specimens.

Your LFS should be able to tell you whether they’re meant as feeders or keepers. Feeder tanks will often have a lot of shrimp in a small space with no cover, those meant for keeping will be in the same sort of tanks as the rest of the invertebrates.

You’re not out of luck if all you can find are keepers. A careful breeding program can restore some strength to the line and they breed quickly enough it won’t take as much time as you’d think.

Ideal Tank Setup

Does it have water and a filter? You’re probably good to go. Few people actually center their tanks on Ghost Shrimp, usually, they’re just used as cleaners or feeders.

You’ll need the usual:

  • Good Filter- If the tank is over-filtered, put a bit of sponge over the intake to keep the shrimp safe. They’re… not very smart and this is a common way for micro-shrimp of all species to meet their fate. Precautions are easy enough that it’s a non-issue as long as you’re aware of it.
  • Heater- For the other fish most of the time, a home with central heating can keep these shrimp alongside coldwater fish with no issues.
  • Substrate- You can keep shrimp in bare bottom tanks, but they usually do much better with tiny (3-4mm) gravel or sand. While not big algae eaters, they can do a number on detritus and keep the bottom clean.

You may also want to consider throwing them into a tank with plants. Their natural environment is in aquatic grasses, and they’re fond of Vallisneria sp. and most stem plants. Cryptocoryne species are also a good choice for protecting them from predation.

If I were to intentionally build a tank for just Ghost Shrimp I’d just set up a 10-gallon tank with a HOB filter and a blend of Vallisneria and Sagittaria subulata to create a grassy, dynamic environment. A bit of over filtration and the tank will have a nice, dynamic effect with the grass waving and the barely visible shrimp hiding in the grass.

In other words: if it’s a tank and it’s not actively hostile to invertebrate life then you’re not going to have any issues keeping Ghost Shrimp.

Are They Hardy?

I’ve kept Ghost Shrimp many times, and I’ve yet to see one die from any sort of disease or bad water conditions. They’re among the hardiest freshwater creatures around in that regard.

I still recommend, as always, putting them in a cycled tank. Anecdotally they’ll survive a cycle in 90% of cases but it’s downright unethical to put a living creature in an uncycled tank if you have any choice in the matter.

As a general rule, you’ll have massive problems with other creatures in the tank before it becomes a problem for your Ghost Shrimp. The only creature I’ve kept with similar resilience are Pond Snails, but they’re harder to get out of a tank than into one.

Specialized Care Requirements

The biggest issue with Ghost Shrimp is just making sure you didn’t accidentally pick up another variety of shrimp. Being clear isn’t exactly a species-defining feature for shrimp, the majority of common dwarf shrimp are transparent to some degree.

The only exceptions off the top of my head are the various Bee Shrimp varieties and Bamboo Shrimp, both of which are opaque. Even Cherry Shrimp often have large, colorless sections if they’re not from a well-bred line.

Brackish Tanks and Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp actually adapt very well to brackish tanks, making them one of the few invertebrates that do well in that kind of water. The majority of mine have spent their lives in brackish tanks.

This makes them unique among dwarf shrimp, as they’ll even continue to breed in brackish water much of the time.

Keep that in mind if you’re setting up a brackish tank. Just be aware they’re not really compatible with a lot of the more popular brackish fish and invertebrates so you’ll still have to think through the tank’s design to avoid problems.

Suitable Tankmates

Tankmates are the biggest failure point for those keeping dwarf shrimp of any variety. There are an outstanding number of critters that think shrimp are very tasty. Remember that a good portion of the Ghost Shrimp market will end up directly being fed to other aquatic fauna.

Any predatory fish larger than Ghost Shrimp tend to eat them sooner or later. These include normally “peaceful” fish like Dwarf Gourami. They seem to be more prone to being predated upon than the similarly sized Cherry Shrimp for some reason, I’m not sure if they’re just bolder (and thus hide from fish less) or if they actually taste better.

Fish that are right out:

  • Any Cichlid
  • Puffers
  • Mudskippers
  • Gobies (exceptions are Dragon Goby and Bumblebee Goby)
  • Giant Danio
  • Tiger Barbs
  • Gourami
  • Predatory Catfish

And so on. If it has a reputation for eating or attacking other fish then sooner or later your Ghost Shrimp will end up on the menu.

You also have to worry about other invertebrates. Among the common ones, the following will also eliminate any Ghost Shrimp population:

  • Crayfish
  • Fiddler Crabs
  • Vampire Crabs
  • Red Claw Crabs
  • Whisker Shrimp

They’ll sometimes indulge in a bit of cannibalism as well, as a treat.

The point is that Ghost Shrimp are on the very bottom of the aquatic food chain. Or at least, they’re the smallest visible portion of the food chain, as they too have micro-crustaceans that are a preferred food source.

Your best bet for tankmates is to stick with peaceful schooling fish that remain 3” or under in length. Everything else will just take them in stride as a free meal.

Any nano-fish is a solid option, as well as Corydoras sp. and Otocinculus catfish. Neon Tetra, Zebra Danio, Mollies, and other common schooling fish will also do well alongside them.

One big exception: Betta variants with large fins (ie: veil tail, half moon, full moon) are too slow to catch ghost shrimp and make suitable tankmates. Wild-type Betta will still be able to chow down on them.

Breeding Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp are easy to breed, it’s caring for the fry that causes issues. As long as they’re not being actively attacked, sooner or later you’ll see a female with eggs. Females tend to be a bit larger than males (¼” to ½” longer in most cases) but it’s rare to buy a significant quantity (6+) shrimp without getting both sexes.

Setting up a grow-out tank is essential if you’d like more than just the scattershot of a few surviving each breeding cycle.

When you see berried females, you should remove them and place them in the grow-out tank. This tank should be 5-10 gallons, with some plants and rocks for cover and a small sponge filter. Cycle it before you begin adding the females, while the adults are hardy the shrimp babies are much more fragile.

The female will take about three weeks to lay the eggs you see inside of her. You’ll even be able to see some little black dots that are the shrimp’s forming eyes before they hatch!

The female will deposit the eggs in various places around the aquarium. This appears to be some form of survival strategy, scattering the eggs over many places to increase their chances of success. The process can take an hour or two as she selectively finds the best places in your tank.

Once the female has laid the eggs, she should be placed back in the main tank.

The shrimp babies will be too small to eat any “real” food, so you’ll need to make sure you have some powdered spirulina to place in the tank for them. Observe their development, you can switch to finely powdered flake or ground-up fish pellets once they’ve got their legs.

Raising the fry from there is simple. You can cull obvious deformities as they emerge to strengthen the line, usually just by feeding them to predatory fish.

Some Ghost Shrimp females will spontaneously abort if you transfer them to a new tank. If that’s the case, you may have to just set up the primary tank for a safe environment for your baby shrimp. You’ll also have to accept that the majority of them will be cannibalized in a ghost shrimp colony, and it may be best to keep these females in low population tanks.

Clearly a Great Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp are one of the more accessible types of invertebrate for the aquarium. Whether you’re keeping them as feeders or just enjoying their transparent looks and quick motions… they’re an interesting addition to any aquarium.

Just keep them away from predators and they’re sure to live a long and happy life in your aquarium!