Red Cherry Shrimp: Aquarist’s Care & Anatomy Guide

Cute and so interesting to watch. Red cherry shrimp have their own little world going on in the tank.

A great addition to a community tank filled with small fish or even as the star of their own species tank.

They’ll clean up, eat algae, uneaten food, even fish poop!

In this guide, I’ve split the information in two parts.

  • Part 1: I’ll walk you through the process of how you can set up an awesome cherry shrimp planted aquarium and how to care for them.
  • Part 2: This is all abut anatomy of cherry shrimps, appearance, and varieties.

Be sure to use the table of contents below so you can skip to your desired section.

Cherry Shrimp: Overview

Cherry shrimp are small, ornamental freshwater shrimp. They have been selectively bred from wild Neocaridina davidi, which are native to the waterways of Taiwan.

These adorable shrimp were first introduced into the freshwater aquarium trade in their native Asia, starting in the 1990s. They became wildly popular since they eat algae and are highly adorable.

In 2003, cherry shrimp began to be imported to the US and their popularity grew even more as people loved their red color.

Neocaridina davidi is the current scientific name for this species. However, they were originally listed as either Neocaridina heteropoda and also Neocaridina denticulata sinensis (var. red).

There are many different red color morphs and grades of Neocaridina davidi, but they’re all the same species. More on that later.

In the Wild

Red cherry shrimp are native to the freshwater streams of Taiwan.

But they’re not really red in the wild. The brightly red colored shrimp you see in the pet store are the result of many, many generations of selective breeding.

In their natural form, they are mostly transparent with tiny dots and stripes that range from greenish brown to brick red.

Cherry shrimp are omnivorous scavengers that will eat pretty much anything that doesn’t eat them first. They graze on algae, leaf litter, biofilm and any dead fish or invertebrates they’re able to find.

Part 1: Cherry Shrimp Tank Set Up

In this part of the guide, I’ll walk you through what you need to set up a freshwater aquarium for red cherry shrimp.

What Tank Size for Cherry Shrimp?

Cherry shrimp are tiny and don’t create a huge bioload. You can keep a group of them in something as small as a 5 gallon, but, I would really recommend going with something larger.

The bigger the water volume, the easier it is to control your water parameters.

Filtration for Cherry Shrimp

It’s very important to provide stable water conditions for your red cherry shrimp. They are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrite spikes.

Filters that have a large capacity for biomedia to help process waste are essential. But, you don’t have to break the bank. Many advanced shrimp keepers recommend using sponge filters.

They provide great mechanical and biological filtration. Sponge filters also help keep shrimp and shrimplets safe because there is no intake to suck them in. Also, shrimp love to graze on the outside of the sponge filter to get little bits of food and detritus stuck there.

If you’re using a canister or hang-on-the-back filter, you can put a sponge pre-filter over the intake. This will add even more biofilter to your setup and it keeps shrimp from getting sucked into the filter.

What Temperature Should the Water be?

As long as you live in a reasonable climate, cherry shrimp don’t actually need a heater. They can thrive in temperature from 65°-80°F (18.3°-26.6°C). As long as your room temperature doesn’t go outside that range, you’ll be fine.

Do Cherry Shrimp Have Lighting Requirements?

Cherry shrimp don’t really have lighting requirements. You can base your lighting on the needs of any live plants in your tank or your own personal taste.

Plants and Decorations

They love a planted tank.

Now, red cherry shrimp don’t have requirements as far as decor goes. They don’t need caves or anything like that.

But one thing to keep in mind, they do best in tanks with lots of live plants. This is because they provide cover for molting shrimp and shrimplets.

Plants also grow lots of biofilm that shrimp love to graze on all day, so it’s a food source. Plus, they’ll help to eat up excess nutrients, like nitrates (NO3- ), so they help keep your water cleaner and healthier.

Water Parameters for Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp are very hardy and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters.

  • Temperature: 65°-75°F (18.3°-23.8°C)
  • Chlorine/chloramines: 0 ppm (very toxic for shrimp)
  • Ammonia/Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <20 ppm
  • pH: 6.2-8.0
  • GH: 4-8 dGH (66.7-133.4 ppm)
  • KH: 3-15 dKH (53.6-268.3 ppm).

Avoid Copper

You absolutely cannot treat your shrimp aquarium with a copper-based medication. High doses of copper are very toxic to shrimp.

Many medications that treat fish for parasites, like Mardel CopperSafe or Seachem Cupramine, would be deadly for shrimp.

But don’t stress if you see copper listed as an ingredient in some liquid fertilizers and even some foods.

Trace amounts of copper are needed as a nutrient by animals and plants.These products have only trace amounts of copper that are not enough to harm shrimp when used as directed.

Double Check All Tank Treatments

If you need to medicate the fish in your tank, make absolutely sure that the medication is safe to use with invertebrates.

Most companies are really good about putting a warning on the label, but it’s not always prominent. Make sure to read all the fine print before adding any kind of treatment to your tank.

Diet and Feeding for Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp are omnivores, meaning that in the wild they would eat a mix of animal and plant sources of food.

But, it’s important to remember, the majority of their diet would come from biofilm and algae. So you don’t need to load them up with a high protein diet.

The secret to feeding cherry shrimp isn’t really how much to feed them. It’s much more about not feeding them too much.

Most of the day (and night) cherry shrimp will graze along the surfaces of the tank: plants, substrate, rocks, decor, even the glass. Make sure that they have a lot of of surface area to graze, especially things that will produce a lot of biofilm, like plants, driftwood or Indian almond leaves.

Pro Tip: Shrimp will let you know if they need feeding. If shrimp are peacefully grazing along surfaces in the tank, they probably don’t need extra food. But, if they’re zooming around and not really settling anywhere, they’re looking for food and not finding. Time to give them some snacks.

What Can I feed Cherry Shrimp?

Cherry shrimp are not picky eaters. They really will eat just about anything.

It’s good to offer them a variety of foods:

Commercial shrimp food

  • Algae wafers

Blanched veggies like:

  • Kale
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli

Breeding Cherry Shrimp

These little guys are so easy to breed it’s insane. As long as you’re giving them the conditions they need to thrive, they’ll be more than happy to give you lots and lots of babies.

One thing to remember, keeping adult cherry shrimp with smaller, peaceful community fish usually works out just fine. But, even small fish, like guppies or tetras, will eat tiny shrimplets if they get the chance. To maximize shrimp breeding, keep them in a species only tank.

Or give them dense plant cover to hide in so that some shrimplets can grow large enough that fish can’t eat them.

Preparing for Breeding and Sexing Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp really don’t need any special prep to get them ready for breeding. As long as they’re given the conditions they need to thrive, they’re good to go.

Some state that the temperature needs to be increased to 81°-82°F (27.2°-27.7°C) while others simply advise to keep the temp anywhere from 70°-80°F (21.1°-26.6°C).

Sexing is usually pretty easy, as long as the shrimp are adults. Female shrimp are bigger than male shrimp of the same age. And, male shrimp are less colorful than females.

Males have a slimmer body style and their abdomen is much more slender. The underside of a female’s abdomen curves toward the substrate. This is where she will carry her eggs after they’ve been fertilized.

Females that are preparing to breed will develop what’s called a “saddle.” It’s a yellow patch on their back near where the cephalothorax meets the abdomen. The saddle is the female’s ovaries filled with unfertilized eggs. It’s shaped just like the saddle on a horse’s back.

The Breeding Process

Females start to carry eggs in the saddle, but she won’t be ready for them to be fertilized until after her next molt. Once she molts, her body will start to put off pheromones that will attract all of the males in the tank.

The actual mating process takes less than a second. Males will repeatedly dash up to the female and land on her back for just an instant to fertilize her eggs.

Once fertilized, the female will pass the eggs from her ovaries to the underside of her abdomen. The developing eggs are bright yellow. They look like a tiny bunch of grapes and females carrying eggs are said to be “berried.”

Hatching

The female will hold onto the eggs and fan them with her swimming legs for 2-3 weeks, until they hatch.

Neocaridina are high order shrimp. This means that their babies hatch out of the eggs as shrimplets, miniature versions of adults, instead of larvae.

Raising Shrimplets

Raising shrimplets is just like raising adults. They eat the same foods and need the same parameters.

The only thing different is that they need a little extra protection. Make sure that your filter intakes are covered with something like a sponge pre-filter and that there are plenty of densely planted areas for them to hide in.

The plants also provide food. The baby shrimp will graze on biofilm on plant leaves.

FAQ: How Big Do Cherry Shrimp Grow?

Cherry shrimp are usually no bigger than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Definitely not big bruisers.

Males are smaller than females. They usually only reach about 0.8-1 inch (2-2.5 cm) in length.

FAQ: How Long Do Cherry Shrimp Live?

Cherry shrimp live between 1-2 years. So, maybe don’t get too attached.

But, they breed so easily in a freshwater aquarium, you can have a steady stream of replacements.

Part 2: Cherry Shrimp Anatomy, Appearance, & Varieties

In this section, we’ll go over the appearance, varieties, and key characteristics of Cherry Shrimp.

Cephalothorax

Cherry shrimp have all the classic features that their much bigger cousins, Gulf shrimp, have.

They have four antennae that come off the front of their heads, one pair longer than the other.

They have a pointy projection, called a rostrum, that gives their head the distinctive shape associated with shrimps, lobsters and crayfish.

On either side of the rostrum, they have eyes that grow out of eye stalks. They can move the eye stalks around without moving their heads.

Cherry shrimp have what’s called a cephalothorax, it means “head chest.” Their head (cephalo) and their chest (thorax) are both contained inside one large piece of outer shell, called a carapace.

Inside the cephalothorax are most of the major organs, brain, bladder, stomach, heart and reproductive organs.

They have three pairs of short legs that grow just below the mouth that the shrimp uses to manipulate food.

They also have four pairs of walking legs (pereiopods) that grow from the bottom of the cephalothorax.

Abdomen

After the cephalothorax is the abdomen. This part of the body is mostly taken up by the muscles that let the shrimp curl its tail.

These powerful muscles…well…powerful from a shrimp’s point of view, are used to flick the shrimp backwards very quickly so it can get away from predators.

The outside of the abdomen is covered with six overlapping segments of shell that allow for movement.

Underneath the abdomen grow five pairs of swimming legs (pleopods) that the shrimp uses to propel itself forward.

Tail

After the abdomen is the tail. The central fin of the tail is known as the telson. On either side of this, are a set of smaller fins known as uropods. These form the distinctive fan shape associated with shrimp, lobster and crayfish.

Varieties of Neocaridina davidi

Neocaridina davidi breed really quickly and easily in an aquarium.

This means that there have been thousands and thousands and thousands of generations bred since they were first introduced into the aquarium trade.

Breeders would have shrimp turn up with different or more intense colors, or patterns, and would separate these shrimp out to try and replicate these new traits.

This has led to many different varieties, known as color morphs.

Kind of like how all dogs are genetically identical to wolves, but they look really different after many, many generations of selective breeding.

Grades

No, not like the ones you got in school. Grades of shrimp have to do with how bright their colors are and how opaque versus transparent their shells are.

Basically, the brighter, and more opaque the red color, the higher grade the shrimp are. Also, the higher the grade, the more expensive they are.

Pro Tip: Female shrimp are bigger and much more colorful than males. If you’re picking out shrimp, don’t just pick out the brightest ones if you want to breed them. Also, juveniles can take a month or two to develop their full color.

Cherry Shrimp

Cherry shrimp are the most common color morph. Females are darker than males, but a lot of their body is still transparent with large patches of bright red dots.

Males may be almost completely transparent with just a few clusters of red/pink dots.

The legs on both males and females will be transparent.

You can easily see some of their internal organs. On females, you can clearly see when they are carrying eggs.

These are considered the lowest grade of Neocaridina davidi.

Sakura Cherry Shrimp

Sakura shrimp are a much brighter red than the cherries, but they still have fairly big patches of transparent shell, especially males.

It’s still very easy to see internal organs or eggs.

Their legs and antennae are also transparent.

Fire Red Shrimp

Fire reds are even more brightly colored. Most of the body is opaque, but there may still be some transparent patches here and there, especially on the legs and antennae.

There are a few places that are transparent, but it’s much harder to see their stomachs or whether or not females are carrying eggs.

Painted Fire Red Shrimp

Painted fire reds are really just spectacular. They are the most vivid red of all. As adults, both males and females are a dark solid red with no transparent places. So even their legs and antennae are bright red.

Their shells are so opaque that you can’t tell if a female is carrying eggs or not.

They look like they’ve been painted with a metallic color, especially along their backs. It reminds me of some candy apple red nail polish I used to have.

Other Color Varieties

In case red just isn’t your thing, selective breeding has resulted in lots of color morphs in shades like green, blue, yellow, etc.

Green jade are a really pretty bright green with a golden stripe down their back.

Blue velvet shrimp are a solid dark blue. Their bodies are kind of transparent, but since they’re so dark blue, it’s hard to tell without light behind them.

Yellow sakura are a bright yellow color over their entire body. Some are transparent but others are opaque.

Orange sakura are really cute. Their color reminds me of orange soda. They’re somewhat transparent with lots of tiny orange dots.

There are even more color varieties out there, something for everyone!

Exoskeleton: Cherry Shrimp Molting

Molting is a very important part of shrimp growth and health. Shrimp have an exoskeleton, a hard, clear shell that grows over the outside of their bodies. The shell serves two functions.

First, it gives the shrimp’s body support, just like your skeleton does.

Second, it protects the shrimp’s body. It’s not as hard or tough as a crab’s shell, but it does make it harder for something to just swim up and take a bite out of the shrimp.

What is Molting?

Cherry shrimp grow for most of their life, but the shell itself can’t grow. It has to be cast off, or molted, and a newer, bigger one replaces it.

What Happens When Shrimp Molt?

The new shell grows underneath the old one, but it stays really soft. The old shell splits along the top of where the carapace meets the abdomen.

The shrimp will grip onto a surface with their legs, some substrate, a moss ball, anything they can get a good grip on.

The shrimp furiously swims with its swimming legs to pull against the front half of the shell. Slowly, the front half of the body pulls free from the shell.

Once free, the shrimp curls its tail really quickly which flicks the back half of the shell off.

After the Molt

The new shell is very soft right after the molt. It usually takes several days for it to harden up. The shrimp is incredibly vulnerable while the shell is still soft. So after molting, they will hide for several days until it firms up.

Can There be Problems with Molting?

Yes. And it’s majorly bad news.

If shrimp can’t molt, they die.

Sometimes, shrimp can’t get their old shells to crack enough so that they can’t pull out the front half of their bodies. They exhaust themselves trying to get it to crack the rest of the way, get really stressed and end up dying.

Other times, a shrimp’s shell cracks all the way around the joint between the carapace and the abdomen. This causes something called “the white ring of death.” When the shell breaks all the way around the body, the shrimp can’t get any traction to pull the front half of the body out of the shell.

Just like if the shell doesn’t break enough, if it breaks too much, the shrimp keeps trying to free itself, ends up becoming completely exhausted and eventually dies.

What Causes Molting Problems?

There are several theories about what causes molting issues. Some argue that it has to do with water parameters, others say it has to do with diet, and surprisingly, some also swear that frequent large water changes can cause molting issues.

All shrimp need at least some calcium in their water, one of the components of general hardness (GH). They use this dissolved calcium to help build their shells.

Some believe that if GH is too high, cherry shrimp will develop shells that are too thick and rigid. When it comes time to molt, the old shell is too tough and it won’t split apart enough.

If GH is too low, the old shell is too soft and it just bends instead of splitting.

Pro Tip: Make sure to get liquid test kits to check your GH/KH. They’re much more accurate than test strips.

Shrimp need to get a good deal of calcium from their diet. High quality commercial shrimp foods are a good source, but you can also supplement with fresh foods high in calcium:

  • Kale
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli

You should blanch veggies before adding them to your tank.

Pro Tip: Lots of shrimp keepers advise putting a dried cuttlebone in your tank. It’s not actually a bone, but rather the internal shell of a cuttlefish, a relative of the octopus. The cuttlebone is made up almost entirely of calcium carbonate. Shrimp will graze on it and get a calcium boost to their diet.

Something else that is blamed for shrimp molting problems, especially the white ring of death, is frequent large water changes. Big water changes stimulate shrimp to molt.

The shrimp’s body thinks the sudden change is being triggered by the huge storms when the season’s change, so it must be time to molt again. But if this happens too much, it can make the shrimp molt even when they’re really not ready for it.

Are Cherry Shrimp Right for You?

I have a lot of positive things to say about cherry shrimp. They really are cute and so interesting to watch. It seems like they have their own little world going on in the tank.

They’re a great addition to a community tank filled with small fish or even as the star of their own species tank.

They’re a great clean up crew. They’ll eat algae, uneaten food, even fish poop!

You don’t have to cash in all your savings to buy a cherry shrimp setup. A simple 5 gallon with a sponge filter and some plants is more than sufficient.

Breeding cherry shrimp is easy and rewarding, just remember that tiny shrimplets need even more protection than adults.

All in all, cherries are a great beginner shrimp for any level of aquarist, I highly recommend them.

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In this guide on Cherry Shrimp, you'll learn how to proivde them with optimal care so you can have a flourishing community. #modestfish #shrimp #aquarium
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