Ghost shrimp (also known as Glass shrimp), are easy to care for, cheap, and entertaining to watch.
Making them a great addition to most freshwater aquariums.
Often used a feeders, cleaners, or just for a bundle of fun, in this guide, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about housing these critters.
Ghost shrimp are dwarf freshwater shrimp native to the Southeastern United States. They’re also called glass shrimp or grass shrimp.
There are several species sold under the name ghost shrimp, but most in the aquarium trade are Palaemonetes paludosus.
They’re bred as live food for larger aquarium fish or as an ornamental species for home aquariums.
What do Ghost Shrimp Look Like?
Ghost shrimp got their name because…well…they look like little transparent ghosts swimming around the tank.
This is going to sound weird, but the name and the way they swim always makes me think of the little ghosts that chase you around in Pac-Man.
Their bodies are so clear that it can be really hard to see them against some backgrounds.
Which is kind of the point. It makes them harder for predators to see them.
This is a good thing for the ghost shrimp. I’m sure fish find ghost shrimp just as tasty as humans do their bigger Gulf shrimp cousins.
Let’s break down their different parts:
Ghost shrimp have four antennae, one pair is longer than the other.
Just like other insects, fish and crustaceans, they use their antennae to navigate around objects, find food, communicate with each other and sense water conditions.
2. Body Segments
Ghost shrimp anatomy is very similar to other shrimp species.
Their bodies can be divided into two main parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen.
The cephalothorax is the large, front section of the body. And don’t be intimidated by the word. All cephalothorax just means, “head chest.”
The front of the cephalothorax comes to a point, called the rostrum. This gives the head the distinctive look you usually associate with shrimp, lobsters and crayfish.
An eyestalk comes off either side of the rostrum. Ghost shrimp can actually move the eyestalks around so they can see their surroundings without moving their bodies.
That way, they can keep an eye on predators lurking around without moving and giving their positions away.
Behind the eyes is the carapace, a big section of shell that covers the rest of the cephalothorax.
Most of the shrimp’s organs, like the heart, stomach and gills, are found there.
The carapace is so transparent that you can actually see food as it’s eaten and moves through the digestive system.
Kind of gross, and yet, somehow fascinating.
On the bottom of the carapace are five pairs of walking legs, called periopods. Shrimp use these to walk along the bottom or climb on rocks and plants.
Two pairs of periopods also have tiny claws, like a lobster or crab, that the shrimp uses to put food in its mouth.
The next segment is the abdomen. This section is mostly taken up by the big muscles that work the tail. The reproductive organs and the intestine are also in this segment.
The abdomen is covered by seven overlapping plates of shell. The overlapping plates allow the abdomen to be flexible so the shrimp can curl its tail.
Underneath the abdomen are five pairs of swimming legs, or pleopods, that the shrimp can use to scoot around in open water.
Female shrimp carry their eggs on the bottom of their abdomens and constantly fan them with the pleopods to give them oxygen.
The last abdominal plate comes to a sharp point, called a telson. Four pieces of shell called uropods fan out from either side of it, forming the tail.
Shrimp use their tails to evade predators. The tail curls rapidly and the shrimp can hurl itself backwards to get away.
3. Color Range
Ghost shrimp don’t really have much of a color range. Their bodies are always almost completely clear.
If you look closely, they are covered with little dark speckles, some greenish, others more brown.
How Big Are Ghost Shrimp?
Ghost shrimp stay pretty darn small, adults are usually only 1.5 inches long. The absolute biggest are 2 inches long.
Females tend to be a bit bigger than males.
How Long Do Ghost Shrimp Live?
These little guys do not have a very long lifespan. They usually only live for about a year.
If you buy ones that were meant for feeding large fish, they may not live long at all.
Most are wild caught and have a rough time in transport. Feeder animals are generally not handled and housed as well as animals meant to be pets.
It’s a sad fact, but it’s true.
If you’re buying feeder shrimp to keep and raise, it’s a good idea to get a large group. That way, you hopefully get some tough enough to survive and breed.
Ghost Shrimp Molting
All shrimp molt. Once their outer shell hardens, it can’t actually get bigger.
As the rest of the shrimp grows, the shell becomes too small. They have to shed this old one so a new, larger one can replace it.
Most young dwarf shrimp molt almost weekly. Adults might go a month or more between molts. It all depends on how much they are feeding and growing.
It’s difficult to tell how often individual ghost shrimp molt since they’re usually kept in big groups.
So it’s hard to tell which ones have molted and which ones haven’t.
But molting is always a good sign. It means your shrimp are healthy and growing.
The Molting Process
A day or two before the molt, you might notice that the shrimp looks a little more opaque than usual.
This happens because the new layer of shell is forming underneath the old one.
When the big day arrives, the shrimp will curl its tail under its body again and again, trying to loosen the old shell.
You might also see the shrimp moving its legs a bunch, trying to loosen those up, too.
The shell will split where the tail meets the cephalothorax. The ghost shrimp will usually pull it’s front half out of the old shell and then flick backwards really quick to get its tail free.
Sometimes, they’ll do this so quickly that you’ll miss it completely.
Molted or Dead? How to Tell?
One thing about molting though, sometimes it can freak you out because the molted shell looks like a dead shrimp in the tank.
And just to add to your worry, you might count ghost shrimp and find that one’s missing.
That’s because shrimp are really vulnerable after a molt. Their new shell is soft for a few days. They do everything they can to hide themselves during this time.
Luckily, it’s easy to tell a molt from a dead shrimp.
A molted shell still looks clear, like it’s made of glass. Sometimes, you see only half of the shell because the shell splits between the cephalothorax and tail.
A dead ghost shrimp won’t look clear anymore. Their body turns a whitish pink color. It almost looks like the shrimp has been cooked.
If you find a molted shell, it’s fine to leave it in the tank. Shrimp will often eat the old shell, which has minerals in it that are really good for them.
How to Set Up a Ghost Shrimp Tank
Now you know a bit more about Ghost shrimp, let’s run through the steps needed to set up an aquarium.
What Tank Size is Best for Ghost Shrimp?
Since ghost shrimp are so tiny, they don’t need a huge tank. You could keep a single shrimp in something as small as a 2 gallon.
But if you’re wanting to keep a group (which I would recommend), it’s better to put them in a 5 gallon or larger.
Keep in mind, the bigger the tank, the easier it is to control your water quality.
Filtrations for Ghost Shrimp
Ghost shrimp are actually pretty tough, or they wouldn’t be able to survive the conditions of being caught and then shipped all over the world.
So you don’t need to go completely over the top with your filtration. You can just use a filter that’s rated to handle your size tank.
Ghost shrimp aren’t crazy about a really strong current in the water. They can have a hard time swimming against it.
So don’t add a filter meant for a 40 gallon on a little 10 gallon tank. The poor ghost shrimp would be plastered to the floor of the aquarium.
Hands down, the best kind of filter to have in a shrimp tank is a sponge filter. They don’t create a lot of crazy flow and they’re great mechanical and biological filters.
Plus, shrimp can’t get stuck on/in them. You’ll even see that the shrimp will graze along the sponge all the time.
You can use a standard hang on the back or canister filter if that’s what you already have.
But, shrimp can get sucked into filter intakes that are really powerful. Many, many people have opened up their filter to clean it and found shrimp inside, munching on filter gunk.
You can add a sponge pre-filter onto the intake of your existing filter that will keep shrimp (especially babies!) safe.
A Special Mention for Lids
It’s best to have a tight-fitting lid that has as few gaps as possible.
Shrimp are really good jumpers and have been known to end up on the carpet.
So make sure to close up any gaps in your lids as much as possible in case your shrimp decide to go on a walkabout.
Lighting your Ghost Shrimp Tank
Here’s the thing about lighting and aquariums: it’s more for us than it is for the critters we keep.
Fish and shrimp really don’t have “lighting requirements.”
The lights are there so we can see the tank, not because our livestock has some kind of solar receptors.
If anything, a lot of species need shady areas that they can retreat to. That helps them feel less stressed.
Ghost shrimp will do fine under bright lights or dim ones. Just give them some little hidey holes so they can get away from the light if they feel shy.
If you’ve got live plants in the tank (which the shrimp will LOVE), base your lighting on what the plants need. The shrimp will just hang out either way.
Plants and Decorations
Like I said before, shrimp like lots of places to hide. Being in a bare tank can be really stressful for them. Especially when they’re molting.
Make sure to give them lots of options for hiding places. Rocks, fake plants, driftwood, decorations with little caves, however you want to do it.
Ghost shrimp will really appreciate a heavily planted tank. This gives them lots of places to hide.
And they will happily munch on plant material as it breaks down.
Plus, live plants help keep down nitrates in the tank, so they make the environment healthier.
Ghost shrimp don’t actually require any kind of special substrate. Gravel, sand or planted aquarium substrate will be just fine.
You should pick your substrate based off of the plants you pick.
But, you can see them better against a dark substrate.
A Special Mention: The Nitrogen Cycle
You want to make sure that you don’t add ghost shrimp unless your tank has been properly cycled.
If you’re new to all this, maybe you think you just add water and then drop fish in.
Sorry, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
As fish and shrimp eat, they put off waste.
All that pee and poop starts to break down in the tank and put off ammonia (NH3 ). This is bad news because ammonia can build up and quickly stress or kill fish/invertebrates.
Luckily, there are beneficial bacteria that colonize a tank’s filters and substrate. One kind turns ammonia into nitrite (NO2 -1), which is still really toxic. But then another kind takes nitrite and turns it into the much less toxic nitrate (NO3- ).
But the bacteria don’t just show up overnight. It can take weeks for the beneficial bacteria to move in and start doing business.
This can mean that any critters in the tank are exposed to toxic ammonia and nitrite. This can easily stress and kill fish and invertebrates.
Ghost shrimp aren’t terribly delicate. They can adapt to all sorts of conditions.
But at the same, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to do well in a tank while it’s being cycled.
Make sure that your aquarium is fully cycled before adding ghost shrimp.
You can see our full guide on cycling your tank here.
Pro Tip: Taking the time to do a fishless cycle before you add livestock to a tank will give you better results. Patience will pay off with healthy, happy fish.
Ideal Water Parameters for Ghost Shrimp
Ammonia and Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: <20 ppm
Temp: 65°-75°F (18.3°-23.8°C) ghost shrimp can survive in temps as high as 80°F, but higher temperatures can cause molting issues and an increased chance of bacterial infection.
GH: 3-10 dGH (50-166.7 ppm)
KH: 3-15 dKH (53.6-268 ppm)
Pro Tip: Most shrimp experts don’t even use heaters in their tanks. They just let the water acclimate to the room temperature. Subtle temperature swings between day and night actually mimic the shrimps’ natural habitat.
Ghost shrimp can adapt to many different water conditions. But shrimp, and other invertebrates, need a source of calcium in order to form their shells.
It’s important to maintain a healthy GH so the shrimp always have a source of calcium to form their shells.
Pro Tip: If you have soft water, you can add minerals with a supplement like Seachem Equilibrium or Weco Wonder Shells. Offering calcium rich foods like blanched spinach is also a big help.
Tank Mates for Ghost Shrimp
Here’s the thing, ghost shrimp are small and…tasty.
Fish have a simple rule when it comes to roommates: if he fits in my mouth, he must be food.
Large, aggressive fish will definitely eat these guys.
Even smaller fish may harass a shrimp to death by picking at it.
And you can’t know for sure how it’s going to go.
For example, bettas are way too small to eat an adult ghost shrimp in one go. But they might keep nipping at a ghost shrimp until it dies.
It’s also been reported that assasin snails might kill and eat shrimp.
Species you might mix with ghost shrimp:
- Otoclinus catfish
- Nerite snails
- Mystery snails
Just remember, even small fish can be a threat to larval ghost shrimp.
It’s also not a good idea to mix ghost shrimp with other kinds of shrimp. They have been known to kill red cherry shrimp and other smaller species.
Feeding Ghost Shrimp
Ghost shrimp will spend much of their day grazing on the algae and biofilm that grows in the tank.
You’ll see them constantly walking around, sifting through the substrate.
It’s a good idea to use a glass feeding dish for these guys. Shrimp are messy eaters. Putting their food in a dish keeps little pieces from breaking off and sinking into the substrate.
Ghost shrimp can be snappish with each other when it comes to food. It’s better to use a larger feeding dish so less aggressive shrimp have room to eat.
What do Ghost Shrimp Eat?
Ghost shrimp are omnivores so they will eat just about anything. Some good foods include:
- Flake food
- Shrimp food pellets
- Globs of algae
- Blanched vegetables like spinach, romaine, cucumber or zucchini
- Algae wafers
- Blood worms
- Leaves (Indian almond leaves are a favorite)
How Often Should I Feed Ghost Shrimp
Because ghost shrimp constantly graze on stuff in the tank, you don’t actually have to feed them a whole lot.
If you have fish in the tank, they’ll happily eat any flake food that sinks to the bottom.
If you have a large colony of ghost shrimp, feeding every day is OK. Just make sure that the shrimp eat it all within 4 hours and remove uneaten food.
If they’re leaving a lot of food, give them less at a time. Or you can switch to feeding every other day.
If you only have a few shrimp, you probably only need to feed them four times a week. Especially in a heavily planted tank where they can graze all day.
You should always see the shrimp actively go after food within 10 minutes or so of it being dropped in the tank.
If they’re not immediately going for it, they’re not really hungry. Remove the food and give them a day or two to get hungry.
Ghost Shrimp as Feeder Fish
Ghost shrimp do make a tasty treat for large fish, like Oscars or Jack Dempseys.
But there’s a catch.
They’re really not that nutritious. Most ghost shrimp are wild caught and generally just not treated very well.
Feeder fish are really only as nutritious as the diet they’ve been eating. So if they’ve been jostled around from place to place and fed a crummy diet, they’re not that great of a food source.
The good news is, you can change that by gut loading.
Hold the shrimp for several weeks in a separate tank and feed them a nutrient-rich diet. This can greatly increase their value as a food for fish.
Since ghost shrimp will eat just about anything, give them food that has all the nutrients your fish need.
After a few weeks of fattening them up, drop them in the tank and watch your fish go to town.
I always enjoy watching my fish go after live foods. They just get so excited about it.
Concerns About Parasites
You might be worried about your fish picking up parasites from live foods. This is a legitimate concern, especially if you feed things like feeder goldfish or minnows.
Ghost shrimp can carry nematodes in their guts.
But the good news is that the nematodes that infect ghost shrimp do not appear to be able to affect fish.
How to Breed Ghost Shrimp
Breeding ghost shrimp can be tricky. When they hatch from their eggs, they are free-swimming larvae that are very vulnerable to fish and other shrimp.
It’s best to have a separate breeding tank. The breeding tank doesn’t need to be fancy, a simple sponge filter is great. The sponge filter won’t suck up any tiny shrimp larvae.
If you can swing it, live plants in the breeding tank are great because they provide a food source for larval shrimp. But they’re not absolutely necessary.
Female ghost shrimp will develop a green “saddle” on the underside of their tails. This is a cluster of eggs that the female will constantly fan with her swimming legs.
The term for a female carrying eggs is “berried” since the little eggs look like little round fruit.
They’ve always looked more like grapes to me, but I wasn’t consulted when the hobby decided on the term.
Berried females put out pheromones that let the males know they’re ready. Males will zoom around until they find her and fertilize her eggs.
A few days after you see the female become berried, remove her from the main tank. Keep her in the breeding tank until the eggs hatch, usually a month.
You can tell the eggs have hatched because they’ll no longer be clustered under her abdomen.
Then take the female out of the breeding tank and put her back in the main tank. That way she won’t eat the babies.
Shrimp larvae can be fed finely powdered spirulina or infusoria.
Pro Tip: You can culture your own infusoria. It’s really simple and a fun science project to do with kids. You can watch a video here.
Shrimp larvae will metamorphosize into tiny shrimplets after about a week. They can then be fed just like adult shrimp. Be careful not to overfeed.
After 5 weeks or so, shrimplets should be big enough to put in the main tank.
Ghost shrimp really are interesting creatures. I love their see-through bodies and nonstop antics.
They’re active, constantly skimming the substrate or grazing along plants and driftwood. There’s always something to watch with them in the aquarium.
They make a great addition to the cleaning crew in your tank or can even star as the main attraction.
You don’t need a huge tank or an elaborate setup to enjoy these guys. A 5 gallon with a simple sponge filter will do the trick.
Raising ghost shrimp is a great way to always have live foods on hand for predatory fish.
With a little effort, and the right setup, these guys can breed like crazy. Then you can have a constant supply of yummy treats for your large fish.
Whether for pets or feeders, or both, I highly recommend these crazy little critters.