Last Updated: February 20, 2023 by Dave Gibbins
Ghost shrimp are the cheapest of the freshwater shrimp, this is because they are usually bred as feeders and kept in poor conditions. Oftentimes you will find unhealthy and even dead ghost shrimp in stores.
Too bad, isn’t it?
Don’t let that discourage you, ghost shrimp are some of the more hardy shrimp. They can be a cheap and efficient cleanup crew and baby ghost shrimp can provide extra food to any fish in your aquarium.
What Is A Ghost Shrimp?
Ghost shrimp usually refers to the species Palaemonetes paludosus which are also called glass shrimp, American glass shrimp, or grass shrimp. Ghost shrimp are omnivorous and can be predatory towards other shrimp, snails, and even baby fish.
The main purpose of most shrimp in an aquarium is to act as a cleanup crew for algae, leftover food, detritus, and bacteria. Ghost shrimp are not the most effective shrimp at this job but they are the cheapest and still do a decent job.
Ghost shrimp are bred primarily as food for large aggressive fish, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make a great addition to your community tank.
The aptly named ghost shrimp is transparent, sometimes with small colored spots on their shell; they have long antennae at the front of their heads as well as a beak-like appendage called a rostrum.
Ghost shrimp have a tail fan and the bottom of their tail is lined with little tiny legs called pleopods. Male ghost shrimp grow up to 1.5 inches and female ghost shrimp grow up to 2 inches.
The back of a ghost shrimp has a sharper more pointed curve than that of most other freshwater shrimp species making them somewhat easy to identify.
Glass shrimp are mostly peaceful but they will hunt for food that is small enough for them to eat, I have seen ghost shrimp hunting guppy fry as well as preying on the young of other shrimp species.
Ghost shrimp are usually pretty active in an aquarium and can be found swimming and cleaning all over the tank.
Ghost shrimp molt as often as weekly while young and continue to molt every 3 to 4 weeks as adult shrimp. The shrimp become extremely vulnerable during and for a short time after they molt, they will hide more during this time. If you see the empty molt of your shrimp in the tank it’s usually best to leave it alone because shrimp will eat their molts as a source of calcium.
Sometimes smaller Macrobrachium shrimp are also sold as ghost shrimps; these shrimp are primarily carnivorous and are much more aggressive than glass shrimp. I would not keep these shrimp with nano fish if you want your fish to stay alive.
Macrobrachium look very similar to ghost shrimps; they even have the same sharply curved tail but Macrobrachium can be identified by their long arms with claws at the end of them.
Ghost Shrimp vs Cherry Shrimp
Cherry shrimp come in much brighter colors and are slightly more effective as cleaners than ghost shrimp. Ghost shrimp are larger than cherry shrimp and more aggressive, ghost shrimps are usually one-tenth the price of cherry shrimp. If you keep both species together the ghost shrimp will eat some of the baby cherry shrimp.
Ghost Shrimp vs Amano Shrimp
Amano shrimp are the most effective shrimp for cleaning your aquarium, they are a similar price to cherry shrimp but Amanos cannot breed in freshwater so you will never have more Amano shrimp than you purchase. Male Amanos are similar in size to ghost shrimp and females are much larger than ghost shrimp. Amano and ghost shrimps can do well as tank mates.
Natural Habitat Of Glass Shrimp
The American Glass Shrimp is usually found in slow-moving freshwater or slightly brackish water with lots of plant cover and sandy floors. Their natural habitat is mostly lakes and ponds in the southeastern United States.
If you already have a tropical aquarium, then you likely already meet the needs of ghost shrimp. Ghost shrimp care is much easier than that of other shrimps.
If you plan to start a ghost shrimp tank, then you will want to make sure that you have plenty of hiding spots as well as a heater and filter.
Minerals For Molting
All shrimp require calcium, magnesium, and trace minerals in the water to develop a healthy shell; as ghost shrimp grow they will molt and need to pull calcium from the water to develop a hard shell repeatedly throughout their life.
There are loads of options for this you can use shrimp mineral water additives every time you top off the aquarium or keep something calcium rich in the tank or filter; dolomite, crushed coral, cuttlefish bone, and even shrimp-specific calcium stones are all great for this just be careful not to overdo it.
Tank Size And Parameters
Any tank size will do, you can stock about 3 shrimp per gallon. I would suggest not using a tank smaller than 5 gallons or 10 gallons for breeding.
Shrimp can be sensitive to ammonia spikes and any swing in parameters. Even though ghost shrimp can survive in a variety of parameters any quick swing in parameters can still be lethal and they are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrites. Larger aquariums are always more stable and therefore safer for shrimp.
Ghost shrimp live in a wide variety of parameters; they will be happy in temperatures ranging from 65f – 82f and a pH of 7.0 – 8.0 with a hardness of anywhere from 3 – 12 dGH.
Plants and Decorations
Ghost shrimp, like all shrimp, thrive in a heavily planted tank. The plants provide places to hide, areas to graze, and dying plant matter even provide food. Plants also give the bonus of helping keep your water clean.
You will want to make sure there are plenty of small crevices and places to hide, even without tank mates a ghost shrimp can feel vulnerable and stressed without hiding places and this stress can lead to death.
Ghost shrimp love to play and dig in the sand, they also benefit from places to hide. Driftwood, rocks, and even leaf litter are all great enrichment for glass shrimp.
Common Plants For Ghost Shrimp Tanks
Most plants are great for shrimp tanks, but if you don’t know a lot about aquarium plants you probably are wondering what plants are easy to grow without a fancy co2 system and what plants will give the best enrichment for your shrimp.
If you have substrate in your tank then rooted plants can be a great addition. Amazon swords, Vallisneria, Ludwigia, and Cryptocoryne are all great to plant in your substrate.
Bulb plants like tiger lotus, dwarf water lily, banana plants, Aponogeton, and other betta bulbs will benefit from the substrate but can also grow without any. Hygrophila plants also grow well with or without substrate; these stem plants do not need to be planted in the substrate.
There are a few plants that grow best when attached to objects like rocks or driftwood; java fern, Anubias, and Buce plants are all great for any aquarium.
Any tank regardless of the substrate can use moss and other free-floating plants; java moss, subwassertang, guppy grass, hornwort, and water sprite are all easy to grow and provide great cover and grazing area.
Your shrimp will also love Marimo moss balls and top floating plants like red root floaters, amazon frogbit, and water spangles.
A ghost shrimp tank can have any substrate, you could even use a bare floor if that’s your preference, but the ghost shrimp will be happiest with sand as the substrate. If you do not want to use sand then I would recommend small smooth pebbles or shrimp substrate.
Filtration And Heating
Ghost shrimp require both a filter and heater; a filter will help keep the tank stable and clean and a heater will prevent temperature swings.
I recommend an adjustable heater, this will allow you to more easily breed your ghost shrimp by simulating a change in seasons and turning up the heat. Adjustable heaters also give the added benefit of being able to fine-tune the heat for any tank mates you might add to your ghost shrimp tank.
For filtration I would use a sponge filter, especially in a small tank, this adds a grazing area for the shrimp and it has no risk of sucking babies into the filter. Sponge filters can also be used as intake filters for more elaborate filtration if you decide a sponge alone isn’t enough.
Feeding Ghost Shrimp
Ghost shrimp eat everything and the more varied their diet is the healthier your shrimp will be. If you keep fish your ghost shrimp will clean up any extra food you put in your tank as well as eat algae, decaying plant matter, and biofilm. In some aquariums, ghost shrimp might not need dedicated food.
In dedicated shrimp tanks it is common for aquarists to use a food bowl, this helps keep the tank clean and makes it easier to remove extra food from the aquarium in case of overfeeding. I recommend that all shrimp keepers buy a calcium supplement or calcium-rich food as shrimp need calcium both in the water and in their diet.
I also buy a product called Bacter AE which is a bacteria supplement and food for bacteria that helps build biofilm as a food source for shrimp.
Ghost shrimp will eat dead fish and dead shrimp as well so be sure to remove any sick livestock as eating a body can pass parasites or diseases on. You should always remove dead animals from your tank as soon as you notice them, this will help avoid disease as well as prevent ammonia spikes.
Ghost Shrimp Lifespan And Breeding
Ghost shrimp only live around one year, but they breed quickly and can easily sustain a permanent population in your aquarium.
You might be wondering how to breed ghost shrimp, well it’s pretty easy. Start by turning the heat in your aquarium up to 79-82f after a few weeks you should be able to see eggs on some of your females. After you see the eggs you should allow a few days up to a week for the eggs to be fertilized.
For best results remove the females to allow them to give birth in a separate tank where you then grow out the fry. Once the mothers have released their young you can move them back to the original tank.
For optimal breeding, you should keep the water hardness at 8 – 12 dGH with most of the hardness being calcium. It also helps if you keep more females than males. I like to keep a ghost shrimp tank with no other livestock and keep it in breeding conditions all the time.
Ghost shrimp release their young as planktonic larvae. The larval stage lasts only about one day and it takes about 5 weeks for the shrimp to mature. If you separate the young from the parents, then you can return them to the main tank after 4 or 5 weeks.
The young will require powdered food, green water, bacteria, and microfauna as food, they cannot swim or hunt for food so they rely on eating whatever floats past them in the water. Alternatively, if you only have shrimp and snails in your tank, then you can just leave them in the tank and at least a few of the babies will usually make it.
If you have any filter feeders or if your tank is populated with aquarium fish, then you should not expect any babies to survive to adulthood with this method.
Ghost Shrimp Tank Mates
Pretty much any small fish makes a great tank mate for ghost shrimp, bottom dwellers are often recommended but I also like to keep bettas and all kinds of fish with ghost shrimp. Any fish that can’t eat an adult ghost shrimp will make a good tank mate.
Some great tank mates are:
- Amano shrimp
- Harlequin rasbora
- Mystery snails
- Clown killifish
- Kuhli loaches
- Cory catfish
Fun Fact: Now that you know the Amano shrimp is friendly to the ghost shrimp, we encourage you to read further about their unique characteristics in our post entitled, “Amano Shrimp Vs Ghost Shrimp: Differences And Similarities“.
Ghost Shrimp As Food
If you keep fish large enough to eat mature ghost shrimp, shrimp can be cheaper and healthier for your fish than feeder fish and worms. You can keep a ghost shrimp tank and use it to supply food to your other tanks.
In aquariums with fish that are too small to eat ghost shrimp I like to keep and breed ghost shrimp, this provides a somewhat steady supply of food in the form of baby ghost shrimp.
Pea puffers and killifish are both great examples of fish that do well in this kind of setup but I keep ghost shrimps in most of my heated freshwater tanks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are some of my ghost shrimp turning white?
Usually, a ghost shrimp turning white means that it is dying. Parasites, infections, and other illnesses will cause ghost shrimp to change colors into a pale white.
This alteration in color can also be caused by poor water conditions, old age, and a failed molt; in these instances, it still usually leads to death.
Sometimes molting can cause ghost shrimps to look a little cloudy and maybe even white in some areas, if it is a healthy molt then your shrimp should not be solid white and should have split down the middle of their back, the shrimp should return to clear after a couple of days at the most.
A failed molt will cause the shrimp to turn white and will not have the split down their back, this will result in death.
Do ghost shrimp eat poop?
No ghost shrimp do not eat poop, but poop feeds the bacteria and microfauna that shrimp eat.
Will ghost shrimp try to escape my aquarium?
Ghost shrimp usually stay towards the bottom of the tank and rarely escape from a tank, if your tank does not have a lid or top floating plants, shrimp can throw themselves out of the tank.
This will not happen for no reason, shrimp will usually only try to escape your tank if they are scared, stressed or the water conditions are declining.
Can ghost shrimp and betta fish live together?
Yes, most betta fish can live with ghost shrimp without a problem in most cases. A betta will enjoy eating the baby shrimp if your shrimp ever breeds. Some bettas might be too aggressive and kill the adult shrimp but that does not happen often.
If you put ghost shrimp with a betta, inspect the shrimp carefully and make sure that it is not a Macrobrachium shrimp as these shrimp will attack bettas and sometimes can even get large enough to eat them.
Ghost shrimp care is not hard, if you can keep the water parameters stable and supply calcium and places to hide then you should easily have happy and healthy ghost shrimp in your aquarium.
Ghost shrimp live in heated freshwater and are sensitive to parameter changes, you should always make sure you are keeping your filter clean and your temperature steady and you should have no problem keeping glass shrimp.