Ghost Shrimp – Species Profile

Ghost Shrimp (aka Glass Shrimp) are a group of shrimp species sold in pet shops as feeders for large fish. They are easily recognized by their nearly transparent shells and flesh. They have a tendency to be more aggressive than the colorful Cherry Shrimp, and grow to be much bigger.

Care Level: Easy
Preferred Water: pH 7.0 to 7.8, fairly hard water
Ideal Temperature: 72°F to 82°F (22°C – 27.8°C)
Maximum Size : 1.5″ to 3″ (3.8 cm to 7.6 cm)
Average Lifespan: 1+ years

Distribution

Their distribution is dependent upon the species, but the Ghost/Glass shrimp that you would likely encounter in a US store are native to southeastern North America and the Mississippi river system. They can be found in streams, rivers, and other bodies of freshwater. They generally prefer warmer water, but can be found as far north as Illinois.

Diet

Ghost Shrimp are omnivorous, and will pretty much eat whatever they can find. They readily feed on decaying plant and animal matter. Some say that they will also catch and eat fish fry, smaller shrimp, and even each other if one has taken ill or is otherwise unable to defend itself. I haven’t witnessed any aggressive behavior myself, but there are plenty of people on the Internet with horror stories.

Breeding

Females tend to be larger than males and have thicker tails, under which they store their eggs after laying. Females can be easily identified right before they are ready to mate, because their “saddle” is clearly visible through their transparent flesh. This structure located just behind the head is made up of developing eggs, forming a shape that looks similar to the saddle on a horse. Mating will occur right after a saddled female has molted. Afterwards, the fertilized eggs will be stored under her thick tail until they are ready to hatch.

Unlike Cherry Shrimp, which produce young that are identical (though smaller) to adult shrimp, Ghost Shrimp hatch as free-swimming larvae. This makes them somewhat tricky to breed in captivity, because the larvae can be easily sucked into powered filters or eaten by fish. It may take a week before the larval shrimp metamorphose into their adult form. In the meantime, the larval shrimp will happily feed on infusoria or fine food powders like spirulina that are suspended in the water column.

In the Aquarium

Ghost Shrimp are a somewhat underrated aquarium pet. They can fill a vital role as part of your clean-up crew, consuming algae, leftover food, and decaying matter. Their transparent bodies make them quite attractive and interesting to observe, but also hard to locate amongst plants and other decorations. In a large planted tank, you might only catch an occasional glimpse of one as it swims through the open water. That is if you don’t have any large, aggressive fish. If that’s the case, you’ll likely never see one, either because it is hiding or has been eaten.

Because they have a tendency to be a bit aggressive towards each other, especially when feeding, it is a good idea not to overstock them. They should also not be kept with fish that are aggressive or large enough to eat them. If you would like to keep them as food, it might be a good idea to keep a separate tank for them to maintain a stable population.

Since Ghost Shrimp are more often sold as live food for other aquatic creatures, they tend not to be well cared for in their journey from farm to store display. This can give them stunted lifespans, and you shouldn’t be surprised to find many of your new shrimp dead within a day or two of bringing them home. Fortunately, they are not very expensive (maybe $0.50 a piece), so you can replenish your colony with new additions until they are stabilized.

If you are planning to breed them, it is best to keep them in a larger aquarium with plenty of live plant material and a sponge filter to clean and circulate the water. This is for the benefit of any potential larvae that may hatch. You shouldn’t keep the tank “too clean,” because all shrimp spend much of their time grazing on biofilm and other tasty morsels.


Let me know what you think of this species profile.

Featured image credit: Angel Harvey. Source: Flickr.com creative commons

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