Browsing your local fish store, you’ve likely come across an eye catching, scarlet colored crustacean that had you groping for your wallet. But perhaps you were intimidated by their beauty, thinking this animal simply must be difficult to care for…As it turns out, Fire Shrimp are unique but quite beginner friendly, so long as you are aware of a few quirks beforehand!
About Blood Red Fire Shrimp
Shrimp of the genus Lysmata are some of the most popular saltwater shrimp in the hobby. They are found in tropical regions around the world and are mostly brilliantly colored, medium sized shrimp that are fairly hardy.
The main body of the Fire Shrimp is only 2 inches long at maturity. But their extremely long white antennae make them look quite a bit larger than that. And their shell is a vivid red that has no equal even in the intense color competition that is the coral reef. Fire Shrimp fully live up to their name and are easily one of the top 5 shrimp for fish keepers for this reason.
Lysmata species shrimp have a few useful traits worth considering. Many eat invasive Aiptasia anemones, though the Peppermint Shrimp is the most reliable at doing so. Most also exhibit the famous cleaner behavior, where they will set up shop to pick parasites and dead skin off of fish!
Blood Red Fire Shrimp aren’t the most reliable at being cleaners, though. They are a rather shy shrimp that prefer being given plenty of cover and/or lower lighting conditions. Otherwise they may opt to be mostly nocturnal, coming out only to eat.
These boldly colored crustaceans often go by several names in the hobby, just a few of which I’ve listed below. But they are unmistakable when seen in person and not too expensive, either. What else is there to know about keeping Fire Shrimp healthy?
- Common Names: Blood Red Fire Shrimp, Red Fire/Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp
- Scientific Name: Lysmata debelius
- Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
- Length: 2 inches
- Aquarium Size: 10+ gallons
- Temperament: Peaceful; Shy
- Ease of Care: Easy
Blood Red Fire Shrimp Care
These stunning shrimp are shy and retiring but not especially difficult to care for!
Aquarium Size & Aquascaping
Fire Shrimp are a little “bipolar,” behavior-wise. On the one hand, they are quite shy and retiring. In low light conditions they are much more likely to be active. But in brightly lit tanks they will stick to the shadows and avoid direct lighting. They may even become fully nocturnal, only coming out to feed at night.
The likelihood of seeing them depends mostly on the lighting, their tank mates, and how much food they can scrounge up when it’s dark. If they don’t have much to scavenge from when the lights are out then they will feed and be out in the open more often during the day. Lastly, individual Fire Shrimp definitely have personalities of their own so it’s best to provide a good mixture of hiding places, shady spots, and open areas to see which your shrimp prefers.
Fire Shrimp do well in standard marine conditions. Your pH should be 8.0-8.4 and your temperature should remain stable but between 75-82℉ as this species lives closer to the equator in the wild. Fire Shrimp don’t care too much about current but don’t overdo it as they prefer crawling about the rocks.
Like all invertebrates Fire Shrimp are more sensitive to dissolved nitrogenous waste than most fish. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels need to be well controlled as levels safe for fish (20-40ppm) are dangerous for them. But as long as your tank is fully mature and cycled your parameters should remain low.
While Fire Shrimp are some of the hardier invertebrates they should never be the first things added to a new aquarium. New Tank Syndrome will hit them very hard, contributing to the population crash that occurs as ammonia levels skyrocket.
Be very careful when using medications of any kind on aquariums with invertebrates because they are all highly sensitive to them. Fish medications often target parasitic infections. And since parasites are always invertebrates, which Fire Shrimp happen to be…It’s easy for a medicine to accidentally kill them.
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Always treat marine fish in a quarantine tank if you have invertebrates you are attached to. Or choose medications that are extremely targeted, such as Prazipro, which affects only worms and nothing else.
Fire Shrimp Molting
Iodine is an important essential element for Fire Shrimp because it’s depleted during the molting phase. Unless you’re a reef keeper with an aquarium full of hard corals you likely don’t test for it.
But as long as you’re using a high quality marine salt mix, it will contain the right proportions of iodine required for Fire Shrimp health as they can uptake it directly from the water column. Combined with regular water changes, iodine deficiency and molting failures should never occur.
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Molting is a process all arthropods (crustaceans, insects, arachnids, etc) undergo as they grow larger. Unlike us vertebrates, their skeletons are on the outside (invertebrates).
They have the advantage of a hard, armor-like skin that acts as a layer of defense. However this armor can’t grow along with their insides. So Fire Shrimp need to “shed their skin” every so often, doing so more frequently when young and actively growing.
Molting is the most dangerous period for any crustacean because they go from being hard shelled to being soft, defenseless, and extremely delicious. Even more peaceful fish may be tempted to take a bite out of a freshly molted Fire Shrimp.
When they prepare to molt, most crustaceans seek a dark hiding place. Since Fire Shrimp are on the shy side to begin with, you’ll likely never know when they’ve molted.
Just ensure they have somewhere to retire to so they can remain safe from hungry fish for a few hours until their new shells harden. You can also leave the molt because the shrimp will sometimes eat it to recycle essential nutrients lost in their old skin.
Are Fire Shrimp Reef-Safe?
Fire Shrimp can be seen as reef safe: with caution. They don’t usually pick at anemones or corals like their cousins the Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni). However some aquarists report that their Fire Shrimp do nibble at zoanthids and small polyp stony corals occasionally. But still not very often.
It may be that the Fire Shrimp were going hungry since as scavengers they are going to have a hard time finding enough leftover juicy bits in a well maintained reef aquarium. But the majority of aquarists have little to no trouble from them, so I would be tempted to try keeping a Fire Shrimp in my reef tank! They are simply too stunning to ignore!
Feeding Red Fire Shrimp
Blood Red Fire Shrimp are as easy to feed as most marine aquarium shrimp. They are scavengers that feed mostly on leftover detritus from the meals of your fish. Uneaten flakes, brine and mysis shrimp, and water-softened pellets are some of their favorite foods.
They typically lose their shyness when it comes to eating so long as their tank mates aren’t too aggressive or boisterous around the table. But it may be worth target feeding your Fire Shrimp with an eye dropper or by hand to ensure they get a few scraps. Some aquarists also find that Fire Shrimp are willing to clean their hands when presented so it’s worth getting them accustomed to your presence inside the tank!
Fire Shrimp Cleaner Behavior
While they need hiding places, a prominent place to stand exposed is also important for keeping Fire Shrimp (any Cleaner Shrimp in general). Because as I mentioned, they are known to be a cleaner species! In the wild, these boldly colored shrimp choose a post where any fish can see them.
For most small, tasty animals, this would be suicide. But fish are aware that cleaner shrimp provide a useful service. They pick on their scales, gills, and even crawl into their mouths to remove bits of loose food or parasites that the fish can’t get to.
Even large predators like Groupers and Moray Eels will leave cleaner shrimp alone to do their job. This video is especially interesting considering the Zebra Moray Eel prefers eating crustaceans and invertebrates in general. This shrimp is just the right size to be lunch, and yet it goes unharmed in this aquarium.
That said, Fire Shrimp aren’t as willing to clean as some other species, especially Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis). It’s always worth keeping Fire Shrimp with fish to see how it works out. But your shrimp may simply hide constantly and stick to scavenging for scraps.
Tank Mates for Fire Shrimp
Red Fire Shrimp are model community tank residents. They won’t bother any of the other residents except other Fire Shrimp. Occasionally they may act territorial towards other large shrimp but they are much more likely to be on the receiving end of any bullying.
So long as you provide ample hiding places for all, there should be no issues. Also, the nocturnal habits of Fire Shrimp make them even less likely to get into conflicts with other shrimp.
The only real concern tank-mate wise is keeping them with possible predators. Triggerfish, Pufferfish, Lionfish, Moray Eels, and Wrasses all love a nice, expensive shrimp dinner. Will they recognize that your Fire Shrimp is a cleaner shrimp?…Maybe but not always.
If you’re looking to keep Fire Shrimp with predatory fish, know that it can be done but it’s always risky. Ideally, the Fire Shrimp will be established first. That way, the new Eel, Triggerfish, Grouper, or other scampi-eater will be less likely to immediately try eating it. The already established Fire Shrimp may even try to clean the newcomer, solidifying its status as resident healthcare provider.
Adding a Fire Shrimp to a tank with predators already inside is more dangerous because the new shrimp is going to act disoriented and dash about, hunting for a place to hide. In short, it will act like prey. Aquarium fish are also often fairly far removed from their wild roots, especially captive bred marine fish. They may not even recognize a cleaner shrimp for what it is. In short: proceed with caution.
Good Tank Mates for Fire Shrimp:
- Damselfish, Clownfish, Pygmy Angelfish, Seahorses, Basslets, and other small community fish
- Most Shrimp, Crabs, Snails, and other Invertebrates
- Most Corals, Clams, Sponges, Sea Anemones, Feather Dusters, and other sessile Invertebrates
Cautionary Tank Mates for Fire Shrimp:
- Predatory Fish (Lionfish, Moray Eels, Groupers, Hawkfish, Triggerfish, etc)
- SPS Corals and Zoanthids
- Other Fire Shrimp
Breeding Fire Shrimp
Breeding Fire Shrimp is a challenge few aquarists are equipped to take on. It’s not even that uncommon to see them with eggs. However, raising the young is nearly impossible in a traditional aquarium system, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.
The first challenge to breeding Fire Shrimp is getting them to get along with one another. As shy and retiring as this species is they can be extremely intolerant of one another. It’s hard to say whether a given pair or group will get along because they are individualistic and do most of their fighting at night. If you want a pair to work out, your best bet is to introduce them simultaneously.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, you don’t need to try and sex Fire Shrimp beacuse they are both male and female at the same time! As hermaphrodites, they have both male and female organs once fully mature but can’t self-fertilize.
To be precise, they actually first mature as males and then grow into their female organs with time. This unfixed gender aspect can make matching them a challenge since you never quite know when they are willing to breed or if they are even fully mature! Fire Shrimp have no outward sexual characteristics for us to go by.
A large aquarium (40+ gallons) full of hiding places is your best bet. That way, if they don’t get along, each shrimp can choose hiding places on the opposite side of the tank until they get to know one another better. If they do pair off, they will eventually spawn following a molt. One shrimp will act as a male to fertilize the other. And then, during the next molt, they will reverse roles.
Even if your shrimp eventually berries (carries eggs under its tail), the second issue is that Fire Shrimp have a long planktonic phase as babies. It takes 2-3 months for them to grow large enough to settle out of the water column. The invisible babies are going to be sucked up into a filter or eaten by corals long before then.
But if you see a berried shrimp carrying eggs, your best bet is to remove it to a secondary tank for a few weeks until it releases them. From there, you can provide planktonic foods like green water algae and freshly hatched brine shrimp nauplii until they become large enough to be visible!