Ghost Shrimp (Compete Care, Diet, Setup, & Breeding Guide)

The Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus) is one of the most popular and widely-kept freshwater shrimp species.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about keeping and caring for Ghost Shrimp the right way!

Common Name Ghost/Glass Shrimp
Scientific Name Palaemonetes paludosus
Family Palaemonidae
Care Level Very Easy
Color Translucent with Mottled Green, White, and Brown
Size 1-1.5″
Lifespan 1.5 Years
Diet Omnivore
Suggested Tank Size 5+ gallons
Water Temperature Requirements 65° – 80°F
pH Requirements 7.0 – 8.0
Temperament & Compatibility Very Peaceful
Breeding Difficult

About Ghost Shrimp

ghost shrimp tank
Photo by Freddie Alequin
  • Scientific Name: Palaemonetes paludosus
  • Temperament: Very Peaceful
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Origin: North America
  • Common Names: Glass Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp, Eastern Ghost Shrimp, Feeder Shrimp

Temperament

Ghost Shrimp are one of the best behaved aquarium inhabitants you could ask for.

Given how small they are, it makes sense for them to be completely unconcerned with pinching long fins and grabbing sleeping fish the way crayfish tend to do.

Instead, Ghost Shrimp are content picking at algae and leftover food along the tank bottom. They are so tiny and delicate they are completely harmless to aquarium fish of all sizes.

The real concern is choosing tank mates that won’t see Ghost Shrimp as an easy meal.

That means similarly sized fish like smaller tetras, livebearers, and surface dwellers like hatchetfish are great choices.

Beware of smaller fish with inquisitive natures, like barbs, that will readily rip off a shrimp leg when hungry. Ghost Shrimp do well in groups of at least 6.

While not schooling, they do feel safer in numbers and as members of the bottom of the food chain they are found en masse in nature.

Natural Habitat

Ghost Shrimp are natives to fresh and mildly brackish waters across the Eastern United States. Dipping a net into water plants along the shoreline or around a dock is an easy way to find Ghost Shrimp.

Their translucent body along with the mottled cryptic colors are great camouflage amongst the dappled shade created by the tangled water weeds.

Ghost Shrimp that are purely transparent are often feeling exposed or stressed.

Avoid buying Ghost Shrimp that have started to turn white; they will be dead within hours. The pigmented translucent look is a sign of good health in this species!

Ghost Shrimp prefer similar arrangements in aquariums: ample plant coverage, preferably live ones.

Substrate doesn’t matter too much, though the slow moving rivers and brackish estuaries they come from usually have sand, silt, or mud bottoms.

Lighting can be anywhere from bright to dim.

For such tiny invertebrates Ghost Shrimp are bold enough to swim throughout the water column when kept in numbers and with peaceful tankmates.

Lifespan

The short lifespan is one of the few drawbacks to keeping Ghost Shrimp.

A happy life is a short one: a year to a year and a half is the best you can hope for.

Fortunately, they reach adult size quickly and easily lay eggs in most tank conditions. Raising those eggs is a bit more challenging, however.

Size

Ghost Shrimp are sexually dimorphic: males are somewhat smaller than females, who reach the maximum size of 1½” more frequently.

Mature, fertile females will also grow a saddle or crest on their cephalothorax (head segment). Male Ghost Shrimp tend to be smaller, maxing out at ¾-1″.

As they grow, Ghost Shrimp moult. Like many invertebrates, they have a hard outer exoskeleton that doesn’t grow with their soft parts. They need to shed their skins as a result.

Moulting shrimp are especially vulnerable as their new shells take hours to harden. Ample hiding places are essential for this phase. 

If you see fish or even other shrimp gnawing on an empty shell, more than likely you’re looking at a discarded moult.

Allow any shrimp eating a moult to continue; it’s recovering valuable calcium and other building blocks for strong shells.


Species

When buying Ghost Shrimp at the store, watch out for dark bodied large freshwater shrimp that sometimes get included in the sweeping nets used for wild caught Ghost Shrimp.

Macrobrachium sp. are found all over the world and while a new shrimp keeper might think it’s simply an adult Ghost Shrimp, these guys are very different. 

Many Macrobrachium sp. are tough opportunistic predators that grow from 3-6″ long and will gladly take sleeping fish when fully grown. These shrimp are not only non-see through, but also have long, arm-like claws they use for digging worms and other invertebrates out from crevices.

Some, like Macrobrachium lanchesteri, are translucent look-alikes that grow much larger (up to 4″) than common Palaemonetes shrimp.

Others like Macrobrachium ehemals are Asian natives that are as tiny as Ghost Shrimp but just as well behaved. Several North American species also exist, including Palaemonetes kadiakensis from Louisiana.

It’s nearly impossible to tell the different Palaemonetes and Macrobrachium look-alikes all apart unless wild-caught or fully mature.

The vast majority of Ghost Shrimp in pet stores will be Palaemonetes species, usually P. paludosus, from the eastern United States. 


Ghost Shrimp Care

ghost shrimp

Here are a few things you should know before attempting to keep Ghost Shrimp:

Tank Setup Requirements

Of all the many freshwater invertebrate species out there, Ghost Shrimp are some of the easiest to care for.

Not only are they inexpensive, they are hardy, easy to feed, tolerate a wide range of water conditions, and will get along with anything that doesn’t try to eat them.

  • Tank Size: As tiny as Ghost Shrimp are, they can be kept comfortably even in nano aquariums. They make a striking compliment to cherry red and amano shrimp. Of course, larger is always better with aquariums, especially with more social animals.
  • Water Flow: Ghost Shrimp are not fast swimmers but appreciate a bit of current so long as they can escape it as needed. They tend to get blown about in aquariums with powerheads, filter outflows, and other current-creating devices but often seem to be enjoying themselves as they’ll coast along and climb right back up. Filter intakes can be a threat to Ghost Shrimp; if you use a unit that creates a powerful suction, placing a block of foam over the intake will prevent it from trapping shrimp against the grate.

Water Parameters

Thankfully, Ghost Shrimp are not too picky when it comes to water conditions.

They can survive both unheated and tropical aquariums and a fairly wide range of pH conditions. They prefer neutral to slightly alkaline waters but will readily accept mild acidity.

The basic water quality breakdown for caring for Ghost Shrimp is as follows:

  • pH: 7.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 65-80°F
  • Alkalinity: 3°-10° dKH

Ghost Shrimp are especially sensitive to added chemical agents, however, particularly copper and copper-carrying molecules.

Copper is extremely toxic to invertebrates; fish medications like methylene blue and malachite green can easily kill ghost shrimp.

That’s why I prefer maintaining separate hospital aquariums when treating sick and injured fish.

Ghost Shrimp Diet

Ghost Shrimp are the scavengers of your aquarium. They will nibble away at anything organic and unmoving.

Leftover flake food, sinking pellets and wafers, and general bottom detritus will satisfy their appetites. 

Being nearly transparent, you’ll often see their stomachs fill up with food, taking on bright colors when fed bright flakes.

They’re also quite competitive and will often fight to grab flakes and race off with them rather than share with others. 

Ghost Shrimp will take flakes from the surface or water column if hungry enough.

However, if your other aquarium inhabitants tend to eat everything before it reaches the bottom, consider either sinking wafers or night feedings to ensure they get ample nutrition.

Blanched vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower will quickly attract a swarm of Ghost Shrimp.

Cruciferous vegetables tend to be high in calcium, which is needed in the construction and reinforcement of their exoskeletons.

If plant life and vegetables aren’t something you want to offer, consider providing occasional supplements in the form of Tetra Algae Wafers.

Schooling Tendencies of Ghost Shrimp

Being food for tons of predators in nature, Ghost Shrimp feel safer in groups. They do squabble and establish mini-pecking orders of their own, usually based on size.

They don’t cause each other lasting injury and should be kept in groups of at least 6 for smaller tanks and 12 or so when given more space. If you’re trying to breed them, groups of at least 20 will heighten your chances.


Ghost Shrimp Tank Mates

One of the major challenges in keeping Ghost Shrimp is finding tankmates who won’t bully or eat them.

Fish that crowd the surface at feeding time can send them scurrying away into the shadows. And even smaller but nippy tankmates will chew limbs, antennae, and other sensitive parts of these tiny shrimp.

Here are some easy going tankmates for your Ghost Shrimp?

Suitable Tankmates for Ghost Shrimp

  • Guppies
  • Platies
  • Neon Tetras
  • Cardinal Tetras
  • Cherry Barbs
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • Rasboras
  • Danios
  • Hatchetfish
  • Corydoras
  • Dwarf Plecos

Tankmates to Avoid

Unfortunately, the list of fish to avoid keeping with Ghost Shrimp includes some of the most popular aquarium fish on the market:

  • Cichlids: While there are dwarf varieties like Blue Rams, Cichlids as a group are pugnacious and curious to the extreme. Waving antennae and legs are just too tempting not to take a bite out of. And larger Cichlids like adult Angelfish will happily eat Ghost Shrimp.
  • Barbs: Like Cichlids, Barbs love pecking at flowing, exposed parts of tankmates. Tiny species like Cherry Barbs are an exception but medium to larger barbs are better avoided.
  • Catfish: Most larger Catfish like Pictus Cats are opportunists at heart and will vacuum up anything small enough to fit in their mouths.

Setting up a Ghost Shrimp Tank

Shrimp aquariums are more common than ever. Freshwater shrimp need little space, are easy to find, and fascinating to watch.

Here I’ve broken down the steps to creating a Ghost Shrimp tank in your home:

Equipment

  • Tank: Shrimp tanks can be as small as 5 gallons and as large as you like! The more space you have, the better the tank will weather fluctuations in water quality and temperature.
  • Filtration: If your tank is somewhat small, an internal filter like the Whisper In-Tank Filter will give you all of the benefits of canister filters without too strong a flow. Remember that Ghost Shrimp are weak and a power filter intake will trap and kill them without protection.
  • Heater: Using a heater ensures your Ghost Shrimp and plants enjoy a stable ecosystem. Cobalt Aquatics’s Neotherm is one of my favorites. Remember that as North American natives, Ghost Shrimp thrive in unheated aquariums as well.
  • Lighting: Lighting is not terribly important unless you intend to keep live plants. The NICREW Classic is a low cost, power efficient option.

Substrate

Ghost Shrimp love live plants. They will climb among them, display their natural camouflage patterns, nibble on dead and soft portions, and otherwise look and act their very best.

So choose a substrate that helps plants thrive, like Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate. Made specifically for planted aquariums, Eco Complete comes pre-loaded with iron, potassium, and other inorganic nutrients for plant uptake. It also includes healthy bacterial colonies to jump-start your aquarium biological cycling process!

Pool filter sands are an inexpensive and attractive option if you prefer not to deal with live plants.

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Remember to properly wash plain sand and gravel substrates before adding it to your shrimp aquarium.

Fine dust can get suspended within the water column and contributes to cloudy water problems that are difficult to solve.

Ghost Shrimp and Live Plants

Ghost Shrimp don’t mind which plants you choose so long as you have some. Take a look at our guide to low light aquarium plants for easy to care for choices for your Ghost Shrimp tank, including:

  • Anubias Nana
  • Java Fern
  • Elodea
  • Hornwort
  • Java Moss
  • Hygrophila sp.
  • Eelgrass (Vallisneria sp.)

If you’re establishing your plants in a brand new aquarium, or simply want to give your plants a little boost, root tablets are the best way to get them started on the right foot.

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Rocks, driftwood, and other tank decorations will provide Ghost Shrimp with places to climb, perch, hide, and explore! Be creative and throw in as much as you like; the more secure Ghost Shrimp feel, the more they will stay out in the open.

Lighting

Bright lighting is suitable so long as Ghost Shrimp also have plenty of places to hide from it. Caves, dense plants, and other spaces provide shade and security to these retiring crustaceans. 

Your lighting will depend mostly on the kind of plants you grow within the aquarium. More light-hungry choices like Amazon Swords or Vallisneria will demand brighter lighting than Hornwort or Anubias.

Cycling

Remember that in a freshly set up aquarium, we don’t have the microorganisms to help break down waste products. Our fishless cycle guide is a great resource to knowing when it’s time to introduce your Ghost Shrimp.

Fortunately, given how little bioload they create, Ghost Shrimp are some of the best first inhabitants for your aquarium. They bring along bacteria from their former aquarium as well as within their own bodies. And the minute amounts of waste get the cycling process started. 

Over the course of weeks, you can begin adding more fish, shrimp, and plants as your water quality matures.


Breeding Ghost Shrimp

Anyone who falls in love with a group of animals thinks about breeding them on occasion. Ghost Shrimp will readily lay eggs but raising the young is a challenge aquarists aren’t always up for. 

Since Ghost Shrimp is usually so cheap to buy, most aquarists generally choose to simply purchase them as adults instead of putting in the time and effort to breed them.

That being said, it is still a rewarding experience as long as you aren’t looking to make a profit selling the young.

Ghost Shrimp Breeding Setup

The difficulty in raising Ghost Shrimp is raising the young to maturity. They are known as “low order” shrimp: meaning, the young have a planktonic, free-swimming stage before morphing into a miniature adult-like form. “High order” shrimp like bee and cherry shrimp are instead born looking like tiny adults.

When first born, these tiny young are on the very edge of visibility; some people can see them with the naked eye while others may need a magnifying glass to spot them.

Coupled with their need to eat micron-sized food to fuel their rapid initial growth, in typical aquariums Ghost Shrimp young rarely survive into adulthood.

Problems with Raising Ghost Shrimp in the Main Aquarium

  • Young are Extremely Tiny: Verging on the border of microscopic, Ghost Shrimplets are so small you may not even know you have young in the aquarium. 
  • Poor swimmers: Young shrimplets are at the mercy of water currents and can barely swim save a thrashing motion and adjusting buoyancy. This free-floating phase doesn’t last long but is the hardest part of raising Ghost Shrimp.
  • Hard to Feed: Again, the young are planktonic, which means even the finest of crushed flakes are too large unless you can powder it to the consistency of talcum. They need microscopic foods that most people don’t readily have on hand.
  • Adult Shrimp are Cannibals: Unfortunately, their own parents are some of their worst enemies. Within the confines of an aquarium, young shrimp less than ½ in size can get snatched up and devoured by opportunistic adults.

Because of these reasons, I recommend setting up a fry tank for raising Ghost Shrimp. While it does take more work, it’s an intellectual challenge that’s very rewarding in the end!

Setting Up a Fry Tank

A fry tank should be functional, easy to clean, and importantly, already set up and running by the time you’re introducing your first egg-laden females.

Keep water temperatures and parameters closely matching your main aquarium, i.e. 75 degrees and slightly alkaline.

Unless you care to add live plants, substrates are not only irrelevant but can even get in the way of seeing where the babies get to, how many moults they’ve shed, and so on. Bare glass tank bottoms are much easier to clean debris from and keep track of the young shrimplets.

Sponge filters are the best mechanical filter option for a Ghost Shrimp fry tank. Mechanical and canister filters will simply remove baby Ghost Shrimp along with particles in the water; I recommend the Bacto-Surge High Density Sponge Filter.

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Remember that Ghost Shrimplets are incredibly sensitive to water flow in their larval state. Any sort of heavy current will keep them from getting the food they need.

Alternatively, you could even have a filterless planted aquarium. The bioload of young Ghost Shrimp is so small that established live plants can provide all of your filtration needs. Filterless live plant aquariums also tend to have healthy microorganism colonies that will provide food for the new Ghost Shrimp.

Determining the Gender of Ghost Shrimp

While tiny, mature Ghost Shrimp are fairly easy to sex.

Males tend to be smaller than females, maxing out at ¾ -1″ in size. Male shrimp have a deeper camouflage patterning as well, with more intense blues and oranges often showing in their stripes.

Mature females will display a yellow saddle mark behind the head. They are also larger than males, reaching up to 1½” in length.

A sure sign you have a female is seeing a cluster of eggs under the tail. “Berried” females can show up roughly once a month; Ghost Shrimp constantly breed even when water conditions aren’t ideal.

Because Ghost Shrimp can spawn before reaching their full adult size, numbers is the best way to ensure you have both males and females.

If buying the young, consider groups of as many as 20 individuals to ensure you get an ample mixture of both sexes. 

Conditioning Your Ghost Shrimp

Thankfully, Ghost Shrimp are incredibly easy to induce to spawn. Even in the terrible conditions of feeder aquariums you’ll often see females with egg clusters being chased by hopeful males.

As North American natives, especially warm waters signal the onset of summer. Keeping water temperatures cooler, only to raise them to 75-78 degrees for “summer” is a great way of controlling when the females berry and males fertilize eggs.

Neutral to slightly alkaline waters are ideal for good health as well as occasional mineral access through foods like cauliflower that are high in calcium for females to produce healthy egg shells.

Combined with a variety of foods like flakes, frozen bloodworms, and natural aquarium algae, your Ghost Shrimp will be spawning in no time.

The Laying and Spawning Process

Female Ghost Shrimp will berry roughly once a month but sometimes less if conditions allow for it. The female lays her eggs and carries them under her tail attached to her swimmerets, the finger-like projections that gently beat the water while free swimming.

Once the females berries, she will seek a male to fertilize her eggs. Once fertilized, the eggs begin to change color, eventually turning a dark green or brown color.

They also sit heavier on the swimmerets; before hatching they’ll hang at the very bottom. 

Ideally, you’ll want to collect the female for the fry tank when they sit half-way along the swimmerets. You’ll need to do so with minimal chase and stress because she may decide to lighten her load to escape by dumping her eggs. Herding her into a submerged container is ideal. Otherwise use your net to transfer her to the fry tank as quickly as possible.

In the safety of the fry tank, the female will release them near the surface at dawn or dusk when light levels are low. This natural adaptation ensures maximum safety for both the mother and her young shrimplets.

Once released, you should return the female to the main aquarium as she’s now just as likely to eat her young as any other predator.

Caring for Ghost Shrimp Larvae

Of all the stages in rearing Ghost Shrimp, caring for the larvae during the first month of their lives is the most challenging part.

Unlike fish, they aren’t born with a yolk sac to sustain them. Instead, these micro predators need to feed ravenously on free-floating planktonic organisms. Some of the best food sources include:

  • Cultured Microworms: these tiny worms are easy to culture and worth the time if you regularly raise baby Ghost Shrimp. Otherwise, they can be purchased at specialty aquatic stores nation-wide. As a live prey item, they readily trigger a feeding response and are very nutritious for young shrimplets!
  • Green Water Algae: Microscopic algae are usually something to be avoided in aquariums. However, the free-floating cells are readily eaten by young shrimp. Culturing green water is as simple as providing nutrient-rich aquarium water with ample sunshine.
  • Algae Powder: Even powdered algaes meant for human consumption like Microingredients Superfoods’ Organic Chlorella Powder can be safely used for young Ghost Shrimplets. Add a teaspoonful to 100 ml or so and gently add it to the water column. Chlorella and Spirulina algae powders are also convenient and easy to store when not feeding live young.

Cultured live prey works especially well in unfiltered planted fry tanks. Since they will stay live and even reproduce, you can have a constant, ready “soup” for young Ghost Shrimp to enjoy.

During their first 3 days they shift from passively floating to jerky swimmers. In between 1 and 2 weeks, the young will moult and shift into their final, miniature adult form.

While still tiny, they’ll begin to take more traditional foods along with microorganisms.

At 5 weeks of age, they are usually large enough to safely introduce to the main Ghost Shrimp aquarium.

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