Maintaining your shrimp tank.

Once you are up and running, you will occasionally have to maintain the conditions in your tank to keep shrimp healthy.


My tank glass is covered in algae

My fish tank is algae free on the glass walls. My shrimp tank … not so much!!!

The cause in my case was 

  1. direct sunlight 
  2. build up of Nitrate
  3. No filter cleaning

So, I used a metal blade tank scraper to clean the algae of the sides. Did a third water change (re mineralised rain water), and cleaned out the filter (put in some new filter pads/wool). I also cleaned out the cooler to maximise its effectiveness for the hot days when it will be working hard to keep my shrimps cool. 

If your tank is balanced (cycling well to keep Nitrite at zero and water changes to take out Nitrates) , your glass may stay totally clear. To help, Nerite snails will keep it clean but they don’t like low PH/acidic water so they may not be an option for shrimps that like low Ph water. 

Water changes

Some people do it daily, others weekly or even monthly. Some people take out a third water, others 50% or more.

Personally I do two checks to decide on what to do.

  1. How is my TDS?
  2. How are my Nitrates?
  3. How does it look!

If my TDS reading is a little high and the water is low from evaporation, I just top up with filtered rainwater. If it needs a big top up I add mineral powder. 

If my Nitrates are high (and algae is blooming) both are indicators for a good 25-50% water change. I re mineralise and make sure the water temperature is not going to dramatically change.

My shrimp are observed – irrational/frantic swimming can indicate the change is too much from what they have become used to … so slowly does it.  

Filter maintenance 

I have an external canister filter and an internal filter that came as a single unit. The internal filter sponge needs washing out monthly and the spray bar weekly. (Dental floss brushes are great for cleaning the nozzles). 

The external canister gets done yearly. 

Never throw out all your filter medium. Inside the canister are two sponges and the ‘stones’ which hold the good bacteria that keep your tank cycling. The sponges can be easily and cheaply changed or even washed out. The stones I change every 12-18 months – but only half of them. Don’t throw away your stones or your nitrogen cycle will reduce or stop! Never wash out your stones.

Here is my filter sponge!! Totally black and decayed. No wonder it wasn’t working.

I tipped out the filter stone medium and sieved out the black water. I then replaced them back into the filter. You don’t want to leave your stones out of water for very long  because the bacteria could die.

Anyone for coco pops?


Cooler maintenance 

Every year the cooler gets flushed out with tap water and reflushed with rain water. This pushes the slurry out of the unit and gets it working efficiently for the hot summer days. It’s an expensive bit of equipment so I want it to last. 

Soil changes

I never change the soil. Nutrients may deplete but my tank is a living tank with live plants and shrimp/snail poo which are also giving nutrients into the soil and water as well as taking them. The plants are healthy so I’ll take that as confirmation all is well.

Plant trimming

If you have live plants and good conditions they may grow like crazy! I have some aquascaping tweezers and sharp scissors to prune my plants. In the summer this might be weekly. 

Hygiene

If your hands are submerged most of the time, wear pond gloves to avoid transmitting poisons to your tank and being poisoned by bacteria etc in the tank. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. 

Other

Avoid over feeding shrimp so that food build up doesn’t accumulate for algae to flourish. 


All clean and looking much better.

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Shrimp gift card holders

Shrimp design gift card holder / money holder.

Available to purchase in the UK for £2.00 plus p&p from my shop. Show me this gift on Etsy. Please contact me to order packs for re-sale.

All profits go to raise funds for adults living with Muscular Dystrophy in the UK.

Contents

A luxury gift card or money holder with ribbon fastener. Hand painted, wooden shrimp embellishment. Heavy weight premium card. Includes one blank voucher insert of a matching colour.

Choose from: Red Cherry, Snowball, Blue Dream, Crystal Red Bee or Blue Panda Taiwan Bee.

Shown here on a wood background. Also available in sand, earth and leaves.

Perfect for:

  • presenting a purchased aquatic store gift card in a more personalised way. 

OR

Use the provided blank insert to …

  • present a gift where you might only have an Internet gift voucher code and nothing physical to give.
  • write your own personalised vouchers or coupons for friends/family to redeem. Eg ‘I will buy you a new shrimp tank of your choice’.

Ships in 1-2 weeks due to being hand made to order, first class. 

Buy more than one and just pay one postage fee.

Beginner shrimps for new keepers

Beginners may want to start out with these shrimps. With optimum conditions they can live 1 – 2 years.

Good starter shrimp for first time keepers are Cherry (many colours but red is the hardiest in my experience) and Rili (again red has been hardier).

Click on the chart for a larger image.

easy_shrimp

Other good shrimp are Blue Jelly, Pearl and one of my favourites – the hardy Skunk or Rhino Horn shrimp.

Beginner shrimp 2

Shrimp that change colour – some reasons.

  

A guide to why shrimps seem to change colour.

So, you just discovered your shrimp are a new variety of chameleon shrimp? You put a red one in the tank and now there are only white ones? You bought a blue one that was a rich blue and now it has faded? Perhaps you had one that completely changed colour – from white to green?

What happened?

Here are some top reasons why people have found their shrimp have changed colour.

1) Stress that causes coloured shrimp to become white or very pale.

Shrimp are like tropical fish. I had a bright blue and red cardinal fish once – well it was in the aquatic shop. When I got home the fish in then bag were white and looked a different shape!! I even made the newbie error of phoning up and asking what to do as I’d been given the wrong fish. I swear they looked completely different.

Well, I learnt something that day and felt very stupid. Stressed fish and shrimp can lose their colour within minutes. This can even change the shape we perceive them to be. My white fish soon changed back to the normal colour. Shrimp will do the same – and may also shed their skin (so you see the skin and think they died!!). Give them a few days (or even 24 hrs) and they should perk up.

2) Sick shrimp that turn opaque

Shrimp that start clear and turn opaque are usually ill from a bacterial or fungal infection.

3) Shrimp that turn green or blue when they were transparent.

Shrimp with full or partial segments that are transparent will show the colours of their inside organs. If they have eaten coloured food – then this can show through and a clear segment can turn bright green or blue!!

4) Shrimp that have been fed a colour dye.

Similar to the above, some crooks take clear shrimp, feed them colourings so they turn slightly blue/green/yellow or red … and sell them as shrimp of this colour. They are thus fake varieties and it is very wrong (so choose shrimp from reputable people). The duped person gets them home, they eat normal food, their bodies clean up and become their normal transparent/white colour.

5) Lighting on an aquarium (or reflection from coloured ornaments/plants)

Certain lights can change how the human eye perceives the colour of things in the tank. Some lights make plants look greener or shrimp look brighter. Change the light and they appear to have changed!

6) Age – older shrimps gain brighter colours

Shrimps will naturally get larger colour segments and brighter colours as they age – which can be enhanced by a good diet and optimum conditions.

7) Red ornaments and plants make duller red shrimps.

Shrimp appear brighter and colour up better on a contrasting background. This is why most people choose black substrate, dark wood and green plants.

8) Food options

Some foods and nutrients will keep a shrimp in good colour – I’ve never personally tested different types of foods and how much this is true – but it makes sense that good nutrition gives good coloured healthy shrimps.

Little Hotties – temperature in the shrimp tank.

I learnt the hard way. Shrimp in nano tanks (around 30 litres or less) get hot – very quickly. I hear many people in the UK say they are not worried about temperature, then wonder why the shrimp died. It is also a key reason why you can not keep shrimp in small tanks without a suitable cooling method (or having them in a very cool, shady house or garage). My shrimp are not in the sun or by a heater – but they used to die from over heating.

Neocaridina like Red Cherry Shrimp and their colourful variations, have optimum (best and healthiest) temperatures for breeding and living. The hotter your shrimp tank, the quicker they will grow and breed – up to a point. That point is around 27-30 degrees C. They then slow down, start to turn white and die.

First attempt – do nothing

I had shrimp survive to about 30 – then sudden mass death. You see we had a heatwave and I was on holiday. I cooked my beloved shrimps. Even some of my tropical fish cooked.

Second attempt – bottled ice water and a room fan

Hot days (or cold winter days with the heating on) once more brought the temperatures up in the tank.

So I then did the only thing I could – put a fan on them and several times a day had a cycle of frozen bottled water going – one bottle floating in the tank, one in the freezer. Constantly rotating and watching the temperature was a real pain . It also meant sudden drops of 5-10 degrees for the shrimp – not good for their health.

The hotter it gets the less oxygen that dissolves into the water – so now I had a problem because the bubbles were on full blast and I couldn’t add any more air to the tank.

Why not an aquarium fan.

Simply the fact that an aquarium fan will only drop the temperature by about 2-4 degrees C. I needed a drop of over 10 at times. The temperature was rising faster than an aquarium fan could cope with. If my mega floor fan couldn’t cope then a tiny fan hooked over the aquarium was not going to cut it – no matter what angle you put it.

Third attempt – do it properly and automatically with a cooler.

IMG_6925

I had lost so many beautiful shrimps that I knew the solution was to set up a shrimp only tank and regulate the temperature with a cooler. No more fiddling with bottles and fans.

It was expensive – they are around £300 – but worth every penny.

The water comes out of the external filter, into the cooler, and like a fridge, it assesses how much cooling in needed, and the water is sent back into the tank at the chosen temperature (or within a few cycles if the first pass through is not enough).

So my tank cooler is set on 23 degrees C (when the cooler senses a rise to 24, it cools it back to 23). No worries and it only takes a minute or two to get the temperature down.

Maintenance

We change the tubes to and from the cooler every 4-6 months depending on how much algae is in them. This week, we flushed some tap water through the cooler to give the inside a clean.

You need an external filter to run a cooler and the pressure from that filter pump must be high enough to push the water through the tube circuit and through the cooler. Mine came with detailed instructions.

It was very easy to set up. One thing I would say is don’t clamp the hose on too tight if using tube clips/clamps – I broke the nozzle on my cooler (but still had enough nozzle to reattach the tubes to).

When it’s on, it is a little noisy – but it’s only on for a few minutes at a time and sometimes only for about 3 times a day (hourly in the summer afternoons).

My most used shrimp web resources

Keeping shrimp and a planted aquarium requires a lot of knowledge – I read tons of information and browsed many shops – then forgot where ‘that useful article’ was. Doh.  Sometimes things have gone wrong, shrimp infections or water parameters and I’ve needed to do more research and reading to figure out what to do.

So, I’m putting my most used links here, in one place (and to share with fellow hobbyists). I’ll add more as I re-locate them!

UK Shops (some have articles)

Articles

Forums

 

 

 

Cycling a shrimp tank

In the next month I will be setting up a new shrimp tank for my Neocaridina. I wanted to look for more information about cycling a shrimp tank and decided to put my notes into a blog which might be useful for other new shrimp keepers.

I will be using my previous filter and about 25% of my current tank water (but new substrate and soil).

As always, the information is conflicting with so many different views on how long to do it for and methods – so I’m trying to make the best of it as a newbie who only got a C in GCSE Chemistry.


So what is cycling?

It’s all about getting rid of toxins and keeping the water in a natural balance that won’t harm the shrimp. The key thing with shrimp is that they don’t like change and very small amounts of ammonia seems to kill them. It’s also a process which must continue – so it’s not something you do once and forget about (although if your tank habitat is well balanced it looks after itself eventually).

The Nitrogen Cycle is all about how nitrogen moves between plants, animals, bacteria, the air, soil and water.  We are concerned with how this occurs within our aquarium habitat.

The 4 main states include Nitrogen (N2), Nitrates (N03),  Nitrites  (NO2) and Ammonium (NH4).  It is bacteria which help it change states. The part we are interested in is ‘Nitrification’ where harmful ammonia is converted to less harmful Nitrate.

Ammonia –> Nitrite –> Nitrate

Every body of water has a nitrogen cycle – even micro habitats in containers left out in the rain. Oxygen is also an essential ingredient.

Utilising bacteria, an aquarium will go through a state of being able to convert toxic ammonia (from animal waste, uneaten food, decaying plants, tap water) into nitrate which is not toxic (and excess is removed with water changes).

The slightest hint of Ammonia and shrimp will die –  even before your test strips say it is present.

* Ammonia can also come from the soil you use in a planted tank


Nitrogen

What is happening when the waste is converted?

The waste breaks down into either ionised ammonium (NH4) or un-ionised ammonia (NH3) [also called ‘free’ ammonia].

NH4 isn’t toxic to shrimp and is present if the pH is acidic i.e. below 7. However, in alkali water (above pH7) un-ionised ammonia forms (NH3) which will kill aquarium fish and shrimp – and keep rising if nothing breaks it down.

NH4 can be removed by the filter media. NH3 in high concentrations needs to be changed to a less toxic form.

The first change occurs where bacteria oxidise ammonia (NH3) – a by-product being nitrite.

The second change is where other types of bacteria convert the nitrite to nitrate.

  • A note on Bacteria

Why is it important to understand the latest findings in bacteria that work in this cycle – because you might be considering an over the counter start up culture that you pop into your tank and it needs to be the right sort and not a type of bacteria based on old research.

Bacteria (Nitrosomonas europaea) are some of the nitrifiers that will oxidise ammonia. Other bacteria can convert the nitrite to nitrate.

It was thought that Nitrobacter winogradskyi was largely responsible for converting nitrite to nitrate, however, some research has found that in freshwater it appears to be Nitrospira. You can read more about these findings in this link.

What happens to the Nitrate?

Nitrates must then be removed with water changes – as they can harm aquatic life if left to reach high levels. However, in a planted tank, with shrimp, the plants will take up nitrates and help with removal. Some people prefer to do very few water changes in a planted tank.

Nitrates also can cause algae blooms – another reason to do water changes (especially in a tank with no plants). The cycle continues so that ammonia is constantly being converted – as long as you have enough bacteria to keep up, ammonia should be zero.

Can the Nitrate change back into ammonia?

The other half of the ‘cycle’ is called de-nitrification. This is where nitrate is converted to nitric oxide (NO) and nitrous oxide  (N2O). Some may also turn back in ammonium which is eaten by algae and plants. Eventually the oxygen part is used up and the nitrogen goes into the air as nitrogen gas. Incidentally, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can use this nitrogen gas as ‘food’.


Getting the cycle going in a tank – growing ever larger numbers of bacteria.

The key is maintaining a cycle of stability. Cycling to a point of balance for the animals and plants you want to eventually have can take weeks or months.  There is much debate about whether to go fast or slow – and even around exactly how you do it!

You want to only add animals a little at a time so that the bacteria colony can cope with the ammonia coming from the poo of your first animal(s) – the cycle needs to keep up with the new amount of waste.  A week or so later, more are added, and so so until you gradually build up both your bacteria and tank animals to the level you choose.  Snails poo a lot – so add carefully! I have just one in my nano shrimp tank.

  • Do I need to add Ammonia?

Most people use the natural ammonia in a tank:

  1. Decaying bacteria (introduced from the water, air, even your hands)
  2. Decaying algae
  3. Micro organisms from rainwater (if used)
  4. Decaying plants,
  5. 1-2 fish or a few shrimp – *some fish / snail poo a lot and overload – but shrimp might not produce enough.
  6. tap water (note your tap water de-chlorinator might also remove ammonia so can’t be used to start a cycle).
  7. Soil – your substrate/soil might have ammonia in it (see substrate choices)

However, if you have a tank of just water (with ammonia taken out / purified/boiled/RO ) and inert gravel with no plants or animals, you might need to kick start it and get an ammonia source (natural or chemical).  This where some people choose to add ammonia liquid or some fish food in to decay. It’s controversial though and can go very wrong with chemical imbalances, and not relevant to a planted shrimp tank (see below). Too much ammonia and the nitrifying bacteria can die!

What might be relevant is remembering that ammonia is toxic when the pH is alkali (above 7) so if you use chemicals or naturally have a pH below neutral, the cycle won’t start. This might sound good – no toxic ammonia, until the pH goes slightly above neutral (and pH will shift somewhat if you are borderline below) and all hell breaks loose.

  • Do I need bacteria?

In nature, nitrifying bacteria are everywhere and the cycle happens naturally. In a tank you have a small enclosed habitat so bacteria are usually added from a shop based formula (see previous paragraphs). Bacteria grow in the ceramic media in your filter, on surfaces in your tank and under the soil / substrate (depending on soil type and aeration). Biorb tanks use the rocks which have a big surface area for the bacteria to thrive in.

  • Help the bacteria

Your bacteria will love oxygen, heat at 27-35 degrees and a dark place to thrive where there is no turbulent water movement.


Types of Cycling

There are many ways to cycle a tank.

  • Shrimpless cycling – non planted tank

A new tank may not have enough bacteria to cope with the quick conversion needed in a tank full of creatures .

In a cycled tank bacteria keeps up with converting the ammonia.

You aim for no ammonia and some Nitrate to show all is well.

Until the bacteria multiply to trillions, some ammonia may not be converted and stay in the tank – and kill the shrimp. If you have no plants and inert gravel, these levels of ammonia may be high but not be detectable by a test strip i.e. still be enough to kill livestock.

I use test strips when things go wrong mostly – so see if the deaths were an ammonia spike or something else.

This is one reason why you might cycle a tank with no animals in it.

  • Dry start cycling in a planted tank – where water is added just to beneath the top of the substrate in a planted tank which then has to be kept moist.
  • Silent cycling in a planted tank – No ammonia spike to notice because the tank is full of stem plants which use ammonia as a food source from the start (see below).

Cycling in a planted tank

A planted tank it is different because plants make good use of ammonia to keep it under control.

If you use soil in a planted tank – that can be the ammonia injection needed to start it going. Otherwise, choices can be natural decaying plant matter. If your soil doesn’t leach ammonia then most people cover the soil with some substrate, plant heavily and pop in some shrimp straight away. The bacteria can come from using some gravel or filter media from a previous cycled tank (that has not been washed) or ‘start up colony’ from an over the counter product of the right bacteria.  The shrimp bio-load should be minimal so the bacteria will probably keep up ok all being well.  Keep well oxygenated and the soil/plants/bacteria combo should be fine.

Basically you let nature do its thing and test for when ammonia is zero and nitrate is being read for reassurance (note you may not see the ammonia spike or even a lot of nitrate).

I started my first planted tank with no animals, soil that didn’t leach, filter up and running and an over the counter starter bacteria. I waited about 8 weeks before I added shrimp. I had no deaths from ammonia, healthy plant growth and good stable parameters.

I used test kits for ammonia (never saw a spike) and nitrates and nitrites.

If you have no shrimp – increase the temperature to 27-35 degrees C for maximum bacteria growth but not over 40.


Using over the counter products to remove ammonia – and a little about tap water.

Products exists such as AmQuel which reacts with free ammonia changing it to a non-toxic form (if you have no carbon in the filter). The higher your tank pH the quicker it acts. This original formula also removes chlorine an chloramine from tap water.  Some water dechlorinator products just break down chloramine into an ammonia bi-product which has to be removed by your bacteria. AmQuel does not leave ammonia in the water according to it’s website. AmQuel Plus is a new chemical formula that says it ‘Detoxifies all kinds of toxic nitrogen compounds’ amongst other things.

API produce Ammo Lock – and Nitra-Zorb  that ‘instantly detoxifies ammonia’. They have a number of ‘science’ articles and lab results which claims the product works.

Seachem Prime is another product that removes chlorine, chloramine, ammonia (binding nitrite and nitrate) and heavy metals. I have used Prime before as my dechlorinator before I switched to rain water. It is also one of those products, like AmQuel that renders ammonia harmless. Prime works by a process called reduction that all de-chlorinators use (chlorine gas is converted to chloride ions – a process that also breaks the bonds between chlorine and nitrogen within the chloramine molecule – producing ammonia). A second process then occurs to bind the ammonia to render it harmless. AmGuard is an emergency ammonia removal agent by Seachem. You can read more about how they work in their factsheet.


Keeping the cycle going

Some things might cause an ammonia spike which should be avoided such as:

  • Over feeding – feed only enough that the shrimp will eat over 1-2 hours.
  • Lack of oxygen – nitrate can transform back into toxic nitrite and cultures may reduce.
  • Do not clean out all the filter medium – leave 25-50% which have the bacteria on them.
  • An ammonia spike might happen if the bacteria die e.g. medications or extreme heat or being washed out by tap water during a filter change.
  • Limit snails so as to not overload the tank.
  • Dead animals – if you have a massive disaster with many deaths this can cause a deadly spike and kill what it is left.

Controversial …

Here are some of the things people get their knickers in a knot over – so it comes down to personal information seeking and deciding on one method.

  • Do use fish food v. never use fish food as it causes algae blooms.
  • Add snails first – they poo a lot v. don’t add snails they poo too much.
  • Never do a quick cycle v. quick cycles are ok.
  • Speed up the cycle with product such as Sachem Stability or introduce beneficial bacteria v. go oh natural
  • Putting fish or shrimp in with ammonia present is inhumane v. no harm will come to them.
  • Test kits work well v. test kits for ammonia are useless.
  • Messing around with the gravel and over cleaning in the first months disturbs bacteria v. go ahead and clean.

ShrimpFever.com describes a complex system lasting up to 3 months involving differing layers of substrate and bacteria cultures. It also talks about feeding the bacteria, adding additives and enzymes. Personally I find this over the top.

Some likely truths…

  • Cleaning your filter media or sponge in tap water will kill the bacteria and cause ammonia to rise.
  • Leaving 25-50% of old filter material allows the cycle to continue.
  • Soils can leak ammonia
  • Nitrate can kill if it builds up – so water changes are good (levels less than 15ppm / 15mg )
  • If you use an inert substrate, shrimp alone won’t produce enough ammonia to start the cycle (at levels good enough to start a cycle they will die) –  the bacteria will then die too (see fish food controversy above).
  • Snail poo is good for ammonia.
  • Air is good – get the surface water moving to help.
  • A proficient cycle is achieved around 3-5 weeks.

Minerals and the loss of Mrs Blueberry

IMG_4319

Mrs Blueberry died on Sunday. I couldn’t see any obvious cause but when I checked my TDS –  the amount of dissolved solids in the water, it was low at 150. Although this shrimp is supposed to be good at a range of TDS (80-500 allegedly).  I’m betting it was lack of calcium and other trace elements. My blue shrimp have always been the first to die when there has been a problem – maybe they are very fragile when it comes to water parameters.

So, I’ve started remineralising with Salty Shrimp 7.5.

Salty_Shrimp

It said an evenly full measuring spoon (about 3.5 g) to 15 litres of water is sufficient.  I added it bit by bit, dissolving it in a beaker of tank water before I tipped it in. I used half of the enclosed spoon.

*Update – New post on how to choose the TDS level using this product – and the things to consider.

The pot is full to overflowing  and gets everywhere! Whatever you do, don’t sneeze.

It is designed to raise the hardness in a ratio of KH/°dH = 0.42/1.0 (TDS approx 270-300) and adds all the minerals and trace elements that shrimps need (if you use rainwater or RO water which has had it taken out).

It is supposed to make the water identical to the lakes of Sulawesi where many shrimp come from (mine aren’t from that area but it does say it is ok for Neocaridina.

It is likely to raise the dH to 6 and buffers pH to 7.5 – not sure how far I will take mine as views are mixed. Trial and error.