Ghost Shrimp Species Profile: Information and Owner’s Guide

Algae can become a big problem in freshwater aquariums.

Fortunately we have algae cleaners like the Ghost Shrimp to help – they are one of the best algae eaters around.

Whilst they are not the most beautiful, they are certainly one of the most useful members of your aquatic community. These voracious little crustaceans eat algae, detritus, and any accumulated biofilm that could otherwise foul up your tank.

Many beginners pick them out as their first algae cleaners.

If you are thinking of adding these interesting invertebrates to your underwater world then keep reading to learn everything you need to know about them.

Ghost Shrimp

Ghost Shrimp
Other Common Names: Glass Shrimp, Riverine Grass Shrimp
Scientific Name: Palaemonetes paludosus
Family Name: Palaemonidae
Distribution: US east coast
Size: 1-1.5 inches
Color: Clear
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 1 year
Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Small, peaceful fish and invertebrates

What is a Ghost Shrimp?

Ghost Shrimp are a type of Grass Shrimp and belong to the genus Palaemonetes.

While there are many different species the Palaemonetes paludosus is the one you are likely to find in aquariums.

This particular species is native to the US east coast, from New Jersey to Florida. They have also been introduced in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Most people keep Ghost Shrimp because they clean algae.

If you are fighting algae in your tank then it is much better to eliminate it naturally instead of using chemical algicides.

Using a Ghost Shrimp is the best natural way to remove any excess algae.

But these scavengers do not only eat algae. Microbial biofilm, dead plant material, and leftover fish food are also on the menu. All of this tank waste can foul the water quality if allowed to accumulate, but live-in cleaners such as these Shrimp help make sure that this does not happen.

Unfortunately though they have one of the shortest lifespans of any aquarium shrimp – they tend to live for around 1 year.

You can buy individual specimens for about $1 each, or a group for $5-$10.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: None
  • Nicknames: Riverine Grass Shrimp, Glass Shrimp
  • Color Forms: Clear
  • Size: 1-1.5 inches
  • Tank Size: 5+ gallons
  • Tank Temperature: 65-80°F

Ghost Shrimp Appearance

Ghost Shrimp Close Up

This shrimp is called a ghost for a reason: they are completely transparent. Some however have tiny grey or brown speckles scattered across their bodies.

It may look as though their colors are changing to match its environment. However, you are actually looking at what is going on inside their body. You can see this critter’s insides though their skin. When they eat you can watch them digest food. You can also see their individual organs, as well as any eggs that a female may be carrying.

Ghost Shrimp are very small and only grow to around 1.5 inches.

When they are mixed in with your plants and other décor you will not see very much of them.

They have complex organ systems within their tiny bodies.

At the front of the cephalothorax are all of the sensory organs, including the long antennae and accompanying antennules, the maxillae and mandible, and two black beady eyes.

Their cephalothorax holds the esophagus, heart, stomach, brain, and respiratory system. In the abdomen, you can see the intestines and excretory system. Arteries form a sort of bridge connect the organ systems in the cephalothorax to those in the abdomen. The excretory organs are not as visible as the major organs in the cephalothorax.

On the outside are several appendages and each has a different purpose.

5 pairs of walking legs are attached to the cephalothorax (including a pair of modified pinching legs called chelipeds). These are used for grabbing and holding food rather than actually pinching.

On the abdomen there are the 5 pairs of swimming legs, or swimmerets.

The tail (or telson) is used for maintaining balance while swimming. The fan shaped uropod acts as a rudder that allows them to swim backwards when needed.

Color Varieties

Clear: The most common variety is completely transparent with no additional marks. They may be sold as a Glass Shrimp in stores.

Spotted: Some have a scattering of light grey or brown spots all over their body. This makes it more difficult to see their insides.

Ghost Shrimp Care Guide

A Ghost Shrimp

Shrimp are very sensitive creatures and can be difficult to acclimate to a new environment. Unfortunately, deaths from failing to acclimate are very common.

The tank must be fully cycled before any shrimp are introduced and the parameters should be stable.

You should use the drip method to acclimate a new invertebrate before you add them your tank.

To drip them just place your Ghost Shrimp in a small container and fill it partially with your tank’s water. Once they are completely submerged you should check the water parameters and make sure they match those of the tank.

Watch them closely for any adverse reactions.

If it seems like they are doing well then you can add it to the tank.

Most importantly, the tank should be completely free of metals. Copper and zinc (which can be found in medications and fertilizers) are toxic even in trace amounts. They should be removed from a tank that uses copper or zinc based medications, and the tank must be completely free of these metals before re-adding them.

Nitrates and ammonium can also cause a big problem. These are introduced to your tank from the waste generated by your fish. A good aquarium filter will keep these waste products from building up, as will a 30% water change every two weeks.

Tank Requirements

In the wild Ghost Shrimp live in temperate and sub-tropical freshwater habitats all over the United States.

They thrive in mountain streams.

Because they stay in the shallow areas closer to the banks, they are used to slow flowing water. The type of bottom sediment can be anything from mud to gravel to rocks.

Let’s now see how you can replicate this wild environment inside your tank.

Aquarium Set Up

A group of Ghost Shrimp can fit in any tank size, from a 5 gallon tabletop to a large and diverse biotope.

They are very hardy but their water parameters must remain consistent.

Tank water temperatures can range from 65-80°F, but the best range is between 70-75°F. Consider these ranges while you are looking for an aquarium heater. While they are not technically a cold water shrimp they do tolerate cooler water temperatures better than others.

The pH must be basic (7.0 and 8.0) and the water hardness should be between 4-15 dGH.

Any light intensity will do but your shrimp are more likely to come out at night when the light is dim.

You can use an undergravel filter or another type of low power internal filter (HOB) to generate light currents that replicate a gentle stream.

The substrate can be any size from fine grains to larger pebbles. However it must be soft and smooth with no jagged edges.

PVC shelters and other hiding places should be provided. Boulders, logs, and driftwood give them a natural place to hide away from potential predators.

Above all make sure your bottom levels have plenty of natural plants. These not only provide shelter but also food in the source of algae. Java Moss or Christmas Moss can be grown in mats along the substrate and little bits of algae and biofilm will accumulate over the moss over time.

You can also add either duckweed, frogbit, or floating waterweed to the surface to make your tank look just like the shrimp’s natural home.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallons
Tank Type: Freshwater or brackish
Temperature: 65-80°F
pH: 7.0-8.0
Hardness: 4-15 dGH
Flow: Light
Substrate: Soft grains or pebbles

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Your aquarium size will depend on how many shrimp you want to keep.

A 5 gallon tank will hold a group of 3 or 4.

If you want to keep more then a 20 gallon tank can hold around 12.

Diet and Feeding

Ghost Shrimp On Aquarium Plant

Algae is not the only thing on the menu for these little omnivores.

In the wild Ghost Shrimp also eat detritus, living and dead plant material, and live larvae and zooplankton.

Inside your aquarium they will find most of their food on their own.

Do not be alarmed if you catch them nibbling on your mosses or leaves – they will not hurt them.

You can feed them live and frozen micro-prey, including: insect larvae, water fleas, and brine shrimp. Algae pellets are acceptable too but keep in mind that they need much less than any of your fish. One algae pellet will feed a group of 4.

For an occasional treat or supplement try leaving some raw green vegetables or cuttings from your plants at the bottom of the tank. Whenever you trim your tapegrass or waterweed, you can leave the clippings as a treat.

Here are all of the things that they will eat:

  • Algae
  • Biofilm
  • Plants (living and dead)
  • Detritus
  • Algae flakes and pellets
  • Shrimp flakes
  • Daphnia
  • Moina
  • Brine shrimp (larvae and adult)
  • Insect larvae
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Frozen microworms
  • Carrion
  • Fish and crustacean larvae

These tiny shrimp need much less feeding than your fish. You will only need to feed them about once or twice a week because they will find the rest on their own (especially in algae-heavy tanks).

Tank Mates For Ghost Shrimps

In the wild these shrimp are found living alongside other species of Grass Shrimp, as well as Fundulus and other small minnows.

You should consider keeping them in your aquarium with small minnows.

The best tank mates are nano fish and include: Neon and Ember Tetras, Zebra Danios, and Harlequin or Chili Rasboras.

In a cooler temperature you could keep them with the White Cloud Mountain Minnow.

Cory and Oto Catfish are also safe and can join them at the bottom of the tank.

If you want to add a dash of color then you can keep them with a small school of Guppies or Cardinal Tetras. Hatchetfish are also a good choice and should not disturb your shrimp.

For other types of tank mates you could keep them with other invertebrates. If you are looking for another fellow algae cleaner you could add a Nerite Snail or two.

It is fine to mix different kinds of Grass Shrimp together so consider adding a few other species to your biotope for extra help with algae cleaning too. The Amano Shrimp is also an excellent algae cleaning shrimp that gets along well with them.

Just remember that any tank mates must be invertebrate friendly and must not be large enough to swallow a 1 inch shrimp.

Avoid Cherry Shrimp and other larger shrimp. While Cherry Shrimp are not usually aggressive they tend to be when around Ghosts. Also keep any rambunctious fish away, including most Barbs. Goldfish are also definitely something to be avoided, so too are most Loaches. Even the little Kuhli Loach can fit this tiny shrimp in their mouth.

It is also best to avoid keeping any species of catfish (with the exception of Cories and Otos).

Can You Keep Ghost Shrimp Together?

Ghost Shrimp are meant to be kept in groups.

You will notice they are usually indifferent to one another, but sometimes they will follow each other to the prime feeding spots in your tank. A group of them will most likely congregate in the areas where there are lots of algae and biofilm. It is not uncommon to see them climbing over one another in their mad scramble for food.

They scavenge together at the bottom of the tank and may shelter in the same spots too but do not truly interact with one another outside of breeding.

Ghost Shrimp Breeding and Eggs

Ghost Shrimp Picture

Ghost Shrimp are very easy to breed.

If you keep enough of them in a tank together then they usually breed on their own without any help.

To breed them you should keep a breeding pair in a separate tank. Use a sponge filter and line the substrate with a bit of moss.

You will need to simulate their natural breeding season by raising the tank temperature to about 75°F.

The male will climb underneath the female and use his first 4 swimmerets to stimulate her. The female’s ovary will turn green when she is about to lay her eggs. It usually takes around 7 hours after copulation for eggs to develop.

Once the eggs are laid she will carry them around in her swimmerets until they hatch. A female will carry up to 35 eggs per brood and they take approximately 2 months to hatch.

These shrimp do not have a larval stage.

They are born as miniature versions of their parents.

Juveniles will immediately forage for food and the parents must be removed immediately to prevent cannibalism.

You can give them food that is made specifically for baby shrimp, as well as algae flakes crushed into a powder. However, most of their food will be found at the bottom of the tank. After about a month the juveniles will reach maturity and can be added to the main tank. They will be ready to breed about 2 or 3 months after that.

Typical Behavior

Ghost Shrimp are very peaceful and solitary.

They are mostly indifferent to the others in the tank (including their own kind).

During the day time you can see them resting in shelters and other hiding places, as well as on moss mats and the leaves of your plants. Most of the time they stay hidden, but they will come out whenever food is available. Usually you will see them after the sun goes down.

It can be interesting to watch a group of them forage for food.

Like all other crustaceans they will shed their exoskeletons in order to grow a new one – this is known as molting.

Older shrimp shed about once a month, whereas a younger one will sheds once every week or two. A shedding shrimp will want to remain hidden until their molt is finished. When they are molting they do not move or eat and they should not be disturbed. Once they have finished molting they may eat the leftover exoskeleton.

Ghost Shrimp vs Amano Shrimp

When beginner’s are considering adding an algae eater to their tank they often think about either the Ghost Shrimp or Amano Shrimp.

Both Ghost Shrimp and Amano Shrimp are excellent algae cleaners.

The two species have a similar color scheme (transparent with tiny dark speckles) and they also live in the same water temperature.

You cannot look at an Amano Shrimp and clearly see their insides, like you can with a Ghost. Also they are an inch longer so they need a larger tank.

The two species also come from different parts of the world. The Ghost Shrimp comes from the eastern United States, while the Amano Shrimp is native to Japan, China, and Taiwan.

Species History

Ghost Shrimp were first described back in 1850 by Mr Gibbes.

In those days they were primarily used as bait for fishing.

However during the 1950s scientific interest in them increased and they were extensively studied in laboratory settings. Most studies focused on their life cycle and reproductive practices.

Around a decade after this they became a well known member of freshwater and brackish ecosystems on the US east coast. Their efficiency as an algae cleaner was recognized even then and it was introduced to the states of Colorado and California to control algae blooms in lakes and rivers.

In the 1970s they were introduced to the aquarium trade as an algae eater.

They did their job very well which lead to their popularity increasing throughout the coming decades.

The 2000s saw a boom in the popularity of these amazing algae eaters too. Now they are one of the most popular species of cleaner shrimp around.

Should You Get Ghost Shrimp? (Summary)

This is one of the best live-in janitors you can find.

They also help to deal with other tank issues like biofilm and detritus. In exchange for their hard work, you will need to keep their home clean and free of nitrates and other waste products.

So if you have an algae problem then consider investing in a group of Ghost Shrimp.

They may not be the prettiest to look at but they are perfect for the task of keeping algae from growing out of control.

Unfortunately because of their size they should only be kept in a tank with small fish.

However the benefits of keeping them definitely outweigh the cons.

Has a group of Ghost Shrimp helped keep your tank clean? Let us know in the comments section below…

About David Thomas

David Thomas David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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