Vampire Shrimp Definitive Guide: Color Shifts, Care, Tank Mates and More…

The Vampire Shrimp is very different from other freshwater shrimp.

This filter feeder uses their feathery fans to catch tiny particles drifting in the water column.

While their name may sound scary, the critter itself is certainly not. Vampire Shrimp are among the most peaceful and unassuming aquarium invertebrates.

One of its most remarkable traits is its ability to change color! They may be blue one day, green the next and even pink or purple from time to time.

Do you think your aquarium would benefit from a few Vampire Shrimp?

Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating shrimp…

Vampire Shrimp

Vampire Shrimp
Other Common Names: Gabon/Cameroon Shrimp, African Fan Shrimp, Rhino Shrimp, Viper Shrimp
Scientific Name: Atya gabonensis
Family Name: Atyidae
Distribution: West Africa
Size: 2-4 inches
Color: White
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Invertebrates and small fish

Vampire Shrimp Overview

Close Up Vampire Shrimp

The Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis) is a freshwater shrimp from West Africa.

You may have heard people call them Viper Shrimp, African Fan Shrimp, Rhino Shrimp and Gabon or Cameroon Fan Shrimp.

They come from the Atyidae family, which is best known because of Bamboo Shrimp.

Vampire Shrimp however are best known for two things:

  • Filter feeding
  • Their ability to change color

Shrimps usually scavenge in the substrate for food, however this shrimp uses their fanlike setae on their claws to catch particles carried along by currents. They do best in areas that are at least mildly turbid.

Vampire Shrimp are also color shifters. This means their color is determined by environmental conditions, substrate type and diet. This ability lets them blend in with their surroundings when they need to hide.

Because they are so similar to the South American species Atya scabra, some mistakenly believe that it has a South American population. However they are only found in West Africa.

You can buy them in groups for $20-$25 and individuals run between $12-$15 each. They are difficult to find and unfortunately they are often sold out.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Invertebrate keeping.
  • Nicknames: African Fan Shrimp, Viper Shrimp, Rhino Shrimp, Gabon/Cameroon Shrimp.
  • Color Forms: White.
  • Size: 2-4 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 15+ gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 75-85°F.

Vampire Shrimp vs Bamboo Shrimp

The Bamboo Shrimp is another species of filter feeding shrimp.

They are actually very similar to Vampire Shrimp and the two can live in the same community.

Vampire Shrimp actually come from the same family and their role in the aquarium is the same: to filter particles and manage turbidity in a tank.

However, there are several differences between the two species.

Bamboo Shrimp come from East Asia while the Vampire Shrimp is from Africa. Bamboo Shrimp lack the ability to change color, but come in a wide variety of different color forms.

Vampire Shrimp also have a much stockier build, while Bamboo Shrimp are very thin and wiry.

The Bamboo Shrimp is active during the day whereas the Vampire Shrimp is purely nocturnal. If you have both species in the same tank then you will see the Bamboo Shrimp much more often.

Vampire Shrimp Care Guide

Vampire Shrimp are a bit more difficult to care for than other shrimp.

This is mainly because of their sensitive and anxious nature.

If you are new to keeping shrimp then you should try keeping the Bamboo Shrimp first.

The most important thing to remember is that they can not be exposed to any amount of copper, zinc or other metals. These can be introduced through plant fertilizers and are also found in medications for fish. If you keep the shrimp in a tank full of invertebrates only then there is less of a chance that they will be exposed to these metals.

In addition to keeping metals out of the tank you should keep the tank clean.

Even small amounts of ammonia, nitrates and other waste products can cause a big problem.

Just remember when you clean the tank to move the shrimp to a safe zone first. This helps minimize the risk of distressing them.

Diet

Your Vampire Shrimp will find most of their feed on their own.

In they wild they spend hours foraging for particles in areas with strong currents.

They catch passing particles by raising their front legs and spreading their fanlike setae, then they scoop these particles into their mouth.

All of their food must be in a particulate form to be eaten. While they will find food on their own, you do need to provide outside food every few days.

Crushed spirulina tablets are a favorite, as are crushed algae wafers and powdered shrimp flakes. Powdered fish flakes and fry food are also acceptable.

As your plants decay they will decompose and the particles will spread through your water column. Your shrimp can eat this plant material once it has broken down into particles.

If you have sandy substrate you might notice your shrimp munching on sand too. While the sand has no nutritional value, it is used to help the shrimp digest food.

Here are the many different foods that you can feed them:

  • Spirulina tablets
  • Algae wafers
  • Shrimp flakes
  • Fish flakes
  • Detritus
  • Algae and phytoplankton
  • Spinach powder
  • Fry food
  • Plant material

These critters only feed at night and will need a fresh supply of particles every 2 or 3 days. Sprinkle the particles in an area of your tank where there is a particularly strong upstream current. If you have a sponge filter then you can give the sponge a squeeze to release any trapped particles for the shrimp to eat.

Behavior

These sensitive little shrimp are extremely anxiety prone. They are startled by sudden movements, lights, or if anything feels off in their environment.

Even during their active hours they spend most of their time out of sight. You will really only see them when they come out to forage at night.

They do a lot of climbing while they are trying to reach a current. But they will never venture very far above the lowest areas of the tank.

Due to their elusive nature they will never pick a fight with their tank mates or the others in their group. Their first line of defense in any situation is to hide.

While they do prefer to be active in a group, they also like to retreat to their own space from time to time. It is important that you have enough room in your tank for each one to have their own private hideout.

Your shrimp will molt their exoskeleton every month or two.

During this time they will want to be disturbed as little as possible during this process. Make sure they have a safe place where they can molt in peace.

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

Vampire Shrimp need very fast currents so they can filter feed.

In the wild their habitats have well oxygenated water with mild to moderate turbidity. They tend to gather in the dirtiest areas of rivers and streams.

What is most important is that there are no traces of metal and no excess waste products in the water column, as these are both extremely toxic to these invertebrates.

Vampire Shrimp will need the water temperature to be between 75-85°F.

You are also going to need a filter that is able to create a strong current. Keep your filter intake hidden or cover it with a sponge to keep it from catching unsuspecting shrimp. A small under gravel filter is the safest kind. If an under gravel filter is too risky for your tank then you can use a sponge or hang on back filter and add an extra pump to generate flow.

An air pump is also useful for creating currents.

The pH should be between 6.5-7.5 and the water hardness should range from 7-12 dGH. It does not matter what light intensity you use as the shrimp will not be active when the lights are on.

While clean water is important, it should also be slightly turbid. However there should be no ammonia, nitrates or other waste products in the water.

You will need to use soft substrate so your shrimp don’t injure themselves when they crawl and burrow. Soft sand is the best as it also helps the shrimp digest their food.

Finally you will need to provide plenty of hiding places for daytime resting.

You can use PVC shrimp shelters, overturned logs and artificial caverns made from rocks and driftwood. Plants are also very important to have in your tank (as both hiding places and feeding spots). When the leaves and stems decompose they can also provide an additional food source.

Use leafy plants like Anubias, Water Wisteria, Watersprite and Java Ferns. Pearlweed, Java Moss and Christmas Moss can be used for carpeting.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 15 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater planted
Temperature 75-85°F
pH 6.5-7.5
Hardness 7-12 dGH
Flow Heavy
Substrate Fine grains and soft sand

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

A group of 5 Vampire Shrimp will need at least a 15 gallon tank.

For each additional shrimp you should add 3 gallons of water.

Vampire Shrimp Appearance

The Vampire Shrimp’s appearance is one of the main reasons for their popularity.

They can look different every day!

Their natural color is white or translucent grey, but it will change based on their environment, age, health, and diet. Blue, green, red, brown, and tan are some of the most common color shifts. Yellow, pink, and even light purple are also possible.

Older shrimp tend to shift color less often than younger ones and are often a brown or maroon color.

Vampire Shrimp have a bulky body with a boxy cephalothorax and abdomen covered by a thick exoskeleton. Their front claws (chela) somewhat resemble fangs.

As with all members of decapoda this critter’s legs come in pairs of 5. They have 5 pairs of walking legs (pereopods) and 5 pairs of swimming legs (pleopods or swimmerets).

The first pair of walking legs are called chela. These contain a set of feathery setae which are used to filter particles from the water. The cephalothorax also holds the sensory appendages including the eyes, mouthparts, antennae and antennules.

At the end of the shrimp’s telson, is a fan shaped structure called a uropod. This is used for swimming backwards to escape a predator or keep up with currents.

Males are much larger and stockier than females but their abdomens are straight. The female is smaller with a rounded abdomen to compensate for the saddle.

Most individuals reach 2-3 inches but larger males can grow up to 4 inches.

Color Changes

While there is only one variety of Vampire Shrimp there are many different colors that they can change to. The possible color forms are as follows:

  • Blue: Shrimp are known to turn blue in environments with slightly higher salinities.
  • Green: A shrimp may turn green in order to blend in with a heavily planted tank, or if there is a large amount of greenery in their diet.
  • Red: Red or reddish brown is particularly common in older individuals. But a shrimp may also turn red to match the rocks near them.
  • Brown: Brown is a common shift in areas with dark colored substrate or acidic water.
  • Tan: Shrimp in lighter colored substrate or rocky areas will turn tan to match their surroundings.
  • Pink: Pink is one of the more uncommon color shifts, and it is not entirely known why it occurs. However it may be an attempt to blend in with lighter colored gravel or sand.
  • Yellow: Yellow is another rather uncommon color form.
  • Purple: Lavender purple is a sort of middle ground between the pink and blue colors. It is one of the rarest color shifts of all.

Suitable Tank Mates

Bamboo Shrimp

The Vampire Shrimp is a great choice for an invertebrate tank.

If this is your first time keeping shrimp then you should keep an invertebrate only tank.

They can live with certain types of fish as well, however care must be taken when keeping them with fish.

You must take their anxiety into account when picking the right tank mates. Anything too large, too fast, or too rambunctious can scare them into hiding for days.

Cherry Barbs and Guppies are two good options if you do want to add fish to your community. Strawberry, Pygmy and Chili Rasboras will also work out.

Slow moving Tetras like the Black Skirt Tetra are much less intimidating than those who dart around the tank. The Emperor Tetra is also a good pick.

Most Loaches are definitely a no go, but the Dwarf Chain Loach is safe. You can also try including a few Swordtails, Platies and other small Livebearers.

All large fish should be avoided, but even medium sized fish can cause a problem if they are over 5 inches long. Goldfish, Bettas, Barbs and other shrimp eaters are a no go. Aggressive Cichlid species should certainly be kept away, but even peaceful Cichlids often snack on shrimp.

Fast moving Tetras or Danios can startle a Vampire Shrimp. Also, you should never mix crabs and crayfish in with shrimp.

You have more non-fish tank mates choices.

The Bamboo Shrimp is considered one of the best.

Most other freshwater shrimp will fit in too, including: Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp, and Bee Shrimp.

Nerite, Mystery, Rabbit, Ramshorn and Malaysian Trumpet Snails are a few useful bottom dwellers that can clean up a Vampire Shrimp’s home.

Keeping Vampire Shrimp Together

Vampire Shrimp get along very well in groups.

To help them feel safe you should keep them in a group of at least 5.

All of the individuals in the group will congregate in the areas where food is the most abundant. Usually, these are the spots in the tank with the highest flow. They may also share the same shelter. If you have Bamboo Shrimp or other kinds of Fan Shrimp then the Vampire Shrimp will accept them as part of the group.

Since they have such specific breeding conditions they will not breed in your aquarium. Therefore you can keep a mixed gender group without consequences.

Breeding Vampire Shrimp

Vampire Shrimp cannot be bred in captivity.

This is because their very specific breeding conditions are nearly impossible to replicate in an aquarium.

Larvae and juvenile shrimp must live in brackish water before swimming upstream to freshwater upon reaching adulthood. The larvae are easily killed if the conditions are slightly off. Adult shrimp can also kill larvae by mistake if they get caught up in their setae.

Even professional shrimp breeders have difficulty rearing this species.

In the wild this shrimp will breed from March to September (with a peak that lasts from April to June).

Before breeding both parents undergo a molt.

To copulate the male uses his front swimming legs and the female carries the eggs in her saddle between her rearmost swimming legs.

After 4 weeks the female will lay up to 12,000 eggs in an area with heavy downstream currents. After they hatch the larvae are carried to brackish water by the currents.

The larvae are planktonic and nearly microscopic. They will go through several instars before they become free-swimming and begin to look like their parents.

After they leave their larval stage the juveniles must swim upstream to reach a lower salinity. They will live out the remainder of their lives in freshwater.

These conditions are just about impossible to replicate in an aquarium so you should not attempt to breed your Vampire Shrimp.

History and First Sighting

When Atya gabonensis were discovered by Giebel in 1875, it was thought that they were endemic to Gabon. However, populations were later discovered in other West African countries too.

A small fishery was established in Nigeria where the shrimp was considered a delicacy. For some time shrimp were exported to Europe as food as well.

Harvesting of the species began in the 1960s, both for food and for bait. It was not until later that the aquarium hobbyist took interest in this species and other Fan Shrimp.

They are one of the few aquarium species that is exclusively wild caught. This is because this shrimp cannot breed in captivity.

Thankfully their wild populations remain stable and the species is still listed as least concern by the IUCN.

The Vampire Shrimp is still quite rare in pet shops or home aquariums but it has a bit of a cult following among invertebrate keepers.

Should You Keep The Vampire Shrimp? (Summary)

Vampire Shrimp’s filter feeding abilities can be a big help at clearing up a particularly turbid tank. The stray particles floating in the water make a tasty snack for these shrimp.

If you love invertebrate tanks then this shrimp makes an excellent addition.

This friendly critter lives in perfect harmony with Bamboo Shrimp, Cherry Shrimp, and other popular invertebrates. There are also a few fish that they will get along with too.

With this helpful little guy around you never have to worry about a dusty tank. The nuisance particles that dirty up your aquarium make a tasty meal for this shrimp.

While they may be sensitive they are also very cordial and community friendly.

What colors have your Vampire Shrimp been turning? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. 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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