Like so many things, setting up a small or “nano” aquarium can be as simple or as complicated as you would like to make it.
The appeal of these tanks in the 5 to 10-gallon range is obvious – they take up little space and offer an excellent pocket hobby for those who like to think small. The problem is, there are few fish that can thrive in such a tiny habitat. Even a single cichlid needs at least 20 gallons.
But freshwater shrimp are a different story. Not only are they cute and colorful and fairly easy to breed, but you can keep a whole colony of them in a small aquarium. And the set-up costs for a shrimp habitat can be kept fairly low.
So what’s not to love?
Let’s begin with the most basic approach. There are a dozen ways that you can get more elaborate, and maybe later you will want to do that – but simple is best at the start.
There are many species and color varieties of shrimp available – this is a hobby that has really taken off. Some are hardy and affordable, others are as delicate and expensive as a rare orchid (bee shrimp from the mountain streams of China and Taiwan, for example).
You are better off starting with a manageable species such as the red cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi). These are forgiving, and can thrive even when you make some neophyte errors in tank management. They are readily available from shops and online, usually sold in batches of 10 or more shrimp. Start with this one species – don’t mix different types of shrimp.
But you’re not quite ready to purchase your new pets – yet. First, you have to pick a tank and prepare it to receive them.
What will you need?
Dust the bottom of the dry tank with the powdered bacteria mix – your local pet store or aquarium shop should be able to recommend a good blend. Place the substrate on top on that, either gravel or AquaSoil. A dark colored substrate is preferable because your shrimp will stand out visually against it.
Create an aquascape using rocks and branches. It is usually best to buy these from a store rather than to collect them off the ground – you don’t want to introduce any undesirable microrganisms into your tank environment. Check out what are the best live rocks for nano tank to buy.
Your shrimp tank should definitely feature live plants – moss, aqua-grasses such as Utricularia graminifolia, larger plants such as Amazon swords. Your shrimp will graze on these and also will appreciate the protective cover and hiding spaces they provide.
Tap water should be acceptable to use in your tank as long as you add dechlorinating drops and monitor the water parameters. You will become familiar with acronyms such as pH, GH (general hardness), KH (carbonate hardness), and TDS (total dissolved solids). An inexpensive water testing kit is a must. The acceptable water parameters (including tank temperature)will differ for each species of shrimp, but are easily researched online.
You will want light for your tank, but low light – bright light would encourage algae growth.
Although there are many filtration options, including HOB (hang on the back) and canister filters, shrimp enthusiasts have gravitated towards sponge filters which can be incorporated gracefully into the aquascape. Sponge filters pose no risk to even the smallest baby shrimp (who can be sucked into the intake of other filters), and all your shrimp will enjoy grazing on the food particles that get caught on the surface of the sponges.
A heater that activates when the tank temperature drops below 70 degrees F is a good accessory. Although there are some shrimp species that specifically prefer colder water, red cherry shrimp and other types of Neocaridina live and breed best when you maintain a tank temperature in the 70s.
The shrimp food that you buy will include both carbohydrate and protein matter, since freshwater shrimp are omnivores. There are a growing number of suppliers and brands in this market.
Once you have an aquascaped tank filled with water, are you ready to add the shrimp? Well no, not quite. You will need some patience at this point – two to four weeks of it, to be precise. Because you simply must put the water in your tank through an initial nitrogen cycle.
This is where the beneficial bacteria that you added to the tank initially become very important. Some of these good bacteria convert harmful waste ammonia into (also harmful) nitrites, while others convert the nitrites into much more benign nitrates.
You mimic this process of neutralizing shrimp waste before placing the animals in your tank, by adding a small amount of ammonia and testing the water after two, three, four weeks to see if the ammonia and nitrite levels have gotten down to near-zero. When they have, your aquarium is ready for its inhabitants! You’ll have to do small (10-15%) water changes every week or two afterward, to keep the water at its best for your grateful shrimp.
If you follow these simple steps, you are well on your way to enjoying your new hobby.