The ghost shrimp is an extremely popular fish food that is popular with aquarium keepers from all levels of experience.
The name “ghost shrimp” can be used as a general description for all members of the Palaemonetes family, in this article, we will focus on the most commonly kept species amongst aquarium hobbyists, the freshwater ghost shrimp.
Ghost shrimps are very easy and cheap to breed, they are a great source of protein and nutrients and provide an excellent food source for small, gentle tempered fish.
Ghost shrimp by themselves are rarely kept as pets. They are tiny, relatively inanimate and their lifespan in the wild is a mere one year long. However, they are very easy to keep, they are non-aggressive omnivores that require a minimum tank size of around 30 gallons to keep.
In the aquarium, ghost shrimp usually serve one of two purposes: to act as a valuable, nutritious meal or to be effective bottom feeding tank cleaners. Ghost shrimp are very effective tank cleaners, due to their small size, they lack the power to attack, kill and eat other fish, therefore their primary food source is through scavenging algae. Ghost shrimps are constantly busy almost all day, scurrying about the tank and consuming algae, helping to clean up your tank.
FEEDER FISH OR AQUARIUM FISH?
When buying your ghost shrimp from an aquarium store, its important to find whether they have been bred for the purpose of being aquarium fish or just feeder fish (food for fish).
Although they are non-aggressive and can function as a group, ghost fish can also perform fine as solitary individuals.
Ghost shrimps that have been bred to become nothing more than feeder fish usually have poorer survival ability, they are often bred in extremely nutrient dense and warm solutions where physical growth is the #1 priority, they have grown to mature sizes very quickly and unnaturally without developing the ability to forage. The ghost shrimp are kept in extremely small tanks with a very large and overcrowded population for easy and cheap maintenance, making them more prone to disease and less healthy. This isn’t a problem if they are going to be used as feeder fish as their bodily nutrients are still present but if you wish for them to survive in your aquarium for longer periods of time then they will find it difficult.
GHOST SHRIMP BEHAVIOUR
Ghost shrimp behaviour takes a wide variety of different forms. They can be seen scurrying about the bottom of the tank, swimming all around the aquarium, even digging out temporary burrow networks in thick algae!
Ghost shrimp are a species native to the New World, they were introduced to the aquarium hobbyist in mid 19th century America. Nowadays ghost shrimp inhabit aquariums worldwide as fishkeepers have discovered their usefulness.
GHOST SHRIMP APPEARANCE
They are called “ghost” shrimp due to their stealthily transparent body. Ghost shrimp have probably evolved to be this clear color as an effective defense against predation from other fish as they are largely defenseless.
A very attractive feature of ghost shrimp is their transparent body. Any food that is consumed is visible, they are like nimble, moving glass jars – this looks very cool.
Another amazing feature of ghost shrimp is they have colored markings on their backs and the color varies between species. Their entire body is clear, you can see the food being packaged and processed in their bodies AND there is a colored dot growing out of nowhere that looks like its floating. This is the wonder of the ghost shrimp.
Ghost shrimp can grow to a size of 1.5 inches or 3.5 centimetres. The width of a ghost fish at maturity is around the size of a pencil, the females are slightly larger than the males. Unlike many other species of crustaceans such as lobsters, ghost fish have a more thin and streamline build. This reflects in their behaviour, ghost fish are not fighters so they don’t need a bulky size, they are better at running away from at the first sign of threat!
Ghost shrimp have much softer shells than lobsters/crayfish. Behind their caraspace (outer shell), ghost fish have 6 abdominal segments which form a flexible cover to protect their soft bodies. The small area between the 3rd and 4th shell segments join to form a small section that is slightly raised. The ghost shrimp’s pleopods (also called swimerets, the “floating” part of the ghost shrimp resembling legs that flutter back and forth as the ghost shrimp move around the fish tank.
A fully grown ghost shrimp is immune to predation from smaller species of fish but still vulnerable against larger, more aggressive species in your aquarium. Ghost shrimp also have a small hump halfway down the length of their tail.
There are two pairs of antennae on ghost shrimp, one set is long and one set is short. Antennae are used for detecting chemicals, smells, toxins and touch to help the ghost fish navigate in addition to their well developed eyes. Ghost shrimp also use their antennae to communicate social information, this is a very popular area of study for scientists but their exact method of social communication is yet to be determined.