Halloween has passed, but that doesn’t mean our obsession with scary things has stopped – or, at least, with things with a scary name. This is where the vampire shrimp comes into play!
The vampire shrimp is a critter with a rather frightening name, but adorably good looks! It can make any tank stand out from the rest of your collection!
However, many novice fishkeepers are scared of buying a few of these animals, afraid that they might hurt the rest of their tankmates, or wondering if they are capable of doing harm.
So, what’s the deal with vampire shrimp? Are they as scary as they sound? The truth might surprise you!
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about vampire shrimp – whether you are planning to buy them or are just curious about the species with such a unique name.
What Is a Vampire Shrimp?
You might think that a vampire shrimp is a creature from legends, or a mythical nocturnal species horror fans have made up. You couldn’t be further from the truth, as these invertebrates are pretty real.
Vampire shrimp (atya gabonensis) is a freshwater shrimp that is a rather popular addition in many peoples’ tanks.
It originates from West Africa and can be found in the area from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Senegal.
Some people also claim that you can find vampire shrimp in South America, as well, but as of the time of writing this article, there is no proof of that. Instead, this shrimp species is likely confused with its distant cousin, atya scabra.
Why Are They Called Vampire Shrimp?
These shrimp are known by many names, such as African giant shrimp, African filter shrimp, African fan shrimp, viper shrimp, Cameroon fan shrimp, Gabon shrimp, and blue rhino shrimp.
However, their most famous name is the one you already know of, the vampire shrimp.
The reason why the vampire shrimp has that name is due to its long, feather-like claspers that resemble vampire fangs. This is particularly noticeable while the shrimp are in their most active phase, as they can be rather scary looking.
Such appearance also makes people think they are dangerous predators that use their feeders to grab onto its prey and slowly kill it and eat it. Still, this is as far from the truth as possible.
These shrimp can hardly be confused with any other!
They have a thick, hardy exoskeleton that might remind some people of lobsters. Their two front legs are thicker than the rest and might look like they can cause lots of harm.
While other legs also look stronger than in most other shrimp, they are hardly noticeable compared to the front ones.
Not just that, but their front legs have fan-like claws that they use for feeding – although this isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds! More on this in a bit.
All of their legs have tiny bumps that might look like spikes, but they are entirely harmless.
Vampire shrimp can come in an array of colors. Most of the time, you can find them in blue, red, white, or gray. They shouldn’t have any patterns or spots, except for the vertical markings that are the result of their shell plates.
Believe it or not, but their color mostly depends on the water hardness of the lake they were captured from.
Also, similarly to most other shrimp, they have six tentacles on their head that they use to sense pheromones in the water.
They can also help them track food and ‘smell’ various chemicals in the water. You could say they are their tool for finding a way in their surroundings.
Vampire Shrimp Size
Vampire shrimp isn’t a small shrimp by any means. This makes it different from many other freshwater shrimp typically found inside a tank, such as amano shrimp or a whisker shrimp.
In nature, adult vampire shrimp can grow up to 6 inches in size! This makes them among the largest freshwater shrimps for your aquarium.
However, most vampire shrimp commonly sold in pet stores are smaller, and will rarely reach a size greater than 3 inches.
This is the result of selective breeding, as the goal was to allow more people to keep a colony of these gorgeous creatures without having to buy a huge tank.
Most of the time, the shrimp you see in stores are yet to reach their full size. Breeders typically sell them when they are around 2 inches in length, but be prepared that they’ll keep on growing for a bit.
Just like in most other shrimp species, females will grow to be larger than males. This is also one of the main ways in which you can sex them.
Temperament and Behavior
These are rather calm shrimp that won’t make any crazy fuss inside your aquarium. They are shy and will try to avoid creating any commotion to their tank mates.
Vampire shrimps prefer spending their time alone, inside their favorite hiding place. It isn’t uncommon not to see them for days! They gather all their food from the moving water, so there’s really no need for them to move around that much.
Most of the time, they’ll stand next to the water current with their fans spread, attempting to catch any food that might be floating around. In the tank, this will likely be next to the filter – hence their name African fan shrimp or filter shrimp.
They are nocturnal creatures that will usually come out during the night. Don’t expect them to be too active in bright light!
Are Vampire Shrimp Aggressive?
Most people think these shrimp are dangerous and frightening, but there isn’t any truth to these claims.
Despite their name, vampire shrimps are not aggressive at all! Quite the opposite – these are rather peaceful shrimp that are not confrontational at all.
Their thick shell is their only defense, and other than that, they are pretty much harmless.
Unfortunately, vampire shrimp is prone to many health issues, especially if you don’t keep it in the right conditions.
Most notably, these shrimp are prone to many parasitic infections, such as vorticella. This parasite can enter your tank through natural rocks or live plants and it can be tricky to kill.
They are also prone to bacterial and fungal infections, especially when they are molting. It’s essential to allow your shrimp to rest after the molting process, but also monitor them closely so you can quickly react if you see any signs of infections.
When treating a tank with vampire shrimp, be careful what type of medicine you’re using. Many treatments that are good for fish can be very harmful to invertebrates.
For example, you might know whether aquarium salt is dangerous for snails, but do you know that salt can also kill your shrimp?
Another dangerous chemical for shrimp is copper. Never use copper-based medications for your shrimp, as it can kill them in just a few hours!
If your shrimp shows any signs of infections, it’s essential to quarantine them to stop the disease from spreading to the rest of the colony. Buy shrimp-safe medication and use it according to the instructions.
Most shrimp are not known for their long lifespan. This is where the vampire shrimp has an upper hand.
Vampire shrimp can live up to 5 years in captivity. There are a few reports of them living even longer if the water is a bit on the colder side.
In general, as long as you provide them with the right care and proper environment, they can live fairly long lives, especially when compared to most other invertebrates.
Vampire Shrimp Care Guide
As a fishkeeper that mostly kept dwarf shrimp species, I can immediately say that there are some differences in caring for vampire shrimp compared to caring for, let’s say, a blue dream shrimp. But that doesn’t mean that vampire shrimp are challenging to care for!
This shrimp species is an amazing choice for a novice aquarist as it is super easy when it comes to care and maintenance.
Of course, while they don’t require any particularly challenging water parameters or care requirements, they are still sensitive to changes and improper environment.
As such, you should always strive to replicate their natural habitat, which is rivers and lakes of South Africa.
Vampire shrimp have a rather unique diet that most people don’t expect from a shrimp of such a name.
They are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. However, they don’t catch live prey. Instead, they filter organic particles with the use of the fans on their legs.
You can see your shrimp getting near the filter, spreading its front legs with fans, then waving. This means it is feeding.
Their preferred foods are algae, such as spirulina. However, you shouldn’t feed your shrimp with just one type of food.
While they can eat fish flakes, sometimes the flakes can be too big for them. A good idea is to grind your fish food (mix many types, if possible), then pour a bit inside your tank.
You can also add some calcium supplements, as they are good for your shrimp’s exoskeleton. Grind some eggshells if you’d like a cheap substitute for store-bought products.
Remember to never overfeed your shrimp. Give them the amount of food they can eat in an hour or two, and no more.
These shrimp can tolerate many water conditions and they aren’t too picky. However, you should always aim to provide them with an environment they can thrive in.
It seems that vampire shrimp prefer living in somewhat alkaline water. They don’t mind mildly hard water levels, and it’s always better to have your pH levels a bit higher than lower.
Some general water parameters include:
|Water Temperature:||75 – 85°F|
|Water pH:||6.5 – 8.0|
|Total Dissolved Salts:||100 – 200 PPM|
|Water Hardness:||3 – 15 dKH|
|Carbonate Hardness:||6 – 20 dGH|
Due to their hardiness, they can survive if your water parameters aren’t within this range, but only for a short while. To avoid this from happening, always aim for the middle of this range.
Also, keep a close eye on your ammonia and nitrite levels. Shrimp are rather sensitive to biological waste and its effects, as they require highly oxygenated water.
Due to their size, these critters require fairly large tanks. While you might think you can keep many fish and shrimp in a 5-gallon tank, forget about that with these animals.
They require a tank with a capacity of at least 20 gallons! If you can provide them with more space – even better!
Due to their feeding habits, these shrimp need to have lots of space. This will allow the flow of water and help them feel safe and secure.
Not just that, but larger tanks are easier to maintain, as the water parameters are more stable. You don’t need to worry about sudden pH or temperature changes as you would if the tank was smaller.
As vampire shrimp prefer having some water movement inside their tank, choosing a suitable filter is very important.
Sponge filters are always a good choice. They are effective, while also keeping small animals from getting in and hurting themselves. However, if you decide to buy one, make sure to buy a powerhead, as well. This will help with the water movement.
Another good choice is a canister filter. These filters don’t require powerheads as they create plenty of movement on their own.
As these shrimp love to hide, you need to provide them with lots of hiding spots. Anything that can serve as a decoration is a huge plus and can help them thrive.
Natural rocks are an excellent choice, as these shrimp have tiny hooks on their legs designed to grab onto stones whilst they’re feeding. Sure, these can be challenging to clean so many fishkeepers avoid them, but don’t panic – a bit of vinegar will do the trick!
Another decoration vampire shrimps love are live plants. Not only do they look nice, but they can be an excellent source of food! Don’t worry – vampire shrimp don’t eat plants.
While many tank owners use driftwood, I would be careful with this one. Driftwood can lower the pH inside your tank, and as I’ve mentioned, vampire shrimp prefer water that is a bit alkaline.
To make sure your water parameters are stable, always boil any piece of driftwood before adding it to your aquarium.
Sure, vampire shrimp might prefer driftwood to rocks as driftwood is much easier to grip. However, as driftwood can mess with water parameters, make sure to test your water even more often than you regularly would.
Since they are nocturnal, don’t worry about the light inside the tank. They prefer staying in shade, so it’s okay if the decorations keep the light from entering.
Suitable Tank Mates
Vampire shrimps can live in community tanks with the most peaceful fish species. Due to their size and tough shell, they aren’t as harmless as dwarf shrimp species.
At the same time, they won’t attack or eat smaller animals inside their tank.
In general, the best tankmates for vampire shrimp are:
- Friendly fish species such as mollies, guppies, and plecos.
- Neocaridina shrimp, such as blue velvet shrimp.
- Caridina shrimp, such as ninja shrimp.
- Snails, such as nerite snail and ramshorn snail.
Of course, always make sure the tank mates have the same needs as your vampire shrimp.
Vampire Shrimp Molting
Just like any other invertebrate, vampire shrimps need to molt. As they grow fairly slow, they’ll only molt once every few months compared to smaller shrimp that molt once every few weeks.
The molting process helps vampire shrimp shed its old exoskeleton once it grows too big for it. This might make you think you have a dead shrimp inside your tank, when you’re only looking at the shrimp molt.
As mentioned before, a freshly molted vampire shrimp is rather vulnerable. Don’t disturb it during this time.
While molts are generally a great calcium source and many fishkeepers love to leave them inside the tank for a short while, this doesn’t seem to be the case with vampire shrimp molts. This is probably due to their thickness.
As such, there is no need to keep them in the tank.
Vampire Shrimp Breeding
It is rather challenging to breed vampire shrimp in captivity. This is due to specific needs of their larvae.
While vampire shrimp can mate in freshwater, larvae need brackish water to survive. This is challenging to reproduce in captivity, which is why many of these animals are wild-caught.
As you can see, there is nothing scary about vampire shrimp. They are peaceful animals that eat tiny particles you can’t even see with the naked eye! There is no way they could ever harm anyone.
Vampire shrimps are great beginner pets as they aren’t challenging to keep. The biggest issue is finding the right filter that can provide your aquarium with a decent waterflow.
Whether you choose to keep them in a species-only tank or together with some fish and snails, it doesn’t matter. They’ll make your tank stand out no matter what!
As long as you provide them with proper care and water parameters, you can enjoy their company in many years to come.
The only issue with these animals is that it can be challenging to find the ones that were bred in captivity. If you have no issues with this, they can make amazing additions to any aquarium.
Hi fellow aquarists, I’m Ava and I’ve been an enthusiastic aquarium hobbyist for over four years now.
I’ve been amazed by these beautiful creatures since I was a kid and I’m thrilled to be sharing everything I’ve learned over the years with anyone who’s as passionate about the topic as I am.