Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis): Ultimate Care Guide


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One of the more overlooked freshwater species from the fish tanks is the vampire shrimp, also known by their scientific name Atya gabonesis.  This reclusive shrimp with this dangerous name are naturally found in Western Africa and South America.  They have also been introduced to the waterways in Florida.  They are usually found in the freshwater coastal areas between the mangrove roots, muddy regions, and other dense vegetation.  This unique creature was first discovered in 1855 but did not really take off in the aquarium trade until the 1980’s and became one of the most popular crustaceans to add to the aquarium. 

This vampire shrimp can also be known as the Cameroon Fan shrimp, African Fan shrimp, Blue Rhino shrimp, African Filter shrimp, African Giant shrimp, and Gabon shrimp.  This is due to the fact that the vampire shrimp can vary depending on their age and sex.  Newborn vampire shrimp are typically a light brown color, while the fully grown vampire shrimp can be a wide variety of colors including red, green, blue, and black.  There are some that can even have stripes or spots.  This is mainly because the vampire shrimp can be affected by their environment and the lighting that it lives in.   

During their young ages, it is not really possible to tell the difference between the males and females.  After its initial molting, there is a tenth abdominal segment of the male which becomes thick and broad which has three projections.  However, in females, that segment becomes thin and narrow.  This is mainly how to tell between males and females. 

The typical vampire shrimp size is around five or six inches in length and tend to live a bit shorter lives in captivity.  They are longer and bulkier than most other freshwater shrimp and have a shell scaled to their size.  Vampire shrimp will grow to look very similar to crawfish with bumpy points along their legs.  Each of their legs will have a larger point that will help them hold onto rocks or plants for stability. 

Vampire shrimp have been growing in popularity in many tanks because of their unique feeding habits.  The breed feeds on smaller fish, prawns, and other shrimp by sucking their blood, hence getting the name vampire shrimp.

Vampire Shrimp Care

Vampire shrimp are the “shy guys” of the fish tanks.  They are pretty easy to take care of as long as you provide a proper environment for them.  They are incredibly low-maintenance and quite peaceful.  The best part about the vampire shrimp is the fact that they help keep your tank clean by eating any uneaten food or algae.  The general care of vampire shrimp is about the same for any other kind of shrimp kept in an aquarium.  This makes them the perfect addition to any aquarium.  Much like any other kind of fish, the cleaning and care process of the fish tank itself will ensure the quality and growth of the fish kept within.  Therefore, it is important to maintain healthy temperature, pH levels, and size of the tank in order to make sure your vampire shrimp have a happy life in their new home.

Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis)
Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis)

Tank and Water Parameters

Like most other fish, the tank’s parameters must be fine-tuned to fit their individual needs.  Luckily, vampire shrimp are not too particular with their water levels as they can withstand a fairly wide range of variations in the water.  The temperature is one of the most important factors.  For the vampire shrimp, the tank’s water needs to be between 74-85°F.  It is better for most vampire shrimp to aim for the middle of this range.

For the pH levels, it is best for the vampire shrimp to have between 6.5 to 7.8, preferably somewhere in the middle of this range.  The water should have a water hardness of 3 to 10dKH.  It is also important to test these parameters often to ensure that the habitat is in the right ranges for your vampire shrimp. 

The proper tank size for the vampire shrimp should be at least twenty gallons.  This is a good start to the size of the tank, but if you are planning on having other fish mates, then a larger tank would be necessary.  The tank should have at least a twelve-inch height to it and some amount over thirty inches in length will be optimal for your vampire shrimp.  Depending on how many aquatic creatures you plan to have it your tank, a larger size will benefit those creatures to give them more space to move around in. 

Food & Diet

Vampire shrimp get most of their nutrients from feeding on their own after the sun goes down.  They are filter feeders. Any part of the tank that is receiving the water current will be their main feeding grounds.  They will extend their fans and catch the food.  Vampire shrimp eat a lot of edible plant bits, along with uneaten fish food, and any other microorganisms that might be floating around in the tank.  Obviously, these vampire shrimp cannot eat anything to big, therefore, it might be good to supplement their diets with crushed up flakes or fish pellets.  Taking a bit of powdered food and sprinkling it into the flowing current is exactly what the vampire shrimp are looking for.

Lifespan

The important thing to remember about vampire shrimp is that they will not live in captivity as long as they would in the wild.  Under good conditions, a wild vampire shrimp will live about eight to ten years, however, a captive vampire shrimp will only live about three to six years.  Vampire shrimp will only live to their full potential in a well-maintained environment.  Any consistent or ignored issues within the aquarium will decreases the lifespan of not only the vampire shrimp, but also of any other aquatic creatures living in that dwelling.  It should be noted that many vampire shrimp do tend to die when brought into a new tank.  This could be due to a number of reason ranging from tank setup, stress of being moved, or differences between the display tank to the new tank.

Tank Setup

When creating and safe and adventurous habitat for the vampire shrimp, the tank needs to look as natural as possible.  They do best in habitats that have a lot of dense vegetation and plenty of rocks and driftwood.  Since the vampire shrimp are going to eat mainly at night, they are going to spend most their daytime hiding in pockets and crevices around the tank, so make sure they have plenty of places to hide.  One trick would be to create a layer of sand substrate at the bottom of the tank so they can dig around in it.  Sand is a much better option for this than gravel because they vampire shrimp are very delicate creatures, so the gravel can tear up their fans.  Adding plants are another great addition to the tank, but it would be best to use live, organic plants because the vampire shrimp like to subsist on the organic material that is shed from the plants.  If it is possible to mix up the plant species, then do it.  Add some moss on the ground and try putting some taller-stemmed in the back of the tank and some more leafy plants in the foreground. 

As far as a filtration system, the most important thing to remember is to create a flowing current that is strong and consistent.  A high powered filter will help to keep the water clean and flowing so that the vampire shrimp know where to look for food.  The pump should be aimed to keep the water circulating, however, do not make it too powerful because it would make it too difficult for the vampire shrimp to hunt for their food.  Creating the right balance will be paramount for making your vampire shrimp thrive in their new environment. 

Breeding

Breeding vampire shrimp is possible, but really not worth the hassle.  It is a very difficult process to replicate in an aquarium.  To give you an idea of the process, the vampire shrimp’s young go through several larval stages and are hatched in saltwater and eventually make their way back to freshwater.  The environmental switch makes it very complicated to switch the vampire shrimp from one tank to another without causing stress to the creatures.  Large scale breeding is difficult for pet stores themselves to pull off, so you are best to just leave the vampire shrimp to live their best lives in peace. 

Common Diseases

Once again, a lot of issues with your vampire shrimp can be avoided by maintaining a healthy tank and filtration system.  However, vampire shrimp are prone to a number of bacterial and fungal infections.  Any time spores get into the aquarium, they can really cause problems for the vampire shrimp.  These infections can attack the dead tissue and then spread to other parts of the body. 

There is the possibility of parasitic infections as well, the most common being the parasite known as vorticella, which makes its way into the tank through the plants and rocks.  The parasite is ingested by the vampire shrimp and cause problems. 

While these infections can attack the vampire shrimp at any time, the most delicate time is when the shrimp is molting.  The vampire shrimp can shed their old shells every couple of months which leaves them quite vulnerable to infections.  Most vampire shrimp will hide away after molting anyway, which is another reason to make sure that your tank has a lot of hiding spots.  Most of these infections are treatable with any safe invertebrate-safe medication.  However, do not use any copper-based medicines as they are fatal to the vampire shrimp. 

Vampire Shrimp Molting

The molting process happens as the vampire shrimp grow over time.  This process will happen every few months.  The time that it takes for them to molt depends on the size of the shrimp and the environmental conditions.  Vampire shrimp that are stressed out and have a bad living space will take longer to molt.  Needless to say, the molting process is very important to the vampire shrimp’s health, growth, and development.  After the molting process is complete, the vampire shrimp can grow stronger and larger and have a better exoskeleton that is well suited for the environment. 

After the vampire shrimp sheds its old shell, it will appear that the shrimp has died because it seems stuck to a certain part of the tank.  However, in a day or so, the vampire shrimp will come out of its hiding spot with a brand new thin shell.  It might also be a good idea to leave the old shell in the tank for a while because the vampire shrimp likely eat part of the discarded shell.  Keep an eye on the old shell and if the vampire shrimp does not give any attention to the old shell, then it will be ok to take it out of the tank.

Tank Mates for Vampire Shrimp

Vampire shrimp are known for their shyness and generally like to be left alone.  They are not aggressive, but do not like to be bothered.  In fact, if there are too many other tank mates in the aquarium with them, they have been known to have stress if the other tank occupants are highly active.  That being said, it is ok to have these vampire shrimp live with other shrimp and fish, but it might be in their benefit to limit the number of tank occupants based on how big the tank is.  Vampire shrimp will generally hide during the day and become more active at night.  If there are multiple vampire shrimp in one tank, then they might be social with each other and hide together.  But if you are looking for a larger community, there are several options for vampire shrimp.

When considering other fish as tank mates, guppies, platies, cherry barbs, danios, neon rainbow fish, and snails are always a good fit for the vampire shrimp.   Anything that is non-aggressive will live well with vampire shrimp.  Corydoras are good tank mates, but might eat a baby shrimp or two, but since breeding is not really at play here, they should be ok in the tank with vampire fish.  However, aggressive fish like bettas, goldfish, cichlids, and angelfish are not good tank mates.  These are omnivorous and might eat the vampire shrimp.  It’s best to keep the fish small so as not to attack the vampire shrimp.

Some suitable tank mates would include other types of shrimp.  Cherry shrimp, bamboo shrimp, snowball shrimp, amano shrimp, and ghost shrimp are good tank mates for vampire shrimp as they all tend to keep to themselves.  The bamboo shrimp, for example, is equally non-aggressive and have no claws or fangs to harm the vampire shrimp, so it makes it a very good tank mate.  Cherry shrimp is another good tank mate as it is a non-aggressive filter feeder that will not bother the vampire shrimp.

Where to Find Vampire Shrimp For Sale

If you have made it to this point in the article, you are probably wondering where to buy a vampire shrimp.  There are multiple places to find these little guys like Petsmart, Amazon, and EBay.  You might want to look into local aquatic pet stores to if they are available, as those places tend to take better care of their fish.  Buying vampire shrimp will be a bit more expensive than other fish and shrimp.  You will be looking to spend between $15-20 for the vampire shrimp.  Be sure to do your due diligence when looking for vampire shrimp.  Ask many questions to the seller and see if the shrimp look healthy and well taken care of. 

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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