Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis): Ultimate Care Guide

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Vampire Shrimp (Atya gabonensis) is a freshwater shrimp that are often kept in aquariums. They are filter-feeding shrimp with a peaceful temperament.

While their name might make it appear as if they are dangerous creatures, they really aren’t. The name “Vampire Shrimp” most likely comes from their legs or “fans” that may resemble fangs to some. Since they are more active at night, this may have also contributed to their name as well.

Vampire Shrimp originate in Western Africa and South America. However, they have also been introduced to the waterways of Florida. Their natural habitat is 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 become known in the aquarium trade until the 1980s. Today, while they aren’t the most popular shrimp in the aquarium hobby, they are definitely interesting and worth considering.

This vampire shrimp can also be known as the Cameroon Fan, African Fan, Blue Rhino, African Filter, African Giant, 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.   

At their young ages, it is not really possible to tell the difference between males and females.  After its initial molting, the male’s tenth abdominal segment becomes thick and broad and 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 tends 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 leg will have a larger point to help them hold onto rocks or plants for stability. 

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

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 vampire shrimp is that they help keep your tank clean by eating uneaten food or algae.  The general care of vampire shrimp is the same as 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 a healthy temperature, pH levels, and tank size to ensure your vampire shrimp have a happy life in their new home.

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 range 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 plan on having other fish mates, a larger tank would be necessary.  The tank should have at least a twelve-inch height, 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 in your tank, a larger size will benefit those creatures by giving 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 receiving the water current will be their main feeding ground.  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 too big. Therefore, it might be good to supplement their diets with crushed-up flakes or fish pellets.  What the vampire shrimp are looking for is taking a bit of powdered food and sprinkling it into the flowing current.


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 decrease the lifespan of the vampire shrimp and 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 several reasons ranging from tank setup, the stress of being moved, or differences between the display tank and the new tank.

Tank Setup

When creating a safe and adventurous habitat for the vampire shrimp, the tank must 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 will spend most of 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 vampire shrimp are very delicate creatures, so the gravel can tear up their fans.  Adding plants is another great addition to the tank, but it would be best to use live, organic plants because the vampire shrimp like to exist on the organic material that is shed from the plants. 

If mixing up the plant species is possible, 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 keep the water clean and flowing so 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 make your vampire shrimp thrive in their new environment. 


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, 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 to pull off, so you are best to leave the vampire shrimp to live their best lives in peace. 

Common Diseases

Once again, maintaining a healthy tank and filtration system can avoid many issues with your vampire shrimp.  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 spread to other body parts. 

There is also the possibility of parasitic infections, the most common being the parasite known as vorticella, which makes its way into the tank through the plants and rocks.  The vampire shrimp ingest the parasite and causes 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 few months, leaving them quite vulnerable to infections.  Most vampire shrimp will hide away after molting anyway, which is another reason to ensure 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 copper-based medicines as they are fatal to the vampire shrimp. 

Vampire Shrimp Molting

The molting process happens as the vampire shrimp grows over time.  This process will happen every few months.  The time it takes 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; if the vampire shrimp does not give any attention to it, then it will be ok to take it out of the tank.

Tank Mates for Vampire Shrimp

Vampire shrimp are known for being shy and generally like being 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 limiting the number of tank occupants might be to their benefit based on how big the tank is. 

Vampire shrimp generally hide during the day and become more active at night.  If there are multiple vampire shrimp in one tank, they might be social and hide together.  But if you are looking for a larger community, there are several options for vampire shrimp.

Guppies, platies, cherry barbs, danios, neon rainbow fish, and snails are always a good fit for the vampire shrimp when considering other fish as tank mates.   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 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 has no claws or fangs to harm the vampire shrimp, making 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 reached 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 see if they are available, as those places tend to take better care of their fish.  Buying vampire shrimp will be 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. 

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