Cherry Shrimp Swimming to the Surface: 5 Quick Solutions

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Cherry Shrimp are usually a great addition to fish tanks, although sometimes they present a worrying behavior. For example, more than once, I caught my shrimp swimming to the surface. Over the years, I’ve learned what makes them act this way and how to deal with the issue. Now, I am willing to share my experience.

Cherry Shrimp typically swim to the surface due to oxygen deficiencies, secondary to stagnant water and malfunctioning filtration. Doing so allows them to exploit dissolved oxygen more efficiently. However, shrimp may also stay at the top due to elevated toxins, such as ammonia, copper, and chlorine.

As we move forward in this article, I will share a few other reasons for the phenomenon, including the case in which upward swimming is perfectly normal. Also, I will share five steps you should take that will likely solve the issue.

Why are my Cherry Shrimp Swimming to the Top?

Cherry Shrimp want freedom, which is why they respond poorly to overstocked tanks. They want ample room so that they can explore to their heart’s content. For that reason, if they keep spending most of their time at the surface, you should worry.

This isn’t always a cause for concern. But such behavior should encourage you to explore your shrimp’s situation and the health of their tank to ensure that their actions do not have a problematic cause. 

Some factors that may encourage Cherry Shrimp to swim to the surface include:

1. Your Shrimp Searches for Microscopic Algae

If it isn’t a case of personal preference, you have to consider the possibility that your Cherry Shrimp are swimming to the surface to feed. Cherry Shrimp eat algae. They won’t necessarily survive on the stuff, but sometimes they do.

That usually happens when you take the time to compliment their diet with additional items such as fish fakes and algae wafers every other day. In this case, the algae in the water can meet a considerable portion of their dietary needs.

Cherry Shrimp will eat the algae on any hard surface they can find. That includes the walls near the top of the tank. They can also eat the microscopic algae on the floating plants or the roots of the floating plants in your tank.

As you might have guessed from the term ‘Microscopic Algae’, some of the algae in your tank is too small for you to see. But even if it is invisible to your naked eyes, if your healthy shrimp are spending a lot more time at the top than you might consider normal, you have every reason to assume that they have found some algae to eat.

2. The Shrimp Enjoys Clinging on Floating Plants

As was mentioned above, Cherry Shrimp will swim to the top to eat the algae on floating plants. They may also eat the matter that your plants shed. But even in the absence of algae, some Cherry Shrimp enjoy clinging to the plants in your aquarium.

If you have floating plants, the shrimp will swim to the surface to satisfy this need. They can even sleep at the surface while clinging to the plants. If you have plants near the surface, they might be the primary element drawing your Cherry Shrimp to the top.

3. The Tank isn’t Adequately Cycled

Cherry Shrimp are no different from fish when it comes to cycling. They cannot live in tanks that haven’t been properly cycled. Cycling is a long process that can take weeks. But it is necessary because it introduces beneficial bacteria that keep aquariums clean by converting ammonia into nitrites and nitrates.

If a tank hasn’t been cycled, your Cherry Shrimp will swim to the surface to escape the uncomfortable conditions below. Their movements may also become erratic. If your tank is new and you cycled it, but your Cherry Shrimp are still swimming to the surface, consider your cleaning regiment.

If you completely replaced the filter, you most likely removed the beneficial bacteria introduced to the aquarium when you cycled it. The same thing can happen if you remove the medium or if you expose it to chlorinated water. The chlorine will kill the beneficial bacteria. In other words, you will undo the results of cycling.

4. Your Shrimp Suffers From the Water Parameters

Incomplete cycling is not the only source of poor conditions in the tank. You have to keep an eye on the parameters. Shrimp are more sensitive to bad water chemistry than fish, even though they are considered.[1]

But it would help if you didn’t force them to live in tanks where the pH, temperature, KH, and GH are incorrect. I also suggest that you avoid inconsistencies. Rapid and drastic changes in the water will cause distress and discomfort, which can compel the Cherry Shrimp to escape to the surface.

5. There isn’t Enough Oxygen in the Water

Like fish, Cherry Shrimp need oxygen. A poorly oxygenated tank will encourage Cherry Shrimp to swim to the surface. This is because oxygen enters an aquarium through the surface. As such, the surface tends to be more oxygen-rich than other sections of the tank.

Oxygen deficiencies have various causes. That includes overfeeding, overstocking, and overcrowding, along with low maintenance. Lack of oxygen also occurs in stagnant water. That is usually the case when the filtration system isn’t suitable for the tank’s dimensions.

6. Your Shrimp is Exposed to Toxins

Certain elements are a threat to Cherry Shrimp. That includes copper, chlorine, lead, ammonia, and nitrites. You can introduce these toxins to the tank by allowing leftovers, waste, and various organic matter forms to rot. This is true for ammonia.

You can introduce copper via fertilizers, plants, decorations, the substrate, and even the water added to the tank during water changes. One toxin that is often ignored by aquarists is chlorine. It is added to tap water to make it safe for drinking, but aquatic creatures do not like it.

If your tank has toxins, your Cherry Shrimp will attempt to escape by swimming to the surface and clinging to the plants. In some cases, some of those toxins accumulate at the bottom, leaving the top areas more suitable for shrimp.

7. The Shrimp Merely Prefers the Upper Sections

While it isn’t necessarily normal for Cherry Shrimp to spend all their time at the surface, it isn’t that out of the ordinary either. Many aquarists will tell you that their shrimp simply prefer the surface over every other section of the tank.

If your Cherry Shrimp is perfectly healthy, if it lives a relatively active life in the tank, the creature’s decision to spend so much time at the surface shouldn’t worry you. This is merely a preference. Like fish, the personalities of your Cherry Shrimp are not always predictable.

How to Treat Cherry Shrimp That Always Swim at the Top?

If your shrimp is still alive, there are steps you can take to remedy the factors causing it to swim at the surface, including:

1. Improving Oxygen Deficiencies

Oxygen deficiencies are relatively easy to solve. Where shrimp tanks are concerned, air stones are usually more than enough to resolve the situation. I personally use the Hygger Aquarium Air Stone (link to Amazon). That device works perfectly in my aquarium and keeps the environment incredibly quiet. 

Though, I also encourage you to identify the cause of the deficiency. In some cases, the tank water is stagnant. This can happen in tanks with filters that have stopped working. An active filter generates a current that disturbs the water, increasing the rate at which oxygen diffuses into the water and ensuring that the oxygen is distributed evenly.

If the water is stagnant, check the filter. You can also pour water into the tank from a high altitude to increase the agitation. In larger tanks, you should consider installing more powerful air pumps. But if you have a shrimp-only tank, air stones are enough.

2. Setting the Right Water Parameters

The first step here would be getting a testing kit. The one that works perfectly for me is the API Aquarium Test Kit (link to Amazon). That highly affordable bundle quickly measures the pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites in the tank. Within five minutes, you’ll know if something went wrong.

I highly suggest that you use it regularly. The only way to maintain the right conditions in the shrimp tank is to keep an eye on the parameters. It would be best if you also considered the temperature. Cherry Shrimp require a temperature of 72 to 78 degrees F and a pH of 7.0 to 7.8.[2]

If you don’t have one, make sure to install a heater. This will prevent the temperature from fluctuating unnecessarily. You can deactivate the heater in the summer seasons if the ambient temperature climbs to unbearable levels.

Also, bear in mind that the water should be relatively hard. The ideal water hardness for Cherry Shrimp falls between 100 and 200 ppm.[3] You can quickly check this by using these Water Hardness Test Strips (link to Amazon). If the water is too hard, mix it with soft water, such as rainwater.

The only way to protect your Cherry Shrimp from the sort of stress that might cause them to swim to the surface is to keep the parameters in your aquarium within the appropriate range. Weekly measures are crucial since aquatic environments tend to shift quite rapidly.

3. Performing Regular Maintenance

Along with cycling your tank to completion, you should perform small but regular water changes. Avoid extensive water changes of 50 percent or more. You will induce stress in the creatures. By performing smaller but regular water changes, you will prevent toxins like ammonia from spiking.

The filter can’t be ignored. You have to clean it. However, it shouldn’t be cleaned too thoroughly or too often. The frequency will depend on the type of filter. For instance, a Hang-On Filter can be cleaned once a month.[4]

A sponge filter, on the other hand, can be cleaned every two weeks. Also, you shouldn’t take out more than fifty percent of the media in the filter.[5] More importantly, you should clean the media using aquarium water that is less likely to kill the beneficial bacteria.

4. Using Water Conditioners

Pay close attention to the source of your water. If you are using tap water, it is possible that you accidentally add toxins like chlorine and copper to the tank. If you believe that your water has toxins that are forcing the shrimp to escape to the surface, please add conditioners.

Using these will make the water safer for shrimp. Try to match the conditioner to the toxin. Do not assume that an ammonia conditioner will also remove chlorine. You are also discouraged from relying on ordinary de-chlorinators.

If your tap water has chloramine, an ordinary de-chlorinator will only remove the chlorine. It will leave the ammonia behind. That is why I highly recommend checking the API Stress Coat Water Conditioner (link to Amazon). That product will instantly take care of chlorine and neutralize heavy metals.

Please read your conditioner’s instructions to ensure that it can remove all the toxins in your tap water. If it is lacking, use multiple conditioners. If you have questions about the toxins in your tap water, contact your water supplier. They will give you a breakdown of the elements in your tap water.

5. Avoiding Overcrowded Environment

Cherry Shrimp can live in tanks of 5 gallons. But the bigger, the better. Generally, I suggest getting a tank whose size matches your population of Cherry Shrimp. If you have too many shrimp in a small tank, toxins will spike more frequently. 

You are also more likely to struggle with oxygen deficiencies in overcrowded tanks. That is why I suggest minimizing the number of Cherry Shrimp in your aquarium. If you have an abundance of Cherry Shrimp, you can either place some of them in a separate tank or get a bigger one.

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If your Cherry Shrimp always hangs out at the top of the tank, your first step should be checking the water parameters. First, make sure that the pH and temperature fall within the desired range. Then, move forward and check the ammonia, nitrates, and hardness.

If everything checks out, it could be that your tank isn’t properly oxygenated. In that case, installing an airstone will get the job done. Bear in mind that sometimes it is merely the shrimp’s preference, and you are not required to make any adjustments.