When I got my first ghost shrimp, I immediately wondered whether they would clean my tank. I heard stories that they can eat algae and leftovers, but I wasn’t sure. I finally found the answer, and it’s pretty awesome. Here, I’ll tell you whether ghost shrimp are capable of cleaning a fish tank or not.
Ghost shrimp can clean tanks. They will efficiently get rid of algae, leftovers, dead fish, waste, and dead plants. However, it is best not to rely on them entirely. Even though they are excellent cleaners, aquarists are still encouraged to replace the water regularly and vacuum the substrate.
As we move forward, I will share three steps to encourage your ghost shrimp to stay longer and perform better. Then, I will list a few other shrimp species that can also be used as aquarium cleaners.
Do Ghost Shrimp Clean Tanks?
Yes, ghost shrimp will clean your tank. Some aquarists do not understand why anyone would add shrimp to a fish tank, especially when ghost shrimp are small enough that larger, more aggressive fish will eat them.
They do not realize that ghost shrimp can contribute to the hygiene of an aquarium. They are scavengers that eat dead and decaying matter. As such, you can trust them to do the following:
1. Ghost Shrimp Eat Algae
Ghost shrimp are not the best algae eaters, but they can keep the algae population in your tank at bay. Algae is unavoidable. It will form on most surfaces in the tank, including the plants, decorations, and substrate.
Algae is bad because it will utilize the same nutrients that your plants require to survive. It is also unsightly. Algae will ruin the appearance of your aquarium. While you can manually remove the algae or even use commercial products, it is much easier to leave the task to ghost shrimp.
If you have enough algae in the tank, they will graze on it for the rest of their lives. If you have a large ghost shrimp population, it will consume all the algae in the tank, forcing you to add food to the aquarium.
2. Ghost Shrimp Will Get Rid Of Leftovers
Leftovers are even more dangerous than algae. Once they sink to the substrate, they will rot, raising the concentration of ammonia in the process. You can prevent this from happening by vacuuming the substrate and manually removing the leftovers you can see.
You can also leave this job to your ghost shrimp. As was noted above, they eat dead and decaying matter. They won’t hesitate to explore the substrate in search of decaying leftovers. As such, in many cases, you don’t have to buy shrimp-specific foods, not when the ghost shrimp can eat whatever you feed the fish, regardless of whether it is fresh or rotten.
3. Ghost Shrimp Eliminate Dead Fish
Ghost shrimp are peaceful. They won’t attack or antagonize living fish. But they will eat the dead ones. Like the leftovers, dead fish are dangerous because they will raise the ammonia concentration once they decay. You are expected to remove dead fish.
Please do not wait for the shrimp to eat their remains. But if a fish dies without your knowledge, the ghost shrimp may consume its remains before you even realize that it died. Some aquarists prefer to wait a few hours before removing a dead fish. They want to give the shrimp a chance to eat the carcass.
This is a risky approach because the ghost shrimp may choose to ignore the fish, and you may forget to remove it down the line. The shrimp may eat parts of the dead fish before leaving the rest to rot. That being said, in most cases, you can trust ghost shrimp to eat dead fish. They will also eat other dead and decaying organisms, such as snails.
4. Ghost Shrimp Consume Dead Plants
Ghost shrimp are not a threat to plants. They will eat the matter that plants shed, not to mention the algae on the plants, but not the plants themselves, not if those plants are healthy. However, like the fish, ghost shrimp will happily consume dead and decaying plants, preventing them from ruining the chemistry of your water.
5. Ghost Shrimp Remove Fish Waste
This issue is contentious. Some people argue that ghost shrimp will eat fish poop. Others disagree. From their point of view, fish poop has no nutritional value, and ghost shrimp are smart enough to avoid it. They may sift through the poop to find undigested food elements. They will also eat those undigested food elements. But they have no interest in eating the poop itself.
Aquarists that support the idea of ghost shrimp eating poop will tell you that they have seen the creatures doing just that. On the other hand, aquarists who insist that ghost shrimp cannot eat poop will also tell you that the ghost shrimp in their tanks always avoid the fish poop.
You don’t have to believe either camp. If you have ghost shrimp, expose them to fish poop and then observe their reaction. If they eat the fish poop, you can start relying on them to remove fish waste. If they don’t have any interest in the fish poop, you can remove the fish waste yourself.
But even if they don’t care for fish waste, they can still remove the other dead and decaying components of a fish tank. In fact, they need a busy tank with plenty of fish and plants because it gives them access to more dead and decaying matter.
How Do I Encourage Ghost Shrimp To Clean My Tank?
You shouldn’t expect ghost shrimp to clean your tank on their own. That being said, if you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow you to clean your tank as regularly as you would like, ghost shrimp can control the waste in the tank, at least temporarily.
But the creatures are only beneficial if they have an appetite for leftovers, algae, and decaying organisms. If your ghost shrimp have shown no interest in cleaning your tank, you can use the following steps to motivate them:
1. Pick Enough Ghost Shrimp
Some people think that their ghost shrimp have failed to eat the waste in the tank when in truth, the creatures are always eating algae and leftovers, but their numbers are too small to make a significant difference.
Increase your population of ghost shrimp. But make sure you don’t overstock the tank. Don’t forget: you need a minimum of 10 gallons. The more ghost shrimp you add, the more water you need. It may require 5-10 shrimp to keep the algae in a 20-gallon tank under control.
2. Feed Your Ghost Shrimp Infrequently
Stop feeding the shrimp. If the food you keep adding to the tank is enough to satisfy them, they won’t eat the waste in the aquarium. The only solution is to starve them. Aquarium creatures will eat whatever they can find if they are hungry enough. That includes fish poop. If you stop feeding the ghost shrimp, they will look for the algae, leftovers, and decaying matter in the tank.
3. Set The Right Water Conditions
Have you checked the conditions in the tank? Poor quality water can affect a ghost shrimp’s appetite. This is why you are encouraged to respond to a ghost shrimp that won’t clean your tank by testing the water.
These are the recommended water parameters for ghost shrimp:
- pH: 7.0-8.0
- Ammonia and nitrites: 0 ppm.
- Nitrates: <20 ppm.
- Temperature: 65°-75°F (18.3°-23.8°C)
- GH: 3-10 dGH
- KH: 3-15 dKH (53.6-268 ppm)
To measure the pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, I highly suggest getting the API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT (link to Amazon). That bundle lasts for about 800 measures, making it highly cost-effective. It is also extremely accurate. For the water hardness, I use that Premium Water Hardness Test Kit (link to Amazon).
Give your ghost shrimp a heater that can maintain a stable temperature, a filter that will remove pollutants, and air stones to maintain sufficient oxygen levels. I also suggest surrounding them with suitable tankmates such as cory catfish and nerite snails.
For your convenience, here is an article that I wrote on whether fish will eat ghost shrimp. In there, you’ll find some valuable tips to keep your fish from attacking ghost shrimp. I also included a list of fish that are likely to attack ghost shrimp and those that will probably ignore them.
A ghost shrimp that is always hiding from bullies doesn’t have the time to search the substrate for leftovers. Speaking of hiding, don’t forget to add sufficient cover to the aquarium in the form of plants and decorations. Ghost shrimp do not feel safe in a tank that doesn’t have enough hiding places.
Can Other Shrimp Clean Tanks?
Ghost shrimp are not the only shrimp that clean tanks. Some other suitable alternatives include:
1. Amano Shrimp
Amano shrimp have a bigger appetite for algae than ghost shrimp. This makes Amano shrimp better cleaners than ghost shrimp. Unlike ghost shrimp, they will eat every type of algae. That includes the black beard varieties, especially if the Amano shrimp are hungry.
In fact, here is another article where I discussed the algae-eating habits of Amano shrimp. I made sure to include some practical steps that will encourage these beautiful creatures to clean your tank. They will mainly focus on algae, but they can also get rid of leftovers and waste.
2. Cherry Shrimp
Red Cherry shrimp are excellent scavengers that will eat any organic debris they encounter. Their appetite for algae is inferior to that of Amano shrimp. But you can still rely on Red Cherry Shrimp to control the algae population in an aquarium. They are easy to breed. It won’t take you long to grow your collection of Red Cherry Shrimp to a point where the creatures can be trusted to keep the algae under control.
3. Grass Shrimp
This is another excellent scavenger. Grass shrimp are peaceful creatures that are not particularly challenging to care for. They will eat any leftovers they can find in the aquarium. They are not well-known as ghost shrimp, but they are definitely worth considering.
4. Tiger Shrimp
Tiger shrimp are easy to keep as well. They are decent algae eaters that will also eat the leftovers that sink to the substrate. They are more expensive than ghost shrimp, but their higher price is worth it.
5. Crystal Red Shrimp
Crystal red shrimp are not as efficient as Amano shrimp, where the consumption of algae is concerned. But if you have enough of them, they can control the algae population in your tank. They are one of the best choices for cleaning your tank.
Do Ghost Shrimp Produce A Lot Of Waste?
Like everything in an aquarium that eats, ghost shrimp produce waste. The more they eat, the more waste they produce. In that regard, they will add to the bioload of your tank. However, the volume of waste they produce is relatively small.
Their presence won’t add much to the bioload of the aquarium. They definitely produce less waste than the average fish. As such, you don’t have to worry about the ghost shrimp making the maintenance of your tank even more difficult.
If you found this article helpful, these may also interest you:
- What Shrimp Can Live With Ghost Shrimp? (With 5 Examples)
- Will Ghost Shrimp Eat Snails? (With 5 Prevention Tips)
- What Do Cherry Shrimp Do In Fish Tanks? (5 Essential Benefits)
- Do Cherry Shrimp Eat Algae? (Hair, Green, Brown, Staghorn & More)
- Do Amano Shrimp Eat Algae? (Hair, Brown, Black Beard & More)
Ghost shrimp will happily clean your aquarium if you are careful to provide them with suitable conditions. Let me reiterate here: all ghost shrimp definitely need sufficient cover to hide from bullying fish and other tank-dwellers. Also, make sure you give the shrimp enough space.
You may also use other types of shrimp, such as Amano shrimp or Red Cherry shrimp. They will give your tank a good clean as well. But I am sure you want to go with the most efficient cleaners, so I recommend using ghost shrimp. You can also mix different kinds if you’d like.