Why Are My Ghost Shrimp Dying? (With 6 Practical Solutions)

I remember how frustrated I was when I first bought my ghost shrimp. They were supposed to help with waste production as well as bring color to the aquarium. But to my disappointment, no matter how hard I tried, they just kept on dying. Luckily, over the years, I learned why that was happening, and how to solve it.

Ghost shrimp usually die due to inadequate water parameters, including pH, temperature, and ammonia. That is also likely to happen when heavy metals, such as copper and lead, were unintentionally introduced to the tank. However, in some cases, the shrimp merely die because of poor acclimatization.

As we proceed, I will take you step-by-step to keep your ghost shrimp from dying. I will list six solutions that worked in my tank, and I am confident they will work for you as well. Then, I will show you how to distinguish dead ghost shrimp from one that is merely molting.

Why Are My Ghost Shrimp Dying?

Ghost shrimp can live in the same aquarium as friendly fish. They can survive in similar conditions. However, ghost shrimp are more sensitive than fish. Parameters that may only cause mild discomfort in fish could kill your ghost shrimp. 

This is why you are encouraged to apply as much caution as possible where aquariums with shrimp are concerned. If your ghost shrimp keep dying, the fault lies with either the fish itself or the conditions in the tank. Consider the following:

1. The Wrong Water Parameters

I highly suggest that you avoid placing ghost shrimp in tanks with the wrong parameters. They won’t tolerate a higher pH or a lower temperature than their species requires. As was mentioned above, they are more sensitive than fish, and the wrong parameters will create stress before ultimately killing the shrimp.

Drastic changes in parameters are just as bad. You cannot help a ghost shrimp in a poorly maintaining tank by suddenly improving the temperature, pH, and hardness. The sudden shift will hurt the creatures. If multiple ghost shrimp are dying, poor parameters are the most likely cause.

2. Your Ghost Shrimp Were Introduced To Toxins

Generally, you are encouraged to regularly change the water in the tank to keep the shrimp’s aquatic environment clean. However, sometimes, people add new water to the tank without realizing that the source has been tainted by copper, lead, and other heavy metals. 

Municipal tap water, for instance, typically features chlorine and chloramine. It only takes trace amounts of these heavy metals and toxins to kill your shrimp. This is another factor that can cause multiple shrimp to die at once.

Sometimes, the toxins come from the tank itself, not the new water or even the fish medicine. Some second-hand tanks have silicone that eventually bleeds into the water, poisoning your fish. If that wasn’t dangerous enough, every aquarist is expected to clean every new aquarium they get.

But some beginners use strong soaps and detergents that cannot be removed by simply rinsing the tank. Others do not rinse the tank well enough. This allows the residue from these soaps and detergents to poison the fish.

3. The Shrimp Weren’t Properly Fed

There are three factors to consider where food is concerned. First of all, you can kill your shrimp by overfeeding them. Secondly, you can kill them by underfeeding them. This is where the quantities you give them are not enough to satisfy the creatures. 

Thirdly, you can kill shrimp by placing them on a diet that doesn’t have the nutrients they need. This will make them more vulnerable to diseases that may kill them in the long run.

4. Poor Maintenance And Incomplete Cycling 

Is your tank adequately maintained? Do you change the water weekly? Have you taken the time to remove debris and dead organisms from the water? If you haven’t, the ammonia and nitrite levels will spike, killing your ghost shrimp as a consequence.

It would help if you also considered cycling, which is usually a long process that can take several weeks. But a tank that hasn’t been cycled will permit ammonia and nitrite levels to spike again and again until your ghost shrimp die.[1]

5. Your Ghost Shrimp Tank Is Overcrowded

If you have too many ghost shrimp and fish, and you have forced them to share a small tank, the overcrowded conditions will kill the shrimp by inducing stress and exposing the creatures to diseases and toxins. 

Small tanks are also quite tricky to maintain. They permit the concentration of toxic elements to grow at a much faster rate. They also encourage infections to disseminate.

6. The Ghost Shrimp Failed to Acclimatize

This is where you should consider the place that sold you your ghost shrimp. Generally, you are supposed to acclimate new shrimp before you add them to the water. But imported shrimp often struggle to acclimate to new conditions.[2] 

Many imported ghost shrimp come from the wild. Then, they are forced to spend several days and weeks in a bag before their new owner adds them to a tank. That journey can induce severe stress. As a result, they may die when you add them to the tank even though you acclimated them beforehand. You are better off avoiding imported shrimp.

7. Your Ghost Shrimp Died Molting

Every few weeks, ghost shrimp will shed their exoskeleton. They will eventually replace it with a new exoskeleton. However, sometimes, a ghost shrimp fails to escape its old exoskeleton. People call this the white ring of death because you can see a white band around the struggling shrimp, specifically in the area between the head and the body.[3]

A ghost shrimp that cannot escape its exoskeleton will eventually die. Unless you have a vet on hand, any attempt you make to free the shrimp will most likely kill it. The white ring of death has various causes, including poor water conditions, stress, overcrowding, overfeeding, disease, etc.

8. The Wrong Tankmates

The wrong tankmates will either bully your shrimp to death or eat them. Oscars, Goldfish, cichlids, and other large and aggressive fish are more than capable of killing all the shrimp in the aquarium. This is because ghost shrimp are tiny and helpless. They grow to an average size of 1.5 inches and cannot fight back against larger creatures.[4]

9. They Were Treated With The Wrong Medication

If your ghost shrimp share their tank with other fish, some people mistake treating their fish without isolating them in a hospital tank. They do not realize that some drugs have toxic elements like copper that are more than capable of killing ghost shrimp. 

If your shrimp started dying after you treated their tankmates with medicine, check the packaging of the drugs to determine whether or not the ingredients include toxins. If they include them, it is best to dispose of the drugs.

How To Keep Ghost Shrimp From Dying?

The easiest way to prevent your ghost shrimp from dying is to keep them happy, healthy, and stress-free. That means doing the following:

1. Keeping The Right Water Conditions

You cannot keep ghost shrimp healthy and stress-free without maintaining the appropriate water conditions, which include:[5]

  • Temperature – 65 to 85 degrees F.
  • pH – 6 to 8.
  • Hardness – Hard (3 to 10dGH, 3 to 15dKH).
  • Nitrates – Less than 20ppm.
  • Ammonia – 0 ppm.

That is where I usually mention the well-known API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT (link to Amazon). I use that bundle in my tank to measure the pH, nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. I like this one because it lasts for approximately 800 measures, turning it highly cost-effective.

While 65 to 85 degrees F is considered ideal for ghost shrimp, I also find it necessary to keep the temperature stable. From my experience, consistent fluctuations stress aquatic creatures even when the average falls within the desired range. That is why I chose the incredible Cobalt Aquatics Flat Neo-Therm Heater (link to Amazon), which I also reviewed here.

While it is possible to keep the temperature within the appropriate range without a heater, especially if you have conducive weather in your region, the ambient temperature is unpredictable.

I also recommend the following when it comes to ghost shrimp:

  • Tank size of at least 5 to 10 Gallons.
  • Sponge filter with media that can absorb nitrates and nitrites.
  • Air stones near the bottom to prevent oxygen deficiencies.
  • Plants like Peacock Moss and Java Moss for exploration and hiding purposes.
  • Decorations like driftwood, rocks, and caves.
  • No objects with sharp surfaces.
  • Friendly tankmates like Loaches, Hatchet fish, and small Catfish.[6]

2. Routine Maintenance

First of all, test the water every week to ensure that the parameters are correct. Secondly, perform small water changes that won’t alter the water’s chemistry drastically. In many cases, 15 to 30 percent is enough. If the shrimp is very sick, you can slowly drip the new water into the tank. 

  • Here is a great Youtube video that illustrates the dripping technique:

If the tank has too many toxins, you are better off using conditioners designed to neutralize ammonia, chlorine, copper, and the like. First of all, it is far better than doing a massive water change. Secondly, you should use water conditioners whenever you add new water to the tank, especially if you know that the source has chlorine, chloramine, and other poisonous components.

In my tank, I use the Seachem Prime Fresh and Saltwater Conditioner (link to Amazon) to neutralize toxins like ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. Then, I use the API TAP Water Conditioner (link to Amazon) to ensure the tap water I use is safe for my fish.

If you are new to this subject, feel free to check this article, where I discussed how much water conditioner you should put in your tank. I also wrote an article where I showed how to use the conditioner and answered whether you could put it when the fish are already inside your tank.

If your tank is maintained correctly and you perform water changes routinely, you can keep ammonia and nitrite levels at bay without performing massive water changes or relying on conditioners. But this is particularly true for tanks that have been properly cycled.

3. Allowing Your Ghost Shrimp To Acclimatize

Even though imported shrimp are more sensitive than local shrimp and may die even when acclimated, you are still encouraged to acclimate them. Admittedly, it is better to buy locally sourced shrimp. You should also ensure that they are healthy before you bring them back from the store.

You can judge a shrimp’s health by its surroundings. If it came from a dirty tank filled with diseased and lethargic creatures, it is most likely equally diseased. But even if the shrimp is sick and it spent several days in transit, you can give it a better chance of surviving by taking a moment to acclimate it to the conditions in the new tank using the drip method.

4. Feeding Your Ghost Shrimp Properly

I highly suggest not overfeeding your shrimp while keeping them on a diet that includes zucchini, algae wafers, soft vegetables, pellets, and other sinking food items that you usually give to fish. 

Make sure you feed them once a day while giving them the amount of food they can consume in 20 minutes or less. Of course, any leftovers should be removed. If you think you overfed your ghost shrimp, you can easily fix it by allowing them to fast for a few days.

5. Getting Rid Of Toxins

You can quickly identify toxins using the ULTIMATE 14-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). That kit will efficiently find traces of heavy metals, chlorine, chloramine, and more. If you find toxins, it isn’t enough to add conditioners to new water. You should also scrub every object you want to add to the tank, including plants. 

Quarantine them for a while before you move them to the main tank. Also, bear in mind that plants can add deadly pesticides to your aquarium. It would be best if you also read the packaging on fertilizer before you use it. 

Avoid fertilizers that include elements like copper and lead that can kill ghost shrimp. If any fish in the aquarium falls sick, move it to a hospital tank before you treat it. This will prevent the compounds in the fish medicine from poisoning the shrimp.

6. Balancing The Male-To-Female Ratio

Please ensure that the male ghost shrimp have enough females to mate with. If you have a small number of females and too many males, the males will harass the females to death. You need roughly three females for every male.[7]

When female shrimp molt, they release pheromones which tell the males that they are ready to breed. However, a female shrimp is at its most vulnerable after molting. It could die if it attracts the attention of two or three male shrimp.

Should I Remove Dead Ghost Shrimp?

You are supposed to remove dead ghost shrimp immediately. Otherwise, they will cause the ammonia levels to spike as they rot. However, if the living shrimp have already started eating the dead shrimp, some aquarists would argue that you should leave them to their work.

Living Shrimp can devour a dead shrimp in hours. But if your living ghost shrimp have shown no interest in the dead shrimp, or they started eating it, and a day later, you could still see the dead shrimp’s remains in the tank, you should remove the carcass before it corrupts your aquarium.

Bear in mind that ghost shrimp are scavengers. They are more than capable of eating their dead ghost shrimp tankmates.[8] But ghost shrimp are not easy to predict. Some of them will ignore dead shrimp.

Is My Ghost Shrimp Dead Or Molting?

Like dead shrimp, molting ghost shrimp are immobile. However, a dead shrimp will sink to the bottom, and as it decomposes, it will rise to the top. This won’t happen to a molting shrimp. Additionally, dead shrimp will take on a pinkish color, while molting ones will turn white.

It is also worth mentioning that a molting shrimp won’t stay still forever. Once the molting process ends, the creature will start moving. You will also see the exoskeleton it escaped in the water.

Conclusions

If your ghost shrimp keep dying, your first reaction is to blame the water. But it isn’t necessarily true. Many other factors could play a role in their untimely demise, including the tank size, crowded conditions, improper feeding, toxic elements like ammonia and nitrites in water, and how fast you acclimatize imported shrimp. 

The good news is that there are simple measures you can take to minimize the risk of losing them. Start by getting rid of all possible toxins in the water. Then, make sure you feed them well and keep them on a diet that includes the right ingredients.

References

  1. https://aquariumbreeder.com/hints-for-survival-your-shrimp/
  2. https://buceplant.com/blogs/news/why-are-my-shrimp-dying
  3. https://www.shrimpscience.com/articles/molting-and-common-problems/
  4. https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/ghost-shrimp/
  5. https://www.vivofish.com/ghost-shrimp/
  6. https://iere.org/ghost-shrimp/
  7. https://aquariumbreeder.com/male-to-female-ratio-in-the-shrimp-tank/
  8. https://www.theshrimpfarm.com/posts/common-myths-the-shrimp-keeping-hobby/

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