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Ghost Shrimp Turning White: 5 Simple Solutions

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I remember how worried I was when I first found out that my ghost shrimp had turned white. What did this mean? Was it safe to eat them anymore? How do I get their color back? Fortunately, over the years, I learned why this issue occurs and how to deal with it.

Ghost shrimp typically turn white due to stress, which could be secondary to inappropriate water conditions, an underlying infection, or copper sulfate accumulation. However, ghost shrimp also turn white as they age and reach adulthood, or when they are about to molt.

As we proceed, you’ll learn more about why your ghost shrimp whiten and ways to handle them to restore their color. For those of you who hurry, the first step would be testing the water using the API Aquarium Test Kit (link to Amazon).

Why is my Ghost Shrimp Turning White?

If your ghost shrimp is turning white, you must learn what is causing the issue. Then, you can take the necessary steps to reverse the problem. The most common reasons include:

1. The Ghost Shrimp is Ready to Molt

Ghost shrimp sometimes turn white when they are ready to molt. The reason for this is that their exoskeleton will start to harden so that they can shed it and replace it with a new one. In essence, the shrimp will go into a coma-like state and will not be able to eat or move around for a couple of days.

When it sheds its old exoskeleton, the new one is still somewhat transparent and may be lighter in color than usual. It is said that this color change could make them more susceptible to predators. 

It is also common to find the shrimp hiding since they are vulnerable during that process. You may see them inside caves, logs, or plants. Anything that camouflages them may serve as a hiding spot. Later on, I will explain how ghost shrimp actually look when they molt.

2. Your Ghost Shrimp is Sick

Sometimes ghost shrimp turn white for no apparent reason. If you take a closer look at your shrimp, you will notice that it is shaking or twitching. This could mean that the shrimp is suffering from bacterial or fungal infections.

If you notice this behavior among your ghost shrimp, isolate the infected ones and treat the tank accordingly. It would help if you also looked for signs of stress and other symptoms such as cloudy eyes, sunken bellies, or a lack of appetite.

Common diseases among ghost shrimp include swim bladder problems, tuberculosis, and fungus infections. It is also possible for a shrimp to become infected with bacteria and fungus at the same time.

3. The Wrong Water Parameters

Another reason for ghost shrimp to turn white is that the water parameters are not ideal for them. Make sure that you have proper pH, ammonia, and water hardness levels. Ghost Shrimp require hard, slightly alkaline water.

The best pH for them is between 7.0 and 8.0.[1] The ideal temperature is between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit, while 75 degrees F is considered the most suitable.[2] They also require a specific amount of water hardness from 10 to 20 dGH.

The ammonia and nitrites levels should be minimal. 0 ppm of ammonia and nitrites is a good level for ghost shrimp. If you notice the ammonia levels in your shrimp tank increasing, then you need to start analyzing water parameters. This may indicate that your tank is becoming contaminated or that there are too many nutrients in it.

If the water parameters are wrong, you may notice that more than one ghost shrimp is turning white. This is because they need the same water parameters to be healthy, and without them, they will be stressed and change color. 

4. Copper Sulfate Accumulation

Copper sulfate is another name for copper carbonate and is commonly used as a water conditioner for aquariums. If it is misused, it could build up in the system and eventually poison your shrimp.

When ghost shrimp are poisoned with copper, they may turn white. This could take place in as little as one day, or it could take longer if there is a higher level of it in the water. The shrimp will be sluggish, develop abscesses, and may have spiderweb-like fibers growing out of their bodies.

Generally, it is recommended that you do not use copper sulfate or any other copper compound to treat your aquarium unless it is vital. If you are using water conditioners, read the ingredients and ensure that the product is safe for shrimp.

5. Old Age

Another possible reason for ghost shrimp turning white is old age. As time goes on, their exoskeleton may become too heavy for them and will make them turn white as a result. If you notice that your oldest ghost shrimp turned white, old age may be the cause.

Ghost shrimp typically live for two years and may become white towards adulthood.[3] When their exoskeleton hardens, besides turning white, they may be unable to swim or walk properly. 

If you notice that your shrimp are having problems moving around the tank, it may be a sign of old age. In this case, make sure to provide them with hiding spots and clean the tank regularly so that they are not stressed in any way. 

What to do if Your Ghost Shrimp is Turning White

If you have not already done so, make sure you read the information above before starting. This article will provide what you should do if your shrimp has turned white.

1. Isolate the Shrimp

If you suspect that your ghost shrimp is turning white due to a disease, it needs to be isolated. This way, it doesn’t infect other shrimp. Make sure you have another tank set up for them or a large rearing container with enough space.

You may treat sick ghost shrimp with commercial antibiotics. Generally, I suggest consulting an aquatic veterinarian to match the correct medication. Make sure to keep the infected shrimp in a separate tank until they are healthy again.

2. Check the Water Parameters

If your shrimp is turning white and the temperature is not correct, make sure you adjust it to match the needs of your shrimp. As was mentioned earlier, the ideal temperature for ghost shrimp is 75 degrees F.

To achieve that precise temperature, I use the Cobalt Aquatics Flat Neo-Therm Heater (link to Amazon), which I also reviewed here. I like this device since it maintains a stable temperature while being almost completely silent. 

To check the ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and pH, I simply use the API Aquarium Test Kit (link to Amazon). This test kit is incredibly easy to use and even comes with a color chart, so you know if the levels are dangerous.

3. Allow Your Shrimp to Molt in Peace

All shrimp have a life cycle where they grow a new exoskeleton and shed the old one. This process is known as molting. When they are going through this phase, they are weak and vulnerable to disease. 

That is why it’s important not to disturb them in this phase. If you have not noticed that they are going through a molt, you will at least know once they start turning white. They will slowly turn colorless and begin to appear thinner than usual.

To protect your shrimp, make sure you do not tap on the glass and avoid sudden movements. Usually, within 12 hours, your shrimp will molt and return to normal. At this point, you may find its exoskeleton on the bottom of the tank.

4. Dealing With Copper Sulfate

Copper sulfate is used in some water conditioners to remove chlorine and chloramine. However, it is harmful to your shrimp and may even be lethal. If you were using a product that contained copper sulfate, you would know once your shrimp starts turning white.

The first step would be to discontinue the use of this product immediately. Then, you should monitor the water parameters to make sure copper levels don’t spike. If they do, you will need to purchase a copper removing agent and treat the shrimp.

In my tank, I use the Safe Home STARTER-10 Water Quality Test Kit (link to Amazon). That kit will check your water for copper, sulfate, chlorine, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. It will also measure your pH and check the water hardness.

5. Elevating Oxygen

If your water parameters have tested fine, but you still see your shrimp turn white, it may be because of an oxygen issue. Shrimp need oxygen to live, and if the levels unexpectedly drop, they will not survive long enough to recover.

The first step would be to increase the oxygen levels in your tank. Do this by setting up a sponge filter or by adding more airstones.[4] I personally use the Hygger Aquarium Air Stone Kit (link to Amazon).

That kit creates a consistent stream of oxygenated bubbles. It also has a built-in shut-off valve, so it shuts down automatically when the water level rises. I have used that same kit for months and have had no issues. It works very well to keep the water oxygenated.

What do Ghost Shrimp Look Like When They Die?

When ghost shrimp die, their shells stain a dark brown color and gradually dissolve. You will also see some white knobby spots in the dead shrimp. These spots are caused by the death of internal organs, such as the gonads and stomach.

You may also see some pale brownish blood in the shrimp tank. This will happen as the shells dissolve and reveal the meat inside. Once the meat absorbs oxygen from the water, it turns pale brownish-gray and disintegrates. 

It is essential to remove dead ghost shrimp from your tank as soon as possible. This is because it will start to cause ammonia spikes in your tank. Another reason for removing them is that they could spread diseases and infect other shrimp.

Is my Ghost Shrimp Molting?

You can tell that your ghost shrimp is molting by examining the condition of the shrimp’s exoskeleton. Typically, you’ll notice a crack forming in the exoskeleton. This crack will extend around the shrimp’s body until the shell splits apart. At that point, the shrimp will slowly peel off the old shell.

As you’re watching your shrimp molt, keep a close eye on the process of shedding its exoskeleton. Molting involves more than just peeling off the old exoskeleton. The shrimp also works to pull in new tissue and extend the new exoskeleton. 

If you notice that the shrimp stops working to pull in new tissue or extend the exoskeleton, there’s a chance that the shrimp will die during molting. Many times, a shrimp will die before it can complete the process.

A shrimp that has molted will initially look very dull and colorless. It will also spend its time hiding since it is incredibly vulnerable at this point.[5] Generally, if your shrimp has molted, it will appear slightly lighter in color and may be less active than usual.

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Conclusions

If your ghost shrimp have turned white, there is a good chance that something is affecting them. Check the water parameters, make sure the tank is not too cold or hot, and observe them as much as possible.

If the shrimp also hides and seems inactive, it is probably molting. However, if you have several shrimp that are turning white, the cause is likely environmental. That means the water parameters or perhaps the temperature needs to be adjusted.

References

  1. https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/ghost-shrimp/
  2. https://fishkeepingadvice.com/ghost-shrimp/
  3. https://aqualifehub.com/is-your-ghost-shrimp-turning-white-heres-what-to-do-first/
  4. https://www.aquariumcoop.com/blogs/aquarium/air-stones-the-secret-weapon-every-aquarium-needs
  5. https://www.shrimpscience.com/articles/molting-and-common-problems/